With a new baby in the house, I’m so far behind on everything (including all I’d like to be blogging right now) that it’s not even funny, but I did want to squeeze in this end-of-year review while it would still be relevant.
2019 ended up being a better reading year than I thought it would be–since I was pregnant and planning on (maybe) having a newborn by the end of the year, I figured I wouldn’t get nearly as much read as in the past two years (65 and 67 books, respectively), but I ended up being much closer than I thought—I’ve currently read 63, and I plan to finish at least one more (perhaps two) by the end of the year.
Compared to years past, I didn’t have too many five-star reads in 2019–four total–but I did read a ton of 4-star books that are worth noting, several of which are included below. (Related Post: What It Takes For a Book to Get a 5-Star Rating From Me (+10 Novels That Made the Cut)
Once again, without planning it, I had an almost 50/50 split between nonfiction and fiction (31 nonfiction, 33 fiction). Of course, much of my nonfiction is comprised of memoirs or journalistic reports that read like fiction, so there’s that. And, after years of refusing to let myself re-read anything, I’ve finally gotten a bit back into that habit again thanks to my 101 in 1001 list, and I re-read two books this year (Educated for my book club, and How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind for my own cleaning motivation).
I’ve also gotten better at abandoning books that aren’t working for me, and this year I abandoned four–Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (didn’t suck me in enough to want to push myself to read it by the library deadline), Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (her vision of motherhood is a little too cynical/depressing for me and the humor was a bit dark for my taste, though I know this book resonates with a lot of women), Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes (a little *too* radical for me), and Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline (it felt like too many facts and statistics just stitched together with minimal reflection or narrative to pull me in, though I might give it another try later).
But onto the top titles! Below you’ll find the 10 books that either received the highest ratings from me, or that for whatever reason stuck with me the longest. Also, you’ll notice that not all of these were PUBLISHED in 2019—they were just books that I read this year. Lastly, I regularly update what I’m reading and do reviews on Goodreads, so if we aren’t friends yet on there, I’d love for you to add me!
Note: There are affiliate links below, which means I may get a small commission on any purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you.
Top 10 Titles of 2019
Of all the books on this list, this is the only one I purchased AFTER I finished reading it, which is always an excellent indicator of how much of an impact a book has on me, especially since I instigated my new rules for book-buying a couple years ago. Although this isn’t the first book I’ve read on habits, it is the best one I’ve read, and it’s chock full of readily implementable strategies for changing and building habits, both big and small. Not only does Clear talk about strategies for making and keeping habits, but some of his overall philosophies about making habits truly part of our identity will stay with me forever. I’ve been pushing my husband to read this ever since I finished it, and I think this would be the perfect book to read at the start of the new year, as well.
While the writing and story in this one were enough to merit a 4-star rating anyway, what pushed this one to five stars (the only fiction book to earn that this year) was that this was based on a true story–the author’s own ancestors, in fact. This is the incredible (somewhat fictionalized) account of her family who were all separated during the Holocaust and who, miraculously, all survived, even though extremely few others from their village did. This story follows all the various family members’ storylines, from those stuck in prison camps to those who escaped to foreign countries. This is a story of hope and resilience, but it’s most of all a story that will make you hug your family close and appreciate even more those ties that bind us together.
I was so inspired by this nonfiction book on time management that I started tracking my time for nearly a month, an experience I wrote more about in this blog post. While I don’t always agree with Vanderkam’s approaches to everything (aka, not all of us can afford to outsource all those time-sucking chores like running errands or folding laundry), I overall really love her work. This book isn’t just about managing your time better, though–it’s also about how to create moments and memories that will have lasting impact and structuring your time in a way that’s NOT just about “getting stuff done” but rather about how to savor your time, even when you’re busy. I loved this one, and it’s also one I’m considering buying. (P. S. If time management is a topic near and dear to your heart, Ultimate Bundles is offering two free webinars on the topic in honor of the New Year, which you can sign up for here.)
It’s so funny that this one ended up on my top 10 list because I was about thisclose to abandoning it since it got off to quite a slow start (and I had to make a decision if I was going to push through and read it quickly or not, since it was due back at the library). This historical fiction book is all about the traveling librarians who used to go on horseback to deliver books to people who didn’t live near public libraries, specifically one librarian who was one of the last of the rare blue-skinned Kentucky people. I learned a ton from this book, but I also enjoyed the storyline, which had a little bit of everything–character development, romance, social issues, family drama, etc. Hot Tip: This book is half off on Amazon currently!
