I kept reading books. Here are some from 2019 that stuck with me in a big way. Maybe you’ll enjoy some of them too? (I realized as I put together this list that there were a LOT of books I really liked this year. An embarrassment of riches, really. There were even some books I left off, not because I didn’t think they were worth mentioning, but because this list was getting foolishly long…)
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu: There must have been dust or something in the air when I was reading the title story in this book because…. OK, there wasn’t any dust. I was full on crying. This guy can really write. (They’re mostly science fiction, fantasy, and such.)
The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem: Almost everything I love (and some of what I hate) about California is in this book. It’s a weird sort of noir mystery story.
Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra: A history of mostly forgotten thinkers from the early 20th century. A fascinating take on where our world is at today (and has been for a hundred years or so) and suggests an answer to why so many men are determined to find their answers in violence.
The Blue Hawk by Peter Dickinson: The type of story that isn’t much written anymore. All the action swirls around the progonist’s rejection of his social and cultural and religious role. Mystical and numinous and long out of print. (The library is your friend. My copy hadn’t been checked out in about 20 years.)
The Quatrian Folkways by Tim Boucher: http://www.timboucher.ca/quatria/ A friend of mine has been writing these alternate universe myths, history, what have you that remind me quite a bit of some of Tolkien’s more obscure writing. Worth checking out, for sure.
Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier by Michelle Cuevas: Sometimes I read a writer and I’m jealous of how exceptional a writer they are. This one is for kids, but the writing is so good, I think anyone would get something out of it. After this one, I promptly read everything else she wrote.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin: Read this for my book club. I’d been meaning to read it for years, but sometimes you need an extra little shove to read a 600+ book of history. An excellent work of history. A good reminder that there are no giants in history. Only people who choose to do the best they can and those who don’t. (A vast oversimplification, I realize.)
Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White: A few unlikely people bounce off each other in 1950s Australia. Fascinating and weird and deeply mystical and, I guess, totally my cup of tea. Also, this one had some beautiful sentences in it, if you’re into that kind of thing.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: Another book club book. The story of a friendship between two girls in 1950s Italy. Yeah, this one’s great.
There There by Tommy Orange: Many different characters converge on a Native American powwow in Oakland. Its multi-character viewpoints are used to excellent effect (sort of like GRR Martin’s Game of Thrones, but I’d say more effective and not needing several volumes to get there).
Famous Men Who Never Lived by K. Chess: What if you were a refugee from an alternate reality? I was beguiled by the title, but the rest of the book had me. There’s also a bit of a mystery here. The author’s first book, it’s got some first book-y problems, but impressive.
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe: (Really four books.) I’d been hearing about this book for a long time, but a friend finally pressed it into my hands. Some of the strangest science fiction I’ve ever read. It never went where I was expecting and eventually I just gave up trying to predict and went along for the ride.
The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil: Sometimes a book has a kind of echo with the present as this one does from the 1930s. I only got through volume 1, because it’s quite long. Also, there were some sentences that made me laugh out loud, which is pretty great.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton: Whodunnit as video game or Quantum Leap, basically. For how much I seem to love the whodunnit genre, I read precious little of it. This was a perfect airplane book. (Shoutout to Knives Out, another whodunnit, and maybe my favorite movie of 2019.)
Rejoice, a Knife to the Heart by Steven Erikson: Aliens (or their representative) show up, abduct a science fiction author, and technomagically prevent all violence on Earth.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: Another excellent airplane read. A SF novel about an ambassador making her way through an extremely alien culture. A bit of a mystery here, too.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: A memoir of a woman training a hawk and wrestling with grief at her father’s death. Raw and deeply personal, but also extremely well-written. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it.
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang: Stories by one of my favorite science fiction writers. Didn’t disappoint.
Lolly Willowes, or, the Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner: One of those old books that might’ve been written yesterday. Not much happens and everything happens, or, a woman finds her place in the world.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover: Sometimes books deserve their popularity. This is one of those.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire: (I’m definitely getting tired of writing this list, but I’m almost done…) If you like Tim Powers, you’ll like this one. Also, it’s got a kind of time travel thing to it, which I always love.
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: A short book, I would’ve happily read several hundred more pages of it. Two secret agents fight each other through time and space, writing letters to each other, and eventually falling in love. Sounds cheesy, yeah, but the writing is so so good.
The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History by John M. Ford: Another one that’s long out of print. (Interlibrary loan, y’all.) An alternate history 15th century Europe with a drop of magic in it. Many good things to say about this one.
Gideon the Ninth by Emily McGovern: The last book I read in 2019. Space necromancers + a whodunnit. What’s not to love? Also, some really top notch sword fights. Entertaining, just a lot of fun.