My 10 Favorite Reads of 2019

Putting together a list of favorite reads is always so fun and so tough for me. I read over 100 books this year, so narrowing it all down is a great way to reflect on what I learned and how I’ve changed in the last 365 days.

I did keep track of everything I read. Mostly because I’m a huge nerd and love a good spreadsheet, but also because I like to stay accountable to my reading goals.

Before I dive into my top 10 books, here is a little breakdown of what I read in 2018. I read a total of 101 books, exactly ONE book over my goal.

  • 49 were by authors of color (49%)
  • 54 books were by women (54%)
  • 31 books were by women of color (31%)
  • 40 books were published in 2019 (40%)
  • 62 books were acquired by me in 2019 (62%)
  • 61 books were nonfiction (61%)

Of the 101 books I read here is how the star ratings shook out

  • 17 books received five stars (17%)
  • 23 books received four stars (23%)
  • 45 books received three stars (45%)
  • 14 books received two stars (14%)
  • 2 books received one star (2%)

I love a good stat, and I could break down my reading even more, but I won’t. Instead here are my top 10 favorite reads of 2019 (in alphabetical order), though they weren’t all published this year.


Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016)

The story of August, a twelve year old Black girl navigating a new life in Brooklyn. She moves north, with her father and brother, after her mother’s death. It’s the story of August growing up, finding new friends, and creating space her own space in the world.

This is one of the best coming of age stories I’ve ever read. The characters as vibrant and live in the space of confidence and insecurity that is so common for teenagers. She understands what it means to be lost and then found. She captures so much in this book, and does it all in less than 200 pages. That kind of brevity is rare, and a sign of true mastery.

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur (1987)

In the story of her life, Assata Shakur lets her reader in on her childhood, her relationship with the Black Liberation Movement, and her arrest and imprisonment. The prose are conversational and the content is enraging and devastating. Not only is this book a look back at the past, it is also a very clear indictment on the current state of affairs in The United States.

I loved that Shakur wasn’t presenting an objective history, but rather a deeply personal and emotionally charged retelling of her life. You can feel her passion and her rage in every sentence, and it is beautiful.


How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

The books is part memoir and part guide to identifying and combatting racist ideas in ourselves and in our culture. Kendi’s main premise is that there is no such thing as a “not racist” person, instead there are only racists thoughts and actions, and antiracist thoughts and actions, and these two things can live simultaneously in any human, even Kendi himself.

This was one of my most anticipated books for 2019, and it did not disappoint. Kendi is able to make combatting racism approachable. Most Americans can read this book and find ways to reflect on their own contributions to racism and their own role in changing the system. I also loved getting to see a more personal side of Kendi, a man I admire greatly.


How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

A stunning memoir about finding ones self at the intersection of sexuality and race. Saeed Jones shares his coming of age and his questioning of his identity and belonging and it is incredible to read. Jones’ use of prose and poetry is effortless and serves the story and creates a piece that is as enjoyable to read as it is painful.

I learned a lot about the ways we get in the way of young queer people’s, especially of color, exploration of their identities. In How We Fight for Our Lives I was able to understand the types of violence both physical and emotional, that often accompany the shame and fear about living as one’s true self. I loved this book. Saeed Jones is a force.


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

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A collection of short stories of middle school kids walking home from school. The stories are all unique and individual, but they intersect with the other stories in one way or another. It is a beautiful book about the few minutes a day kids are left unsupervised and get to experience the world on their own.

This book was the biggest surprise for me this year. Admittedly middle grade short stories isn’t a genre I’d think I’d like, and yet here we are. Something that Jason Reynolds is able to do with Look Both Ways is see the humanity in his characters. These kids have all had experiences that have shaped them, some more traumatic than others, but he finds a way to present this without making the kids into their trauma. The characters are full of life and joy and they are impossible to forget. Its also worth noting, Reynolds can write!


Lot by Bryan Washington

A collection of short stories about Black and Brown life in a neighborhood in Houston, told all in the first person with differing narrators, this book is a work of creativity and true craft. Unlike most short story collections where there is no sense of progress or growth over time, in Lot, Washington uses one family as our anchor and we get to watch as their lives unfold through alternating stories. That is supplemented with a cast of characters from the”lot” and their lives.

Washington’s perspective on life and sex and family and gentrification are subtle and smart and really beautiful. The stories are small and intimate. He centers queerness and cultural homophobia in a way that is honest and not preachy. Some standout stories for me were “Lot”, “Waugh”, and “Congress”, but I would say each story enhances the next.

