My Quarantine Booklist: The 35 Books I Read During the Pandemic (& My Honest Reviews of Them)

I know I can't be the only one who has really leaned into their bookworm tendencies during the pandemic...right?! Granted, I do not have children and have spent several months unemployed thanks to the ol' COVID, but I'm willing to bet that many people hunkered down with a good book or two to learn, grow, escape, dream, and feel anything than what reality had us working with.





For me, reading is one of those basic everyday activities that many of us have lost touch with. Sure, we'll read headlines, FB posts, tweets, and maybe the first few lines of a news article, but our brains are being trained to have a shorter and shorter attention span.


We've seen what a lack of nuance, context, and critical thinking can do to our society. I find reading an entire book from start to finish to be an empowering form of protest. I'm saying, "keep your click-bait, I'm going to read an entire novel on the subject and actually begin to understand the information." Are you with me?!


Soapbox rant - over! Now onto my list of the 35 books I've read since COVID lockdowns started in March 2020:





First, you NEED this app!

Before a friend told me about this app, I read a whole lot less because books are expensive. While I'm all for supporting authors and creators, I don't have a large book-buying budget, so this app has changed the game for me.


Libby is a free app that allows you to borrow ebooks, audiobooks, and more through your local library. Before using Libby, I would borrow physical copies of books from the library from time-to-time, but then quickly transitioned to solely reading ebooks (I thought I would hate it at first, but I'm so used to it now - and the app easily pairs with Kindle).


Okay, to the books!


FICTION


City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Rating: 4 stars

Review: City of Girls is a wild ride - one that took me awhile to orient myself to (with nearly 500 pages, there was plenty of time to get settled). Set in the 1940s, the story explores female sexuality, love, and promiscuity and by the end, I was definitely on Team Vivian.


Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Rating: 5 stars

Review: John Green is one of the few fiction novelists that I have loved since I was a teenager. His books suck me in right away and usually have me crying for half the story. Turtles All the Way Down is no exception as we follow Aza's story of living with mental illness.


Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review: A little slow to start, but ultimately had me on the edge of my seat as Kya's coming-of-age story is interrupted by a mysterious murder. There are a couple of plot holes that left me scratching my head, but if you let your mind gloss over those, it's enjoyable.


Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Rating: 5 stars

Review: I absolutely LOVED this book! It's written in interview-style chapters that from the get-go, had me googling if Daisy Jones & the Six was a real band (they were not). As you would expect in a story about a 70s rock band, there is love, sex, drugs, and a whole lot of drama. The best part? It's being made into a TV miniseries set to stream on Amazon Prime!



ANTI-RACISM


Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad

Rating: 5 stars

Review: I found Layla's work initially through Instagram when she began a #MeandWhiteSupremacy challenge, which became so popular she wrote this book. It's broken up into 28 days/chapters exploring a wide range of topics from white privilege to colorism. Each chapter contains important definitions, anecdotes, and historical context and ends with journal prompt questions to get the reader to unpack their own role in our white supremacist culture.


White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review: This book should be required reading in high school history classes. Carol Anderson, a historian, lays out the historical context of the deliberate opposition of African American social progress driven by white rage but disguised as "fiscal responsibility and protecting democracy". Despite it being factually heavy, White Rage reads like a story and is hard to put down.


So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Rating: 5 stars

Review: Ijeoma is honest, direct, and unwavering in her explanation of complex racial issues including police brutality, intersectionality, the BLM movement, privilege, and more. Her writing style is straightforward and funny, which makes it an enjoyable read despite the heavy topics. She asks the hard questions and encourages readers to dig deep to help dismantle the racial divide.


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Rating: 5 stars

Review: Homework: Read The New Jim Crow and watch 13 on Netflix and prepare for your mind to be blown as this information has been intentionally left out of our education system. The New Jim Crow lays out how the War on Drugs and mass incarceration are tools used to continue the oppression of Black Americans. This well-researched book opened my eyes to reality and is a much-needed conversation.



MEMOIRS


Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

Rating: 4 stars

Review: You know how people always debate which route is better...read the book or watch the movie/show first? Well, I think I took the wrong path here by watching the entire OITNB series on Netflix before reading the memoir. Don't get me wrong, the book was great - heartbreaking, eye-opening, empowering - but it was way less dramatic than the TV series (to be expected) so it didn't hold my attention quite as much.


Becoming by Michelle Obama

Rating: 5 stars

Review: I listened to the audio version and HIGHLY recommend doing the same. I felt like I was hanging out with my friend Michelle as she recounted her childhood, her education and work experience, her budding relationship with Barack, and her challenging yet rewarding time as First Lady.


Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Rating: 5 stars

Review: Where are my murderinos at?! I fell in love with Karen and Georgia through their true-crime comedy podcast My Favorite Murder. In their memoir, they share gut-wrenching, cringy, hilarious, and inspirational stories that will have you laughing one moment to crying the next. Read it and SSDGM.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Rating: 4 stars

Review: Another example of a movie I saw before the book and damn, the movie was incredible. I'm a visual learner, so if the movie or show is well done, I'm likely to become captivated more quickly. But, the written version of Wild did not disappoint. Cheryl is so raw, honest, and detailed in her story-telling, so much so that I both want to hike the PCT and also never hike again (she ran into some scary shit).


