Hi friends! Another year of reading is now behind us, wow. This one went fast. This year I beat my reading record by just a couple books: 84 read. I would love one day to get to 100, but I don’t want to let arbitrary goals get in my way of enjoying my reading.
I read a lot of amazing books this year, and a lot of meh books. I also read some straight up trash, including a highly regarded piece of non-fiction that was one of the most racists pieces of shit I’ve ever witnessed (I’m looking at you, Empire of the Summer Moon). I DNFed that garbage.
This was the first year I used the Bookriot tracking spreadsheet, created in Google Sheets. It was really fun to record specific details about my reading and get a good overview of my year in books. Horror was my most read genre (26.1%) with SFF in second place (23.9%). Mystery/crime/thriller was a distant third at 12.5%. Most of what I read was in audiobook format (51.7%), and most of the books I read were from the library (68.5%). Thanks to this spreadsheet, I have a better idea of my reading habits and some new goals for my 2020 reading, which I will post separately soon.
I read less books that completely blew me away than I did in 2018, but the ones that did blow me away knocked me into another galaxy. I’ll be thinking about these books for a long time!
Here we go! My favorites of 2019:
How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell: I’ve already written about how obsessed I am with this book, and if you know me irl I guarantee you’ve had to endure me talking your face off about it. This book rocked my world in 2019 and has greatly influenced how I want to live my life from here on out. Odell blends so many important and heavy concepts together beautifully to talk about our relationships to nature, community, capitalism, technology, and more. This is a book to read over and over in years to come.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer: I also wrote all about my love for this book in that same post linked above. I read this close to both How to Do Nothing and Trick Mirror (below) and had what I can only describe as a revelatory experience about how I want to live and who I want to be. This book, like How to do Nothing, takes a deep look at our relationship to nature and intentional living. It’s beautiful!
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino: Bury me with this essay collection. Bury me under everything Tolentino has ever read. Cause of death? Smothered by the big tit energy of Tolentino’s creative nonfiction genius. Her insightful observations about Millennial experiences and our unique relationships to technology and culture leave me drooling and wrecked with her sharp truths, every time. Here’s my initial review of this glorious collection.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: I love the ReVisioning American History book series. So much of the history we were taught was from a very specific perspective. That saying about how victors write history? Yeah, disturbingly true. Everything is told from a white male perspective with many critical details left out or flat out lied about. This overall** history of the United States from the indigenous populations’ perspective is critical to a fuller understanding of this country and the events that led** up to where we are today as a society and political entity. Here is my initial review of this critical history.
Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble: While Dr. Noble addresses right up top that a lot of the technology discussed in the book would be out of date by the time the book was published. Tech moves so quickly, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be critical of it at all points in order to do better and learn from mistakes. Throughout this incredibly enlightening book, Dr. Noble points out the ways that technology inherits humans’ biases and bigotries. When put into algorithms and artificial intelligence for the purposes of thinking for us and performing services for us, that bigotry can be compounded and cause extreme harm. While lots of the specific issues discussed in this book have been fixed, the actual reason they existed in the first place has not. This book was invaluable to me as a librarian and as a citizen of the world in the 21st century. Read it.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou: This true crime story took the country by storm in 2019. People became obsessed with the weirdness that is/was Elizabeth Holmes, and Carreyrou’s reporting is absolutely enthralling and comprehensive. As someone who, frankly, hates startup culture, this was pretty high on the schadenfreude for me. Since a lot of the nonfiction books I read this year had something to say about technology, I felt that this fit in nicely. I learned a lot. It’s also just entertaining as hell and wonderfully written!
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi: This was one of the first books I cracked in 2019 and, not surprisingly, I was obsessed with it. I currently have the second book in the series out from the library now. I love epic fantasy like Lord of the Rings and The Witcher series. Children of Blood and Bone is an amazing installation in the epic fantasy tradition. The mythology is rich, the stakes are high, the landscapes are sweeping, and the action is incredibly entertaining. I became very invested in the characters and their quest, and I know I will really enjoy Children of Virtue and Vengeance when I pick it up later this month. If you enjoy fantasy and haven’t started this series yet, what are you even doing with your life??
