Books I read in 2019

January 1st, 2020Posted by Nancy

Through the miracle of modern technology (otherwise known as the history feature of the Toronto Public Library website), I actually have a record of which ebooks I borrowed. If I add the physical books and ebooks I either purchased or downloaded from Gutenberg, I come up with roughly 130 books read this year. I will admit that, in reviewing the history, there were a few I could not recall at all until prompted, but the less said on that front the better. Roughly 30% of what I read was non-fiction, reflecting both my goal to do that and the fact that I listen to Lewis Lapham’s podcast, The World In Time.

Here, in no particular order, are the books I liked best of this year’s tally.


The Monster Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson. Having survived the grim twists of the first book in the series, I had a better idea what I was getting into, but he still managed to surprise me unpleasantly just the same.

A Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves, Megan Whalen Turner. The next two books in the Attolia series delivered the beautiful writing, wit, political machinations, and compelling characters that set this series apart from the mass of YA fantasy.

The First Time Laura Pailing Died, Alyson Rudd. This was actually a book my husband had borrowed and we were both very impressed. Don’t be fooled by the sappy subhead in the description.

The Overstory, Richard Powers. I’ve been a Powers fan for a long time and this one featured trees, of which I am also a fan. Beautiful, strange, and hopeful.

Fake Like Me, Barbara Bourland. I was primed to like this because a) I’m interested in contemporary art, b) I like twisty, psychological mysteries, and c) I’m working on a story about artists. Sadly, I suspect mine will not be nearly as good as this.

Honorable mentions: Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss. Mouthful of Birds, Samata Schweblin. Still Life with Tornado, A.S. King. The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker.


Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology, Lisa Margonelli. This is an absolutely fascinating and often funny read. It makes you realize how complex our world is and how little we really know about it. Termites – way weirder than you think.

The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy, Paige Williams. Dinosaur bones, theft, smuggling, digs, Mongolia, and a guest appearance by Nicolas Cage. Sort of.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabelle Wilkerson. Tells the story of the migration of Southern African-Americans to the North, through the lens of three different and compelling people, whose lives took them to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Ghosts of Spain, Giles Tremblett. I’m going to Spain this year and, of course, must do the recommended reading. Vivid odyssey through the legacy of the Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime.

Under the Big Black Sun, More Fun in the New World, John Doe and Tom DeSavia. These companion books capture the memories of dozens of the musicians who were the L.A. punk music scene (members of X, the Go-Gos, The Blasters and many more. The first book covers the early years of music, drugs, squats, and crazy belief in making art that mattered and, in the second, the vultures of drugs, success, and violence come home to roost. But art still gets made.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. Anand Giridharadas. Timely, depressing, and source of one of my favorite paraphrased quotes of the year “We ask them to give more, but never to take less.”

Honorable Mentions: Another Planet, Tracy Thorn. The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wells. The Incomplete Book of Running, Peter Sagal. Notes to Self, Emilie Pine. How Fascism Works, Jason Stanley

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