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12 Books That Made My Year | Bookish Year in Review

2019 was the best reading year for me—ever. I read a total of 120 books, something I thought wasn’t humanely possible. Yet, here we are! I’ve fallen off the waggon in terms of blogging, but I’m back with this list. These are the best books I read in 2019, and ones you should probably add to your to-be-read pile as well. Obama, who?

As always, click the cover of the book to see its Goodreads page

Fiction Books

1) The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

When her mother passed, Shalini—a privileged and restless young woman from Bangalore—leaves her city to go to the troubled northern region of Kashmir. All she has is memories of her childhood and a sense that her mother’s death has something to do with a traveling salesman who used to visit them decades ago. But when she arrives to the remote Himalayan village she set out to find, reality hits her like a ton of bricks and Shalini can’t escape the local politics and violence.

Why I loved it: This has to be one of the most beautifully written novels out there. Vijay really knows how to craft a sentence! It’s flowery without going over the top and is somehow still sober. Plus, the author gets head-first into Indian politics, issues of class, and sexuality. It’s brilliant seeing the world through the eyes of a terribly flawed, disturbingly privileged woman.

Pick this up if…

  • You’re into character-driven novels
  • You want to learn something new about India
  • You like unreliable and unlikeable characters

2) American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Patrick Bateman is twenty-six, works in Wall Street, and is a serial killer. He’s handsome, sophisticated, vain, and living his best years in the city—filled with carnage and sex. He has no qualms about showing us how his mind functions and what kind of depravation he gets into. From killing homeless men to prostitutes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more guilt-free killer in New York City.

Why I loved it: Clearly this is a gruesome book rife with disgusting descriptions of torture and murder. But, for some reason, you can’t put it down. There are so many interesting, twisted comments made to the world we live in, from overconsumption to our constant need for reassurance and drive for violence. Not to mention that the writing is crazy good—it takes you on twists you’re not expecting. It’s truly a genius book that will gross you out and trigger you, but it’s a modern classic for a very clear reason.

Pick this up if…

  • You’re craving social commentary on modern society
  • You don’t mind a bit of gore
  • You want to get inside the mind of a psychopath

3) Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

In a small Virginia town, a pro-neurodiversity protest sparks outside a treatment facility for children with Autism. A device known as the “Miracle Submarine” brings parents of Autistic children together in the hopes of finding a cure. But when it blows up one day, the relationships created inside this small bubble implode, too. Who was behind the death of the patients? Could it have really been an accident?

Why I loved it: Hands down, this is the best thriller I’ve ever read. You’re left guessing who was behind the explosion from the first chapter. Kim is a master at making you question what you know and what you assume to know. On top of all that, I kept getting convinced this or that character did it—only to believe the exact opposite with all my heart a chapter later. The plot keeps thickening as you read!

Pick this up if…

  • You love courtroom dramas or a good twisty thriller
  • You want a fast-paced read that keeps you on the edge of your seat
  • You want to read about flawed, complex characters

4) Normal People by Sally Rooney

At school, Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s a popular kid and the star of the school’s soccer team. She is a shy, introverted girl who mostly keeps to herself. Connell’s mom also works as a cleaning lady for Marianne’s wealthy family. But outside of school, their relationship starts to bloom. Over the years, as they both move to university and then on with their lives, they always share a special connection. Their roles invert, they change, and grow—but they’re always drawn to one another.

Why I loved it: If I could only recommend one book, this would be it. It has everything you expect from a spectacular novel. The writing is gorgeous—blunt and soft at the same time. The characters are three-dimensional and charismatic. The setting is quiet but sweeping. The themes of class in modern-day Ireland are subtly explored. It doesn’t fit neatly into any book category—it’s adult, and young adult, and new adult, and completely questions these labels. It’s stuck with me for over six months already, and it won’t go away anytime soon.

Pick this up if…

  • You want to read a different, more impactful coming-of-age story
  • You’re a sucker for a slow-burn romance
  • You think literary fiction is too hard to get into

5) The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

A sleep- and dream-inducing virus is going around on a college campus in the isolated hills of a Southern California town. Those who come into contact with it, fall asleep and have long, drawn-out dreams they never wake up from. First, a freshman falls asleep, then her roommate, then the entire town. A quarantine is established, the National Guard is called, and the survivors look for a new life.

Why I loved it: This was the perfect quiet novel I was needing this summer. The author is clearly a wizard with words and with creating characters you care deeply about. The plot seems plain but it quickly shows to be brilliant. Moreover, this book distills what’s so unique about memories, dreams, human relationships, and resilience.

Pick it up if…

  • You love a well-thought-out epidemic or apocalyptic book
  • You thrive reading a slow-moving character-driven novel
  • You want to read more experimental books

6) Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

A young British Brazilian woman grows up in South London in a normal, middle-class family. Her dad is English while her mother is from Brazil—and cannot call Britain her home. She comes of age between two cultures, juggling and negotiating her identity while also building a career as a journalist.

Why I loved it: From that synopsis, you can tell that not much goes on in this novel. It’s a quiet and slow-moving book that is worthy of so much more popularity and praise. The main character is so well-developed—you can feel her next to you. Not to mention that the writing and the structure of the novel (prose mingled with poetry and narrative vignettes) are brilliant. It baffles me that I haven’t heard of it more often!

Pick it up if…

  • You want to read from the perspective of a multicultural, multiethnic character
  • You love lyrical writing that begs to be read aloud
  • You would like to disappear into a story for a few hours

7) Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright exploring her Black lesbian identity. Shirley is an old friend and a teacher disillusioned with the poorly funded education system. Carole, a former student, is a successful investment banker in London and the daughter of hard-working immigrants. Bummi, her mother, slaves away cleaning spaces she’d otherwise have no access to and worries about her daughter’s lack of connection with her African roots. Tied to these characters’ lives are many more—Black womxn and a trans man—spread throughout London and the world.

