The books I read in 2019 were defined by a couple of re-reads but I also utilized some tremendous recommendations from people whose literary opinions I respect. I can’t help myself when it comes to picking up some of my favorite books again but I also realized that there is nothing like reading a book that unexpectedly thrills you. Below you’ll find a couple Honorable Mentions and then I’ll dive into my top 7 books for the year, 2019. These pieces of literature came out at all different time periods ranging from the 1960’s to present but I just happened to pick them up this year. Hope you enjoy the list…
- Own the Day/ Own Your Life by Aubrey Marcus: I gotta apologize for this one. One of my best friends (shout outs to LJ!) gave me this book as a gift. It should have been on my 2018 list but alas, I failed to include it. I know what you’re thinking, if I could completely forget this book then why should it have been included in my list of “best books?” Well, I’m gonna tell you… This book entered my life so fully and completely that it became apart of my daily life. Immediately upon reading it, I started implementing its practices. In this way, it became apart of me. The words I read instantly became ingrained in my mind but they also slipped into my subconscious. It was like I absorbed the whole thing on the first read but even as I flip through it now, I realize that I picked and chose what I wanted to keep. This book is different than any other book I’ve read. It’s more of a Bible than a self-help book. You read it and you absorb whatever you are open to at that time and you live your life. Once I skimmed through it again, I found so many things that I should have implemented a year ago, but for whatever reason, I didn’t. This is a book that cannot be ranked. It’s a book that you should read throughout your daily life and a book where you should take whatever grabs you from it. When LJ gave me this book, it was a moment to remember. Aubrey Marcus might not be a man I completely agree with, but I believe him to be a man who is confident in himself and confident in what he believes. If reading his book helps me to be the best man that I believe I can be, I am all for it.
- True Grit by Charles Portis: “People do not give it creedence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen everyday.” From the very first sentence True Grit has you hooked. It was one of the most enjoyable and entertaining books I’ve read this year. It’s a simple book with a simple message but it tells a classic story that glues you to your seat throughout its entirety. One of the reasons I really loved this book was the imagery Portis invokes. It’s a story set in early America and Portis draws the picture for you so well that you might think you’re reading this out in the wild around a fire in Indian Territory. It spawned two pretty terrific movies but the images Portis paints with words himself is better than anything on the screen could portray.
- The KingKiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss: I went into detail last year about how much I love the character of Kvothe but it somehow increased this year. I re-read the two books (The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear) in this three-part fantasy series again because I felt I needed to. I was sad and low on confidence for a part of this year and Kvothe KingKiller was just the friend I needed to help get me out of that rut. As stated in 2018, this is a series I highly recommend yet I couldn’t rank it in my top 7 again with so many other great new books I read this year. So let this serve as a reiteration that if you like Fantasy and like a good, heroic story, The KingKiller Chronicle is well worth your time.
- Mythology by Edith Hamilton: Mythology is always something I’ve had an outside interest in without actually having studied it. I knew the broad strokes of the tales but with Edith Hamilton’s book, I was able to learn the specifics. Mythology is more of a text than I was expecting in that this book was extremely informative. Hamilton goes through the myths using her own logic but more importantly, she makes use of the words and opinions of the people at the time. She reiterates that these people actually believed in these myths which gives the text a unique perspective on well-known stories.
Author’s Note: Alright here we are… my top 7 of 2019…
7. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson:
1,243 pages, Published November 2017 by Tor Books
“To love the journey is to accept no such end. I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.”
- Part III of the Stormlight Archive continues the stories of Kaladin, Shallan, Dalinar and Jasnah. I’ve enjoyed this series immensely as evidenced by its inclusion at number 3 in last year’s list. This year, I have the third volume ranked at number 7 for a couple of reasons. One, the series has seemed to slow down almost to a halt. Information continues to be teased out slowly and the characters are slowly but surely growing with each novel. Unfortunately, this has made me impatient with the series as a whole. I fell in love with the characters of Kaladin and Shallan and to see them take a step back from where I thought they would be in this volume was disappointing. The formula Sanderson follows has also got a little tiresome. Important plot points are now easy to predict. All that being said, this is still one of the most fun fantasy series’ I have ever read. I enjoy it immensely and all three books have been stories that I refuse to put down. Many a night has been spent inside reading these books rather going out. I just hope the pace quickens as we reach the conclusion within the next two books in the series.
6. Dune by Frank Herbert:
412 pages, Published August 1, 1965 by Chilton Books
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
- Dune is a classic Science Fiction tale and I feel bad it took me nearly 30 years of life to finally read it. The world building Frank Herbert does in this novel is astounding. His planet of Arrakis is so well thought out. From the environment to the creatures living on it; you literally feel as if you are being immersed under those conditions. He implements politics in a way that obviously inspired A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin and he also fleshes out each character from the smallest to the most important in ways that you make you care about them. Personally, reading this novel was a revelation. When you first dive in, you’re transported to a world and setting that seems completely alien and unnatural. Everything looks and feels different than the world you know. But as you continue your journey through the novel, you realize that it’s a story about people and at its core, those people aren’t so different than the ones we see in our world everyday. By the end of the novel, Arrakis seems to become a home very similar to ours on Earth and its people similar to us in more ways than was immediately apparent when you started the book. That in itself is a huge accomplishment for a writer.
5. Basketball: A Love Story by Dan Klores, Jackie MacMullan and Rafe Bartholomew:
415 pages, Published 2018 by Crown Archetype
…”the connective tissue that binds everyone who’s ever devoted a part of his or her life to the sport of basketball – spanning generations and continents – is the love of the game”
- The reason this book works is because you can feel the love radiating from its three contributors. Jackie MacMullan, Rafe Bartholomew and Dan Klores are three people who have dedicated their lives to basketball. Whether it’s Klores’ documentary series or MacMullan and Bartholomew’s attention to detail in compiling the anecdotes shared in this book; their love for the game is always apparent. Done in an oral history style, this book details the rise of basketball from its infancy of peach baskets and short shorts to its rise with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to how we see it and consume it today. You really gotta love basketball and the people and places involved with the game to get into this book and that pleased me to no end. My favorite aspect of this book and what has stuck with me through the sands of time occurs in chapter one: “First Loves.” In it, each player or coach from Lebron James to Mike Krzyzewski shares a moment when they fell in love with the game. Reading through those anecdotes brought chills down my spine as I thought of my own moment: watching grainy VHS tapes of Larry Bird with my dad while shooting a Nerf ball on a Fisher Price hoop. All those memories are so vivid to me and to read other peoples memories who are just like mine, created a “connective tissue” throughout all hoopers. Basketball is a love that never goes away whether you’re the best in the world like Michael Jordan, a writer like MacMullan and Rafe or simply a lifelong fan like me. #ballislife.
4. Watchmen by Alan Moore, Illustrated by Dave Gibbons:
12 issues, 415 pages, Published September 1986 by DC Comics
“We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away.”
That’s right I’ve got a comic book ranked number 4. If you look at Watchmen and all you see is a children’s story with pictures, then you really have no idea what this story entails. You’re judging it by it’s cover or more likely, its medium. At its core, Watchmen is a story about people. People who are so fucked up in the head that they decide to traipse around New York City wearing masks and beating up criminals. Heroes like Silk Spectre II, Nite Owl, Rorschach and Ozymandias are flawed people searching the world for life’s meaning. But there’s are only side stories when it comes to the main event that is Dr. Manhattan. Manhattan, an actual god walking amongst humans. He’s a full fledged superhero with limitless powers; with a snap of his finger he can change water to wine or disintegrate a human being. Yet with all that power, he is still just as flawed as his counterparts. Throughout the course of the story, Manhattan loses sight of what’s real (figuratively and literally). He eventually regains it, but it’s too late. Even though a terrible atrocity happens at the end of this story and Manhattan can’t stop it, he sees humanity as better for it. That’s why this is such a powerful novel. It examines humans on earth in a way that is uncomfortable and horrifying. Ozymandias’ ultimate scheme comes to fruition because of his intense attention to detail but also because he knows history repeats itself. Throughout our history, humans have killed each other in an effort to preserve the greater good. Whether you’re a hero in a mask or a general sitting behind a desk, the goal is always the same: kill or be killed. Ozymandias seeks a utopia built on horror as an end to that type of suffering but as Manhattan so eloquently informs him “nothing end, nothing ever ends.”