I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Rating: 5 stars

Review: A quick read that I feel every white person needs. Austin shares her experience growing up Black, Christian, and female and how she navigated the intersection of her identities. She recounts moments of confronting her own Blackness, dealing with micro-aggressions and blatant racism, and is not concerned with the reader's comfort. If you're white, this book will likely make you uncomfortable as we are being called out. Read it anyway :)


Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Rating: 4 stars

Review: This was definitely a challenging read as Tara recounts her long-lived history of physical, mental, and sexual abuse at the hands of her staunch Mormon family. Her story is one of resilience, strength, and self-assurance as she finds her way off the family farm and pursues formal education for the first time (she was home-schooled growing up, if you could call it that). Tara's tale is painfully honest, riveting, and heart-breaking.


To Love and Let Go: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Gratitude by Rachel Brathen

Rating: 5 stars

Review: Grab your tissues and prepare to cry - a lot! Rachel shares the gut-wrenching story of losing her best friend in a car accident and brings the reader along for the ride through her grieving process. It's a beautifully written tale on how to love with your whole heart, despite the pain that comes with loss, and how to avoid becoming hardened by life's hardships.


More Myself: A Journey by Alicia Keys

Rating: 4 stars

Review: Everything Alicia creates is magic, so it's no surprise her memoir was incredible. I loved learning about her childhood, dedication to piano lessons, method of creating music, and relationship with her husband. I did find it to be a bit slow at times, but overall enjoyed it.


Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Rating: 4 stars

Review: To no surprise, Trevor Noah delivers stories from his childhood in a comedic manner, even though growing up in South Africa during apartheid came with unbelievable challenges. I loved hearing his experience and I learned a ton about apartheid in general, a topic I was ignorant about. Some parts were tricky to follow as the timeline jumped around.


Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Rating: 5 stars

Review: I only listened to the audiobook but I'm convinced it's the best way to ingest this book. Greenlights is filled with tall tales from Matthew's childhood (he had a very interesting upbringing), insights from his rise to fame and career shifts, diary entries, successes, failures, moments of awe - this book has it all.


Eat a Peach: A Memoir by David Chang and Gabe Ulla

Rating: 5 stars

Review: If you love food and funny people, I highly recommend following Dave Chang - his podcast is great and he posts the cutest photos of his son, Hugo, on IG. I loved his memoir for many reasons - the stories of struggle while working as a chef in NYC, his candid recount of his experience with mental illness, and inspirational, motivational, and accessible advice in leadership, management, and being an overall good person.


Black Magic: What Black Leaders Learned from Trauma and Triumph by Chad Sanders

Rating: 5 stars

Review: Chad shares his story of contorting his professional self to be accepted by his white counterparts and how, although he was accepted, he felt miserable and ultimately decided to drop the charade. He found even more success when he showed up authentically. He then set out to interview a wide variety of Black leaders, artists, activists, scientists, and achievers to ask them about their Black magic. Can you feel the inspiration yet?


SCIENCE


The Breath of a Whale by Leigh Calvez

Rating: 5 stars

Review: This one goes out to all my fellow whale lovers. I always dreamed of being a marine biologist when I was a kid, and this book reawakened that dream. This book is a beautiful blend of scientific information and personal anecdotes that will have you booking whale watching tours immediately after.


How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

Rating: 5 stars

Review: I am an avid Michael Pollan fan as he has written many books on all things food. This book takes a different path by discussing the science behind, history around, and value of psychedelic compounds. He also comically describes his experience with various psychedelics.


SELF-HELP/SELF-DEVELOPMENT


Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 535 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown

Rating: 5 stars

Review: I absolutely LOVED this book. These tips are relatable, hilarious, and actually doable. I wish I read this book while in college!


You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero

Rating: 5 stars

Review: If you struggle with your relationship with money, then this book is for you! Jen is a witty writer and hilarious storyteller; her honest tales of her struggles are relatable and her open-ended questions help you get to the bottom of your money issues.


Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Rating: 5 stars

Review: This book came along at just the perfect time for me - her words helped reframe my take on creativity, passion, and mindfulness. It's an incredible blend of magic and practicality.


Belong: Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life by Radha Agrawal

Rating: 5 stars

Review: Wow, this book should be a mandatory read for every adult, especially after living through a pandemic. Despite being more connected than ever through the internet, most of us feel lonelier than ever. Belong offers intentional and tangible prompts to get yourself out there and find community. I think it's time for another read through...


Sorry I'm Late I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan

Rating: 4 stars

Review: Oh, the timing of this book was just too good for me. I picked this up a few months into quarantine and was feeling extra introverted and hermit-like, to the point where I was annoyed if I was even invited to do anything that involved leaving my house. I found this book funny, relatable, and insightful as Jessica talked to a variety of experts in areas such as public speaking, stand-up comedy, and social anxiety to help her step out of her comfort zone and live like an extrovert for a year.


Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Rating: 4 stars

Review: Highly recommend the audio version here. Glennon's words felt like a warm hug and a kick in the ass at the same time. Her ability to be open about her past and bravely shed her old skin was a much-needed reminder that I can do the same.


Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find - and Keep - Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller

Rating: 4 stars

Review: I had heard of attachment theory as it relates to parenting, but never how it influences adult relationships. From this book, I learned I have an anxious attachment style