2019: The Best and the Worst

So we shook it up this year by not meeting as often as we have in our eight (!?!?) year history. We still reviewed books and read an insane amount, however. As is our tradition, we bring you our yearly “Best Of” list. (This is our year-in-reading, so it includes non-2019 books too.)

Let’s start with some stats, shall we?



Number of books read:



Number of female authors:



Number of authors of color:



Number of YA/middle school books:



Number of abandoned books:



Number of fiction books



Number of nonfiction books



What was the VERY BEST BOOK read in 2019?

Lara: I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I can pick ONE! Do I have to? Okay, I will, but know that my top three or four are separated like Olympic Swimmers, by 18 one-hundredths of a second. Or even less. And I am going with a non-fiction pick (who am I?). I am going with Dear America: Notes of An Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas. It’s important, it’s timely, it should be required reading. And, he narrates the audio version, making the story all the more real (which of course it is, because it’s his story but you feel me, right?). 

Jennifer: I feel you. Nonfiction! You go, girl! So, can I get a drumroll, please? The very best book of the year was Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive. We reviewed it here. A road trip novel, a literary collage, an art book, a relevant tale about children crossing borders: this is a fabulous novel. I listened to the audiobook, read a hard copy, and incorporated it into my English 101 class. 

What books were your favorite guilty-pleasures of 2019? 

Jennifer: I really loved loved loved Leah Remini’s scientology tell-all, Troublemake: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. I loved this celebrity, sensationalistic, weirdo book WHICH DOES DISH—and I had to immediately watch her TV show. I’m still fascinated by the role of a ghostwriter or a co-author. I wonder how much responsibility she bears in bringing this story to life. But it’s full of vigor and life nonetheless.

Next year, I’m guilty-as-charged for sure, because I’ll be reading Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, and I. Can’t. Wait.

Lara: Stephen King feels like a guilty pleasure to me. And to listen to all 30 hours and 40 minutes of 11/22/63 seems rather indulgent. It could have stood some editing, but I listened to every word. I don’t think I had a REAL guilty pleasure this year. The only other one that I read that would qualify stunk; so, I will leave it at that.

What books were the biggest disappointments of 2019?

Lara: I really want to love Colson Whitehead as much as everyone does, but I don’t. I read The Nickel Boys and enjoyed talking about it with my book club more than the actual reading of it. There was even a book club member that said it should take over for To Kill a Mockingbird in high school English, and I’m like: That’s a hard no. But, it is one — after some time passes — that I am willing to give another try.

Now, let me try to alienate even more readers with my second disappointment of the year: The Much Beloved, John Green.


I ear-read Looking for Alaska and DID NOT LIKET IT. I didn’t like a single character. Too precocious. Too dramatic. Yes, I know teenagers are dramatic. I was one. I have one. But it was too much. I’m a Wil Wheaton fan and his voice was not right for the book. Too deep. Too mature. For me, she says ducking, it was too much of a mess.

Jennifer: I was also supremely disappointed by Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys — and I’m a tad suspicious of all the positive reviews. Like, are people liking it because we’re supposed to like it? I need to offer my caveat—which is that I think Whitehead wrote one of the best books of the decade, and I feel a certain, probably-totally-absurd kinship with this author because he’s so New York and Gen X. However, this book felt remote, I guess?

I also thought The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa, which showed up on a few end-of-the-year lists was disappointing. I think it had too many holes and unanswered questions, making its allegorical meaning rather hollow.

The Overstory by Richard Powers, who is so very gifted, was a bit too tree-hugger-ish for me. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins was so-so. I quickly followed it up with the audiobook by Rob Sheffield called The Wild Heart of Stevie Nicks, and that was, like, a million times more engaging to me. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk was the animal-centric version of The Overstory. Man, I’m picky.

Not A Disappointment, But . . . I guess it satisfied a longing, but I’m also completely okay with the stellar TV show taking over the narrative: Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. Atwood answered questions, and her writing is good. I just didn’t necessarily need this book.

As you peruse other people’s lists of the Best Books of the Year, which books do you feel like you really wish you had read?

Jennifer: (This isn’t in order.)

  1. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (I haven’t read him, and I’ve always planned on it.)
  2. Normal People by Sally Rooney
  3. Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith
  4. Dad’s Maybe Book by Tim O’Brien
  5. The Ventriloquists by E.R. Ramzipoor
  6. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Lara: (This also is in no order.)

