So, it is that time of the year again…
When I prepare a list of 20 books that I am most looking forward to during the year. Ever since encountering a similar list about two years ago, I started doing my own version, starting in 2017. This is the third straight year that I am coming up with this list, and with 2018’s success, I am very much keen on following through with this Top 20 Reading List. To distinguish this from the Most Anticipated Books List, books in this list pertains to books that have already been published and I have already bought a copy of. The Most Anticipated Books list is for books that are to be published in the year (i.e. 2019).
I am looking forward to yet another successful year. I am also very happy drafting this list because some of the books here are books that I have been looking forward to (hello Gone With the Wind). I hope I can achieve the same feat I achieved in 2018. Without further ado, here are the 20 books I am very much looking forward to in 2019. Happy reading!
1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Trade Paperback, 959 pages
Publisher: Scribner, May 2011
“Margaret Mitchell’s epic saga of love and war has long been heralded as The Great American Novel. Gone With the Wind explores the depths of human passions with indelible depictions of the burning fields and cities of Civil War and Reconstruction America. In the two main characters, the irresistible, tenacious Scarlett O’Hara and the formidable, debonair Rhett Butler, Margaret Mitchell gives us a timeless story of survival and two of the famous lovers in the English-speaking world since Romeo and Juliet.”
2. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
Hardbound, 367 pages
Publisher: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1994
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave. (Source: Goodreads)”
3. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Hardbound, 490 pages
Publisher: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1989
“It is the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships’ cables and hawsers. A Polar wind blows through it, and birds of prey hover over it.”
So Melville wrote of his masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imagination in literary history. In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopaedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author’s lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception. (Source: Goodreads)”
4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Paperback, 234 pages
Publisher: Faber and Faber Limited, 1966
“Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.”
5. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Mass Market Paperback, 515 pages
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003
“Although the American anti-slavery movement had existed at least as long as the nation itself, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) galvanized public opinion as nothing had before. The book sold 10,000 copies in its first week and 300,000 in its first year. Its vivid dramatization of slavery’s cruelties so aroused readers that it is said Abraham Lincoln told Stowe her work had been a catalyst for the Civil War.
Today the novel is often labeled condescending, but its characters still have the power to move our hearts. Stowe’s Tom is actually American literature’s first black hero, a man who suffers for refusing to obey his white oppressors. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a living, relevant story, passionate in its vivid depiction of the cruelest forms of injustice – and courage it takes to fight against them.”
6. Father and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
Trade Paperback, 200 pages
Publisher: Wordsworth Classic, 2003
Fathers and Sons is one of the greatest of nineteenth century Russian novels and has long been acclaimed as Turgenev’s finest work. It is a political novel set in a domestic context with a universal theme – the generational divide between fathers and sons. Set in 1859 at the moment when the Russian autocratic state began to move hesitantly towards social and political reform, the novel explores the conflict between the liberal-minded fathers of Russian reformist sympathies and their free-thinking intellectual sons whose revolutionary ideology threatens the stability of the state. At its centre is Evgeny Bazarov, a strong-willed antagonist of all forms of social orthodoxy who proclaims himself a nihilist and believes in the need to overthrow all the institutions of the state. As the novel develops, Bazarov’s political ambitions become fatally meshed with emotional and private concerns, and his end is a tragic failure. The novel caused a bitter furore on its publication in 1862, and this, a year later, drove Turgenev from Russian
7. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Paperback, 433 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2007
“In 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war, three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university lecturer. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. The third is Richard, a shy Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s enigmatic twin sister. When the shocking horror of the war engulfs them, their loyalties are severely tested as they are pulled apart and thrown together in ways that none of them imagined.”
8. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Paperback, 443 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2006
“Set in New England mainly and London partly, On Beauty concerns a pair of feuding families – the Belseys and the Kippses – and a clutch of doomed affairs. It puts low morals among high ideals and asks some searching questions about what life does to love. For the Belseys and the Kippses, the confusions – both personal and political – of our uncertain age are about to be brought close to home: right to the heart of the family.”
9. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Hardbound, 562 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
“Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of St. Paul – the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter – the environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man – she was doing her small part to build a better world.
But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz – outre rocker and Walter’s college friend and rival – still doing in the picture? Most of all, what happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?”
10. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
Paperback, 719 pages
Publisher: Black Swan, 1995
“Set among the apple orchards of rural Maine, it is a perverse world in which Homer Wells’ odyssey begins. As the oldest unadopted offspring at St. Cloud’s orphanage, he learns about the skills which, in one way or another, help young and not-so-young women, from Wilbur Larch, the orphanage’s fonder, a man of rare compassion and with an addiction to ether.
Dr. Larch loves all his orphans, especially Homer Wells. It is Homer’s story we follow, from his early apprenticeship in the orphanage surgery to his adult life running a cider-making factory and his strange relationship with the wife of his closest friend.”
11. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Paperback, 359 pages
Publisher: House of Stratus, 2000
“Jean Paget has survived World War II as a prisoner of the Japanese in Malaya. After the war she comes into an inheritance that enables her to return to Malaya to repay the villagers who helped her to survive. But her return visit changes her life again, when she discovers that an Australian soldier she thought had died has survived. She goes to Australia in search of him and of the town he described to her. Jean sets out to apply the same determination that helped her survive the war, to turning the community into ‘a town like Alice.”
12. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
Translated by Paulette Moller
Trade Paperback, 507 Pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
“One day fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen comes home from school to find in her mailbox two notes, each with a question: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?” From this irresistible beginning, Sophie becomes obsessed with questions that take her far beyond what she knows of her Norwegian village. Through successive letters, she enrolls in a kind of correspondence course, covering Socrates to Sartre, with a mysterious philosopher, while also receiving letters addressed to another girl. Who is Hilde? And why does her mail keep turning up? To unravel this riddle, Sophie must use the philosophy she is learning – but the truth turns out to be far more complicated than she could have imagined.”
13. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Trade Paperback, 306 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books, July 2017
“Cora is a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. An outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is on the cusp of womanhood – where greater pain awaits. And so when Caesar, a slave who has recently arrived from Virginia, urges her to join him on the Underground Railroad, she seizes the opportunity and escapes with him.
In Colson Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor: engineers and conductors operate a secret network of actual tracks and tunnels beneath Southern soil. Cora continues her harrowing flight state by state, encountering, like Gulliver, strange yet familiar iterations of her own world at each stop. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era, he weaves in the saga of our nation, from the brutal abduction of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is the gripping tale of one woman’s will to escape the horrors of bondage – and a powerful meditation on the history we all share.”
14. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
Trade Paperback, 211 Pages
Publisher: Granta Books, 1991
“Set in an exotic Eastern landscape peopled by magicians and fantastic talking animals, Salman Rushdie’s classic children’s novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories inhabits the same imaginative space as The Lord of the Rings, The Alchemist, and The Wizard of Oz. In this captivating work of fantasy from the author of Midnight’s Children and The Enchantress of Florence, Haroun sets out on an adventure to restore the poisoned source of the sea of stories. On the way, he encounters many foes, all intent on draining the sea of all its storytelling powers. (Source: Goodreads)”
15. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Paperback, 506 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 1999
“The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa. The novel is set against one of the most dramatic political chronicles of the twentieth century: the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium, the murder of its first elected prime minister, the CIA coup to install his replacement, and the insidious progress of a world economic order that robs the fledgling African nation of its autonomy.”
16. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Paperback, 527 pages
Publisher: Anchor Books, May 2014
“When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.
On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.”
17. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Paperback, 444 pages
Publisher: Hyperion, 2015
“Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life – which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself.
Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.”
18. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Hardbound, 213 pages
Publisher: Gallery Books, 2012
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and the rocky horror picture show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.”
19. The Hate U Give Me by Angie Thomas
Hardbound, 444 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray, 2017
“Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor black neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does – or does not – say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.”
20. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Hardbound, 364 Pages
Publisher: Scribner, 1996
“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”
So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy rarely works, and when he does, he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy – exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling – does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, an of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.
Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors – yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance and remarkable forgiveness.”
Readers, as you can observe, my list is a healthy mix of timeless classics, modern classics, and even young adult fiction with a nonfiction book in the box. This is perhaps the most diverse list that I have come up since 2017; it makes me even more excited. How about you fellow readers, what are the 20 books that you look forward to reading the most this year? I am interested to hear from you. If you do come up with your own list, don’t forget to tag me.
Again, happy reading!