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan

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A collection of essays on things that are difficult to say. This book is not what it seems. Corrigan wrote Tell Me More after the passing of her father and dear friend, Lisa. The book ends up being more a response to the loss of her loved ones, an understanding of her own grief, and way to help her (and the reader) move on when things feel devastating.

I loved this book. I got so much out of it and wept openly in sections. While the grief is ever present through out, there are also conversations about knowing your own worth, finding ways to be truly empathetic, and seeking out true love and joy that were valuable.


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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Historical fiction at its best. The Nickel Boys is inspired by a real life nightmare of a reform school, and follows two fictional characters who grapple with the horrors they experience, the friendships they create, and the prejudice they face as young Black men in Jim Crow Florida.

Colson Whitehead is a professional writer of the finest caliber. He is exacting and precise. There is not a word wasted in this book. You get to know the characters and feel for them deeply. The way this story unfolds is near perfection.


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff

A beautifully told oral history of the events of September 11, 2001 as told by the people who lived the day. The accounts range from employees who went to work in the World Trade Center to the Vice President tucked away in a bunker, to a mother who gave birth on that fateful day, to worried family members whose loved ones were aboard hijacked planes. This book encapsulates the emotions and voices of a nation in fear, and without any answers.

What this book does best is connect the reader to the anxiety of that day. It is an extremely emotional book and there were times in my reading where I could feel my heart rate quicken as I turned each page. More than any event this book is about the feelings. We all know what happened that day, but this book will live on as a document of what it felt like to live through this historic event.


Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

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A collection of essays that are at once smart, funny, and truly thought provoking. Cottom is one of the most critical and nuanced thinkers on race and gender, and she centers the experience of Black women consistently in her work. Thick is effortless in its ability to move between ideas of intersectionality, the art of “the turn” is perfected in these pages.

I loved how I felt challenged in reading this book. I didn’t always understand what Cottom was saying on the first read, and was forced to go back and grapple with the work. I applaud Cottom for not making her work small to accommodate her reader. Her writing is too important for that. Go read Thick. You will learn things, you will connect dots you never knew you could. It is powerful and empowering.


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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Ep. 90 Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson — The Stacks Book Club (Jason Reynolds)

Jason Reynolds is back this week for The Stacks Book Club discussion of Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. The novel tells the story of three generations of one family in Brooklyn, NY and the struggles and successes of life. We talk about the taboo of not loving motherhood, doubling down on disappointment, and sensitivity readers.
There are spoilers this week.

LISTEN NOW

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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

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Connect with Jason: Twitter | Instagram | Website

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Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

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The Stacks received Red at the Bone from the publisher. For more information click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Ep. 89 Staying True to Yourself with Jason Reynolds

Jason Reynolds is a New York Times best selling author and a National Book Award finalist. He writes novels and poetry for young people, and they’ll all tell you Jason just “gets it”. We sit down with Jason to discuss his new book Look Both Ways, how his love of music led to a career as an author, and what book he would assign in high school.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Books

Everything Else

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Connect with Jason: Twitter | Instagram | Website

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks received Look Both Ways from the publisher. For more information click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

October Reading Wrap-Up 2019

October was my best reading month so far in 2019. Not only did I read the most books I’ve read in a month (eleven), but I also had the most five star reads (three). I did have a few two star reads, which is never fun, but you can’t win them all. The stand outs this month were Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. Read below for mini-reviews of everything I read in October.

October by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 11
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 3
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 26

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 10
By Queer Authors: 2
Nonfiction Reads: 3
Published in 2019: 6

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of August, a twelve year old Black girl navigating a new life in Brooklyn. She moves north, with her father and brother, after her mother’s death. It’s the story of August growing up, finding new friends, and creating space her own space in the world.

This book is the best coming of age story I’ve ever read. She nails what it feels like to be Black and young and fearless and terrified and longing and female and free. Woodson understands what it means to be searching and to be found. The complexities of getting older are handled with care but without any sense of preciousness. And she does all of this in less than 200 pages. That kind of brevity is rare, and a sign of true mastery.

The love between August and her three friends speaks powerfully to beauty of Black female friendships. At times it took my breath away. There is an ease to Woodson’s writing that makes these young women come to life wholly and authentically. She doesn’t attempt to smooth over the traumas or stifle the triumphs Instead there is a reality filled with pain and heartbreak, and with so much joy.

