Here are the other four books that made me a better person in 2020. I covered the first four in yesterday’s episode, if you want to hear about those, too.
These aren’t necessarily the books I loved the most during 2020. Although some of these were absolutely transporting reads, I chose these four books because they helped me re-think things, have more empathy, have more hope, and become more inspired to make a difference in myself and the world. I hope they will help you do the same.
Listen to the Podcast Here
The first of the books that made me a better person that I’m covering today is Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions to Adulthood by Lisa Damour
You know what can make you doubt whether you’re a good person or doing a good job like nobody’s business? Parenting. Especially parenting a tween or teenager. You second guess yourself all over the place. Or at least I do. Whether it’s talking about body image stuff, or grades, or friends, or drugs and alcohol, or sex, or you name it. After every interaction it’s really tempting to wonder if you did it right or wish you’d done it differently. This book helps.
Lisa Damour is a therapist and school counselor who specializes in working with girls. And she breaks the transition from childhood to adulthood that girls go through into seven stages, and then guides you through each one. She gives you insight into what your girl is thinking and experiencing that she may not be able to express.
More importantly, Damour tells you what’s totally healthy, necessary, and natural. AND she gives you specific examples of when you need to worry. This one will be on my nightstand for years to come. And if you’re raising a girl, it should be on yours, too.
Chanel Miller lived out a reality you wouldn’t wish on anyone. She was sexually assaulted behind a dumpster on the Stanford campus by a Stanford student while passed out drunk. Two bicyclists saved her by checking on her and then chasing down her perpetrator.
Here’s what I wrote about this book in my Good Reads review:
I want to give this 1,000 stars. I am not at all exaggerating when I say that it is one of the best books I have ever read. Chanel Miller shines a huge beam of truth on what it means to be a victim of sexual assault and the costs associated with it–physical, emotional, mental, financial, legal, as well as on relationships and how echoes of these effects are shared with those in the victim’s life.
It is a tragic topic but Miller is in no way a tragic figure. Her writing, her humanity, and her heart are just staggering. I’m at a loss for words, honestly. I can only say that you should read it, and you should give it to everyone you know and they should read it. And you should talk about it… this is how we process #MeToo and make it a memory. I don’t know why you’re still sitting there reading this–you should be off to the bookstore or the library by now. Go!
And now I’ll share a quote from the book that I hope will help you see that this is ultimately a story of triumph. Miller writes:
“Hold up your head when the tears come, when you are mocked, insulted, questioned, threatened, when they tell you you are nothing, when your body is reduced to openings. The journey will be longer than you imagined, trauma will find you again and again. Do not become the ones who hurt you. Stay tender with your power. Never fight to injure, fight to uplift. Fight because you know that in this life, you deserve safety, joy, and freedom. Fight because it is your life. Not anyone else’s.”
Third on the list is How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
I mean, being quarantined is a pretty apt time to read something called “How to Do Nothing”, am I right? This book really did make me think about what the attention economy even is and questioning how much my attention is worth. And how much of it I’m so readily giving away to phone notifications and social media feeds and even to paying work, which can feel like the most important thing on my list even though there are plenty of other things that are valuable even though they aren’t income-producing.
Importantly, Odell also talks about what to pay attention to INSTEAD of screens and the relentless quest for productivity. It DOES get a bit theoretical and academic for me at parts. (There are swaths that I skimmed, I confess). Maybe I can blame quarantine brain for that? Regardless, I found it super hopeful and helpful to read how it is possible to reclaim my own attention.
Here’s a quote that has stuck with me, about the important work of taking care of things that already exist rather than chasing something new. Odell writes:
“Beyond self-care and the ability to (really) listen, the practice of doing nothing has something broader to offer us: an antidote to the rhetoric of growth. In the context of health and ecology, things that grow unchecked are often considered parasitic or cancerous. Yet we inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth over the cyclical and the regenerative. Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance as productive in the same way.”
I think the last book on the list of books that made me a better person in 2020 might surprise you. It’s Open Book, Jessica Simpson’s memoir
This book went a lot deeper than I expected.
Here’s why I loved Open Book and it helped me be a better person. Jessica Simpson is a survivor, a truth-teller, and unapologetically herself. All things I respect and aspire to be.
Jessica really does tell all. About being sexually abused by the daughter of a family friend and being too scared to tell anyone and feeling responsible for making sure that it didn’t happen to her little sister, too. She also covers what it felt like to be the family breadwinner as a young teen. And the just totally insane body shaming that she was subjected to throughout her life. Both from church leaders (her dad was a pastor) and from music professionals. Her emotionally abusive relationship with John Mayer. And how her drinking got out of control.
Jessica really doesn’t hold back
When writing about her divorce from Nick Lachey, she said that Nick was insisting that she pay him some undisclosed sum that her father, who was also her manager, was balking at. Jessica wrote,
“Just give him the money, Daddy, I’ll earn it back. And then I did.
Give or take a billion or so.”
(Her clothing company is hugely successful.)
I get that Jessica Simpson is blonde and gorgeous and talented and privileged in many important ways. But all I can tell you is that on the night we learned that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, and it felt like all the lights of the world were simultaneously dimmed as we’d lost such a champion of justice, all I wanted to do was get in bed and read my Jessica Simpson book. Hers is a story of a person trying to do the right thing and stay true to herself and grow in a world that’s most interested in exploiting and under-rating you. I found it incredibly inspiring.
So those are my 8 books that made me a better person in 2020
I hope one or some of these books catch your eye and make their way into your hands — or ears, if you’re an audiobook fan. And if you’re interested in sharing book recommendations, come find me on Good Reads.