A Year in the Books

I read 65 books this year.

People ask how I read so much.

1 – I am at a stage in life where I have more time to read. If you have young kids or circumstances that don’t allow you time to read, do not beat yourself over what you don’t have time to read but rather celebrate what you have read.

2 – I consider reading part of my job and unapologetically read at work when my students read or sometimes during my planning. This means that I don’t grade (don’t worry because I still grade plenty) and that’s okay. My students need me to be a reader and need to see me reading as much as they need my feedback.

So here – in no particular order – are what I think are the best of the best. Of course, reading is highly personal, so you may disagree, and I welcome and even appreciate that. 


The Nickel BoysThe Nickel Boys ★★★★★ Colson Whitehead, Fiction (Historical), 2019, Book

 “It was not enough to survive, you have to live . . .”

Hard but necessary read – this is the best fiction I have read in 2019. (And here’s a secret – I liked this more than the Pulitzer Prize winning The Underground Railroad). 



Where the Crawdads Sing ★★★★★ (Owens, 2018, Contemporary fiction, Southern, 379 pages), Book

What a great way to start a new year of reading. I absolutely loved this book! Owens style is so lovely and natural pulling me immediately into the setting and the story. And while I’m not usually a mystery fan, this “mystery” was less plot driven and more of a mystery of human nature and character. Beautiful story, beautiful setting, amazing fiction debut by Owens!



There, There ★★★★★ (Orange, 2018, contemporary fiction, Native American, 292 pages), Book

Tommy Orange is an amazing storyteller weaving together stories of Native Americans across multiple cities and generations in a unique debut novel. This novel digs deep into the lives of Native Americans and how the past affects their present. The ending is sadly realistic. And the writing is simply beautiful.



The Female Persuasion ★★★★★ (Wolitzer, 2018, contemporary fiction, 454 pages), Audible

I LOVE this book so much and highly recommend. I listened to this as an Audiobook on my commute and was immediately pulled into Greer’s story which splintered into the stories of others. I have read reviews that some people don’t like how the book goes into other stories, but I personally like exploring how people’s lives fit together. The characters are real and plausible. I also enjoyed seeing how the different characters dealt with adversity – especially Cory – love him. And the cover – YES!



The Nightingale ★★★★★ (Hannah, 2015, historical fiction, 293 pages)

I am late to this party, but this book, y’all! The realities of war balanced with the triumph of the human spirit to survive and love is perfect. Hannah gets better and better emerging as a leading storyteller in today’s society. I put this book off because I had read so many WWII books and just didn’t know how this story could be retold again and remain fresh; I was wrong to wait so long on reading it. This book – alone with her The Great Alone – gets my highest recommendation.


The Secret History ★★★★★(Tartt, 2011, contemporary fiction, 524 pages)

I liked The Goldfinch; I LOVED The Secret History. Scandal, college kids, character-driven plot – this novel has all of the makings of the best stories. I listened to it on audile and think I would have liked the book even more. I was just lost in this story. This would make for perfect beach reading – it’s a page turner.



The Leavers ★★★★★ (Ko, 2017, contemporary fiction, National Book Award finalist, 352 pages)

Loved everything about this book – especially the author’s ability to explore adoption and parenting through characters who each have a story to tell. There’s no “right” side but rather a mix of adults doing their best and a kid trying to figure out how to find his place in the world.


The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart


The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart ★★★★★ M. Glenn Taylor, Fiction, 2013, Kindle

This my kind of book – local color (Appalachian, West Virginia), character driven, spans a lifetime, and a captivating story. Highly recommend for if you want to lose yourself in another person’s life for a few days. Love, love, love!

The Testaments ★★★★★  Margaret Atwood, Fiction (Dystopian), 2019, Book

I‘m generally pretty tough on sequels but this book far surpassed all of my expectations and left me fully satisfied. I would go as far to say this is Atwood at her best.




Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg ★★★★★ (Carmon and Kzinhnik, 2015, biography, 240 pages)

I loved this book so much and read most of it in one sitting on a cross country flight. The book really captures the spirit of RGB and helped me recognize her role in equality for the sexes (both women AND men). Highly recommend regardless of political preferences.

