2019 by the Books : Not Work

2019 by the Books : Not Work

I read 63 books in 2019. 

29 for work

34 for not-work

Of the not-work books:

28 audiobooks. 6 in print. 

This list doesn’t include any of the theory or criticism I also read, because largely boring. 

Before you dig into this list though, if you’re interested, there’s a whole preamble to this two part project in the Part One post. You can scroll down to it, or click here. 

Books I Read Not For Work

The books I read that are not for work are either ones my husband buys me — he makes sure I always have a towering pile — or things that strike my fancy as I come across them in my various social media feeds, like the two Choi books and the Moshfegh.

I began listening to audiobooks after our son was born, because pregnancy and infant care shot my brain to shit, and listening to books helped me train it to be still and focus for extended periods again. Audiobooks are also why I can get through the volume of things I do along with all the other things that have to happen in any given day. 

These are the ones I read in print: 

36D69CEE-6D26-45CA-A52B-1E781C696A01_1_101_o30. Oyeyemi, Gingerbread (2019) – I have no idea what to think about this book and am hoping one of my grad students, Kate Harlin, writes about it in the intro to her dissertation, like I told her to, so she can in turn tell me what to think about this bewildering queer fairy tale. 

31. Adjei-Brenyah, Friday Black (2018) — Stories set in the near future, many of which riff on the consumerist horrors of Black Friday. 

32. Serpell, The Old Drift (2019) – The best book I read this year, by a lot. Multi-generation and LONG AF. As in it begins in the early 1800s in West Africa and ends in the near future and took me the whole summer plus tax to read it. But it’s such a smart and ultimately brain busting narrative about Zambia primarily, and the ways technology shapes our lives. And mosquitoes. It is also about mosquitoes. 

33. James, Black Leopard Red Wolf (2019) — The first installment of the Dark Star Trilogy, wherein James demonstrates that along with everything else, he is also a genius at world making. Holy moly the world making in this novel! Because it is as vulgar and violent as everything else he writes, perhaps even more so, it is also absolutely surprising that at the core of this novel is a beautiful and devastating same-sex love story that moved me in ways nothing else in James has to date. 

34. Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019) — I’m not sure I like poetic novels, but as poetic novels go, this one about the colliding devastations of a gay Vietnamese man, his mother and grandmother, amidst the violence of war and turmoil of the opioid crisis, is as beautifully written as they come. The metaphor of migrating monarch butterflies is also quite beautiful. 

35. Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other (2019) — Evaristo shares this year’s Man Booker Prize with Margaret Atwood and I enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other so much I can forgive that it mixes up Jamaica and St Lucia. I marked the pages. Don’t @ me. Its structure recalls James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings where a multivocal cast of 12 narrators/characters tell stories about themselves that will culminate in a single event shared by everyone. I’m not thrilled about how neatly it wraps up Penelope’s narrative, while leaving the others so frayed, like Amma, Dominique, and Shirley. It reflects a troubling unevenness around race/colorism, sexuality, and class that bugs me. But perhaps I’ll save my theories about that for a nerdier forum.

These are the ones I listened to on audiobook — All hail audiobooks!

AC058B7A-2C40-4F7F-9ED8-912723A9B245_1_101_o36. Senna, Caucasia (1998) — Coming of age story of two multiracial sisters, with a white mother and black father. 

37. Luiselli, The Lost Children Archive — This. Book. Another hitta and favorite this year and a Luiselli is now a McArthur genius fellow to boot. This book demonstrates what it might take to capture the experience of migrant children traveling alone, and what it means for us to consume these experiential narratives — whether it be through news stories or works of fiction. An assemblage of narrative, literary texts, sounds, and objects, Luiselli’s book is a deep and complex archive that purposefully disorients and is surprisingly moving. 

38. Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me (2014) — It’s as it says and every man I know should read the title essay of this collection because 2019 was your last year of explaining my own shit to me. #thatisall

39. Nguyen, The Refugees (2017) — A haunting collection of stories about Vietnamese refugees who continue to live with the traumas of war and migration, some more successfully than others. 

