Books of 2019

Two years ago, I decided to go back to reading books. Like many friends, I was a voracious reader once, then gradually dropped the habit between being Online and being Busy. I missed it though, curling up in bed with a more or less well-designed block of printed paper that doesn’t tell me if I have email, and immersing myself in someone else’s brainspace.

It was a New Year’s resolution that stuck. I read 19 books in 2018; and now after 2019, I feel like a proper reader again, with 46 books read this past year, and a need for a new bookcase too. (I was on track for a book a week at some point but then decided to attack two 1000-page brick-shaped objects—Infinite Jest and Ducks, Newburyport—which took me about a month each.)

So! Here are my Books of 2019, with a few notes. The ones in bold are the ones that spoke to me the most. The dagger † is for nonfiction, double dagger ‡ means German (everything else was read in English).

  1. Belinda McKeon: Solace
  2. Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy†
    I found this in a Little Free Library in my neighborhood and am so glad I picked it up—important and impressive, on Stevenson’s work defending wrongfully convicted Death Row inmates. The new movie is powerful too.
  3. Michelle Obama: Becoming†
  4. Peter Bichsel: Zur Stadt Paris‡
  5. Christa Wolf: Nachruf auf Lebende‡
  6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions†
  7. Sarah Moss: Ghost Wall
    Odd and haunting. Couldn’t stop thinking about this for a while.
  8. Sarah Moss: Night Waking
  9. Colson Whitehead: The Intuitionist
  10. Jennifer Egan: Manhattan Beach
    I mostly enjoyed this for the precise and well-researched (it seems) descriptions of 1940s Brooklyn.
  11. Sandra Newman: The Heavens
  12. Tommy Orange: There There
    This was great, and illuminating as a new (to me) perspective (young, urban Native).
  13. Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
    YES what took me so long! (I so didn’t want this to end that I attempted to watch the series after; but I prefer the book)
  14. Erling Kagge: Silence in the Age of Noise†
    Found this silly and self-important. If it were longer I wouldn’t have finished it.
  15. Valeria Luiselli: Lost Children Archive
    Complex and intelligent and important.
  16. Rachel Kushner: The Mars Room
  17. Austin Kleon: Keep Going†
  18. Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities
  19. Christian Picciolini: White American Youth†
  20. Tamara Shopsin: Arbitrary Stupid Goal†
  21. Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
    YES what took me so long (2). I’m not sure why I hadn’t read this yet. I’m so glad I did.
  22. Roxane Gay: Hunger†
    This was as hard for me to read as it was impossible to put down.
  23. Valeria Luiselli: Tell me How it Ends†
  24. Kressmann Taylor: Adressat unbekannt
  25. Ocean Vuong: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
  26. Rebecca Solnit: A Field Guide to Getting Lost†
  27. Emma Donoghue: Room
    Another book I found on the street and didn’t know what to expect of it and then totally got sucked into it. This is some good storytelling.
  28. Jerry Kelly & Misha Beletsky: The Noblest Roman†
    Look! Something about type! I should do more of these.
  29. Roxane Gay: Difficult Women
  30. Olivia Laing: The Lonely City†
    Not sure the concept of this quite worked for me, but I learned some things about NYC and artists who worked here, most importantly about David Wojnarowicz (whose big retrospective at the Whitney I had missed).
  31. CJ Hauser: Family of Origin
  32. Sarah Schulman: The Gentrification of the Mind†
    A super interesting (angry) perspective on the transformation of NYC starting in the early 1980s, with the AIDS crisis and the onset of gentrification. Quoted in “The Lonely City” above.
  33. Colson Whitehead: The Nickel Boys
  34. Toni Morrison: Beloved
  35. Colin Woodard: American Nations†
    A proposal to read the history of the United States as the history of eleven distinct regional cultures. Illuminating and eye-opening in many ways (thanks to Tobias for the recommendation).
  36. James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time†
  37. James Baldwin: Another Country
    YES what took me so long! (3) What a treat to finally fall into Baldwin. This was incredibly intense.
  38. David Foster Wallace: Infinite Jest
    I want to take a 2- or 3-week vacation and do nothing but reread this book, taking notes and tracing all the bits I’ve missed this time. But wow, man. I like his thinking, and his language.
  39. Thomas Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49
    Wow ok that was a trip. I get what he’s doing, but I still find it frustrating. I am curious about Gravity’s Rainbow, but after this I’m not sure it’s for me.
  40. Joseph Heller: Catch-22
  41. Margaret Atwood: The Testaments
  42. Wolfgang Langhoff: Die Moorsoldaten†‡
    Haunting first-person account of early concentration camp life, published in the 1930s!!
  43. Anna Burns: Milkman
  44. Anonymous: A Warning
    Yeah that wasn’t really worth it.
  45. Thøger Jensen: Ludwig
  46. Lucy Ellman: Ducks, Newburyport
    ~1,000-page internal monologue. I get what she’s doing, and it works, but it was too long (surely intended, but still) and I also realized at some point that part of the reason why I read is to get away from the kind of anxious circular thought dump that this consists of.

Lots of great and worthwhile discoveries! That’s about 60% fiction; slightly more books by women—25—than by men; and roughly a third are books by writers of color. There are a few more that got abandoned; I only list books I finish. A dishonorable mention (I guess) goes to Kerouac’s On The Road, which I attempted to read for what must be the fourth or fifth time but it just doesn’t hold my interest, it just seems so bro-y, a story not told for me. Maybe next year. Or not. In any case, here’s to more reading in 2020!

1 Comment

  1. This is such a great round-up! Seeing where we’ve crossed over tells me I should just come to you for recommendations! “Beloved” still haunts me and I loved “The Fire Next Time” especially as a prelude / context to “Between the World and Me”. If you want an engaging (but still light/entertaining/holiday speed) novel, I’m wrapped up in “Life After Life” at the moment.

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