When I did my 2018 Year in Review post last December, I noted that I was deeply embarrassed by how few new books I had read over the prior year. That was a primary driving reason behind me saying “Ugh! Enough!” when it came to social media soul-sucking time: tons and tons of words passed through my eyes and into my brain in 2018, yes, but very few of them added wisdom or produced pleasure. Goddamn you, Twitter!! Curse you to hell, Russian Trolls!!
In response to that sense of literary embarrassment, I closed out most of my social media accounts last January and made an active commitment to read more books, and less drivel, in 2019. As I look back over the past 12 months, I’m pleased to see that I did indeed devour many more books than I have in most recent years. When picking my reading material, I made a conscious choice to focus on new 2019 books, rather than just defaulting back to reading old books by known favorite authors, and I think I had a better reading year for having done so. The contemporary literary scene seems fertile and pleasing to me.
Over a decade ago, I posited an Eric’s Book of the Every-So-Often Club, noting that my typical reading broke down as follows:
10% Fiction: Usually I will read new books by the the dozen or so authors I know I already really like. Breaking in new authors is so risky and hard. Why bother, neh?
40% Natural History: Ideally books about bugs, trilobites, fish, or birds, or parasites that live(d) on bugs, trilobites, fish and birds, or things that eat/ate bugs, trilobites, fish or birds, or interesting theories about the ways that bugs, trilobites, fish and birds interact with or influence people. I’m a bugs, trilobites, fish and birds kinda guy, y’know?
40% Music Biography: I have read at least half a dozen full-length books about Genesis, to cite but one example of my vast contemporary rock biography collection. And if someone comes out with a credible new book about Genesis next year, I will read that one too. Because someone has to, right? And it might as well be me.
10% Tales of Human Suffering: People falling off of Mount Kanchenjunga, going insane in the Arctic because of the toxins in their tinned food, or trying to walk across the Sahara Desert alone will always be welcome in my book collection. Masochism World, baby! Yeah!
Interestingly enough (to me), I pretty much bailed on “Tales of Human Suffering” and “Natural History” in 2019, with “Fiction” playing a far greater role in my pleasure reading than has likely ever been the case in any year of my adult life. There were still several great examples of “Music Biography” in 2019, supplemented by nonfiction works of other stripes. I guess I need to find some good Bug Books in 2020 to make up for this shift in focus. Bug Books make everything better.
I provide my list of the best new release books of 2019 below, divided into three categories: Nonfiction, Novels, and Story Collections. I am halfway through a (great, so far) new novel called Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer (set in the Borne universe) as I write this post, and I have one more novel purchased that I expect to finish by year’s end, so I cite them at the bottom of the page in their own category, expecting both of them to move up to the best novel list when I get done with them, based on the critical response they’ve garnered. I present each category in alphabetical order by author, with links for further exploration. The ten very best books are shown in orange typeface, if you want to consider a shorter list for your own reading, based on my recommendations.
Here’s hoping I can continue to read this many great books in the year ahead. And, now that I am a gentleman (writer) of leisure, here’s also hoping that I might write something that could join a list of this variety at some point down the line. That’s the goal. Check back in December 2020 to see how I do.
2019 NONFICTION (ALPHABETICAL BY AUTHOR):
- The Ballad of Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson and Mark Blake
- Have A Bleedin’ Guess: The Story of Hex Enduction Hour by Paul Hanley
- What We Did Instead of Holidays: A History of Fairport Convention and its Extended Folk-Rock Family by Clinton Heylin
- How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr
- Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974 by Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer
- The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English by Lynne Murphy
- Henry Cow: The World Is A Problem by Benjamin Piekut
- Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography by Chris Salewicz
- Baptized Into the Buzz by David Thomas
- The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
2019 NOVELS (ALPHABETICAL BY AUTHOR):
- Interference by Sue Burke
- The Silk Road by Kathryn Davis
- The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht
- Will Haunt You by Brian Kirk
- Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum
- The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
- The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
- The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
- Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
- The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada
- Lanny by Max Porter
- The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
- Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
2019 STORY COLLECTIONS (ALPHABETICAL BY AUTHOR):
- Salt Slow by Julia Armfield
- Someone Who Will Love You In All Of Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
- Exhalation by Ted Chiang
- Radicalized by Cory Doctorow
- Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson
- A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs
- Raised in Captivity by Chuck Klosterman
2019 PURCHASED BUT YET TO FINISH: