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.

September Reading Wrap-Up 2019

September was a surprising month for me, I read a lot of books that are outside of my normal reading habits (think family dramas and YA), but overall I enjoyed what I read. I also am back into a reading groove and took on ten books this month, up from seven the previous two months. The standout reads for me this month were The Sixth Man and The Only Plane in the Sky. I certainly fell short in reading down some of my unread shelf, but I think that will be the case for the remainder of the year. You can’t do it all.

September by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 10
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 2
Unread Shelf: 0
Books Acquired: 31

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 3
By Queer Authors: 0
Nonfiction Reads: 7
Published in 2019: 6


All This Could be Yours by Jami Attenberg

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

You’ve heard this story before: the not so beloved patriarch suffers a heart attack, and his family is then thrown into turmoil as they contemplate what his life and death meant. There are family secrets, resentment, and of course opportunities for redemption.

While the story itself feels little cliched, the writing is pretty fantastic. I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened, but was moved by the way Attenberg crafted her sentences. Everything in this book is solid and made for an enjoyable reading experience, even if I couldn’t quite find an emotional attachment to the characters.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 127 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen

(Photo: amazon.com)

Billy Jensen’a book is at once about his own personal journey into solving crime and about some of the stories of the crimes he’s helped to solve. There is also a large section of this book that covers Michelle McNamara and how it came to be that Jensen helped to finish her book I’ll be Gone in the Dark. Aside from The Golden State Killer, this book is a look into some lesser known stories of murder and that is a welcome treat.

I mostly wished this book was edited better and cut down. It was repetitive and lacked direction. I enjoyed hearing about crimes I didn’t know, and found Jensen to be a likable guide through this world of true crime. I especially appreciated how he took time to focus on the victims and their families. There are a lot of questions about the morality of crowd sourcing crime solving that I wished was debated more in depth, weather that be DNA services or social media posts about potential criminals. This book had a strong base but lacked the depth that was required to really give it lasting impact.

Two Stars | Source Books | August 13, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Chase Darkness with Me on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side by Eve L. Ewing

(Photo: amazon.com)

A chronicle of the school closings on Chicago’s South Side that disproportionately effect Black and Brown communities. Eve Ewing was educated in these schools and uses her unique perspective and her skills as a journalist to provide a personal and well argued case against these racist school closings.

Ewing is able to convey a lot of history without making the book feel to dry (or long), and gives context to school closings dating back to The Great Migration. She illustrates how these closings are a direct attack on Black History. What was missing for me was the context of how school systems (charter vs. public) really operate. The book is deeply rooted in Chicago, and there is a gap between that and what the book is saying about school closings as a whole.

Three Stars | University of Chicago Press | October 5, 2018 | 240 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Henry IV Part 2 by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

This month’s selection for #ShakeTheStacks left a lot to be desired. I struggled with this play as there is very little action and I didn’t care about the characters. The eroding friendship between Falstaff and Prince Hal only works if you buy into them in Henry IV Part 1 which, I didn’t. Therefore this second part of the trilogy was mostly me trudging through in the hopes that Henry V will be better.

Two Stars | Penguin Classics | February 1, 200 | 127 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

(Photo: amazon.com)

A YA novel in verse about a young man contemplating avenging his brother’s murder. This book could have been preachy or seemed condescending but Reynolds finds a way to create an emotional story for younger readers that is grounded and truthful, which works for readers of all ages.

In addition to Reynolds finding ways to speak to his audience without talking down to them, Long Way Down confronts issues with an easiness that doesn’t feel like Reynolds is trying hard to be cool or relevant. This book is ultimately about masculinity and the ways in which Black boys and men are expected to behave when it comes to violence, grief, and family. Reynolds expertly weaves the content of this book with the form and structure he has chosen to tell this story.

Four Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | April 2, 2019 | 336 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev

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An examination of motherhood through memoir. Sophia Shalmiyev looks at her own life growing up in Russia with her father, and uses the absence of her mother as a driving force throughout her life and her narrative.

This book is fragmeted and poetic, and Shalmiyev uses women from art and culture to paint a larger narrtive. We follow along with Shalmiyev’s life and the greater commentary of what it means to be a motherless daughter, and a eventually a to become a mother herself.

I’m not sure I fully understood this book, but I could feel that its was cathartic and crafted beautifully even if my own connection to it felt distant.

Three Stars | Simon & Schuster Audio | February 12, 2019 | 5 Hours 38 Minutes | Audiobook | Purchase on IndieBound


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

(Photo: amazon.com)

Four young siblings visit a fortune teller who shares with each of them the date of their deaths, from then on we watch the Gold siblings live. We follow them across the country through time and see how their looming fates effect their relationships and choices.

I was impressed by the sheer amount of research that Chloe Benjamin clearly did to tell this story, from 1980’s San Francisco to the inner workings of the magic scene to aging research on monkeys. This book has range. I also enjoyed waiting to see if and how all the pieces played out, and while that novelty wore off about 3/4 through the book, I stayed more connected and entertained than I thought I would going in. The writing was strong and overall the book is good, if not slightly overworked. You’re left to think about the decisions we make and how much we are in control, and thats something worth contemplating.

Three Stars | G.P. Putnam’s Sons | February 5, 2019 | 368 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss The Immortalists on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE. You can also hear author, Chloe Benjamin on The Short Stacks HERE.


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

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

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.

Five Stars | Avid Reader Press | September 10, 2019 | 512 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Listen to Garrett M. Graff on The Short Stacks now, click HERE.


The Sixth Man by Andre Iguodala

(Photo: amazon.com)

I wasn’t expecting much from this athlete memoir, and thats coming from a huge Warriors fan, but this book was way more than I expected, in all the best ways. In all honesty, if you’re not a big sports fan, this book might not be for you, but if you like basketball at all (and maybe even just sports in general) I would suggest you pick up this book. I would be remiss not to mention that the reader of this audiobook is extraordinary. Perhaps one of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to.

Andre Iguodala has been part of basketball for long enough to have learned a lot. He finds ways to weave his own perspective on basketball with his experiences. He talks about paying college athletes in relationship to his time at the University of Arizona. He touches on racist owner mentalities, double consciousness, and the biases of referees and coaches. The book couples the social justice issues with his insights into playing basketball, being successful, and his myriad of teammates (many of whom are household names).While I would have loved to know more about his personal life (his wife and son), I wasn’t bothered that those parts of himself were kept private.

Five Stars | Penguin Audio | June 25, 2019 | 7 Hours 8 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

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

The idea of this book is stellar, follow three women around and find out about their sexual lives and desires. Focus on the women, recreate their world on the page, explain what makes them tick, and use them to explain something greater about women and sex. Unfortunately, this book didn’t deliver on that promise, instead it focused on women who were in relationships with men that were manipulative in the best case and resulted in sexual assault and rape in the worst.

Something that was missing from Three Women was Taddeo taking a stand and saying something about the women and the work she had done. There was no reflection in this book and no greater points were made. Instead we were presented with information without any attempt to make sense of it. A sex positive book about women’s desires and what that says about 2019 would’ve been a fantastic read, but this book was not that at all. It also should be stated that all three of the women used in this book were White, able bodied, and cisgender. There was no diversity which doesn’t help Taddeo’s attempt to extrapolate some larger point about “women”.

Two Stars | Avid Reader Press | July 9, 2019 | 320 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


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.

The Short Stacks 21: Garrett M. Graff//The Only Plane in the Sky

Today on The Short Stacks we have author and journalist, Garrett M. Graff, whose newest book is The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 is a detailed look at the events of September 11, 2001 as told by the people who lived it. Garrett tells us about the process of creating a cohesive narrative from hundreds of interviews, and what he learned about a day that has been etched in the collective American memory.
There are no spoilers in this episode.

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 independent bookstore, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Garrett: Twitter | Website | Facebook

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The Stacks received The Only Plane in the Sky 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.