Every year, I wait for lists. Not your everyday grocery shopping or to-do lists but the best books of the year lists. Whether the list is from the New York Times or a random Facebook acquaintance I care not. All I need to know is: what books could you not put down or (and this or is important) not stop thinking about?
While my reading goals are often loftier than needed, they encourage me to read as many books as I can—fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, I’ll read it all.
In the spirit of sharing book recommendations, here are my favorite books of 2019.
Books read: 68 (fiction, nonfiction, memoir, poetry, science fiction)
- The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
I adored this book and have gifted it to several people already. The Book of Delights is more a collection of musings than a book, which means it can be read several ways: straight through (which is, unintentionally, what I did), a few essays at a time, or a delight each day.
Gay’s writing is often physical, and for someone who understands the world through the ways in which I can touch it—whether through sight or smell or taste—it’s a chance to slow down and think twice about all the world has to offer.
2. Marilou is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith
This quirky novel sucked me in because of its protagonist, a fourteen-year-old girl who is believed to be the daughter of a wealthy family by a mother struggling with mental illness and a father who isn’t in the picture. Though our protagonist’s life is difficult, her curiosity and willingness to go along with how others perceive her is interesting and disappointing. Smith treats her characters humanely and it’s a compelling read, despite the abuse, because of this.
3. The Line Becomes a River by Fransisco Cantú
I was excited at the chance to read this one. A former border patrol officer and son of a park ranger and Mexican immigrant recounts his experiences working for the U.S. border patrol in Arizona. I have my own opinions about U.S./Mexico immigration issues—as I’m sure most of us do—and this book twists its way to Cantú’s final conclusions about how we treat people in difficult and deadly situations.
4. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
I read this book recently and so the precision of its prose is still fresh in my mind. It’s a quick read at less than 200 pages and its sentences are equally sparse and raw. Moving between several generations, the story explores how one unplanned pregnancy—and the ways in which race, class status, sexuality, and economic instability—can shift and intensify throughout generations.
5. Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
I’ll confess that I didn’t read any of Malcom Gladwell’s books prior to listening to every season of his podcast Revisionist History. I fully intend on going back to read each one now. If you’re like me and haven’t read any of his other books, Talking to Strangers pairs well with today’s political climate and the way we relate to one another. Not all of Gladwell’s ideas are easily understood, and some still have me feeling undecided: are race issues merely communication problems? (No.) Are rape cases simply a matter of alcohol consumption? (No.) Regardless of your beliefs, Gladwell’s writing offers the chance to learn why we think the way we do—and where that can lead us.
6. Normal People by Sally Rooney
I read Sally Rooney’s novel Conversations with Friends last year and have yet to figure out how I feel about the book. I don’t think I’ve decided how I feel about Normal People either, except that the book has stuck with me for the last several months. The characters border on cliche and are almost always frustrating, but Rooney’s precise writing had me anxious to read on.
7. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
This is the last fiction book I read in 2019 and I’m glad I did, because it certainly left me excited about what may come in 2020. The Dreamers is a science fiction/fantasy book that starts with the sudden and mysterious death of a young college student who, by all accounts, dies from sleeping. It’s the writing, and the way I was pulled into each of the numerous characters’ lives, that kept me reading. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard The Dreamers compared to Station Eleven and didn’t see the similarities; I abandoned the latter halfway through while The Dreamers was a quick read for me.
8. Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls by Jessica McDiarmid
Growing up in BC, I was well aware of the Highway of Tears, a lonesome stretch of road running between Prince George and Prince Rupert that’s known for being the “last spot seen” location of dozens of missing women, most of whom are Indigenous. This book talks about the cases, but more importantly looks into how systemic racism has helped to create a place for these disappearances—most of which are rapes and murders—to happen. Plus, Mc Diarmid writes in a really engaging way.
9. The Deepest Well: Healing the Longterm Effects of Childhood Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris
This wasn’t my favorite read of the year, but the research is compelling and the information is critical, especially as it relates to the mental health issues that Nick (and I) have experienced this year.
10. I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell
This memoir is organized more as a collection of essays, each detailing some near-brush with death. While some of the stories feel stretched in order to be linked to death, the writing is gorgeous, clear and full of humanity.