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim: I normally resist picking up hot “book club” books, but enough people were raving about this one that I decided to give it a try. I’m so happy I did! It was a beautiful, suspenseful, twisty who done it bursting with heart and heartbreak. The split narrative focuses on people full of hope fighting for a better life. An immigrant family offers a specialized medical service usually used by people with autism to lessen symptoms. When that service backfires and lives are lost, everything gets thrown into chaos. This was one of those books that introduced me to new perspectives as well. If you enjoy mysteries and are trying to get to more literary fiction, this is a good gateway book. And yes, it would be excellent for book clubs.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi: This modern YA retelling of a classic was probably my biggest surprise of the year. I love Pride and Prejudice, so of course I was interested in Zoboi’s retelling taking place in Brooklyn against the backdrop of predatory gentrification. It was sweet, romantic, honest, and beautifully written! I think it offers a great example of the impact that gentrification does to communities and is also a damn good YA romance.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher: As I’ve gotten more into horror reviewing this year I’ve been able to take advantage of ARCs. The Twisted Ones was one of the first ARCs I got, and, having already hear incredible things, I was over the moon! This folk horror wasn’t super scary, but some imagery had me scared of the dark for sure. I think the biggest strength of it are the characters and the humor. When humor and horror mix, you get that lovely balance that equals an overall satisfying experience. Read my initial review here!
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff: I read this highly enjoyable book on the trip to my wedding this summer, and it took my mind off all the stress and anxiety that comes with planning a wedding. I absolutely loved this story, characters, and narrative style. I’m thirstily waiting for the Jordan Peele HBO adaptation! It’s told in related vignettes following the same cast of characters. It’s creepy, funny, compelling, and full of action!
A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill: This debut novel took my heart and fucking wrecked it. It’s a beautiful piece of literature with intense elements of cosmic horror and dark fantasy, but at its core it’s about a family falling apart and what a son must do to save everyone he loves. It was incredibly creative and beautifully written, but it’s really really weird. While it was probably in my top five books I read in 2019, I completely understand if folks don’t like it. Personally, I’ll be automatically buying anything Shaun Hamill writes in the future. Read my initial review here!
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: I watched the BBC miniseries adaptation of this delightful fantasy novel and was enchanted. I loved the alternate history, I loved the rules of the magic, I loved the interpersonal conflicts between the characters. So naturally I had to read the book. The book is a fucking doorstop, so I opted instead for the audiobook. I was nervous at first because footnotes play a huge role in the narrative and plot of the story, and I wasn’t sure how that would translate to audio, but it was actually done really well! The narrator was also great, and my experience consuming the large novel was incredibly pleasant. It allowed me to really enjoy sinking into this rather complicated and lingering fantasy novel. This book is not for everyone, but if you like thick fantasies I encourage you to give it a try (especially the audiobook).
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Hooo boy! This debut short story collection knocked me on my ass from the first story and I couldn’t put it down until I had licked the bowl clean, so to speak. I LOVED Friday Black! This slim collection my Adjei-Brenyah is brutal, beautiful, compelling, and incredibly imaginative. It lives mostly in the genre realm, speculative and scifi primarily, but the plots, narratives, and motives and very rooted in modern societal issues. This is a collection I will return to over and over again, and I am really looking forward to reading all of what Adjei-Brenyah writes in the future. He is a master. There are many trigger warnings for this collection, however.
