top of page
Search

Top Books of 2019



I read a lot of books in 2019 — 70, to be exact. Some life-changing, some I wish I had never picked up (I definitely need to be better about giving up on books I am not enjoying). My 2019 reading year weirdly mirrored my real life year: difficult, crazy, but amazing. 2019 was one of the best years of my life, reading and otherwise. So what better way to bring in 2020 then to gush about the books I couldn't shut up about and the books you should definitely put on your TBR list for the coming year.

 



(fiction, multi-generational, 20th century America, immigration, transgenders, coming-of-age)

Middlesex was one of those books I've known is a classic but never picked up because it sounded kind of pretentious and hyped up (I tend to be dubious when a book is hyped up). However, when several friends urged me to give it a try (hi Sam), I gave in and I am so glad I did. This multi-generational novel tackles several difficult topics, from being an immigrant in America to being transgender, but in a way that feels personal and tangible. It begins with a couple escaping from Greece to America as refugees and follows the family in their attempt to assimilate into American life, told through the eyes of Cal, the omniscient and transgender narrator. One of the reasons I can be hesitant about novels dubbed as a classic is because that crown tends to come with writing that can be difficult, boring, and dull. Middlesex was the opposite, with writing that made me laugh, think, and anxiously sneak a read every chance I had to see what would happen next. It deservedly won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and if you enjoy family drama, the social and political changes of the last century, and coming-of-age stories, then I highly recommend it.

 



(nonfiction, autobiography, memoir, poverty, Appalachia, Rust Belt, coming-of-age, upward mobility)

Okay, phew, lots of controversy surrounds this autobiography by J.D. Vance. You might have heard about it, and you might have even written it off based on its controversy. J.D. Vance chronicles his life from poverty, to middle-class, to Yale Law School graduate. He describes the towns he grew up in, the struggle with drugs that afflicts this country, and his attempt to better his life despite his hardships. The controversy comes from some using his story as an attempt to explain the rise of Trump in America. Let me counter by saying that just because this story may shed more light on the populations who might've voted for Trump, it has nothing to do with politics or should even necessarily be coupled with Trump. It is about a man who successfully escaped the cycle of poverty as he tries to grapple with his own family history, the social issues of his home, and in what I found most compelling, the realization that you carry your past with you wherever you go. It is one viewpoint about a population of this country that is rarely given a voice. It's important to remember that this is an autobiography — it is one man's story. It is about his own experience and trauma, and it shouldn't be used as a textbook to analyze all of the Rust Belt. No one book, especially an autobiography, will be able to encompass the experience of the masses, and there will always be stories left out. Take this book for what it is: a moving, thought-provoking and well-written account of one man's attempt to make sense of and take meaning from his difficult life.

 



(nonfiction, Silicon Valley, startups, fraud, Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes, investigative journalism)

This page-turning book chronicles the ridiculous scandal of Elizabeth Holmes, her startup Theranos, and the winding and deep fraud that surrounded the company. First of all, this is simply an amazingly written story. I think I finished it in about three days because I couldn't stop reading it. John Carreyrou is actually the journalist who originally broke the story for the Wall Street Journal back in 2015 and it's astounding how much detail he was able to collect to accurately tell this daunting story, and daunting it is. Elizabeth Holmes was America's Silicon Sweetheart for the years she pretended to have invented a technology that would be able to run hundreds of tests on one drop of blood. I think America wants so desperately to have more successful women in the world of technology and startups that it was willing to look past Holme's suspicious activity and demeanor. Can you blame it? Even the people within the company who began to realize that the technology was not working seemed to want Elizabeth to succeed despite her lies. It's a telling account of how far people are willing to go to keep a secret, and how blind people can be because they wish something to be true.

 



(nonfiction, personal development, habits, strategies, building routines)

Yes, one of the best books I read in 2019 was a personal development book, don't laugh. We're all grinding to better ourselves everyday, right? This straight-forward, easy to read guide to building better habits is amazing because it actually gives concrete steps and ideas on how to build routines to be successful. If you're struggling to find balance or to instill healthy habits, it's probably not you — it's your systems. James Clear understands that people need to start small and build upon a foundation in order to see results. I used to think that goals were reached with drastic changes and big ideas, but now I know better. When you start small, you don't feel overwhelmed and you're more likely to stick to a routine if it feels easy and enjoyable. If you've got some big goals for 2020 and even the new decade, definitely pick up this book to get guidance on how to smash those goals.

 



(fiction, science fiction, astronomy, apocalyptic)

What an unexpected, wonderful read from 2019. It is a shorter book, but packs a punch. Good Morning, Midnight is a unique take on the post-apocalyptic genre. The two main characters have seemingly separate stories, although they are linked in mysterious ways. Augustine, an aging astronomer, secludes himself in the arctic when humanity seems to be wiped out. Astronaut Sully is en-route to Jupiter on a space mission when the lines go dead. Both Augustine and Sully grapple with the haunting reality of a disappearing human population, while also attempting to unravel their own demons. It is beautifully written, gripping, and has an ending that I adored. It explores loneliness and human connection, and the characters are so vivid and memorable. I wish it had been longer, but I think there is beauty in a novel that can do so much with so few pages.

 



(nonfiction, running, athletes, Tarahumara Indians, memoir, ethnography)

Even if you're not a runner, I have no doubt you would find inspiration from this book. It's an unusual mix of human evolution, memoir, and ethnography, but it somehow is executed perfectly. McDougall effortlessly moves from talking about his own struggle with running injuries, to the science behind movement, to the practices and culture of the Tarahumara Indians, and finally about an off-the-cuff road race he pulled together in Mexico. However, if you are a runner or would like to do more of it, you need to read this book. It made me appreciate my body and its potential, and I feel like evolution is on my side whenever I lace up my running shoes and head out the door. If you're looking for motivation to get your ass in gear for 2020, give this book a go.


 



While all the books above were amazing in their own ways, there were two books in particular that left me in awe. My top fiction and nonfiction picks of 2019 were ones that made me sit by myself for hours, contemplate life, and view the world differently — because isn't that what the best books are supposed to do?


Best Fiction Book of 2019: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

(fiction, science fiction, thriller, suspense, thought-provoking, multi-verse)

When I say "best books of 2019," that doesn't necessarily mean the best written or highest caliber. 'Best' for me means thought-provoking, intense, immediate, and unforgettable. Of all the fiction books I read this year, I had no doubt in my mind which was the best. Dark Matter has the most unique and mind-bending storyline I have read in a long time, maybe ever. It follows a brilliant scientist as he questions the decisions he has made in his life and where it has brought him. He has a wife and son he loves dearly, but at times feels like he gave up a different, more successful life in the field of physics. The central theme is one every reader can relate to, but Crouch goes deeper when he chooses to explore the question of "Are you happy in your life?" The story goes down the insane rabbit hole of the multi-verse, the idea that there are infinite universes existing at this very moment, and how each decision we make alters the universe just a little bit. I remember staying up until 3 AM to finish this book because I absolutely could not put it down. And the ending did not disappoint. I sat by myself for days contemplating the nature of my reality (hello, Westworld), and all the decisions I've made that have led me to where I am today, and what would be different if I had decided differently. It's a mighty feat for a book to make me feel all those feels, but Dark Matter did and did it beautifully.

 



Best Nonfiction Book of 2019: Evicted by Matthew Desmond

(nonfiction, poverty, renting, ethnography, thought-provoking, should be read by every American)

If you read one book from this entire list, make it this one. Evicted follows eight families and their landlords in Milwaukee in 2007-2008 as they struggle to pay their rent and deal with the cycle of poverty. The reason this book is so remarkable and convincing is because it is told through the third person. Matthew Desmond is completely silent in this book (until the epilogue and notes). His voice is nowhere to be found. Instead, the stories unfold through the voices of those involved. The book reads like fiction: there are direct quotes, thoughts from inside people’s head, pictures painted from all sides of the rent equation. I have never read a nonfiction book like this before, and I believe it is the main reason why it is so powerful. It is difficult to feel like a reader is getting an objective story when it is told through the eyes of the author. By removing himself from the narrative, Desmond was able to present the harsh and authentic reality of renting in an American city.


Poverty is a story best told through the people it affects, and Desmond understood this so well. But he also knew that in order to show the whole picture, he also had to show the lives of landlords and rental managers. Instead of filling this book with just facts, figures, big ideas, and vague details of the lives of those in poverty, Desmond made sure to squeeze empathy out of readers. He described the people and their personalities, their past struggles and mistakes, their hopes and plans for the future. He showed that they are real. These are not fictional characters. The people in this book are real and the horrors they go through are painful and impactful. I will always remember the names of every person in this book - their story, their struggle, their desperation, and their resilience. The end result is astounding. I don’t say this very often, but I believe this is a book that should be read by every American. It shows such a devastating and important part of our country, but a part that most do not ever see or understand.


Evicted opened my eyes to the reality of poverty, it changed my mind about underlying and systemic injustices that keep the renting industry where it is, and it evoked anger in me. But instead of ending the book with no solutions, Desmond actually offers up ideas he believes could help solve the problem. Although a harrowing book about poverty, Desmond was able to end on a hopeful note, making this the absolute best book I read in 2019.

 



If you have read any of these books or decide to pick one up and want to discuss further, I am always down to have a conversation. Feel free to shoot me a message through the 'Personalized Recs' page, on Instagram or on Facebook, or you can send me an email at brianasbookshelf@gmail.com. Happy reading!

Kommentare


bottom of page