While I will be furiously reading up until midnight on the 31st in order to finish Les Miserables before midnight, I figure I know enough about my reading list to write up some 2019 reflections. In a year where I also published my own debut novel, it was interesting to see how my feelings about my reading list evolved. Every book, even the “simplest” or “worst”, is the product of a huge amount of work, passion and dedication.
That being said, this year was a fairly mixed bag for me. Nothing toooo terrible, and a few mind-blowers, but mostly a pretty solid swath of books in the middle. But here are my stand-outs of my 2019 reading!
Best Book: A tie between Hell is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement edited by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway and Sarah Shourd, and Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley. Non-fiction has been somehow taking over my best-of slots for the past two years, but these two books were very moving in two incredibly different, but also similar, ways. Both are telling stories about unbalanced and unfair systems through individual stories. Hell is a Very Small Place shares first-hand accounts from a number of prisoners held in solitary confinement in the US, and I have an immense amount of respect for the editors for bringing these stories out into the light. Kid Gloves is an autobiography by one person, but still takes on the scope of obstetrics in America and how we talk about pregnancy, miscarriage and childbirth. These can both be difficult to read, but I would highly recommend both.
Most Enjoyable Book: I created this category in previous years to give a place to shout-out to my guilty pleasures. Confessions by by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder, is some solid, enjoyable thriller pulp. Sometimes you want a book to make you think, sometimes you want a book to take you for a ride, and Confessions brings you to some weird and wonderful places.
Worst Book: Vox by Christina Dalcher, no question. Poorly paced, poorly developed, poorly written, and a terrible under-developed premise that the book barely even commits to. There were frustrating sections of most of the other books, but Vox was just incompetent throughout.
Most Frustrating Book: While Vox was bad (oh wow, was Vox bad), I had already heard that about it going in, and the book was so universally bad that it almost became entertaining. In Real Life, by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang, however, frustrated me by having a lot of potential, a great start, and a central conceit that I have never seen portrayed in fiction before, only to let it go at the end. It really felt like Doctorow and Wang wrote themselves into a corner with material heavier than they could handle and couldn’t realistically give their story a happy ending, so they had to cram one in.
Biggest Surprise:Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell, just because I have never in my life considered writing a hobby-focused history of someone’s lifetime. This book is pretty thin, but if you like both Beatrix Potter and gardening, it is very charming.
So that is almost it! I will be trying to screech into the finish line with the end of Les Mis (and a Russian play) before 2020, but for the most part, here is what I have spent my year reading. I hope 2019 has been kind to everyone’s reading lists, and that 2020 brings a lot more literary adventures!