Thursday, February 13, 2020

Discussion: What I Learned From Reading 200+ “Best Books Of 2019” Lists

It took me a solid three months of searching the blogosphere, Pinterest, YouTube, newspapers, magazines, award lists, and bookstore websites, but I finally did it. I read/watched every single “Best Books of 2019” list I could find. Why did I do it? Mostly FOMO. I don’t want to miss something amazing. Also, I have a book obsession (obviously) and insatiable curiosity about what people are reading. Which books are memorable? Which books are people buying? Which are the best of the best? I don’t think I can answer those questions, but I noticed some trends, and I found some under-hyped books that I want to read in 2020. Let’s get into it.

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2019/2020 Book Trends

Cute, Quirky, Funny, Modern Romance



People were definitely reading to escape in 2019. (I can’t imagine why.) I saw tons and tons of humorous romances. Readers loved The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren, which stars two sworn enemies who go on a honeymoon together after the bride and groom get sick. Another 2019 favorite was Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. It’s about a public rivalry and private romance between the Prince of Wales and the son of the US President.

Beautiful Writing


Ultra-Detailed Historical Fiction

Let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum from “cute, quirky, funny, and modern.” What did the super-serious literary people love in 2019? I saw a lot of literary historical fiction. The two historical books I noticed the most were Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid and Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I actually saw Crawdads so often that it became the first book I read in 2020. I’m pleased to report that it lives up to the hype. It’s a bit pretentious and far-fetched, but it has memorable characters and beautiful descriptions of the North Carolina coast. It’s about a semi-feral “Marsh Girl” who is accused of murdering a small-town sports hero in the 1960s.

Daisy Jones is a novel that I’m eager to read. It’s about the breakup of a fictional 1970s rock band. It’s so realistic that some reviewers had to Google the band to double-check if it was really fictional. Since the book is written in interview/transcript format, reviewers say the audiobook is excellent.

This next book didn’t get much hype in the blogosphere, but it did get the attention of award committees and professional book critics. My local bookstore declared it their favorite novel of 2019. It’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. The book is written as a letter from a queer Vietnamese man to his illiterate mother. It’s supposed to be honest, compassionate, and poetic.

Very Human Nonfiction

I was thrilled to discover several “best” nonfiction books that blend history, psychology, nature, and religion. Those are my favorite topics to read about. A book that appeared EVERYWHERE is Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. I’ve actually read that one! It chronicles the author’s childhood in a survivalist compound with her religious extremist parents. I felt slightly voyeuristic while reading it, but it’s an edge-of-your-seat memoir that you won’t believe is true. I think it deserves the hype.

A 2019 nonfiction favorite that I haven’t read (yet) is The Only Plane In The Sky: An Oral History Of September 11, 2001 by Garrett Graff. The author uses interviews with more than 500 witnesses to tell the story of 9/11 as it was experienced. The synopsis says it’s “the historic narrative of how ordinary people grappled with extraordinary events in real time.” It sounds depressing, but reviewers love it.

Under-hyped Books That I Want To Read

The best part of looking at 200+ “Best Book” lists is discovering interesting-sounding books that very few bloggers are talking about. Here’s what I added to my must-read list.

Under-Hyped Fiction

Sealed by Naomi Booth sounds absolutely terrifying. It’s a modern fable/eco-horror about a disease that causes people’s skin to grow out of control. If you’re infected, all the openings in your body will become sealed with skin. The main character is a pregnant woman who escapes to the mountains in an attempt to avoid the disease. When you’re pregnant, you definitely don’t want your openings closed . . . .

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak. Elif Shafak is an author I’ve been meaning to read for years. Her work gets amazing reviews. This novel was listed for the Booker Prize, but I didn't see many bloggers talking about it. The story follows the last 10 minutes 38 seconds of a murdered Turkish woman’s life.

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea sounds like my kind of historical fiction. It’s set in 1600s Iceland and stars a woman in an arranged marriage. Her husband’s first wife died mysteriously, and he forbids his new wife from speaking to the neighbors. When the new wife starts hearing voices in the attic, she wonders if the isolation is driving her insane.

