I read — and listened to — a lot of books in 2019. And, a lot of them were amazing. My favorite? Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. It’s out today, Dec. 31 and is a brilliant fiction book about race and class and systems that oppress and, at the very same time, a hilarious portrayal of real people, human interactions, and folks in very relatable situations.
I was enthralled with Emira, a 25-year-old Black college graduate not sure what’s next but surrounded by a group of homegirls who have her back as she works as a babysitter for a wealthy white family in NYC. Her friends are my favorite “supporting cast” is this story full of both microagressions and major F-ups, which is a testament to Kiley’s writing. Immediately, by the first few pages, the language and dialogue felt so real and so true to what a group of friends would say. It made my friend Greta text me a photo of a line and say, “Hey, you’ve got to read this book. Now.”
“In the beginning, I always start with character,” she told Greta on her Nerdette podcast. “It’s kind of like a job: If I don’t love the people I’m working with, I’m out of there.”
And, the plot is just as captivating. The ish hits the fan early on in the book when on a trip to the grocery store, a security guard accused Emira of kidnapping the toddler and things escalate. That’s just the start. It’s not even a spoiler.
“I love when books have a big opening scene that kind of hooks me and really shows me the fallout from it,” she said. “I definitely love giving readers something to hold onto in the first chapter.”
Clearly, you need to buy this book … today .. maybe, even right now. When I got it, I couldn’t put it down. I even read it at a football game.
But that’s not the only great book I read this year. Here’s 19 more (in no particular order). Many are fiction, a few are not. Some are full of love, some transport you to different worlds, and some are just plain fun. And after the year we had, who doesn’t want more of that?
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
(Read while yelling, “YOU’RE BETTER THAN THIS!” at the top of my lungs)
Chile, I got so mad at Queenie while reading this book, but that’s truly why I recommend it. It dives deep into the feelings we have about ourselves and the unconscious societal pressures that have seeped into it. I had no idea it would. Plus, it’s funny.
The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole
(Listened to while getting my hair done, saying over and over again, “This lady doesn’t fall in love with a robot … does she?”)
This Audible original is written by the queen of steamy romance herself, Alyssa Cole. Whenever I want a nice romance novel with outrageous set-ups, I turn to her. She’s like the opposite of a safe Hallmark movie. She’s all spice and doesn’t turn it down in this audiobook that’s narrated by Regina Hall. Plus, one of my fave voices, Mindy Kaling, also has a role.
Dear Girls by Ali Wong
(Listened to while laughing hysterically)
This nonfiction book by comedian Ali Wong is available in print, but why wouldn’t you want to hear her read you these jokes? This book is hilarious. Period. You need to listen to it.
Heidi’s Guide to Four Letter Words by Tara Sivec and Andi Arndt
(Listened to in the car while giggling)
Another Audible original, this really sweet and funny book is about a very meek and mild girl who accidentally ends up working at a company that records romance audiobooks. Kinda meta to listen to but very cute!
More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth
(Read and listened to … a couple of times)
If you need a reminder to follow your heart and your dreams in the upcoming year and decade, this is it. Elaine’s story is both inspiring and realistic at the same time — a very “she did it, so you can, too” feel — but without feeling like you’re being life-coached. In fact, her whole approach feels like you’re sitting down with a good girlfriend drinking wine and chatting about life. And that’s hard to do with a book.
The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory
(Read while babysitting my nieces and covering my face when it turned red)
My other favorite steamy queen? Jasmine Guillory, who knows just how to write romance novels centering Black contemporary women. I couldn’t stop blushing because the banter between the two lead characters as their love develops feels so familiar that I’m pretty sure I’ve said some of those same things myself. Whew, flashbacks!
Love at First Like by Hannah Orenstein
(Read while taking a break from obsessively scrolling on Instagram)
What happens when you accidentally let your Instagram followers think you’re engaged? Keep up the ruse, I guess! This book is sweet and charming and an easy read.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
(Read while thinking about life and motherhood)
I loved this book! I loved how it portrays the lead character: as a motivated and talented teen mom. She’s even more motivated to make a life for herself and her baby, and as someone who had a baby young, I see this portrayal as an essential viewpoint in literature and a statement about who deserves to be a book heroine.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray
(Listened to on a plane, examining the roles of women and family)
This book is a bit of a heavy one. But, it’s a good read. It’s all about the dynamics of women in a family: the responsibility, the love, the need for forgiveness.
The Likeability Trap by Alicia Menendez
(Read while grinding my teeth)
As one of the few nonfiction books on the list, this deep-dive into expectations for women in the workplace by journalist Alicia Menendez shows just how impossible the standard of being likeable can be. And when you add in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and parental status, the trap really can be insane.
The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
(Read while looking up matchmakers)
This. Book. Is. Adorable. If you’re not in love, you’ll want to be. And it had me out there looking and saying, “Maybe a matchmaking service could work for me. Who knows. I need this Right Swipe kinda love.”
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
(Read while squealing from delight)
Next up in gushing over the adorable: this sweet book about two people who end up going on someone else’s honeymoon. You literally know what happens — they hate each other, they end up loving each other, there’s a little drama but not too much. It’s like the perfect rom-com in book form.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
(Read while taking notes)
It’s literally never too late to start your life over, which is what this book is about and also signifies since this is the literary debut for journalist and NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes.
The 19th Christmas by James Patterson
(Listened to while thinking I’m in an episode of SVU)
I’m a sucker for James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series. This is the latest in that long line of books about bad-ass crime-fighting women. Basically, a female detective, prosecutor, reporter, and medical examiner go into a bar … and they solve everything every time.
Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
(Read while cringing and shaking my head at leadership)
As the sequel to Children of Blood and Bone, this book does not let up. It starts right away with evoking emotions you wouldn’t expect to feel at the beginning of a fiction, fantasy novel. Except, like Tomi Adeyemi has said before: This book and its world of magic and royalty and systematic oppression is based on systems that are very, very real. It’s worth a read and is an engaging story with action that goes and goes, but don’t be surprised if you see yourself shedding a tear.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
(Listened to while thinking about Jack Jack from The Incredibles)
This book about twin kids who spontaneously combust when they get agitated is just funny. And the language is just so cute and refreshing. It’s just a gem of a book.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
(Read while regrouping from a busy quarter teaching college kids)
This book is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first published fiction work. But, it’s just as brilliant as all the journalism and nonfiction books he’s known for. What I loved — and what I didn’t realize I needed to read until I did — was that he was very careful at rephrasing the language we use when talking about slavery. Instead of calling Black people enslaved, for example, they’re “the Tasked.” The whites who participated in slavery were “the Quality.”
But warning: I tried to listen to the audiobook first because I adore everything Joe Morton (Papa Pope!) and his voice is soothing. I couldn’t keep up with some of the language that way, though, so I suggest reading the print version first.
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
(Read while being teleported)
My first read of 2019, this book transports you to different worlds in this collection of short stories that take you to alternate universes and through time, but offer a commentary on what it is and has been like to be Black. It’s kind of indescribable and it set me up for a creative year.
All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
(Read while decompressing from family time)
There’s no one better for capturing the odd and stressful way families often operate than my friend Jami Attenberg, Family dysfunction runs rampant in this novel when the patriarch has a heart attack. Families are complicated, and this fiction book looks at how we break free from some of those webs we can get caught in.