Even though this nonfiction book is relatively slim, it took me a loooong time to get through, mostly just because there was a lot to digest. However, this book has literally changed forever the way that I help my kids to process their emotions (and myself, for that matter!). Before, I was basically the poster parent for how “not” to handle a tantrum, but now, I feel like I’ve got a much better grasp on how to help my children to handle big feelings. I’m definitely not a perfect parent (nor are my kids perfect at controlling their feelings), but thanks to this book, I feel like we’re a lot further along.
There’s a reason this is currently the #1 book being sold on Amazon right now—this novel is exceedingly well done. Not only is it some of the best writing I encountered all year, but the story is memorable and haunting and beautiful all at once. Basically, this is the story of “The Marsh Girl”—a coming-of-age tale of a child left to fend for herself in the marsh on the outskirts of a small town after being abandoned by her parents. Oh, and did I mention the story starts out with a murder? Yeah, this is definitely one I wouldn’t mind reading again in the future. The only reason it didn’t get 5 stars? I didn’t *love* the ending (though it didn’t come out of left field, either).
I hesitated to read this book for a long time, just because reading about people who have gone through really hard things tends to trigger my anxiety (even when those stories are hopeful/inspirational). However, even though parts of Sandberg’s book were hard for me, I absolutely was changed forever by reading this book on how to handle life’s tragedies and hardships with resilience (and how to help others going through hard times). There are now things I do completely differently (especially when trying to help others) that I never thought about before, like asking someone who’s going through a hard time how they’re doing today, rather than just how they’re doing in general. Another four-star read, and the only reason this one wasn’t the full five was because the author sometimes let her politics get randomly in the way of her central message sometimes.
I fully acknowledge that this 1995 Pulitzer Prize winner will be not be for all readers, or even for most readers. However, it was pretty close to perfect for me, as it checked all my favorite boxes–exceedingly well written, interesting structure, a protagonist that is just a “regular” person with the plot about a pretty “regular” life, and plenty to think about when you finish the last page. I don’t know why I’m so drawn to books that don’t have much of a plot and that are just about very ordinary-seeming people (probably because that’s how I view my own life and myself), but I love it when authors can pull the profound from the everyday. Basically, this is the story of one woman’s life and is told as though she is writing partly her own autobiography and also supplementing it with viewpoints/opinions/letters from others. You never quite know who to trust, which is what makes this so interesting and begs the question—who really knows a person best? Can we ever fully know anyone else? There are some weird things about this that knocked it down a bit for me (like the weird relationship and age gap between her and her second husband), but all in all, this is one I really enjoyed.
This one probably resonated so much just because it confirmed entirely all my own opinions (ha!), but I’ve found myself talking about it a lot since I finished it. For years, I personally have been wary of technology playing too much of a role in my (and my family’s) life, which is why I’ve done some pretty radical (at least according to many people) things like not getting a smartphone, not letting our kids watch t.v. shows (and limiting their movie watching pretty greatly), etc. Basically, this book just backed up all my hunches with solid research, so now I’m a little less hesitant to share my viewpoints on being wise about technology use because now I have some actual facts to back them up with. If you’re looking for motivation to be more mindful in your usage of technology, this is a FABULOUS place to start.
This book wasn’t perfect (for starters, I thought the author tried to take on a bit too much in her scope and the first third of the book or so is basically just backstory on all the main characters and no plot), but I’ve found myself thinking about this one a lot since I finished it. This character-driven novel is the story of two couples whose lives are inseparably knit together when the husbands are both called to be the co-pastors of a congregation struggling with the social issues of the time (the book is set during the 60’s). The two wives (and the two husbands, for that matter) are about as opposite as you can be, yet they all have to work together to try and turn things around for the church. There aren’t many contemporary novels that take on the issue of faith head-on, but this book was a fascinating look at the interplay between religious beliefs and social issues, between relationships and church culture. I really enjoyed it, even if it would probably be a bit slow for some.
Now the real question—-what were the best books YOU read in 2019? (I’m on the lookout for what to read in the new year!)