The Best Things We Read in 2019

Dear Listeners,

I’ve reached out the guests from the 2019 season of The Stacks to share with us the best book they read this year. I enjoyed talking to each and everyone of our guests, and hearing from them again is a great way to end the year. Each guest shared with me their favorite read in 2019 and one book they hope to read in 2020.

Thank you all for listening to the show, and thank you again to this group of amazing humans for sharing their reading life with all of us.

Vanessa McGrady
Author of Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

Of course this is a very hard question. I loved two books A LOT: Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev because it’s such a gripping tale of survival and redemption told through a feminist lens, and Shalmiyev is such a gorgeous writer. I also really enjoyed Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion because she’s so smart and, honestly, this woman could write a grocery list and it would be a deeply fun and engaging and insightful read. (I realize I’m adding another here but …) I also finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and I can’t stop thinking about it. I mean, every day it comes up.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 45, and then joined us to discuss All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, Episode 46.

Ben Blacker
Author, Podcaster, and Comedian

I did a lot of reading for homework this year, which included exploring a lot of horror novels and stories I’d somehow missed (turns out We Have Always Lived in the Castle is pretty great!). The books that stayed with me the most of those are two short story collections: Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer and Alexandra Kleeman’s Intimations. Due isn’t afraid of genre. In fact, she leans into everything that makes both horror and short stories wonderful– deftly drawn characters, warm, spooky, dangerous nostalgia, and an immersive sense of place. Kleeman’s stories are wilder, more surreal, and are horror-adjacent. Kleeman is a master at exploring language, and those unexpected turns of phrase somehow inform her characters’ world views; as the author is confined by available linguistic constructs, so are her characters trapped in their own bodies, their own homes. Unnerving and beautiful writing.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Horror Stories by Liz Phair

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 53, and then joined us to discuss The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois, Episode 54.

Gabrielle Civil
Performance Artists and Author of Experiments in Joy

In 2019, two of my favorite books insisted on the urgency of life, love, and black feminist creativity. Tembi Locke’s memoir From Scratch swept me away in its depictions of an Italian love affair, cross-cultural family drama, untimely loss, grief, and deep family bonds. Locke’s voice is vibrant and the descriptions of food are mouth watering! More experimental and spare, Aisha Sasha John’s poetry collection I have to live.  transported me from Montreal to North Africa, from dance studios into the poet’s very heartbeat. No matter what happens, John insists on her own observations, insights, and indomitable existence.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Dub by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Gabrielle was our guest for Episode 55, and then joined us to discuss Wild Beuaty by Ntozake Shange, Episode 56.

Joseph Papa
Book Publicist

My favorite read of 2019 was Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister. Though I was a year late to it, it transformed the way I engage in many political discussions. It’s an urgent book that I genuinely think should be required reading for all adults with applications that go far beyond politics. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America by Eric Cervini

Joseph was our guest for Episode 61 , and then joined us to discuss Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler Episode 62.

Lori Gottlieb
Therapist and Author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

My favorite read of 2019 was Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout. Olive Kitteridge absolutely slayed me, so I wondered how a sequel could possibly match the original. Turns out that Olive, Again, is possibly even more compelling as we see an older Olive woven into the lives of the residents of Crosby, Maine. Strout’s sentences are gorgeous, her plot twists surprising, her humor razor-sharp, her compassion deep, and her understanding of the human condition moving and profound. Olive is a both highly original and entirely universal, by turns hard to love and entirely lovable, like most of us. If this book doesn’t break your heart in two, make you cry in public or laugh so hard that water spills out of your nose, change the way you see yourself and others, and leave you with a grand sense of hope, you might be a hologram and not a human.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: I’m eagerly awaiting suggestions for what to read in 2020! In fact, I’ll be making good use of this blog post for that very reason!

Lori was our guest for Episode 63 , and then joined us to discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams , Episode 64.

Dave Cullen
Author of Parkland: Birth of a Movement

I was blown away by The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood this year (yes, I was officially the last person to get to it). But I have some advice: when an instant classic comes out, wait 34 years, so you can start the sequel the day after you finish. I DON’T recommend that, but it sure worked out well. I hate waiting! Everything was fresh. (by the way, I also loved The Testaments, though it won’t squeeze into my all-time top ten list like The Handmaid’s Tale).

Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

Lori was our guest for Episode 65 , and then joined us to discuss Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson , Episode 66.

Rachel Overvoll
Author of Finding Feminism

My favorite read of 2019 was Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind – and Keep – Love By Amir Levine, Rachel Heller. This was my favorite read because it dove deep into attachment styles, relationship pit falls, and how to achieve a healthy partnership. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in personal development or personal growth.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Recursion by Blake Crouch

Rachel was our guest for Episode 67, and then joined us to discuss Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, Episode 68.

Dani McClain
Author of We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood

My favorite read of 2019 was Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. I read a lot with my 3-year-old daughter and this is one of our favorites. It’s about a boy named Julián who dreams of becoming a mermaid. His grandmother makes a simple, meaningful gesture to affirm his dreams, and then they go on an adventure to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The illustrations are gorgeous and I appreciate that there’s an imaginative children’s book that helps my toddler and me talk about gender.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Dub by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Dani was our guest for Episode 71 , and then joined us to discuss The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander, Episode 72.

Allison Punch
Reader and Bookstagrammer, @allisonreadsdc

My favorite book of 2019 was Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown. brown brings Black feminism, sex positivity and harm reduction to talk about how to seek pleasure in all aspects of our lives and thus radically liberate ourselves and others. It was an essential read for me at this point in my life to heal myself and transform the world.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Allison was our guest for Episode 73 , and then joined us to discuss The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, Episode 74.

Sarah Enni
Host of the First Draft Podcast and Author of Tell Me Everything

The book I enjoyed the most in 2019 was The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. A feminist fable retelling set as Christianity was sweeping through the medieval Russian countryside, the magic in this story swept me away.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Sarah was our guest for Episode 77, and then joined us to discuss Educated by Tara Westover, Episode 78.

Chris L. Terry
Author of Black Card

My favorite read of 2019 was Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, an exciting retelling of a 2500-year-old Hindu myth. The story is fast-paced with ornate, bold, and dazzling art, so it was perfect to share with my five-year-old, whose interest in the story had been piqued by a picture of Hanuman moving a mountain.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Chris was our guest for Episode 83, and then joined us to discuss We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Episode 84.

Vanessa Hua
Columnist and Author of A River of Stars

My favorite reads this year include the twisty turns of Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise and Elaine Castillo’s funny and poignant America is Not the Heart.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco by Alia Voz, The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen, and She Votes: How U.S. Women won the Suffrage & What Happened Next by Bridget Quinn

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 91, and then joined us to discuss Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, Episode 92.

Traci Thomas
Host of The Stacks

I read so many wonderful books this year, and one of the standouts was How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones. This memoir is all about Jones coming of age as a gay Black man in Texas, his relationship to his mother, and the ways he fought to survive and thrive. The book is so well written, Jones is a poet and his use of language and craft is evident in every sentence.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

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