Reads of 2019: My Favorites So Far

Reads of 2019: My Favorites So Far

Wait, is it already June? Where did the first half of 2019 go? Maybe to the same place as my son’s toothless grin and sleepy, snuggly demeanor. He’s now got four budding chompers and is on a mission to grab, taste, hit, and throw every thing his chubby legs can crawl toward. (And they crawl fast!)

So while I have a minute, I thought I’d tell you about my favorite books I’ve read so far in 2019, and by read I mean listened to. (Audio books are amazing! More on that below.)

None of these are new books, but they’re ones I finally got to enjoy. And most come recommended by friends and family, which highlights just how well friends and books go together.

Ok, here are my favorites.

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

Author: Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb
Published: 2013
Genre: Memoir
Recommended by: My mom

I vaguely knew about Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace laureate. But finally listening to her inspirational story this year was enlightening. First, I loved the intimate glimpse into another culture that her book offers. It was also eye-opening to hear about global impacts of the 9/11 attacks from the perspective of someone close to my own age, but who witnessed these events from the opposite side of the world. Native to Pakistan, Malala witnessed firsthand the rise of the Taliban and the transformation of her home from a place of peace to one of terror. 

Despite this, she never lost sight of her passion for education, and her belief that girls have a right to obtain it. Encouraged by her father, Malala fearlessly advocated girls education, even when it meant publicly denouncing the Taliban — as a child. She was shot in the head for it. How many adults are willing to make that kind of sacrifice for their beliefs?

Go Set a Watchman

Author: Harper Lee
Published: 2015 (but written in the late 1950s)
Genre: Novel

Narrated by Reese Witherspoon, this audiobook is an excellent, entertaining listen. But it’s also emotionally difficult. Not just because it exposes new sides of characters we came to love in To Kill a Mockingbird, but because we experience with the fictional Jean Louise “Scout” Finch something very real — disenchantment.

At some point, if we keep our eyes open and our minds honest, we realize that our heroes aren’t perfect. Sometimes we discover uncomfortable flaws, and other times glaring hypocrisies or hidden darkness. This is to be expected, because people are human. But it never makes it less painful, whether that hero is a celebrity or a loved one. Go Set a Watchman inspires questions of what one is to do in the face of this reality.

Initially advertised as the sequel to Mockingbird, it was actually Lee’s first draft of the classic. The story and characters obviously underwent major and minor changes. Perhaps those who can’t bring themselves to accept the new character revelations in Watchman will take solace in the fact that these characters evolved from that point in Lee’s writing process, to the ones we know and love in Mockingbird. But whether you choose to approach Watchman as an imperfect first draft or the follow-up to Mockingbird, it’ll make you think, and feel.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Author: J.D. Vance
Published: 2016
Genre: Memoir
Recommended by: My friend

Recommended by a friend, Hillbilly Elegy is another thought-provoking memoir, but the setting is a culture with which I’m slightly more familiar: the white working class, or “hillbillies.” Vance tells the compelling story of his family’s move from the backwoods of Kentucky to middle class Ohio, complete with cycles of addiction, abuse, and poverty and what it took to (somewhat) escape. While I can’t completely identify culturally and geographically, there is enough in my own family’s and community’s backgrounds to make parts of Vance’s story familiar.

What Vance doesn’t do is offer any grand policy proposal or perfect solution for the problems presented in his family’s story. What he does do is give us a glimpse into the lives of millions of struggling Americans, and help us understand what drives them, from their everyday choices to their political leanings.

It also highlights the incredible power of mentorship; how just one or two people can make monumental differences in the trajectory of a child’s life. Vance talks about his Christian faith throughout the book. As I listened I was reminded of the significant role faith in Jesus has played in my own family’s story. If not for the faith of my parents, including the early-adulthood conversion of my mom, my childhood might have looked a lot more like Vance’s. There’s been a buzz about this book for a while, and I’m glad I finally know what the buzz is about.

Honorable Mentions

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare
Author: G.K. Chesterton
Published: 1908
Genre: Novel
Recommended by: A Facebook friend. A couple years ago I asked my social media friends to recommend their favorite novels, and finally got around to this one! Listening to Ron Keith’s narration of this imaginative story was a delight.

A Tale of Two Cities
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: 1859
Genre: Novel
Recommended by: My husband — when he was still my boyfriend! He said it was his favorite book, and so I figured I had to read it. (Also, not sure how I made it through high school and college without having read this classic, but there I was.) I just finished listening to the audio rendition this week, and I know I’m only 160 years late to the party, but WOW. For an insightful commentary on the themes of justice and excess in A Tale of Two Cities, read Karen Swallow Prior’s chapter on it in her book On Reading Well, published last year and currently free on Kindle!

Libraries and Free Audiobooks!

My post is running long (I guess that’s what happens when I wait six months to update my blog!), but I want to mention one thing about audio books. I’ve written before about how much I love Audible, but when you’re trying to save money, cutting that $14.95 a month subscription fee can go a long way. (Thankfully, you can still keep and use the Audible app, including the books you’ve already purchased with your points, if you cancel your subscription.)

So in lieu of Audible, I’ve started using the Libby app (thanks, once again, to a friend’s recommendation), which allows you to borrow audio books (and e-books) from your preferred library system(s), and download them straight to your smart phone. All you need is a library card at a participating library!

What are some good books you’ve read this year?

Feature photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

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