books, 2019

52 books in a year — Inspired by my friends who made similar commitments last year, I am setting an ambitious goal to average a book a week!

At the beginning of 2019, I resolved to do more things I love. Reading is a source of joy in my life. I think the more you read, the larger and more plural your world becomes. Books are also conversations I have with the author and/or myself about topics or ideas I don’t usually ponder, and reading thus allows me to explore beyond my ordinary conciousness.

Some ground rules: Reflecting on his year of 107 books, my friend recommended these two articles for reading-related goal-setting: 33 thoughts on reading, and My Life With Bob. With these articles in mind, I’ll be ‘reading’ through mixed media: audiobooks, Kindle-compatible e-books, or my favorite, musty & physical copies. I hope to borrow the vast majority of books I’ll read from the public library or through the Libby (Overdrive) App, which facilitates easy & free rentals of e-books and audiobooks from your library.

IN REVIEW: the year in numbers, graphically-expressed

54 books, 16,563 pages

I’m really grateful I got to read this much this year! Some reflections:

  1. (Good) reading does gives me a lot of joy…
  2. as books are conversations I can have with myself and/or the author about unfamiliar topics or narratives;
  3. Reading deeply and diversely about a topic or the works of an author is far more rewarding than redundant;
  4. “Libby by Overdrive” is a top app for borrowing from your public library;
  5. Listening to audiobooks and reading physical copies are equally valuable methods, but offer different experiences of engaging with literature;
  6. Despite my original skepticism, I did find the time to read more, especially during small moments of my day (i.e., waiting in line, repurposing time usually spent on social media, or during commutes)

Themes I explored this year: racism, trauma-informed care, question-making, feminism, justice, Islam, kindness, education, cultural humility, meaning-making, dominant narratives in history, medicine

New themes I hope to explore next year: environmentalism, asian literature, solitude, intergenerational wealth/trauma, (neo)colonialism, US socioeconomic disparities, reconciliation Thanks for bearing with my nerdiness!

A list of other media (e.g., podcasts and articles) recommendations can be found here.


*Asteriks indicate books that I think many would enjoy, though I loved all of these books for some reason. Selected quotes are below the title (page numbers excluded because they’re not consistent across platforms).


  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
    • “History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets.”
  • *nejma by Nayyirah Waheed
    • “(years later. the conclusion: / shakespeare is relative. / white literature is relative. / that we are force fed the meat of / an animal / that our bodies will not recognize. as inherent nutrition. / is not relative. / is inert.)” (the hot wash).
  • *Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
    • “Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”
  • The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
    • “Your twenties were a time when you still felt young, but the groundwork was being laid in a serious way, crisscrossing beneath the surface. It was being laid even while you slept. What you did, where you lived, who you loved, all of it was like pieces of track being put down in the middle of the night by stealth workers.”
  • *Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney C. Cooper
    • “One of feminism’s biggest failures is its failure to insist that feminism is, first and foremost, about truly, deeply, and unapologetically loving women.”


  • *Educated by Tara Westover
    • “We are all of us more complicated than the roles we are assigned in the stories other people tell.”
  • Pandora’s Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb by Brian VanDeMark.
    • “Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it” (Niehls Bohr).


  • Oppenheimer’s Choice: Reflections from Moral Philosophy by Richard Mason
    • “Practical questions of who should possess knowledge cannot be separated from questions of power; questions of knowledge cannot be separated from questions of value.”
  • *Hunger by Roxanne Gay
    • “This is what most girls are taught — that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society. And most women know this, that we are supposed to disappear, but it’s something that needs to be said, loudly, over and over again, so that we can resist surrendering to what is expected of us.”
  • *Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
    • “When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”
  • *Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin Yalom
    • “…the more unlived your life, the greater your death anxiety. The more you fail to experience your life fully, the more you will fear death.”


  • *Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
    • “The more time you spend writing things down the less time you spend doing things you don’t want to forget.”
  • Understanding Disparities in Access to Genomic Medicine by Siobhan Addie, Joe Aper, and Sarah Beachy
    • “Disparities in access to genomic medicine is a profoundly complex issue that affects many populations, including underrepresented minorities, rural communities, medically underserved groups, and others, said Wicklund.”
  • *Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • “Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”
  • The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
    • “Just because their standards are low does not mean that we should lower ours.”
  • *Radical Candor by Kim Scott
    • “You already know how to be Radically Candid because you know how to care personally and to challenge directly.”


