That time of year has rolled around again when all the “Best Of” lists begin to appear, those tempting listicles claiming to reveal the best books of the year, decade, and century. We all click on them: they’re irresistible.
I’m kind of over these “best of” lists. The premise that something so magnificently multivariate as books can fall into a neat qualitative queue just seems silly to me. As I watch fellow readers agonizing over what will make their own ten best cut, and taking serious issue with others’ rankings, I’m thinking no: I don’t need to add to the hubbub. So here is my own list of ten from 2019 that are definitely not the best books of the year. Just a fairly arbitrary sampling of some things this reader found interesting and worthwhile.
Mars: Stories, by Asja Bakic. With wry prose and skewed humor, Bosnian writer Asja Baki explores 21st century promises of knowledge, freedom, and power. “Bakic takes an off-kilter look at sexuality, death, and the power of literature … bizarre and often inscrutable…” – Kirkus.
Night Boat to Tangier, by Kevin Barry. Two Irish drug-smuggling partners reevaluate a career marked by violence and betrayal during a vigil in a sketchy ferry terminal. “Barry adds an exceptional chapter to the literary history of a country that inspires cruelty and comedy and uncommon writing.” – Kirkus.
Diary of a Dead Man on Leave, by David Downing. Stumbling across the hidden diary of a boarder who had been a father figure to him, Walter discovers the man’s undercover work as an anti-Nazi Moscow spy. “Downing has never been better than in this moving and elegiac thriller framed as a diary…” – Publisher’s Weekly.
One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, by Brian Doyle. A playful, evocative book of spiritual essays for both religious and secular readers explores small everyday miracles and love in all its forms. “Doyle imparts a sense of breathless curiosity and joy in this blend of spirituality and philosophy ; probing readers will find surprises and solace.” – Library Journal.
Initiated: Memoir of a Witch, by Amanda Yates Garcia. A writer, artist, and professional witch presents this haunting, lyrical memoir in which she describes her journey to harness her power and create the magical world she longed for through witchcraft. “Thoughtful, engaging, and fresh: a welcome addition to the annals of women’s spirituality.” – Kirkus.
Wyoming, by J.P. Gritton. A newly divorced former construction worker reluctantly accepts a drug delivery job to make ends meet. “Pitch perfect cadences sing from the mouths of Gritton’s characters …both violently tragic and a twisted sort of redemption.” – Publisher’s Weekly.
Underland: A Deep Time Journey, by Robert MacFarlane. An exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and geography, with unsettling perspectives into the Earth’s future. “A treasure all its own. Anyone who cares to ponder the world beneath our feet will find this to be an essential text.” – Kirkus.
The Story of a Goat, by Perumal Murugan. Offered a goat by a stranger, an Indian farmer and his wife struggle to protect the vulnerable animal. “A goat’s life serves as an allegory for the human condition … An affecting modern fable reflecting Murugan’s enchanting capacity to make a simple story resonate on many levels.” – Kirkus
Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid. A story about race and privilege is centered around a young Black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both. “Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.” – Kirkus.
Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout. A sequel to Olive Kitteridge finds Olive struggling to understand herself. “Beautifully written and alive with compassion, at times almost unbearably poignant.” – Kirkus.
~ Posted by David W.