2021 Book Round-Up

I’ve been on an audiobook since the pandemic started. I have always loved reading, but since starting graduate school I’ve found it really difficult to sit down and read for pleasure. When the pandemic hit, I couldn’t move my body in ways I was used to (like going to the gym), so I started walking a LOT. Walking helped me get out of my head, get rid of anxious energy, and kept me feeling strong. What I loved about walking was that I could listen to an audiobook and just appreciate the beauty around me as I listened and learned. All that being said, I wanted to share some of my favorite books that I read during 2021.

  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makai: This book absolutely blew me away. There were some evenings where I could not stop listening to the book and had to find more things to do around the house so I could keep listening to find out what happened next! The story is beautifully written and captivating. It melds the joy and grief of human experience, art, and the painful history of the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the U.S. I wholeheartedly recommend this book and have to thank my mom for sharing it with me!
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  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle: I have been dying to read this book since it came out in 2020. Both this book and Glennon Doyle’s other book, Love Warrior, feel so raw and I felt like she let me into her inner world. There are few times when we get to feel like we are a part of someone’s best and worst moments, and this book was one of those times. This book is great for those of us who feel shame about some of our mistakes or choices; Glennon Doyle shows how those very low points can lead to us to our best moments and our authentic selves.
  • More Than a Body: Your body is an instrument, not an ornament by Lexie Kite and Lindsay Kite: I have followed Lexie and Lindsay’s instagram page for a few years and have admired them and their work. I decided to take the plunge and read this book for myself and for the work I do with clients who struggle with body image. I loved that this book doesn’t take the stance of body positivity, which is a concept that does not resonate well with me. As someone who has had a complicated relationship with my body, especially while struggling with IBS for years, body positivity has felt far out of reach. The book talks about the idea of body neutrality and body image resilience, which feels like a concept that can serve us all well.
  • The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.: This book was incredible, even if most of the deeper meaning seemed to go right over my head! Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors and this book was one of the first books to remind me of her beautiful approach to storytelling. This is not a book you can miss a few pages of–every page and element was important. This book is about many things, but I particularly loved the LGBTQ+ love story that runs through the book. An important note: there are scenes of sexual violence in the book that some might find triggering.
  • The Guest List by Lucy Foley: This book was pure entertainment for me. If you want to get sucked into a different world and a mystery, this book is for you! There were elements of this book that I did not love and it felt predictable at times, but it did not disappoint. This is a great story to listen to while doing mindless tasks (cooking, laundry, etc.) because you can miss a few sentences and, frankly, you likely won’t miss anything too important.
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: This book was AMAZING! It might have been one of my favorite books of 2021. The character development and resilience displayed by the characters in this book were phenomenal. I loved the strong female lead and her growth and development throughout. The book brings in so many interesting themes (sexism, classism, etc.). I can close my eyes and still vividly imagine scenes from this book months after reading it.
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  • Burnout: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle by Amelia and Emily Nagoski: I read this book as part of my own therapy work! Burnout seemed to be a theme of 2021 for almost everyone I knew. I learned so much while reading this book. It is educational, but it also provides some very practical skills and worksheets to use to manage stress and decrease feelings of burnout. I love that this book does not place all responsibility in the hands of the individual, but also talks about the sociopolitical context that leads to burnout, especially for those who identify as women.


Have you read any of the books from this list? What were some of your favorite books from 2021?

Book Review: The Deepest Well

I bounce back and forth between reading non-fiction related to my academic interests and more fun novels (like Where’d You Go, Bernadette). I’ve been on a non-fiction kick recently so I can keep up with the research I’m most interested in, and I wanted to share one of my recent reads with you.

I am passionate about adverse childhood experiences, particularly experiences of trauma, and The Deepest Well is all about how adverse experiences influences our lives in ways we never could’ve imagined. Not only does it lead to increased risk of a number of different mental illnesses, but it also leads to increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases. It is not an issue that only effects those of low socioeconomic status, but it can effect anyone. If you had a parent with a mental illness or had a family member go to prison, your risk goes up.

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A higher ACE score means higher risk the board; it’s a dose-response effect. ACE scores don’t dictate your health, but those scores provide insight and can indicate you might be at higher risk.

The author, Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris, describes her work on ACEs and her creation of a non-profit in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco. I live in San Francisco so Burke-Harris’ descriptions of the wealth disparities, and health disparities that accompany them, hit close to home. Two neighborhoods, defined by zip codes, in San Francisco can have an average life expectancy difference of 22 years. Twenty-two years.

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Facts like this blow me away and strengthen my dedication to research and making positive change. Change does not mean we can eliminate adverse experiences, but we can help build resilience, educate parents, and provide positive interventions to minimize the negative impact of those adverse experiences.

ACE scores do not tell the whole story, but it provides powerful evidence and a simple, tangible metric for us to understand how early experiences influence us for the rest of our lives–both mentally and physically. I highly recommend The Deepest Well if you’re interested in learning more about chronic stress, adverse experiences, and health outcomes.


Have you heard of ACE scores? Does the correlation between ACE scores and heath outcomes surprise you?



Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

I’ve had When Breath Becomes Air on my list for about three years. I’ve often prioritized other books or put off reading it because I knew it would be heavy and difficult. Luckily it was our book club pick for this month and I am so glad I finally read it.

This book was written by a Stanford neurosurgeon diagnosed with late stage lung cancer. He describes his life, philosophy, and reflections on practicing medicine and dying. Yes, it was incredibly sad, but it was so much more than sad. I stayed up two hours past my usual bedtime reading this–caught up in a journey even when I already knew the ending.

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The writing was so beautiful; the thoughts so insightful and grounding. His reflections made me think about my own mortality and facing death of those we love. He lived his life so fully with a dedication to his goals & values. His book is a testament to this and will continue to impact the world long after his passing.

I went to an Emory alumni dinner this past weekend, and one alum brought her husband who happened to be a neurosurgeon at Stanford. Since I just finished the book and wanted to create conversation, I brought up that I had just finished the book. To my surprise, the neurosurgeon had actually worked with Paul Kalanithi and knew him well. I was slightly shocked at how nonchalantly I had brought it up; I immediately apologized. He stopped me and said that he was glad that the book was having such a broad impact–the best possible outcome for such a tragedy.

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It also reminded me that Paul was not a mythical figure, but a real person who died only a few short years ago. His legacy lives on not only through his book, but also through the hundreds of physicians, nurses, patients, and friends with whom he interacted. A few days after finishing the book, I was listening to NPR One and a Modern Love podcast episode came on (also an essay–“When a Couch is More Than a Couch”)…it was all about a woman who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer at 39. It was deeply engaging; and the twist at the end connected back to the book. Definitely give it a listen!

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