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Good morning and hello, welcome to my round up of the books I read in 2019 that I loved the most and convenient excuse to use GIFs about books.
A note about GoodReads: I have linked all these books back to their GoodReads page so if you are interested in the title you can go there and get more details and then buy it from whatever store you like. GoodReads feels like neutral ground for readers, even though it isn’t. (Hello, Amazon!) But it’s as neutral a place as we have in this vast and compromised Internet we use, so here we are.
Neither do these link back to personal reviews of the book. I don’t do that. Before GoodReads, I was keeping track of what I read and what I thought about each book in a journal. Specifically what I could learn from it. When I made the switch to GoodReads (because everyone was on GoodReads), I stopped making those notes to myself. Stopped doing the actual useful-for-me bit! And, worse, GoodReads was starting to feel performative in ways I didn’t like. (Sounds like the Internet, actually.) So I nuked the account, and went back to tracking it the old fashioned way. No regrets.
We shall not discuss the state of my to be read pile.
How many books on the list? Don’t know yet. Why are you getting ahead of yourself, or me for that matter? I’m finding out as we go, same as you. While I wish I was able to keep on top of all the cool new releases, I can’t. Not with this TBR pile. (We said we shall not discuss it!)
If you’re impatient and want to skip to the recipe — er, my list of favorite books for 2019, skip to the end. You monster.
On The Jellicoe Road
Melina Marchetta. (2006) This book was a recommendation read and a great start to 2019. It’s an award-winning, Australian boarding school story that will mess you up in the way a great book should. It is magical and weird and sad and beautiful, and I wish I had been writing down my thoughts immediately after reading it because this book deserves studying.
My Sister the Serial Killer
Oyinkan Braithwaite. (2018) I forget how I found out about this book, but I did and I’m grateful. What do you do when your sister kills in self-defense? You help her. What if it’s self-defence number three? What if she’s set her eyes on the man you want? This was a page-turner, and ends perfectly. The relationship between the sisters is this terrific pull-push of love and envy.
Aminder Dhaliwal. (2018) This graphic novel kicked off a comic/graphic novel binge this year. Absolutely lives up to the buzz it got. Originally released on Instagram and then collected and expanded, this webcomic tells the story of what happens to our world when all the men die. It’s funny, it’s serious, it’s everything. Highly recommend.
On The Come Up
Angie Thomas. (2019) I had heard a lot of good things about her first book, The Hate U Give (which I read later in the year) so when Thomas came to town are part of book tour for her newest release, I tagged along with a friend. This is a fall in deep, head under the water kind of book. Once you start reading, you don’t stop. Also perfection in how it shows the bonds of family — how weird, how particular they are. Masterclass in details.
A Head Full of Ghosts
Paul Tremblay. (2015) Haunted houses, unreliable narrators, and a camera crew. What’s not to love? Told with a framing story by the daughter years later, this novel takes a bucket each of the Exorcist, Poltergeist, and Ghost Hunters onto a dysfunctional family on the brink of economic ruin. Scary, sad, it pulls you along until it’s final revelation.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism
Grady Hendrix. (2016) When you see a book in more than one place, turning up over and over again, the universe is giving you a nudge. Both set in and is homage to the ’80s, this book delivered real scares and a real pair of emotionally entangled best friends. If you liked AHS: 1984, you’ll dig this. Also, check out the original cover, a glorious video game/VHS rental case. Now that’s some graphic design!
The City in the Middle of the Night
Charlie Jane Anders. (2019) I really liked this one. Great premise — a locked planet with no day/night rotation, leaving a thin sliver along the circumference as “habitable” — and great characters who have their lives exploded on the micro and the macro levels. The tone of the book and its interests are unapologetically modern in outlook, but does so with the bones of classic, New Wave SF underneath.
Camille Bacon-Smith. (1991) I came across this title as part of the Tumblr discourse on fanfiction. It’s an ethnography of female fandom in the 1980s, particularly of fanfiction writers — a thing that had 1990s anthropology-me come across might have changed my life trajectory! Brain-exploding joy describes me reading this book. So many things that I’d long felt or sensed were validated here and I longed for past-me to have found and embraced fandom as a teenager, and not sneered at it for years because I thought I knew better. The conventions we think are modern have much older roots in analog fandom, and it’s this work that’s gone on to influence the massive cultural changes we’re seeing in fandom today. (Oh, is that the rabbit hole of Cultural Studies and academia on fandom? Bottoms up!)
The Dragon Republic
R.F. Kuang. (2019) This series is one of those that gets to the top of the TBR pile as soon as it gets released. The second book follows The Poppy War‘s (anti)heroine Rei into the world of what happens after you “win.” Spoilers: you never win a war. Excellent second book, I loved it just as much as the first and I am counting the days until I can be personally devastated once more when the final volume comes out, sometime next fall. (I cannot yet pre-order it and it is stressing me out.)
Gretchen McCulloch. (2019) I never got to delve deep into linguistics in university (course offerings just weren’t available) but it’s a fascinating subject. Language changes over time, s’fact. But the Internet is changing global languages faster than any other event in human history. (Yeah, I’m calling you out, Printing Press.) Internet users are creating new visual and linguistic grammars, superimposing new contexts and meanings almost faster than it can be studied. And to explain how that’s happening, the book delineates the four waves of Internet users as they came to the world wide web. This is a critical book. Don’t miss it.
Lynda Barry. (2019) I am a Lynda Barry fangirl and it’s all because of Syllabus. An internet article and an impulse buy later, Syllabus rang all the bells in my head. I’ve since hunted down her other books on writing and art, and this year Making Comics was released. For those who have been reading Barry’s other work, this will be half new material and visual essays, and half refinement of a process that she’s been building collaboratively with her students for years. For me, writing and art have always been intertwined; her books, and Making Comics in particular, will explain how.
Noelle Stevenson. (2015) Yup, that Noelle, of Lumberjanes and more recently (and to wider audiences) She-Ra and the Princesses of Power! I love her stuff, her style, and Nimona was one of those things I had meant to get to and then finally did. I wish there was more after this volume, but the threads of the story questions she asks, and her fantastic way of blending genres and tones, lives on in her current work.
Two more books. Consider them mental fibre for your creative life: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear (2018) and The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future by Ryder Carroll (2018).
Because, hey, we all want to do stuff. Might be writing, might be art, might be any number of things. But how do you do? How do you start? How do you determine you are doing the thing you want to do? One book will help you figure out how to do the thing you want to do, and the other book will help you make sure you do it. It’s a one-two punch that will level you up for 2020. Promise.
You want the list, Impatient So-and-So? Fine. No, I’m not mad, just disappointed in you. Here it is:
- On The Jellico Road
- My Sister the Serial Killer
- Woman World
- On the Come Up
- Head Full of Ghosts
- My Best Friend’s Exorcism
- The City in the Middle of the Night
- Enterprising Women
- The Dragon Republic
- Because Internet
- Making Comics
- Atomic Habits
- The Bullet Journal Method
So go forth, feast your eyes and brains on good writing, and may your TBR pile not kill you in the morning. Here’s to 2020!