2019–The Year in Books

Last year, I started by noting that my book count in 2018 was substantial lower than normal.

Well, I guess this is the new normal, because this year my book count is the lowest-yet, at only 39. My reading year started out well, but a combination of factors (largely major house renovation plus working on a massive craft project) derailed the second half of the year, reading-wise.

But here, in chronological (in which I read them) are my best books of 2019:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. (Honestly, this might be my best book of the decade. A year on, and I’m still recommending it? A keeper, for sure)

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyankan Braithwaite

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Jane Crow: The Life of Paulie Murray by Rosalind Rosenberg

On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger

2018–the year in books

In 2018, I had a slow year of reading–I only managed to finish 52 books (though as Scott pointed out, that’s still one a week for the year). It’s a remarkably small number, especially since as I look back to what I read in January, it seems like those were at least a decade ago, not just a year…

Here are the best of them, in chronological (by reading, not publishing) order:

Every Man a King Huey Long

News of the World Paulette Giles

Salvage the Bones Jesmyn Ward

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift Eleanor Lipman

All the Pieces Matter Jonathan Abrams

The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit Nathan Lichtenstein

Hag-seed Margaret Atwood

Just Mercy Bryan Stephenson

Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail Frye Galliard

When I Was Puerto Rican Esmerelda Santiago

Sing Unburied Sing Jesmyn Ward

If Beale Street Could Talk James Baldwin

Solidarity Divided Bill Fletcher Jr. & Fernando Gasparin

A twenty-first century union movement must begin with recognition of one point: the working class divides along lines drawn by the oppressions built into capitalism. These divisions lead some theorists to believe–incorrectly–that the United States has no working class but a series of identities fighting for recognition (and often fighting only against the specific form of oppression they face).

Divisions within the working class are linked to larger social divisions. Divisions on racial lines are not simply divisions within the working class but a component of a larger set of societal racial divisions. As a result, people’s social and political identification tends to cross class lines because of the all-round nature of special oppression. For example, African American and Chicano workers might identify with other things African American and Chicano, respectively, because of the scale and scope of racial oppression. Women workers might identify with issues that affect women who are not of the working class (though this process is complicated).

This does not mean, crudely, that “everyone has it tough.” Rather it means that class cannot be understood in a linear fashion. One cannot, for instance, inoculate oneself against racism and sexism or overlook the experiences that one has had as a member of a group that has known racial or gender oppression. Such experiences inform ones’ existence in general but also the way in which one perceives other components of reality–in this case, class.

~Bill Fletcher Jr. & Fernando Gasparin, Solidarity Divided

2017–The Year in Books

Last year, I read 58 books, which makes it a pretty light year for me. There were some super-long ones in there, but I think that in general, the overall state of the world probably had me binge-watching more crappy tv than usual, and reading less. Resolved: do better in the future.

Of the books I read in 2017, these were the best:

Private Life by Jane Smiley

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Carsick by John Waters

Underground Airlines by Ben Winters

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi

Born to Run by Bruuuuuuuuce Springsteen

La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

A Testament of Hope by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


That’s a fair amount of dystopia, now that I look at it all together…

2016–the year in books

So for 2016, my book count was a pretty strong 76. Unlike most presidential election years, I managed to read serious books in the months leading up to the election (my normal pattern up till now has been a heavy focus on trade fiction during the most active times of campaigning, and then serious books in later November and December). But I lost the ability to focus in the weeks following the election, and had a semi-lax period up till about Thanksgiving.

Some notable titles (in chronological order, as I read them):

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Not my favorite of her books, but still good.

The Small-Mart Revolution by Michael Shannon made me think very differently about local economic development.

Nearly Everybody Read It edited by Peter Binzen. h/t to Chris Krewson for recommending this history of the Philadelphia Bulletin, as told by its reporters.

The Haters by Jesse Andrews. YA lit for the win.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby (because it’s probably the third time I’ve read it)

Band of Angels by Robert Penn Warren (second time through)

Brown is the New White by Steve Phillips. I feel like I lived this book, in 2004-2015.

Platform Revolutions ed by Geoff Parker et al. A work-related read, but pretty important in the development of my thinking around digital organizing.

In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Homicide by David Simon (again, second read)

The Sellout* by Paul Beatty

Super Sad True Love Story* by Gary Shteyngart

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932* by Francine Prose

*All three of these were deeply affected by my reaction to the election. I’m sure I would have felt differently about all three of them, had I not read them in the wake of Trump’s victory–but I did. I have a feeling I’ll be reading a bunch more dystopian fiction in the coming months…

2015: the year in books


I read 66 books this year. That’s probably the smallest number since I started keeping track. I’m not sure what kept me from reading as much as normal–but the fact that I didn’t log a single book as read in November probably had something to do with it. It’s definitely a good thing we had that Japan trip, because I got a ton of reading done then (plus, y’know, Japan!).

Here in, chronological order (as in, the order I read them–not the order they were written!) are the best ones I read this year:

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Kaddish & Other Poems by Allen Ginsburg (this is probably my 4th reading of it, though)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki by Haruki Murakami

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

The Interestings by Meg Wurlitzer

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Between the World and Me by Ta’nehisi Coates

Capital by Thomas Piketty


I’m not sure why this list is so heavily weighted towards men–I read a bunch of books by women this year, but most of them didn’t grab me quite like the others. I also did read my first novel (Orley Farm) by Anthony Trollope, who was a favorite author of my late father-in-law’s. I’m sure I’ll read some more of those–Paul always said if you liked Trollope, you’d have no worries, because he was so prolific. It was definitely interesting to be reading the Trollope at the same time that I was finishing Capital–both because Piketty talks a lot about 19th century writers & novels, and because the main plot of Orley Farm involves a lawsuit that is a sort of side effect of primogeniture.

Anyway, I want to thank those folks who made recommendations — I do a lot of crowd-sourcing book ideas during the course of the year, and I appreciate it when people give me new things to read.