In a lot of ways 2019 felt like a pretty typical reading year for me. I finished 96 books, and my total is usually somewhere in the 90s. I read more books by women than men, and a little over a third of the books I read were by authors of color. My reading included a mix of old and new but skewed toward the new than I’d like, mostly because of my interest in the Tournament of Books. I didn’t read as many books in translation or books from outside the US and UK as I’d like, but more than in some years. So far, so normal.
As for my favorites of the year, I’ve narrowed it down to ten (first time reads only; otherwise, I’d have to add King Hereafter, which is an all-time favorite and difficult to beat in any year). Here they are, listed in the order that I read them:
- Broken Harbor by Tana French. My favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad books.
- Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Unset. A masterpiece of historical fiction.
- Melmoth by Sara Perry. A perfect follow-up to Kristin Lavransdatter. Together, these books made for a fascinating exploration of the effects of sin and guilt.
- Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. A harrowing story of abuse and how communities can turn toward evil.
- Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. What seems like a great novel about a spinster finding her own way in the world takes a surprising turn that makes it even better.
- Lying Awake by Mark Salzman. A fascinating exploration of faith and doubt.
- The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. This has a similar premise as The Sparrow, an all-time favorite, but this story of space evangelism goes in an entirely different direction that is equally harrowing.
- The Brontes by Juliet Barker. A fantastic biography that made me fall in love with the Brontes yet again.
- The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. A thoughtful exploration of the long-term effects of trauma on a community, including those who are not necessarily the primary sufferers.
- Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. A fabulous collection of stories that bend reality.
Honorable mentions go to Dopesick by Beth Macy, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier, Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, The Pisces by Melissa Broder, Ninepins by Rosy Thornton, Big Sky by Kate Atkinson, They Shoot Horses Don’t They by Horace McCoy, Daisy Jones and the Six by Tara Jenkins Reid, The Heaven Tree trilogy by Edith Pargeter, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, and Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.
The biggest change this year was that I took a long, unplanned blogging break for the first time since I started blogging in 2008. I’ve often said that, for me, writing about some of my reading just wouldn’t work. I write about all of it or none of it, and that proved to be the case. When I took a break, mostly because I wasn’t in the mood, I couldn’t get up steam again for months. But I missed having a journal with my own thoughts, so I started back up again this fall. I’m still not sure whether, or how long, or to what extent I’ll keep at it.
One thing I realized while I was on break was that I’m tired of so many opinions on everything. And that included my own. It was nice not to form opinions on all my reading for a while. My qualms are not so much about “right” and “wrong” opinions but about how opinions are complicated and often in progress. My blog is a place where I noodle around in my thinking. I don’t necessarily want to make a judgment, and I certainly don’t want my judgment to be perceived as the definitive one, or even my own final one. But is there a place for such noodling anymore?
Ideally, blogs are a place to open up conversation. I share my experience reading a book, another person shares theirs, and our different views open a book up to someone else in a way a that simple yay or nay from either of us would not. But conversation doesn’t happen so much on blogs these days. Comments are spread across the internet, onto Twitter, Goodreads, Litsy, Instagram, etc. I’ve experimented with all of these platforms, and there are things I like and dislike about all of them. For me, only a blog allows for the kind of concentrated thought I enjoy.
Yet, concentrated thought takes time, and maybe, without the conversation that arises out of a blog post, there are better ways I could spend my time. I liked assembling my short reviews of my reading while on break, so maybe I could do that each month, for record-keeping purposes, with longer posts for books that really got my brain going. But I’m such a creature of habit that I may end up only doing those monthly posts. And maybe that’s ok. I’ll just see where my mood takes me.