I’m giving a talk on my campus soon, the next in what is becoming a series of talks on the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies. All of these presentations are part of a larger book project I am slowly but surely developing. I always enjoy giving these Brown Bag presentations, and I’m looking forward to this one, which basically grew out of my initial response to the short film “Battle at Big Rock.” Plus, preparing for this talk gave me an excuse to watch all the movies again over break!
As I do every year, I’ve kept a list of the books I read, their dates of publication, and my ratings of them. Below are two lists of favorites (best nonfiction and best fiction), plus the entire list of books I read in 2019. I read a total of 219 books this year, which seems fitting for 2019. I did include individual issues of comics and some children’s books here, which might seem like a cheat, but I also didn’t count many, many, many of the kids books I read this year with my kids. I only included a small handful of the most memorable ones.
First, favorites! I’m listing them in alphabetical order in each category. I couldn’t possibly rank the lists; narrowing it this far was hard enough!
Isaac Butler and Dan Kois, The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America (2018)
This might be only for the reader who loves Angels in America, but that’s me, so I loved it!
Casey Cep, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (2019)
Fascinating true crime, literary history, and regional history all at once.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (2015)
A rare academic book that is not only intellectually fascinating and relevant to my research but also moving.
Ariel Gore, Hexing the Patriarchy: 26 Potions, Spells, and Magical Elixirs to Embolden the Resistance (2019)
Fun, feminist witchery!
Taisia Kitaiskaia, Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles (2017)
Advice in the form of prose poems, from the perspective of a powerful, self-possessed witch.
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist (2019)
The title says it all. I’m teaching it this semester!
Rax King, The People’s Elbow (2018)
A short memoir that somehow effectively combines a narrative about rape and trauma with an obsession with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The best accidental find of the year!
Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House (2019)
A brilliant memoir of an abusive relationship. Machado is a beautiful writer, and this was really hard to read but worth it.
Mallory O’Meara, The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick (2019)
If I were ranking my Top Ten, this might be #1. O’Meara’s book is hilarious and filled with fascinating film history. Plus, I had several feminist “fuck yeah!” reactions, even in just the first few pages. Everyone should read this book.
Nicole Seymour, Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age (2018)
Another academic book that I truly enjoyed reading!
Charlie Jane Anders, The City in the Middle of the Night (2019)
Cool worldbuilding and aliens! Queer characters! Beautiful writing! I read this with a student reading group in the spring, and they all loved it, too.
Pat Barker, The Silence of the Girls (2018)
A retelling of The Iliad from the perspective of the women in the background of those tales of war and conquest.
Robert Jackson Bennett, Foundryside (2018)
Bennett remains one of my favorite fantasy writers. This is a fun adventure story that ultimately has something powerful to say about self-determination.
Chelsea Cain (ill. Kate Niemczyk and Lia Miternique), Man-Eaters, Vol. 1 (2019)
It’s a comic book about periods, cats, toxoplasmosis, and violence! It’s fun!
Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves (2017)
YA science fiction about North American indigenous people, loss of culture, and resilience.
Meg Elison, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (2014)
Another dystopia, this one focused on dangers to women. Deadly childbirth and masculinist enclaves. Terrifying. Also, I met Meg at an event earlier this year, and she is super cool.
Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, This Is How You Lose the Time War (2019)
I’m sometimes iffy about time travel narratives, but I loved this one. It’s a love story that gives it a real emotional core beyond the thinky bits. I loved this book so much that on my one full day in Chicago on my own, I opted to sit in a coffee shop and read this until I devoured the whole thing instead of going to more places.
Ariel Gore, We Were Witches (2017)
It’s not as much about witchcraft as the title might indicate, but I loved it anyway.
Peter Heller, The River (2019)
Men bonding out in nature. This book reminds me of both Deliverance and Brokeback Mountain in various ways. The end made me cry in public. No regrets.
N. K. Jemisin, Broken Earth series: The Fifth Season (2015), The Obelisk Gate (2016), The Stone Sky (2017)
Yes, I’m cheating here. I don’t care. I loved this series so much. I read this whole series with another student reading group in the spring, and they loved it, too! I just can’t believe I waited so long before reading it. This series more than deserves all the hype it has gotten and all the awards it has won.
Guy Gavriel Kay, A Brightness Long Ago (2019)
Kay is a beautiful fantasy writer (I’ve long loved his Fionavar Tapestry series), and this is a really lovely, reflective story that’s actually mostly about aging and memory.
Stephen King, Pet Sematary
This is another one that made me cry while reading it in public. I honestly can’t decide if I love or hate this book because I found it so intensely upsetting.
Ann Leckie, The Raven Tower (2019)
I know Leckie primarily as a science fiction writer (space opera, cool AI, etc.), so I was both excited and hesitant with her shift to fantasy, but this book is so great. Honestly, I read it a while ago, so I don’t remember many details, but I remember I loved it.
Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire (2019)
Science fiction with a complex world, an interesting protagonist, and very neat technology! Its best feature is its attention to power and politics, though.
Tamsyn Muir, Gideon the Ninth (2019)
Lesbian necromancers! A snarky heroine! Adventures! This was a wonderfully fun book.
Annalee Newitz, The Future of Another Timeline (2019)
This book gives me hope. It’s another time travel book, featuring alternate histories, with an eye to the possibility of creating a better future. Central settings include an alternate SoCal feminist punk scene and the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which means I am inherently into this! It also addresses reproductive rights and feminist history in both direct and complicated ways. It’s almost like she wrote it just for me!
