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The 51 Best Books of 2019

Keeping up with all of the latest must-read books can quickly turn into an overwhelming endeavor -- leave the sorting of what's good and what's bad to us.

book preview 2019
Danna Windsor/Thrillist

Keeping up with all of the latest must-read books can quickly turn into an overwhelming endeavor -- finish one, add five more to the pile, and the cycle wears on until it's simply too unbearable to pay attention anymore. Here's another solution: Leave the sorting of what's good and what's bad to us, dedicated readers of impeccable taste. We read a lot of books in 2019, and deem these to be the 51 best worthy of adding to your neverending pile.

Like this kind of stuff? Good: Check out our picks for the Best Movies of 2019 and the Best TV Shows of 2019.For all our favorite books from 2018, look no further.

51. The Lady from the Black Lagoon 

Written by: Mallory O'Meara
Release date: March 5
Why it's a great book: A ton of important history has no doubt been lost due to good ol' fashioned sexism. For Hollywood monster movie fans, one of the most heinous of these crimes is that Milicent Patrick was written out of her own history as the real creator of the titular monster from Creature From the Black Lagoon. Here, O'Meara reverses this injustice, and then some, with her own investigative reporting into Patrick's entire life, from how her father was one of the chief architects on the Hearst Castle to her trailblazing career in animation as one of the first female animators at Disney to the forces that kept her from claiming the rightful credit to the monster. (Surprise! It was men.) Equally enlightening and infuriating, O'Meara wrote the posthumous biography Milicent Patrick deserved to have many, many years ago.
Get it now on Amazon

50. King of Joy

Written by: Richard Chiem
Release date: March 5
Why it’s a great book: There's something that goes on between the covers of a novel. It's a lot of things, but more than any metaphor or literary device, what needs to happen is the suspension of disbelief. It sounds simple but it really isn't: You must get the reader to believe what you're writing about. In his debut novel, King of Joy, Richard Chiem not only suspends disbelief, he nukes it so that there's nothing left but honesty. Corvus, our tender protagonist, falls into a sex webcam scheme run by a pornographer named Tim, who uses all kinds of "unconventional" methods. She's stuck, and when someone's stuck, what do you do? Corvus searches for an escape. King of Joy is a slippery tale of redemption, at once about struggle and about friendship. Chiem writes with such honesty, the book becomes an eloquent honest tale of a person finding their way out of a particularly decimating chapter of their life. You owe it to yourself to join Corvus on her journey.

49. Exhalation: Stories

Written by: Ted Chiang (Tower of Babylon, Hell Is the Absence of God)
Release date: May 7
Why it's a great book: Ted Chiang has won four Nebula Awards, four Hugo Awards, and four Locus Awards -- the equivalent of four hat tricks in the world of science fiction -- and one of his short stories, "Story of Your Life," was the basis of 2016's Arrival. Much of his work has focused on sentience, free will, and the perennial human quest for the meaning of life, and these nine stories in his new collection Exhalation are no different. Chiang's prose, as always, is taut, and these stories are complex but traffic in clear moral dramas, not fantastical galactic romps, even while the worlds in which they are set are so deeply fleshed out. Chiang traffics in hard sci-fi, not wildly speculative space opera: he prefers tight scientific constraints on his artificial intelligences and fluctuating laws of quantum physics. That gives the lessons these stories hold all the more power.
Get it now on Amazon

48. Bowlaway   

Written by: Elizabeth McCracken (The Giant's House)
Release date: February 5
Why it's a great book: Perhaps single-handedly responsible for getting 21st century book readers to care about the old-timey pastime of candlepin bowling through her new novel, Bowlaway, Elizabeth McCracken spins a yarn over the course of nearly a century about generations of an unconventional matriarch and her small family, and the gossip-prone townspeople around them, who opens a small-town Massachusetts candlepin bowling alley. The novel's deliberate pacing, taking the time to drill down into the minutiae that defines a person, awful as they may be, is its greatest asset, yielding some particularly strange and funny passages.
Get it now on Amazon

47. The Secret Commonwealth

Written by: Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy, Sally Lockhart series)
Release date: October 3
Why it's a great book: You may not have noticed, but Philip Pullman has been semi-quietly delving back into the world of Lyra Belacqua and her golden compass in a new trilogy, whose second book, The Secret Commonwealth, came out this fall. Whereas the first book, La Belle Sauvage, followed what happened to Lyra as a baby, the second installment catches up with her as a 20-year-old college student, still living in Oxford, still beset by the Magisterium and the mysteries of daemons and Dust. It's strikingly melancholy, but also a fascinating tour of Pullman's alternate Europe, where the veil between the mortal world and the magical one is much thinner.

