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!