Best Books I Read in 2019!

Hey! So, everybody’s doing these posts at the turn of the New Year, but you know what?

People like reading them, as evidenced by the fact that you clicked on this post and the fact that:

  1. you clicked on this link, and
  2. more people read my Best Books I Read in 2018! post from last year than any of my other posts.
So, as Mario would say, here we gooooooooooooooooooo!

5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

A single caption cannot adequately describe this strange book. You got to read it for yourself.

This is the weirdest book I’ve read (in some ways).

I first heard of this book at MidSouthCon a few years ago. On a panel, Ellen Datlow (well-known horror editor) described it as this book where you had to start

Most of the book is a series of essays written by a guy named Zampanó. The essays are about a documentary made by a filmmaker Navidson, who discovers his new house is…strange. The inside dimensions are a fraction of an inch larger than the outside dimensions, which is impossible. From there the house grows stranger and Navidson becomes obsessed, at the expense of his relationship with his wife. Also, while you read the essays, there are footnote commentaries by a guy named Johnny, who is reading Zampanó’s essays about Navidson’s documentary.

Okay. It’s hard to explain. Even harder to describe is the text layout. See below for some examples. In the first picture, the characters are wandering through a frustrating maze while the reader is reading through a frustrating footnote-laden maze of text. SO META, AMIRIGHT?

If all of that interests you, then GO READ THIS BOOK. If it doesn’t, then DON’T GO READ THIS BOOK. It’s not for everyone. But it’s weird and strange and awesome.

Buy it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from me if you live in Memphis!

4. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

It is said you have a nose…

This is the other weirdest book I’ve read (in other ways).

This book was everything I secretly wished Children of Blood and Bone would be. To be fair, CoBaB is YA. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is very not YA. It was an unfair expectation.

The book is a hard read. The plot winds, many things that happen are distorted through the beliefs and prejudices of the narrator, and many stories are told for unclear reasons. But it’s so good.

When novel., our local bookstore, asked community members for shelf-talkers (recommendation with little description) last year, I wrote one on this book:

This book is weird (in the best way). It’s African. It’s queer. It’s violent (insert all the trigger warnings here). It’s epic fantasy that pushes me as a reader beyond the traditional Eurocentric fantasy tropes of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones toward something fresh and new. Infused with African mythology, the book follows Tracker and his companions as they search for a mysterious boy and discover that those they trust are not what they seem.

It’s billed as the “African Game of Thrones,” but it’s not. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is its own beast.

Also, book 2 of this series will cover the events of book 1, but from the perspective of one of the villains from book 1. Book 3 will be from the perspective of the boy they’re trying to find. I’m pumped to see how Marlon James plays with perspective in the rest of the series.

But it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow from me or your local library!

3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Best memoir I’ve ever read.

Surprisingly, this book had nothing to do with Noah’s rise to fame as a comedian and Daily Show host. It’s all about him as a little boy trying to find his way during his childhood during Apartheid.

We read this as part of novel. Book Club, and it was one of a few books that literally everyone liked. At the end of the year, several cited it as their favorite book of the year.

His stories range from trying to find a girlfriend to getting in with a bad crowd selling bootleg CDs, to finding out his abusive stepfather shot his mother. Parts are hilarious, heart-wrenching, informative, and beautiful.

And unlike my first couple entries on this list, it’s very accessible. I’d recommend it to anyone!

Buy it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from me or at your local library!

2. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

And one night, the Carls just appeared…

When I heard Hank Green (who I know from Crash Course and brother of famous YA author John Green) was writing a book, I knew I wanted to read it.

The premise is this: late one night, April discovers a huge robot statue thingy in the middle of the city. She records a video and uploads it to her YouTube channel. As more of these huge, inexplicable robot statues are discovered around world, April becomes internet-famous as the first person to document them.

The rest of the book is about how this fame affects April and her relationships as she and others around the world work to figure out what the heck these things are. Aliens? An elaborate prank? A secretive art installation?

