my favorite books of the decade

It’s that time: end of decade content. Every publication under the sun is releasing their 2010s in review coverage: books, movies, TV, big news stories, and everything else that shaped the decade.

Vox is no exception, and this week I wrote a little blurb for the forthcoming Vox staff roundup of our favorite books of the decade, which will publish soon if you want to read it! But I had an incredibly hard time narrowing it down to just one book; so many came to mind. So for the newsletter this week, I wanted to share the list of contenders I thought of, the books I read in the 2010s that stood out in my memory over the years. These are the types of books that stay with you, whose stories are unforgettable and moving.

All of them were books I couldn’t put down while reading them, and couldn’t stop thinking about long after I had finished them. Here are 10 of them, in no particular order. (And although I used Amazon links just because they’re easy for hyperlinking in a newsletter, I encourage you to support your local indie bookstore! They need your business!)

  • Modern Lovers, Emma Straub, 2016. This was a delightful novel about a group of college friends, now all married with children, living in Brooklyn and struggling with growing older and figuring out what they want in life.

  • Educated, Tara Westover, 2018. An incredible memoir by a woman who grew up in rural Idaho with parents who were suspicious of institutions — so she never went to school. The first time she set foot in a classroom was at the age of 17, yet somehow she went on to reach Harvard and Cambridge.

  • The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai, 2018. A novel set in 1980s Chicago, about the AIDS epidemic and how it impacted the LGBT community there. This one will undoubtedly make you cry, but it’s so good you won’t forget it.

  • The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer, 2013. Another novel about a group of friends who first meet at summer camp as teenagers; this one follows their lives over the years as they grow older and figure it all out.

  • Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney, 2017. A novel about two twentysomething female friends in Dublin, Frances and Bobbi who become friends with a slightly older married couple — and how that new friendship complicates Frances and Bobbi’s own relationship.

  • Fleishman Is In Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, 2019. I did a roundtable about this one with some of my Vox coworkers earlier this year; it’s a novel ostensibly about a divorce, but also about middle aged malaise, and about the pressures we put on women.

  • Pachinko, Min Jin Lee, 2017. An epic novel that follows a Korean family over five generations as they move from Korea to Japan, where they face discrimination and all kinds of other hurdles.

  • Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff, 2015. A novel about a marriage, told from two sides.

  • Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013. A novel about two young lovers who leave Nigeria with big dreams but are split up — Ifemelu goes to America, where she learns to deal with racism and what it means to be black in America, while Obinze had planned to follow her to America but ends up in London instead. 15 years later, they reunite in Nigeria.

  • Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi, 2016. Another epic across many generations: this one starts with two sisters in 1800s Ghana. One is taken to America as a slave; the other stays behind. The story then follows their descendants over several generations to the present day.

What else I’m reading

Chaos at the top of the world, GQ. This will be the best 30 minutes of reading you can do this week. This is the riveting tale of the day on Mount Everest that inspired that viral photo of crowds atop the mountain.

Lovers in Auschwitz, reunited 72 years later. He had one question, New York Times. This will make you cry but is 100% worth it.

The false promise of morning routines, The Atlantic.

Emotional baggage, The Verge. On the toxic working environment at the celebrated luggage startup Away.

The persistent myth of female office rivalries, Harvard Business Review.

Sadly, I like reading books on my phone now, The Cut. Listen…. I have read quite a few books on the Kindle app on my phone and it works 🤷🏽‍♀️


Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, I’d love if you’d consider clicking the “heart” at the top on Substack or sharing it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.

Digital detoxes don't work, small habit changes do

According to the iPhone’s screen time feature, my screen time has been embarrassingly high lately: I’m averaging 3-4 hours a day. I’m not someone who could really take an extended digital detox or delete my social media accounts, due to the nature of the type of job I have. But the research on digital detoxes suggests they’re not that helpful, anyways: you might break up with your phone for however many days the detox lasts, but then you just return to all your old habits, nothing changed. Experts say the real work comes in unlearning those learned daily behaviors — the compulsion to pick up your phone 52 times a day.

