Books I Read in 2019 and Recommend

I read 37 books this year – 13 were non-fiction, 2 were collections of short stories, and the rest were fiction. I’m pleased with the variety in this group of books.

I rated each book from 1 to 5. Eight earned my solid “3” rating, 11 got a very good rating of “4” and another 11 earned a superlative “5.”

I can recommend the ones I rated “4” as very good and well worth reading. They include (in the order I read them):

      • Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey Smith
      • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
      • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
      • Baby, You’re Going To Be Mine by Kevin Wilson
      • The Circadian Code by Sachin Panda
      • Your Duck is my Duck by Deborah Eisenberg
      • The seven Pete Thorsten mysteries by Robert Wangard
      • Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall
      • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
      • The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
      • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The ones I thought merited a “5” were so amazing, I still cannot believe I got to read them. I hope to revisit them, or other books by these authors, in the coming months.

The Overstory by Richard Powers
A long book – 500 pages – this Man Booker runner up is a giant in every way. The story is unique, the language precise, and the world created as the story unfolds is exquisite. Barbara Kingsolver called it “A gigantic fable of genuine truths.” I’d tell you it’s about trees and people, and taking non-human life seriously.

Virgil Wander by Leif Engler
This author tells a good story about some interesting characters in a small town, and he does so with language so precise and a voice so clear that it made my heart skip. His voice is perfectly that of the upper midwest in the United States. I know these people, and Engler knows their story.

The Endurance, Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Adventure by Caroline Alexander
I read a good chunk of this on an iPhone, sitting on an airplane, surrounded by modernity – and this book transported me right back to 1915-1917. I could feel the cold hopelessness of these 28 men struggling to stay alive. An incredible true story I had missed somehow until now.

The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
A survey of today’s climate change references – from science, culture, and literature. I found this compelling. “I am like every other American who has spent their life fatally complacent, and willfully deluded, about climate change, which is not just the biggest threat human life on the planet has ever faced but a threat of an entirely different category and scale. That is, the scale of life itself.”

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Traces a Korean family dynasty over seven decades of the kind of everyday adventure that makes up all our lives. This book draws you into the family drama and stays with you for a long time afterwards.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
“Painful and beautiful” one reviewer says. Barry is one of my favorite authors, and he outdoes himself here. He transports you into the rough tumble of western America in the 1860’s – the west with its Indian wars, the civil war – told in a unique voice. Lots of surprises from his beautiful and complex characters.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson
Epic. This book is huge in scale, masterfully researched, extremely well written. It was a great read, and it taught me a ton of stuff I never realized about the white privilege I have enjoyed my whole life. Highly recommended.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
A thriller on multiple levels, including a finely drawn psychological portrait of a 14 year old girl growing up under extremely unusual circumstances. Set in a remote area of Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
On the Man Booker long list in 2018, Normal People is “is a nuanced and flinty love story about two young people who ‘get’ each other, despite class differences and the interference of their own vigorous personal demons.” Her writing is fabulous, and the story feels modern and true.

The Parade by Dave Eggers
Described as an “allegory” for our times, this short book pulls you forward with a feeling of dread, as the characters Four and Nine are caught up in something bigger than themselves, embodying each of us. Barely a novella, it tells us about ourselves now, a dark joke with a final gut-punch punchline.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Covers the rise and fall of the firm Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup headed by Elizabeth Holmes, as well as the value of listening to your gut. When something is wrong, there are red flags everywhere. A page turner by a WSJ journalist. Couldn’t put it down.

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