3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:
163 pages, Published 1988 (spanish version) and 1993 (english version) by HarperTorch
“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
- This was my second time reading this novel. The first time caught me at a time when I felt like nothing was going right. I felt I needed to make a change in my life. One month later, I left for a 33 day road trip along the California coast. This re-read didn’t cause quite as dramatic a lifestyle change, but it did speak to me in a different way than it did the first time. My first read told me that if I wanted to make a change in my life, the choice was in my hands; all I had to do was go out and get it. This time, it taught me strength. No matter where you are in life, no matter what is happening around you or to you; you are always in control of your “Personal Legend.” The strength to succeed lives within you. When I read the last sentence of this novel a couple weeks ago I wrote three sentences down on my whiteboard that I read everyday. They are “What is your Personal Legend?”, “Are you following it?” and “Heed the omens!” Those three sentences have formed my decision-making the last few weeks of 2019 and they’ve given me strength going into the new year. The Alchemist is a powerful book and a powerful story, I can’t wait to see what it tells me the next time I read it.
2. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts:
936 pages, Published 2003 by Scribe Publications
“Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears.”
Shantaram is unlike any other book I’ve ever read. Gregory David Roberts drops you directly in the middle of India and into his world and you are at once immersed in his life. You walk his path every step of the way. Like any good story, there are ups and downs mixed in with hard learned lessons. There are loves and terrible losses but along the way, you learn that life is both beautiful and terrifying all at once. Lin’s existence in India is characterized by the duality of his nature. On one hand he’s a positive force in the community. A helpful and compassionate individual who only wants to reverse the wrongs that he’s done in his life. On the other hand, Lin can’t seem to escape his life of crime. He seeks to balance one out with the other only to find out that all of it is intertwined. His good works are directly related to his work with the mob and vice versa. Eventually, Lin starts to realize that life is full of moments and decisions. His mentor Khaderbai’s Tendency Towards Complexity theory helps Lin to see that his life can still be good, it can still have meaning despite all the bad decisions and things he’s done in his life. This book ran the gamut of emotions for me. At points during this story, I had a gigantic smile on my face. I felt as good as Lin felt. At other points, it brought me close to tears. The things Lin goes through during his story are heart wrenching. This is a book that makes you uncomfortable and seeks to challenge your sense of right and wrong. I’ll forever be grateful for this book and for the person who recommended it to me.
1. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien:
1,008 pages, Published July 1954 (Fellowship of the Ring), November 1954 (The Two Towers) and October 1955 (The Return of the King) by Allen and Unwin
And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo, adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t.
It had been about 10 years since I read this epic in its entirety. I make it a point to watch the movies every year but somehow I hadn’t got the urge to open up the actual book. My friends and I have had a debate about what is the best “story” we’ve seen or read. Some of them say Harry Potter, others say Star Wars, one even says Back to the Future, etc. For awhile, my instinct was always to go with Star Wars but as I re-read LOTR in this 29th year of my life, I realized the epic of the one ring is the best story I’ve ever read. It has everything you could want: heroism and courage, betrayal and deceit; it has wizards and fantastic creature and nobodies who become somebodies; it has love and loss, heartbreak and loyalty but most of all, it has a living and breathing soul. This series of books starts off in the quaint, sleepy location of the Shire and then the wheels of the story move it forward as if by its own accord. “Follow your feet” says Bilbo and Tolkien does exactly that with his characters. He follows Frodo from the doorstep of his quiet little home to the raging inferno of Mount Doom in the span of a couple thousand words. Frodo’s journey is the centerpiece of this story but he isn’t the hero. Aragorn becomes King and fights the most important battles but it isn’t about him either. Nor is this a story about Gandalf the grey and his fantastic deeds done in Middle Earth. No…Samwise Gamgee is the real hero of this story. The Gardner who plays the loyal bodyguard. Sam is the only one chooses to be there with us, to guide us through the story. At any point, Sam could turn around and simply go home. No one would have stopped him….but then the story would have ended, the fellowship would have failed. Frodo needed Sam more than anyone else and we as the audience needed Sam to carry us through as well. Without Sam, this story would have no humanity and none of that soul I alluded to earlier. I’m not exactly sure what it was that pulled me to read this story again this year but I’m glad that I did. It came at a time when I needed to hear that there is some good in the world and that it can truly triumph over evil. Some may say that Lord of the Rings is all black and white/good and bad; and for that, it’s too simplistic. I don’t see it that way though. I see it as complex as any other great work of literature I’ve ever read and it’s characters just as deep with emotion and feeling. Yes, some are inherently good and some are obviously bad but it’s the choices we see them make in real time that make them this way, just as it is in real life. As a wise old wizard once said: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”