Good news, I smoked my Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge. I set the bar at 30 books and am currently parked at 37…with a little over a day to go and only a few short pages left in number 38. Without further ado, here’s my Favorite Books 2019 list. Well, not a list per se but highlights over various forms and genres. Happy Reading in 2020!
Favorite Books 2019
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
Perfect short stories starring a rogues’ gallery of eccentric, bizarre, and/or disturbed characters.
I also highly recommend Moshfegh’s novels My Year of Rest and Relaxation as well as Eileen.
Evening in Paradise: More Stories by Lucia Berlin
Add Berlin to the list authors criminally under-appreciated/neglected during her lifetime. Astonishing short stories about the border, family, poverty, race, class, Chile, and assorted American cities. Unflinching, raw, visceral. Knowing.
Death in Midsummer and Other Stories by Yukio Mishima
These are stories to linger over and get lost in. They took me to worlds and settings where I had little to no experience, yet felt utterly invested.
Series of Books
Outline Trilogy by Rachel Cusk
Astonishing books about an author (Faye) going about the business of her personal and professional life, and the people she meets along the way. The author/protagonist will, say, be on a plane and start speaking with someone and they will take over with a memorable narrative. With Cusk/Faye chiming in with pointed comments and questions directing the person to open up further or take their tale in surprising/unexpected directions. The covers are amazing.
The Ripliad by Patricia Highsmith
Ok, that’s not the official title but I did read all five of Highsmith’s books about Tom Ripley. What made it memorable was I did so as part of a reading group at Brooklyn’s The Center For Fiction. It was a treat to meet every few weeks with a small group of book nerds and a moderator (Managing Editor of Crime Reads, Dwyer Murphy) for stimulating and entertaining discussion. The Center has really good beer and a few natty wines in the cafe, too! (Also: Valpolicella and Venice.)
[If you want to read an update of The Talented Mr. Ripley for the Instagram age, check out Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton. “Lies and Lees.“]
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber
This is an important book about the insidiousness and fear driving modern corporate personnel structure, and the psychological impact it has in very specific and subtle ways on how people live their lives both in and out of the workplace. Bullshit Jobs is the dictionary definition of provocative.
The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization by Vince Beiser
Holy shit, do you know how vitally important sand is to everything we take for granted in our post-industrial society? Glass, concrete, computer chips? And (SPOILER ALERT) we’re running out of it. Huh? (Also: Champagne and Doritos.)
My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love by Dessa
On a whim I went to see rapper/writer Dessa speak at WORD, my beloved local bookstore. She talked about her book of essays/memoir and was funny, charming, and prescient. Even her slide show was cool! It was a portentous harbinger for reading My Own Devices. To call Dessa inquisitive and curious is an understatement. Reading her essays about trying to fall out of love via understanding how the/her brain works, and the lengths she goes to test her theories, prove astonishingly fascinating from a scientific standpoint and extremely moving from an emotional one.
Made Me Sob (More Than Once)
Little by Edward Carey
Why it did is between me and my therapist but there are so many heartbreaking moments in the life of Little, an orphan with a great talent for wax sculpture. Why are people so awful?
Best Two Books I Read This Year
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
You bet what first got my attention was the Daniel Clowes cover. And have you seen the episode of Drunk History* regarding the origin of the novel? I can’t believe Shelley was 18 when she wrote this. My review:
Wow, we have been completely misled by Hollywood and pop culture about Frankenstein. The book, the doctor, and his creation. His monster is no big green lunk with bolts coming out of his neck. (He may be more sinister looking, actually.) And the good Doctor is no “He’s Alive!” exaggeration.
I dare say this book is Romantic, with a capital “R.” Much of the book takes place in mountains, lakes, and on the coast. The descriptions of the natural world are quite beautiful. Amidst these scenes of the natural world, we are privy to the turbulent thoughts in Dr. Frankenstein’s mind regarding the aftermath of his actions.
And the book deftly asks, what responsibility does Dr. Frankenstein take for his creation? What does he owe the monster? How is he supposed to live in the world? The chapters narrated by the monster are astonishing, as he learns about language, the written word, and human relationships. It’s also quite heartbreaking. The reader see-saws back and forth between sympathy for the creature and disdain for his horrific violence.
The scene with both Frankenstein and his monster and very memorable, as are the monster’s last words (kind of like a soliloquy) at the end of the book. To think Shelley was a teenager when she wrote this book makes it even more astonishing. This book is a masterpiece.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
I absolutely loved the main character in this book, Selin. Her inner and outer dialogues rang true in a way I haven’t experienced with many characters. Anxious, sly, and relatable. I also really enjoyed her encounters with Ivan, the fellow student she’s in love with.
The Idiot also has a cast of supporting and minor characters who are memorable and keenly observed, even those making a brief appearance.
What’s on your Favorite Books 2019 list? Let me know in the comments.
*Here ya go: