Rebecca’s Favorite Books of the
by Rebecca Howard
Tulsa City-County Library
One of my favorite December traditions is receiving the “best of” lists from my colleagues at the Tulsa City-County Library. As you might gather, I work with some smarties, and the titles they share are as delightfully eclectic as they are. Making a list of my favorites is also a way of revisiting my reading year. Reviewing my list of titles often reveals where my mind and spirit were in the previous twelve months. One thing remains the same, though: I’ve never read nearly enough. Creating a list of favorites is a cherished tradition, a ritual of giving thanks for the titles that have made some indelible marks upon my life.
In no particular order, here are my favorite reads of 2019.
Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
A charming and reflective epistolary novel about two individuals in the autumn of their lives. Tina is a farmer’s wife living in East Anglia, and Anders is a curator at the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark. The two develop a correspondence that allows them to see themselves in new ways and invites them to reimagine their own stories. Try this if you enjoyed Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf.
The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
Stradal has such a unique narrative voice. I loved Kitchens of the Great Midwest, and The Lager Queen was just as enjoyable. Set in Minnesota, this is the story of Helen and Edith—two sisters who could not be more different and yet end up sharing a destiny: crafting a world-class beer. This story is funny, warm, and deeply moving. I highly recommend the audiobook.
The Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Set in Colombia during Pablo Escobar’s violent rule, Rojas Contreras’s debut novel is a poetic and richly detailed coming-of-age novel. The story is told in the alternating perspectives of Chula, who is just seven when the novel begins, and Petrona, a servant in Chula’s home.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Based on real events surrounding the Dozier School for Boys, The Nickel Boys is a spare, haunting, and essential read. The narrative follows Elwood and Turner, two young men serving sentences at Nickel Academy. Presenting itself as a reform school that seeks to create “honorable and honest men,” Nickel Academy in reality is a living nightmare that some will not survive.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
This is a book to be savored. Written with precise and poetic language, Woodson creates the story of two families brought together by an unplanned pregnancy. An intergenerational story exploring parenthood, loss, desire, race, and class in a spare 200 pages.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
If you read and enjoyed Sally Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations with Friends, the tone and themes of Normal People will be familiar territory. At 28, Rooney has her finger on the pulse of the general malaise and unease of twenty-somethings who are trying to gain solid footing in the world. In Normal People, Rooney follows the intense relationship between Marianne and Connell from their high school years in County Sligo Ireland to their time at Trinity College in Dublin. Rooney’s characters are flawed, complex, and authentically rendered. As a reader I was thoroughly enthralled.
Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas
This vulnerable and courageous memoir is Vargas’s attempt to share the experience of someone living as an undocumented person in the United States. In conversational prose that is warm and open-hearted, Vargas reveals the contradictions that are at the core of our immigration policies. This is another excellent audiobook, as the author narrates.
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker
This was an insightful book about how to make the numerous ways we gather—from staff meetings to dinner parties—more intentional and meaningful.