My Top 10 Books of 2019
Happy New Year!
One of my goals for 2019, somewhere between not wasting my gym membership and learning to cook something other than toast, was to read 50 books. I did not do this.
As is the case with so many personal goals, I came up short (13 short, to be exact). But even though I did not meet my goal (thanks, George R.R. Martin), I still got through enough to make one of these inescapable lists. So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite reads of the year.
1. The Mirage by Matt Ruff
This year I discovered my love of alternate history fiction, triggered primarily by Matt Ruff's The Mirage. A mind-bending journey into American-Arab relations that takes place in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Bagdhad, this novel is a philosophy text in disguise as an action thriller.
2. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Continuing on the alternate history train, my second pick of the year is Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Set in a beautiful and terrifying version of the antebellum American south where a very real railroad operates below ground to smuggle slaves to safety, Whitehead brings equal parts violence and poetry to what feels like a new literary classic.
3. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
I realize I am more than fashionably late to this party, but I finally sat down with White Teeth this year and I'm so happy that I did. Zadie Smith is harsh, smart, and funny, often all at the same time. She fits two families together in an awkward and often clashing portrait that grinds each character down to their core and then builds them back up again in the most unexpected ways, resulting in a slow-burning but worthy read.
4. Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi, the darling of my booklist, the light of my literary ambitions, is fearless in Mr. Fox. She takes the line between the concrete and the fantastic and completely decimates it, allowing the story to leap effortlessly between reality and folktale, checking behind itself only once in a while to make sure you're keeping up. Mr. Fox is part fairytale, part murder mystery, and part twisted love story.
5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I won't lie to you - The Goldfinch is an undertaking. Following Theo from child to adult means putting up with every adolescent ache and pain that comes along, and the book sometimes meanders to the point of frustration. But as the reader, we become just as adaptable as Theo himself, embracing new stages of the story as they come along with a mix of trepidation and excitement. The Goldfinch feels like exactly what it is: a heist that takes place over a lifetime where running is the only thing we know.
6. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
It's rare to read an author whose characters, down to the smallest, absolutely leap off of the page. Ng's understanding of want, desire, and self-image is devastating. She teaches a master class in character development while maintaining an air-tight plot and a distinct sense of place all in one novel, and it is truly impressive to follow.
7. The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine
"When I said I wrote The Angel of History to provoke, I meant that I wished to elicit feelings that readers did not expect, not necessarily by using shock or surprise. I wanted to write a book that broke the fourth wall by playing with feelings, by switching paradigms, by rattling cages." - Rabih Alameddine
The Angel of History achieves everything above and more.
8. The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Set during the 1990s Siege of Sarajevo, this novel is a triangle of cat and mouse between two residents of the town, a sniper, and a cellist determined to play his 22-day memorial piece for the victims of a shelled bread line. Galloway never once lets up the tension during this novel, and the result is a catapulting journey through a city under fire.
9. Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Barkskins is the second 700+ page read on this list, but instead of one lifetime, Proulx follows two families over the course of three centuries. Beginning in 1693 New France, two log-cutters start down different paths that will still leave their lines entwined for centuries. Proulx brings nature - the seemingly endless forest, dangerous rivers, and daunting climates - into full being as a constant character in the novel, both friend and foe at any given time.
10. Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
Signs Preceding the End of the World is about crossings. Herrera Makina traverses boundaries of language, nationality, and family on her perilous journey from Mexico to the United States. This novella is dark, powerful, and fleeting. Herrera keeps tight control over every aspect of the prose, making Signs Preceding the End of the World as elegant as it is urgent.