My Top Reads in 2019

My Top Reads in 2019

2019 was such a great reading year for me, I’m sad to see it go. I’m on track to make my Goodreads goal of 75 books, but always find it difficult to decide what my favorite books were in any given year. I read in so many different genres, from picture books to academic nonfiction, that it’s impossible to compare books in an equitable way. I also find that time changes the weight I attach to books–something I ranked with only three stars six months ago may have stayed with me in a way that has made that book more meaningful.

So rather than ranking my top favorite books, I’m going to give unique awards to the five books that somehow made the most noteworthy impact on my mind/heart/funnybone–reminiscent of the “Most Likely to…” section of a high school yearbook…

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Most likely to keep you up all night (and then wake up you too early):

The Dinner, by Herman Koch

I’ve met books whose page-turning capacity keep me up too late, but this was perhaps the first book that not only kept me up hours past my bedtime, but also roused my subconscious from lucid a dream with the thought “This dream is boring–I can’t stop thinking about what’s going to happen in that book!” I literally had to go to the living room and finish reading the book before I could get some sleep.

In the end, I’m not sure it was worth the sleep deprivation–it was unsettling as only an untrustworthy narrator can be. But sometimes it’s just nice to get so caught up in a book that it derails your chronotype for about 6 hours.

Most likely to make you laugh out loud in the canned food aisle of the grocery store like a maniac:

My Squirrel Days, by Ellie Kemper

Others have criticized this book for being caricatured, loud, a little too goofy. But here’s the thing: THERE’S A SQUIRREL ON THE COVER. What are people expecting, presidential memoirs?

Kemper’s ability to convey her childhood self’s hilariously flawed comprehension of the world and the sense of frivolity she continues to bring to her life constitutes some of the most entertaining writing I have read in a long time. I highly recommend the Audible version, read by Kemper herself.

This is a book I will return to when the headlines of our broken world feel paralyzing, when I begin to take adulthood too seriously, and when I find myself too often exchanging the maniacal “hahahahaha!” with the austere “lol” in professional emails.

Most likely to make you forget you’re reading a history book:

Longitude, by Dava Sobel

This has been on my to-be-read list for years–I’m glad I finally read it! The story of John Harrison is the story you never knew you wanted to read. His life is a microcosm of the broader quest to locate oneself anywhere on the globe, to produce accurate timepieces, to master the eternally elusive mystery of time and space on this orb we call home. But it’s also the story of a life, of time spent and wasted, of finding meaning in beauty and precision even when others betray you. It’s history that reads like a novel!

Most likely to make you sob over all of life’s ineffable beauty, sorrow, etc.:

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby

You may not want to start this unforgettable memoir just before bed–not only because you won’t be able to put it down, but because the act of lying in bed, hemmed in by a pile of heavy blankets, will give you the unshakable sense that you (like the author) have been locked into your own body, paralyzed, your entire person fettered by “something like a giant invisible diving-bell” that “holds your body prisoner” (p. 11).

It’s hard to imagine someone whose life has been forever changed by a massive stroke, who from one moment to the next found himself paralyzed by the mysterious but terrifying “Locked-In Syndrome” could write a book of such beauty and, ultimately, hope. But that is exactly what Bauby accomplished in dictating this book using an alphabet chart 6 months after the same stroke left him paralyzed, unable even to speak. Unlike his body, weighed down by insurmountable damage to his brain stem, Bauby’s mind flutters like a butterfly from one moving memory to another.

This is a haunting, enlivening yet gutwrenching exposition of the human condition.

Most likely to put you in touch with your inner child:

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit

This was an endearing tale that illuminates the beauty of life’s brevity.

The young protagonist, Winnie Foster, finds herself at a crossroads when she inadvertently stumbles upon a mysterious spring in the wood near her house whose waters (she will later learn) grant immortality. What she does with this knowledge about the spring reveals not only her character but the sadness and longing she carries for familial love.

This book is for the young and the young at heart–anyone who is waiting for an invitation to stop and wonder at the meaning mortality grants this fleeting life. A whimsical yet sober, light-hearted yet philosophical read with relationships at its center.

Those are my 2019 book awards! Here are all the books I read this year (as of writing this), or follow me on Goodreads.

I’d love to hear about your favorite books from 2019! Let me know on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Nicole’s 2019 Reads