IMG_8174The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row ★★★★★ (Hinton, 2017, nonfiction, 273 pages)

This book, like Just Mercy, made me sad and angry about the injustices that happen in the court system and in particular my home state of Alabama. But the triumph of Anthony Ray Hinton’s spirit is what drives this book. This book is different than Just Mercy in that it is less legal talk and more narrative about life on death row. Citizens need to know more about what goes on in our prisons, and this book is an excellent way to be educated on that. Once you pick it up, you will not be able to put it down. “We need to understand the dangers posed by the politics of fear and anger that create systems like our capital punishment system and the political dynamics that have made some courts and officials act so irresponsibly. We also need to learn about human dignity, about human worth and value. We need to think about the fact that we are all more than the worst thing we have done.”

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and LeadDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead ★★★★★ Brene Brown, Non-Fiction, 2012, Book

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

Basically if Brene Brown wrote the phone book (does anyone even know what this is anymore?), I would be inspired by it. This book is full of logic and common sense – two things desperately missing in today’s world – when it comes to right living and right thinking. If you are going to read one personal growth book this year, this is the book!

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism


White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism ★★★★★ Robin DiAngelo, Non-Fiction, 2018, Book

Highly recommend! This book has reframed my thinking about racism and biases and has given me so much to think about in my personal life as well as society as a whole. First and foremost, I need to be far less defensive when confronted with personal biases and welcome discomfort – instead of avoiding it – in order to grow. 


Far from the Tree

Far From the Tree ★★★★★ Robin Benway, Young Adult, 2017, Book

The older she got, the more human her parents seemed, and that was one of the scariest things in the world. She missed being little, when they were the all-knowing gods of her world, but at the same time, seeing them as human made it easier to see herself that way, too.”

This was my favorite YA novel of the year. The characters are believable, the plot is plausible, and the storytelling feels easy and not forced. This will be one of those books that I will recommend frequently.


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night ★★★★★ (Haddon, 2004, young adult, 240 pages)

Probably a 4.5 but Goodreads doesn’t allow that option. I really loved this book probably for a couple of reasons. 1 – it put me inside the mind of an autistic kid and really helps me know what their thought life is like. While I had empathy before, I now have empathy with more understanding. 2 – I was home sick today and even with several naps throughout the day I was able to read this book in a day, so the story was always fresh. This book had several elements that make a book a winner for me – unexpected twists and turns, short chapters, young adult genre – if it had only been set in Alabama . . . . . This has set on my classroom library shelves for a long time, and I’m glad today was the day to add it to the read list. Classic YA book.



Rust Belt Love Song ★★★★★ (Neville, 2019, poetry, 32 pages)

WOW – what an amazing debut collection of poetry from Megan Neville. I am acquainted with her through professional circles and had a feeling her collection would be good, but it was so much better than good! Such an interesting collection blending the old with the new and amazingly well written. This collection is a true tribute to home. 

Good Bones ★★★★★ (Smith, 2017, poetry, 117 pages)

She had me at “Good Bones” but this collection as a whole touches my heart in only a way that another mother can. I have taught “Good Bones” for a couple of years and am happy to add this collection to my classroom library. If you are a non-poetry person, this is a beautiful book to dip yours toes in and see how the water feels. Beautifully written and all the feels!


The Tradition ★★★★★ Jericho Brown, Poetry, 2019, Book

Shout out to a local poet! This book of poems matches the cover and is just simply beautiful! I especially enjoyed The Tradition, Water Lilies, Hero, Deliverance, Dear Whiteness, and The Crossing.



We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be ★★★★★ (Minor, 2018, nonfiction, 164 pages), Book

First – I LOVE Cornelius Minor. Second – this book is beautiful – why can’t all education books have artistic qualities as well as solid content? What I love about this book is that Minor doesn’t simply draw attention to equity issues but offers practical classroom solutions. For me this is where the breakdown occurs – there’s lots of talk about the problem and theoretical solutions but these solutions fail to offer practical steps of how this plays out in classrooms. This would be a perfect book for departments to read and discuss.

All of my reviews this year (65 books total in 2019) can be found here:

An English Teacher’s Reading Life: Winter and Spring 2019 Reading

An English Teacher’s Reading Life: Summer and Fall 2019

This post contains Amazon affiliate links to books. This basically allows me to make a little money so I can buy more books and give more recommendations. Thanks for clicking through!

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