As I finally made it to the finish line, I figured a top 5 was in order. First, some stats:
Books by women: 32/50
Books by genderqueer authors: 1/50
Books by authors of color: 19/50
Books by queer authors/about queer topics: 18/50
Books by straight white men: 4/50
Repeat authors: 2 (Mohsin Hamid and Tana French)
I have made a concerted effort over the last few years to diversify my reading, and this year was by far my most successful. A big part of my push for 50 and my diversification was a summer reading bingo challenge by a local bookshop, Little Shop of Stories, which tried to push you out of your comfort zone by having a different genre or category per square (e.g. "read a novel that centers the LGBTQIA+ experience" or "read a novel whose protagonist is an African American woman"). I really enjoyed it (and filled 21 of the 25 squares).
- The Likeness by Tana French: A riveting crime novel that was as gripping as the first book in the series, but didn't have a huge asshole as the protagonist, so it was even better.
- Honeymoon for One by Keira Andrews: I had never read a really sultry romance novel, so I downloaded this one. Not only did it have some steamy gay sex, it also had a hard of hearing protagonist, and I learned a lot about how HOH people exist in the world.
- Down to the Last Pitch by Tom Wendell: I had no idea that Lonnie Smith bought a gun and planned to murder John Schuerholz before they both ended up with the Braves! That's bonkers! What if Lonnie Smith had murdered John Schuerholz!!
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: A really interesting look at class and how that affects relationships, and has a good story and well conceived characters.
- Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe: A book that has been showing up on best of the year lists, and for good reason. Say Nothing is a great introduction to The Troubles in Northern Ireland for those who don't know much about it.
5. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
2019 was in part a year of memoirs for me, as I read 11 books that could reasonably be described as memoirs (or memoir adjacent). Some were mostly light and fun (I Totally Meant to Do That and Thanks, Obama), some were incredibly depressing (A River in Darkness and Rabbit), two were the only two graphic novels I read this year (March and My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness), but Born a Crime was probably the best as a memoir. What I found was that what makes a good memoir was having some broader point to make yet weaving it seamlessly into the stories that make up the book. Thanks, Obama and Rabbit, for example, were just a series of stories without much introspection. I Totally Meant to Do That had a broader point, but it was basically just "New York City, boy, I don't know...".
I like Trevor Noah on the Daily Show just fine, though I've pretty much stopped watching it. His memoir, on the other hand, was fascinating. Noah was born in South Africa before the end of Apartheid to a white father and black mother, which made his existence literally the evidence of a crime. As a result of his parentage and the strict racial dynamics in South Africa, Noah was in a position to observe the social construct that is race in a way that most people aren't. It's very useful to read about how race is a social construct somewhat abstractly in a book like Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coats, but it's also very illuminating to see how that plays out in practice through Noah's eyes. Also, he is very funny, so it's an enjoyable read, too.
4. Queer Intentions by Amelia Abraham
Abraham's tour of queer communities and issues around the world does a great job of illuminating and discussing the benefits and drawbacks of queer assimilation into heteronormative society and how class and race impact the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, and how that fight differs country by country. She excels in amplifying marginalized voices and finding the nuance in the different issues she observes. This was a very important book for me as I try to find my place in the queer community and make sure that my white/rich/cis/male privilege don't blind me from fighting for those who don't have the same privileges that I do.
3. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This book took a certain book loving section of the internet by storm this year, and for good reason. It's witty and fun and provides some escapism for people who would love living in an alternate universe where a competent woman won the 2016 election. The book tells the story of Alex, the First Son, as he falls in love with Henry, the Prince of England. And the best part (and why this book made it into my top 3), is that Alex is bisexual. Alex is in his early 20s when he figures out his queerness after a surprising, but steamy, kiss with Henry. His story is so relatable, with lines like "Straight people, he thinks, probably don't spend this much time convincing themselves that they're straight." As someone who tried to convince himself he wasn't bisexual for many years, that was a revelation.
2. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
I recommend this book to everyone (especially white people). Being progressive and on the internet in 2019 means picking up a lot of ideas about race and structural racism, etc., but sometimes we miss things or don't fully understand them. Thus, most of what I read in Oluo's book wasn't necessarily new to me, but what makes the book great is how clearly she explains these concepts. In some chapters, like "What are microaggressions?" and "What is intersectionality and why do I need it", Oluo tackles the core principles of being anti-racist, while addressing more practical topics in chapters like "Why can't I say the "N" word?" and "I just got called racist, what do I do now?" This is one that I'll probably read again, and it is vital for anyone who wants to be anti-racist.
1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
I loved this book. It was so beautifully written that it was like eating a perfect scoop of ice cream. The way Hamid explores the refugee crisis while vividly crafting two characters and their love story would be enough to make this my favorite book of the year, but that he does so with such elegant prose is shocking.