Hello! Yes, it is late February and I am finally talking about my favorite books of 2019.
In 2019, I finished 52 books. That’s, on average, one book a week; 50 were by women or BIPOC authors and 33 were by women of color.
I loved so many of the books I read, but picked 12 of them to share as my favorites (I tried to pick only 10 and failed miserably). Here are my favorite books of 2019, in no particular order; I’ve linked to Bookshop, where you can buy from independent bookstores online.
The perfect novel to supplement my late capitalism angst. It’s about the collapse of society via spore-spread zombie disease, but expect less of “The Walking Dead” and more of a rumination on our entrapment and complicity in our society’s toxic relationship to capitalism. The novel follows the Chinese American female protagonist as the zombie apocalypse happens around her and she joins a group of survivors.
This novel is near and dear to my heart because this story of a Chinese American woman who leaves her chemistry PhD program resonated so much with me (I have a degree in physics and needless to say, I am not using it currently). Weike Wang has quickly become one of my favorite writers for her dry wit, playful sense of humor, and startling emotional depth.
The premise of this novel is absurd but oh-so-relatable in our burnout culture: the protagonist, a young, beautiful woman in New York City, decides to sleep for an entire year with the help of prescription drugs. Moshfegh is incredible at creating characters that simultaneously repulse us and evoke our empathy. The writing is deliciously morbid but ultimately moving and, against all odds, optimistic.
Quite possibly the most spectacular novel I’ve read just for the sheer beauty of the language and how the story unfolds, one dazzling sentence at a time. It follows the story of a Ghanian/Nigerian American family after their estranged father dies. Each character and their unspoken emotions and resulting miscommunications are rendered in such heartbreaking sensitivity; just please go read it!
Think John Wick, but made into a Wes Anderson film…but in novel form, and also Korean. Yes, this novel is just as wonderful and offbeat as that sounds. It follows the journey of an assassin who begins to question the power structures that control the world and his own morality. It’s the classic anti-hero redemption plot, but with unforgettable, unique characters. The writing is both darkly funny and painfully beautiful.
In this collection of short stories, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes profoundly human characters with precision, inhabiting the psyches of those affected by the Vietnam War and its aftermath—Vietnamese American refugees, those left behind, and veterans. There were several stories that struck me as so real I felt as if they had been told to me as memories rather than fiction. Nguyen’s characters are depicted with love and intimacy, as if they are family members, and that’s so important when Vietnamese American experiences are so often obscured or told through only the lens of American saviorism.
This speculative fiction book takes place in an alternate world where the Underground Railroad was, literally, an underground railroad. The protagonist, Cora, attempts to flee slavery via this system, but as Cora travels from one state to another, narrowly escaping the villainous slave catcher and the law, the reader is called upon to question if truly escaping the evil of slavery in a world that allowed it in the first place is even possible.
If you’ve read Ocean Vuong’s poetry, then you know that his writing is exquisite. His skill translates just as well to prose in this fictionalized memoir, which reads as a letter to the narrator’s mother. Both beautiful and brutal, this novel explores intergenerational trauma, the limits of language, and being a queer Asian American man.
Sophie Mackintosh takes our society’s systemic violence against women and makes it literal in this haunting dystopian tale, which takes place in a world where men and the environment are toxic and make women sick. The story is told through the eyes of three sisters, whose father has staked out an island to keep them safe from the outside world – until two men land on the island and change everything. The novel is honestly a beautifully written feminist revenge fantasy and I have to say it was very satisfying to read.
Jane Austen, but make it millennial. This sharp, funny novel is about a bisexual, communist student named Frances who gets involved in an adulterous relationship with an older man…but the story completely flies in the face of anything you might expect with that trope. Worth the read simply for Rooney’s unnervingly accurate psychological portraits of her characters and lines that will make you laugh out loud.
The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, this book takes place 15 years afterwards and interweaves the stories of three women as the dystopian society Gilead, where all women’s rights have regressed, begins to crumble. Just as riveting as the first, but more hopeful and even triumphant, it’s the perfect read for this political climate.
A feel-good novel with more wit than cheesiness, The Helpline is about the socially inept, but mathematically gifted protagonist’s quest to excel at her job as a senior citizen helpline operator for the city, only to be roped into – of course – city council corruption. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and thoroughly enjoyable, with the humor hinging on the narrator’s total lack of self-awareness and her inner conflict as she discovers that, maybe, she has a moral compass.
Be sure to check out my Bookshop profile to see what else I’m reading!
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