The Most Influential Books I’ve Read This Year

Get ready for the most obvious statement you’ve read since March: 2020 has been a strange year. Many of us have given new hobbies a try (like sourdough, although for the record my sourdough journey began in January…😉) as well as rediscovered favorite past times we may not have had much time for prior to the pandemic.

For me, reading has always been one of my most favorite activities, but there’s a definite ebb and flow to it. Sometimes I really get in a groove with it, and other times I go weeks or months without cracking a book. During much of 2020, though, books have been a critical way for me to stay engaged with the world, and to explore different places and different experiences and mindsets while stuck in my house.

I was reflecting recently on the books I’ve read so far this year (you can find the full list via the hashtag #booksakread2020 on Instagram) and wanted to call out a handful in this post because they’ve been especially influential in some way. In no particular order, here’s that list:

  1. Untamed by Glennon Doyle. Okay, I JUST said that these books were in no particular order, but this one is very intentionally listed first. THIS BOOK, Y’ALL. If you get a gift from me in the near future, it will very likely include this book, so fair warning. I listened to the audio version of this book, but then bought the hard copy because I knew it was one I’d want to dive into again and again. In this memoir, Glennon explores so many of the things that have held her (and so many other women) back — things that have kept her tamed — and then starts to dig into ways to push against that conditioning to become a more authentic version of herself. I found it to be incredibly relatable and full of beautiful insight about ourselves as individuals as well as the world around us. You will feel more seen after reading this book, and you’ll also feel braver and so much more empowered.
  2. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. If you’ve ever thought to yourself that your life has to be incredibly different from that of a Mexican immigrant (something I know I’ve assumed in the past), this book is a must read. It’s a fictional tale, but the themes are, unfortunately, very much a reality for so many people. It tells the story of a middle-class family who experiences horrific violence and needs to stealthily flee the country in order to save their lives. For me, this book made illegal immigration so much more dimensional and relatable, something I think is critical for any big issue like this one.
  3. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid. Let’s move straight into another big issue: race. This novel beautifully explores that important theme through the stories of two women — one black and one white — whose very different lives become intimately intertwined, changing them both forever.
  4. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. I listened to the audio version of this book, which is beautifully done, but whether you listen to or read this book, I know you’ll find it eye opening. Gladwell brings his always insight-laden and research-based perspective to this book, helping to shed light on why we as a world keep finding ourselves in so many instances of misunderstanding when it comes to one other. Touching on familiar stories like that of Amanda Knox, Brock Turner, Sandra Bland, Bernie Madoff, and more — as well as introducing what will likely be new-to-you examples — Gladwell deftly helps to uncover what we as humans get so wrong so much of the time when it comes to dealing with people we don’t know.
  5. Reviving Ophelia 25th Anniversary Edition: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher and Sarah Gilliam. I read the first edition of this book late in my adolescence, and it struck a major chord. When I saw that the author and her daughter had worked together to create an updated version, I knew it was something I wanted to read ASAP. This updated version of the book follows the same format as its earlier iteration, but incorporates the experiences of girls growing up in the age of social media, smartphones, and a world full of terrorism and school shootings alongside their 90s counterparts. The authors explore some key issues adolescents in both generations struggle with, and talk about ways to combat or deal with those to help girls have the best chance for mental and physical health possible. I think all women — and certainly all mothers of daughters — should read this book.
  6. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. If you watched the Hulu miniseries based on this book but didn’t read the book, fix that ASAP! The book was a million times better — just deeper and so much more influential — than the miniseries was. It explores issues of class and race, of well-meaning deception and of motherhood, of first loves and of hometown influence. It’s one that will stick with you, I promise.
  7. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Kristin Hannah is a prolific author and I’ve read a few of her books at this point (The Nightingale is another wonderful one), but this one is my favorite of hers that I’ve read. It chronicles the fictional tale of a family who moves to an isolated part of Alaska, grasping for acceptance and normalcy, only to end up falling apart in a big way but also growing in important ways as individuals, too.

What about you? Have you read some great books this year? I’d love to hear your recommendations, as well as what you love about them!

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