46. When You Read This   

Written by: Mary Adkins
Release date: February 5
Why it's a great book: Told exclusively through email exchanges and posts from the platform Dying to Blog, where the terminally ill can, well, blog, When You Read This mostly deals with the eerie modern phenomenon of the digital footprint people leave behind when they die, and who gets what kind of say over complex last wishes. Though mostly exchanges between the deceased's sister and her now-former boss (and his insanely annoying, over-eager intern), Mary Atkins wrings a lot out of seemingly peripheral emails with the wrong people CC'd on it, marketing blasts, and comment threads that actually can say a lot about a person's interests and deepest concerns, and the health of the internet at large. It's an uncanny novel that hits the zeitgeist, while also finding the space to be profoundly sad.
Get it now on Amazon

45. Sounds Like Titanic

Written by: Jessica Hindman
Release date: February 12
Why it's a great book: A stranger-than-fiction memoir, Sounds Like Titanic recounts Hindman's collegiate experience joining a touring orchestra, to make ends meet, led by an eccentric composer/conductor only to find out that her (somewhat lackluster) skills as a violinist is moot: The orchestra "plays" major sold-out concerts to a recording of the music, and no one in the audience is any the wiser. She never names names, but a quick Google search will turn up the juicy con.

44. Last Night In Nuuk

Written by: Niviaq Korneliussen 
Release date: January 15
Why it's a great book: There are exactly zero writers from Greenland, a country with a population the size of New Brunswick, New Jersey, that have become household names in the United States. Try to name one, I dare you. Hopefully that changes with queer, Greenlandic author Niviaq Korneliussen's breakout novel (translated into English by Anna Halager), an absorbing and sad coming-out tale centered around five young adults in the writer's home country's capital city of Nuuk. Korneliussen takes care to make the background of the city, particularly its nightlife and smallness, come alive as her characters grapple with their identities and complicated, entwined relationships, on top of the country's entrenched homophobia and distinct neuroses.
Get it now on Amazon

43. The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna

Written by: Juliet Grames
Release date: April 23
Why it's a great book: This hefty Italian-American novel of a young woman's jarring emigration from her quiet life on the Italian countryside to Connecticut scans Scorcesean, with all the surprising twists, unexpected violence, and intimately honest scenes of a struggling family. The beating heart, though, is the many near-death experiences of the eldest Fortuna daughter, Stella, who seems to be cursed to a life of bad luck yet overcomes through sheer force of will. 

42. Notes From a Young Black Chef

Written by: Kwame Onwuachi
Release date: April 9
Why it's a great book: Already optioned as a movie starring LaKeith Stanfield as Chef Kwame Onwuachi, Notes From a Young Black Chef finds Onwuachi (with help from Joshua David Stein) telling his own version of the highly publicized rise and fall of his ambitious, boundary-pushing D.C. restaurant Shaw Bijou at 27 years old. He saves most of that, and his time on Top Chef, for the end, focusing the majority of the book on his difficult youth, uneven family, and finding his love of cooking, lacing his anecdotes with practical recipes, coalescing into a hilarious, affecting, and tightly written memoir. 

41. Naamah

Written by: Sarah Blake (Mr. West, Let's Not Live on Earth)
Release date: April 9
Why it's a great book: Sarah Blake's Naamah would most succinctly be summed up as a biblical tale, but doing so would be a great disservice to those who'd be turned off by such a description and a total act of sacrilege to those who might gravitate towards it. (For evidence, check out the Goodreads reviews!) As a retelling of Noah and the ark, Naamah discards everything but the skeleton that you might have known about the Old Testament story, turning the parable into a visceral, sexy, and surreal struggle of life aboard a boat with wild animals after God kills the world's population through the Great Flood told entirely from the perspective of Noah's wife, Naamah. Doing away with any ancient pretenses, Blake writes with a thoroughly modern (and feminist) flare -- you won't find any "thou oughts" here. Instead, expect crises of faith written with the same frankness of the sex scenes, an angel kind of abusing its infinite power, and daydreaming asides of God as a being with three penises.
Get it now on Amazon

40. Mostly Dead Things 

Written by: Kristen Arnett (Felt in the Jaw)
Release date: June 4
Why it's a great book: Kristen Arnett is the internet's queer librarian folk hero, and Mostly Dead Things, her debut novel, has been anticipated with much salivating and anxious pacing at least since the launch of her debut story collection, Felt In the Jaw, in August 2017, and probably since before that. It's a novel she calls a "lesbian domestic": queer, but not a coming-out story, it deals with a family reeling from the suicide of its patriarch, a messy love triangle in which two of the three wheels are siblings and the third disappeared without a word long ago, and a mother making pornographic art using her late husband's taxidermied animals. Oh, right: its protagonist, Jessa-Lynn, is a hard-drinking Floridian taxidermist. You haven't read anything like it.
Get it now on Amazon

39. How to Do Nothing

Written by: Jenny Odell
Release date: April 9
Why it's a great book: Artist, writer, and Stanford professor Jenny Odell's screed against society's obsession with productivity and optimization is a call for activism cloaked in a self-help book. Positing concrete steps to "do nothing" (an accessible way of framing concepts like conscientious objection), analyzing dropping out movements (ie. communes in the '60s), and engaging with philosophical and political texts, Odell's bestseller has been a leftist revolutionary manifesto and capitalist course correction hiding in plain sight.

