What I Read This Month: December 2019

Books Gretchen has read December 2019

For more than two years now, every Monday morning, I’ve posted a photo1 on my Facebook Page of the books I finished during the week, with the tag #GretchenRubinReads

I get a big kick out of this weekly habit—it’s a way to shine a spotlight on all the terrific books that I’ve read.

As I write about in my book Better Than Before, for most of my life, my habit was to finish any book that I started. Finally, I realized that this approach meant that I spent time reading books that bored me, and I had less time for books that I truly enjoy. These days, I put down a book if I don’t feel like finishing it, so I have more time to do my favorite kinds of reading.

This habit means that if you see a book included in the #GretchenRubinReads photo, you know that I liked it well enough to read to the last page.

When I read books related to an area I’m researching for a writing project, I carefully read and take notes on the parts that interest me, and skim the parts that don’t. So I may list a book that I’ve partly read and partly skimmed. For me, that still “counts.”

If you’d like more ideas for habits to help you get more reading done, read this post or download my “Reading Better Than Before” worksheet.

You can also follow me on Goodreads where I’ve recently started tracking books I’ve read.

If you want to see what I read last month, the full list is here.

December 2019 Reading:

Adultery and Other Diversions by Tim Parks — I love essays and somehow recently discovered Tim Parks. (Though I’m skipping the books about his move to Italy, which are apparently enormously popular in the U.K.)

The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks — I’m reading a lot about the brain and the senses, so of course I’m reading Oliver Sacks.

Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures by Eric R. Kandel — An interesting argument that was particularly interesting to me as I ponder my daily Met Experiment.

The Agony of Flies: Notes and Notations by Elias Canetti — Aphorisms, sort of. More like fragmentary observations. Very thought-provoking. I love the work of Elias Canetti.

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath — Galley! So this book hasn’t hit the shelves yet. It’s a fascinating discussion about the importance of looking “upstream” to solve problems—i.e., figure out solutions to avoid making them in the first place.

This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin — So many people have recommended this book to me over the years, and finally I read it. Absolutely fascinating—and I’m not even a huge fan of music. Now I’m reading everything by Daniel Levitin.

Voices by Antonio Porchia — Aphorisms!

Gone: The Last Days of the New Yorker by Renata Adler — I heard an interview with Adler on the Longform podcast, and immediately ran to get this book from the library. I raced through it.

Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship with Food by Rachel Herz — Herz writes a lot about subjects that interest me: scent, taste, disgust.

Conversation Transformation: Recognize and Overcome the 6 Most Destructive Communication Patterns by Ben E. Benjamin, Amy Yeager, Anita Simon—I’ve been thinking about the sense of hearing, and that’s made me think much more about listening. How can I learn to listen better, to hear what people are really trying to say, and speak in a way that invites true communication?

The Human Voice: How This Extraordinary Instrument Reveals Essential Clues About Who We Are by Anne Karpf — And if I want to listen to people, I’m listening to voices. Boy, talking is more complicated than I realized.

Teach Us to Sit Still: A Skeptic’s Search for Health and Healing by Tim Parks — See above, Parks. This memoir was very interesting to me because of its focus on meditation, and also on pain and possibly the placebo effect, two subjects that have fascinated me for a long time.

Sound of the Ax: Aphorisms and Poems by William Stafford — Aphorisms, again.

The Eye: A Natural History by Simon Ings — Parts were very interesting, parts were too technical for me. I’m so interested in sight.

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan — Fascinating. I love Michael Pollan’s work. I have to say, his account made me want to try psilocybin as part of my research . I’m not sure how one goes about doing that. If you have any suggestions, email me.

Look Alive Out There: Essays by Sloane Crosley — I love essays, and I heard a great interview with Sloane Crosley on the Longform podcast (see above) so wanted to read this collection. I’d read her earlier book, I Was Told There’d Be Cake. I rarely make observations like this, but I will say: Crosley is really good with a metaphor.

You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy — This is a fascinating book, exactly suited to my particular interests. How can I learn to listen better?

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin — Levitin, see above. This is a very wide-ranging book that covers a lot of ground about how the mind works. I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of the default mode (also called the task-negative mode) of the brain. I think my Met Experiment is meant to stimulate this mode, though I’m just realizing that now.

Any reading suggestions? As always, I particularly love anything about the brain, the senses, children’s literature, essays, aphorisms, memoir, fiction (including science fiction), biography, history…well, really, anything good. The two kinds of books that I almost never read? Mysteries and thrillers. The kind of book I never read? Cookbooks.

Happy reading in 2020! One of my aphorisms is: No matter how long my life, there will never be enough time to read.



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up for our weekly newsletter “5 things making me happy”.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.