We have come to this point once more, my friend. It is the end of the year and lists flow forth from various blogs and websites like a cascading mountain stream in the spring. It’s time for me to add to that torrent with my very own list of the top ten best books I read in 2019! I already have a couple music lists published elsewhere if you want to see what I’ve enjoyed listening to this past year.
Last year I noted that my reading list left me a little underwhelmed. This time around I was neither underwhelmed nor overwhelmed but, simply, whelmed. The books that crossed my path largely met expectations and there wasn’t much that really stood out in my mind. Part of this may be because I read 28 books, which I believe is a personal best for me, and only five of those were re-reads. I almost always had some book at hand to read throughout the passing months and while I consumed plenty of literature I don’t think I let much of it sink in beyond a simple reading (our second child was also born this year, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with this).
Still, my top 10 books do possess some merit and presenting something worthwhile in honoring them with my pointless list. Some criteria I used in making this list: only books that were new to me this year are included and where I may have read multiple books by the same author, I’ll only choose one title for the list. The books listed here represent what impacted me the most, either in its storytelling, message, or a sum of its parts. Also, I wrote reflection pieces on these books so I’ll link those posts in the titles so you can see my deeper thoughts on their pages. And now, let’s get this underway!
Top 10 Best Books Read in 2019
10. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem–Admittedly this book is here less for its impact on me and more for the fact that it took a decade to finish! That’s not to say it isn’t a helpful resource or well-written, but it is a behemoth to read and was often the starting point of a nap. This was a personal feat in my mind and thus worth mentioning here even if it’s on the edge of the top 10.
9. The Epic of Gilgamesh by Anonymous–One of the oldest stories in all recorded literature almost didn’t make an appearance here. What finally pulled this fragmented narrative on the list was its moving way it looked at death. The following quote alone is enough to pull at your heartstrings: “Because of my brother I am afraid of death; because of my brother I stray through the wilderness. His fate lies heavy upon me. How can I be silent, how can I rest? He is dust and I shall die also and be laid in the earth for ever.”
8. Fighting Indians of the West by Dee Brown–Brown’s fly-by overview of the decline of Native American culture maybe moved a little too fast at times, but it worked to whet my appetite to learn more and gave me much to think about regarding treatment of those old tribes. It was easy enough to read making it a likely candidate for another pass in the future.
7. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle–After the first two books in the Wrinkle in Time series failed to impress, I nevertheless gave the third book a chance. I’m glad I did. Is the plot still bonkers? Yes, it involves a time-traveling unicorn. But my biggest problem with the previous entries (scenes getting dragged out) was largely missing and I found myself actually enjoying the tale L’Engle weaves. This novel also snagged me to give the next book in the series a shot.
6. This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti–While this book probably failed to meet my expectations the most out of the others on the list, the storytelling kept me engaged and its message left its mark even after I put it down. It has some hallmarks of corny ’80s Christianity, but it’s a compelling enough read on its own merit and (largely) overcomes its deficiencies.
5. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty–I checked this book out after hearing it discussed briefly on a podcast and it proved to be one of the most interesting mysteries I’ve ever read. Lafferty perfectly blends sci-fi and sleuthing together in a way that is brilliant. She also throws in ethical questions and detailed character flashbacks to make this story feel fleshed-out and not just a simple pulp caper. It gets a little long by the end but overall is a fun read.
4. Xenocide by Orson Scott Card–I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with Card’s “Ender” books. The first entry, Ender’s Game, was my number one book in 2017. Last year, its sequel missed the top 5. Now, in 2019, the third book in the series brings it back to the upper half of the list. What got it here was an engrossing plot and engaging characters. What hinders it from ranking higher is Card’s penchant to spend the last quarter of the book setting up a sequel with the main plot resolved. This wasn’t always the most fun to read, but it did have enough bright moments to carry it here.
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck–In my Goodreads review of this book, I called it an “interesting slog.” Indeed, the novel takes work and determination to get through, but Steinbeck is such a great writer you get wrapped up in the plot in spite of your grumblings. Maybe it ranks high this year because its competition is weak; but I can honestly say that this novel has haunted me since completing it. I think about the characters, I consider the issues Steinbeck addresses, I wonder what I would do in a similar situation. There’s so much to chew on here, and I’ll probably still be chewing in 2020.
2. The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman–This is the second book of the “Mrs. Pollifax” series and while I read its first four entries, The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax is my favorite so far. The titular character contains so much charm you can’t help but love her. Meanwhile, Gilman weaves such outlandish but slightly plausible plots that you can breeze through the book with ease. You also feel satisfied by the end. This book (and its fellows) was so much fun I almost gave it the number one slot. Instead, it was edged out of the way by…
1. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara–I knew this book from its movie adaptation, Gettysburg, and thought I’d give Shaara a shot. The man didn’t disappoint. Though most of the scenes and lines are faithfully portrayed in the movie, I was still engrossed with the plot and message. Where The Grapes of Wrath gave me much to think about in a weighty tale, Shaara also had much to say regarding America, the South, and the Civil War but never got too bogged down or preachy. Any other book of its type and length would probably have taken a month to finish, but I consumed this one in under a week. The sum of its parts put all the other books I read beneath it. If I may throw in another quote again, this will speak for itself on how stirring Shaara’s work is: “This is free ground. All the way from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. No man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by what your father was. Here you can be something. Here’s a place to build a home. It isn’t the land–there’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me, we’re worth something more than dirt. I never saw dirt I’d die for, but I’m not asking you to come join us and fight for dirt. What we’re all fighting for, in the end, is each other.”
Here are some of the books that just missed making the list:
Surplus by Bryan Elliff; Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton; Dad Tired and Loving It by Jerrad Lopes; Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines; and Babies and Other Hazards of Sex by Dave Barry.
A Look Ahead
You would think that following a year in which I almost read 30 books, I’d set my sights on pushing that number farther. However, my plan for 2020 is to take it slow. One because I have a newborn now to devote more time to; but secondarily I’d like to read less new books so I can appreciate what I do consume. I’ve also wanted to re-read several books lately and now seems like a great time to pause and pursue that side course. Here are some of the books I plan on reading in the new year:
- Aenid by Virgil
- Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card
- Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard
- Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman
- The Death of Ivan Ilyich
- And others to be determined!
What books were your favorites this year?
Also, feel free to become my friend over on Goodreads!