"My brother is too kind. He was eminent when my eminence was only imminent." -Niles Crane
Question #92282 posted on 06/14/2019 11:30 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Favorite books of the past year?

-El-ahrairah

A:

Dear River,

Yes! I've been recently trying to read more, so I have a new selection of favorites:

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
  • I Gave Her a Name by Rachel Hunt Steenblik
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  • The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
  • The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
  • Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
  • Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
  • An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
  • Vox by Christina Dalcher
  • A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'engle

Also, I have about 800 books on my to read list, which is slightly insane.

-Tally M.

A:

Dear El-ahrairah,

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I'm not usually into historical fiction, but this one was soooo good.

-Owlet

A:

Dear El,

I'm super late to the party but I finally read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It has been on my reading list for a literal 5 years and how I wish I would have read it sooner! Highly recommended!

I also read Becoming by Michelle Obama. Many a recess were spent frantically trying to get tickets for her book tour but it seems like everyone in the country also wanted to go so all the tickets under $1,000 were sold out within minutes. Boo.

Brain candy wise, I read The Sun is Also a Star in hopes to sway my friends to go see the movie. The book was fine, but I really like how it put something that we consider a grown topic (immigration) into an easy, relatable context for young readers. Granted, I don't think it will inspire oodles of teens to protest immigration reform but honestly if it gets a single kid interested in what's happening, I'm all for it. 

Lastly, I just finished Educated by Tara Westover. I had HIGH HOPES for this book since memoirs are my favorite but I was left slightly disappointed. It was fine, but it took me awhile to get interested in the book and it was just long winded. Shocking for sure, but it just didn't carry the same weight as my all time favorite Glass Castles. Maybe my expectations were too high?

-Ms.O'Malley

A:

Dear El~

With no commentary:

  • I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • Orphan Train Girl by Christina Baker Klein
  • Sixth of the Dust by Brandon Sanderson
  • Fablehaven #1 and 2 by Brandon Mull

~ Dragon Lady

A:

Dear El,

For me this was the year of SciFi. I realized that I have been deficient in a lot of the classic SciFi books, so I read through a bunch of them. Some of my favorites:

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (Neil deGrasse Tyson)

OK, so this is just Sci, no Fi. I have to say that I think that Tyson is an arrogant gasbag and I hate the way he bags on religion as if there's no possible way to be an intelligent person if you believe God and that doing so necessarily quashes your inquisitiveness. That said (and those parts aside) this book was a really nice, concise way of either explaining well-understood phenomena or pointing out the mystery of unexplained phenomena. It's worth the read.

The Martian (Andy Weir)

I loved the movie and have always meant to read this book. I'm so glad I did. Weir really did his homework and as Watney (the character in the book who is stranded on Mars) encountered problems or attempted solutions I would often think about explanations that would end up being exactly what happened. Excellent science, frequently hilarious, and a fun, quick read.

Ball Lightning (Cixin Liu)

Written before the Three-body Problem trilogy, it is not nearly as good, but it was a fun read. Cixin (or is it Liu? I can never remember which is the family name because I've seen it as Liu Cixin and as Cixin Liu) does a great job of taking one step into the impossible and then expanding on it in a way that makes the world he created feel like it's really the way the real world works. And his characters are wonderfully written. Also, there are some great easter eggs for those who are familiar with his other works (I'll leave it at that). 

Farenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)

How have I never read this before? Well, listened to (audiobooks + commute = life). By the way, even if you've read this, Tim Robbins' rendition of it is phenomenal and I highly recommend it.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)

I'm only putting this on the list so I can talk about how little I enjoyed it. For being the backbone of SciFi and humor that it has become, I was kind of bored by it and I won't be reading any of the sequels unless someone can convince me otherwise.

I, Robot (Isaac Asimov)

I'm 30 pages in and I'm enjoying it. It's the first Asimov I've ever read (Foundation having been checked out when I went to the library, I went for this). He writes well and it's an interesting start. Still waiting for it all to gel, but I'm definitely digging his vibe.

Looking forward to seeing what the other writers suggest!

