It was such fun to look back on what I’ve read this past year and pick my favorites! Below you’ll find mostly adult fiction titles, including some standout graphic novels, as well as a stellar young adult novel (Wilder Girls!). 2019 was also the year I dabbled in reading outside my comfort zone of generally weird and spooky, venturing into the land of romantic fiction and true crime. Much to my surprise, I was so utterly charmed by a romance novel that it ended up on this list (I’m looking at you Chloe Brown). I hope that if you haven’t read one of these titles you will be inspired to stop by and check it out this winter. Maybe you will also find yourself pleasantly surprised by broadening your reading horizons *wink*. Wishing you a joyful holiday season and happy reading!
I always enjoy making this year-end list as it provides me an opportunity to reflect on another year of reading, and reflection quickly turns into contemplating future reading. I highly recommend it. It is highly satisfying to revisit titles you have enjoyed and to consider your plans for reading in the new year, be it more broadly, more deeply, or another goal.
Like many of my colleagues, I have struggled to keep my list to ten titles and included additional notables at the end.
10. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead – Olga Tokarczuk
Janina is, to be kind, a bit of an odd duck. She lives alone in rural Poland, and when one of her very few neighbors is found dead, Janina instinctively knows why. The animals, obviously, have sought revenge on the neighbor for his cruel hunting activities. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead makes the reader listen to someone we might be guilty of otherwise ignoring or marginalizing. Olga Tokarcruk was belatedly awarded the Noble Prize in Literature for 2018 in November 2019, and I am excited to read more of her translated work.
9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Vol 1: High School is Hell – Jordie Bellaire
This is Buffy rebooted, and, much to my surprise, it starts off with a lot of promise. The last few seasons have been either lackluster with brief respites or terrible. So, I was interested but skeptical that rebooting the series by a new creative team back to Buffy’s first days at Sunnydale High would succeed. The comic does a nice job reinventing all the main characters but keeping them recognizable to fans that have continued to follow the series. Here’s hoping the good work continues.
8. Normal People – Sally Rooney
Though I posted a review of Normal People on “What We’re Reading Now…” in May, I still find myself occasionally thinking back to this book. It has made me, on occasion, consider things from a different perspective. While Normal People was generally rife with upsettingly poor decision making by everyone – it was at the same time believable and relatable. And, if I am still thinking about the book seven months later, then it’s bound to be on a top ten list.
7. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
I picked this up off an inn’s bookshelf six years ago when in Vermont for a wedding. By the time I had to go join the wedding festivities I had read a good third of the book and was really enjoying it. Though every few months I would remember that I had wanted to check out a copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God and read it in its entirety, it took far too long to return to. Beautifully written and a work I should have been introduced to in high school.
6. The Raven Tower – Ann Leckie
I included The Raven Tower in March’s “What We’re Reading Now…” Leckie creates a fascinating world shown from an unexpected perspective. I really enjoy how the author plays with language and perception.
5. The Real Cool Killers – Chester Himes
The Real Cool Killers is a classic 1950s hardboiled detective novel. Though instead of L.A., Marlowe, and femme fatales, it is Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed and in Harlem where the cynicism isn’t shrouded in glitz.
I did include the excellent A Rage in Harlem by Himes, which introduces Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed, in an earlier “What We’re Reading Now…”
4. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Complete Series – Hayao Miyazaki
Set many years after biological warfare has destroyed most of the planet, opposing forces are set mustering for a war that may destroy what remains. Nausicaä, called to serve in her father’s place, has the unique ability to communicate with the fearsome creatures that inhabit the changed world. Using her abilities, Nausicaä must fight to preserve what is left of the world around her. Miyazaki will leave you thinking deeply about how we interact with the world around us, environmentalism, war, and more. Not to mention the art is sublime.
3. A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
I kept putting off reading A Gentleman in Moscow even though a coworker kept insisting I go read it immediately, because, honestly, how worth it could be to slog through 500 pages of some guy being sequestered in a hotel for decades? I saw no reason to suffer right along with Count Rostov. She was right, it is a wonderful book, and if you have not read it, you should go do so right now. You will not suffer, instead, you will find unexpected joy right alongside the Count.
