January Reads

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I did not like this book that much. I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was a freshman in high school, and I thought it was pretty good. In Go Set a Watchman, Scout/Jean Louise is an adult, living in New York, who comes home to visit her father. Her father, shockingly, is no longer the white knight she idealized when she was a child. Jem is dead and Atticus sees no problem with getting involved with the KKK and is actually quite racist. Moral of the story: Your parents are humans who have flaws, some of those flaws are very significant. Most of us realize that sometime before we’re 26.

Also, let’s not leave out the part that the book was published when Harper Lee was 88, in a nursing home, and potentially not fully capable of advocating for herself and making her wishes regarding the book known. When I’m old, I hope that nobody goes through my unpublished blog posts and publishes them when my consent to that is highly questionable.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I freaking loved this book. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people talk (or don’t talk) about death and loss, and how that all ties together in our understanding of how we should cope with loss when it inevitably occurs. The Year of Magical Thinking was a beautifully written account of Didion’s life in the year after her husband died, and how that loss impacted every part of her life. Didion was incredibly artful with how she wove together the present of her mourning her husband, along with the ways that she revisited their relationship at different times. I want to read more of her books this year.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

This book was a kick in the pants, but a relatively gentle one. I’m no stranger to setting goals (ahem) but this was very rooted in concrete habits. It’s really pushed me to evaluate how my daily actions are pushing me (or failing to push me) towards the big picture goals I have. Also, it makes me consider a lot of smaller decisions as a vote for the kind of person I am – am I a person who goes to the gym before work, or am I a person who tumbles out of bed and dashes out the door? Am I a person who washes all the dishes in the sink before they go to bed, or am I a person who perpetually has a few dishes in the sink? After reading this book, I see those choices less as one-off decisions and more as a larger set of habits.

Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

I did not expect this book to be as scientific as it was, but it was good. It’s much more of a researched, historic book than a “how to have good, creative ideas” book, which was sort of what I expected. A lot of the good ideas Johnson discusses are scientific discoveries: DNA, natural selection, and the telegraph amongst them. Johnson organizes them in a way that helps the reader draw connections that I would have missed out on otherwise.