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 – Steph 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
Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life– Eric Klinenberg