As of this morning, with eight days left to go in the year, I’ve read 60 books in 2019. That’s twice what I aimed for in my initial reading goal, so while this year might have been something of a shitshow in many ways, I’ve had a lovely time, in the midst of that, tucking into other people’s worlds and words.
Every once in a while, I wonder if I read too much; I wonder if I neglect the real world because of the way I can become wrapped up in books. Mainly, though, I understand books to be part of my real world; they become part of my life, part of the very real experience of living. Often, I can remember where I was when reading something specific, and sometimes, those are my favorite memories of a time or place.
In any case, I so admire authors that I would never drag anyone who has completed the task of writing a book. I’m not someone who badmouths writers. But, of course, there are books that stick with me long after I’ve finished them, so I thought that maybe it would be worthwhile to tell you about some of those books that – after reading them sometime this year – still linger. Incidentally, if there’s something you read this year, and want to share it, please do: I’m always looking for my next favorite read.
And so, in no particular order, books this year that stuck with me, changed me, made me cry, made me feel, helped me grow, gave me something I didn’t know I’d been lacking:
- The Body Keeps the Score – by Bessel van der Kolk: I’ve actually read this before, but not straight through until this summer when I did exactly that, marking up the pages as I went along. It’s an incredible non-fiction read about trauma and what it does to people, and how we can heal, and it’s sobering and inspirational all at once.
- The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead: This novel took my breath away; I read it quickly, devouring it, and had to read the last few pages, through tears, several times. It’s one I’ll read again.
- How We Fight for Our Lives – Saeed Jones: A stunning memoir about growing up as a gay, black man, this book spoke in powerful terms about life, prejudice, violence, connection, and perseverance. I read it months ago and have been thinking about it since then; it was unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
- Fleishman is in Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner: I wanted to read this ever since sobbing over one of the author’s essays in the New York Times, and was not disappointed. She seemed to so effectively capture a specific feeling of restlessness that life can hold; her writing, again and again, grabbed onto me with its minute, heartbreaking observations about what it means to live and love.
- The Girl Who Smiled Beads – Clemantine Wamariya: An absolutely incredible memoir about a girl and her sister escaping Rwanda in wartime, traveling through Africa for years in search of safety, and then transitioning to life in the United States. Powerful, vulnerable, and full of beauty.
- The Island of Sea Women – Lisa See: I love it when a novel teaches me about something new; this book did exactly that, with a tremendous amount of detail so that I often felt like I was seeing the world in front of me.
- Normal People – Sally Rooney: Though this book was about, in some ways, a younger version of love, it was so astutely rendered that I felt transported to those days in my own life. Rooney’s writing is gorgeous, and yet it was the way that she captured a specific feeling that made this book stand out so much for me.
- when they call you a terrorist – patrisse khan-cullors & asha bandele: I wondered, at times, if this memoir was actually breathing, actually alive, in my hands. Powerful, detailed, and important.
- American Prison – Shane Bauer: A non-fiction look at the prison system in the United States, this book is heartbreaking and critical look at how racism impacts our ‘justice’ system and how prisons and profit intertwine.
- The Water Dancer – Ta-Nehisi Coates: Fiction, but it didn’t really feel like that to me. This is a dense, rich novel that looks at slavery and survival; the characters felt so real that I found myself wondering at them long after I finished the book.
- Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson: I somehow missed this when it came out 20 years ago, but this novel – about rape and speaking up and growing up – is an excellent example of why young adult literature is so important.
- Red, White, and Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston: I read this on vacation in Montreal in November and it was the perfect escape book, light and improbable and sweet and heartfelt.
- The Course of Love – Alain de Botton: Though there were moments where I didn’t connect fully with this book, overall it’s an incredible read about how love – confusingly – continues far past the point of the meet-cute that we’re so often told is everything.
All right, I didn’t expect to highlight 13 books, or only 13, because now that I’ve started, I want to tell you about everything I’ve read this year. But, of course, there are other things to be done – reading among them, as a book I’m really into (Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow) is calling my name. So happy reading, friends.
(Isn’t it exciting to think that there are words out there, waiting to be discovered, ready to change your life? Hooray for books!)