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Best Books of 2019

Creating a best book list is a highly subjective activity. According to The New York Times, their process begins in January of the new year, includes anyone who works in their department, and then narrows down to a small group of reviewers.  "One of the great strengths of the Book Review is that we deliberately have a staff of 11 readers who do not have the same taste,” says Pamela Paul the editor of the New York Times Book Review. 
Don't worry. When it comes to my list, there's no team. It's just me and my taste. And since subjectivity is the reigning criterion, what you'll find here is more of a list of favorites rather than what literary critics consider 'best.' That said, I cannot abide crappy writing. And so I suppose there is something that remains from my two degrees in English and the nearly twenty years of teaching university students. 
For my Favorites of 2019, I’ve used two criteria: how much I liked it and why I think you should read it. Pretty simple. I did not take into consideration when the book was written, but rather that I read it in 2019. I’ve also included the exhaustive list of what I read in 2019 in another blog post, so you can see the books I was choosing from. In the same article, you’ll also see the list of what I chose to stop reading. Because let’s face it—there are some books that no matter how hard you try, you just never get hooked. And how you decide that is completely subjective too.  

Victoria’s 2019 Favorite Reads 

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles 

Why I loved it: The story’s premise is wonderful and original: a young Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to life imprisonment inside the stunning Metropol hotel after the Bolshevik Revolution. The story follows the world inside the hotel and the lives of the staff, but most importantly how Alexander creates a life and a sense of family, eventually finding purpose in his interminable confinement. I loved being a part of this world, and as Alexander ages, you will become endeared and inspired by the man he becomes. I believe the book reminds us how much our character is dependent on our values not our circumstances.
Why You Should Read It: Towles is a beautiful and witty writer and brings to life a historic past that’s been eclipsed by our notions of the Cold War. It offers readers an opportunity to be transported to a place that truly feels like there’s nowhere else in the world quite like it. I hadn’t read a book I liked as much as this one since Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See

The Dutch House, Anne Patchett 

Why I Loved It: The story centers on the bond between a brother and sister and how it develops over the decades. Unlike sibling stories whose timeline begins and ends in childhood, we see how the two develop over the course of their lives and the significant influence they have on each other. It’s funny and sweet, and the philosophy sneaks up on you. Finally, and this is key, I listened to this book on Audible and Tom Hanks’s brilliant narration cannot be overemphasized. I still miss my walks with Tom and hearing him read to me. 
Why You Should Read it: Patchett shows how much the past, especially a place, can haunt us. The characters struggle to build a life informed by their childhood amidst betrayal and loss, and it’s as though they are creating a recipe and can’t decide which ingredients to leave in and which ones to leave out. It will make you think about how much you’ve done the same with your own life, and if, there’s still time for you to reconfigure the ratio. 

Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead

Why I loved It: I almost had to rewrite my “loved” description. It’s hard to say you love something that is brutal. Perhaps here I feel instead grateful for capturing a story that so many would have liked to forget. This story follows the lives of the African American boys sent to a correctional youth facility in Florida in the early 1960s Jim Crow era. The historical contradiction that so much racism, pain, and injustice could be happening concurrent with the Civil Rights movement is part of the book’s value. Whitehead is a tremendous storyteller and brings the honesty of adolescence and the indifference of racism to life through the eyes of the beloved main character who tries so hard to be good, to do right, and to escape the jaws of injustice. 
Why You Should Read It: It’s tough to read things that are painful. But as I continued through these pages, I came to believe that Americans need more education about the dark and embarrassing truths within our history, not less. I’ll go as far to say that I believe that it’s your civic duty to know these stories, so they cannot be forgotten. After all, to forget the lives of these boys and their trauma was precisely the goal of the youth correctional facility fictionalized in the book. And to that way of thinking, I say ‘no more.'

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

Why I Loved It: This book grabs you right away. It’s funny, charming, and vulnerable. The premise is that the writer, a real life therapist, goes back to therapy after a surprising break up in mid-life. She believes she’s there only for a quick-fix but soon discovers, like her patients, that there’s more to her own feelings of loss and her seeming inability to simply bounce back. She also follows the lives of four of her patients, and by the end of the book, you really feel like you know them all. As someone who's actually been to therapy, I appreciate the way we get to hang out like a voyeur with her patients and learn about the compassion, frustration, strategy, and restraint therapists use to help us. 
Why You Should Read It: You’ll laugh. You’ll be come emotionally attached. But somewhere along the way you’ll start wondering if you too are in denial, using coping mechanisms, or practicing avoidance like some of the people in this book. And you’ll learn more about why these problems present in our lives and why they’re still time to change them. Think of it as therapy without having to decide whether you want or need to see a therapist. Personally, I think you should go. 🙂 

Mind Hacking Happiness: The Quickest Way to Happiness and Controlling Your Mind, Sean Webb

Why I loved it: This is the book that I could not stop talking about in early 2019. I almost didn’t read it because of the word ‘happiness.’ I’ve been around the block enough to know that life is not all about happiness, and besides there’s very little we can do to control the measure of pain we’re given, which for me is a huge component of how I understood happiness. That said, this book is really more about learning to re-order how you see yourself and what matters, so you’re free to be happy. And it’s like a manual. You’ll learn tricks to actually replace bad thoughts with better ones and tools to stop overthinking by creating what Webb calls a mind map. I’m definitely going to re-read this book in 2020. 
Why You Should Read It: It will blow your mind. Also, Webb’s teaching is now being used to help vets with PTSD and has applications to treat addiction. If you’re interested in mindfulness, you’ll learn more about what your mind, and your 'self' for that matter, really are. But especially you’ll learn that you can really change—and that happiness is possible even amidst pain and suffering. If you want to listen to a great interview with Webb, check out the episode when he's featured on the StoryBrand podcast.

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