Why I loved it: From the way characters are portrayed to the writing style and themes explored, this novel has it all. It’s genius and deserved the Man Booker Prize in its own right—solo. The reader is taken on an interesting and heartfelt journey through the streets of London. So worth the read.

Pick it up if…

  • You want to read from diverse perspectives you may not be familiar with
  • You like a good experimental literary fantasy novel
  • You want to feel attached to an array of complex characters

8) A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Four young men meet in a small Massachusetts university and, upon graduation, move together to New York City. There’s Malcom, a frustrated brilliant architect at a prominent firm; JB, a smart and often cruel Black painter looking for his way into the art world; Willem, a kind aspiring actor; and the withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who glues the group together. Over the decades, their friendship changes and evolves into something a lot deeper.

Why I loved it: This book made me cry—which never happens to me. You grow so attached to Jude and the other three men in this book, by the end your heart feels like it’s ripped out of your chest. I’m amazed at how addicting this book is, given how dark and twisted the subject matter is. You also don’t really feel tired of reading it, despite being almost 800 pages long. It’s a true tour de force.

Pick it up if…

  • You want to read a story that sucks you in and doesn’t release you
  • You want to have your heart shattered into a million pieces
  • You want to see what all that damn hype is about!

Nonfiction Books

9) How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr

When you think of the world’s massive empires, what comes to mind? The British Empire? The Spanish or Portuguese Empire? The author makes the case that the United States was also a major empire—although it kept it under wraps. In this book, you’ll find a story of the non-contiguous United States. That is, the author goes over the 19th and 20th centuries and reviews what happened in the territories overseen by the US. Think Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawai’i, Guam, and the many small guano-covered rocky islands in the Pacific.

Why I loved it: I’m a sucker for American history and an even bigger fan of glossed-over historical events. This book definitely delivered on all fronts. It’s well-written, easy to follow, makes persuasive arguments and is super interesting.

Pick this up if…

  • You want to learn more about (American) history
  • You’re a big fan of arguments for a different historical perspective
  • You are looking for a less US-centric view of modern history

10) Dopesick by Beth Macy

In the 1990s, the American market saw the rise of pain medication that claimed to be a better alternative to the traditional meds already being used. They were sold under the names OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. While they promised to avoid creating addiction in patients, they led to an opioid crisis that quickly got out of hand. Yet, in 2017, almost 50,000 people died from opioid overdose deaths—and millions were addicted to the drug. Beth Macy tries to explain to the reader how such a monster was created, from the labs and conference rooms of the pharmaceutical giants to the corrupt doctors who overprescribed opioids.

Why I loved it: A story about a corrupt system making big bucks off the backs of normal people? That’s the kind of book I want to read. You can tell the author put in months or even years of research. She references everything she alludes to and explains everything to the finest detail. It’s the book you need to understand this complex and heartbreaking crisis.

Pick it up if…

  • You’ve heard of the opioid crisis but don’t know as much as you’d want to about it
  • You are looking for a depressing story of corruption and capitalism-gone-wrong
  • You want to see what great investigative journalism is all about

11) The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls is a writer and journalist from Phoenix, Arizona. She has written for a number of publications, including Esquire, New York magazine, and USA Today. In this memoir, she tells the story of her childhood growing up in a dysfunctional, nomadic family. She, and her three siblings away, were raised from the public education system and following an “alternative” parenting style. When she got older and saved enough money, Walls decided to move to New York, where she would pursue an education and writing career.

Why I liked it: I’m not one for memoirs, but this one was written so beautifully, I couldn’t put it down. There’s no doubt Jeannette is a fantastic storyteller. She can turn any bad memory into a work of art. What I found especially surprising was how she managed to leave in the happy memories. Not everything is bad, and she makes sure that we know and remember that—even through the hardest parts of the book.

Pick it up if…

  • You’re in the mood for a heart-wrenching but endearing memoir
  • You want to learn more about what growing up in a “parallel” country is like
  • You need some good storytelling in your life

12) Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

When the Soviet Union dissolved in the mid-1990s, many Western intellectuals predicted a new era in which Russia and its former satellite states could prosper and its citizens live happier lives. But that’s not the reality Alexievich encounters as she travels the former USSR searching for oral accounts. She meets people whose lives under the neocapitalist system have crumbled and are living in poverty. The author meets with old women, couples who were bright-eyed supporters of capitalism in their youth, survivors of the late-1990s wars, and youngsters disillusioned with the world they live in.

Why I loved it: It’s easy to assume history moves in the “right” way and betters the lives of every citizen. It’s especially easy to forget the experiences of the less privileged who often don’t make it into history books. With this sweeping oral histories collection, Alexievich makes sure we don’t leave anyone behind—not even the illegal immigrants living in the shadows of the opulent Moscow. It’s so well-structured, thoroughly researched, and every single story is impactful in its own way.

Pick it up if…

  • You are interested in modern Russian history
  • You want to get a new perspective on the shift from communism/socialism to capitalism
  • You are a history lover but are tired of the traditionalist “from above” perspective

What books left a mark on you in 2019? Do you have any recommendations similar to the ones I mentioned in this post? Let me know!

7 thoughts on “12 Books That Made My Year | Bookish Year in Review

  1. Aah so many amazing books up there! I really need to pick up The Far Field, I found it on audiobook but have been waiting for the right time to read it. Also I’m currently reading Miracle Creek, so I’m excited to love it as much as everyone does ❤ A Little Life is heartbreaking, and I loooove The Glass Castle as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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