38. Dead Astronauts

Written by: Jeff VanderMeer (Southern Reach Trilogy, Borne)
Release date: December 3
Why it's a great book: His Southern Reach Trilogy proved to be a mainstream success, but Jeff VanderMeer has been writing into a brand new universe, equally as enticing and able-minded about the perils of our dying planet. Dead Astronauts takes us deeper into the City, the setting he created for his previous two books, the 2017 novel Borne and its companion novella, The Strange Bird. The world-building in the novel is a true display of mastery: We begin with three characters hellbent on destroying the City as an act of vengeance toward the nefarious Company, which has done irreparable damage to the surrounding environment. That's where worlds, plural, come into play, the narrative twisting and contorting to reveal the grand effects of ecological calamity. In the simplest sense, Dead Astronauts is a tale of man versus nature, and it's a book that'll leave you breathless and thinking not only about the future but also the past and all that you'd wish you could go back and do differently.

37. Women Talking 

Written by: Miriam Toews
Release date: April 2
Why it's a great book: For a novel that almost entirely takes place in a primitive loft in the fictional Mennonite community Molotschna, Women Talking is philosophically sprawling and conceptually harrowing. Based on real occurrences that plagued a Bolivian Mennonite community from 2005-2009, the lead-up to this secret symposium of women in a barn loft were years of women and girls waking up in a haze, clearly showing signs of rape. The men insisted this was the doing of demons or just the "wild imagination" of the women; in reality, they were the ones responsible, sneaking into homes and spraying an anesthesia meant for cattle onto the women and raping them. In Towes' novel, told through meeting minutes taken by the male narrator who grew up in the community, left, and came back, the women, holding the knowledge that this is the fault of their men, debate between staying and leaving, and talk through the weighty implications of each of their unenviable decisions. 

36. Disappearing Earth 

Written by: Julia Phillips 
Release date: May 14
Why it's a great book: The multi-perspective, braided narrative of Disappearing Earth, a National Book Award finalist, traces the year after two young girls were kidnapped in the remote eastern Russian peninsula, Kamchatka. As the months-as-chapters chug along, we see how interwoven the members of the community are, as the resident's reactions after the kidnapping and day-to-day ricochet off one another. Zooming in on each microcosm tells a melancholy story, but it all mounts to an ending that makes all the suffering worthwhile.

35. From the Shadows

Written by: Juan José Millás
Release date: August 27
Why it's a great book: Damián Lobo is stuck. Mostly, he's stuck in his head, where he escapes from the mundanities of his lonely life by imagining himself as a celebrity whose every action is dissected, to raucous applause from a live studio audience, by a television talk show host. But he's also stuck in an antique dresser, in which he's hiding from a mall security guard after a petty theft, and then in the home of its new owners, where he proceeds to become something of a living, benevolent poltergeist, serving the family and observing them -- until his hideaway act gets him in over his head. The compact, surreal story from Millás, translated from Spanish by Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn, is uproarious and unnerving in equal measure, and is far too riveting to put down.

34. Ghost Wall

Written by: Sarah Moss (The Tidal Zone, Signs for Lost Children, Bodies of Light)
Release date: January 8
Why it's a great book: The novella might be the ideal literary form for the 21st-century attention span. Like a novel, it's got heft and room for development of character; like a short story, it's gripping and forceful in its concision. Sarah Moss, whose last name is almost too on the nose, delivers the best of both worlds in Ghost Wall, a short and unmooring story following Silvie, a 17-year-old girl who is forced by her father, a history fanatic, to go back to the Iron Ages. Figuratively, that is: she must live for a time like a Briton in the pre-Roman era with three college students, an archaeology professor, and her dad. Silvie forages for food in a remote corner of the English countryside and watches as the men of the group adorn a replica of a "ghost wall" (meant to scare the advancing Romans away) with skulls. Her father slides into something resembling madness, or primeval, or both.
Get it now on Amazon

33. Night Boat to Tangier

Written by: Kevin Barry (City of Bohane)
Release date: June 20
Why it's a great book: Nobody writes like the Irish write, and Kevin Barry is the latest in a long line of Hibernian wordslingers, from Samuel Beckett to Flann O'Brien to Roddy Doyle, to dazzle with his diction. His latest is a tight, noir-ish tale of two washed-up former drug dealers waiting in the shady ferry terminal of the Spanish port of Algeciras not for God (or Godot) but a missing daughter, Dilly. The dialogue sizzles, and the balancing act between the harrowing and the side-splitting is consistently impressive as Barry weaves the twinned tales of Charlie Redmond and Maurice Hearne's pockmarked pasts with snapshots of an uncertain present.

32. Go Ahead in the Rain

Written by: Hanif Abdurraqib (They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us)
Release date: February 1
Why we're excited: Essayist and poet Hanif Abdurraqib has proven himself to be an essential voice in music criticism. His latest homes in on a sole subject: A Tribe Called Quest, and the influential band's come-up in the '90s and eventual breakup, mixing in personal fandom without ever sacrificing the larger narrative. Zooming in and back out without giving the reader whiplash is one of Abdurraqib's greatest strengths, on display in full in Go Ahead in the Rain.