2. Beware, Beware – Step Cha
Juniper Song is a devotee of Phillip Marlowe, and in her first appearance in Steph Cha’s excellent Follow Her Home Juniper’s only experience as a P.I. is from what she has learned in Chandler novels. Juniper, now employed with a investigate firm as an understudy working towards becoming a licensed investigator, has some real-life experience under her belt when a case she’s asked to work quickly turns into a Hollywood murder scandal. Juniper Song is the modern-day Marlowe we deserve.
1. Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata
I read this a week or two after posting last year’s Top 10, and I have been eagerly waiting to put it on this list since. Keiko has a hard time relating to societal expectations and is uninterested in love and advancing her career. She struggles to hide her real interest in and dedication to her current role as a convenience store clerk, as she knows she won’t be understood and accept otherwise. A funny, quirky, and occasionally, heartbreaking novella. However, to be fair, I may be biased in part due to my love of Japanese 7-11 and Lawson convenience stores.
Tales From the Inner City – Shaun Tan
Lazarus: The First Collection – Greg Rucka, Michael Lark
The Long-Legged Fly – James Sallis
Silent City – Alex Segura
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
I loved reading the Wizard of Oz series when I was a kid. The MGM musical is one of my favorite movies. So, this historical fiction novel that traces the life of Maud Gage, later Maud Baum, touches on many themes that I enjoy. We get behind the scenes looks at how the creation of the first book and the classic technicolor movie might have happened. Maud’s mother Matilda Joslyn Gage, the most prolific suffragette writer, has a big influence on Maud and Frank. From the perspective of 2019 when there is a record number of women serving in the U.S. Congress (at 24%) it is fascinating to see the strength of women who fought for early women’s rights. This book really brings the history to life. I enjoyed that the story was told from Maud’s point of view, and I recommend that you check out this book too!
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker
With a lot of examples professor Pinker proceeds to lay out his case that the world and the human condition are in fact getting better. Or at least with the problem solving tools of the Enlightenment we humans are capable of improving the world’s problems.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
This award winning graphic memoir about a father and daughter’s relationship is captivating. The fusion of visual and verbal language is some of the best out there.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
A book about Haig’s personal journey with depression. A book that makes sense to those dealing with depression. Short poems, lists, and essays have a refreshing informality.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Dana is a black woman living in the 1970s who is mysteriously pulled back in time to the early 1800s. The book is a bit more fast paced than the Outlander series with back and forth time travelling.
Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection
This is not only a book of essays and archival history about the musician Lead Belly, but a BONUS set of 5 CDs. He was a singer of folk tunes, blues, and an early influencer of rock & roll.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
A teen frequently gets in trouble at school because his classmates make fun of the neighborhood where he lives, his ill-fitting clothes, the fact that his mother cuts his hair, everything associated with being poor. Can he adapt to the rules at track practice with Coach and find a place among the other young runners?
Hell’s Heart (Star Trek: Prey #1) by John Jackson Miller
The Jackal’s Trick (Star Trek: Prey #2) by John Jackson Miller
The Hall of Heroes (Star Trek: Prey #3) by John Jackson Miller
While waiting for new Star Trek TV content I read this trio of paperbacks. Beloved characters from the existing series and a handful of new well-drawn characters embark on a new adventure involving the Unsung and peril in the Klingon-Federation alliance.
The Public written and directed by Emilio Estevez
Trying to fill that one Winter Bingo Square with an Award-Winning book? Look no further! There are so many to choose from, in so many genres, I’ll just mention a few titles and then give you links to lists, so many lists!
I’ll start with local award winners: The Anisfield Book Awards. I have attended the ceremony for the past couple of years and find it inspiring and a source of incredible reading material. Here are a couple of books honored there:
Then there’s the National Book Awards, a source of a fantastic array of titles, such as the following:
Love a mystery? Check out the Edgar Awards and a couple of titles they’ve chosen to honor:
And there’s also The Hugo Awards, for works of science fiction and fantasy, the RITA Awards for romance, the Eisner Awards for graphic novels and so many more. If you need help choosing a title, stop by the Reference Desk – we’ll be glad to help!
Below are some suggestions of movies based on a book to encourage you to check off that box on your Winter Reading Bingo card.
Ready Player One is a science fiction film based on the 2011 dystopian novel of the same title by Ernest Cline.