I also appreciated that it was centered around a college-age protagonist. It’s not quite YA, but more post-YA (sometimes called New Adult). But it was awesome. Page-turner that also explores some relevant themes about internet fame, divisive politics, and humanity coming together to solve a problem.

But it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from your local library (because I don’t own a copy)!

Before I reveal my number one…
Honorable Mentions!

These were great and definitely could have made this list:

…and my least favorite book of the year!

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

There’s a reason you’ve not heard of Whitehead’s first novel. He somehow took the zombie horror genre and mashed it up with nothing-really-happens literary fiction and created the most horrifying reading experience of the year:

Having to finish a book I suggested for book club and feeling bad that I inadvertently subjected a book club of people I really like to this wordy piece of garbage.

Luckily, I had it on audiobook, so I could let the second half of the book bounce against my tympanic membrane for long enough that I could count it in my list of books that I read. It was excruciating. It left me with a bad case of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD). That was Whitehead’s term, not mine.

For the record, some folks in book club did like it. So take my words with a grain of salt. And I’ve heard his other books are good…

And finally! My number one book of the year!

1. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

A powerful collection of stories.

I love short stories. As a writer, it’s a way to explore an idea quickly, to provoke a visceral emotional response, to surprise and entertain in a short time.

If you have never read a short story collection, I recommend you start with this one. Adjei-Brenyah does all the things I mentioned above in a way that will stick with you. Here are three that stuck with me:

In “Zimmer Land,” a young black boy navigates what it would be like to work in an amusement park where patrons get to shoot a black kid in a hoodie as part of a fantasy on the pretense of protecting their family. Disclaimer: Many (not all) of these stories deal with triggering themes. These particular stories are not “fun” or “entertaining” in the traditional sense, but they are powerful and will affect how you think about the issues they explore.

In “The Era,” the world has changed so that everyone says exactly what’s on their mind. In the past, people used to lie just for the sake of being nice or polite. It’s a jarring premise, but fascinating, making me evaluate the line between honesty and not being a jerk.

In “How to Sell a Jacket As Told by IceKing,” the protagonist is a hotshot jacket salesman selling clothes to literal consumer zombies (a hilarious concept) in order to win a brand new jacket for his mother.

All that being said, here’s the biggest compliment I can give this book: It made me want to be a better writer myself by showing me what a short story can really do. A short story can take a crazy idea (or crazy fact about our society) and use it to make someone see the world differently.

But it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from me or your local library!

I got to briefly meet him when he came to speak at novel.! Also, he follows me on Twitter, NBD. Speaking of which, YOU SHOULD FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER TOO, HERE’S A LINK.

Here’s to another year of reading!

Let me know what your best book of the year was and why I should read it in 2020! And if you’re curious, here’s my full list of books I read in 2019.

Best Books I Read in 2018!

Hey! I read (or listened to on audiobook) a lot of books this year. Here are my top five!

5. Able-Bodied Like Me by Matt Glowacki

A quick read that reflects many of my thoughts about living with a visible physical disability!

I believe this is the first book I’ve ever read about disability. It’s just never been something that’s never interested me, reading-wise. I have my own beliefs about disability, which, when asked, I’ve shared with individuals and groups of people.

But when I heard that civility speaker Matt Glowacki, who I used to play wheelchair basketball and softball with back when I lived in Missouri, was writing a book, I got excited. Matt was born without legs and has used a wheelchair to get around for most of his life. I knew Matt was someone who would share some similar views on disability and what it’s like to be a person who uses a wheelchair. While my experiences don’t align exactly with Matt’s (not all wheelchair people are the same, haha), there are so many things I identified with.

Although this book is fifth on my list, I’m going to recommend it more strongly than any other book on here. If you want to know what it’s like to have a disability like mine, go read this book. Also, it’s short and really interesting! Buy it here, or ask to borrow my copy!

4. In the Woods by Tana French

The book that (might have) changed my mind about mysteries.