31. Space Invaders

Written by: Nona Fernández (Chilean Electric)
Release date: November 5
Why it's a great book: In the running for the National Book Award for translation -- from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer -- Fernández's slim novella, Space Invaders, is a godsend. It's that sort of book you can finish in an hour but it'll haunt you for much longer than the biggest texts. It's the sort of book that reminds you of the bigness of the world, especially with regards to how we carry it with us, the effect of society and the world on our own often tiny lives. The book centers on childhood friends that are still haunted by the memory of their mutual friend, Estrella Gonzalez Jepsen. Told in quick, one-page bursts, the memory of Jepsen becomes a jumping-off point for the cultural and political woes of the time, all framed around the idea of the iconic alien invader enemies descending upon the player via increasingly difficult waves in the retro video game that gave the book its title. The book is a meditation on memory and how it's a double-edged sword that leaves everyone nursing wounds.

30. We Cast a Shadow

Written by: Maurice Carlos Riffin
Release date: January 29
Why it's a great book: For those who loved the irreverent racial satire of Paul Beatty's The Sellout, get yourself a copy of Marice Carlos Riffin's debut, We Cast a Shadow, immediately. Riffin takes on the cynicism of corporate climbing, the hypocrisies in a biracial family, and a broken society set in a not-distant future where class warfare is bubbling and people of color routinely utilize a medical procedure to become light skinned. Shocking, yet effective, We Cast a Shadow lives in its uniquely blunt, counterintuitive headspace and pulls readers in a prickly embrace. 

29. Territory of Light

Written by: Yūko Tsushima (Of Dogs and Walls)
Release date: February 12
Why it's a great book: Japan and feminism don't tend to be commonly associated with each other, especially when it comes to arts and culture. Yet in spite of Haruki Murakami's utter dominance over the English-speaking world's idea of what a great Japanese novelist is, there are actually a lot more great Japanese novelists than just that perennial nobel bridesmaid. Some of them are even women! Enter Yūko Tsushima, who won more than her fair share of Japan's top literary prizes over her 40-year literary career. Territory of Light, from 1979, is one of her first, and remains one of her best, examining the slow and painful transition to single parenthood for an unnamed young mother going through a divorce. A new edition from FSG, translated by Geraldine Harcourt, captures the unsteady balance between the interior of the mother's new apartment, uncharacteristically bright for Japanese homes, and the darkness of despair she is forced to combat alone.

28. The Cook

Written by: Maylis de Kerangal (The Heart)
Release date: March 26
Why it's a great book: There should be more novels about food, mostly because food is one of the only things in this idiot world of which we could always use more. More is also what chefs are always searching for: more flavor, more techniques, more ways to present their culinary creations. More is also precisely what Mauro (coincidental name? doubtful), the titular cook at the center of Maylis de Kerangal's latest novel to be translated into English from the French (by Sam Taylor), is in quest of in this slim but punchy novel of tastes sought and triumphs thinly won, narrated by a young woman acquainted (and perhaps in love) with the scraggly young chef hoping to make his name.
Get it now on Amazon

27. Doppelgänger

Written by: Daša Drndić (EEG, Belladonna)
Release date: September 24
Why it's a great book: There were many in the "give Drndić the damn Nobel already" camp before her death from cancer, at 71, in 2016. This is the third volume of Drndić's New Directions has published in as many years, and like everything else by this apocalyptically incisive Croatian writer, it's a grim and moving read. At the center of the first of the book's two interconnected novellas is the tempestuously sultry encounter between a retired Yugoslav army captain and an elderly Holocaust survivor on New Year's Eve. It begins: "Oh. He shat himself." The second follows the life of a would-be sculptor turned government spy whose broken life unspools as he works to correct the wrongs wrought by his family with the help of a pawnbroker friend. Drndić's prose, as rendered by translators S.D. Curtis and Celia Hawksworth, is heady, and the volume's slimness belies just how packed it is with sturm und drang. It will unsettle you wholly. Drndić herself called it "my ugly little book." She's half right. Brutal, but beautiful.

26. Females

Written by: Andrea Long Chu
Release date: October 29
Why it's a great book: The debut from one of Twitter’s greatest provocateurs, Andrea Long Chu's Females does not disappoint. She begins the text with a bold statement: Everyone is female. Through a close-reading of Valerie Solonas' work, various other pop-culture references, and personal anecdotes, Chu explains and justifies her claim but uou don't have to agree with Chu to find value in her writing. If you're not interested in her gender theory, you'll find value in her exploration of desire. If you're not interested in her exploration of desire, you'll be moved by her memoir. This is a complicated book that packs a lot in its brief 112 pages and it is absolutely worth your open mind.