-The Man with a Mustache

A:

Dear shockingly handsome and extremely smart, 

  • The Three Body Problem
  • The Dark Forest
  • Death's End

This is the Three Body trilogy by Liu Cixin. I read them all within 2 months. That may not seem impressive, but I like to take my time with book series. I like to read a book, spend a few months to digest it while I read other books, and then get to the sequel. I did this with the Mistborn books, and still haven't read Words of Radiance after reading the first one over a year ago. But not so with Three Body-I only gave myself a couple weeks between each book to recover from not doing anything else. Needless to say, you should read them. The Dark Forest was exceptionally good, so you should read that even if you aren't too impressed by the first book. Oh, and it's best if you don't read the back/inside cover of any of the books before reading them.

Also The Five Books of Jesus by James Goldberg and Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans were great.

-El-ahrairah

A:

Dear El,

Best Non-Fiction

  • What If? by Randall Munroe
  • The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
  • The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
  • Educated by Tara Westover. This book cemented my dislike of essential oils.
  • Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I liked Trevor Noah before this book, but I really liked him after this book
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama. Regardless of your politics, you should read this book because Michelle Obama is a cool lady and this isn't even a book about politics
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Best Fiction

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Circe by Madeline Miller. If you're a fan of Greek mythology, read everything by Madeline Miller! Her prose is gorgeous, and reading her books is almost meditative. Even if you don't like Greek mythology, give her books a chance because they're good stories regardless of how much you know about the mythology.
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. See above for my rant on why Madeline Miller's books are the best.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Yeah, it makes sense why this became such a cultural phenomenon.
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Wharton became the first woman to ever receive a Pulitzer Prize for this book, so that's cool
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I don't know why I waited to long to re-read this book, because every time I do it leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.
  • The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Even though I'm generally opposed to fantasy books that are over 1000 pages and belong to a series with over 5 books, I'll make an exception for the Stormlight Archive.
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

-Alta

A:

Dear El

(I'm including audiobooks and print books in my list)

Non-fiction

  • The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodical Table of the Elements
  • The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World
  • The Sawbones Book: The Horrifying, Hilarious Road to Modern Medicine
  • The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul
  • Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America
  • Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in the Age of Distraction
  • Hamilton: The Revolution
  • The Life of Elizabeth I
  • Mrs. Sherlock Holmes
  • Vacationland

Fiction

  • The Last Days of Night
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon
  • Daniel Deranda
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes
  • Homeland: The Legend of Drizzt
  • Seveneves
  • Maisie Dobbs
  • The Crocodile on the Sandbank
  • Macbeth: A Novel
  • The Book Thief
  • Antigone
  • Name of the Wind
  • The Wise Man's Fear
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  • Frankenstein
  • Don Quixote
  • Starship Troopers
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
-Humble Master
A:

Hello Kitty,

I read some really good comic books over the past year. In no particular order:

  • Doom Patrol
  • Eternity Girl
  • Shade, The Changing Girl(/Woman)
  • the Milk Wars crossover between DC and Young Animal
  • Mister Miracle
  • The Immortal Hulk
  • Multiple Man (yeah I'm as surprised as you are that I'm recommending a book about Multiple Man)
  • Doomsday Clock
  • Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows
  • Spider-Gwen
  • Runaways
  • Silver Surfer
  • Paper Girls
  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
  • Afterlife with Archie
  • I Kill Giants

I also keep my Goodreads profile very up-to-date!

-M.O.D.A.Q.

A:

Dear Trickster,

I haven't read as much in the past year as I have previously, but I've found time for some good'uns:

  • I went on a Neil Gaiman binge that included The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Anansi Boys; both of those were first-time reads for me. Anansi Boys was a fun romp, and Ocean was suitably creepy/mysterious (plus I appreciated a lot of the craft behind it).
  • I initially wanted to read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes for Halloween, and ended up reading it in...February...but it was good! It was the first Bradbury I'd ever read, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
  • Last summer my sister gave me Stephen King's On Writing, which offered up a lot of good writing advice as well as some very fascinating insights into how King became the writer he is today. Similarly, Philip Pullman's Daemon Voices had a lot of good material on story craft, though the latter part of the book wasn't quite as engaging as the first half. Art Matters, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, is a slight book, but I find it is very inspiring/motivating all the same. (Vienna got me both Daemon Voices and Art Matters for my last birthday because she is the best.) Finally, I haven't read it yet, but my aunt was telling me recently that she's been listening to Neil Gaiman's The View From the Cheap Seats, and I've got it on the reading docket for some future day when I'm not in the middle of other books/preparing for grad school.
  • Vienna's grandpa lent me a lot of books on aviation and the Doolittle Raid...which I will get to, eventually (I'm interested, but I just can't seem to find that much time for reading recently).
  • I got Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat for Christmas last year, and I love it because 1) I just like reading about food and cooking, 2) The illustrations are great, and 3) It makes me feel like one day I'll actually be able to be creative when I'm cooking instead of just following recipes (plus, it taught us how to make Conveyor Belt Chicken, for which I will forever be grateful). Also, though I haven't read it as much, Vienna got me Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast, and I plan to use it a lot on my life-long pizza-making quest.
  • On the comics front, I've been trying to read my way through Tom King's Batman when it comes through the library. I also managed to snag a copy of Mister Miracle by Tom King & Mitch Gerards for a few weeks, and, holy cow: I knew everything that happened in that book because I'd been following news online, but that thing was incredibly layered and thoughtful. Maybe in some future day I'll check it out from the library again and do a deep analysis on it; for now, my time is needed elsewhere.

