BEST BOOKS of 2019
Thank you for visiting our “Best Books of 2019” page. We hope you find these books as interesting and entertaining as we have. This year’s books were selected by a group of twenty booksellers from across the country. We had the privilege to review hundreds of books that were published this year and as always it was very difficult to choose which books made the list. If you agree or disagree with our selections please let us know by tweeting with us @HudsonBooks or by posting on our Hudson Booksellers Facebook page. Enjoy!
2019 Book of the Year
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, the debut novel from award-winning poet Ocean Vuong, is a visceral, immediate, and stunning coming-of-age story. While touching on topics and experiences that are familiar, what sets this book apart from many others is that the main character, known only as Little Dog, has been given the “poet’s eyes” of the book’s author. Little Dog is soft-spoken and quiet in life, yet he observes everything around him, sees shades of gray in both the beauty and the grime, and presents it all to the reader in unforgettable and mesmerizing ways. There is a rhythm, a cadence, and a vision that having finished the book, one is left with a feeling of having visited the Vietnamese rice fields, walked in rusting tobacco barns, meanderingly rode bicycles through varied streets of Hartford, Connecticut. It is a rare writer that can elicit such a feeling of literary immersion and leaves me looking forward to more from this author in the future –Ryan, Chicago ORD
Go Ahead in the Rain, like Abdurraqib’s first collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, is music and social criticism, biography and personal essay, infused with the intellectual and emotional acuity of a poet. His language sings with the same power as the music he celebrates. A love letter to a specific band, A Tribe Called Quest, it also reminds us of the power that great art - perhaps especially great music - has to inspire and to unite us, to be both of its time, and rise above it, provide anchor and escape, often all at once. Go Ahead in the Rain is a Tribe song of positivity and persistence, an excellent illustration of the way that Abdurraqib both describes and mirrors the impact of his subject. –Sara, Atlanta
After years in NY hiding from her fans and (mostly) not writing, Harper Lee comes back to Alabama to cover a trial and a story that is stranger than fiction. People around Rev. Willie Maxwell keep dying and he happens to have life insurance policies on them. A former law maker goes from defending Maxwell through the years and helping him collect on these policies to defending Robert Burns, the man who kills Maxwell at the funeral of one of the victims. Lee attends the trial taking copious notes and carefully researches the story but that book is never published nor is the manuscript ever found. Journalist Casey Cep writes an intriguing and illuminating book about the complexities of the case and the paradox of justice in the south, finishing with the lesser known story of Lee’s upbringing and her subsequent escape after the furor of To Kill a Mockingbird. This is full of bizarre characters and interesting history, and leaves us yearning for Lee’s true crime book that never was. –Sydne, Atlanta
Good Talk is a heartfelt graphic memoir that opens with a difficult conversation between the author Mira Jacob and her 6-year-old son, Z. How does a mother explain something as complex as race relations to a young multiracial child growing up in an America that sometimes feels as strained and divided as ever?
Jacob looks for answers by examining her own life, from her childhood in New Mexico, the daughter of Indian immigrants, to the present day. She focuses on the conversations that have had an impact on her understanding of who she is and how she is seen by others. Told using Jacob’s beautiful illustrations of her family and friends superimposed over photography, the work is filled with joy, sadness, confusion, and humor. For a book dealing with such weighty topics, it is also laugh out loud funny throughout.