  • The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
    • “Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”
  • *An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal
    • “American patients need to take back ownership of what it means to be healthy or sick. Commercialization has recast our health as a series of disease states: the cause of every symptom needs to be urgently diagnosed and treated. ‘Do something!’ ‘Time is of the essence.’ The healthcare industry spends nearly $15 billion on advertising annually to encourage worry. That’s good business, but not smart medicine.”
  • The House of Broken Angels by Luís Alberto Urrea
    • “And everyone loved sunsets. The light lost its sanity as it fell over the hills and into the Pacific–it went red and deeper red, orange, and even green. The skies seemed to melt, like lava eating black rock into great bite marks of burning. Sometimes all the town stopped and stared west. Shopkeepers came from their rooms to stand in the street. Families brought out their invalids on pallets and in wheelbarrows to wave their bent wrists at the madness consuming their sky. Swirls of gulls and pelicans like God’s own confetti snowed across those sky riots.”
  • Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again by Eric Topol
    • “The greatest opportunity offered by AI is not reducing errors or workloads, or even curing cancer: it is the opportunity to restore the precious and time-honored connection and trust.”


  • How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan.
    • “The efficiencies of the adult mind, useful as they are, blind us to the present moment. We’re constantly jumping ahead to the next thing. We approach experience much as an artificial intelligence (AI) program does, with our brains continually translating the data of the present into the terms of the past, reaching back in time for the relevant experience, and then using that to make its best guess as to how to predict and navigate the future.”
  • The Qur’an and the Bible: Text and Commentary by Gabriel Said Reynolds (Author), Ali Quli Qarai (Translator)
    • “I investigate the Qur’an’s relationship with those traditions — above all, Biblical traditions — that can be reliably dated to the pre-Islamic period. Such an investigation will lead, hopefully, to a better appreciation of the originality of the Qur’an itself.”
  • The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
    • “In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that they are living that golden instant “now,” even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come. Because how could anyone, and particularly anyone who is still young, carry on with the belief that everything could only get worse: If a person is happy enough to think he has reached the happiest moment of his life, he will be hopeful enough to believe his future will be just as beautiful, more so.”
  • Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
    • “Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything–a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps–the ones that even the highly skilled professional using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”
  • *Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
    • “You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing exactly where his abode is, there is only one place to look for him: in the heart of a true lover.”


  • When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon
    by Joshua D. Mezrich
    • “They wait so long for that call, hoping against hope that it will come before it’s too late. At the same time, they know they are waiting for someone else’s death, someone they will never meet but to whom they will be connected in a more intimate way than their parents, children, or lovers—and for the rest of their lives.”
  • Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
    • “What if the puzzle of the world was a shape you didn’t fit into? And the only way to survive was to mutilate yourself, carve away your corners, sand yourself down, modify yourself to fit? How come we haven’t been able to change the puzzle instead?”
  • The White Coat Investor by James Dahle, MD
    • “If you are willing to live like no one else will early in life, then you can live like no one else can later in life.”
  • *A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
    • “Sometimes an old photograph, an old friend, an old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. And some people travel far more than others.”


  • The Med School Survival Kit by Wendall Cole
    • “If it takes less than 1 minute to do, do it right then and there. Put that dish away, send that email, and pick up that piece of trash.”
  • *Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel
    • “Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow.”
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson
    • “Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves. This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it’s not necessarily the best way to live.”
  • The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves by Eric Kandel
    • “…understanding the biology of brain disorders is part of the continuous attempt of each generation of scholars to understand human thought and human action in new terms. It is an endeavor that moves us toward a new humanism, one that draws on knowledge of our biological individuality to enrich our experience of the world and our understanding of one another.”
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
    • “Even if we didn’t know the context, we were instructed to remember that context existed. Everyone on earth, they’d tell us, was carrying around an unseen history, and that alone deserved some tolerance.”