So, inspired by Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing (which I finally finished reading) and this Vox article, I’m taking a few small steps to change daily habits. I’m plugging my phone in to charge at night in the living room instead of the bedroom, and using an alarm clock in my bedroom (we have one of those light ones that’s supposed to mimic sunrise. Everyone says they’re lifechanging. So far I haven’t found it to be lifechanging, but I’ll keep you posted). I put my phone back on permanent do not disturb (a setting I had always used, but every once in a while when I’m expecting a call I turn it off and then get sucked back into the world of push alerts). I turned off notifications for almost all apps except truly essential ones (Calls, text messages, wallet/travel passes) and switched my phone to dark mode. I don’t know how long this all will last, if this is the beginning of a great new habit or if I’ll relapse again in three days. But I’m going to give it a try and see how far I get.

What I’m reading

The end of babies, New York Times.

How to stop looking at your phone, Vox.

Even nobodies have fans now, New York Times Magazine. On the rise of fandoms for podcasts - and everything else.

The meanie, the lightweight, the crazies, and the angry, dissembling elitists, The Cut. A record six women ran for president this year — more than ever before. And they all still were reduced to stereotypes.

The Baltimore Museum of Art will only acquire works from women next year, Baltimore Sun.

Why millennials never want to leave their apartments anymore, Quartz. I mean, I can give you a laundry list of reasons. How much time do you have?

I found work on an Amazon website. I made 97 cents an hour, New York Times.

The feminist, n+1 magazine. This is a different one: it’s fiction! A short story! But so, so incredibly good. I won’t be forgetting it any time soon.

What do teens learn online today?, New York Times. I learned so much about Youtubers from this piece.


Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, I’d love if you’d consider clicking the “heart” at the top on Substack or sharing it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.

Links for your Sunday

Happy Sunday! I didn’t have time to write an intro today, but I do have lots of good links for you this week that I hope you enjoy, plus one very good recipe that actually made me like tofu.

What I’m reading

The unexpected joy of repeat experiences, New York Times. I personally love novelty and always want to try new restaurants, new places, new things; my husband jokes that I never go back to the same restaurant twice. But this makes a compelling case for why there’s pleasure in going to the same place over and over again.

Why the new Instagram It Girl spends all her time alone, The Atlantic.

Managing your friendships, with software, The Atlantic. On the rise of “personal CRM” and the workification of everything, even managing our friendships.

The new power lunch is Sweetgreen, Eater. There was a cranky old guy complaining in the New York Post recently that millennials killed the power lunch. It’s true, but that’s mostly because we’re all working too hard to take an actual lunch break. This was a great response.

The death of the rude press, The New Republic.

Keanu Reeves’s lady friend has inspired me to turn 40, The Cut. Getting older is weird and this is a great essay.

The world according to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Vogue. Never too much PWB!!!

The education of Natalie Jean, Elle.

5-hour workdays? 4-day workweeks? Yes, please, New York Times.

What I cooked

This week I made these sesame noodles with crispy tofu and it was so good, I cannot recommend it enough, and I wish I had more of it right now. This is the best way to prepare tofu (fry it till it’s crispy, then slather in a honey-soy-chile sauce).


Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, I’d love if you’d consider clicking the “heart” at the top on Substack or sharing it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.

On productivity p*rn

oh hi! I was really interested this week in this Washington Post piece on why more people are sharing their daily to-do lists in their Instagram stories, and this earlier piece from Apartment Therapy on the same topic.

I kind of love reading these when people post them, because it gives a glimpse into their daily work lives. I also love The Cut’s “How I Get it Done” series where women talk about the tips and tricks and strategies that help them manage their busy schedules and heavy workloads, and I love the New York Times’ similar “Work Diaries” series.

I will probably never post my own to-do list on Instagram, but I love consuming all of these things from other people; I call it “productivity porn.” (Which is starred in the subject line because I know how email works and I don’t wanna Gmail filters to send me straight to your spam folders!!) Much like how some people can’t get enough of Refinery29’s Money Diaries, I can’t get enough productivity porn. I love getting a voyeuristic look into the daily habits and routines of someone who seems more successful and productive than I am, and I feel more motivated to tackle my own daunting to-do list when I see how productive other people are being (or at least pretending to be, since this is Instagram).

