It’s fun to celebrate National Book Month in January. Usually the weather isn’t conducive to doing much else besides reading and eating anyway! I am a voracious reader and love reading across genres. Yes, I even read picture books and middle grade fiction as there are some amazing voices in those genres that no one, regardless of age, should miss. So, without further ado, here is my short list of the best books of 2019, the ones I hope you didn’t miss!
There were a lot of great fiction books in 2019, but two standouts were “The Nickel Boys,” by Colson Whitehead and “Girl, Woman, Other,” by British novelist, Bernadine Evaristo. I really didn’t think that Whitehead could create something even better than his first novel, “Underground Railroad,” but he most certainly did. He is, hands down, one of the most important American novelists right now. In “The Nickel Boys,” he is once again looking at social injustice, this time in a segregated Florida town at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. Evaristo’s 8th novel won her the coveted Booker Prize, making her the first black woman to receive this honor. “Girl, Woman, Other” is the interwoven stories of twelve British women of color and how their similarities and differences shape their paths. It’s really about stepping outside oneself to make those human connections.
While it may seem like politics reigned supreme in the nonfiction genre in 2019, there were still some standout offerings that had little to do with politics per se, and everything to do with the way we treat one another. Rachel Louise Snyder’s “No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us,” is a shocking account of the prevalence of domestic violence in America. “Three Women,” by Lisa Taddeo took her eight years to complete as she was following the real life trajectories of three complicated women. Both books are written by journalists, giving them a compulsive readability, despite the difficult content.
If your passion is short stories or essay collections, then Esme Weijun Wang’s “The Collected Schizophrenias,” is a must read. It is difficult to find a more heart-wrenching and deeply personal portrait of mental illness. This isn’t a book that you will read in one sitting as it requires some soul-searching in order to understand how mental illness requires compassion and deserves to be destigmatized.
If you like your essays with a bit of wry humor, then pick up a copy of Mary Laura Philpott’s, “I Miss You When I Blink.” I think that if Erma Bombeck were still alive, this is an essay collection that she would truly appreciate.
Limiting myself to just two mystery/thrillers for this list was darn near impossible, but for folks who love this genre as much as I do, these are the must-reads. “My Lovely Wife,” by Samantha Downing is a darkly disturbing novel about a bored couple and the lengths they will go to in order to kick their marriage up a notch. Jo Ann Chaney’s, “As Long As We Both Shall Live,” is either the story of a man who has tragically lost two wives, or the story of a murderer, or maybe both.
While there were a number of stand-out novels in YA for 2019, Mason Deaver’s “I Wish You All the Best” was exceptional. It’s a novel about love and diversity and understanding what it means to be a nonbinary person in a binary world. Kathleen Glasgow’s “How to Make Friends with the Dark,” is the gut-wrenching story of a girl who is figuring out how to survive the sudden death of her mother.
There were a plethora of great children’s picture books that came out in 2019, but these two made my list because they are the kind of picture books all ages can enjoy, as they address diversity and acceptance. Everyone will smile at the whimsical artwork in Christian Robinson’s, “Another” and Matthew Forsythe’s “Pokko and the Drum” is for the artist, the musician, and the dreamer in us all.
Finally, for middle grade readers (and those of us who simply love a good book), there is the newest novel from Newberry Award winning author, Patricia MacLachlan, “Dream Within a Dream.” This is a lovely story of a young girl and her brother who spend the summer living on an island with their grandparents where they finally learn what it means to be welcomed home. “Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks,” is a National Book Award Finalist from best-selling author, Jason Reynolds. This book was absolutely captivating, making something very ordinary (walking home from school) utterly extraordinary.