25. Fleischman Is in Trouble

Written by: Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Release date: June 18
Why it's a great book: Fleishman Is in Trouble could break up your relationship -- in good way, if that's even possible. This debut novel from acclaimed magazine writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner attends to the troubles of a 40-something doctor named Toby Fleishman as he weathers the early stages of a separation and navigates the newly discovered possibilities of online dating (namely, women want to have sex with him now). This tour-de-force of horny neurosis has won comparisons to Philip Roth -- but here, crucially, you get the woman's side of the story and any misogyny here is critique. Status obsession in New York City, the bullshit and comforts that come with marriage, and the nuances of the purple devil emoji are all glossed in a way that's never less than addictive, hilarious, and brilliant. A TV show is in development, so read it now for maximum social capital -- just not in a book club with your significant other.

24. Normal People

Written by: Sally Rooney (Conversations With Friends)
Release date: April 16
Why it's a great book: Sally Rooney's debut novel Conversations With Friends earned her a reputation as a freakishly prodigious writer, but this Man Booker Prize-long-listed follow-up proves she’s a Great Writer, period. It follows the intense, magnetic connection of two young people from different social classes in Ireland over the course of high school and college, and somehow feels utterly modern while giving you the old-fashioned pleasures that are, well, the reason you pick up books to begin with: rich characters you care for so deeply it’s scary, a plot that’ll take precedence over your actual life, and a sense that spending time in Rooney’s brain has made you a smarter, better person.
Get it now on Amazon

23. Optic Nerve

Written by: María Gainza
Release date: April 9
Why it's a great book: Maria Gainza's first book translated into English from Spanish (by Thomas Bunstead) is a curiously fascinating piece of autofiction, a genre where a writer mines her own life for inspiration without keeping to the factitical restraints of a memoir. Like Gainza, the protagonist here is an art critic also named María from Argentina, but as the author said in an interview with LitHub, the connections mostly end there, aside from a shared grave fear of flying. The loosely connected chapters are like short essays of sharply written art criticism, bringing in real artists, their lives, and their work as they apply to smaller moments in Maria's life. From thinking about Mark Rothko while her husband is in this hospital making friends with a prostitute, to exploring Gustave Courbet’s seascapes in relation to her strange, aimless cousin, each anecdote deftly draws the unassuming connections from art to life.
Get it now on Amazon

22. Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Written by: Marlon James (A History of Seven Killings, John Crow's Devil, The Book of Night Women)
Release date: February 5
Why it's a great book: The first novel of Marlon James' new Dark Star Trilogy has been smartly marketed as "an African Game of Thrones" -- only that sells Black Leopard, Red Wolf short on the strength of its incisive prose and its truly magical world-building about the unwieldiness of truth. It wholly makes sense that Michael B. Jordan bought the rights to turn this novel into a movie shortly after its release; it's wrought with striking imagery of typical fantasy staples like witches and giants made new, and a driving plot of shape-shifting mercenaries searching for a murdered child that ends -- or rather, starts -- with the protagonist, Tracker, imprisoned and interrogated over what happened. The rest is an expansive, exciting, exhaustive epic that's only just begun.
Get it now on Amazon

21. Celestial Bodies 

Written by: Jokha Alharthi 
Release date: October 15
Why it's a great book: This novel is terrific, but above all, it's important. The book is Alharthi's first to be translated into English, by Marilyn Booth, and it won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, which are certainly feathers in its cap. But it's also the first book of Omani fiction to ever be published in America. Think about that: the United States has provided billions of dollars worth of arms and military assistance to the Saudi Arabian-backed faction in the Yemeni Civil War, Oman's next-door neighbor, and yet. The novel is a juicy family drama following the interwoven lives of multiple families in a country that has changed radically over the past century. It's riveting, and gorgeously translated. It should also, as long as the U.S. remains entrenched in Middle-Eastern conflict, be mandatory reading.

20. Nothing To See Here

Written by: Kevin Wilson (Baby, You're Gonna Be Mine, Perfect Little World)
Release date: October 29
Why it's a great book: Kevin Wilson’s snappy new novel reunites two fallen-out high school friends and basketball teammates from very different socioeconomic backgrounds when the wealthy one asks for her poor friend to be the live-in caretaker of her politician husband's secret and disobedient "demon children" who can spontaneously combust without hurting themselves. To be sure, it's a difficult premise to pull off, but Wilson does so with aplomb, making a complicated story mired in layers of satire and social commentary seem effortless. Hilarious and fun, Nothing To See Here keeps getting picked up by book clubs (ie. The Today Show, Buzzfeed, etc.) for good reason.

19. Star 

Written by: Yukio Mishima (Spring Snow, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Golden Colours)
Release date: April 30
Why it's a great book: One of Japan's greatest novelists was also one of its strangest and most badass. Following a life of polarizing nationalism, Yukio Mishima killed himself via ritual suicide following an unsuccessful attempt at a coup d'état by the militia he founded and led (the "Tatenokai," or "shield society") to restore the power of the emperor of Japan -- just two years after he lost out on the Nobel Prize in Literature to his contemporary, Yasunari Kawabata. But that wasn't for lack of daring work. Star, translated from Japanese by Sam Bett, is a strange, avant-garde little novella following a young actor whose portrayals of yakuza in a series of successful films has won him a significant following among Japan's women, along with the kind of attention that could drive any person slowly insane. It's a compelling portrait of celebrity meltdown, and especially potent during an era in which a melted-down celebrity is also ruler of the free world. Time for another coup?
Get it now on Amazon