    Also, I don't know if I've mentioned it before on the Board, but Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang is excellent. It's been a bit slow in coming out, especially if you buy the trades (Volume 5 came out last December; Volume 6 will be released...this October), but it's twisty and mysterious and hits the same notes as Stranger Things, so it's worth the wait.
  • Finally, I am currently reading two books simultaneously (which I rarely do): Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards! and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (by Mark Twain, of course). I got Guards! for Christmas, and on one hand, I like it: it's the only Terry Pratchett I've read outside of Good Omens, and it made me realize how much of my favorite parts of Omens were likely written by Pratchett. On the other hand, something about that dang book makes it incredibly hard for me to pick up and read for longer periods of time; maybe it has to do with the fact that there are no chapters. Whatever the case, I'll finish it sometime in the next few months, probably. And Huckleberry Finn is great, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one; for some reason I just never felt inclined to read it until Vienna and I saw a production of Big River last summer (after which I subsequently promised her I would read it).

Also, it's been more than a year since I read it, but I quite enjoyed Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage, and I'm looking forward to the follow-up, The Secret Commonwealth, which comes out in October.

-Frère Rubik

A:

Dear El,

I have read and re-read quite a few books this year. Most of that reading was at work, because when I'm in the office (as opposed to traveling) I really don't have much else to do. The following lists are not exhaustive, both because I haven't kept very good track of everything I've read and because I don't wanna write about the ones I didn't like that much.

Re-read:

  • The Harry Potter series (J. K. Rowling). Every time I read it I realize more that I don't really like Rowling as an author that much. The story is good, but nothing is really fleshed out very well, and her attempts to add depth extracanonically have been notoriously bad.
  • The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien). I got so much more out of this reading than the last couple of times, and I didn't even feel like Tolkien's writing was that dense.
  • The Prydain Chronicles (Lloyd Alexander). A very interesting series (The Black Cauldron is the second book) loosely based on Wales and Welsh mythology.
  • The Tiffany Aching series (Terry Pratchett). These are my favorite Pratchett books. The Nac Mac Feegle are hilarious, and Tiffany is just a really good character.

Read for the first time:

  • Flour Water Salt Yeast (Ken Forkish). I started making sourdough bread by reading about it online, but this was the first physical book about it that I got. I learned a lot and really improved my technique thanks to to this book.
  • Tartine Bread (Chad Robertson). Whereas Flour Water Salt Yeast is a better resource for beginners (while still having decent depth), Tartine Bread is definitely for those who already have some knowledge of baking. 
  • Bravetart (Stella Parks). So far I've only made the "Glossy Fudge Brownies", "Chopped Chocolate Chip Cookies", and "No-stress All-butter Pastry Crust" (my new go-to way to make pie crust) from this book, but I've also made a lot of recipes by Stella on Serious Eats. I have never been disappointed by any of her recipes. I only wish I had a stand mixer so I could make even more of them.
  • Dry-curing Pork (Hector Kent). I just barely bought this book and haven't done anything with it yet, but my family has several pigs that will eventually need to be eaten, and I hope I can figure out a good way to make pancetta, guanciale, prosciutto, etc.
  • Till We Have Faces (C. S. Lewis). I need to read this again, because I don't feel like I got as much out of it as I could have. There's a lot to unpack about what it really means to love someone.
  • The Fall of Gondolin (J. R. R. Tolkien). This book is a lot more like Beren and Lúthien than like The Children of Húrin, but that's not really a bad thing. While I don't think it would have been unfeasible to synthesize a single narrative like The Children of Húrin, Christopher Tolkien provides commentary on several versions of the story as it evolved over time, which works really well. Unlike Beren and Lúthien, it's (mostly) not poetry, so that's nice.
  • The Reckoners (Brandon Sanderson). I didn't like these quite as much as the Stormlight Archive books, but they were still pretty good.
  • The first three books in the Witcher series (Andrzej Sapkowski). If I hadn't had to get these through interlibrary loan, I would be done with them already. This series mixes high fantasy, low fantasy, and medieval folklore in really interesting ways.

Fan fiction probably just belongs in the previous section, but it's a new thing for me so I'm gonna leave it separate:

  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Eliezer Yudkowsky). This was recommended by another former writer. I really liked how it explored the mechanics of magic in the Harry Potter universe, as well as how Draco got a better chance of at being a good guy, but I didn't love how some of the later plot points turned out.
  • Oh God Not Again! (Sarah1281). This was a fun little read, in which adult Harry is sent back in time to right before meeting Hagrid. He does his best to save the people he couldn't the first time around, but mostly just focuses on having as much fun and making as much money as possible.
  • By Royal Decree and The Stone Gryphon (rthstewart). These are Narnia fanfics, taking place both during the Golden Age of Narnia and the years following Prince Caspian. The parts in England eventually turn into WWII historical fiction. I haven't finished everything by this author, but it's very well written so far.

-The Entomophagist

A:

Dear Simmon,

I've been listening to a lot of Audiobooks, mostly about running and climbing, and occasionally other things. Here are the highlights:

  • Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (I may or may not be one of those crazy people running around in the 5-finger running shoes after this book. So good!) 
  • Eat and Run and North by Scott Jurek
  • The Push by Tommy Caldwell 
  • End of the Rope: Mountains, Marriage and Motherhood by Jan Redford 
  • Hunger: A Memoir by Roxanne Gay 
  • The ISIS Apocalypse by William McCants
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  • Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington 
  • Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan
  • The Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir 

Enjoy! 

Sincerely,
The Soulful Ginger 

A:

Dear El-ahrairah,

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. minnow and I just finished the audiobook of it - y'all, audiobooks are amazing. 

Educated by Tara Westover.

And...I think that's all I've read. Thanks, classes and work.

-guppy of doom

A:

Dear El-ahrairah,

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - This is the first book I thought of, and a book I liked so much I want to buy it and read it again, which doesn't happen too often. Eleanor lives a predictable, boring life. What happens when she decides to change things up? It made me laugh, it made me come close to crying, and I just fell in love with Eleanor and her quirkiness. Disclaimer: strong language and awkward references to bodies and relationships, but nothing too crass.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller - If you like a modern retelling of Greek mythology that humanizes monsters, you'll like this. Disclaimer: Lots of sexual references.
  • Vengeful by V. E. Schwab - This is a sequel to Vicious. It focuses three women with superpowers and how they use their power in different ways. It's dark, gritty, urban fantasy with interesting, funny, complex characters. Disclaimer: it's pretty violent and I think there's language too.
  • Skyward by Brandon Sanderson - I don't love his YA stuff as much as his adult stuff, but this was solid and entertaining. No disclaimers needed here.
  • Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett - Bennett is one of the newer fantasy authors, and he's got some serious talent. Fun characters, inventive magic system, historical mysteries, and page-turning action. I'm excited to see where the series goes in the next book. Disclaimer: Violence, some language, and at least one sexual reference that I can remember.

--Maven

A:

Dear friend,

As a writer, I've been lucky to read a ton of audiobooks (and regular ones, too) this year! Here are a few of my favorites since this question was last asked.

YA:

  • Check Please!
  • Howl's Moving Castle
  • Waiting for Fitz
  • The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker
  • Haikyu!
  • Last Night I Sang to the Monster
  • Heretics Anonymous
  • The Scott Pilgrim series
  • Every Last Word
  • The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
  • Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  • Honestly Ben
  • The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
  • Symptoms of Being Human
  • (Don't) Call Me Crazy
  • What If It's Us
  • Tash Hearts Tolstoy
  • And I Darken
  • Looking for Alaska
  • The Astonishing Color of After
  • The Outsiders (and I only cried like constantly)

Non-YA:

  • Lincoln in the Bardo
  • All the Light We Cannot See
  • Night
  • The Mind and the Brain
  • Lose Well 
  • Educated
  • That We May Be One
  • The Princess Bride
  • Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Heavy: An American Memoir
  • The OCD Mormon
  • The Little Book of Lykke (which kind of transformed my philosophy on what's important in life tbh)
Right now, I'm reading Anna Karenina and Hot Dog Girl and enjoying both a lot. Also, I am always looking for book recommendations so feel free to email (van.goff@theboard.byu.edu)!

-Van Goff

A:

Dear reader reader,

-Mico

A:

Dear El-ahrairah,

Favorite things I've read

After about ten years of having it on my list, I finally read Waiting for Godot. (A play, I admit, rather than a book.) I'd read Endgame at the age of 20 for a British Lit class and didn't understand it all, and I ended up writing my final paper on, to paraphrase a bit, why it was stupid. But last year I actually revisited Endgame with the advantage of a little more maturity and a little less prudishness; where before I didn't know how to grapple with the subversiveness of its form or the nihilism at its core, I'm old enough now that both of those things resonate powerfully with me. So I was excited to read Waiting for Godot—and man, it didn't disappoint. I think I even like it better than Endgame. Beckett is my new hero.

Other plays that I've read and loved in the last year (because that's what I do now) include The America Play by Suzan-Lori Parks, King Charles III by Mike Bartlett, Farinelli and the King by Claire van Kampen, The Skriker by Caryl Churchill, and Tooth of Crime by Sam Shepard. 10/10 would recommend. 

Like Tally, I also read The Power. It imagines a world in which women have a sci-fi Force-Lightning-style electric power to shock people and what the repercussions of that kind of gender inequality might be. What ends up being most compelling about it was that by genderbending the traditional physical power dynamics, it becomes a really powerful laying-bare of the way male power structures have tended to oppress women. 

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth is this really cool novel set in England during the Norman Conquest and written in a faux sort of Old English. It's a fun read.

I reread Their Eyes Were Watching God and remembered how beautiful it is. Def fo sho everyone should check it out.

I also found The Price of Salt, which (somewhat reductively) is a lesbian romance novel by Patricia Highsmith, to be really moving. Highsmith is a brilliant writer, and this novel is canonical in LGBTQ+ literature. 

Un-Favorite things I've read

An unpopular opinion: The Name of the Wind is not a good book. I've listened to about half of it now and I just can't even. Patrick Rothfuss is an okay writer on a sentence level, but people go on for ages about how his prose makes them tingle with all the feels. Nope. Nope nope nope. And there are huge issues on a global level, too. None of his characters or their relationships feel realistic, many of the scenes are just so contrived, and his fantasy world isn't original enough to be compelling in and of itself. Not to mention that at halfway through, I'm still not sure what the thrust of the story is. It's not going anywhere. I am so bored.

(I realize that the almost-visceral force of my reaction might seem a bit over-the-top. I'll admit that my revulsion stems in part from a peculiar kind of recognition: in the scenes that Rothfuss has conjured up, I see exactly the sort of fiction that my fifteen-year-old self was writing. I grew out of it, sure—but not as long ago as I'd like to believe, and I think my embarrassment over who I used to be is fueling a degree of antipathy that Name of the Wind probably doesn't deserve.)

I'm still trying to decide whether Michael Chabon's Final Solution was gimmicky. He's a great writer, but it still seemed a little gimmicky, amiright?

Ringworld. Ugh. I just don't understand why this one is so popular among the sci-fi crowd. Booorrrinnng.

Yours, &c.

Heidi Book

A:

Dear El-ahrairah, 

Ah, nothing like a book question to draw me out of Alumni Week lurking. I write a top 10 list every year (fiction and non-fiction), so as long as you'll count 2018 as the "last year," here's what I've got: 

