The funny thing about this Best Books of 2019 list is that apparently my year consisted of reading very few books actually published in 2019. Ergo: a list of my favorite reads from the past 12 months, published over the past several years.
Best of 2019 // CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS by Sally Rooney
Back in April, I went on a trip to Hawaii and read CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS (published in 2017 and which I’ve already included on both my all-time favorites and top books of the decade lists) in one day on the beach. By the end, tears were literally spilling out from under my sunglasses, and I think multiple beachgoers thought I was having a mental breakdown — which I basically was, because Irish author Sally Rooney’s writing is spare and straightforward and raw and heartbreaking and worthy of every ‘Best of’ list until the end of time.
Best Series // THE RED RISING SAGA by Pierce Brown
Pierce Brown’s epic saga — consisting of RED RISING (2014), GOLDEN SON (2015), and MORNING STAR (2016) — straddles fantasy and science fiction and, while the writing may not be entirely literary, the story is insanely ambitiously and expertly told, with characters that make you feel lots of feelings and that can’t-put-it-down quality that makes you fall in love with reading all over again. Already can’t wait for these to be adapted into movies or a TV series.
Best Science Fiction // BORNE by Jeff Vandermeer
I recently rewatched Alex Garland’s Netflix adaptation of ANNIHILATION — the first in Jeff Vandermeer’s very weird, very memorable SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY — and immediately afterward, I plucked BORNE (2017) off my bookshelf and set it in the ‘on deck’ spot on my bedside table. BORNE spins a strange story of giant bears and apocalyptic wastelands filled with futuristic ‘biotech’ and alien creatures with murderistic tendencies who may also be kind and benevolent. Epic.
Best Short Story Collection // HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado’s HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES has enjoyed much adoration and acclaim since its publication in 2017, and for good reason. These stories meld dark, twisty, and magical with probing explorations of timely themes including female agency and violence against women. I devoured this early in the year and immediately passed it on to my sister.
Best Under-the-Radar // MR. SPLITFOOT by Samantha Hunt
After three years of sitting on my shelf (I received this in one of my Powell’s Indiespensable boxes back when it was published in 2016), I finally picked up MR. SPLITFOOT as my first read of 2019 — and what a way to kick off the year. Billed primarily as horror (a genre I generally give a wide berth), this felt much more gothic, literary, and fantastical to me, with arresting language, strange characters, and a fast-paced plot.
Best Nonfiction // HILLBILLY ELEGY: A MEMOIR OF A FAMILY AND CULTURE IN CRISIS by J.D. Vance
Another book I included in my Best of the Decade list, HILLBILLY ELEGY (2016) speaks to our current tumultuous political climate and paints, in plain and heartrending terms, a clear picture of why much of America feels so much pain and rage. I read very little nonfiction, but I’m so glad I finally grabbed this off my shelf.