The Microsoft co-founder and co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has released his 2019 list of favorite reads. This year, Gates says he was immersed in fiction, tackling books like David Mitchell’s dizzying “Cloud Atlas” — “it’s amazingly clever but a bit hard to follow” — and David Foster Wallace’s short-story collection, “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.”
“Because I’m a data guy, I like to look at my reading list and see if any trends emerge,” Gates writes in his Gates Notes blog entry. “This year, I picked up a bit more fiction than usual. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I seemed to be drawn to stories that let me explore another world.”
The titles he’s recommending this year, he writes, are those “I think you’ll also enjoy reading.” Here they are.
“An American Marriage,” by Tayari Jones: A recommendation from his daughter Jenn, this novel won the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction. It tells the story of a black couple in the South whose marriage is rocked when the husband is convicted of a rape he did not commit. “Jones is such a good writer that she manages to make you empathize with both of her main characters, even after one makes a difficult decision,” Gates writes. “The subject matter is heavy but thought-provoking, and I got sucked into Roy and Celestial’s tragic love story.”
“These Truths: A History of the United States,” by Jill Lepore: The Bancroft Prize-winning author covers the entirety of American history in 800 illuminating pages. “She’s made a deliberate choice to make diverse points of view central to the narrative, and the result is the most honest and unflinching account of the American story I’ve ever read,” Gates writes.
“Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities,” by Vaclav Smil: Gates says he waits for the latest Smil book like others wait for “Star Wars” films. This time the Canadian-Czech interdisciplinary thinker tackles the ramifications of unchecked growth. “His latest doesn’t disappoint,” Gates writes. “As always, I don’t agree with everything Smil says, but he remains one of the best thinkers out there at documenting the past and seeing the big picture.”
“Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life,” by Diane Tavenner: The author, the co-founder of the California-based Summit Public Schools, offers what Gates calls “a helpful guidebook” to parenting. “Along the way, she shares what she’s learned about teaching kids not just what they need to get into college, but how to live a good life,” he writes.
“Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams,” by Matthew Walker: Like most of us, Gates wonders about what counts as a good night’s sleep — and how you make one happen. “Walker has persuaded me to change my bedtime habits to up my chances,” Gates writes. “If your New Year’s resolution is to be healthier in 2020, his advice is a good place to start.”
Gates also set a possible 2020 reading goal in his blog post: “Maybe next year’s end-of-year books post will finally include the Wallace novel I’ve been wanting to read for a while: ‘Infinite Jest.'”