The year is not quite over yet, but I wanted to share my annual Favorite Books of the Year post with you, in case you need some good bookish gift ideas for the readers in your life (here are my 2017 and 2016 favorites lists for more ideas; I deleted my 2018 list by accident – oops!).
In 2019 I read 67 books, compared to 58 in 2018. Because I commute an hour back and forth from Lincoln to Omaha three times a week now, my audio book tally has increased quite a bit — 13 audio books this year compared to just two last year.
Some of my favorites this year have been around for a while — just because I read them in 2019 doesn’t necessarily mean they were published in 2019. And one of my favorites this year, Peace Like a River, was a re-read.
Here are my 10 favorite reads from 2019, followed by a complete list of all the books I read (the lists are not in any particular order).
An American Marriage
BY Tayari Jones
About the Book: “Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. As Roy’s time in prison passes, Celestial, bereft and unmoored, is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center.” – from Amazon
Why It’s a Fave: Beautiful writing, complex characters and a deeply moving, compelling story, An American Marriage ticked all the boxes for me. I listened on audio, and the two actors who read the parts of Celeste and Roy were brilliant, which added to the overall appeal of the book.
Begin Again: The Brave Practice of Release Hurt and Receiving Rest
BY Leena Tankersley
Genre: Christian Non-Fiction
About the Book: “What happens when life begins to trip us up and failure starts creeping in? Many of us just keep on doing the same thing, hoping for different results. Some of us look for escape, to find a way out of the mess we feel that we’ve created. But neither enduring nor escaping is ultimately what we need. The answer is to allow ourselves to begin again, every day, in every part of our lives.” – from Amazon
Why It’s a Fave: This was one of the first books I read after making the big decision to step out of the publishing arena last winter, and it was exactly what I needed. Begin Again gave me permission to reevaluate my life and my choices and acknowledge what wasn’t working anymore. If you are in a season of transition, this book would be an excellent choice to help you navigate tumultuous seas.
Peace Like a River
BY Lief Enger
About the Book: “Enger brings us eleven-year-old Reuben Land, an asthmatic boy in the Midwest who has reason to believe in miracles. Along with his sister and father, Reuben finds himself on a cross-country search for his outlaw older brother who has been charged with murder. Their journey unfolds like a revelation, and its conclusion shows how family, love, and faith can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies, and the most tragic of fates.” – from Amazon
Why It’s a Fave: This one was a re-read for me, and I am SO glad I picked it up again, this time in audio form. Enger’s lyrical descriptions took my breath away, and his lively, deeply likable and wholesome characters warmed my heart and soul. I can’t imagine how this book could become anything other than an American classic alongside the likes of Wallace Stegner and Willa Cather (even if you don’t like Stegner and Cather, read this book!).
Happiness: A Memoir – The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After
BY Heather Harpham
About the Book: “Happiness begins with a charming courtship between hopelessly attracted opposites: Heather, a world-roaming California girl, and Brian, an intellectual, homebody writer, kind and slyly funny, but loath to leave his Upper West Side studio. Their magical interlude ends, full stop, when Heather becomes pregnant―Brian is sure he loves her, only he doesn’t want kids. Heather returns to California to deliver their daughter alone, but mere hours after Gracie’s arrival, Heather’s bliss is interrupted when a nurse wakes her, ‘Get dressed, your baby is in trouble.'” – from Amazon
Why It’s a Fave: I love memoir, and this one is impeccable — beautifully written, riveting storytelling, likable characters. I loved it so much I stalked, friended and followed the author on all of her social media channels. A story about love, parenting, human connection and impossible choices, this was one I could not put down.
BY Karen Thompson Walker
About the Book: “One night in an isolated college town, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?” – from Amazon
Why It’s a Fave: The Dreamers has a bit of a post-apocalyptic feel to it, which isn’t something I normally jibe with…and yet, I was captivated by this book. Simultaneously creepy, mysterious and evocative, this gripping novel was a page-turner.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
BY Robin Wall Kimmerer
About the Book: “As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise.'” – from Amazon
What It’s a Fave: This book ticked all my science/plant nerd boxes AND is beautifully written too — lyrical, personable and accessible. I read each chapter slowly, savoring Kimmerer’s descriptions and observations, grateful for her poignant stories that illustrate how people and plants, earth and humanity need each other, are made for each other and are better together.
