2019 in Review

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:

  1. Broken Harbor by Tana French. My favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad books.
  2. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Unset. A masterpiece of historical fiction.
  3. 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.
  4. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. A harrowing story of abuse and how communities can turn toward evil.
  5. 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.
  6. Lying Awake by Mark Salzman. A fascinating exploration of faith and doubt.
  7. 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.
  8. The Brontes by Juliet Barker. A fantastic biography that made me fall in love with the Brontes yet again.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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18 Responses to 2019 in Review

  1. Liz Mc2 says:

    Ghost Wall was one of my best of the year too. I kept getting partway through Melmoth and having to return it to the library, but at some point I think I’ll try it again.

    I really appreciate your thoughts on opinion. When I was blogging a lot I would definitely find myself consciously *trying to form an opinion* as I was reading something, and then looking for evidence to support my opinion. What I want blogging to be is a way to reflect on my reading, and I’m still not sure how to find a way back to that without creating the pressure to have a *take* on everything (oh yes, far too many takes in the world these days). I do hope you continue to post something, because I enjoy reading your thoughts. Happy 2020 reading!

    • Teresa says:

      Yes, reflections, not takes — that’s what I’m going for. And I too want to get away from trying to form my own “take” as I’m reading. I write reviews almost immediately after reading, while it’s still fresh, and I’m wondering if waiting a bit will help me avoid rehearsing my review as I’m reading. Although I also wonder if waiting a bit will keep me from reviewing at all.

  2. Rohan Maitzen says:

    What you say about opinions and ‘takes’ really resonates with me too – but also what you say about blogs as still, in spite of everything, one of the best ways we still have for relatively concentrated thought and discussion. I see (and participate in) the migration of comments to Twitter, but the result is so scattered: I prefer being able to follow and then revisit a thread on a post. At the same time, anything that’s making reading (or discussing reading) a chore rather than a pleasure is probably not a good thing — so here’s to seeking the right balance in 2020! One thing I know for sure is that when you do keep up your blog posts, I really enjoy finding out what you think. Finally, yay Lolly Willowes!

    • Teresa says:

      What you say about chore vs. pleasure is so true. That’s what I’m trying to sort out, I think. When there’s good conversation, writing posts never feels like a chore, but when writing into a seeming void, it feels more like work. I want to write for myself rather than for an audience, but the conversation is what I enjoy about blogging, and that requires an audience

  3. I really miss the deeper conversations that used to happen on blogs now that Twitter has taken over. I still get roughly the same number of hits but now with the horrible “like” button readers simply hit that and disappear rather than leave a comment. I started blogging as a way of having conversations, not just airing my own opinions, and as people pull back it makes it less and less rewarding to spend the time writing about books. I hit an extreme this year, only writing about a handful of the books I read, so hope to do better in 2020 but I know if I tried to write about everything I read (I usually read about 150 books a year) I’d go mad.

    Whatever approach you take in 2020, enjoy it!

    • Teresa says:

      I was just talking with some friends on Twitter the other day about whether the like button on social media has shut down conversation. I think it can be turned off on WordPress, so maybe that would be worth trying. For myself, I use the like button on social when I don’t have time to make a comment or don’t have anything of substance to add, but I rarely use it on blogs. But then I also don’t comment as much as I used to, which makes me part of the problem.

  4. alison41 says:

    Tricky, isn’t it? For me a monthly summary of my reading works well – I found it exhausting to review every book I read, and my reading is usually between 60 and 80 books annually, due to eyesight problems, among other things. And blogging shouldn’t be a millstone around our necks, a tedious chore. If it is: why are we doing it? I think each blogger should follow whatever timetable or format suits them, be flexible, and never mind what the world thinks.
    Thanks for sharing your reading list – I enjoy seeing other readers’ lists at year-end and often find unusual recommendations.
    Twitter? I realised long ago that Twitter was not for me; life’s too short. I do post my monthly summaries on Facebook, and that works for me. Goodreads is too overwhelming; I’m on the verge of abandoning it. And I’m copacetic about both decisions. Happy New Year, and keep on reading and ENJOYING what you r3ead.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree that we all need to flexible with ourselves. I have really liked writing about every book, but it may not be the best use of my time going forward. But we’ll see. Enjoyment is the choice, whether in books or blogging, is the important thing.

  5. Jeane says:

    I know what you mean about looking for the conversation, and missing it. The blogs seem very quiet these days. I never liked Twitter, and while I browse others’ reviews on Goodreads, I haven’t ever posted my own there. My own writing on the book blog is rather uneven- some days I feel like writing an in-depth examination of a book, other times it’s just a brief synopsis so I don’t forget I read it! or an exclamation of my own reaction to it- all in all, it’s a personal space so however you feel like using it nobody should criticize. I read Lying Awake years ago, btw- found it very interesting.

    • Teresa says:

      One of the things I like about a blog, over Goodreads or Twitter or whatever, is that it does feel like my own space where I can do things the way I choose — posting regularly or never, writing short or long. It’s up to me.

  6. priscilla says:

    The Great Believers was one of my favorites in 2019, too! I’m also happy to see you loved Broken Harbor; I agree that’s the best of the Dublin Murder Squad. When I was trying to compile a list of my favorite books of the decade, I went back through my blog, which I started in January 2009, and I was thinking about how it was at the beginning when so many people commented. It felt like a real community, but I’m as guilty as the next person for neglecting it in favor of other platforms. For a while I considered posting more reviews on Instagram, but I feel like there’s too much noise about what’s new, new, new there all the time. I keep hoping that as more people tire of social media, they may drift back to blogs. Happy New Year, Teresa!

    • Teresa says:

      Happy new year to you, too! It is so much easier to comment and converse on Twitter, especially when on a mobile devise, so I see why the conversation has drifted there. But I also think having things spread out across platforms makes it harder to form community.

      I go through phases with Instagram. I like that it hasn’t become full of politics the way Twitter has, but not everything I want to chat about has a visual component. I enjoy photography (and am pretty decent at it when using a real camera), but I’m more of a word person.

  7. As someone who only started blogging five years ago, I don’t have a good point of reference for how different blogs and comments are now. But I do agree with what others have mentioned, that when blogging feels like a chore, that doesn’t serve anyone. I floundered a bit with my blog in 2018 and early 2019, but finally hit upon a good pace for writing for me, once a week. I don’t usually write an in-depth review of a book unless it’s one that really speaks to me. Other times I’ll do mini-reviews, or even five-sentence reviews. And I don’t write about every book I read. For me that’s too much pressure. All this to say that I hope that you hit upon a formula that works for you, and I enjoy your thoughts even if I don’t always comment.

    • Teresa says:

      I totally agree that blogging shouldn’t feel like a chore. That’s one reason I stopped this summer — I didn’t feel like doing it and there was no value in it when I felt that way.

  8. I’m trying to help conversations on blogs myself, so there’s that. I’m hoping I’ll do more this coming year – especially after I retire!

  9. Constance says:

    Funny, Broken Harbor was my least favorite of all the French books – maybe because I live in fear of animals in the walls of my house! But I do love King Hereafter, although it is a very hard reread, knowing what is going to happen. My copy is autographed by the author which is an extra bonus. I think about how lovely she was to talk to and am so glad I had that opportunity.

    • Teresa says:

      I suspect Broken Harbor would be either near the top or near the bottom of most people’s lists. It feels a lot darker than the others.
      And how wonderful that you met Dorothy Dunnett!.

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