Milkman by Anna Burns: Milkman was the most beautiful book I read in 2019. It takes place during the troubles in Northern Ireland, but it focuses on a small community and the experiences of the narrator and those around her. It was slow, lilting, meandering, introspective, and deeply personal. I loved that this huge national crisis was happening, a historical event that many of us are familiar with, but the state of the nation is communicated through the very specific and personal events happening to the narrator. Most of the book is made up of her thoughts and feelings, and it was very compelling to read. I definitely recommend the audiobook for this one because the reader has the most lovely Irish accent.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: I read this classic with a couple of my girl friends for our little informal book club. We thought it was a perfect read for the gloomy Pittsburgh fall and winter, and not only were we dead right, but it has become the rallying cry for our lives moving forward. We became completely obsessed! This book is outrageous and laugh out loud hilarious. People feel a lot of ways about this one. Lots of people hate it, lots of people think it’s the love story to end all love stories, a few folks think it’s an amazing laugh as we did. The melodrama was just *chef’s kiss* beautiful. The shit that people say to each other! The absolutely asinine decision making! It was incredibly entertaining. We talk about it all the time now. We quote our favorite lines. I hand decorated prayer candles devoted to this book’s massive melodrama energy to help power us through this year #DevilDaddy2020. If you read this one in high school and hated it, I encourage you to give it another try now as an adult. And treat it like a comedy, you won’t be disappointed.
All the Names They Used For God by Anjali Sachdeva: This was an interesting situation where I rated this short story collection 3/5 stars, but I’ve thought about it weekly since I finished it. It was one of the first books I read in 2019, so my thoughts have been called back to it time and time again for a year (especially the mermaid story). I can’t stop! Sachdeva’s haunting and beautiful writing clearly got to me, and I’m happy that it seems to have grown on me. She’s particularly strong in her magical realism. I think that it’s a slightly uneven collection, but it’s hard to make every story a true banger, especially in a debut. Sachdeva is a local (to Pittsburgh) author so it was my pleasure to buy this buzzy hit from a local indie bookstore. I will definitely be rereading this one in years to come.
How Long ’til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin: I also read this really early in 2019. So many amazing short story collections to start my year! And this collection was amazing!! I especially loved the last story, “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters”. I’m a sucker for anything set during Hurricane Katrina, ESPECIALLY if it includes magical realism. The audiobook was excellent, but I think I’d like to own this one in hard copy and read it that way next time. I feel like I missed some stuff because of general life distraction. Her writing is so rich, it’s worth reading over and over anyway. Her new novel coming out in 2020 is an expansion of the story “The City Born Great” from this collection. I definitely need to reread it before picking up The City We Became in March.
Orange World by Karen Russell: I have a couple Karen Russell collections and novels, but this is actually the only one I’ve read. I also read this with my two girl friends for our book club and it was just so beautiful. Russell is a master of magical realism, and this collection is overflowing with stunning imagery. I enjoyed all of the stories, some of them I still think about often. If you’re looking for a consuming read to get lost in, pick this book up next.
The Need by Helen Phillips: Everyone had something different to say about this short but impactful 2019 release. They said it was horror, thriller, scifi, literary fiction, the best portrait of motherhood ever written. The one thing everyone said in common was that it was a stunning piece of literature. I agree with all of it. The Need is genre bending at its best, and the ending will keeping you thinking for weeks after finishing the book. What I really appreciated about it was the depiction of the strange veil of stress and anxiety that fall over mothers of babies and toddlers. The monotony, the exhaustion, the mess…it makes you go a little crazy and it’s not talked about a lot other than as a joke. This book really was an important portrait of motherhood, but it also had like, interdimensional travel, so, like, yeah. It’s wild and wonderful.
The Troop by Nick Cutter: I think this was my favorite book I read in 2019. I recommended it to my brother and sister and they also really loved it. If you like body horror, you need to pick up Nick Cutter. The Troop felt like the best X-Files episode I ever watched. It has everything, comedy, drama, survival horror, science fiction, and some incredible monsters, both creatures and humans. I warn you, however, it’s gross. It’s the grossest thing I’ve ever read. I still fucking loved every second of it.
A great batch of books last year! I’m so excited to explore more amazing reads throughout 2020, but as of right now I’m just up to my eyes in The Witcher books. I never played the game, but I’ve already watched through the Netflix series multiple times and just needed to get into the books as soon as humanly possible. I’m really enjoying them, so don’t be surprised if they drastically affect my reading year. Happy reading, friends!