40. Hartman, Wayward Lives Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals (2019) — This book is masterclass in methodology and praxis and is what you get when you take the best of black feminist theory and apply it as a method for an archival history of violently undervalued and marginalized black girls and women. The power of Hartman’s book for me is in how its history of its subjects, in turn of the century New York, is unflinching in its treatment of the violence of their realities, yet does not render them as victims; it is also as careful with making visible their agency without absolving the systems that oppressed them. This one is also another super favorite from this year that changed how I think and work.  

41. Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (2017) — Building on her work on feminist killjoys, Ahmed takes on in this collection of essays, among other things, some of the material costs of living a feminist life. This is also another masterclass in methodology, because it intentionally centers scholarships and work by women and women of color in particular. 

42. Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018) — Could not get down with this satire — it is satire right? — of a wealthy blond who sleeps and drugs her way out of her sadness. I hated it. Barf. 

43. Woodson, Another Brooklyn (2016)— Retrospectively, an adult protagonist, August, tells the story of growing up in Brooklyn and the friendships she once but no longer shares with three other girls. 

0E272D80-84CD-4C7E-A2BA-150394880E18_1_101_o 44. Ross, Oreo (1974) — Just in case I was tempted to think Paul Beatty and Percy Everett came out of nowhere with this black satire business — (I wasn’t, but still), writer and one of my grad students, Donald Quist, told me about Fran Ross and Oreo and behold, one of the earliest contemporary works of black satire was written by a woman. 

45. Rushdie, Quichotte (2019) — I only read this because I have a thing for the Booker shortlist. If you’ve never read Rushdie, you might enjoy this book. If you’ve read Rushdie you might find its hyper contemporary-ness a bit like an old dude working entirely too hard to remain relevant. It’s a rewriting of Don Quixote, in the shape of a road trip narrative, that is also a book within a book, within a book, and is so utterly excessive and ridiculous it is actually funny in the moments when it isn’t pandering. Do I think it’s a good book? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Can a book be terrible and I still enjoy it? Heck yeah. I like reality tv and that shit is straight trash. 

46. Shelley, Frankenstein (1823) — Because Beloved. That’s all you need to know about that right now, because I’m still thinking the thoughts, and I’ll let you know when I’m done. 

47. Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936) — A story about three families in the South, before, during, and after the Civil South, that centers on this oddball named William Sutpen, who among other things, wrestles naked with his slaves. Faulkner is a trip and a half, y’all, and he doesn’t leave you with anything to make your way back. 

48. Faulkner, As I lay Dying (1930) — Narrated by 15 different characters and an inspiration for James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, this crazy ass book tells the story of a family returning the body of their mother to her hometown for burial and all the hyjinx that ensues along the way — like a broken leg that gets cast in concrete — , as well as all the before things that brought the family to this moment where they are hauling a rotting corpse (with vulture accompaniment) across the rural South. And the ending. Sweet baby Jesus on a cracker, the ending.

49. Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (1929)  — Tells the story of the Compson family that explains why one of the sons, Quentin, is as obsessed as he is with the Sutpen family in Absalom, Absalom!. Quentin is one of the narrators from over in that other novel you see. Faulkner love di mix up bad bad. 

8733AEE9-7916-42DB-AE5C-0EB9224D1913_1_101_o50. Woodson, Red at the Bone (2019) — I don’t know why I’m always surprised when a contemporary novel set in New York become 9/11 narratives, but I read more of those than I usually do this year and was caught off guard every time. 

51. Choi, Trust Exercises (2019) —Because it beat Black Leopard Red Wolf for the National Book Award. Come for David and Sarah’s angsty teenaged romance and stay for when the story becomes Karen’s. 

52. Choi, My Education — A story about professors having sex with grad students. I’m concerned I think it ended vengefully rather than sentimentally. 

