(Image: My favorite postcard from the Strand Bookstore)
I aim to read 50 books a year. It’s a goal that doesn’t always happen. I’m disappointed to say it didn’t in 2019, though I managed to read more than I did in 2018 (here’s that list). Still, all of this reflection makes me realize how envious I am of my younger self, the one who had the luxury of lazy afternoons that left me time to devour entire stories in one bite.
My biggest pitfall this past year was struggling for too long with books I didn’t connect with – either because they were the wrong titles for me or it was the wrong time in my life for them or some other reason – instead of giving up on them earlier. I’ve decided to include them here anyway, even the ones I didn’t finish, in part because I use this list to remember what I’ve read. Also, there are several children’s/middle school chapter books on the list, most from my childhood bookshelf, that I reread for nostalgia’s sake. Sometimes, they are exactly the thing an adult needs to read.
I did not have one absolute 2019 favorite, but rather a handful of books I either loved (though sometimes love isn’t the right word) or felt were deeply moving, including a few I reread after a pause of decades. There were two great short stories I also want to mention here – Amor Towles’ new The Line and Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, published in 1948 in The New Yorker, though its lessons are more relevant than ever.
Looking ahead to the new decade, I plan to read Erika Dreifus’ poetry collection Birthright, W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, Daša Drndić’s Doppelganger, and Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight, for starters. So many other books await me in piles here – finds from the library book sale and the bookstore run I made with a gift card. There will be others, too, whatever a friend will inevitably lend or gift me, titles I’ll learn about through book reviews, and whatever my book club decides we should read together.
After all, a growing pile of books is always good thing, however it comes together. I’d like to think that’s the secret to living forever. Keep acquiring them and then stick around until we’ve read them all.
But for now, here’s a look back on my Year in Books 2019. As always, please share your recommendations in the comments, or email me at email@example.com.
#1 Gourmet Rhapsody – Marion Barbery
I feel terrible admitting that I could not finish this book since I loved Barberry’s Elegance of a Hedgehog, but I stopped around page 50.
#2 Asymmetry – Lisa Halliday
This book comes together in the coda. It’s clever, but it asked so much of me and was so pretentious I didn’t enjoy it.
#3 A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
I last read this in college, but this line resonated especially now “… give her a room of her own and five hundred a year…” and the freedom to write.
#4 Labyrinth of the Spirits – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I loved Shadow of the Wind and was really looking forward to reading this. But I didn’t get through it.
#5 The Upstairs Room – Johanna Reiss
Reiss’ account of her experience hiding with a non-Jewish family in Holland during the Holocaust. (For middle school +)
#6 Queen of the Night – Alexander Chee
A novel about 19th century Paris and opera that was sometimes wonderful, sometimes too dense and complicated.
#7 Good Omens – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
Though I usually love every word Gaiman writes, it just wasn’t the right time for me to read this. I’m going to try it again in 2020.
#8 Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk – Kathleen Rooney
I loved this novel about a successful female advertising writer and poet in 1930s New York, and how the city changes in the background as she ages.
#9 Yellow Star– Jennifer Roy
The story, told in verse, of one of the 12 children to survive the Lodz Ghetto.
#10 If You Want to Write – Brenda Ueland
A fascinating exploration about art and the independence of spirit.
#11 Trieste – Daša Drndić
This historical novel is raw, experimental, mythical, and one of the very best books I’ve ever read about the Holocaust.
#12 The 100 Most Jewish Foods – Alana Newhouse
A collection of food essays with delightful illustrations and recipes.
#13 Survival in Auschwitz – Primo Levi
A re-read for me, but it was as powerful the second time around. Please read this book if you haven’t already, or if it’s been too long since you last did.
#14 Victoria – Daisy Goodwin
Historical novel about the young queen. An afternoon diversion.
#15 Seedfolks – Paul Fleischman
A sweet, short book for young readers about the lessons of a community garden.
#16 The Caine Mutiny – Herman Wouk
One of the first post-WW II novels to describe the horrors of the Holocaust to American readers.
#17 The Known World – Edward P. Jones
Historical novel about freed slaves who became slave owners. Some of the jumping back and forth in time was confusing, but an interesting read.
