Amid all the hustle and chaos of 2019 (ahem finishing my PhD, starting my senior research fellowship etc), I have managed to escape to extraordinary places, from the wild marshes of North Carolina, Vietnam in the 60s, the hospital wards of London, and the streets of the fictional Gilead. While I read fewer books than the previous year, I read more books that I rated as 5-star reads. This year has been enriched by books, and here were is my list of the 12 best books of 2019 (If you want more detailed reviews or the complete list of books I read in 2019, follow me on Goodreads).
- On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Ocean Vuong) – a poetic, sensitive, and moving “letter” written to his mother, weaving together the experiences of growing up as an immigrant with his mother and grandmother’s experiences in Vietnam
- Educated (Tara Westover) – Tara shares her shocking, relatable, extreme, beautiful, hopeful story of growing up in extraordinary circumstances. Definitely worth a read!
- Born a Crime (Trevor Noah) – This memoir follows Trevor Noah’s experience growing up in apartheid South Africa. It is powerful, with thoughtful commentary on race, racism, and opportunity. I “read” this as the audiobook version (narrated by Noah) and highly recommend that format, cause he has an excellent reading voice).
- The Map of the Salt and the Stars (Zeyn Joukhadar) – I loved this book, detailing the journey of two fierce women – a modern day Syrian refugee and a medieval woman who dares to embark on the hero’s journey.
- The Huntress (Kate Quinn) – a badass female bomber pilot joins in the hunt for Nazi war criminals after WWII.
- The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury (Marc Levy) – A book that really gives you that sense of place and is rooted in the sensory experience of travel, this story follows a woman in the 1950s who leaves London to explore Turkey in search of herself and her place in the world.
- Sea of Memories (Fiona Valpy) – A beautiful story focused on a couple who met before the outbreak of war and following the powerful story from the beaches of southern France to the Scottish hills.
Fiction (with a prominent nature theme)
- Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens) – a moving and lyrical story of a girl growing up in the marshes of North Carolina, deeply connected to the natural world but struggling to find the connection she needs with others.
- The Great Alone (Kristin Hannah) – Set in Alaska, this story focuses on a girl whose family moves to Alaska to escape tragedy. There is more than it’s share of drama, but also this book paints vivid descriptions of the austere and stunning landscapes in Alaska, which really set this book apart.
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery) – This book stole my heart completely. Set in Paris, it focuses on a middle aged concierge Rene, and a precocious 13 year old girl living in one of the luxury apartments. It wanders through literature, philosophy, and art in a marvellous way, that you really must read.
- Erotic stories for Punjabi Widows (Balli Kaur Jaswal) – This was an unexpected delight – Set in London, it focuses on a young British-Punjabi woman who is straddling the line between two sets of very different expectations.
- The Testaments (Margaret Atwood) – I feel I don’t need to describe this much more than saying, y’all know the Handmaid’s tale so you probably should read the sequel. It is good.
The biggest shift in my reading has been to embrace the Kindle more fully this year. While a small number of these books were in physical form (and I do delight from the analogue style of reading), tucking a kindle in my bag for unexpected waits at the theatre or airport has been a very practical adaptation.
What were your best reads of 2019? What should I add to my 2020 reading list?