If one of the keys to breaking down barriers between people comes from learning about one another’s lives, a book like Good Talk is an essential and invaluable treasure. –Ryan, Chicago ORD
An in depth look at the complexities of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland when they were at their worst in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It is well researched and written so that it is easy to follow whether or not you’re familiar with the issues and key players. Patrick Radden Keefe weaves personal stories from both sides of the conflict with the complex history and politics of the “Troubles,” always bringing it back to the most unfortunate aspect of this conflict — the toll it took on the people just trying to live their lives and raise their families. –Cathy, Atlanta
"The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree." So begins Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert MacFarlane. The book is an incantatory and canny examination of humanity’s relationship to the underworld through myth, history and science. MacFarlane’s writing is gorgeous. Here’s a sample:
“Among the relics of the Anthropocene, therefore, will be the fallout of our atomic age, the crushed foundations of our cities, the spines of millions of intensively farmed ungulates, and the faint outlines of some of the billions of plastic bottles we produce each year – the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals. Philip Larkin famously proposed that what will survive of us is love. Wrong. What will survive of us is plastic, swine bones and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.” –Matt, Los Angeles
In the beginning of the American Revolution, the one man who the colonists could ill afford to lose was George Washington. The First Conspiracy shows the plot to assassinate General Washington. The forming of the plan, how wide the conspiracy went, and the exposing of the plot. The First Conspiracy is an excellent read. It's history that reads like a spy novel. -M Paul, SEA
This is my favorite book of 2019. Menn does a masterful job of explaining how the hacking supergroup Cult of the Dead Cow started as a bulletin board for computer savvy teens, and then turned into a hacking collective that has changed the cyber world and influences global politics today. This book covers everything from wild DEF CON parties to the internal struggle to determine who should steer the future of the cDc. –Justin, Atlanta
Paul Le Roux is the Jeff Bezos of the opioid epidemic. He is a genius who is willing to do whatever it takes to grow his power and bank account. If you wondered how so many opioids made it into the hands of US citizens this book has the answer. The Mastermind is exceptionally researched and action packed, you will not be able to put this book down. –Justin, Atlanta
If you are looking for a well-researched and well thought out book about the history of America’s Indigenous peoples from Wounded Knee to the present this is the book for you. Treuer includes the personal stories of Native Americans from tribes across the country, which adds passion and personality to this exceptionally researched tome. –Justin, Atlanta
An Arabian Journey is British explorer Levison Wood’s best book yet. Beginning in September 2017, he spends six months circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula, starting in Syria and ending in Lebanon. Trekking on camel through the desert, seeing the front lines of battles in Iraq, stopping off in luxury coastal resorts, and stowing aboard a crowded dhow through pirate-infested waters to Somalia are just a starting list of highlights. The challenges and wonders (both of the natural world and of human making) he describes, and the people he meets along the way, create a stunning cultural snapshot of the contemporary Middle East. –Sara, Atlanta
Filled with an assortment of animal puns, Hollow Kingdom is a fun, and humorous read while traveling down the tale of end of human civilization. The book is narrated by a crow named S.T., whom aims at trying to save the planet from the apocalypse. His adventures, thoughts, interactions are so clever that the intelligence and wit needed to create this read is astounding. Hollow Kingdom is truly an adventure story that fills the apocalyptic genre. This is not the typical zombie apocalypse tale. The substance of the read is quite sobering but cut through with great humor. Buxton delivers by adding drama, suspense, tragedy, comedy and hope to connect compassionately with the reader. This book was unlike anything else I have ever read. It’s surprisingly fresh, new, and darn right hilarious. Hollow Kingdom is a must read! - Maranda, LBB
The latest pick for Oprah’s Book Club is a powerful account of the atrocity of slavery. It is the first novel of acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates, and highlights the tragedy of family separation and the power of the mind to survive such devastating loss. –Sandra, SEA
Stella Fortuna is a woman before her time with life (and death) stacked against her. A story about immigration, family, and inner strength, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna has the feel of a tale told at your grandmother's knee. Heartbreaking, familiar, and beautifully told. –Jenn, Atlanta
Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama with impeccable pacing, an original plot, and stellar writing. It’s also a remarkably empathetic book, exploring the ripple effects of causality, and the urgent need to do right by each other, in big and small ways, recognizing that even the best of us will always fail, even unknowingly, once in a while. Still, it is a lovely reminder that even when doing the right thing feels like swimming upstream, we never know what harm may be prevented, what good might come, from our actions. It’s a great read that deserves broad success. –Sara, Atlanta
