It is that time of year that I love: looking back at my reading year and making a list of my favorite books that I read last year. I didn’t have a great reading year. I only read 16 books, which was far from my goal of 20. One reason is I read the huge book The Goldfinch and the other is that some days I watch YouTube videos when I should be reading. I only dnf’d (did not finish) one book: Tending to Virginia by Jill Mc Corkle. 80 pages in and there still wasn’t much of a plot, only the woman in this one family going over their history. I was happy that all but one book was written by an author I never read before. I now have several new authors I want to read more of. Let’s get to the list:
1) Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Stegner is a popular author on Bookstigram, the bookish community on Instagram, even though he died in 1993. In his lifetime he won both the Pulitzer Prize and The National Book Award. This novel is about the friendship between 2 couples, The Langs and The Morgans. The men are both academics who teach at a University in Madison, Wisconsin and follows their lives from the Depression to the ’70s. It’s about the sacrifices you make both as a couple and as friends. I definitely want to read more Stegner.
2) All’s Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
I don’t know why it took me so long to get to this book, but I’m so glad I finally read it. The novel follows four classmates from a German high school who wind up fighting side by side during WWI. The book doesn’t glorify war. It’s a brutal and honest look at the trench warfare of the time. You understand why the Nazis banned the book and Remarque had to leave Germany.
3) The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin
I blogged about this book earlier but I found this mystery novel to be an absolute joy to read. According to IMDB the ending of this novel inspired the climax to Hitchcock’s film Strangers on a Train. The book had a number of Hitchcockian moments and the main character is a poet. What’s not to love?
4) Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
My idea of reading authors I never read before came when I realized I had three books by Coetzee that I never read. The book centers around David Lurie, a professor of romantic literature at a Cape Town university who has an affair with a student. When the student lodges a complaint, David refuses to apologize for his actions and winds up at his daughter Lucy’s farm. The novel is about David’s fall from grace and the odd way he seeks redemption.
5) Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
I read this as part of a buddy read (where two or more people read the same book at the time) with a woman I met on Bookstigram. The novel is about a real person, Mamah Bostwick Chaney who left her husband and two children in 1907 to live with Frank Lloyd Wright, who was just getting noticed as an up and coming architect. Maham was a fascinating person in her own right. She translated the essays of feminist Ellen Key from Swedish to English. The book made you realize that Mamah Bostwick (she dropped her maiden name) was not just Wright’s mistress.
6) North and South by Mary Gaskell
There seems to be a cult following these days of the Victorian author who died in 1865. The book details the plight of the Hale family. When the father, a minister in the Anglican Church in the rural South of England, decides he doesn’t believe in some of the tenets of his faith, he quits his position and moves his wife, daughter Margaret and maid to the industrial city of Milton, in Northern England. Someone on Goodreads claimed it was “Pride and Prejudice meets Socialism” but I think that’s a facile way to look at it. It’s a book that brought up worker’s issues at the mills of the day as well as showing the viewpoint of the factory owners.
7) Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
This is the only non-fiction and LGBT book on the list. I saw the 2018 film in the theater and I wanted to read the book. It’s an unflinching memoir about the time Garrard spent at a conversion therapy camp for a couple of weeks. He is the son of a Baptist minister and his parents sent him to the camp so he can “turn” heterosexual. The memoir shows the horrors of this kind of so-called “therapy “. It’s an important book to read.
8) The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I had read The Secret History years ago and I loved it. I was excited that a film based on The Goldfinch was coming out. I already blogged about this book but I really liked the story of a boy who steals a famous painting from the Metropolitan Museum after a bomb goes off. This book could have used the tight storytelling that Tartt used to excellent use in The Secret History but I enjoyed The Goldfinch and how it explores our connection to art.
9) Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter
This 1966 novel tells the stories of Jack Leavitt, an orphaned juvenile delinquent, and Billy Lansing, a talented black pool hustler. Their lives intersect until they both wind up at San Quinton Prison. This is part crime story, part prison tale, and part love story. If you are looking for a fast, gripping read, this is it.
10) First Loves and Other Sorrows by Harold Brodkey
I love reading books by “forgotten authors”. Brodkey was best known for his short stories and his huge novel The Runaway Soul. This book was his first short story collection. The first couple of stories are about educated young men and the last 4 stories are about a young suburban couple that have a Mad Men feel to them.
I should add that I have four honorable mentions: A Man Named Ove by Frederick Backman, Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff, Too Much is Not Enough, a memoir by Broadway actor Andrew Rannells and the short story collection Dear Life by Alice Munro.
What were your favorite books of 2019? Happy New Year and have a great reading year in 2020.