365 days have finally drew to a close. In its stead is a fresh set of 366 days. With the conclusion of a year is the commencement of a new one. Whilst the future is brimming with a whole world of prospects, the past is also indicative of how the future is gong to shape up. To celebrate the year that’s been, I am looking back to 2019, its hits, and of course, its mishits.
Carrying on from the momentum I gained in 2018, I was able to complete 56 books during the year. It is a decent number considering that I started working again in late March. I could have finished more but it is still fine because I am earning again! Haha.
This book wrap up is a part of a mini-series which will feature the following:
- 2019 Top Eight Not-So Favorite Reads
- 2019 Top Ten Favorite Books
- 2019 Book Wrap Up
- 2019 19 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part I)
- 2019 19 Most Memorable Book Quotes (Part II)
- 2019 New Favorite Authors
- 2020 Books I Look Forward To List
- 2020 Top 20 Reading List
As I’ve said, 2019 was a year filled with both good reads and not-so-good reads. I guess it is inevitable that every reading journey is a mix of the two; after all, we must learn to take the bad with the good. As I have already provided a list of my 2019 reads that I didn’t favor that much, I am now enumerating the books that have made the deepest impressions on me. In no particular order, here are my ten favorites of 2019.
To be honest, I had a score of outstanding reads in 2019 that it was a challenge which ones made the biggest impact. Before giving you my 2019 Top Ten Books, here are the deserving runner ups which made it really difficult for me to choose which ones are my best reads.
- The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar
- The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
- The General of the Dead Army by Ismail Kadare
- The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
- The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
- Milkman by Anna Burns
My Top Ten
1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Starting off the list with a seminal work written by an renowned African writer. Set during the Nigerian Civil War which lasted from 1967 to 1970, Half of a Yellow Sun is a depiction of the Biafran’s struggle for independence. In a prose that is fraught with nostalgia, Adichie gave voices to the majority which was silenced by the pandemonium caused by the war. She highlighted the evils of war and corruption and how they disrupt the natural flow and tides of time, how it rips apart the bonds that keep humanity at ease. This is my first Adichie novel and I am already impressed by her profound understanding and language. I think I’ll be including another Adichie work in my 2020 reading list, or at least be reading another one this year.
2. Trieste by Dasa Drndic
From Nigeria, my 2019 reading journey transported me to another foreign land, to small city on the border of Italy and Slovenia. Despite the distance and the disparity in the authors’ backgrounds, Trieste, just like Half of a Yellow Sun, is a book that deals with the evils of war.Trieste is a very nuanced and well-thought out book. This is one of the books about World War II that I can’t help gush about because of its uncanny structure, which included historical pieces of evidence such as newspaper clippings, trial transcripts and genealogical charts. What Drndic sew was a tapestry that is extensive and breathtaking. Trieste is an extensive chronicle of what happened behind the scenes in the gas chambers, places that we equate with fear, with pain, with suffering, with grief, and ultimately, with horror.
3. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev
No reading list is complete without the seminal (and timeless) Russian literary classics. From Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, my 2019 Russian literary work of the year was Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. In a nutshell, the story is a study on the relationship between, well, fathers and sons and how their dynamics are being altered by fast-changing Russia. On a broader picture, it is a study of the various schools of thoughts that have prevailed during the period the book was written, chief among them is nihilism. Just like its fellow Russian masterpieces, Fathers and Sons is a study of character, their complexities and their compunctions. It is a scintillating literary piece that highlights the power of Russian prose and sentiments.
4. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
From Russia, my 2019 literary endeavor made me touch down in the Land of the Rising Sun – Japan. I am no stranger to Japanese literature as it is one of my favorite domestic fiction (alongside Russian fiction). Of the Japanese works I’ve read this year, it was Hiro Arikawa’s The Travelling Cat Chronicles that made the biggest and deepest impression on me. Partly melodramatic, it is the story of Nana, (a cat) and Satoru, his owner. It is a witty and heartwarming story told through the view of a cat. It is just one of those unique reading experiences that will forever remain in the reader’s heart and mind.
5. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Easily the most lyrical of the 2019 reads, Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong’s first venture into prose is a successful one. Written in the form of a letter, it is the main character’s, Little Dog, reflection on his turbulent youth and his stormy relationship with his illiterate mother. Beautifully written, it is one of those rare works that hit you with its raw honesty and sincerity. The novel also drew inspiration from the author’s personal life. Sharp, intuitive, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a pleasant surprise. Melancholic, yes, but its powerful writing easily arouses deep and tender emotions.
6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
At the very tender (and young) age of 30, writer Sylvia Plath took her own life after years of suffering from severe depression. In her only novel, The Bell Jar, she relates the story of a young woman who is struggling to cope with the different pressures of the world. It highlighted the stigma that surrounded (and is still surrounding) mental health issues, that to admit anything is equated to being neurotic. With autobiographical elements, The Bell Jar gave an insight to readers on the struggles that Plath had as a young woman. I love everything about this book. Plath’s writing was simply impeccable. Esther, the main character, was relatable and authentic. More importantly, the book gives a glimmer of hope to those who are struggling with their mental health.
7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
There are books that you know you are going to like even though you have not even read it. This is the case I had with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. It was one of those works that I kept looking forward to and thankfully, it did not fail to impress. It is a Gothic tale about an unnamed young woman who got married to a widower, “Maxim” de Winter. They moved to Manderley, de Winter’s sprawling estate. But their married life was never meant to be met by bliss. Lurking in the dark parts of the estate are the shadows of the former Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. Rebecca is a gripping tale that is filled with tenterhook and suspense, just the way I like it.
8. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
I call it now. John Irving has a knack for developing memorable characters that are not your archetype of man. Rather than creating the perfect person, he creates the imperfect one – disabled but with tons of human element. Just like Owen Meany, Homer Wells of The Cider House Rules is an impressionable character. His background story is interesting, and so is his growth in the narrative. But what makes The Cider House Rules even more memorable is how it endeavors to address discomfiting subjects such as abortion, and teenage pregnancy. Irving has a way with words that is unique and astonishing, and my experience with The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany showcases that.
9. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
Oskar Matzerath. An eccentric character, to say the least. He was blessed with a different kind of gift – he can shatter glasses with his mere shriek. More importantly, he is a towering and scintillating creation of Grass’ imagination that has walked the halls of the great literary halls. However, it is not just Oskar and his unreliable narrating that makes this tour de force work. It is the story’s backdrop that subtly elevates this masterpiece – the horrors of the Second World War. The book’s entertainment value belies a very dark tale. The Tin Drum is a fusion of Oskar’s drive to go beyond his limitations and of the horrors of the Second World War. These two major subjects elevate The Tin Drum to the pedestal of literary greatness.
10. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Closing off the list is one of the literary world’s most distinguished and most recognizable titles. Gone With the Wind was Margaret Mitchell’s only novel to be published but it was more than enough to make a lasting impact. Just like Gunter Grass through Oskar, Mitchell created one of the most memorable literary characters – Scarlett O’Hara. But the novel is more than just Scarlett’s story, it is the history of the American south. Within the bounds of this behemoth of a work is a kaleidoscope of colors that project the different subject it dealt with, such as the horrors of war, camaraderie, and feminism. It is also a great and complex character study that is an easier read than I originally thought. It is lengthy but it was a pleasurable read that was unworthy of my intimidation.
And thus ends my list of ten best reads of 2019. How about you fellow reader, what books made your favorites list in 2019? Do share it in the comment box.