  1. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
  2. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
  3. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  4. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
  5. Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
  6. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
  7. Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
  8. A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
  9. Some book with a yellow leaf on the cover that I saw everywhere and now can’t locate to tell you the title. Go figure.

Were there any books whose titles just sucked you in before you actually read the book?

Jennifer: I think Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is fabulously titled, as is Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. Those are rock n’ roll titles.

Lara: I would agree with Vuong’s book. The title is stunning and so is the book. I also was really intrigued with The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray.

What book(s) surprised you the most this year?

Lara: I was completely wowed by Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here. It’s a delight. A little weird. A lot wonderful. The audio, pitch-perfect. I want to listen to it again. 

Jennifer: Probably Alice Walker’s The Color Purple! I loved the Steven Spielberg movie with Whoopie and Oprah, but I was surprised to read this and find out that there’s so much more! And it’s amazing! (Also, Stephen King’s The Shining surprised me in a good way. Literary, engaging, horrifying.) 

What was your Top Ten For 2019?

Jennifer: I think I’d be pushing it by identifying ten, so I’ll just identify the must-reads. This is so not in order. (These are the best of the books I read, regardless of the year.)

  1. Another Country by James Baldwin
  2. Gun Love by Jennifer Clement
  3. What Some Would Call Lies by Rob Davidson
  4. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  5. Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison
  6. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
  7. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Lara: I can honestly say that I read really good stuff this year. The vast majority was great, and a couple were exceptional.

  1. Dear America: Notes of An Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas
  2. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
  3. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  4. Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
  5. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  6. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
  7. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  8. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
  9. Normal People by Sally Rooney

What books ALMOST made the list, but didn’t for some reason?

Lara: I have a couple. While Anissa Gray’s The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls has a beautiful title, cover, and spine — the story was good, but lacking. Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan is WWII historical fiction (totally my jam), but the story seemed a bit embellished to me and, while engaging, is not a favorite of mine from the genre. 

Jennifer: Well, two come to mind. Ocean Vuong’s debut, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is magnificent. However, the sex stuff kinda rubbed me the wrong way. Same thing happened with Elaine Castillo’s tremendous novel, America Is Not The Heart. The latter was unique in my limited world in that it was about a Filipino family in America — and I’m not sure I’ve read many (any?) books on this experience. Before you dismiss me as a big prude, please note that I included Alice Walker’s The Color Purple — which also had a bit too much sex in it for me, but it was a very rich and important narrative. I don’t know. I’m not a fan of graphic sex in books.

Books You Shamelessly Abandoned (or was there shame?):

Lara: Shame does horrible things to us. So, I never feel shame. Often I abandon because of time and other reading commitments, not because I don’t like the book. So, I get disappointed in myself for not managing my time well enough. For me, that meant not finishing Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner and All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg.

Jennifer: I’m always deeply ashamed, though I believe in abandoning books. There are too many good ones out there. I abandoned Milkman by Anna Burns. It won the Man Booker Prize. I think I abandoned a lot more, but that comes to mind.

And now for something different: Favorite movies?

Jennifer: I’m the worst at this, because I see everything late. The two best movies I saw this year were probably Bohemian Rhapsody and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Both have stayed with me. I’m still thing about Marriage Story too. 

Lara: This is where we are different. I see a lot of movies . . . but I saw fewer this year than usual. My favorites this year were:

  1. Knives Out
  2. Brittany Runs a Marathon
  3. Yesterday
  4. Booksmart
  5. Fighting With My Family

I can’t wait to see Bombshell and Dark Water.

What books not yet published are you most excited about?


  1. Long Bright River by Liz Moore
  2. American Dirt by Jeanine Cumming
  3. The Resisters by Gish Jen
  4. Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Mallory Orthberg
  5. Weather by Jenny Offill
  6. Anna K by Jenny Lee
  7. Writers & Lovers by Lily King
  8. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
  9. Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
  10. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gayasi


  1. My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Vol. 2 by Emil Ferris (I’ve had this graphic novel pre-ordered since I read the first one.)
  2. The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante
  3. Deacon King Cong by James McBride
  4. Weather: A Novel by Jenny Offill


Well that’s it for us! If you want to get really indulgent, check out our Best of the Decade lists right here! And chime in! What are some of your favorites?



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Want to read more from Jennifer? Check her out at www.jenniferspiegel.com 

Want to see what Lara is up to? Stay right here at www.onelitchick.com