When I’m feeling sluggish or procrastinating or overwhelmed by the size of my to-do list and not sure where to start, I sometimes go to the Cut to read the latest How I Get It Done, to try to feel a little more inspired to then dive into my own inbox/projects/reports/spreadsheets. You might argue that reading an article on The Cut instead of tackling the next item on my list is just more procrastinating, but it works! Some people might also argue that seeing other people’s to-do lists on Instagram makes them feel like they haven’t accomplished anything by comparison — which it certainly can, but I find that feeling like I’m behind usually motivates me to try to work harder to keep up. (It’s a kind of cousin to the idea of having an online nemesis). So anyways: I’m sure there are reasons it’s bad, but I’m gonna keep reading all the productivity porn. Maybe it’s cheesy, but I like the motivation.

What I’m reading

The company that branded your millennial life is pivoting to burnout, Buzzfeed News.

The mavening of sportswriting, The Ringer.

I accidentally discovered a nationwide scam on Airbnb, Vice.

Why are to-do lists popping up on Instagram and making us feel like underachievers?, Washington Post.

The Champagne Myth, Eater. One of my strongest opinions is that sparkling wine isn’t just for special occasions: any time is a good time for bubbles.

Succession knows how to toy with your class rage. Hence the chicken, New York Times.

An advice session with AOC’s career coach, The Cut.

For many widows, mealtime is the hardest part, New York Times.

What I’m cooking

This week I made this Bon Appetit coconut curry with chicken thighs, which was incredible, and this Alison Roman spicy mushroom soup with noodles which was a great and very easy cold weather recipe! Also, for a potluck yesterday I made “the dip” from Alison Roman’s new cookbook Nothing Fancy (it’s a labneh dip with chile oil and sizzled scallions, and it was a hit!)


Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, I’d love if you’d consider clicking the “heart” at the top on Substack or sharing it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.

Is overtourism really that bad?

I’ve certainly been guilty of saying some places are too touristy, too crowded (Venice, man). But this piece on Iceland and overtourism made me think twice about that. I’ve never had a real desire to go to Iceland, mostly because I hate cold weather and would always rather go somewhere warm, but if I’m honest it’s also partly because it’s become sort of cliché, since everyone goes to Iceland these days. But the Iceland tourism boom is starting to slow down; what will that mean for Icelanders and the country’s economy?

Travel trends move fast, and now that Iceland is “over,” tourists will move on to the next place, whether that’s Lisbon (already having its moment) or Mexico City or Copenhagen or whatever else is next on the New York Times’ 52 places to travel. We make fun of tourists, the ones who come by the busload and wear ugly shoes and fanny packs, but it also means that traveling the world and experiencing different cultures has become more accessible to a wider range of people — and isn’t that ultimately a good thing?

PS: On a totally different note, if you’re a woman in journalism, a PSA: applications for the 2020 ONA Women’s Leadership Accelerator close on October 31! I did this program in 2018 and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my career. If you’re interested in it at all, I encourage you to apply! And I’m happy to answer questions about the program if you’re thinking about applying — just email me.

What I’m reading

My own private Iceland, Vox.

The 2010s broke our sense of time, Buzzfeed News.

I’m never having children. Why does that make you so upset?, Refinery29.

What I learned about equal partnership by studying dual-income couples, The Atlantic.

Doom and gloom: the growing millennial obsession with houseplants, Elemental/Medium.

Inside r/relationships, the unbearably human corner of the internet, The Atlantic.

The real cost of not wearing makeup at the office, Fast Company.

The case for late bloomers, The Saturday Evening Post.

What I’m cooking

Stuff I cooked this week: this roast fish with curry butter (I did sweet potatoes instead of the fennel and potatoes in the recipe), this olive oil roasted chicken with caramelized carrots (extremely easy, because you literally just throw everything in one pot and douse it in olive oil, but not the most flavorful dish ever), and this crisp gnocchi with brussels sprouts and brown butter (so easy! only 20 minutes!).


Thanks for reading! If you like this newsletter, I’d love if you’d consider clicking the “heart” at the top on Substack or sharing it on social media or forward to a friend — they can subscribe at nishachittal.substack.com. And if you have thoughts on this week’s newsletter or suggestions to include in the future, feel free to reply to this email and let me know.

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