Things That Have Never Been

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

The end of a year always brings a time of reflection mixed in with a good dose of nostalgia and regret. While I talk a big talk about not regretting anything because I learn from everything, I always look back at something that I could have done better, differently, or not at all. I am on a journey to learning to control my thinking, limiting those negative thoughts to a specific time and space so that they don’t take over my life. The end of a year might bring a sense of melancholy, but it is quickly followed by the beginning of a new year full of hope and anticipation. How wonderful is it that the next twelve months contain people, places, and moments that I never could have imagined? How exciting is it that I now I have 365 (plus one!) new beginnings before me? 

One of my favorite ways to reflect on the year is to look back at what I have read and to look forward to what is on my list. Being a member of Goodreads makes this easy, and I really enjoy this website that easily allows me to keep track of what I read. I set a goal to read 24 books, and while I didn’t meet my goal, I am still pleased with the 18 books that I did read. In my post from January 2, 2019, “Last Year’s Words, Next Year’s Voice,” I outlined five books that I specifically wanted to read this year, of which four out of five made it to my ‘read’ list. One thing I never regret is a book I’ve read (with one exception from 2017, which taught me not to waste time on books that aren’t worth reading), and I would like to take a moment to highlight some reading favorites from 2019 while looking forward to 2020. 

2019

  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Why I read this book: Some books I pick up very intentionally because I learn something about the titles or the authors that intrigue me, or because the books come recommended by someone I trust and respect. Other books show up on my radar because of the title or cover. This one caught my attention one day, and I started to see this book everywhere – in magazines, on the Internet, and in bookstores. When I noticed it was gaining traction, I moved it up on my to-read list. 

Little Fires Everywhere begins with Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl, moving to a Cleveland suburb and renting a house from the Richardsons. Pearl establishes a complex relationship with each of the four Richardson children while maintaining an even more complex relationship with her mother. The novel begins and ends with arson, but the fires that burn from buried secrets and hidden pasts are far greater and brighter than the fires that burned the Richardson house to the ground. My niece and I were talking about this book the other day, and we both agreed that Celeste Ng captures mother-daughter relationships in a realistic, powerful way.

To whom I recommend this book: Mothers and daughters alike, as well as anyone who enjoys a good fiction read. This book was a page-turner for me, and I read it quickly because I couldn’t put it down. As an avid reader, I enjoy the books that are able to draw me into a story that makes me forget time and space. This book reminded me a lot of Anne Tyler, another writer whom I love who takes a very typical American family and shows time and again that there is no typical American family. 

  1. The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love by Jenna Birch

Why I read this book: I dare to say that many women who are single and in their 30’s want to understand why they are single in their 30’s. This book caught my attention because it is specifically targeted towards my demographic: successful, educated, independent women who seem to have it all. This resonated with me as I was still riding the coattails of 2018, a year that made me a homeowner and a masters degree graduate for the second time. Birch interviews many men and women on why they are single and why so many men say they want to commit but then don’t. She spends a lot of time understanding why women like me – who are often exactly what men say they are looking for in a mate – end up single. 

I had pretty much given up on dating books, since I felt like there was nothing new to learn on the topic. I am also content being single, and while I still desire a husband and kids, I would rather be alone than with the wrong person. I have also learned that I am not truly alone because I have so many wonderful people in my life. That said, this was a great read. It was light enough to digest while reading before bed, but deep enough to be meaningful. I agree with many of Birch’s conclusions, and I also feel a sense of camaraderie knowing I am not the only one with these experiences. This book was especially timely as 2019 brought me a relationship that I enjoyed but ended knowing we weren’t compatible. Understanding the reasons why we weren’t a good fit for one another allowed me to make the best choice for both of us.

To whom I recommend this book: Any career-driven woman who has had her heart broken or who has felt like she checks all the boxes but never gets picked. If you have been swiping right until your thumb cramps but have nothing to show for it, this book is for you.  

  1. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Why I read this book: Dr. Austin, my favorite professor from graduate school, read from this book on one of her visits to my classroom. I don’t remember which portion she read, but I remember it moved me and many people in the room. One of my AP Lit students took the initiative to check it out from the library and said it was good, so I had to read it. YA Literature is a genre in which I am not-so-well-versed, but one that I try to explore more each year. I love it when I can recommend a book to students that not only resonate with them but also are accessible to them and don’t feel as cumbersome as assigned reading (a whole other topic for another post!). Long story short, I picked up this book, and it did not disappoint. A novel written in verse form, The Poet X is the first-person narrative of Xiomara, an adolescent growing up in Harlem. “… I keep my hands/in my lap./I keep my mouth/zippered shut,” Xiomara says. “And every day/I wish I could/just become/ a disappearing act.” The weight of being silenced becomes too much to bear until she is in a slam poetry club at school. After her first reading, Xiomara says, “My little words/feel important, for just a moment/This is a feeling I could get addicted to.” 

Need I say more?

There is something so powerful about being heard and feeling like your words matter. As I read this book, I felt like I was reliving my own teenage years to a certain extent. Xiomara went through a lot of things that I didn’t, but we both had an overwhelming need to be heard, for our “little words [to] feel important.” 

To whom I recommend this book: Consumers of YA literature, young and old alike. Teenagers, Hispanic-Americans, lovers of coming-of-age stories, fans of prose poetry, readers looking to read outside their normal genres, and any and all teachers of middle school and high school who are ever called on to recommend a book to students. 

This list doesn’t cover all 18 books I read, and even my Goodreads list doesn’t account for all of the online reading I have done. One thing I did this year was to join the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) and subscribe to two of their journals, and I have been challenged and inspired by the content I have read so far. I look forward to this year’s reading list. Here’s a small sampling of what’s to come:

  • Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh – This book has been sitting on my shelf for too long. Allie Brosh is one of my favorite blog writers. Her blog, Hyperbole and a Half, deals with very realistic scenarios from the daily life of someone living with depression and anxiety in a way that will have you laughing and crying at the same time. As I am making an extra effort to take control of my anxiety, I know I will thoroughly enjoy the comic relief she will most assuredly provide. I love her blog, and I look forward to reading this book. Plus it’s a comic book with lots of pictures, so how could I go wrong?
  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave – This is a New York Times Bestseller that was referenced in an NCTE article I read recently. Whatever was said in the article made me look up the book, and the synopsis on Amazon locked in my interest. When I saw my 2020 reading list leaning heavily towards non-fiction, I wanted to make sure I had planned for some quality fiction as well. 
  • The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion by Tracy Daugherty – This is the only book I mentioned in last year’s post that I didn’t get to. What I said before still rings true – I feel as though as long as this book is unread on my shelf, my favorite writer, Joan Didion, will live. The second I crack this book open I am opening the door to her mortality. I know the rationale is odd, but I’ve never claimed to be normal. I hope to get to this book this year no matter what.
  • Blink by Malcolm Gladwell – I became a fan of Malcolm Gladwell when I read Outliers and he completely revolutionized how I thought of the achievement gap in education. His conversational tone makes you feel as though he is talking directly to you, and his journalist approach to the topics he explores makes him come across as non-didactic. I look forward to reading Blink, a book about choices and leadership. 
  • Frankly in Love by David Yoon – I know little to nothing about this book. It caught my eye while I was at Barnes & Noble last week, and I ended up buying a signed copy. It’s a YA novel – a genre I am intentionally targeting – and I liked the review on the cover from author Jodi Picoult: “I loved loved, LOVED this book, which miraculously manages to be a love story, a treatise on racism a peek into adolescence, and a welcome to Korean-American culture all at once.” 

What’s on your reading list for 2020?

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