Originally published January 1, 2020
Ah, my favorite post of the year.
If only I could go back to the beginning and save my “What I read this year” lists from back when I started doing this more than 20 years ago. It was a simple New Year’s email I’d send friends to share what I read and ask for their faves so I could start the year with a solid book queue. That email was what started this blog. I just love sharing a great read and hearing from my friends about what is keeping them up turning the pages late into the night.
Although I am not super strict about meeting any kind of quota, I do try to mix it up — fiction, nonfiction, male, female, authors from a diverse background … this year I read 35 books and they break down like this:
Female authors: 23 (Wow, I had no idea. Actually pretty impressed with this.)
Male authors: 12
Repeat authors: 5 (Even more impressive in that I embraced new and different instead of playing it safe.)
Authors of color: 5 (Ugh. Embarrassing.)
I skipped a “Best of” post this year for no other reason than I just never got around to it — so I’m noting which ones were my favorites. As always, though, to each their own. Just because I might not go fangirl on a particular book doesn’t mean someone else won’t. If anything, as I grow older, I worry less about looking like I am well-read, as long as I am reading, period.
Here we go:
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne
A favorite: Probably my #1 favorite for the year. It … is … just …. so damn good. Starting in 1940s Ireland and taking readers around the world and into present day, the life of Cyril Avery is engaging, tragic, funny, bittersweet, heartwarming … just everything a good book should be.
Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
A favorite: It seems like just yesterday I picked this up and become immediately entangled in the lives of Daisy and the band. “Daisy” is a great read and is sure to generate a lot of strong opinions if you are looking for a raucous book club meeting.
Southern Lady Code, by Helen Ellis
A favorite: Laugh.out.loud.funny. One of my favorite books of the year, for no other reason than it just felt so good to laugh this much. Helen Ellis is my spirit animal. Easy to pick up for a quick read, set own and come back to later. Unless you have no sense of humor, you can’t go wrong here.
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
A favorite: OMG, but this was good. Devastating. Gut-wrenching. But good, good, good. If you are a fan of exquisite writing and don’t mind crying ugly, pick this one up.
The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo
A favorite: If this wasn’t on your book club’s list this year, it will be in 2020, so you may as well start now. It’s lengthy. But that’s OK because you’ll wish your time with the Sorenson clan never comes to an end.
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss, by Rajeev Balasubramanyam
A favorite: Another good book club pic, this sweet tale of a man trying to make sense of his family and himself is a bit like The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry with a slightly more complicated narrative, as Professor Chandra has to navigate the Nobel Prize, his ex-wife and kids on his way to bliss.
The Lightest Object in the Universe, by Kimi Eisele
A favorite: As time has gone by since I read this, I’ve come to appreciate the story more and more. In the same apocalyptic vein as “Station Eleven” or “The Stand,” Carson and Beatrix have to navigate a world with no rules and even fewer conveniences to find each other. Great storytelling and hard to put down.
Normal People, by Sally Rooney
A favorite: Having read this immediately after “Trust Exercise,” if forced to choose which teen drama I enjoyed more, I’d choose this, the tangled love story of Connell and Marianne, two messed up Irish kids that just can’t seem to get it right.
Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi
A favorite: A late addition to my reading list thanks to it winning the National Book Award and its inclusion on every “Best Of” list out there, this book about theater kids (the DRAMA!!!) and its portrait of the hot mess that is angst-ridden teen love was spectacular in a sincerely whacky way.
The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
A favorite: If you see Ann Patchett listed as an author, it’s a safe bet the story you are about to read is great, so there was little risk taking in picking up her latest, about the twists and turns of a brother and sister’s relationship over the course of a lifetime. Trigger warning: Evil stepmother action ensues.
The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern
A favorite: I have been waiting for YEARS for the follow up to “The Night Circus,” and while I may have set my expectations a tad high, this novel was fantastic and a love letter to anyone who yearns to just get lost in a world of books and cosy nooks in which to read them.
Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell
A great, maybe even essential read for armchair psychologists, communications experts or anyone looking for a better understanding about not what makes people tick, but how they tick at all.
The Travelers, by Regina Porter
A great family drama that spans the decades, Porter’s take on five intersecting families is wholly underrated, given it’s storytelling is in a similar vein to that of “The Most Fun We Ever Had.” To be fair, this book is far less of the love story that was Lombardo’s novel, but the drama is there in spades.
Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow
A favorite: If “Bad Blood” was on the book club list this year, “Catch and Kill” will be on it in 2020. Investigative journalism at its best, and so well written. Farrow takes great care with such a disturbing, tragic topic. P.S. It’s also hopeful. And witty. A page turner for sure.
The Institute, by Stephen King
Ah, Stephen in his glory — paranormal, children in peril, pretty despicable horror and the government on everyone’s tail trying to keep a terrifying secret. This isn’t for the faint of heart but if you dig a horror read, here you go.
Stay Up with Hugo Best, by Erin Somers
Ugh, poor Hugo. I am writing this post up on the heels of seeing “Bombshell” this weekend, so I have little patience for sad sack male television personalities. Couple that with having read “Catch and Kill” after this and I kinda just want to knee Hugo in the family jewels. Set that aside, though, and the story is definitely entertaining. Get it together, June.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong
This was my “I will read this because it might win the Pulitzer” choice this year, and the writing did not disappoint. It is, like The Nickel Boys, a sad, sad story with little in the way of redemption but the prose is deliberate and transports you to whatever world Little Dog happens to be in at the moment, whether it’s his mother’s kitchen, his employer’s barn or his grandmother’s version of Vietnam.
Once More to the Rodeo, by Calvin Hennick
I capped the year off with a memoir about parents and kids and trying to figure that relationship out — on all sides. Engaging, sweet and an honest look inside a father-son trip across country.
Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane
Anne Stanhope is just plain crazy. I know when anxiety hits I can go a little loco, but ….
The Ash Family, by Molly Dektar
College girl picks wrong time to take a risk when she meets crazy cult guy in small town. Disturbing page turner that has you thinking twice about ever putting your kid on a bus in the middle of nowhere.
The Last Romantics, by Tara Conklin
Ah, the Skinner sibs. This was one of my favorites for the year, and would make for a great book club pic — so much to debate in how these four — Joe, Renee, Caroline and Fiona — navigate family, love and loss.
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, edited by Michele Filgate
Poignant essays about the relationships we have, or don’t, with the people that brought us into this world. Some seriously good writing that forces you to consider your own relationships with your parents and your kids.
Before She Was Found, by Heather Gudenkauf
One of my favorite mystery writers, and even when she can become a little formulaic, her books are always engaging, entertaining reads. This, about a middle school friendship gone horribly wrong, leaves you feeling spooked.
Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou
Up until reading “Catch and Kill” later in the year, this by far was one of the most compelling pieces of investigative journalism I’ve read in along whie. Elizabeth Holmes wasn’t just crazy, she was crazy and narcissistic and kinda evil. Highly recommend reading before watching the HBO doc.
When You Read This, by Mary Adkins
Another book from earlier this year, that looking back, I recall as being actually a very sweet and tender love story. Great beach read and for a book club pick to balance out something really hard core serious.
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
One of 2019’s most popular reads, I liked it a lot but wouldn’t say it ranked in my top 10 for the year. If you are in a man-hating mood, this may be the book for you.
Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer
Who doesn’t love a good grammar book? Also, Dreyer plays an excellent game at Twitter.
The Threat, by Andrew McCabe
I tried to keep my political reading to a minimum this year, since last year’s books were pretty upsetting. (And yes, I did sort of read The Mueller Report but I didn’t include it here because I felt like skimming was kind of cheating to count as a read.) Like the others before it, just disturbing and sad.
Lake Success, by Gary Shteyngart
Thinking back to the beginning of the year when I read this, I am surprised at how much I’ve grown to really appreciate it. Barry’s escapist maneuvering in an attempt to rediscover what he thinks is his true love has stuck with me. Well written and a great pick for a book club.
How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings, by Sarah Cooper
if you are looking for something really funny and sadly, on point, well ,,, here you go.
Calm the F*ck Down, by Sarah Knight
Anxiety sufferers, unite.
Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty
Liane Moriarty typically does not disappoint and while this isn’t my favorite book written by her, nine people at a desert sanctuary with a psycho doctor is going to be entertaining.
Summer of ’69, by Elin Hilderbrand
A soapy summer read and the first time I picked up a Elin Hilderbrand book, so I won an all accounts.
I’m Not Really a Waitress, by Suzi Weiss-Fischmann
Interesting memoir about my favorite nail polish brand. I wouldn’t say it was earth-shattering but it’s always refreshing to read about determined women in business.
The Unbreakables, by Lisa Barr
A fictitious reminder that love is messy, relationships are messier and that best friends and daughters are not incapable of letting you down.