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My Favorite 130 Books Read in 2019

Every year I do a breakdown of my favorite books from the past year. I did this for the 100 books I read in 2018 and before that for the 66 books I read in 2017.

2019 turned out to be an even bigger year number-wise with 130 books!

Now, keep in mind that doesn’t mean I actually read 130 full-length books. For starters, some of these were book-books, some of these were short-story books and some were comic-book-compilations (I don’t count individual comic issues, but I do count entire trades combining a bunch of issues).

Favorite Books of 2019
Favorite Books of 2019

Most of these books I listened to through some combination of Audible, Libby (checking books out from my local library) and the occasional book found elsewhere. I’m still trying to read more in books in print. I sometimes struggle to focus on something for long periods of time, but getting into a good book (with a good cup of hot coffee) helps.

Related:

My local library here in Salt Lake City (which is absolutely gorgeous by the way) prints out the “total cost saved by using the library” on your receipt when you check out. This year my “total saved” passed $1,000 after some pretty heavy audiobook usage. There are a lot of free books apps out there that allow reading or listening – whatever you prefer.

I also recently realized they have an amazing graphic novel section! I’ve been slowly making my way through some of the new and old classics – with Monstress, Maus, Akira, and Watchmen lined up soon.

If you want to see what I’m reading throughout the year, you can head over to my Goodreads list. I keep it updated throughout the year with what I’m reading.

This was my first year not working, which meant a lot more time reading in the mornings or listening to audiobooks on long hikes. I also spent a lot more time listening to books than podcasts, which shifted the numbers in that direction a little more.

This was a year of a lot of reading exploration to learn what I enjoy the most. At times, I felt a bit overwhelmed trying to make it through – often because of the time deadlines when you check out audiobooks. Libby allows you to check out a book for 2 weeks which is usually plenty. It’s only a problem when multiple long books are checked out at the same time. It’s no fun when 3, 50-hour audiobooks are all checked out in a week. Marcus Aurelius says it better than I could:

What’s the point of having countless books and libraries, whose titles could hardly be read through in a lifetime. The learner is not taught but burdened by the sheer volume, and it’s better to plant the seeds of a few authors than to be scattered about by many.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.22.

For 2020 I’m trying to slow down a bit now, but still focus on authors I enjoy the most, or series I’m excited to read the next one as soon as they come out (I’m waiting for Patrick Rothfuss).

Books by Type

Most of what I read/listen to are normal-length books. In total this turned out to be 42,803 pages, with an average length of 330 pages and a median of 300 pages. In other words, standard book lengths.

Type130
Book116
Short Story2
Comic12

The longest books were The Stand (finally! I loved the miniseries when I was a kid), Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Complete Series (manga) and the final compendium of The Walking Dead (finally the comic is over!). Comics skew these numbers up since they’re often 1,000 pages but go relatively fast.

By Format

I say “read” when I really mean “consumed”, but that sounds much more like a late-night snack than a book. I’ll listen to books while doing housework, walking my dog, driving, cooking, exercising, running – really any chance I get. I can’t listen while doing any work that requires concentration through – coding, writing, and browsing the internet are all out.

Medium130
Read25
Listened105

Between training for a marathon and going on weekly multi-hour hikes, I had a lot of time to listen this year.

By Gender of the Author

In 2017 I realized I was reading far more books by men than by women (14 vs 52). For 2018 I made an effort to seek out some new voices and expand my horizons a bit, which resulted in 27/53 (27% women authors).

For this past year, I didn’t intentionally make an effort for this but I did try to read more of what was “popular” on Libby. What’s been surprising about this is that the books I reach for have changed slightly too. I’m more open to reading something I have no background in – in fact, it’s almost preferred.

Sex130100%
Male9674%
Female3426%

By Rating

I’ve been relatively fortunate in which book I read this year. Very few were duds that felt like a waste of time. I consider 1 as just plain bad, 3 as OK but forgettable up to 5 which means I probably bugged Mrs. Minafi about how good it was. I bugged her a lot this year.

My least favorite book of the year was 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, which goes to show that even in a genre I love (self-help/personal development) I can still fail to connect with the material.

Books by Year

Most of the books I read this year were released very recently. 34 were released in 2019 and 22 were released in 2018. I’m still slowly making my way through NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of All Time, with another ~40 left to go. Some of the older books were from that list.

By Decade130
Before 19808
1980’s6
1990’s12
2000’s16
2010’s88

Another list I cherry-picked recommendations from was Goodreads Best Books of 2018. Every year Goodreads members vote on their favorites in each category. I’ve found some gems through that list – including Circe, one of my favorites from the year.

My Favorite Books Read in 2019

Ok, let’s get to it! Here’s my list of absolute favorite books from the year across all genres.

