2 January 2020

Best & Worst of Reads of 2019

The end of a decade! I wish we could tell you guys we'd do a big post of top books of the last ten years, etc. but that sounds way too hard. Instead, here are the top and bottom 3 each of us read in 2019!

starting with the best:

I haven't stopped thinking about this book since I've read it and it was definitely the best book I read this year, you can read my full review here. Bock did this amazing job of writing a fiction novel about a couple with a newborn where the wife becomes insanely sick with cancer, but without making the entire book about the cancer. It touches on all the areas cancer touches, such as their marriage, their finances, their kids, etc. and provides this detailed and holistic picture of how disease affects a family. This was Bock's second novel and I got his first novel, Beautiful Children, for Christmas this year.

This was hands down my favourite book I read all year. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones was actually the first book I finished in 2019 and even after 11 months nothing holds a candle to it. Since I've read this book I know Ben's mom has, and so has my friend Ashley, and both also had really positive reviews. I asked for one of Jones's other books (Leaving Atlanta) for Christmas because I think she is so immensely talented. I would recommend literally anyone interested in reading check this one out .. it is sooo heartbreaking but still hopeful. You can read my full review here.

This was just such a fun read and I had the best day sitting out on my back deck practically inhaling it. I obviously love The Bachelor so much and while I've read a lot of behind-the-scenes type of books on the show, this was more of a philosophical analysis and focused on the ways in which the show and real life intersect. It's not like, juicy, so it's not something I'd recommend just to fans of the show, but if you're interested in the show's premise and the construct of the entire world this will be a great read and I look forward to discussing it. You can read my full review here.

This was another fiction book that completely wrecked me in 2019. I had such a great year for book selection because of how happy I was with both An American Marriage and A Little Life. This second choice is not for the faint of heart. It is VERY upsetting and has a lot of painful scenes to read through. But that being said, it is so so worth following through with. I think long-fiction is a really special experience and this was exactly the case with A Little Life. Sometimes you need to spend weeks and weeks with characters to get a certain emotional impact. You can read my full review here.

I'm not even finished this book yet because it is DENSE, but I already love it so much. I actually learned about this book while working on our post on books we were inspired to read based on their TV show adaptations. I love the show so much and I learned that Sports Illustrated named this one of the 100 best sports books of all time. Bissinger is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and it shows, the level of detail and research that went into this book is insane and it's actually making it hard for me to read it at the speed I want to. I look forward to reviewing the book in the new year.

Like I said, I had a great year for fiction, but was always really moved by Susan Orlean's newest nonfiction. The Library Book had a lot of different components I really like when picking up a new read - a lot of research, a second narrative, and a personal connection to the author. Orlean writes really beautifully about her relationship to libraries and how these memories are associated with her mother. This is the second year in a row that Orlean is on my top reads of the year list! You can read my full review of The Library Book here.

and ending with the duds:

It's probably unfair for me to include this book because I didn't even finish reading it, but I hated the first few chapters so much and found it so hard to get into that I feel like for me personally, I'm allowed to include it. I hate quitting books but it's a new thing I'm trying out because I only have so much time and I want to read things I really want to read. The reason I couldn't get into this is that there were what felt like 100+ characters introduced in ~100 pages all with separate plot lines and it was honestly as confusing as when I tried to read The Lord of the Rings. I know this is literally a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, so I'm sure it's objectively great, but for me it was a big pass and felt nothing like Egan's Manhattan Beach. I'm also not at all into punk rock so, there's that.

As always I would like to preface this section with the fact that I almost NEVER truly "hate" a book. I despise ranking my least favourite of the year, but alas... Even though I have been a long-time lover of Chuck Klosterman's work I really dislike short stories. Raised in Captivity is entirely based of short fiction and I don't think I would enjoy it regardless of the author. I have previously liked Klosterman's fiction writing (e.g. Downtown Owl, The Visible Man), but when it is in the form of short stories it just isn't for me. You can read my full review here.

Another book I quit! But I read way more of this one than I did of Goon Squad and just realized it was a huge snooze. I found myself avoiding picking up the book which is so unlike me, so in the spirit of my newfound time-is-valuable mantra, I shelved it. I have a love-hate relationship with Atwood and find most of her books a bit snoozy in general but usually despite being slow the actual characters are interesting or something. There was nothing for me here.

This one pains me even more because I feel like by insulting John Gregory Dunne's work I am also insulting my true love, Joan Didion. I was really excited to read True Confessions because I knew it was loosely based off of the Black Dahlia murder. I think maybe my expectations were too high and that this effected how I felt about the book. I was sort of interested in the relationship between the two brothers (central characters of the story) but didn't care at all about the murder. I still have a few unread John Gregory Dunne's saved and I'm looking forward to treating myself to them. You can read my full review here.

I really hate myself for putting this book on this 'worst' list because Shreve DIED this year and I barely have any books of hers left unread. It feels really disrespectful to be cutting up the last bits of her work but I really didn't like this at all. The full review for this will be on the blog next week so I won't go into detail here, but I found it incredibly slow and it felt like it could have been two separate books.

Another one I had really high hopes for... I feel like people will be pissed that I put this biography on here but I can't help but feel disappointed in it. I really love David Foster Wallace and was hoping for more details about him later in his life. I suppose I was set up to dislike this book because of my relationship with David Lipsky's long-form, road-trip interview with Wallace on the book tour for Infinite Jest. Lipsky's book inspired me to finally read Wallace's epic, and this biography just didn't really do anything like that for me. You can read my full review here.

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