What Books Did You Read in 2019?

book dump

I can’t believe it’s time for another one of these already. The year flew by so fast it nearly gave me whiplash, and it looks like this year may be more of the same. One blink and look, it’s mid-January!

In an effort to counteract the effects of too much TV, one of the things I set out to do in 2019 was to read more than I had the year beforeI like to think I did marginally better, even if I think I watched too much TV anyway. 

Still, reading is not everyone’s cup of tea; The Atlantic has an excellent article on why it affects some and not others. For me, reading is and always has been a form of escape, more so than TV, and a gift bestowed to me by both parents. My mother taught me how to read, and my father taught me how to enjoy it.  Because they had me very young, none of their peers had children I could grow up and play with. Whenever they would go out and socialize, it was up to me to find ways to amuse myself.  My favourite of their friends to visit were always the ones who had little libraries, because then I could just pick something, get lost in it and wait for my parents to finish having fun. It sort of turned me into an introvert (some may dispute this, but I really am quite shy) but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

And so, on to the list! As always, my choice of reading material doesn’t follow rhyme or reason but the following may hopefully give you ideas for what to read next. About 95% were all read and available from Overdrive, the digital arm of the Toronto Public Library. I also list my top five books unforgettable books of the year. They may not have been published in 2019, but they are ones I discovered and would definitely recommend. That’s the beauty of a great book, the really good ones never age! To get to them, scroll down to the standouts section.

Cosmos – Carl Sagan
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and Three Other Stories) / In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
Meaning and History: The Rizal Lectures – Ambeth R. Ocampo
Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant- Joel Golby
The Faraway Nearby – Rebecca Solnit
Best. Movie. Year. Ever. (How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen) – Brian Raftery

All Our Wrong Todays – Elan Mastai
The Gown – Jennifer Robson
Son of a Trickster – Eden Robinson
The Hungry Ghosts – Shyam Selvadurai

Historical Fiction
The Secret History – Stephanie Thornton
The Only Woman in the Room – Marie Benedict
Muse – Mary Novik
The Viscount Who Loved Me – Julia Quinn
The Lost Season of Love and Snow – Jennifer Laam

America’s Boy: The Marcoses and the Philippines – James Hamilton-Paterson
1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half – Stephen R. Bown
Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
The Lost City of the Monkey God – Douglas Preston
SPQR – Mary Beard
Imperial Woman – Pearl S. Buck
Girl, Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen
The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family – Mary S. Lovell
Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty – Diane Keaton
Jackie, Janet and Lee – J. Randy Taraborelli
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
Three Women – Lisa Taddeo

Now Lush TV Shows (and one Major Motion Picture)
The Mountain Between Us – Charles Martin
Codename Villanelle – Luke Jennings
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
A Discovery of Witches / Shadow of Night / The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness

I Don’t Care What You Say, Re-reads Count:
A Game of Thrones – George RR Martin
The Constant Princess – Philippa Gregory
The Hobbit / The Fellowship of the Ring / The Two Towers / The Return of the King – JRR Tolkien

Everything Else
The Light Between Worlds – Laura E. Weymouth
Aug 9 – Fog – Kathryn Scanlan
Gods Behaving Badly / The Table of Less Valued Knights – Marie Phillips

The 2019 Standouts
Educated – Tara Westover
What a whopper of a story this is. Tara Westover’s chronicle of a childhood spent homeschooled, raised on a farm with parents who felt the apocalypse could come any time is a hell of a memoir, and a great way to gain perspective – if you felt your childhood was horrible, you haven’t met Tara. It’s also a story of hope, and of how the love of learning can never really be stifled, a powerful reminder that dreams do come true if you want something badly enough and work hard enough to get it.

The Jaguar’s Children – John Vaillant
Although fictional, its protagonist finds himself in a very familiar, heart-wrenching position  – trapped inside an abandoned water tanker that is used to transport illegal immigrants over the Mexican border into the land of the free and the home of the brave, with a dying cellphone as his lifeline and only one number with an American country code. Told in stream of consciousness first-person, interspersed with a series of increasingly agitated text messages, The Jaguar’s Children is claustrophobic, terrifying and very difficult to put down and walk away from.

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
Like The Graveyard Book on drugs,  Lincoln in the Bardo reads as if DJ Earworm suddenly got literary and decided to do a mash-up of books, newspaper articles and quotable quotes. A re-imagination of events after death of Abraham Lincoln’s youngest son Willie, it’s an unusual book, and an acquired taste.  Reading the first few paragraphs may seem a bit strange, but the story comes to life as you settle into the rhythm and flow of George Saunders’ unique, award-winning experiment in prose.

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe – Laurence Bergreen
As a Filipino, Magellan is a byword for the discovery of the Philippines, and its subsequent conversion to Christianity. To some of us, Magellan is an interfering, unscrupulous intruder who got what was coming to him. To the Spanish, he was a fearless crusader and adventurer. To the world, he was the one who braved the unknown in search of riches and glory. Magellan’s legacy may be a polarizing one, but Laurence Bergreen’s story of how he conquered unknown seas to prove that the world was truly round is arresting, and an educational insight into the social and economic mores of the time.

On Writing – Stephen King
Part autobiography, part how-to, with zero pretensions, On Writing has earned its status as the unofficial go-to for aspiring writers.  I’d always read about it mentioned by writers I admired, and finally decided to take the plunge and read it myself. It’s accessible and non-patronizing, and incredibly humanizing, especially when one is confronted with the true body of Stephen King’s work, definitely something that should be re-read at least once a year, if only for the kick in the butt it administers. My 2019 takeaway? Adverbs are anathema!