Recursion book cover

#1 – Recursion by Blake Crouch

This is a rare read – amazing science fiction, a satisfying love story, time travel, moral ambiguity and more. I loved Recursion, and it was without a doubt my favorite book I read this year.

The way the story unfolds is an investigation into memory. The world has been swept up by a new illness – FMS or False Memory Syndrome. A number of people around the world suddenly remember two sets of memories – one that really happened, and another alternate reality that has no evidence of ever existing.

I’m a sucker for a good science-fiction story, and this one was the best of the year. It’s the kind of book that after I was done I immediately wanted to re-read now again with more context. I haven’t read anything else by Blake Crouch, but now Dark Matter and The Wayward Pines Trilogy are high on my list.

Circe Book Cover

#2 – Circe by Madeline Miller

I still remember reading The Odyssey in 8th grade. It was the first Fantasy book I ever read in school, and it stuck with me. Like most people, I loved watching Brad Pitt and Legolas in the epic move that was Troy. And of course, Sean Bean will forever be the Odysseus I picture in my head.

While The Odyssey and Troy follow the human realm, Circe follows the world of the gods – the house of Helios (god of the sun), Zeus and many others. The gods mostly play games – usually with each others’ emotions by causing them pain and grief.

Circe, daughter of Helios, is born with a rare gift –  the ability to change even her rival gods into monsters. Remember Scylla and Charybdis from The Odyssey? That was her handiwork. Circe follows her story as she is banished to live on a desert island for eternity.

The tone of the audiobook version of this feels like a Grimms Fairy Tale crossed with Lord of the Rings – yet both of those were likely inspired by The Odyssey originally. Imagine an entire audiobook in the same tone as the LotR voiceover from Fellowship.

Madeline Miller herself has an interesting story. Her first book, The Song of Achilles, took 10 years to write. Circe came out 7 years later. She has a master’s in Classics and has taught Greek, Latin, and Shakespeare. It’s rare that a true expert in the field can write such a beautiful fantasy story.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Set

#3 – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Complete Series by Hayao Miyazaki

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind has been my favorite Studio Ghibli movie and Miyazaki movie since I first watched it in high school (OK, Laputa was my favorite for a short time too). Spirited Away is a close second and seeing that in theaters was Marilyn and my first-ever date. We’re also going to Jiufen this year – the town in Taiwan that Spirited Away is based on. In other words, I went into this one already knowing I was going to love it.

What I didn’t know was how different the mange would be from the movie.

Nausicaa takes place in a dystopian future where toxic forests are driving the remaining population into smaller and smaller corners of the world. In this already small world, two of the largest groups are at war, bringing innocent people and villages to the front-lines. The story follows Nausicaa, a charismatic princess from a small village swept up in the war as she plays a pivotal part in unraveling the mysteries of the forest and the secrets of the ancients.

This manga (Japanese comic) reads like a war story crossed with a mystery. The mystery surrounds the toxic forests, the frenzied insects and a seemingly unkillable ruler.

If you’ve watched the movie and enjoyed it, you’ll love the manga. It covers much more than the movie does – diving deeper into the forces at war, the children of the forest and the overall reasons for the dystopia. Even if you’ve never read any manga, I’d highly recommend this one as an entry point into the world.

Note: the version I read was in English. I know a tiny bit of Japanese, but nowhere near enough to read anything like this.

Understanding Comics Cover

#4 – Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

I’ve always been a geek. I spent high school playing video games and Magic: The Gathering (and other CTGs), watching anime and foreign movies, chatting on IRC, and programming websites. In all that time though, I never got into comic books.

This year I focused a lot on learning more about data visualization and storytelling. The hope is to help improve how I think about communicating and writing. Understanding Comics kept coming up in that in that context. I was reluctant to read it – how will it help more than a book about statistics or learning how to create better graphs?

This book is completely different. It’s not about how to read comics, but about how to write comics. While I have no intention of writing comics, it’s an insightful overview of how to create a story using a combination of images and words – something I want to get better at.

What impresses me most about this book is that it felt like a conversation between me and the author. The entire comic is written in a format where the author, who is the main character of the comic, is introducing you to various concepts and exploring why they work (or don’t). Although I don’t plan to create comics, I came out of this with a bunch of ideas that I want to try on mediums I work in.

Renegades Book cover

#5 – Renegades (Renegades, #1) by Marissa Meyer

I’ve never read anything by Meyer before, but after this introduction, I’ll be looking for more! Renegades is a young adult book through and through, but I don’t care – it’s plain just fun!

The world has gone downhill and heroes have risen to stabilize cities. They keep the renegades (evil people with powers) in check and maintain order – or at least that’s the hope.

