Every year I tell myself I’ll go back to reading — that I’ll rediscover the thrill of cruising through a book so good I’ll start at dawn and close the cover at dusk. In 2019, I actually followed through on that resolution. Granted, almost all of my reading happened during summer when I didn’t have a million other things to do, but I not only met my goal of reading at least three books a month — I surpassed it. I’m wrapping up the year with 48 read books under my belt, though I’m still hoping to get to 50 in these last weeks. Among those 48 books, more than half were not published in 2019 and had to be cut from this list. Of the ones that are current, I managed to pick my top five.
1. “The Girl He Used to Know” by Tracey Garvis Graves
A recent trend in popular culture is the equal representation of different groups of people. It’s transferred to novels as well. The characters are no longer all white, able-bodied and straight. “The Girl He Used to Know” is a prime, if not perfect, example of this trend. Annika, the protagonist, is autistic. She likes being alone. She likes to play chess. But most of all, she likes to be herself. A horrible misstep with books featuring disabled characters is that the characters only fall in love, achieve their dreams or make a good life in spite of their disabilities. Authors often forget that treating a character as inherently disabled only adds fuel to the fire. Graves doesn’t make this mistake. First, Annika doesn’t receive her diagnosis until later on in the story. Readers are just meant to accept that Annika is the way she is because, well, that’s who she is. She falls in love, she gets scared and she makes mistakes like any other college student. While the romance was indeed swoon-worthy, what I loved most about this novel is how humanizing it is. I found myself relating to Annika in many ways — I also like being at home, having a routine and getting things done on time. Like Annika says in the book, “I like the books better than most people.” This is a book I will recommend to people for the rest of my life, and that’s why it tops my list.
2. “Daisy Jones & The Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
For any die-hard fans of the music industry, or simply those wanting to get an inside look at what the life of a musician really looks like, this book is for you. Let me set the scene for you — it’s the 1970s and Daisy Jones & The Six have not only claimed the decade as theirs in the name of rock ‘n’ roll, but have decided to split up after a final concert in 1979. The most interesting part of this novel is the format — it’s written in the style of interviews with each member of the iconic band going back and forth. It allows readers to really get to know the story from all sides, something often left out in band tell-alls. The novel doesn’t hesitate to be brutally honest about the not-so-pretty side of the industry — the drugs, the addiction and the drama. I am genuinely upset that “Aurora” isn’t a real album and that this isn’t a real band. That’s when you know a book is good — when it’s powerful enough for you to want it to be real. Luckily for me, the book is being adapted into a TV show.
3. “More Than Words” by Jill Santopolo
This book was an impulse read. Santopolo’s previous book, “The Light We Lost,” was raved about for weeks. When I finally read it, I hated it. To say the least, I was skeptical that I would enjoy any of her works, but the cover of “More Than Words” was so intriguing that I decided to give it a read. It turned out to be one of the most emotionally poignant stories I have ever read. It’s about love, loss and grief, all handled from the perspective of a coming-of-age novel. The protagonist, Nina, is 30, but her struggles and lack of self-identity are a testament that you can be lost and scared no matter what your age is. What I found most remarkable about this story is Santopolo’s prose. There were so many times where I had to pause and reread a certain line a number of times to fully absorb the emotional impact.
4. “Meet Cute” by Helena Hunting
This novel was my first from Hunting, a surprise because she’s such a popular author in the romance genre. In fact, I was on hold at the library for weeks just awaiting a copy of this book. The wait didn’t let me down in the slightest. The novel revolves around the concept of a “meet cute” — “a scenario in which two individuals are brought together in some unlikely, zany, destined-to-fall-in-love-and-be-together-forever sort of way,” according to Urban Dictionary. Kailyn has been in love with Daxton for years, and while she never expected to run into the star of her favorite TV show on her college campus, she also didn’t expect him to ask her for legal aid eight years later. Daxton is dealing with a tragedy of his own, and the last thing he expects is to fall in love with his younger sister’s custody lawyer. Despite the depressing nature of the book summary, the plot itself is witty, romantic and refreshing. It’s just the right amount of romance and angst, which is why it’s on my list — and also why I read it in a single day.
5. “The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters” by Balli Kaur Jaswal
This book was one I came to love as it went on. When I initially started it, I was extremely annoyed with all the characters. In hindsight, after finishing the book, the Shergill sisters’ character development made more sense. I really liked the idea that traveling can be healing for a person, as was the case in this novel. It also broke down the traditional notions of being a woman in Indian culture, while simultaneously showing readers that these stereotypes and expectations still exist in our modern world. While the backstory and climax of the book could have been better, I still found it a very important story to read.
These books, and many of the others that didn’t make this list, have a lot of things in common. Most of them are romance novels. Almost all of them are books that I completely loved. But most significant of all — each of the books I read in 2019 reminded me how joyful it is to take the time to devour a good book. With all that I discovered in 2019, I can’t wait to see what literary gold 2020 has in store.