Beautiful Boy is a biographical drama based on the 2008 memoir Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and the 2007 memoir Tweak: Growing Up On Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff
On Chesil Beach is a British drama film based on the 2007 Booker Prize nominated novella of the same title by Ian McEwan.
Juliet Naked is a romantic comedy/drama based on the 2009 novel of the same title by Nick Hornsby.
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy/drama based on the 2013 best selling novel of the same title by Kevin Kwan.
The Hate U Give is a crime drama based on the 2017 best selling young adult novel of the same title by Angie Thomas (released this month so place a hold or check out as a quick flick for 3 days)
A Wrinkle In Time is a science fantasy adventure film based on the 1962 juvenile novel of the same title by Madeleine L’Engle.
Black Panther is a super hero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name.
Red Sparrow is a spy thriller film based on the 2013 novel of the same title by Jason Matthews.
The Little Stranger is a gothic drama film based on the 2009 novel of the same title by Sarah Waters.
If you would like more suggestions stop by the Adult Reference desk and we are happy to help.
So you need to read a graphic novel in order to complete a BINGO, but you don’t know where to start. Let me help you. My own introduction to graphic novels was Bill Willingham’s Fables series. This epic series is a very grown-up retelling of classic fables and fairy tales. It’s still one of my favorite series. But you aren’t ready to jump into a 22-volume, Eisner Award winning series? No problem!
Try something cute, light, and funny:
Or maybe a graphic biography or memoir? We have books about familiar figures as well as ordinary people. Here are some of my favorites:
Ready to jump into a series? Let’s do it!
Maybe you’d like to try a classic:
Finally, let’s not forget the superheroes:
If none of these strike your fancy, come on in and browse our collection. Graphic novels are visual, you might just have to see them to find the one that’s right for you.
I’ve had a bit of a slow reading year, but I still managed to find many treasures in the stacks. Some I read, others I listened to – through them I journeyed all over the world and went on a few adventures. Here’s a list of my favorites in no particular order:
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: The AIDS crisis in Chicago during the 80s, a difficult mother-daughter relationship, a job at a Northwestern art gallery – all of these elements spoke to me – I loved this book.
The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon: After seeing his newest book, Mourning, on a few critic’s list, I decided to read this earlier one. Lyrical, contemplative, autobiographical fiction about displacement and identity.
Severance by Ling Ma: A satire set in a dystopian world where a virus turns people into zombies who continue to perform routine actions – it’s told through the eyes of millennial worker bee Candace Chen, who is strangely nonplussed by this epic plague.
A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen: Andrei is not doing too well in New York City so when his brother Dima enlists him to return to Russia to help care for his ailing grandmother, he jumps at the chance. A fascinating look at Russia and funny to boot!
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: I can’t believe it took me so long to read this – what a great book about Nigeria, immigration, race, love and expectations.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: Hands down, the best book I read this year. It’s the story of four generations of a Korean family in Japan. Beautifully written, insightful, detailed, matter of fact but loving, just great.
The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir and The Atom Station by Haldor Laxness: I travelled to Iceland in September, so I read The Greenhouse Before I left. Though it wasn’t really set in Iceland, it was a lovely book about a young man’s coming of age. In Iceland, I visited the house of Nobel prize winning author Haldor Laxness (do visit if you go there – so cool) and bought The Atom Station there. Laxness has an interesting style and I learned a lot about Iceland in the early 20th century, the government, the the social classes, and of course about drinking The Black Death (Brennevin – quite delicious)!
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez: Winner of the National Book Award, this is a meditation on writing, suicide, grief, and the pleasure of dogs, amongst others.
Belonging: a German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug: a wonderful autobiographical graphic novel about a German woman who digs into her past to discover more about her family’s role during the Nazi era and the silences afterwards. It’s packed with letters, photos and remembrances from her childhood.
BONUS BOOKS: November Road by Lou Berney and Sunburn by Laura Lippman are both really well-written crime/thrillers with great characters. There There by Tommy Orange is an eye-opening look at multiple Native Americans who converge at a powwow in Oakland. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner takes you inside a woman’s prison and the circumstances that can bring you there. Oh and I forgot An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – such an amazing book about a marriage and an innocent man accused of a crime.
Wow – I came up with more than I originally thought – I guess it’s always a good year for reading!