The first book in this series follows a renegade on a journey to infiltrate the heroes in order to bring them down. Following a villain (but with a conscience) makes this story much more interesting.

The tone of this one is very similar to Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series. It stays away from being too serious while focusing on the characters throughout. I immediately listened to the second book in the series. I just realized the third book is out and I’m starting to wonder why I’m not reading it right now.

My Friend Anna Cover

#6 – My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams

This book surprised me. I’d heard the story before – a fake heiress cons her friends out of money. Hearing it play out step by step drew me in and made me wonder “Would I fall for that?”.

This is a biography of Rachel DeLoache Williams, a Vanity Fair Photo editor, as she becomes friends with Anna Delvey – a seemingly rich but scatterbrained heiress who lives out of hotels and enjoys the good life in New York City. Things take a turn when the group plans a trip to Morocco totaling over $62,000.

As I was reading this I found myself making all the same mistakes as Rachel did – trusting her friends, loaning money with the assumption of being repaid, and not wanting to make people angry. Each small choice built on an already unstable foundation until everything crumbled to the ground.

The catchy subtitle for this book is “Sex and the City meets Catch Me If You Can” which is actually rather perfect.

Spinning Silver Book Cover

#7 – Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver manages to do something very difficult: it feels like a classic fairy. It has a sense of danger you wouldn’t see in a Disney fairy tale while incorporating the fear and reality of an old-time tale.

This tale follows Miryem, a daughter of money lenders as she takes up the family business. When she boasts that she can turn silver into gold, a magical king from another realm takes her comment literally – and takes her up on the proposition. Miryem has to figure out how to literally turn an investment of silver to gold.

I read Novik’s previous book Uprooted back in 2016 and loved it. I’m sold on reading any other fairy tales she writes.

S. Book Cover

#8 – S. by J.J. Abrams

This was the most memorable reading experience of any book I’ve ever read. That’s not to say it’s the best book, but it’s an ambitious, creative, interactive story.

It’s a tough book to explain. For one, it’s not exactly a book. There are 3 parts to it:

  • “The Ship of Theseus” is the bulk of it – a book written by a fictional and elusive author Straka decades before and shrouded in mystery.
  • The margin notes by Jennifer and Eric – college students borrowing the book from the library and passing notes in the margins of the book.
  • Inserts in the book – postcards, pictures, ciphers and more research to help unravel the mystery. These are placed in specific pages and tied to the conversation in the margin notes.

The real star of this book are the margin notes. Imagine checking out a book and writing notes in the margin. Someone else checks it out and writes more notes, some replying to your notes. You check it out again and write even more. You borrow the book a bunch more times and before you long you’re using it to text messaging each other.

Reading this one feels like a look at someone’s secret text messages while they explore a relationship, make their way through some troublesome times in college and try to make defining discoveries about the author.

You can easily tell who is who based on the handwriting. Understanding when the message was written takes much more time. Eventually, you learn to value the different color margin notes based on their importance. Some notes were made after last – with knowledge of events still unfolding.

I highly recommend this one to anyone who’s a fan of JJ Abrams, Lost or interested in reading something utterly unique.

Seven years in Tibet cover

#9 – Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

This is another one where I watched the movie years ago and but still wanted to read the book. I picked up an original copy in a wonderful bookstore in Inverness, Scotland and carried it with me during our trip around the UK last year.

I hadn’t realized before this year how much I enjoy the travel biography genre. Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” (and many of his other works) and Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” are other favorites in this genre.

Seven Years is a biography of Heinrich Harrer, as he joins an expedition to climb one of the largest mountains of the Himalayas. While he’s there, World War II breaks out. As a German-speaking Austrian, he is taken captive by English forces in India and imprisoned. His story of what comes after is an amazing tale of survival, perseverance, and exploration into Nepal and Tibet – both undergoing their own political changes.

What I hadn’t known was that he left his pregnant wife to go on this trip – never to return. At first, I had trouble sympathizing with him given this background. In many ways, it felt the same as Liz Gilbert’s story in Eat, Pray Love. Both were running away to travel and find themselves in some way. Harrer, however, intended to return but a World War had other plans.

What was most interesting to me about Seven Years is utterly groundbreaking their experience was. They were the first westerners ever to live in Tibet outside of the diplomats there. The gratitude of local Tibetans made this possible. Even in a part of the world where people barely had enough to last the week they gave what they could to people in need. I hope to be as giving as those Harrer encountered on his journies.

Disney War Book Cover

#10 – DisneyWar by James B. Stewart

Here’s one thing you might not know about me: I love Disney. Not all parts of it, but at least the parks, the musicals of the Disney Renaissance of the ’90s, and how they’ve recently helped $VTSAX grow with their very-strong growth this year.

