My 11 Favorite Books of 2019 (12 Days of Favorites, Day 2)

by Dec 22, 2019

Day 2 of my Favorites of 2019, and I want to share with you my 11 favorite books that I read in 2019.

This list is in no particular order, since I don’t wish to say one book is better than another. These are all books I felt were good enough to make this list, and that’s more than good enough.

If you want to see the entire list of books I’ve read in the last year — 49 of them, as I write this — you can see my complete reading list. I always set myself a goal of reading two books a month, and I always feel like I’m horribly backlogged with books to read and not getting to enough of them — and yet here I am at double my goal for the year again. This is especially true given some of the books on this list took over 40 hours to listen to, and yes, I’m a 1.0x person.

Many of these books were actually listened to via rather than read on paper, in part because my aging eyes just aren’t always up to a lot of reading in the late evening when I settle in a comfy chair away from the computer to start winding down before going to bed. I’ve also found I pay better attention to audio books these days, in part because it forces me to slow down and not start skimming or get in a hurry, so my comprehension and enjoyment of them goes up compared to many paper books — a reason I’m a 1.0x person. It’s not a race to the finish, honest.

JRR Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit

I’m going to count this as two books, not four, because it’s my list. But when I drove up to Olympic National Park for the Art Wolfe Photo Workshop, I decided the drive would be a good time to start a re-read of these books, which I dive into every few years. This time, I did it via audio as I drove, and to be honest, it was a fun thing to listen to driving through the forests of Oregon and Washington during the trip. With the long drive north and then back home, I made it into Two Towers before the end of the trip, and I finished the rest of the series over the next few weeks.

I’m not sure I need to explain why you should read these books; you have made up your mind about that by now, I’ll wager. But I do want to note how different the experience was doing it for the first time in audio. I went with unabridged versions narrated by Rob Inglis, and he was amazing, and it brought an entirely different feel to the books for me, and allowed me to consume them with a lot of fresh insight. If you’ve never considered doing that — I think you should.

Beranbaum, Rose Levy: The Bread Bible

I’ve been grazing my way through a number of cookbooks this last year and this was by far my favorite. One of my 2020 goals is to get back into breadmaking, and to try to always have a loaf of homemade bread handy in the house. I doubt I’ll actually make bread that often, but I’m going to try. And this is one of the books I’m going to use to guide me as I get started back into this craft. Really good detail into the why’s of the baking process and the many variations of the dough ingredients and why those changes matter.

Moren, Dan: The Bayern Agenda: The Galactic Cold War, Book I

My favorite new fiction book of the year, and Dan Moren’s second novel, both set in his Galactic Cold War universe. This is empire-building space war espionage of the best kind. Dan is a self-admitted fan of Lois McMaster Bujold and her Vorkosigan books,and if you like her writing, you’ll definitely enjoy Dan’s books. Very highly recommended.

Read, Marie: Mastering Bird Photography: The Art, Craft, and Technique of Photographing Birds and their Behavior

I seem to rarely recommend photography books these days, in part because I find few of them that I feel are teaching me much new. This is especially true of bird photography books, where it feels like everyone is trying to explain the same five concepts and make it sound new and interesting.

This book is a happy exception to that vast swath of meh. I liked it enough I actually wrote a full review of it, which I recommend to you to read.

Mann, Charles C.: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus

This is a fascinating and very different look at the European colonization (and conquest) of North America, re-thinking the generally accepted ideas and thoughts about these events. It goes into a fair bit of detail into the idea that diseases introduced by the Europeans de-populated the continent ahead of Europeans, an idea I’ve seen floated before and the more I see information about it the more it makes sense to me.

That said, I’m not entirely sure I can say I support parts of this book, but much of it rings true in ways many history books about this era don’t for me. A very interesting and thought provoking read.

Corey, James S. A.: Abbadon’s Gate (The Expanse Book 3)

Book 3 of the Expanse is just as much fun as the first two books were. Haven’t started reading this series yet? Start with book 1, Leviathan Wakes, and not here in the middle. Trust me on that. But if you’re into high drama, fast pacing space opera, you’ll really love this series.

Scalzi, John : The Consuming Fire

I am firmly in the “read every book he publishes as soon after it comes out as I can” camp with John Scalzi. That said, I don’t think his Collapsing Empire series is as strong as some of his other works (specifically the Old Man’s War books and Lock In). That said, this means this book, the second in the trilogy, is merely pretty darn good, not great, and still well worth your time. My review of it. As with Abbadon’s Gate, I recommend you start with book one in the series, Collapsing Empire, and not this middle book. And if you haven’t Scalzi yet, consider Old Man’s War as an introduction if you like space opera, Redshirts if you want one of his lighter and funnier books (but still with some deeper, thoughtful concepts), or Lock In if you lean more towards thriller/mystery type material with a strong SF element.

Baker, Mishell: Phantom Pains: the Arcadia Project, Book 2

I am happy to recommend Phantom Pains, the 2nd book in the Arcadia Project, very highly, but with some caveats. It is once again a middle book in a series, and if you haven’t read book one, please start with Borderline. That said, this book takes the story that unfolded in the first book and pushes it forward, but also swerves it in very different and unexpected ways, but which are still true to the original book.

This is not an easy or fun book. There are strong emotional concepts being examined. The characters are fascinating and very flawed, but feel quite real. The flaws are not always run to examine, and the situations that end up in (and put themselves in) can be emotionally exhausting and difficult to deal with, and for some people, are likely to be triggering, so be warned. This isn’t an easy or fun pre-bed time read.

But for me it was a rewarding read and it’s an incredibly well-written book. That said, I have book 3 sitting and waiting, but I’ve yet to hit a point where I feel quite ready to read it, given how I reacted to book 2. I’ll get there, but I keep find myself hesitating to get going, because I know I’m in for another fascinating but difficult journey once I start it. To quote from the book’s marketing blurb:

Ward, Christina: American Advertising Cookbooks: How Corporations Taught us to love Bananas, Spam, and Jell-O (7/5//19) [[Recommended]]

This is kind of a weird one but a thoroughly enjoyable book if you’re curious about the intersection of food, advertising and pop culture.

Readers will learn of the role bananas played in the Iran-Contra scandal, how Sigmund Freud’s nephew decided Carmen Miranda would wear fruit on her head, and how Puritans built an empire on pineapples. American food history is rife with crackpots, do-gooders, con men, and scientists all trying to build a better America-while some were getting rich in the process.

Loaded with full-color images, Ward pulls recipes and images from her vast collection of cookbooks and a wide swath of historical advertisements to show the influence of corporations on our food trends. Though easy to mock, once you learn the true history, you will never look at Jell-O the same way again!

Sound like fun? it is. it’s the kind of book you open with hope and fear because you really want it to be good, but so often, these books don’t live up to their potential. This one does, and it does a really interesting job of explaining why things like bananas and pineapples are important parts of of our history, and why an entire generation of Americans created recipes using Jell-o.

Munroe, Randall: How To

Finally, Randall Munroe (of XKCD fame) has a new book out, and it is just the kind of book you’d expect to get from him where he decides to answer reader questions on how to do various things, in the way only Randall Munroe could answer those questions. If you need answer to questions like “how do I take a selfie with a telescope” or “how do I cross this river” (hint: by boiling it dry), then this is a book you’ll definitely want to grab a copy of and read.