Top 10 Fiction

Nearly none of these are perfect books, I’ve included my critiques below so you can judge for yourselves whether to try them.
  • Milkman, by Anna Burns. Several reviews have called this one ‘difficult,’ and I concur--but mostly in the same sense that staring at the sun is difficult. I had to look away from this one periodically while reading it just so I could fully absorb it. I’m being hyperbolic, but not by much; I think this is one of the best books I’ve read about what it means to live in fear, whether fear of political violence and oppression, as with the 1970s Northern Ireland setting, or fear of sexual violence and oppression, as with the 18 year old female main character. All that, and it’s funny too.
  • Eternal Life, by Dara Horn. Great concept (the main character is cursed with the inability to die) and great execution (excellent worldbuilding, with crisp prose). The overt theme is the meaning of life and how to use it and all that, but I found the focus on the meaning of family, and the themes of family life and inheritance repeating throughout the centuries, to be surprisingly touching.
  • Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran. I couldn’t read any of the news stories this summer about the Trump administration family separations without crying, and part of the reason for that--beyond basic human empathy, of course, and my own tender new-mom feelings--was this book, and the ways it which it gave a view into all sides of a very, very sad story. A bonus, for me, was that it was set in Berkeley, with a fair amount of local color.
  • Property, by Lionel Shriver. If I were to recommend one Lionel Shriver work, it would be We Need To Talk About Kevin, but this short story collection is still a great introduction to her style: precise prose, paced plots, and a certain unsentimental ruthlessness. The story “Kifili Creek” alone would make this great.
  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. I’m not a regular reader of YA, but I’m not giving it any hate, as it were, and I can admit when a YA novel is objectively great. Like Lucky Boy, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at a scene from the news, but, also like Lucky Boy, the characters stand alone.
  • Himself, by Jess Kidd. This one won’t be for everyone, but luckily if it’s not your cup of tea you’ll be able to tell from a quick description: it’s a comedic literary ghost story set in 1970s small-town Ireland. (Apparently 1970s Ireland was a theme for me this year.) If you’re into that kind of thing--and I am--you’re in for a treat. If not, well, just know that it’s exactly what it sounds like.
  • There There, by Tommy Orange. This is one I should have loved--set in Oakland, by and about Native Americans, interconnected stories with different narrators, all catnip to me--but instead I just liked it a lot. Some of the characters and their motivations fell flat for me, and in particular the characters who drove the climactic action. I think there was also a little too much striving for capital-letter Relevance, since I think the story could have stood up without that plot climax. Still: great writing, great characters, and no shame in recommending it, even with its flaws.
  • The Changeling, by Victor Lavalle. Another great-but-flawed entry on the list: the first third of this book was unambiguously among my favorite reads of the year, with powerful enough writing that at one point (no spoilers) I gasped out loud and had to switch to reading something else for a while to calm down. The second half held it back from greatness, though, I thought: there was so much promise in the premise, but where the modern scenes were imagined in full photographic detail, the hinge points of the magic and folklore plotlines are little bit Impressionism--some broad strokes of folklore references, a hero’s quest or two, and ta-da!
  • The Witch Elm, by Tana French. I’m a Tana French fangirl: the way she uses atmosphere is second to none, and I can’t keep myself from turning the pages no matter what the plot is. I think this one was weaker in terms of plot and character than her Dublin Murder Squad novels, but stronger, and smarter, in its exploration of human nature, particularly around the running theme of privilege and how that distorts one’s perceptions.
Can I end at 9? I’m going to, because I genuinely can’t decide between John Wray’s Godsend (a fictionalized, and female, John Walker Lindh story, which was beautifully written but slightly too detached for my taste) and Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith (best described as lesbian Dickens, which was oddly compelling despite being far too long and slow). Neither would make my list in a proper year, flawed as they were, but both at least caught and held my attention, even if it’s only to think about how they could have turned very good to truly great.