Four sisters lead messy, chaotic lives in this note-worthy debut. They envy the perceived perfection of their parents’ marriage but over a tumultuous year they discover not all is what it seems and that’s more than okay. These sisters and this author touched my heart. –Sydne, Atlanta
Annalee Newitz’s newest book immerses us in a world where two opposing factions are using time travel to rewrite history with the goal of altering the future. The Daughters of Harriet are determined to keep the Comstockers from editing key moments in history for women’s rights. If successful, the Comstockers plan to lock the timeline forever. It’s a race against time for The Daughters of Harriet to make their own timeline edits to preserve the few rights that women have left. I loved that Newitz used punk rock as a medium for women’s empowerment. You can tell that they are passionate about the current state of affairs, especially the recent laws suppressing bodily autonomy. While time travel isn’t real (yet), The Future of Another Timeline could be an accurate representation of our world in the distant future if women’s equality continues to be threatened. –Rebecca, Atlanta
Set in India and Kashmir, this story is narrated by Shalini who is recounting events in her childhood that followed her into her adulthood. With her mother’s passing, Shalini is left with unanswered questions about a travelling salesman that used to visit with Shalini and her mother when her father was at work. She heads to Kashmir to find the salesman and get answers to her questions and she is able to do this because her family is privileged. Kashmir is full of political unrest and she ends up staying for quite a while with the salesman’s family. Shalini entangles herself with some locals in the village, with the family of the salesman, all the while not fully comprehending the effect her actions have on those same villagers and people. As Shalini tells her story, you learn of the Indian/Kashmir conflict and how it affects the people who are far away from the tech hub cities in India and makes you think about the power of privilege. –Cathy, Atlanta
Colson Whitehead takes us on a disturbing journey, focusing on two students, Elwood and Turner, sent to the Nickel Academy reformatory school. Powerful and fascinating and based on an actual school in Florida, it is hard to put down despite some of the horrific events in the novel. –Len, Chicago ORD
I’m still not sure how to wrap my head around this book, it’s a lot. It’s scathingly funny and philosophically rich, it’s wordy and talky in all the best ways. It’s sexy as hell too. In the first few pages you’ve got Mary Shelley in Geneva with Lord Byron, Percy Shelley et al bored and telling ghost stories; the famous origin of Mary’s book Frankenstein which I’m guessing you’ve maybe heard of. While that’s the table setter this is one of these books that is narrated across multiple timelines with a ‘back then’ and a ‘five minutes from now’ back and forth action where the characters from the different timelines map or mirror each other (so there’s a Ron Lord for a Lord Byron or a Ry for a MaRy and Claire for a, well, Claire). And it’s about a lot of things, you’ve got sex robots, cryogenics labs, immortality, transgenderism, love, creation and creators, self/other, mad scientists tinkering with AI (and the singularity nigh) and bodies, the bodies we are born with, the bodies we remake in our own image, the bodies we long to occupy, the bodies we long to leave behind. Like I said it’s a lot, and it’s really good. –Matt, Los Angeles
Best Young Readers
Sixteen-year-old Bri Jackson dreams of becoming a famous rapper. After a successful rap battle in a local ring, Bri finally gets her big break and records her first song. But the guns and gangsters that she raps about aren’t who she is; they were rhymes crafted by how she believes others see her as an African American in a poor neighborhood. Reactions come from all sides, some love the song while others want it removed from the internet. Bri just wants to “make it” so that she can help her family survive. In order to do that, she will have to embrace this new image but will she lose herself now that she is finally on the come up? Just like in The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas delivers a powerful story that will stay with you long after you finish reading. –Rebecca, Atlanta
Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away. It’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes. In a touching, funny, and fearless conclusion to her sequence of novels about the beloved Three Rancheros, Kate DiCamillo tells the story of a character who will break your heart and put it back together again.
Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. But in the same way that different types of plants and flowers make a garden more beautiful and enjoyable, different types of people make our world more vibrant and wonderful. In Just Ask, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrates the different abilities kids (and people of all ages) have. Using her own experience as a child who was diagnosed with diabetes, Justice Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges—and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same: When we come across someone who is different from us but we’re not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask.
Maranda - Lubbock LBB
M Paul - Seattle
Ray - Denver
Sheila - Chicago