Disney War focuses on the Michael Eisner years – from 1984 to 2005. So much happens within Disney during this time: the revival of their animation department, acquiring ABC and ESPN and expansion of theme parks including Euro Disney and MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) for starters

This book is part biography, part business book, part rise, and part fall. It explores Disney’s unusual relationship with various actors, the Disney family and others that ended up on bad terms (Jeffrey Katzenberg and Harvey Weinstein).

What stood out to me most about this book was much it hurts a company for it to be led by someone who has a tendency to be very high-control. Walt Disney was of course very controlling and needed to have his hand in everything. The difference is Walt was a creative & business genius while Eisner is more of a business genius. He was at his best when he was able to collaborate with creatives rather than force his will on them.

As someone who tries to be a person with many skills, it’s a good reminder that some of the best results happen with a group of creative people working together.

Top Lists

Ok, those are my absolute top 10 from the year. There are a bunch of others I couldn’t list out here that I wanted to still callout. Here are a few other favorite lists based on other criteria.

Most Memorable

Looking back at the year, these are the books that I can easily recall most of what was said or remember the emotion while reading.

  1. S.
  2. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts
  3. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
  4. My Friend Anna
  5. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster
  6. Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue

Most Inspirational

These are the books that made me reflect on myself to grow the most – whether that was exercising more, drinking less, or reevaluating how I use my time.

  1. Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond
  2. This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol: Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life
  3. Seven Years in Tibet
  4. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
  5. The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

Most Informative

I only tackled a few information-dense books this year. Bill Bryson’s latest book, The Body, is my favorite from him since A Short History of Nearly Everything.

  1. The Body: A Guide for Occupants
  2. Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences
  3. The Manga Guide to Statistics
  4. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
  5. The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns

Favorite Science Fiction

My favorite genre! The Oracle Year is a fun one-off read. The Kingdom focuses on a future Disney-like theme park with robotic princesses that feels like West World.

  1. Recursion
  2. Renegades (Renegades, #1)
  3. The Oracle Year
  4. The Kingdom
  5. Vicious (Villains, #1)
  6. Nyxia (The Nyxia Triad, #1)

Favorite Fantasy

None of these fantasy books came out in 2019 but they were all amazing. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about The Poppy War too – it’s a gem. It has a similar feel to Sanderson’s Mistborn in a way. I have the 2nd Poppy War book lined up to read very soon.

  1. Circe
  2. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Complete Series
  3. Spinning Silver
  4. S.
  5. The Poppy War (The Poppy War, #1)
  6. The Song of Achilles

Favorite Non-Fiction

I read quite a few business biographies this year – Disney, Gawker, Twitter, and Bitcoin.

The Twitter bio was a fun look behind the scenes that I hadn’t known about. Twitter played such a huge part of my 20s too! I worked at a startup based around it (Sponsored Tweets), went to the first Twitter Developer Conference (appropriately named “Chirp”), and built software using the same tools they have for more than a decade (Ruby on Rails, Bootstrap, Bower). It was also a “Web 2.0” success story at the time I was building similar things. Getting a look inside how it was founded was a lot of fun.

  1. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
  2. My Friend Anna
  3. Seven Years in Tibet
  4. DisneyWar
  5. Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption
  6. Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue
  7. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts
  8. Digital Minimalism: On Living Better with Less Technology
  9. Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
  10. Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond

What Else?

But wait, there’s more. Here’s the full list of every single book I read or listened to this year.

How Was This Made?

Going a little meta here. The process of creating this is a bit complicated. It goes something like this:

Throughout the year I track what I read on Goodreads. That’s the main source of info for all of these including the titles, ratings, authors, and even ISBN numbers.

Once the year is over, I use a custom app I built to download all of my data from Goodreads and convert it to a CSV.

Next, I import that CSV into Google Docs to work with it there.

The next step is a bit more manual. I create some generated columns for cover images from Amazon, for a title with a link and a few more. I also use the image function in Google Sheets to be able to see if the ISBN is valid – since it’ll show a valid image from Amazon if everything is working.

Goodreads doesn’t give information on genre, gender or read/listened to, so I manually go through and add all those to the sheet.

I add another sheet to start collecting some totals for each group (gender, by genre, read vs listened to, etc).

Lastly, I export a CSV and import that into Tablepress, a WordPress Plugin for creating tables. The result is the massive table above with all 130 books in it.

What Were Your Favorites From 2019?

What about you? What were your 3 favorite books you read this past year? Or what books do you think I’d like based on this list? I’m always looking for new and interesting things to read in the new year. What about you?

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Welcome! I'm . I'm a full-stack product developer in Salt Lake City, UT. I love enlivening experiences, visualizing data, and making playful websites.

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