18. Rough Magic

Written by: Lara Prior-Palmer
Release date: May 7
Why it's a good book: Not many people are equipped, physically or mentally, to ride a series of barely tamed Mongolian ponies across the same 1,000km route that Genghis Khan and his band of boys trekked, but at 19, Lara Prior-Palmer decided on a whim that she'd give the grueling horse race, called the Mongol Derby, a try. The true-life end of Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race is spoiled from the get-go -- that Prior-Palmer fucking wins, becoming the youngest person to finish and the first woman to win it -- which is hardly a problem; you're there for the ride-along, and the friends and enemies Lara makes feel like your own cohorts and nemeses. The memories and observations of the Mongolian steppe place you directly in the headspace of an ass-chapped competitor, and the prose gallops across the page, driving you to the finish line against all the odds.

17. The Water Cure 

Written by: Sophie Mackintosh
Release date: January 8
Why it's a great book: During this dystopian era in which feminism, despite all the brazen societal and governmental efforts to quash it, is thriving in the public sphere, the words "feminist dystopia" should be enough to hook any reader on a book. If they're not, consider that Sophie Mackintosh's debut novel also features: a remote island surrounded by barbed wire; three sisters trained to feel no emotions; a Greek chorus (sort of); a gun to make Chekhov warily proud; and lots of literal toxic masculinity (no, really -- it's literal). This harrowing book manages, somehow, to simultaneously walk the line between fairy tale, coming-of-age tale, and morality tale. It does them all with plenty of intensity, and with muscular prose to boot.
Get it now on Amazon

16. Catch and Kill

Written by: Ronan Farrow 
Release date: October 15
Why it's a great book: To make media reporting riveting to anyone not in the media is no small feat, and Farrow, whose journalistic chops are as respected as any in the business, has done just that here. This is the story of the work Farrow and dozens of other reporters and fact-checkers (Farrow never forgets the fact-checkers!) put into the seminal story of the #MeToo movement, which outed Harvey Weinstein as a serial predator. It's also a story of Eastern European espionage and the insidious connections between powerful media figures and celebrities so decidedly noir-ish that Dashiell Hammett himself, had he been alive to read it, might have wished he'd written it. This is the rare big name political reporting book worthy of the hype.

15. Dark Constellations 

Written by: Pola Oloixarac (Savage Theories)
Release date: April 16
Why it's a great book: Her follow-up to 2017's criminally underrated Savage Theories, Dark Constellations confirms once again that Pola Oloixarac is probably the smartest person in whatever room she's in. Known as the brightest literary voice in Argentina today, Oloixarac has the singular ability to connect seemingly unrelated events across centuries as universal truths about the way the world works, down to its biological level. Dark Constellations, translated from Spanish by Roy Kesey, is broken up into three sections, starting with the field log of a young researcher studying strange plants in the Canary Islands in the 1880s, fast-forwarding 100 years later to a mini-biography of Argentina's first huge anarcho-hacker, and ending in a secret technohub in 2024 with an ethically unpalatable DNA and surveillance experiment called the Estromatoliton project. It's a dense, rewarding novel for those open to an intellectual challenge.
Get it now on Amazon

14. Vernon Subutex (1) 

Written by: Virginie Despentes (Baise-Moi)
Release date: November 5
Why it's a great book: Vernon Subutex is the latest from the infamous writer and filmmaker, Virginie Despentes. You might know her from her controversial novel, Baise-Moi, and the film it spawned, but with Vernon Subutex, a trilogy of novels translated from French by Frank Wynne, Despentes is forging new territory. The eponymous character of the book, Vernon Subutex, is a record shop owner who is, like the rest of the industry, hit by hurdle after hurdle as music and the way it is consumed changes. With the decline of CD and vinyl sales in favor of digital streaming, Subutex loses his shop and, after selling all of his inventory and memorabilia on eBay to stay afloat for the first couple years, he ends up dead-broke and homeless. That is, until word gets around that he has VHS tapes of tragically dead rock musician, Alexandre Bleach, in his possession. What happens next is a jet stream of compulsively readable transgressive prose. If you're looking for a book that'll disgust you as much as it delights, Volume 1 of the trilogy will do just that. And you don’t have to wait too long for the conclusion: FSG will put out the other two next year.

13. The Dry Heart

Written by: Natalia Ginzburg (Happiness, as Such)
Release date: June 25
Why it's a great book: For about a week and a half this summer, everyone was reading Natalia Ginzburg -- or at least everyone of a literary mind on the internet was tweeting about her. And for good reason, with two of her works of fiction finally reissued this year. The longer work, Happiness, as Such, is in a new translation, and is just as good as the other. But The Dry Heart, translated from Italian by Frances Frenaye, is simply explosive. A literary thriller animated by feminine anger, it finds its heroine (if she can be called that) admitting to murdering her husband in cold blood within the first two paragraphs. It gets even more noir from there, and arguably does in 83 pages what it takes a Donna Tartt novel nine times the number of pages to manage. It's not a mystery -- by the end of the first page, Ginzburg literally tells us how the story will end. It doesn't matter. It's gripping nonetheless.