Under-Hyped Nonfiction

Unfollow: A Journey From Hatred To Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper. If you’ve been on this blog before, then you probably know about my cult obsession. This memoir is written by a woman who was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church and decided to leave. I’m even more excited about this book because I recently watched an excellent documentary series called Why We Hate. The author was interviewed on that show. She told a story about how joining Twitter changed the way she saw the world. Her book sounds fascinating.

Becoming Unbecoming by Una is a memoir in graphic novel form. It’s about victim blaming and what it was like to grow up in Yorkshire while the “Yorkshire Ripper” serial killer was murdering women.

My Time Among The Whites: Notes From An Unfinished Education by Jennine Capò Crucet is an essay collection by a Cuban-American author who feels like a fish out of water in the US. It’s supposed to be thoughtful, hilarious, and massively controversial. I want to know what the drama is about.

That’s what I learned from months of sifting through the Internet. What about you? Do you read “Best Books” lists? Have you read any books after seeing them on someone else’s list?


  1. Love this! I read a lot of those lists too and I always add so many books after I do. I really like how you analyzed them, it sounds very familiar to everything I've seen :)

  2. I've only read a couple of books from those you shared, but many others are on my TBR books. I love best of lists and have several I am working on (slowly!)

  3. That was some amount of dedication!
    Red, White and Royal Blue is one I want to read as is Daisy Jones and The Six. 🙂

  4. I read the first two because yeah...escapism lol

    I want to listen to Daisy and the Six on audio soon.

    Karen @ For What It's worth

  5. Fantastic post AJ!!! And well in 2019 I have read many more LGBTQ than before, adult or YA and the ones that I read were just fantastic!

  6. It isn't like we never had rom-coms, but there were definitely more of them in 2019, and that is a trend I wholeheartedly embrace. Obviously, I only read the first two, and that under-hyped fiction is very under-hyped. I never saw any of those titles before.

  7. I saw a few of these over and over too. I don't go hunting for lists but I do follow a few readers and take note of what they recommend. I just have found I don't like Rom Com, but will read an ordinary romance. In our world I like to think some things work out! I am not musically inclined so - so far I've avoided Daisy Jones. I did read Crawdads, it was okay, a little literary for me. The under hyped books, first time seeing them!

  8. That's such an interesting article!

  9. Rom-coms were definitely a thing last year. Like you said, people wanting escapism... imagine that. *eye roll* I typically prefer my romances to be a bit more serious/emotional/heavier, but there were som rom-coms that I really enjoyed (and The Unhoneymooners and RW&RB were among them). I loved Daisy Jones but from day one it’s been weird to me to see if considered as historical. I mean, I was alive in the 70’s so how dare people call that era historical. LOL

  10. Great post! I like your under hyped section, I haven't heard about these books before but I'm going to check them out!

  11. I like that you did more than just read other people's lists. I've read so many "best of 2019" lists but never thought to find the trends in them. Great post :)

    Megan | Ginger Mom & Company

  12. I often find I haven't heard or or read most books on "best of" lists, although Daisy Jones and The Only Plane were among my favorites of last year! The Glass Woman sounds like a really interesting read!

  13. I really enjoy reading Best Of Lists, and seeing which books pop up over and over again. I find The New York Times Notable Books the most useful list because it covers a wide range of books (10 books on a list is too few but 100 gives you lots to choose from). Daisy Jones was a fun, engaging read. Ocean Vuong's book is quite beautiful. Know My Name was on a lot of lists and it is excellent! A must read. One book on most of those lists that I really hated was Trust Exercise.

  14. I love looking at all those lists too---it's fun to see what I have and haven't read and to compare my reading experiences with the listers'.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  15. I love looking at lists! I tend to look mostly at other bloggers' lists, but I also enjoy looking at award lists. I have added books to my TBR because of these lists. Whether I get to them is another story; I have several hundred books on my TBR. Where The Crawdads Sing is one that I've seen around quite a bit too.

  16. I do admit that these lists make me curious about the books I see over and over. I even considered Daisy Jones until I remembered that I generally hate music books. See this is the problem- the hype monster starts wearing me down 😂 Sealed and The Glass Woman sound quite interesting, but I don't think I could emotionally handle 10 minutes 38 seconds, damn that seems hard. Ditto the 9/11 book, would I ever stop sobbing? Doubtful.