My Top Books of 2019

I had such a good reading year this year. It was hard to narrow my top books of 2019 into a manageable list.

For as long as I can remember, my favorite part of my day has been the part when I get to curl up for an hour or so with a pile of books. For years, reading was the last thing I did every day before bed. This year, I changed things up and started doing my reading in the morning (with a cup of coffee, of course). I’ve also shifted things around in that I’m spending more time these days on non-fiction than fiction. There’s just so much stuff I want to know, ya know?

I’ve also initiated a few new reading challenges for myself. In addition to still pursuing the classics (which I define as any famous book—or unfamous book by a famous author—published prior to 1970), I’ve also decided to read all the Pulitzer winners (quite a few of which I’ve already read via my pursuit of the classics). And I’m trying to read a history of every country; this year, I checked off Canada, Afghanistan, and Australia (I may or may not have gotten distracted by histories of the popes and the Templars).

As you’ll see, I read more 5-star books this year than I think I have any year, so that was pretty awesome.

Following you can find my top books of 2019: 5 Fiction Books, 5 Writing Books, and 5 General Non-Fiction Books.

But, first, the stats:

Total books read: 48

Fiction to non-fiction ratio: 13:35

Male to female author ratio: 25:23

Top 5 genres: Social Science (with 11 books), Spiritual Growth (with 10), History (with 7), Writing (with 7), and Fantasy (with 6).

Number of books per rating: 5 stars (12), 4 stars (19), 3 stars (16), 2 stars (1), 1 star (0).

Top 5 Fiction Books

I’ve been reading my fiction much slower this year, savoring it—sometimes just a chapter a day—instead of inhaling a book a week as I’ve been wont to do in years past. For the most part, it’s been a year dedicated to finally reading Rowling’s incredibly wonderful series, which is rightfully the Star Wars of my generation.

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling—Read 10-20-19 Four and Half Stars

My favorite of the series so far, I think (still have Deathly Hallows to go). Tightly plotted, every chapter entertaining. And then, of course, there’s the ending…

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling—Read 1-25-19 Four and Half Stars

Wonderful. Much better fleshed out and smoother and better foreshadowed than the movie. Nothing to complain of. Just a joy.

3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling—Read 7-12-19 Four and Half Stars

The characterization in this one is a master work. Harry is so viscerally, relatably, believably angry throughout the whole thing. There are things in the Climax I liked better in the movie. But overall, it’s smashing.

4. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck—5-25-19 Four and Half Stars

Every word in place, every word evocative. Incredible character study, tightly and tensely moving toward its inevitable tragedy.

5. Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley—Read 3-23-19

This one’s different from most of Kearsley’s stuff, since it didn’t feature a dual timeline. The tie-in with the Merlin prophecies was ultimately a little weak, and the romantic subplot was even more subtle than usual. But it was still a delightful, detailed, nuanced read. I enjoyed nibbling my way through it.

(Really, the entire Top 5 belongs to Rowling, but I stuck in the other two for the sake of variety…)

Top 5 Writing Books

So many great writing books this year—stuff of inspiration, solid theory, and some brand-new ideas that have changed not just how I see fiction but how I see life.

1. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass—Read 9-29-19

I wish I’d written this book myself if only so I could share every single chapter here the site with all of you—because it’s brilliant. More than just on-point writing instruction, this is an inspirational challenge calling all writers to be their best selves and write stories that, in turn, inspire and challenge readers in all the best ways. I wasn’t expecting that from this book, but I was certainly inspired and challenged myself. Read it!

It inspired this post from earlier in the year:

>>A Challenge to Write Life-Changing Fiction

2. The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson—Read 12-3-19

I’ve always appreciated the Hero’s Journey and its archetypal grounding of story structure. But it’s also always bugged me in a vague way because, however prevalent and important it may be, it just never seemed to cover all it needed to. Hudson’s approach, which fleshes out the other half of the youthful journey by adding the feminine side of things (and hints at the corresponding major arcs of middle and old age as well) rounds out the picture in a way that should have been obvious to all of us a long time ago. She gives almost as much time to the Hero’s Journey as well, which makes the book a rounded view of both of these early-life arcs. I found it deeply moving and informative on a personal level as well as exciting as a new tool for grounding stories in fuller archetypes.

3. The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird—Read 7-10-19

Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

I think this might be my new favorite writing-craft guide. Deeply practical, slightly anti-authoritarian, and ruthlessly insightful, it’s a very real look at what goes into creating a solid and entertaining story. No vague truisms here. The author gets down under the hood with clear thinking and solid technique. It gave me quite a few new gems to think about it, some of which I talked about in these posts:

>>5 Ways Writers (Try to) Fake Their Way to Good Storytelling

>>4 Challenges of Writing for a Modern Audience

>>How to Write Interesting Scenes

4. Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer—8-16-19 Four and Half Stars

Incredibly interesting on so many levels. The science was interesting. The art was interesting. The history was interesting. But in the end, the link between art and science is really where the whole thing comes together in a transcendent way.

5. Story Grid by Shawn Coyne—Read 4-15-19 Four and Half Stars

Good stuff. Solid approach to structured storytelling, with some slants that made me think of certain things from new and useful angles.

Top 5 General Non-Fiction Books

It’s been a year of non-fiction for me. As I said, I’m taking it easier on the fiction and devouring the non-fiction. For better or worse, almost everything I read this year was amazing, which meant I had to read most of the books slooooowly, stopping paragraph by paragraph to digest all the amazing ideas.

1. Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes—Read 6-5-19

If I could give it six (or more) stars, I would. Incredibly powerful book that not only unites three of my favorite subjects—storytelling, archetypal narrative, and Jungian psychology—but does so in an intoxicatingly poetic fashion. Incredibly moving and actionable.

2. The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnutt—10-31-19

Complete Enneagram Beatrice Chestnut

Deeply insightful. I’m a fast reader, but it took me two and a half months to finish this treasure trove since I found myself stopping every other paragraph to ponder what I was reading. It’s no exaggeration to say my experience with this book changed my life several times over. I found it one of the best and deepest resources on the subject that I’ve yet encountered.

It helped me write this post:

>>Are You Struggling to Be Creative? This Might Be Why

3. Spiral Dynamics by Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan—2-24-19

Blew my mind. Incredibly insightful paradigm for personal and social growth. Much of the book is focused on large-scale “spirals,” applicable to business and global infrastructures. I would have found a more intimate focus on spirals in personal development to be more pertinent. But it still provided some amazing food for thought.

4. Girls’ Club by Sarah, Sally, and Joy Clarkson—Read 3-29-19

What a beautiful, inspiring, and empowering testament to womanhood. I read this book interested in what it had to say about relationships, but came out of it profoundly changed in my understanding of what it means to live fully into womanhood. Yet another of Sarah’s books that has impacted my life. (Her books Caught Up in a Story and Book Girl made my top books lists in 2016 and 2018, respectively).

5. Falling Upward by Richard Rohr—8-18-19

Wonderful, short, poignant exploration of life’s progression and growth.

My Books

And if all these goodies aren’t enough to fill your To Be Read pile this year, here’s a few more! 🙂

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What were your top books of 2019? How many books did you read? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

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