Books and Writing

The Best Books I Read In the First Half of 2019

I know it’s too early to do a full reading wrap up for 2019, but I’ve already started recommending books to people as “the best I’ve read this year.” So I thought I’d put together a long list of the best books I read between January and June of 2019. There’s a mixture here – some short story collections, essay collections, non-fiction, memoir, graphic novel, etc – so hopefully something for everyone. And these are definitely in no particular order! Have you read any of these? What are the best books you have read so far in 2019?

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Novel – 2018

This book is immersive, to say the least. It follows a young woman struggling with deep depression, and as someone who has experienced that before, it was close to triggering at points. You can’t help but be drawn in to her mindset. However, it is also beautifully and viscerally written, and if you feel you can safely do so, I would highly recommend reading it.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson

Short Story Collection – 2018

I have only really gotten into reading short stories in the past year, and this is one of my favorite collections that I have picked up. It follows the struggles and monotony of everyday people in much the same way that Raymond Carver’s writing does, with a splash of form experimentation.

Parkland by Dave Cullen

Nonfiction – 2019

This book made me surprisingly emotional. I listened to the audio book and hearing the experiences of the kids, and their determination and resilience, almost brought me to tears a few times on public transportation. If you liked Dave Cullen’s “Columbine,” you’ll enjoy this.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Graphic Novel – 2015

Like short stories, I have just recently started reading a few graphic novels, and this one was recommended again and again. The main character is sarcastic and funny, and the story takes the villain/hero archetype and flips it on its head. It is a fast and gut-punching read.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang

Essay Collection – 2019

This is a beautifully written essay collection chronicling Esme’s experience with mental health and her diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder. It helped me understand a sphere of diagnoses I am less familiar with, and it was also just a brilliantly compelling read.

My Body Is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta

Essay Collection – 2014

My boyfriend recommended this, because he idolizes Elissa Washuta, and after reading this I can see why. I can’t think of another writer who so perfectly combines cultural commentary, formal experimentation and personal essay to create a collection that unravels trauma and interrogates racism.

Motherhood by Sheila Heti

Nonfiction – 2018

The incredible Leena Norms has spoken at length about this book on her Youtube channel, and when Leena recommends a book this vociferously, I read the book.  Sheila Heti does a wonderful job unpacking the societal expectations that women become mothers, and how to navigate feeling like you don’t want to be a mother but still want to be a woman.

Smoke and Mirrors, Trigger Warning, and Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Short Story Collections – 2013, 2015, 2007

I’ve been on a bit of a Neil Gaiman binge this year (I also read the entirety of his Sandman comics) and I think I enjoy his short fiction the most. These short stories (and a few poems) span several genres – fantasy, horror, science fiction – and are at turns creepy, scary, funny, and unsettling.

Girl In the Dark by Anna Lyndsey

Memoir – 2015

This is a brilliant memoir about a woman who has to stay out of the sunlight. She shuts herself in her darkened home, wears several layers of clothing, and must fill her days with audio books, radio shows, and daydreaming. I found the affect of her illness on her relationships fascinating. She details how she has had to re-work her life, and the current state of her relationships with her family, friends, and husband.

The Two Kinds of Decay by Sarah Manguso

Memoir – 2009

Clearly I read a lot of chronic illness memoirs (there are even more to come.) This one tells the story of trying to find a diagnosis, and then coming to terms with the arduous blood transfusion treatments the author will need for the rest of her life.

Ayiti and Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Short Story Collections – 2018, 2017

Of all the short story collections I read this year, I think Roxane Gay’s were my favorite. I just fell in love with her short story style. They’re often shorter than a lot of other stories I have read, but they are so sharp and concise that they fit the same amount of plot and character development into those fewer words.

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

Novel – 2017, 2018, 2019

This was the first “adult” fantasy I have read in a while, and I adored it. It is heavily inspired by Russian folklore and fairy tales, as well as Russian customs and politics at the time. It is a fantasy epic, a coming-of-age story, and a thrilling romance, all rolled into one.

Notes on a Nervous Planet and Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Nonfiction – 2019, 2016

I love Matt Haig’s writing, because he stuffs maximum emotional resonance and impact into very digestible chapters. If you need advice or a pick-me-up or a bible for coping in today’s world, I would highly recommend you pick either of these books up.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Memoir – 2019

I put my name down at the library for this book before it even came out, it was so highly anticipated, and it did not disappoint. The Obama presidency was the backdrop to most of my teenage and adult life, and to get to see behind the scenes of that, and hear the thoughts and story of such a powerful woman who was running so much behind closed doors was really eye-opening to me.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Novel – 2003

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of science fiction. However, I’ve been finding that certain types of science fiction (namely not the type that involves a ton of aliens or space travel) can actually be enjoyable and thought-provoking. This book latches on to an incredible what-if, and follows it through to an end that illuminates issues of race and class in America.

Educated by Tara Westover

Memoir – 2018

If you liked Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, I think you’ll love Educated. To say that Tara grew up in an unconventional environment is an understatement, and it is incredible to watch her learn to navigate her childhood, and then the culture-shock of university and Oxford. This book tackles family, religion, class and culture in the U.S.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Novel – 2013

I’m a big fan of Khaled Hosseini. I would also enthusiastically recommend his first two books, the Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. This novel, his third, is no exception. It unpacks a beautiful sibling relationship against the backdrop of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Like all of Hosseini’s books, it dismantles American stereotypes about the Middle East quietly, while telling a compelling and heartfelt story.

The Recovering by Leslie Jamison

Memoir – 2019

This was the most raw, honest, and at times incredibly uncomfortable addiction memoir that I have read. Leslie Jamison is an accomplished writer separate from her experiences in this book, and she turns that talent toward memoir in a way that forces the reader to confront their discomfort and stereotypes about addiction and learn a little empathy.

Sick by Porochista Khakpour

Memoir – 2018

Porochista Khakpour is one of my favorite writers of all time, and also someone who is very open about her struggles with chronic illness. This book is beautifully written, and read in conjunction with her Twitter feed will teach the reader a lot about the silenced struggles of those with Lyme disease and other somehow less “legitimate” and unseen chronic illnesses.

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell

Memoir – 2018

In this memoir (boy, I read a lot of memoir, huh?) Maggie O’Farrell uses the structure of a series of stories about near-death experiences to write about bodies, health, mortality, and agency. It is unique, compassionate, and lyrically written.

 

Have you read any of these books? Let me know what you think!

 

 

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