  • Sula by Toni Morrison
    • “In a way, her strangeness, her naiveté, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings, had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like an artist with no art form, she became dangerous.”
  • *There There by Tommy Orange
    • “This is the thing: If you have the option to not think about or even consider history, whether you learned it right or not, or whether it even deserves consideration, that’s how you know you’re on board the ship that serves hors d’oeuvres and fluffs your pillows, while others are out at sea, swimming or drowning, or clinging to little inflatable rafts that they have to take turns keeping inflated, people short of breath, who’ve never even heard of the words hors d’oeuvres or fluff.”
  • *The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton and Lara Love Hardin
    • “No baby is born a murderer. No toddler dreams of being on death row someday. Every killer on death row was taught to be a killer—by parents, by a system, by the brutality of another brutalized person—but no one was born a killer.”
  • Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
    • “Sometimes we just talked. At other times neither was possible, he just chased me away. He wanted to work in his garden or fix his fences. He couldn’t be bothered. The present was too urgent to let the past intrude.”
  • *Words Under the Words by Naomi Shihab Nye
    • ” Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness / you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho / lies dead by the side of the road. / You must see how this could be you” (“Kindness”).


  • *Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
    • “The conviction that we know others better than they know us—and that we may have insights about them they lack (but not vice versa)—leads us to talk when we would do well to listen and to be less patient than we ought to be when others express the conviction that they are the ones who are being misunderstood or judged unfairly. “


  • *How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
    • “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.”
  • *Grit by Angela Duckworth
    • “…grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.”
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
    • “The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.”
  • Women in Moslem Paradise by Fatima Mernissi
    • In lieu of a quote, here is an article about Professor Mernissi.
  • *The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris
    • “The profound discovery was that our patients with four or more ACEs were twice as likely to be overweight or obese and 32.6 times as likely to have been diagnosed with learning and behavioral problems.”
  • *A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
    • “…poetry excites one to such abandonment, such rapture, is that it celebrates some feeling that one used to have (at luncheon parties before the war perhaps), so that one responds easily, familiarly, without troubling to check the feeling, or to compare it with any that one has now. But the living poets express a feeling that is actually being made and torn out of us at the moment.”


  • *Take Me With You by Andrea Gibson
    • “Coming into our own humanity often takes enormous effort, commitment and bravery. I believe we should be taught that at an early age. I believe part of the violence of our culture stirs from the myth is kindness is natural. I think kindness would only be natural in a world where no one is hurt, and everyone is hurt. So kindness is work. Kindness is knees in the garden weeding our bites, our apathies, our cold shoulders, our silences, our cruelties, whatever taught us the world ‘ugly.”
  • *So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
    • “To refuse to listen to someone’s cries for justice and equality until the request comes in a language you feel comfortable with is a way of asserting your dominance over them in the situation.”
  • *Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
    • “The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving. It’s when mercy is least expected that it’s most potent—strong enough to break the cycle of victimization and victimhood, retribution and suffering. It has the power to heal the psychic harm and injuries that lead to aggression and violence, abuse of power, mass incarceration.”
  • What Does It All Mean? by Thomas Nagel
    • “Even if life as a whole is meaningless, perhaps that’s nothing to worry about. Perhaps we can recognise it and just go on as before.”
  • *Poetry of Presence edited by Ruby R. Wilson and Phyllis Cole-Dai
    • “The good news / they do not print. / The good news / we do print. / We have a special edition every moment, / and we need you to read it. / The good news is that you are alive” (Thich Nhat Hanh).
  • *The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
    • “Cultural humility’ acknowledges that doctors bring the baggage of their own cultures—their own ethnic backgrounds along with the culture of medicine—to the patient’s bedside, and that these may not necessarily be superior.”
  • *Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
    • “We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot. I grew up and I found my purpose and it was to become a physician. My intent wasn’t to save the world as much as to heal myself. Few doctors will admit this, certainly not young ones, but subconsciously, in entering the profession, we must believe that ministering to others will heal our woundedness. And it can. But it can also deepen the wound.”
  • Gendered Morality: Classical Islamic Ethics of the Self, Family, and Society by Zahra Ayubi
    • “The answers [Ghazali, Tusi, and Davani] develop to these questions entail an understanding of the self as male…At stake in engaging these texts is not just women’s access to philosophical-ethical-religious thought about how to live the good life, but also the substance of that thought itself: the very definition of what it means to be human, the possibilities for women and subjugated others to exist in metaphysical understandings of the world, and the opportunities for virtue ethics to accommodate women, as well as men.”