#18 The Book of Dirt – Bram Presser
This wonderful novel is a love story and a survivors’ story and a grandson’s quest to connect the myths and missing pieces of his grandparents’ lives.
#19 Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
I adored everything about this book, Eleanor especially.
#20 Morningstar: Growing Up With Books – Ann Hood
A lovely collection of essays about the books that moved the author as a child/young adult. This resonated deeply with me.
#21 Tzili The Story of a Life – Aharon Appelfeld
A stirring, haunting fable about a young girl who survives the Holocaust.
#22 The Breadwinner – Deborah Ellis
For young readers, about a young girl who helps care for her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
#23 The Lover – A.B. Yehoshua
Deeply moving story about the complicated layers of Israeli society at the time of the Yom Kippur War. Alas, the last time I read it I was able to do so in Hebrew.
#24 The Good Daughters – Joyce Maynard
Really enjoyed this novel about a mistake that entwines two families. The presentations of farm life are lyrical.
#25 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
A mystery narrated by a teenage boy on the autism spectrum.
#26 Lilli de Jong – Janet Benton
Story about a woman who gives birth at a Philadelphia institution for unwed mothers in the 1880s.
#27 The Weight of Ink – Rachel Kadish
A beautiful, sweeping historical novel about two women and the sacrifices and choices they are compelled to make.
#28 Becoming – Michele Obama
Really liked this memoir, the first half more than the second.
#29 Love That Dog – Sharon Creech
A lovely story about a young boy who finds his voice, thanks to the help of a teacher and a dog (for ages 8-12, but really anyone).
#30 The Pushcart War – Jean Merrill
Classic satiric novel (ages 10+) with a David v. Goliath theme. I reread my own copy from childhood when I found it on the shelf. Relevant as ever.
#31 The Glass Menagerie – Tennessee Williams
Found this classic play on the shelf, too, and decided to reread. Heartbreaking and powerful.
#32 Holiday Tales of Sholom Aleichem: Stories of Chanukah, Passover, and Other Jewish Holidays – Selected and translated by Aliza Shevrin
What fun! Best to read as the holidays come up in the calendar, though I read it straight through.
#33 Liar & Spy – Rebecca Stead
Fun spy novel set in New York. For middle schoolers.
#34 Never Let Me Go – Kashuo Ishiguro
A dystopian novel set in a boarding school in England. Brilliant writing, but creepy.
#35 Heads You Win – Jeffrey Archer
A friend gave this to me. A suspense novel that spins on the flip of a coin. Not my usual genre, but a fun distraction.
#36 The Other Wes Moore – Wes Moore
True story of two different men with the same name and entirely different fates.
#37 Someone Knows My Name – Lawrence Hill
Moving historical novel about a girl, taken from her African village and sold into slavery, who becomes a voice for the British abolitionist movement.
#38 The Other Side of Everything – Lauren Doyle Owens
Crime drama set in a suburban housing development. Didn’t grip me.
#39 Stardust – Neil Gaiman
What I wouldn’t give to spend 5 minutes inside Gaiman’s brilliantly creative head. A fairy tale with a beautiful love story at its heart.
#40 Save Me the Plums – Ruth Reichl
A memoir of her tenure at Gourmet. My favorite of her memoirs.
#41 Frindle – Andrew Clements
My favorite book about the power of words. Reread (for the umpteenth time) when I learned that Andrew Clements had passed away.
#42 Murder in Jerusalem – Batya Gur
A well-written murder mystery with insight into Israel history and culture. Gur’s last book.
#43 Braving the Wildnerness – Brené Brown
I related to several parts of Brown’s book about the courage to stand alone.
#44 The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi – Jacqueline Park
A novel of romance and intrigue. Book one of a trilogy about a well-educated Jewish woman during the Italian Renaissance.
#45 Daytripper – Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
Beautiful, haunting graphic novel worthy of the acclaim.
#46 The Strange Case of Dr. Couney – Dawn Raffel
Wonderful, quirky true story about the birth of neonatology.
#47 How to Fight Anti-Semitism – by Bari Weiss
Important read, especially now.
#48 The Book of Aron – Jim Shephard
Story about a 13-year-old boy’s experience in an orphanage during the Holocaust.
Here’s to what we read in 2020!