Helen Phillips, The Need (2019)
A dark story about motherhood, one that I found quite upsetting at times. It reminds me in some ways of Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream – just as with that book, I didn’t always like reading it, but I also couldn’t stop.
Richard Powers, The Overstory (2018)
I bought this book ages ago, simply because I’ve always loved Powers’ writing, and I finally (just within the last week) found enough time and mental bandwidth to read it. It was so worth waiting for! It’s a book about trees that has me excited about learning more botany. It’s a book about activism that inspires. It’s long, but I plan to teach it in my environmental lit & culture class next fall (and I really hope the students like it!).
Lina Rather, Sisters of the Vast Black (2019)
Nuns in space! That makes it sound silly, but it’s a thoughtful novella about politics and religion in a society expanding across space.
Karen Thompson Walker, The Dreamers (2019)
A pandemic causes the people of a small town to fall asleep. It’s quietly frightening.
And here is the entire list of books I read this year, complete with ratings. Five-star books are in bold; there are more five-star books than made my lists above.
David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018) – 4 stars
Alexis Turner, Taxidermy (2013) – 4 stars
Joyce Carol Oates, Hazards of Time Travel (2018) – 3 stars
James Tynion IV (ill. Eryk Donovan and Dee Cunniffe), Eugenic (2018) – 4 stars
Mira Grant, Kingdom of Needle and Bone (2018) – 4 stars
Phil Kaye, Date & Time (2018) – 4 stars
Barry Keith Grant, Monster Cinema (2018) – 3 stars
Samanta Schweblin, Mouthful of Birds (2019) – 4 stars
Starr Stackstein, Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School (2015) – 3 stars
Craig Jones, Blood Secrets (1978) – 4 stars
Sam J. Miller, The Art of Starving (2017) – 5 stars
Whitney Battle-Baptiste, E. B. DuBois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America (2018) – 4 stars
K. Reed (ill. Joe Flood), Science Comics: Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers (2016) – 4 stars
Jeff Moss (ill. Tom Leigh), Bone Poems (1997) – 3 stars
K. Jemisin, How Long ‘til Black History Month? (2018) – 4 stars
Alec Nevala-Lee, Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction (2018) – 4 stars
Maurice Carlos Ruffin, We Cast a Shadow (2019) – 5 stars
Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Moon (2018) – 4 stars
John Warner, Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities (2018) – 4 stars
Eli Saslow, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist (2018) – 3 stars
Wesley Chu, Time Salvager (2015) – 4 stars
Katharine Burdekin, Swastika Night (1937) – 3 stars
Robert Jackson Bennett, Vigilance (2019) – 4 stars
Isaac Butler and Dan Kois, The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America (2018) – 5 stars
Joanna Wolfe, Team Writing: A Guide to Working in Groups (2009) – 4 stars
Wesley Chu, Time Siege (2016) – 4 stars
Benjamin Dreyer, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (2019) – 3 stars
Dane Huckelbridge, No Beast So Fierce: The Terrifying True Story of the Champawat Tiger, the Deadliest Animal in History (2019) – 3 stars
Axel Young, Blood Rubies (1982) – 3 stars
Nick Pyenson, Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures (2018) – 3 stars
Mallory O’Meara, The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick (2019) – 5 stars
Ali Benjamin, The Thing About Jellyfish (2015) – 5 stars
N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (2015) – 5 stars
Charlie Jane Anders, The City in the Middle of the Night (2019) – 5 stars
Helen Oyeyemi, Gingerbread (2019) – 3 stars
Eoin Colfer, Illegal (2017) – 4 stars
Barbara Ehrenreich, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (2018) – 3 stars
Judith Viorst, Lulu and the Brontosaurus (2010) – 4 stars
Robin Williams, The Non-Designer’s Design Book (4th edition) (2014) – 3 stars
Osamu Tezuka, A Tale of the Twentieth Century (1983; 1996) – 3 stars
Debbie Tung, Book Love (2019) – 3 stars
N. K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate (2016) – 5 stars
Monique W. Morris, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools (2016) – 4 stars
Rose Macaulay, What Not: A Prophetic Comedy (1918) – 4 stars
Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (2019) – 4 stars
Peter Heller, The River (2019) – 5 stars
Renée Nault (and Margaret Atwood), The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel(2019) – 5 stars
Stephen King, Pet Sematary (1983) – 5 stars
Victor LaValle and John Jacob Adams (eds.), A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers (2019) – 5 stars
Nicole Seymour, Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age (2018) – 5 stars
Kyle Baker, Nat Turner (2006) – 4 stars
James Howe (ill. Randy Cecil), Brontorina (2010) – 5 stars
Ted Rechlin, Sharks: A 400 Million Year Journey (2018) – 4 stars
N. K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky (2017) – 5 stars
Jennie Orr and David Orr, Mammoth is Mopey (2015) – 4 stars
Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (2009) – 4 stars
Josh Malerman, Inspection (2019) – 2 stars
Miriam Toews, Women Talking (2018) – 3 stars
Darcy Van Poelgeest, Little Bird #1 (2019) – 4 stars
U. Nicholson, Fingers of Fear (1937) – 3 stars
Adam Glass and Olivia Cuartero-Briggs (ill. Hayden Sherman), Mary Shelley Monster Hunter #1 (2019) – 4 stars
Darcy Van Poelgeest, Little Bird #2 (2019) – 5 stars