Top 10 Nonfiction

What a relief: I can get to 10 nonfiction books I really liked this year.
  • Bad Blood: Secrets And Lies In a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. This is on most of the lists I’ve read, and with good reason: it’s fast-paced, detailed, and utterly shocking.
  • The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe's Refugee Crisis, by Patrick Kingsley. Kingsley, a journalist for The Guardian, has traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa reporting on migration, and it shows. As with all the best journalism, the book is factually grounded but narratively driven, with a warm-hearted, sympathetic tone. Read it.
  • Who We Are And How We Got Here, by David Reich. I’m going to be honest: the prose in this book leaves much to be desired; this is science as written by a scientist, not science as written by a journalist. But the facts are fascinating enough to override all my criticisms of the writing: I had no idea we could ever know so much about ancient humans.
  • I Was Told To Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad, by Souad Mekhennet. German-Moroccan-Turkish reporter, Mekhennet writes about her 15 years covering Islamic radicalism in the Middle East and Europe, and damn, this woman is brave. Her personal story, alongside the newspaper stories she wrote, is well worth reading.
  • Educated, by Tara Westover. This is on everyone’s list--shoutout to you, Barack--so I won’t repeat all their praise. It was well-written, absorbing, and inspiring, but after the fact, I mainly want to read the memoir of her older brother who went to BYU before her: if the home environment was really as she said, where and how did he find the encouragement? Or were his childhood experiences different (perhaps by virtue of age, gender, personality)? Or is our narrator more unreliable than the average memoirist?
  • Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert M. Sapolsky. Sapolsky is a neuroscientist and primatologist, which means this is the much, much better version of all those pop-science books we’ve all read about why humans behave the way we do, full of lots of fascinating science alongside messy unknowns. Side note: my husband and I tried to order this at a small-town local bookstore and they pointed us to the self-help section. (Because what else would a book called “Behave” be?)
  • Victorians Undone, by Kathryn Hughes. This is such a good idea for a biography that I can’t believe I hadn’t read anything similar before: famous Victorians, profiled from the perspective of what their physical bodies were like. Was George Eliot’s right hand larger than her left, and why would it matter? Why did Charles Darwin grow a beard? I thought some of the author’s conclusions were a stretch but still thoroughly enjoyed the process of getting to them.
  • I’ll Be Gone In the Dark, by Michelle McNamara. I really, really wish she had lived to finish this--for her family, of course, and for her to see the Golden State Killer arrested, but also but also for the sake of this excellent book.
  • Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey Into the Syrian Jihad, by Asne Seierstad. Two Norwegian-Somali girls go to Syria to join ISIS, and their father follows them there to try to rescue them. It sounds like fiction, and it reads like a novel, but it’s real life. (Note: Seierstad’s One of Us was one of my favorite non-fiction reads of 2016; I think it was better, but I’m clearly also just a fan at this point.)
  • The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings, by David F. Lancy. Like any good anxious new parent, I applied myself, for a little while, to parenting books. (Mostly about how to get a baby to sleep. I like to sleep.) For the most part, they were either boring or annoying. (I’m not great at being told what to do.) Several of them referenced “traditional” cultures as models for how to raise a child, so I thought, well, what do “traditional” cultures really do? The answer? Whatever best fits the time and place and convenience of the parents. (Up to and including sticking your about-to-walk toddler on an anthill to encourage them to get a move on.) I think this is now my go-to parenting book to recommend, because what I took away is this: throughout history and all over the world, people have dramatically different strategies for raising their children, and they mostly turn out fine. Ergo, I’m going to do whatever I want and not feel guilty about it. (I told you I’m not great at being told what to do.)

It's too early to judge all of 2019, but if I had to choose a few favorites, I'd say Sally Rooney's Normal People; Frans de Waal's Mama's Last Hug; Jonathan Metzl's Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland; Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's Friday Black; Lydia Kiesling's The Golden State; and Ronen Bergman's Rise and Kill First. 

- Petra 

A:

Dear El-ahrairah,

I mostly watched anime and played video games all year, but I still fit in a few really great books:

  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - Years ago, I met a girl in an airport who was clutching a well-worn copy of this book. We had to wait through the night for our flights and she told me all about how she was re-reading it for the dozenth time. Fast-forward to this year, I finally decided to give it a try, and it was awesome. I really should have read it sooner.
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Another book where I was late to the party. And of course I loved it. It's VRMMORPG fiction after all. And now I feel drenched in 80's culture as a bonus. Really well done.
  • Skyward by Brandon Sanderson - I think I mostly remember this book. I had a concussion though, so I'm not sure. But I remember it being really good at least!
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky - This was actually my second read-through. I absolutely love this story. Reading it again cemented it as something I'll keep with me for the rest of my life.

-Kirito

A:

Dear,

Almost all my pleasure reading lately has been in audiobook form, and of sci-fi or fantasy nature, fyi. Content warnings on several. 

