Viget's Favorite Books of 2019
A collection of staff favorites from 2019.
As 2019 draws to a close, there's no shortage of end-of-year book lists but, being the book lovers that we are, that's not going to stop us from adding a round-up of our own personal favorites to the mix. These aren't necessarily books published in 2019 — just books that we read and enjoyed this year. Fiction, nonfiction, memoir, short stories... you name it, we read it and our list includes a nice mix. Without further ado, here are some of our favorite books from 2019:
AMAL EL-MOHTAR & MAX GLADSTONE
The book is basically the correspondence between two agents on opposing sides of a space-and-time-traveling war to save (or destroy?) the planet. I don’t usually go for sci-fi or time travel, but this was unlike anything I've ever read.
Don't want to give away too much, so I'll just say that it's something of a love letter to letter-writing — a tribute to the mess and magic that happens when you and another person (even someone you’re supposed to hate) start trading pieces of your souls via pieces of paper.
If you like Ray Bradbury, Vladimir Nabokov, and Antoine de Saint-Exubéry — and like the idea of the three of them writing a book together — you will probably like this.
Recommended by Elyse Kamibayashi
This book is a potent combination of magic and the small but painful challenges of a (semi) quiet life. It follows the lives, loves and mistakes of siblings after they, as children, visit an old woman who tells them each how long they have left to live. This book is for the fantasy lovers who are pragmatists at heart, or just about anyone who wants their heartstrings tugged.
Recommended by Emmi Laakso
I first learned about this book a very circuitous way. While living in Silicon Valley, a former colleague of mine from Paris contacted me to ask whether I could film an interview with the book's author, an Iranian academic living in San Francisco, for a documentary she was making. After the interview was complete, Jasmin Darznik gave me a signed copy of the book, which sat on my shelf for about a year until I finally got round to reading it. When I did, I couldn't put it down. I already knew a little of the life and work of the iconoclastic feminist poet, Forugh Farrokhzad, who had blazed a revolutionary tale through conservative Iranian society in the 1960s before dying tragically young. But this novel transported me into the beauty and suffering of her short life in an unexpectedly powerful way. I was gripped. I cried. One of the most interesting features of the novel is how it seamlessly blends fact and fiction. There are many details of Forugh's life that it is impossible to know, but through careful research, deep understanding, and creative storytelling, the author fills in those gaps in a way that feels - at least to me - completely authentic to the spirit of Forugh.
Recommended by Becky Radnaev
This is a story of a wife who one day, suddenly, will no longer eat meat after she has a vivid nightmare, and the societal, mental, and physical repercussions she faces as a result. The story begins with a quiet stillness in its tone and pacing, but it quickly devolves into something much more violent and uncomfortable, but it still reads like a fable and you can't put it down. Unlike anything else I've read this year (or in recent memory) and highly recommend. It's the first Korean-language novel to win the Man Booker International Prize (2016).
Recommended by Jessica Sheng
A sweeping tale of love and loss. As a young woman in 1953 Tehran, Roya meets a political activist, Bahman, at the neighborhood stationery shop. They fall in love and decide to get married. Bahman asks Roya to meet him in the town square so they can go to the marriage office together but a violent coup d’etat erupts in the streets and Bahman fails to show up. Sixty years later, Roya is living in America with her husband Walter. When Bahman suddenly and unexpectedly re-enters her life, she must come to terms with their past. If you enjoy heart-wrenching love stories, this book is for you. It’s especially great on audio.
Recommended by Laura Sweltz
URSULA K. LE GUIN
This is a utopian science fiction novel that dissects anarchism, capitalism, collectivism and similar societal structures through a story of two planets in orbit of one another. There are elements of travel and adventure, coming of age, and mathematics and logic theory. Fans of The Left Hand of Darkness or other Hainish Cycle stories will enjoy this book.
Recommended by Dave Scherler
A spooky, instantly-has-you-hooked read with robust character and plot development. Perfect for scary story fans, or people that want a good seasonal read for the Fall / Halloween-time. I'm a huge King fan, but this might have to top my list of favorite books by him.
Recommended by Grace Canfield
This 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction is an incredibly captivating story of a blind French girl and boy in the middle of World War II. It's an illuminating study of the lengths people will go to, amidst the worst of circumstances, to bring good into the world.
Recommended by Ryan Schaefer
This story chronicles the survival of two sisters living through the German occupation of France during WWII. The sister's stories are told in parallel, as each of them wrestles with how to resist Nazi control in their own way. One sister stays put in her countryside as German soldiers stake claim to her home; the other sister joins an underground resistance to fight for a free France. It's an incredible story about the human spirit and is truly captivating.
Recommended by Stephanie Fois
WILLIAM B. IRVINE
A practical and modern take on ancient stoic principles. I recommend this book to nearly everyone, but it's especially good for folks who don't have a life philosophy. Irvine covers everything from traditional Stoic principles like the dichotomy of control to how ancient Stoics dealt with anger, insults, death, and loss.
Recommended by Aakash Tandel
Anne LaBastille was focused on the effects of climate change decades before it was a term in the public conscious. In this autobiography, she describes her retreat to the Adirondack wilderness where she singlehandedly built a cabin from raw materials and lived off the land for more than 30 years. She became a prominent ecologist and was an advocate for self-understanding and simplicity. LaBastille's modern Thoreau model is a captivating example of an independent woman bringing good to the world.
Recommended by BethAnne Dorn
If any of these titles appeal to you, we hope you'll pick them up at your local library or at an independent bookstore. We'd also love to hear about your favorite books from 2019 in the comments. Happy reading!