In the summer of 2020 I published a book, Better Politics Please, yearning for a better way. Six months later January 6 happened and it felt like we were further than ever from coming together as Americans.
That book was written in hope, and I’ve felt awfully hopeless since.
Today I finished reading Barack Obama’s 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope. You have to read any political memoir, especially one released in the build up to a presidential run, with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of humble optimism and positive framing of life experience.
Interesting story from small town Minnesota about a school board forcing one of their only Latino teachers to remove his Puerto Rico and Pride flags. That’s a whole thing, and while I have feelings about it, I want to talk about elections instead.
Why it matters: Because Worthington School Board, like many of our local boards and councils, has a problem with uncontested elections.
184 is certainly a ridiculous number. It’s my second highest ever.
Not bragging: But as much as I talk up the number (I even put it in the title of my own book), let’s be honest—that’s just clickbait. The number doesn’t matter. Don’t bother comparing. I know some people who love books but only manage a few a year. I know someone else who regularly tops 300 per year. So don’t get hung up on the numbers. Get hung up on the books.
I normally don’t read a lot of nonfiction (only 18% of my reading in 2022), so this is usually a shorter list. But I went on a memoir spree and found a ton of good ones—with nonfiction hitting 43% of my reading!
So this year we get a top 10 list:
This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us by Cole Arthur Riley – I listened to the audiobook and was initially put off by the author’s monotone, but once I got into the groove it was really compelling. Extremely well written, to the point that I want to read it again in print so I can underline the morsels.
Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More With Less by Jim Vandehei, Mike Allen, Roy Schwartz – The best book on writing I’ve read in years. I keep buying copies for my contributors.
Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee – The best book I’ve read on the gay debate in the church.
Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket to Salvation by Aaron Hartzler – This growing up in a Christian subculture memoir hit way too close to home.
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride – This one made me cry.
Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji with Alan Eisenstock – Really incredible story.
A Heart That Works by Rob Delaney – The story of his son dying, which is just awful, but it’s poignant and honest in that “well, fuck” kind of way.
I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times by Monica Guzmán – We need more of this if our democracy is going to survive.
Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House by Cliff Sims – As much as I dislike Trump, I’m not a fan of the tell-all books gushing with juicy details. But the Smart Brevity guys referenced this one, so I checked it out, and the style was super engaging.
When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele – I put this one off for a while, but glad I finally got to it.
And a few more worth mentioning:
Birding While Indian by Thomas C. Gannon – Really enjoyed this mix of Indian politics and birding, which clued me into the gamification of birding, something I found intriguing (who knew I’d enjoy keeping lists?!).
Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation by Jon Ward – I read several deconstruction memoirs and this one was perhaps the most interesting.
Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World by John Hope Bryant – Business books are often awful, but this one really engaged.
Note on Trends
I noted last year that I read a couple LGBTQ+ memoirs and enjoyed them and would probably do more this year. I did. A lot. Three of those made it to my top 10, and I read a bunch more. The Christian ones were the most intriguing, which led to a related field of deconstruction memoirs. By the end of the year I stumbled into birding memoirs, and that pushed me to spend Christmas money on binoculars and start exploring birding.
This year I listened to 62,011 minutes of music (more than 97% of users), accounting for 7,645 songs, 3,550 different artists, and 118 different genres. My most played genres of 2023 were alt-z (huh?), pop, indie pop, modern rock, and rock.