  • I read the Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor, and enjoyed it enough to buy for my classroom (I'm trying to branch out from dead white male authors, but I would have liked it even if it hadn't been by a living black woman). A woman from a traditional stay-at-home Himba village is accepted to a prestigious university on a distant planet (I think--it's been a few months). On the way there, her spaceship is attacked by hostile aliens. She has to wrestle with balancing her values and culture and biases and the biases of others, and it's great. I liked the early ones best (the first won the Hugo and the Nebula!), but the third was still good. Note: she prefers the term "Africanfuturism" rather than Afrofuturism, because "Afro-" often carries connotations of African-American, but this series is about an African, full stop. I'm looking forward to reading more by her. 
  • In the written-by-living-black-women category, I've read several books by N. K. Jemisin this year, especially the Inheritance Trilogy (fantasy) and the Broken Earth Trilogy (science fantasy. The first book in this trilogy was the first time an African-American person won the Hugo for Best Novel, and she won it for the second and third books, too; she's the only author to have won it three years in a row). They're great, but be warned, BYU-based audience! there's quite a bit of explicit sexual content, so I won't recommend it to most of my family, and I won't buy it for my classroom unless the school board approves it (and it's too recent to expect them to be okay with, the way they're okay with Shakespeare and Kite Runner and The Handmaid's Tale and other heavy-on-the-sex classics). I've already purchased her How Long 'til Black Future Month? (a collection of short stories) which I'm excited for, and I want to read her Dreamblood Duology and other stuff, too. 
  • Continuing the trend, I read Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, which is the first in a trilogy (the sequels haven't been published yet, and I can't. wait. for them to come out) about how magic, which was nearly eliminated, has one chance to make a comeback before it's destroyed forever. It's been compared to the Harry Potter series in terms of immersive story, but it's not a kids-at-boarding-school-with-wands type story. Don't remember any sexiness, but it's been several months, and I'll have to reread it before the sequel comes out. 
  • I've read Spinning Silver and Uprooted by Naomi Novik, and I liked them both, but I liked the first one more. They're fleshed-out fairy-tale-style stories (one is very-roughly Rumplestiltskin-based, and the other might be original. Uprooted definitely has some sex in it, (though not as much as Jemisin's books!), and I don't remember if Spinning Silver has any, but if you're sensitive to that, I bet you can find reviews that tell you if it's there. I just learned she has a series about dragons, and I've just put a hold on the first one at my library. (Oh! If you're listening to the audiobook of Uprooted, it might take you a while to get used to the reader--she sounds like she might be Eastern European, which fits with the book, but the inflection and pacing and pronunciation threw me for a little while because I'm not used to it. once I got further in, I stopped noticing.)
  • I enjoyed the Caraval Trilogy (Caraval is a name, not a typo for "carnival") by Stephanie Garber, which is about a high-stakes magical festival that selected guests can participate in and try to win the grand prize. There are mystery and adventure and romance (and some moderately explicit stuff? maybe?), and it was a good time. Again, I liked the beginning more than the end, but that didn't mean I didn't enjoy the end. Mostly fluff reading, but high-quality fluff reading. 
  • I've read a bunch of Cassandra Clare books: they don't feel as sophisticated as the others on my list so far (definitely fluffy), but they're still fun. They're supernatural fiction--angels and demons and vampires and warlocks and werewolves and teen romance & angst. There's a lot of description of kissing and whose hands are where: nothing actually explicit so far, but also kind of embarrassing to listen to with someone else in the room, so again, make your choices based on your preferences. 
  • Representing the only nonfiction book and only male author on my list (uh, oops? I guess I've been in a bit of a rut, recently), Vacationland by ["Judge," for fellow fans of the podcast] John Hodgman's recent memoir was a delight, especially the audiobook that he reads, himself. There's some mention of mild recreational drug use and probably some swears, but I don't think there was any sex. Each chapter is a lovely little story of its own, but they start to build and reference each other pleasantly. I'm looking forward to his next memoir, coming out soon. 

-Uffish Thought

A:

Dear El,

I've read 26 books in the last year. My favorites were Educated by Tara Westover, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, and Calypso by David Sedaris. You'll have to friend me on Goodreads if you want to read more of my thoughts on them.

- Eirene

A:

Dear El,

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, is one I'm in the middle of and enjoying right now. I also really liked Revolution for Dummies: Laughing through the Arab Spring by Bassem Youssef. I spent way too much time reading the Roman-based Percy Jackson series and didn't really like it that much. (I mean, the story was fine, it was just way too much Percy Jackson. I didn't quit because I wanted to know the basic full plot, but I do regret spending so much time on it when there was a lot of other stuff I wish I would have spent my time reading instead. I probably should have just checked out Wikipedia.) I enjoyed The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines and several books by Gretchen Rubin (probably my favorite is Better than Before. I finally read the last book in the Murderbot series, Exit Strategy, and I liked it. I will second both Bad Blood and Becoming.

-Olympus