A friend of mine recently asked for a few book recommendations. She, like me, finds joy, happiness, hope, and more in stories, and she’s on the hunt for new, good things to read. I’ve been tracking the books I’ve read (561!) and the books I want to read (234!!!) on Goodreads since 2014, but 2019 was the first time I consistently ‘reviewed’ and made notes of the things I’ve read. My friend’s request prompted me to reflect on the books I read this past year, and I’ve compiled a list below of the ones I gave four and five star ratings to.
When I was in elementary school I had a t-shirt that said ‘so many books, so little time,’ or something of the like. It’s an unchanging sentiment, and it’s one of many reasons as to why I try to read as much as I possibly can. That said, if you had any favorites from the year I’m always looking to add more to my list. Feel free to reply to this message with some of your favorite titles and authors.
Underground Airlines - Ben Winters
A fictional story about a Black bounty hunter 'working’ for the US Marshall service in an attempt to gain freedom. In this alternative universe the Civil War never took place, and slavery exists in a number of southern states.
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger - Rebecca Traister
I loved reading this even though it stoked my anger. It made me think a lot about my own relationship with anger. Namely, how freely, or safe, I feel to express it and how frequently women are conditioned to repress their anger.
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I was unsure if I was going to like this in the beginning. It’s slowly paced, but it was a grant narrative that ended beautifully. I like the idea of never being too old for love.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous - Ocean Vuong
Someone described this as a poets book, and it’s an apt description - every line is beautiful. This fictional story is crafted like a memoir, and written in an epistolary style. It’s an intersectional story of identity, intergenerational trauma, violence, poverty, shame, masculinity, queerness, and addiction. I wanted to lay in quiet for awhile after reading it.
Citizen Illegal - Jose Olivarez
A collection of autobiographical poems about being an immigrant and living in a country where a lot of people hate you because of it.
Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country - Pamela Houston
I loved the writing in this, but I also really loved this memoir because I lived in Colorado and was familiar with some of the places Houston wrote about. It’s more of a reflection on nature, our relationship with and to it, and how slowing down and letting ourselves love things can heal us. My description doesn’t do it justice.
The Female Persuasion - Meg Wolitzer
Ummm, i gave this four stars but can’t recall it even with the help of the Goodreads description. Go with god.
Killing Commendatore - Hurakai Murakami
Murakami’s stories are strange and slippery. In many ways they remind me of describing a dream to someone. If you’re familiar with the structure of his books you’ll enjoy this.
The Power - Naomi Alderman
This is another book I read early on in the year, and don’t remember a ton about. I remember it being engaging in the way a blockbuster movie is mid-summer. This isn’t literary enlightenment, but not everything needs to be.
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself - Michael A. Singer
This fucked my mind up. The primary theme is about feeling things and letting go, but there were a lot of parts that gave me the squirmy anxious feeling I get when I’m recognizing my ego or catching a glimpse of my identity as a construct thanks to whatever intense shit i’m working on in therapy. I still have questions, because boundaries aren’t talked about at all. I selfishly desire you to read this book so I can have someone to discuss it with.
Fledgling - Octavia Butler
A Black vampire book!!! What else do I need to say? Oh, maybe that it’s a shame Octavia Butler died in 2006 and wasn’t around to sue Stephanie Meyer’s for ripping off a big theme?
The Binding - Bridget Collins
A fantasy romance with a bit of a twist. I think it might have dragged a bit in some parts, but I remember thinking it was pretty unique.
I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying: Essays - Bassey Ikpi
An excellent, honest depiction of trying to live through life’s challenges with mental health challenges that make you question certainty, trust, and capability. Ikpi writes from the liminal spaces of both/and, duality, and the dissonance that comes with being aware of multiple truths at one time. This was hands down my favorite book of the year.
Beloved - Toni Morrison
A nuanced, grey story. Perfect sentences and lines, but heavy as they come. Sometimes I scroll through the Goodreads reviews section after reading a book for reasons, and someone who didn’t like this recommended it for ‘over-educated literati’ which made me laugh
Feast Your Eyes - Myla Goldberg
I loved this. A fictional story about the life of a photographer told through a collection of pieces of her work, catalogue notes, letters, and memories. It was very well done.
Anything is Possible - Elizabeth Strout
The first Elizabeth Strout book I ever read was My Name is Lucy Barton. It was during the fall of 2017, a time I was depressed and heartbroken and trying to adjust to living in Chicago and making a career change. I wasn’t processing my grief, but this book allowed me to feel sadness at something else. The writing within that book helped, and I became an Elizabeth Strout devotee. Anything is Possible, is a collection of short stories, some of which involve Lucy Barton or her relatives, set in the same tone and style.
The Prophet - Khalil Gibran
A primer for spiritual living. This is chock full of wisdom and I will probably read it many times over for reminders.
Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful: Poems - Alice Walker
Loud and deeply moving. Sometimes I think I don’t ‘get’ poems in the same ways I don’t understand weird art like the plastic baby head with a tear drawn on the face I saw sitting on a platform at an art show once. Was it bad or am I a normie whose challenged by unconventional things??? Which is not to say that Walker’s poems are simple, they are just clearly good.
The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion
An excellent, albeit meandering reflection on grief and acceptance of big loss
You Think It, I’ll Say It - Curtis Sittenfeld
Short stories about people in depressing middle age situations.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion - Jia Tolentino
Thorough essays. Self-exacting and reflective. Many people have written about this book in comprehensive ways. Google can help! I’m getting tired, and my plan is to write these out during the year vs at the end of the year next go around.
Elmet - fiona mozley
Surprising and sad.
Brokeback Mountain - Annie Proulx
This short story was originally published in the New Yorker in 1997. I loved it because love often isn’t an answer or ‘enough’ which is very sad and tragic, but very real and not talked about or portrayed enough. Maybe because of all the sadness, shame, and guilt that surrounds this type of loss and grief. We all only get one life, and we’re doing what we think is best which is often different than what others think or want.
The Light of The World - Elizabeth Alexander
I think this was my second favorite of the year. Her writing is so clear, her strength in grief, and her presence and awareness in love was a revelation. Deeply reflective of how loss can be a continuation of love, an ongoing story, if you allow yourself to remain open.