Five Stars | Amistad | May 30, 2017| 192 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

Two pregnant women living in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles decide to escape north to San Francisco and raise their children free of constraint and expectation of their Chinese families in this novel.

First off, Hua is a really beautiful writer, she balances her sentences between art and information in a way that is enjoyable to read. The truth is, I just couldn’t connect with the story. I liked the lead characters and the plot moved, but nothing grabbed me. I didn’t feel that I had a stake in what happened to the people in this story one way or the other. I did listen to this book on audio, and its possible that the narrator was what didn’t work for me. All of this is to say, if you like novels about unconventional women who blaze their own trails, this might be a book for you.

Two Stars | Random House Audio | August 14, 2018 | 10 Hours 54 Minutes | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Black Card by Chris L. Terry

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In this lightly satirical novel we follow our narrator as tries to get back his Black card, that’s been revoked. If you’re looking for comparison, this book felt like the mixed kids version of the TV show Atlanta. It’s funny, a little surreal, and sometimes felt smarter/more clever than me.

Overall I liked it. Terry is clearly a creative thinker and grappling with what it is to be mixed, and how that relates to both Blackness and Whiteness, and why that matters. I love seeing stories told about being more than one thing when it comes to race and ethnicity, because there are so many of us mixed kids out there (not just Black and White, but all sorts of combinations).

Three Stars | Catapult | August 13, 2019 | 272 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Chris L. Terry on The Stacks HERE.


Henry V by William Shakespeare

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Henry V, a play you might not know, but you’ve probably heard a few famous lines from.
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more”
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”
The play follows Henry, the new king, as he grapples with the responsibility of going to war, and what that says about him as a leader and as a man.

While I’m pretty over stories about Kings contemplating and ultimately going to war, I did get a lot out of this play. Henry has some wonderful speeches and meditates on some pretty heady stuff. This play got me thinking a lot about the responsibility of our leaders to the people versus the well being of the nation versus their own lust for power and legacy. It asks questions of who has blood on their hands? Is it the soldiers or the king that sends them to war? It all feels topical given what is going on in the world.

As a reader I loved reading the monologues from King Henry, but other parts fell flat, like the comedic bar scenes. There’s also a pretty spectacular courting scene in the play’s final act that shows how lacking in humanity our king is when he’s faced with courting (or conquering) a woman.

Three Stars | Pelican Shakespeare | September 1, 1999 | 121 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of short stories of middle school kids walking home from school. The stories are all unique and individual, but they intersect with the other stories in one way or another. It is a beautiful book about the few minutes a day kids are left unsupervised and get to experience the world on their own.

Something that Jason Reynolds is able to do with Look Both Ways is see the humanity in his characters. These kids have all had experiences that have shaped them, some more traumatic than others, but he finds a way to present this without making the kids their trauma. The characters are full of life and joy and they are impossible to forget. Its also worth noting, Reynolds can write! His prose are rich without being over worked. He doesn’t preach to his audience, he sees his reader and shares with them. As someone who doesn’t read YA or middle grade books, Look Both Ways was a welcome surprise that brought me to life as a reader and reminded me of goodness. It is a favorite read of 2019 for sure!

Five Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | October 8, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

(Photo: amazon.com)

Shea Serrano is hilarious and so smart. In his book Movies (and Other Things) he asks questions about movies and then answers them. It sounds like a pretty straight forward concept, but the genius in Shea Serrano is that he finds new and exciting ways to look at movies and the world. He opens up the conversation around movies so that you feel like you’re debating with your friend, and challenging yourself to see movies differently.

This book is laugh out loud funny. Not just the ideas behind it, but there are sentences that are so accurate you can’t help but laugh. Its not all funny (mostly it is) there is a little more going on in this one, for instance, the chapter on Selena talks about what it means to be Mexican American and the struggles of being two things at once. Of course, Serrano infuses his signature voice and his humor, but its more than that, trust me.

The only complaint I have about this book is that if you don’t know the movies or the genre, it can be a little harder to engage with certain chapters. Gangster movies aren’t my thing, so I felt a little lost when looking at the quintessential gangster movie scenes. Overall, if you like movies, you’ll get a kick out of this book.

Four Stars | Twelve Books | October 8, 2019 | 256 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of the Han family and their Chinese restaurant, The Beijing Duck House. When there is a fire that sets the restaurant a blaze the world of the Han family and their employees is shaken up and we’re left to sort the pieces.

