Victoria's Best Books of 2019


When I sat down to make my list of favorite books from this year, I came up with 28. Fortunately and unfortunately for you, those numbers have held. I don’t have an order or a method to the chaos, but I do have two tiers. First I’ll give you my top 16, then the 12 that come after. Godspeed.




St Marks is Dead by Ada Calhoun (2016)


I read this right after I moved to New York, which was just about perfect. I love a New York book, and I love a book where you learn something on every page that makes you stop and look around the room for someone else to tell it to. This is a truly engaging history.


Buy it here.


The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)


This is the book that changed the way I read old books forever. Something about it grabbed me, and I haven’t stopped searching for the same feeling since.


Buy it here.



The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt (2000)


Was planning to write something diplomatic about this book but then I read one (1) sentence and started crying and couldn’t stop. Which brings me to what I was going to say anyway: this is one of those books that you know lots of people have read, but it feels like it’s yours. Something like The Goldfinch is public domain at this point, we might as well have all read it aloud to each other. But I feel about this book the way I felt about The Idiot by Elif Batuman, like maybe I’m the only one that read it. That is of course not true, but you know what I mean? This would also be a very good fit for a long book to read over Christmas, if you’re hunting for that.


Buy it here.


The White Album by Joan Didion (1979)


What would you think of me if this wasn’t on the list? Since I read it, I’ve thought of “Holy Water” almost every night when I’m falling asleep.


Buy it here.




Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday (2018)


Describing this list is becoming a punishment, all these books are haunting me. Read if you’d like to be haunted.


Buy it here.




The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt (2017)


I read two books by Samantha Hunt this year and they both made my list. I’m certain the other ones would too, I just haven’t read them yet. This is a collection of short stories that’s familiar and surprising and comfortable and weird. I loved them all.


Buy it here.




The Seas by Samantha Hunt (2004)


And the other Samantha Hunt book. Good gracious. This book stares at me from the shelves like it’s taunting me. Give it to your teenage cousin, she will probably get it better than you do, then read it yourself.


Buy it here.




The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin (2019)


This was a book that I went into with no expectations and then finished knowing I could die peacefully having experienced everything I needed to in this world. It was the most beautiful book I read this year and it’s not even close. Every part of it is so vivid. It’s like you don’t even read it, it’s happening to you on a cellular level. I know that’s so cheesy, but you have to understand. If you want a book to happen to you, I recommend this one.


Buy it here.




All the Rage by Darcy Lockman (2019)


I liked this so much, I just kept writing about it. Interview and review coming soon to The Book Slut.


Buy it here.



Severance by Ling Ma (2018)


This book is in my brain now, it’s part of me. I read a lot of apocalyptic stuff this year—even though I really don’t gravitate toward it, I can’t seem to get away—but Severance felt the most real and vivid. Ling Ma paints such a clear picture of an almost abandoned New York that I can still see it just as clearly as the New York I see out my window.


Buy it here.



Early Work by Andrew Martin (2018)


This is absolutely a summer read, so you might have to wait to read it. But you should go ahead and get your hands on it now. It’s addicting and funny and transgressive and exactly the right amount of pretentious.


Buy it here.



Magical Negro by Morgan Parker (2019)


I love everything that Morgan Parker writes. This collection is excellent. I read There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé last year, and I very much recommend that as well.


Buy it here.




Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (2011)


You know when you read a book that was nominated for a prize like the Pulitzer, and you’re like, “ah, I see.”


Buy it here.



Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (2005)


I stayed up all night reading this book. Do you know the last time I’ve done that? I am too old to do that. But I forgot that I wasn’t a teenager, because that’s how compelling Prep is. I think everyone else read this book years ago, but I loved it so much.


Buy it here.




The Emissary by Yoko Tawada (2018)


Oh, I loved this book. It’s really short, it’d be a good airplane book or a beach book or anywhere else where you can just take it in all at once. I think the way it portrays the world is so moving.


Buy it here.




On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (2019)


This was by far my most anticipated book of the year. It’s a beautiful novel that you can tell was written by a poet. When I think back on it, I can still feel my way through the story. It’s more sense memory than recollection of plot or even character. I read this at the same time as The Unpassing, and they felt similar to be in that respect. Completely different stories, but a lot of the same spirit, poetry, and rawness that isn’t exactly vulnerability but something like it.


Buy it here.


SECOND TIER



The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katy Apekina (2018)


Just a really good novel. It’s dark and intelligent and a little convoluted. A good book for next time you want to be completely absorbed.


Buy it here.




The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (2008)


Are you reading enough South American literature? Are you sure? I haven’t read 2666, but from what I’ve heard this seems to be more accessible Bolaño. It was excellent.


Buy it here.




The Other One by Colette (1929)


I like this one much more than The Pure and the Impure. It’s wonderfully French and has strains of similarities to The Awakening.


Buy it here.



Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1939)


This is the year that I really started enjoying reading classics, which made it a great year to read Rebecca. If you haven’t reached the turning point of starting to enjoy classics but you want to, Rebecca might do the trick.


Buy it here.



Emily L. by Marguerite Duras (1985)


Someone on Goodreads described this book as feeling like a dream, and I agree with that. Even while you’re reading it, it seems a little far away and foggy.


Buy it here.




Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017)


This is the perfect book club book. Go forth, and read it with your book club.


Buy it here.



Like Life by Lorrie Moore (1990)


I am truly eeking my way through Lorrie Moore because I don’t want to be in a world where I have nothing new left to read.


Buy it here.




Impossible Owls by Brian Phillips (2018)


I love nonfiction that fascinates you with something you couldn’t have cared less about before opening the book. Brian Phillips captures his reader on any and every topic. I would read volumes like this.


Buy it here.




The Governesses by Anne Serre (1992)


Coming in at 108 pages, this makes the perfect beach read that you can finish in one day and then look up and say what on earth just happened to me. It’s so strange and wonderful.


Buy it here.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)


I finished it, so I get to put it on here. Those are the rules.


Buy it here.




Red at the Bone by Jaqueline Woodson (2019)


This book is so hard to explain succinctly. It’s very quick. You almost wish it were longer, while standing amazed at what Jaqueline Woodson can do with so few pages. This book is perfect for when you need something to remind you why we read. It’d also be a good gift for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time but wants a high-impact book.


Buy it here.