Books I Read to Mourn Toni Morrison 

Finally, starting the day she died, with the first novel I could borrow from the library on audiobook, Tar Baby, I kept a four month long wake for Toni Morrison. During this time I learned that I adore a retrospectively told novel. All of Toni Morrison’s novels work in this way, where it teases you early with terrible things that happened, and then unfold the whys and hows slowly. In the case of The Bluest Eye and Beloved, the why is never really satisfying or even a successful justification, the how is just horrifying, and what remains are the terrible things suffered by the vulnerable in her novels, especially children. I only just realized this year, even though I’ve been reading Morrison for years, how much bad shit happens to children in all her novels. Faulkner and Shelley are here this year too because they’ve been helping me think through some things in Morrison. 

Among the things I want to look into more, as I continue to think about Morrison’s work and how it influences contemporary writers of color, is how it portrays war and real estate. Morrison thought a lot about real estate and property ownership.

I’ve started listening to these novels again. This time, chronologically according to publication date. I’ve already finished The Bluest Eye again and have another three weeks before Sula arrives in my library audiobook app, because apparently, I’m not the only one keeping this vigil. 

21C1F605-0E50-48C6-AF4A-BFE65104D5CB_1_101_o53. Tar Baby (1981) — The present of this novel is almost Christmas in a vacation house in the Caribbean, where the house guests include a fashion model and somebody who wasn’t actually invited. He’s hiding in the closet. As with all of Morrison’s novels, what Tar Baby is really about is all the bad shit that went down in the past that brought all the players to this present in the first place. The bad stuff is really bad in this one, y’all. 

54. God Help the Child (2015) — Morrison’s eleventh novel and the only one that I think ends happily. And that’s all I will say about that.

55. The Bluest Eye (1970) — My. Favorite.  Morrison. Hands. Down. I could read this one over and over and over again into perpetuity. I actually listened to it a second time just before the year ended. Morrison’s first novel portrays an eleven year old girl named Pecola, who becomes a dumping ground for her family’s and community’s damaging internalizations about racial beauty and inferiority. 

56. Sula (1973) — Morrison’s second novel and a devastating story about conformity, womanhood, and female friendship. I’m going to use variations of this to describe all of Morrison’s novels. Can’t say I didn’t warn you. 

57. Love (2003) — A story about the women who loved and who were forced to love a hotel owner named Bill Cosey, who is deceased at the time of the story’s telling. Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! pops up in a couple of Morrison’s novels and I think this is one of them. 

58. Home (2012) — A Korean War vet travels south to rescue his sister who is in the employ of a liberal but horrifyingly cruel doctor. I still don’t know what all he did to her, but the descriptions of her recovery at the hands of a community of women is of a piece with Morrison’s vision of healing and care across her fiction. 

59. Jazz (1992) — My first invited lecture at MU was on this novel. I’d never read it before and at the time was still working solely on the Caribbean, so the invitation, though welcomed and appreciated as a brand new assistant professor of color, was nonetheless a weird one that is telling about how unis think about the scholarly purviews of their faculty of color. But you aren’t here for the nostalgia are you? Jazz is a short novel that musically and with improvisation — per its title —  tells of the circumstances that led a married man to kill his young lover at a party in 1920s Harlem. 

60. A Mercy (2007) — I’ve heard this one called Morrison’s Absalom, Absalom! in its depiction of the women who are left behind in the wake of the death of the family patriarch and pioneer in early America. 

61. Beloved (1987) — I read and listened to this one simultaneously. I started the print copy first and never went beyond where I was in print when I listened. It took me so long to read it — three months — because I knew it was all leading up to the telling of why a runaway slave woman slashed her toddler’s throat. Bad shit happens to children in all of Morrison, y’all. All of it. 

62. Song of Solomon (1977) — I wanted to like this one, but I don’t know if I do. I might after another listen. It follows the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead, whose entry into the world coincided with the suicide of an insurance salesman. It’s a quest for origins of sorts that has Milkman traveling south from Michigan to find out about his father’s people. 

63. Paradise (1997)— Along with Song of Solomon this one is also not my favorite; my brows are still furrowed. It begins with a woman getting shot and killed by a group of men and even after reading how and why it happened, this is all I can think on that one for now. 


So there you have it. All 63. See you again next year. Maybe. 

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