12. The Memory Police

Written by: Yoko Ogawa (The Housekeeper and the Professor, The Diving Pool, Hotel Iris, Revenge)
Release date: August 13
Why it’s a great book: Fans of speculative fiction will need this one injected into their veins post-haste. Yoko Ogawa has been writing precise surrealistic fiction for awhile now, but with The Memory Police, Ogawa has tapped into the same literary pool as George Orwell. The Memory Police takes place on an island in a society where objects are disappearing. First, it's minor stuff like clothing and ribbons. Soon, the minor becomes major -- the novelist main character's editor is targeted by the eponymous "Memory Police," resulting in a dire plan that might just doom both her and her editor. The narrative folds in on itself and masterfully breaks the fourth wall when the very thing one is reading turns out to be perhaps the only way to fend off the Memory Police. Ogawa's prose is silky smooth and rolls by in the bat of an eye, yet everything behind those sentences is a fable for loss and the power yet fleetingness of memory.

11. In the Dream House

Written by: Carmen Maria Machado (Her Body and Other Parties)
Release date: November 5
Why it's a great book: Machado's debut memoir carves out a space in the canon of queer nonfiction by excavating the most difficult moments of an abusive lesbian relationship and organizing them in the many contexts of their shared "dream house" in Bloomington, Indiana. Addressing the humiliation, terror, and devastating commonness, In the Dream House is part a historical reckoning of how abuse in lesbian and queer relationships has been cast aside, part analytical folk tale, and an altogether self-aware account of one woman's harrowing experience (and real-life "plot twist") dating a gaslighting, unstable woman.

10. Ducks, Newburyport

Written by: Lucy Ellmann (Sweet Desserts, Dot in the Universe)
Release date: September 10
Why it's a great book: The Booker Prize 2019 shortlisted novel, Ducks, Newburyport, has become something of a literary watercooler topic. Everyone's talking about this 1,020-page novel written by author Lucy Ellmann, a perfect synthesis of our turbulent times in the form of a long thought monologue from the perspective of a mother in the midst of baking tartes. Still, it is so much more than merely that (or anything you might suspect). Using the phrase "the fact that," Ellmann is able to tether together a slipstream of facts and urgencies, all of them indexed into what feels so much like scrolling through Twitter, reading countless thoughts and hot-takes. Punctuated by a side-story -- a tender tale of a lioness trying to regain her cubs in a world that has encroached upon her natural habitat, effectively endangering her and her kin -- Ducks, Newburyport is a menacing novel, a masterpiece of precision and endurance. This is the sort of book you'll pick up and be baffled for the first 10 or 20 pages, but by the 30th page, you'll be home.

9. The Need

Written by: Helen Phillips (The Beautiful Bureaucrat)
Release date: July 9
Why it's a great book: Helen Phillips managed to write a book more tense than most horror movies from this year without violence or even really being a horror story. What starts off as a home invasion thriller -- or is the protagonist Molly imagining things? -- gives way to a touching reflection of family and motherhood, and the paranoia and the bifurcation of self that comes with it. Phillips boiled these ideas down into a tight, propulsive novel with a sci-fi bent that's both funny and mournful, pulling you through to the end with your own dire need to know what happens to Molly and her young family.

8. The Book of X

Written by: Sarah Rose Etter 
Release date: July 16
Why it's a great book: This punchy, eerie novel tells the life story of Cassie, a woman born, like the generations of women in her family before her, with her stomach twisted in the shape of a knot. The book trafficks in a sort of magic realist body horror, and the results are remarkable. This is a world in which meat can be mined from the ground and in quarries, and Cassie's own depressive imaginings -- of rivers of thighs and fields of throats -- are as unsettling as her environment. It's no light read, filled as it is with tales of trauma and abuse, of bodily self-hatred and self-doubt, but Cassie's memorable voice and Etter's terrific turns of phrase deftly deliver this novel's brutal beauty.

7. Oval

Written by: Elvia Wilk
Release date: June 4
Why it's a great book: It's best to start Oval without learning too much about it, so here's what you need to know: Set in the near future, where a shadowy and omnipresent megacorporation Finster seems to have its paws in everything, the Berlin-set novel centers on the mid-to-late 20-something Anja as the life around her crumbles following the death of her artist boyfriend Louis's mother. Though its core is achingly human, the rest of its moving parts -- a sustainable living mountain community that might not be so sustainable, Finster's mundanely sinister agenda, shrunken heads, a designer drug that makes you generous -- tells an uncanny story of dread. In Wilk's hands, the backslide of society, real society, into the late-stage capitalism apocalypse feels inevitable in light of her deftly told and deliberately paced harbinger of our own doom. Oval deserves to be read widely; put this at the top of Alex Garland's next book-to-movie adaptation project list.

6. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous 

Written by: Ocean Vuong (Night Sky with Exit Wounds)
Release date: June 4
Why it’s a great book: The debut novel from critically acclaimed writer Ocean Vuong arrived, much like his debut poetry collection, to unanimous praise and instant best-seller status. And with good reason. Vuong’s prose is raw yet tender, magical yet tragic. Written as a novel-length letter from son to a mother who cannot read, protagonist Little Dog strings together a confessional narrative at once an examination of family, loss, and transformation. Vuong has the power to entrance with a single sentence. Just look at this line: "They say nothing lasts forever but they're just scared it will last longer than they can love it." On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is the sort of book that will bring you to tears; the emotional resonance so complex you can't be sure if it's sadness, happiness, or something in between. But thats kind of the point. Vuong has written a tale about the ages, about taking stock in one’s heritage, and finding oneself in a world consistently in the throes of change.

5. Trick Mirror 

Written by: Jia Tolentino
Release date: August 6
Why it's a great book: It is a truth fairly universally acknowledged that Jia Tolentino, currently a New Yorker staff writer, is the best young reported essayist of her generation, much to the envy of all the other essayists in her generation. Her debut collection from Random House does little to disprove the argument. There are nine essays in them about "self deception," but the only thing Tolentino could possibly be deceiving herself about is how utterly perceptive she truly is as a journalist, and how skilled in presenting those perceptions she is as a writer. Being Jia Tolentino should be illegal. You really shouldn't be able to own a dog this floofyand be this exceptional at everything you do.
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4. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead 

Written by: Olga Tokarczuk (Flights)
Release date: August 13
Why it's a great book: This year, two Nobel Prizes in Literature were awarded -- one to a Bosnian genocide apologist and convicted war criminal Slobodan Milošević eulogist, and one to a Polish novelist whose fierce condemnations of nationalism in her home country have been nearly as widely condemned by Poland's right wing as her novels have been praised by everyone else. Last year, Olga Tokarczuk brought home the Man Booker International Prize for Flights -- likely the novel that won her, a year late, the 2018 Nobel as well -- but this year saw the release of her latest English-language translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Besides having the best title of any novel this year, the book blurs the lines between thriller and fairy tale in a literary detective novel that asks hard questions about human nature and the social contract. It's unputdownable and of great literary import. Books like this don't come around that often.

3. The Tenth Muse 

Written by: Catherine Chung (Forgotten Country)
Release date: June 18
Why it's a great book: Catherine Chung's The Tenth Muse is easily the most frustrating book from this year, purely based on the iniquities that the novel's groundbreaking mathematician protagonist, also called Katherine, faces in her long, impressive life. But it's exactly for the same reasons that Chung's sweeping novel is so damn good, and Katherine endures, eventually becoming a respected name in the math community, in spite of all of it. Playing out like the best melodrama you've ever read, imbued with reader-accessible discussions about mathematical theories and discoveries (some real, some not), The Tenth Muse is told from the perspective of Katherine as a woman toward the end of her life, reflecting on a lifetime of genealogical mysteries and self-discovery that informs identity, sexist and racist (Katherine is half-Chinese) encounters that act like a battering ram to her natural upward momentum, and disappointing men. Simply, this is a story about a resilient-against-all-odds woman for women; but you don't have to identify as a gal to find The Tenth Muse a deeply affecting experience.

2. Underland 

Written by: Robert Macfarlane (Landmarks, The Lost WordsThe Old Ways)
Release date: May 2
Why it's a great book: The latest in MacFarlane's unofficial "series" of books on humanity's relationship with natural phenomena, Underland is a tremendous undertaking often spiritual in its scope, detailing the many ways humans have created our connections with the world underneath the Earth's surface, from swathes of cave paintings within our remotest mountains to webs of grisly catacombs beneath our oldest cities to mines so deep and so silent it's the only place where scientists can listen for the breath of the universe. The winner of 2019's Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize, a UK-based award for nature books, Underland is a true masterpiece of naturalism, one that will have you in complete and total awe of our world.
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1. Gingerbread

Written by: Helen Oyeyemi (What is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Boy, Snow, Bird)
Release date: March 5
Why it's a great book: Gingerbread is undoubtedly the weirdest book you'll read all year. Helen Oyeyemi's prose pushes and pulls in ways that make every sentence essential; skim too lackadaisically through a paragraph and you probably missed a crucial detail. In this way, Oyeyemi's writing here feels almost refreshingly dangerous while recounting a fantastical, hilarious, and wry story about three generations of Lee women hailing from the nonexistent (according to Google) farmsteaded countryside of Druhástrana, catapulting to Britain, and back. A story within a story (within a story), the novel asks you to trust in its methods -- talking dolls which might also be trees, the suggestion of wealth managing Stormzy, and, of course, the mythic Lee women's gingerbread recipe -- and wholehearted buy-in with few spoilers is absolutely the best approach to this clever reimagined twisting of the Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, which is practically unrecognizable in this form. Never without a sinister cloud hanging over it despite its whimsical airiness, Gingerbread is one of the rare finds where the first reading is a head-spinning delight, but a second and third turn would inevitably open the door to the novel's delirious true genius.
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