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Favorite Reads of 2019

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Babies really cut into reading time. But my son is the best so I guess that's an okay trade off.

I broke down some of my reading stats in this other post, so let's just jump into the favorites.

12. Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman

This book basically sets forth arguments on three topics: 1) Universal basic income, 2) Open Borders, 3) 15 hour workweek.

While I'm still not sure where I ultimately land on some of this stuff, Bregman makes great arguments and backs it up with impressive studies and data. It's a fascinating, thought provoking book, and it made me reconsider and rethink each of the topics it addresses.

If nothing else I think it's a meaningful read for that reason, but it's also hard not to read through all of the data presented and be just a little bit swayed. So read at your own risk.

11. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

High suburban drama. This follows two families across multiple generations. It's a love story. It's a tragedy. It's full of hope. There is something about following the same characters over a longer span that lends to depth and insight. It's easy to zoom in on a situation and think we know what's going on, but seeing how things play out over decades re-contextualizes and ultimately changes everything.

Also, pretty entertaining read.

10. The Gone World by Tom Sweterlisch

Dash of crime, dash of science-fiction, dash of police procedural, dash of time bending mind trip. I love this kind of genre mash-up.

This book was quite the ride, and then really stuck the landing for me. A little dense reading at times, but ultimately I was hooked.

9. The Chain by Adrian McKinty

So glad this man is finally getting his due. His irish crime fiction has been on my top lists before, but this seems like it will be his true breakthrough novel. A good agent really makes a difference.

The Chain refers to a series of kidnappings by parents. Someone kidnaps your child. To get them back you have to kidnap another child and come up with a large sum. Then you relay the message to the new set of parents, who continue the chain on and on. So we follow a single mother whose child is kidnapped and now finds herself in this predicament.

Basically a perfect little thriller. Loved it. And I'm still eagerly awaiting the next Sean Duffy novel.

8. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

I've seen this on a bunch of year end lists so I don't know if I have a lot to add. I'll just say that I found it moving, and was especially rocked by the ending. It put me into the experience of these boys, and it's just devastating how we treat each other. Really experiencing that, feeling that, is the power of this book.

7. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Infuriating. Enlightening. Eye opening. Should be mandatory reading for everyone, especially policy makers.

I was about to attempt to explain the premise of this book, but I'm afraid I'll botch it, so here's the official description:

Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economic development, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives.

Read it.

6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyen

Fleshed out characters. Interesting world. Unique and intricate magic system. Fantasy at its best. So excited that the sequel to this book just came out.

I think this was also optioned for the movie treatment, and I'm confident this will turn out amazing.

Want goosebumps? Just check out the first part of the back cover:

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.
Come on. It's so good.

5. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

This is more adult fantasy. A little detective story sprinkled in, set on the Yale campus. Secret societies all messing with forbidden magic. The main character is part of a group that monitors and supposedly keeps in check the other houses that all have their own brand of magic and mischief. Throw a murder in the mix, and some ivy league pomp and circumstance, and a good time is had by all.

I loved the characters in this book, and I hope this becomes a long running series.

4. Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

I really loved this book. A recently separated couple in New York City. Rachel Fleishman drops off their son for the weekend and then just disappears. Toby Fleishman suddenly has to figure out how to make all of that work, while also wondering what his ex is up to.

The thing that I really appreciated about this book is how the perspective change allowed me to experience and feel the different sides of this conflict in a meaningful way. We start from Toby's perspective, and he obviously paints the situation in a particular way. One that is unsurprisingly flattering to himself. Then later when we see it from Rachel's perspective, suddenly everything is painted in a new light, and we take in Toby's version of events through the prism of Rachel's experience, and everything is different.

3. How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

I borrowed the digital copy of this book from the library based on the title without really looking at the cover, assuming it was about how we caught up in rigid thinking, and that the book would present ideas and strategies for opening ones mind and seeing ideas from new angles.

It's actually about psychedelics.

None the less, I was intrigued from the start and ended up finishing the book. I found the history of psychedelics (specifically LSD and Psilocybin mushrooms) to be fascinating, and as he explored some of the research that has been done my fascination increased. I had no idea that these substances were being studied as potential treatments for depression, addiction, trauma, as well being used to deepen individual's connections and spirituality.

The neurological component, how these substances literally "change the mind" was also so interesting to read about. All in all, the book was a very enlightening experience.

2. Recursion by Blake Crouch

The premise of this story is so good. People are going crazy as they suddenly have "memories" of lives they never lived. A detective and a neuro-scientist end up on a journey to figure out what is going on and what they unravel surpassed my expectations in every way. Entertaining. Thought provoking. Mysterious. Emotional. With a killer ending.

1. The Border by Don Winslow

I love Don Winslow. I've loved every book of his that I've read, and his Cartel Trilogy is by far my favorite. I re-read The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, so that the characters and events of the first two books would be fresh when I read The Border. Not only were those re-reads just as great as the first times through, the conclusion to the trilogy was just a good, and maybe even more satisfying in how it wrapped up everything so well.

This is a true American Crime epic unlike anything else I've ever read. It deals with the war on drugs, and with this last novel, the trilogy covers a time span of almost fifty years. It's a little hard to talk about The Border without thinking about the trilogy as a whole, but I'll just say that these have been life changing books. Not only are they so well researched, so entertaining, full of rich and detailed characters, but also they inform in a way that no other fictional book experience I've had has ever done. These books have shaped the way I feel and think about the drug policies in this country, and the world. They have impacted the way I understand the different parts of this problem at every link in the chain.

If all of that isn't enough, they are also some of the most entertaining and well written novels I've ever read. The Border is especially satisfying for how it ends the stories of characters that I've come to love in the first two books. While also being relevant to the current political situation in this country (Trump enthusiasts are likely not to find a lot of joy in the conclusion to this trilogy).

I can't wait to see what they do with this on FX, although I'm a little skeptical at how they are going to realistically portray this world on a cable network. Anyway, amazing stuff.


Any recommendations of books that you adored in 2019?      
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