Eleanor & Park
BY Rainbow Rowell
Genre: YA Fiction
About the Book: “Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under.” – from Amazon
Why It’s a Fave: I absolutely adored this YA romance about two high school sweetheart misfits and believe me, YA romance is not typically my genre of choice. Not only is this story sweet, Rowell does an astonishing job of getting inside the heads of adolescents — I honestly don’t know how she does it. As an added bonus, the book is set in 1986, and I graduated from high school in 1988, so all the 80s references were spot. on. (also I listened to this one on audio and the actor did a brilliant job).
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist and Our Lives Revealed
BY Lori Gottlieb
About the Book: “With startling wisdom and humor, Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we teeter on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change.” – from Amazon
Why It’s a Fave: Part memoir, part brilliant self-help, this book made me laugh out loud one minute (Gottlieb, a therapist who winds up going to counseling herself, is wry, self-deprecating and sardonic – the kind of smart humor I love most) and had me jotting notes into my journal the next. My own therapist recommended this book to me, in part because Gottlieb wrestles with the decision of whether or not to break a book contract (now THAT sounds familiar!), but also, I think, because she knew it would resonate with me as an insightful, thoughtful, entertaining memoir.
BY Elizabeth Strout
About the Book: “‘Prickly, wry, resistant to change yet ruthlessly honest and deeply empathetic, Olive Kitteridge is ‘a compelling life force.’ Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire us—in Strout’s words—’to bear the burden of the mystery with as much grace as we can.'” – from Amazon
Why It’s a Fave: Olive Kitteridge is one of my favorite books of all time, and the sequel, Olive Again, did not disappoint. The format is the same, with loosely connected short-storyish chapters, all set in the small seaside Maine town — some of them featuring Olive as the main focus, others merely mentioning her in passing or even not at all. The stories can feel bleak at times, but Olive’s candor brings a levity that helps even out some of the more somber chapters.
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
BY John O’Donohue
About the Book: “In Anam Cara, Gaelic for ‘soul friend,’ the ancient teachings, stories, and blessings of Celtic wisdom provide such profound insights on the universal themes of friendship, solitude, love, and death.
Why It’s a Fave: The late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue is such a gentle soul, and his wisdom runs deep. Anam Cara is a profound exploration of the heart, mind and soul’s journey through the stages of life. I dog-eared dozens of pages and copied numerous passages into my journal so I can come back to them again. This book has been deeply illuminating for me as I walk through my own season of growth.
Here are the other books I read in 2019 (Note: the letter “A” denotes audio version; “RR” denotes a re-read.) These are Amazon affiliate links.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
You Think It I’ll Say It: Stories – Curtis Sittenfeld
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day – Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky
The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin (RR)
Walking – Henry David Thoreau
Come as You Are – Emily Nagoski
Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin (A) (RR)
Atomic Habits – James Clear
The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life – Vanita Wright
Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty (A)
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love – Dani Shapiro
Less – Andrew Sean Greer (A)
Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Beauty, Comfort and Peace – Christie Purifoy
The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom – Christine Valters Paintner
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack – Alia Joy
The Next Right Thing – Emily Freeman
How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency – Akiko Busch
Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn
The Universal Christ – Richard Rohr
Overstory – Richard Powers
Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding – Leanna Tankersley (A)
Zoo Nebraska – Carson Vaughn
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris (A)
Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
The Light We Lost – Jill Santopolo
Housekeeping — Marilynne Robinson
The River – Peter Heller
Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More – Courtney Carver
The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton
Bear Town – Frederik Backman
Lila – Marilynne Robinson
Light from Distant Stars – Shawn Smucker
Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
The Middle Matters – Lisa-Jo Baker
City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert
Riverwalking – Kathleen Deane Moore
Making Marriage Beautiful – Dorothy Greco
The Dearly Beloved – Cara Wall
The Good House – Ann Leary
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy – Jenny Odell
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline (A)
Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves and Our Society Thrive – Marc Brackett
Turtles All the Way Down – John Green (A)
Alphabet of Grace – Frederick Buechner
Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul – Stuart Brown
Bossy Pants – Tina Fey (A) (RR)
Glitter and Glue – Kelly Corrigan
The New Old Me: My Late-Life Reinvention – Meredith Maran
Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant – Daniel Tammet
Searching for Mom: A Memoir – Sara Easterly
Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell (A)
Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison – Richella Parham
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward (A)
Tell me, what’s the best book you read in 2019?