Caravan to the North: Misael’s Long Walk
really liked it
I helped develop a study guide for this book and loved reading it! An important and eye-opening book to help younger audiences understand the emotional, physical, and social toll of immigration.
The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story
really liked it
Gripping, unnerving, informative. I was already highly familiar with the Ted Bundy saga (more familiar than I probably should be–obsessed with serial killers) but in this book his story was told through a new lens. Ann Rule, who had alr…
The Quiet Book
really liked it
This was a quiet and peaceful read. As someone who is sensitive to noises, I enjoyed thinking about all the different forms of quiet (both comfortable and uncomfortable, pleasant and unpleasant) that surround us. The muted color tones in…
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
it was amazing
Don’t start this unforgettable memoir just before bed–not only because you won’t be able to put it down, but because the act of lying in bed, hemmed in by a pile of heavy blankets, will give you the unshakable sense that you (like the a…
Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life
it was amazing
I love Gretchen Rubin’s writing but have to pace myself because she gives me too many ideas and inspiring reasons to expect more from life. That’s why I hadn’t yet read this sequel to her much-loved _Happiness Project_ even though it was…
My Squirrel Days
it was amazing
Others have criticized this book for being caricatured, loud, a little too goofy. But here’s the thing: THERE’S A SQUIRREL ON THE COVER. What are people expecting, presidential memoirs? I loved this book for what it is: a lighthearted, …
The Poisonwood Bible
it was amazing
Love this book and reread it at least once a year. The Audible narrator is amazing and I wish I could find other works narrated by her!
Jacob Have I Loved
really liked it
Everything I love in a YA book: strong sense of place (a small and shrinking island in the Chesapeake Bay), memorable characters, a strong relational core, and tough but realistic and relatable life lessons. The author tackles the diffic…
The Burnout Generation
did not like it
As a millennial (the subject and target audience of this Audible Original audio essay), I threw up a little in my mouth a number of times while listening to this. Other reviewers have articulated this much better than I can, but there is…
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know
Lots of mixed feelings about this book. I chose to read it knowing little
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know
liked it
Lots of mixed feelings about this book. I chose to check out the Audible version knowing little else about the book’s content because I was curious to see how the author/producers merged the auditory genres of podcast and audiobook. In t…
Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit
really liked it
A fascinating read. I found it interesting to become more familiar with the origins of the FBI’s elite serial crime unit and to learn along with the author and other individuals what sets serial killers apart from other criminals in term…
Climbing With Mollie
liked it
Endearing but ultimately not very compelling or engaging. The tone felt detached and a bit saccarine, and the narrative lacked a clear arc.
tagged: read-books
The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain
really liked it
I loved this book. My only complaint: I appreciated that the author tried to dumb down the science for all of us laypeople, but at times he didn’t dumb it down quite enough 🙂
Guests on Earth
really liked it
One of those books that really draws you in gradually, but by the end you are glad you read it.
Time After Time
it was ok
Started out great, but grew gradually more disappointing as it wore on. It felt too contrived and deus ex machina to me.
Christopher: The Holy Giant
liked it
A short, simple retelling of the legend of Reprobus, later re-named St. Christopher (Christ-bearer), after carrying Christ across a raging river. The artwork melds contemporary illustration with Byzantine motifs. Suitable for Orthodox an…
Beat the Turtle Drum
really liked it
A nostalgic re-read for me, this was a book that moved me to the core when I first read it in sixth grade for Battle of the Books. It is still a moving tale, one that centers on sisterhood and loss. It is told by thirteen year-old Kate, …
First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies
really liked it
I was so taken by the author’s other book, The Residence, that after finishing it, I immediately checked this one out and began reading it. I nearly tossed it aside after finishing the first few chapters because some of the material is r…
The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House
it was amazing
I saw this book four years ago in an airport bookstore on a layover and have been wanting to read it ever since. The wait was worth it! This was a masterfully crafted book whose ample research was hidden “behind the curtain” of masterful…
Uncommon Type
it was amazing
A surprisingly well-written collection (and, of course, expertly narrated by Tom Hanks himself) that drew me in gradually. My favorite stories were “The Past is Important to Us,” about a rich man named Bert who returns countless times to…
Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide
it was ok
I started reading this to help me get out of a reading rut after hearing about it on the What Should I Read Next podcast. At the time, I was addicted to true crime podcasts and neglecting my reading life–because the authors co-host a tr…
Tuck Everlasting
it was amazing
This was an endearing tale that illuminates the beauty of life’s brevity. The young protagonist, Winnie Foster, finds herself at a crossroads when she inadvertently stumbles upon a mysterious spring in the wood near her house whose wat…
I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life
liked it
This book was an encouragement. I love Anne’s podcast and much appreciated her playful attitude towards books. If you need an encouragement to get back into reading, to keep reading, to start reading, to stop feeling guilty about the kin…
The Dinner
really liked it
Like a spool of thread unwinding slowly, the shape of this story twists and twists and you aren’t sure what lies at the core until you’re finished. The first pages envelop you in what appears to be a languid, happy-family narrative–the …
Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder
really liked it
This book is a must for any spouse of an adult ADHD sufferer. Enlightening, perceptive and covers a lot of ground. Adhd can be a destructive force in marriage and other primary relationships. This book provides understanding, strategies,…
Lights on the Mountain: A Novel
really liked it
A touching novel perfect for summer reading! I loved the sense of place Tuggle establishes in rural Appalachia, weaving in characters of Slavic heritage, a historical but often overlooked demographic in that part of the country. What I m…
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
it was amazing
An excellent, perceptive memoir written in literary prose. The author takes us inside her struggle with bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, a journey that is all the more unique given that she is a trained psychologist–and spent the fi…
The Driest Season
really liked it
A decently written coming-of-age story set in rural Wisconsin. What I appreciated most was the author’s willingness to tackle difficult subject matter–suicide, grief, change–from the perspective of a teenager. I also loved the setting …
What To Do When Someone You Love Is Depressed: A Practical, Compassionate, and Helpful Guide for Caregivers
it was amazing
Essential reading for anyone who loves someone with depression or a related disorder (anxiety, dysthemia, bipolar, etc.). Particularly useful for spouses, parents, and adult children of depressed parents, and those with loved ones whose …
The Brotherhood of Joseph: A Father's Memoir of Infertility and Adoption in the 21st Century
it was amazing
“Just because the male experience of all this sort of thing–of fatherhood not ‘naturally’ come by–is a subtle one, and just because it doesn’t often get expressed, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something worth expressing: what it feels…

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