Happy new year, all!! 🙂
I was hoping to put up two more posts before the end of the year, this one and my January TBR, but didn’t end up finding the time. However, since 2019 wasn’t a great reading year for me, I’m very glad to be starting 2020 on a positive note with some favorites, rather than jumping into my full year review. That’ll be coming soon as well, but for now I’m ringing in a new year of blogging with a look back at my top reads of 2019! I’ve even made an effort to rank them.
10. The Last by Hanna Jameson. This genre-bending book about a near-future apocalypse mixed with a murder mystery is everything that I want in a thriller. There’s action and suspense, a whodunnit guessing game, and enough social/political commentary that it’s impossible to dismiss as once-and-done entertainment.
9. The Farm by Joanne Ramos. This book has been marketed as feminist dystopian, but many of the details of Ramos’s fictional surrogacy “farm” come from reality. What stands out in this novel isn’t the plot or the characters (both of which could have been better, admittedly), but the commentary on where legality and morality disagree on what is considered acceptable treatment of women’s bodies. Ramos isn’t trying to push her own viewpoint here, but highlighting a complicated situation that’s even stickier when race and social class are introduced to the already-fraught circumstance of paying a woman to carry someone else’s child.
8. Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson. This modern ode to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is divided into two storylines- a fictionalization of Shelley’s history, and a modern romance. Though the humor doesn’t always land and there’s not much plot, I was absolutely hooked on Winterson’s writing, on the atmosphere and emotion evoked in the passages about Shelley’s life, and on the commentary about gender and what make life life. Shelley’s original themes are expanded upon beautifully in what has become one of my absolute favorite retellings of all time.
7. Severance by Ling Ma. This is the only book I’ve rated 4-stars on this list, though it’s beat several other 5-star reads for a spot here, and even rereading my review isn’t reminding me why I didn’t rate it higher to start with. This is another apocalyptic novel, this time with zombies, and plenty of memorable commentary on corporate life, millennial stereotypes, and the habits of the modern world. This was my second read of 2019, and despite the initial 4-star rating, it has stuck with me firmly all year. It’s time to bump it up to a 5.
6. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. This is a charcter-driven saga about life in Japan for a Korean family. It gave me a chance to brush up on history and culture (the MC’s family is heavily affected by Japan’s annexing of Korea and Korea’s split after WWII), but it is also an emotional, multi-perspective tale of trials and perseverance, of nuanced relationships, of injustice and prejudice. It’s long but engrossing, and for me it was worth every page.
5. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. This is probably the most difficult book I’ve ever read, in terms of both writing and content (all trigger warnings apply). It’s a short book, a previous Women’s Prize winner, and a real struggle, but despite the challenge it hit me harder emotionally than any other book I’ve read this year, and it even managed to sell me on the difficult style. The payoff was 100% worth the effort.
4. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. I’m usually partial to longer works, but found some excellent novellas in 2019, and this one is at the top of that list. It’s a tiny story that packs a big punch, following a teen girl as her family joins a class project to reenact Iron Age life in northern England. It’s a story of abuse, and of taking things too far. I loved the jaw-dropping opening, the slowly building tension, the fraught climax, and everything in between.
3. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This bizarre, fairy tale-esque story about two young women living alone in the home of their murdered family had me hooked immediately, and improved with every page turn. It’s a story of outsiders and superstition, of unquestioning loyalty, and of choosing love over money. I saw the plot twist coming a mile away, but appreciated the way it affected characterization enough that for once I didn’t care about knowing in advance.
2. Know My Name by Chanel Miller. I actually drew up my favorites list (tentatively) at the end of November when I posted my 2019 almost-favorites, and was so confident about loving this nonfiction memoir about Miller’s trial experience as a rape survivor that I calculated this into my list even before reading. Fortunately, it exceeded every expectation. How rape accusations are handled in the US legal system and treated by society is as infuriating as it is important, and I don’t think any writer could have done it better. This should be required reading. (Review to come.)
1. Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann. This is a thousand-page account of an Ohio housewife’s experience in Trump’s America, told primarily through one very long stream-of-consciousness sentence. It’s a doozy, and requires plenty of patience, but the way the pieces weave into a single web in the end is a reading experience unlike any other. This is hands-down the most inventive and original book I’ve read this year, and I was surprised how captivating I found most of the story even before the individual threads started coming together. It’s full of meaningful commentary about life as an American, as a woman, as a mother, and above all, as a person. It’s not a perfect book, but I can’t shake it, I don’t want to, and I doubt I ever will.
Even though 2019 was not my best reading year, it did bring me a few fantastic books! These titles have all left a lasting impression for me, and I would recommend them all (though some to a wider audience than others). If you’ve read any of them, or are planning to, let me know your thoughts below!
The Literary Elephant