It’s always the first and last months of the year when the real reading momentum kicks in. In January 2019, I found myself devouring five books before the month was up. Despite best intentions, this momentum began to ebb as the months got warmer, my workload heavier, and my willingness to just sit and relax often felt at odds with my desire to get things done.
But just like the activity of walking around the city, I learned this year that reading is meditation for me. Sometimes I find it so easy to fall right into a book (like with The Silkworm, whew!), while other times, it takes real restraint to make myself stay seated and reading, ignoring the 64 “do not forget” notes my brain keeps interrupting the storyline with.
While I didn’t hit my reading goal this year, I did manage to shave down my in-house unread book collection from 130 to 90 books thanks to a jet lagged clear out session inspired by the question: Am I actually going to read this? Once I unburdened myself of the idea that I needed to read things just because they were famous/popular/historical, it felt so much easier to get rid of books I’d been carrying around for years. And I mean YEARS! I am currently reading a book I bought in 2009. That was 11 years and five moves ago! No book should be waiting in the wings for over a decade, they deserve better than that. So my quest to finish all my unread books continues and fingers crossed, by 2022 I will have completed it.
As we close the page on another year, here were some of my favorite books I read in 2019.
- Sick: A Memoir – This is a powerful memoir from Iranian American writer Porochista Khakpour on her decades-long battles with lyme disease, chronic pain, addiction, and mental illness. This novel’s portrayal of the ways the health system often fails to diagnose and treat those suffering from chronic illness and pain (especially women and POCs) is deeply memorable, as is Khakpour’s honest prose about her often nomadic life searching for healing and safety. She continues to write a weekly newsletter about chronic illness that is really amazing called Sicker/Sickest.
- Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy – Under the Tuscan Sun is one of my top three favorite movies of all time so it felt only right to read the book that inspired it all. While completely different from the movie, this book was an enjoyable way to spend a couple weeks as it takes you through Frances Mayes and her partner buying and renovating their home in Italy and learning to adapt to the Italian way of life.
- The Shadow of the Wind – One of my top three favorites from this year, this novel is a MUST READ. Seriously, stop reading this list and go out and buy it now. Part mystery, part historical fiction, part love story, The Shadow of the Wind is so original and gripping it felt impossible to put down once I’d started it. Thank you to sweet JJ for the rec.
- Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution of Modern Female Friendships – I wrote at length about how much I loved this book here — along with 8 other books celebrating female friendship. It’s one of the first books I recommend to friends and strangers alike if they’re looking for a great nonfiction read as it felt so relevant to the ways in which my friendships have impacted my own life.
- The Secret History of Wonder Woman – I found this book really interesting as I knew nothing about the development of the Wonder Woman character and was intrigued to find out how the polyamorous relationship of Wonder Woman’s creator influenced the character’s storyline.
- The Almost Moon – I wanted to mention this book because it was another one I had carried around with me for 11 years before sitting down to read it this spring. Reminiscent of The Summer of Drowning and The Virgin Suicides, The Almost Moon is a thriller based within the ordinary world, following a woman’s complicated and toxic relationship with her mother that all leads up to one fateful moment. I both felt sorry for the main character and disturbed by her, so if you’re look for a good unpredictable storyline, this one’s for you.
- The Nix – Moving between the 1960s, 1980s, and present day, The Nix is an epic story about one man’s decision to help his estranged mother whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years after she winds up making national news for attacking a right-wing presidential candidate. The story takes so many twists and turns, creatively depicting how each character’s past has influenced them to become the people they are today, and in the end, tying them all together for a memorable ending. I haven’t read a story with such vivid and complex characters in a long time, and found myself so intrigued by them.
- How to Be a Person in the World – A collection of letters from Ask Polly‘s advice column, this book is a must-have for anyone needing a pep talk, a reality check, or a literary hug. Or hell, maybe all three.
- Swimming Lessons – This was the first book in a long time that I picked out at random from a bookstore in Brooklyn. No BookTube recommendation, no previously read reviews — just a gut feeling it was going to be good. I remember doing this so often as a kid, walking through the bookstore and picking up anything and everything that looked interesting, but it’s a habit I’ve gone away from as I’ve gotten older. This book follows a family grappling with the mysterious disappearance of their mother 20 years prior, discovering she has written her entire story in letters that are hidden all around their father’s house. The story felt so original and I loved the ways the letters impacted my understanding of the present-day plot and characters.
- Maus I and II – The pioneer of the graphic novel genre, Maus tells the story of the author’s father surviving the Holocaust. With the Jews portrayed as mice and the Nazis as cats, the story gives a personal look at history and the lasting effects such a trauma has on the generations that follow.
- The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – I LOVED this book, to the point I would use every spare minute I had to finish it. The novel begins with the narrator in a body that isn’t his, believing he has just witnessed a murder. As the story unfolds, the narrator is given seven replaying days, and seven different perspectives, to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle by midnight. Should he fail, he’ll never learn who he really is or escape this ever replaying game. This novel is so original and crafty and imaginative — I haven’t read a mystery this good in a long long time.
- Bad Feminist – If you’re looking for a thoughtful read on feminism, gender, media critique, sexuality, trauma and healing, and race and privilege, do yourself a favor and borrow this book. It’s thoughtful, accessible, and stuck with me long after I turned the final page.
- The Silkworm – And finishing out the year with a final mystery, this is the second book in the Cormoran Strike series by J.K. Rowling (under the pen name Robert Galbraith). I actually enjoyed this book more than the first one as this one moved along at a quicker pace and each character/interaction felt essential in driving the reader towards the end reveal — something the first one lacked.
Happy reading fellow bibliophiles! I am just sinking into Career of Evil and Women Without Men and oh, am I so happy to be spending time in both.