I have only ever read TWO mystery novels in my life, and both have been part of a book club I’m in through our local independent bookstore, Novel. It’s simply a genre that’s never interested me. I love fantasy, where heroes and legends are born and the fates of whole worlds are on the line….compared to that, discovering who murdered some random person has always seemed to me kind of boring.

In the Woods by Tana French may have changed my mind. I found myself tearing through the pages to figure out what the heck was going on. I have a few qualms with some minor plot points, but in the end, I cared about the love story, I was so frustrated (in a good way) with the protagonist’s stupid decisions, and I: was excited that this became about more than just solving a murder. Also, the ending, love it or hate it, is far from the cookie-cutter kind of ending I expected. Who knows? At some point, I may pick up Tana French’s second book of my own accord…

3. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

A fascinating true-crime book that shows the extent to which corrupt people in power will oppress others.

Another book club book that I would have never picked up on my own. This impressively-researched true crime story is insane. You know when you watch a movie and the villain is really evil, and you think, “Nobody can really be that evil, right?” Well, the bad guy(s) here are that bad.

It tells the story of the systematic murder of wealthy Osage Native Americans in the 1920s and how the FBI rose to prominence by “solving” this case. I won’t spoil anything else here, but I’ll just say that the lengths that we white people have gone to exploit Native Americans is mind-blowing.

2. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Powerful memoir, and a story worth telling.

I knew I’d end up reading this book after reading the first sentence: “I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a dumpster.”

This memoir tells the story of Walls as a little girl growing up in a dysfunctional family. Her relationship with her father was interesting to me. He loved her, in a way, but he was also neglectful and manipulative. This is Walls’s journey to desire her independence, then fight for her independence, then reconcile with her family who has failed her and her siblings in so many ways. It’s also beautifully written.

Before I reveal my number one…Honorable Mentions!

These were great and definitely could have made this list:

  • Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
  • Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

…and my least favorite book of the year!

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Okay, so I think it’s generally a terrible idea to hate on things that other people love. People who do that are the worst. But I just could not enjoy this book. Once I got about a quarter of the way through it, I looked up reviews and saw that people LOVED this book, and it seriously blew my mind. I found it incredibly boring and (for a novel marketed as a comedy) not funny. It turns out it was parodying over-dramatic doom and gloom novels about rural English life in the late 20’s/early 30’s, which I didn’t even know was a thing, so I think that’s why most of the humor was lost on me.

And finally! My number one book of the year!

1. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Aliens, science fiction, philosophy, Jesus, and the immense literal and metaphorical distances between us.

Remember when I said I don’t like mysteries? You heard me wrong. I don’t like murder mysteries all that much. This story had me asking, “What is really going on here?” the whole time. It’s about a man who is hired by the government to be the first Christian missionary to another planet, where humanity has made contact with an alien species. And the alien species craves Christianity and its stories and, in particular, the healing power of Jesus.

To be clear, this is NOT a “Christian” book. If you like labels, it’s a literary science fiction novel. Although the author is not a Christian, he does a good job of showing beliefs of Christians without caricaturing them. He also avoids making the book preachy or religious or overly-allegorical, like many Christians authors might do. In sum, I’d highly recommend this book for both Christians and non-Christians.

While the protagonist is off successfully sharing the Gospel, he has a hard time connecting with his wife, who is alone on Earth, struggling to keep her faith while natural disasters start tearing the world apart. He’s having huge successes, while his wife falls into despair, and it’s difficult for them to share and relate to each other’s vastly different experiences. It’s like the challenges of dating long distance times a thousand. In real life, the author’s wife died from cancer prior to writing this book, and this story line serves as a powerful metaphor for the inability to fully empathize with a loved one who is going through a life-ending struggle.

If you like science fiction and/or literary fiction and/or thinking about how another sentient species might view a foreign religion that promises them hope, then pick up this book. Or borrow it from me!

Here’s to another year of reading!

Let me know what your best book of the year was and why I should read it in 2019! And if you’re curious, here’s my full list of books I read this year.