Over the years, this blog has been everything from a way to share pictures to an almost-travel blog where I write about the places I go to but not nearly in the professional way more specified travel bloggers do. So, in keeping with my theme of writing whatever I want, I’m adding in books because, as anyone who knows me knows, I read every spare second I can. As in, the total number of books that I read in 2019 was (wait for it)…97!
Which is a LOT!
So, I want to talk about some of those books – particularly the ones that I still think of every other day. I’m going to talk in a bit of detail about my top five, but I’m also going to include some honorable mentions because these were hard to choose. First though, a note: These are not necessarily books that were published in 2019 but just books that I read for the first time in 2019. Also, it was really hard to put these in order since I already had to choose 5/97 books to talk about, but I tried (and I also did some heavy editing after initially writing five paragraph essays on each of these and realizing my word count was a bit extreme).
The books I’ve chosen are also all very different; I read from a lot of genres. However, in all of these books, there was something that struck me as relevant to today’s world or to my life. I think if there is any sort of a common thread between these books, it is that they are all about knowing ourselves as humans and learning to live better because of that. Maybe someone else will have a different interpretation, but that is the grandiose ideal that I took away from these.
So, without further ado…
5. Becoming by Michelle Obama
This book got a lot of press and with good reason. First of all, yes, Michelle Obama is rather famous, and people like reading about the lives of famous people and learning the inside scoop on things like what it’s like to live at the White House. But also, this book, to me, is a really wonderful exploration of life in the modern US and how race, class, and gender interact in our day-to-day lives.
Yes, it’s fun to read about Ms. Obama’s life, but this is also just a wonderfully inspiring story that really carries ideas of hope and justice into the future. She talks about the idea of “becoming” as something the evolves over a lifetime. You never stop growing up because you continually have new experiences to learn from. I couldn’t pick just one quote, so here are two of my favorites:
“If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”
“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”
4. Contact by Carl Sagan
This was the only sci-fi book that I put on this final list, but it was a tough decision because I read some excellent science fiction this year (see the Honorable Mentions for a few other top choices). Contact is a classic though, and just like books by Dickens or Fitzgerald, there’s a reason why it’s still read and loved today (though Sagan was a bit more recent than either of those authors).
Besides the fun, intriguing story at the heart of the novel (MUCH better than the movie, by the way, though the movie was pretty good), what stuck out to me in Contact was Sagan’s discussions of things like religion, science, and what it means to be human.
Despite all the wonderful quotes and fascinating discussions, I think if I had to choose a favorite line, it would probably be:
She had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
3. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
And now we jump ahead a few years to a book that came out in 2019. I love Ta-Nehisi Coates, and his work always inspires me to think more deeply about the world, so I was really excited for his first novel. It did not disappoint!
The Water Dancer is set in pre-Civil War America and is really a sort of coming-of-age novel that explores in excellent detail and with wonderful care the complexities of life both then and now. For example, if you are doing something “for the greater good” is it okay if good people get hurt? Who gets to decide which people are worth helping? If you disagree with the actions of those fighting for “the greater good,” are you in the wrong? The book deals with race in particular and confronts head on the real, often terrible, history of the United States.
The story itself is, of course, wonderful, and magical, and completely worth getting sucked into, but even months after finishing the novel, I’m still thinking about it. For example, the historical research that went into the book to show sides of history (good, bad, and somewhere in between) that are often overlooked. Another example that really pleased the language nerd in me was just the way that Coates uses language and the naming of things to give them power and importance and force the reader to think critically even while reading what is, objectively, a great story.
There are so many wonderful complexities to this story, and I don’t have the time or space to go into all of them, so I’ll close this bit with what might be my favorite quote from an immensely quotable book:
“We must tell our stories, and not be ensnared by them.”
2. Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
The most fun, easy, YA read on this list. And also by far the one that made me cry the most. As in, this book is about 300 pages, and I cried for most of the last 100. Not in a bad way, mostly…initially in a bad way, but then in a “Yes, this is so much better than I feared it would be, and I’m honestly just really relieved” kind of crying.
Here’s the gist of the plot: Alex is the son of the first female president of the United States. Henry is the prince of England. They are forced, somewhat frequently, to interact, which would not matter so much except that Alex hates Henry. So, naturally, as two young men in their twenties, this rivalry results in a fight, which results in a PR mess for two countries, which results in a fake friendship (for PR reasons), which results in these two idiots falling in love with each other. This is a funny, heartfelt novel that ripped my heart out and put it back together again, and it had such beautiful prose that I had to choose more than one quote to include here.
- “Sometimes you just jump and hope it’s not a cliff.”
- “Someone else’s choice doesn’t change who you are.”
- “But the truth is, also, simply this: love is indomitable.”
And the big one:
1. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
Well, let’s start by addressing the title here because I’m sure some might ask me why I of all people need a whole field guide to describe how to get lost when I am so excellent at getting lost on my own. And to be honest…the title is a large part of what made me read this book, which is essentially a set of essays/meditations on the idea of getting lost.
I like getting lost. Not too lost, of course, but I can find interesting things when I just wander around. That big cat statue in Barcelona comes to mind. (It’s still one of my favorite things I’ve found while wandering around a new city, and I think about it, like, twice a week.) But like it says in this book,
“Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery.”
I underlined my way through this book and read it twice in one month. It is both a meditation on nature and the world and a reflection on the author’s life. It speaks to an idea that I really like in that sometimes it is the distance of something that it what makes it exciting – kind of like one of those road trip books/movies in which it’s the journey that matters more than the destination. The ending – the finding – is kind of a let down even when it’s amazing because the journey itself is over. It’s hard to put my thoughts about this book into words except to say that I love it and several months after I read it, I think about it daily.
One final quote:
“But fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living, for life is risky and anything less is already a loss.”Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
Honorable Mentions in no particular order:
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
- The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- Reinventing the Soul by Mari Ruti
- This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua
So, that’s it! Those are the books that won’t let me stop thinking about them, and I hope this inspires someone else to pick up one (or more) of these and give it a shot! Agree with them or not, they’ll make you think.