This one wasn’t for me. It was too long and felt repetitive. I wasn’t excited by the characters or the plot, but rather felt like I was just going through the motions to get to the end of the book. There were some cute moments, and one scene at the end that was wonderful, but overall this wasn’t something that I enjoyed reading. I do think, however, this books would make a fantastic movie, in fact the whole time I was reading it I was wishing the movie already existed. The nuances of family drama might translate better to the screen, and certainly the food would be more appetizing that way.

Two Stars | Picador | June 19, 2018 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of one Black family through time and place. We start in 2001 at 16 year old Melody’s coming of age ceremony and then unwrap the layers that make her family fragmented, strong, unique, and whole.

Woodson understands and articulates what it means to be Black and female in America, and this book puts her ability on display. She captures the delicious subtleties of life. In Red at the Bone we see class and race and gender norms and sexuality and so much humanity, and we get to see it all through the beautiful prose of Woodson. Woodson who is a master of brevity that lands a punch. I’m not sure this specific story will stick with me in five years, but I know that the feeling of reading Jacqueline Woodson will never fade.

Four Stars | Riverhead Books | September 17, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

(Photo: amazon.com)

We don’t normally read and review cookbooks around here, but we also are willing to try anything once, and I’m so glad we did. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a cookbook about the elements that make up everything we eat. Nosrat breaks it all down in the first 200 pages of the book, explaining each element and how to use it, and then give us 200+ pages of basic recipes to practice our skills.

This book is simply fantastic! I like to cook, but often feel I don’t know how to without detailed instructions. I find myself glued to my recipes and in a mild state of anxiety when trying something new. This book gives anyone the tools to make choices about how to cook and how to improvise. Its empowering. I would be remiss not to mentions the gorgeous illustrations from Wendy McNaughton. I can honestly say this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 480 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

(Photo: amazon.com)

A look at why humans are so bad at understanding and engaging with “strangers”. This book is deeply flawed and highly problematic. I found the arguments made to be harmful and irresponsible. In the past I’ve considered myself a Gladwell fan (I’ve read all his books and listened to his podcast) but this book feels like he’s reached his own tipping point, it is Gladwell for Gladwell’s sake.

One glaring is that there is no clear definition of the word “stranger”. We’re led through stories of people meeting for the first time and then of colleagues who’ve worked together for decades, and both are treated the same, we’re told they’re strangers. That can’t be.

Gladwell is a gifted storyteller (which is made all the more clear through his fantastic narration of the audiobook) and is known for making compelling arguments. Our understanding of who he is helps as he shifts from interesting scientific studies to unsubstantiated claims without batting an eye. He is riding on intellectual credit, but the arguments are weak at best when we look at them more deeply.

The most offensive piece of this book is his unwillingness to take power, sexism, and racism into account when discussing people and events like Larry Nassar, The Stanford Rape Case, and Sandra Bland. Instead of discussing racism and race he opts to discuss “misunderstanding”. Instead of discussing the power dynamics of sexual assault he expounds the harms of binge drinking, but nothing of misogyny. It’s a big mess, and he should’ve done better.

The book feels like an attempt to be both relevant and placate people who are tired of “identity politics”. He moves from one hot button issue to the next without any subtlety or nuance. He is name dropping iconic incidents to insure buzz for the book, instead of crafting compelling arguments that stand up to scrutiny. This book was enraging and irresponsible.

Two Stars | Hachette Audio | September 10, 2019 | 8 Hours 42 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

(Photo: amazon.com)

This satirical novel takes place in the near-future American South where Black people are caged in ghettos, and there are experimental treatments that will “demelanize” the black out of people (if you can afford it). It is in this world, where we find our narrator, a Black man, his White wife, and his mixed son.

More than anything else, while reading this book I kept thinking to myself, “Maurice Carlos Ruffin” is a smart person. His writing left me feeling taken care of, and I trusted that he had put thought into this world. That’s not to say that I always felt connected, or that I liked everything in this book, or that I didn’t think it could be cut down by at least 70 pages. I felt those things, and that I was reading the words of a smart and thoughtful author. My biggest issue with the book is that I wanted more world building. I wanted to know how America got to where it was when the reader shows up. I felt there were details missing that I wanted to know. Overall the book is thought provoking and examines race in a way that we so rarely see in literature these days.

Three Stars | One World | January 29, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss We Cast a Shadow on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE. You can also hear author, Maurice Carlos Ruffin on The Short Stacks HERE.


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.