I had a few goals coming into 2019 for my personal reading.
I wanted to read 50 books after reading 47 in 2018.
I wanted to choose a historical subject and read as much on it as I could.
I wanted to read as many books by minority authors as by white authors.
I accomplished two of my goals and came close to reaching the third having read 80 books, learning more about the American Revolution than I probably needed to and reading just seven less books by minority authors than white authors.
I think it is important to read books by authors with a different skin color as it provides insight and understanding into a world I know very little about as a white, American male.
Here are the five best novels I read this year in no particular order
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: This book made me physically sick, which is why everyone should read it. A tale of the horrors of the Jim Crow South and the awful abuse in reform schools. The book is a timely message about the complicity of white society to racism, whether overt or not. A devastating read.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli: as haunting of a book as I’ve ever read. A story about a blended family of four traveling to the American Southwest for the parents to work on two projects – one involving the Lost Children of Central America trying to cross the border and one involving the last band of Apaches, who were disappeared and exiled to the Southeast. Reading about how the children travel across Mexico and into the U.S. is devastating and makes one wonder how anyone can immediately send them back to whence they came. One of the most powerful lines for me was, “Beyond, on both sides of the wall, the desert stretches out, identical.” The wall, the border, everything about our country is just arbitrary. Why do we as Americans have the right to keep out those who lost the birth lottery to be born into broken, violent countries?
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen: insane story that took a little while to get going. The narrator is a double agent working for the Viet Cong while working for a South Vietnamese general. Really interesting thoughts about revolutions and what happens afterward – namely that most revolutions turn bad and immediately repress the people they were allegedly fighting for. Also some very sharp criticism of America and white Americans inability to understand refugees and immigrants. Really good book that shows how awful war is.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews: A stunning book that seems straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel is loosely based on a true story about a Mennonite community that is rocked by brutal rapes. The book is about a group of women’s response and whether they will stay and fight, flee or do nothing. It’s a very powerful look at forgiveness, what obedience means and who we owe obedience too, and what constitutes sin. This is one of those novels you could read every year and find new things in it.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: What a sad book. The story follows a group of gay men in the 1980s in Chicago who are in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, while weaving in a story set in 2015 about a mother estranged from her daughter. Really good read, with some interesting food for thought about healthcare as a right and pre-existing conditions.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, The Water Dancer by Ta-nehisi Coates
by Sinan Antoon, Spring by Ali Smith, The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon.
Here are the five best non-fiction books I read:
Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution by Mark Puls: Henry Knox lived a remarkable life. A self-educated man who rose to some of the highest offices in the country, was one of George Washington’s closest officers at the age of 26 and helped establish the US artillery corps, US Navy, West Point Academy and much more. Fascinating book.
Postcards from Babylon by Brian Zahnd: fascinating read about how Christians in America need to learn to separate Christianity from the militaristic, consumerist, power-hungry culture that exists in the US. It’s counter to all of Jesus’ teachings and the fact that he rose from the dead. I’d encourage all Christians to read this book. Very thought provoking.
Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates: required reading for all Americans, but especially white Americans. This book is three chapters about racism, fear, the American dream, what it means to be black in America and so much more. It certainly rivals James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin: a stunning book about the best President we’ve ever had. Such an amazing man, who kept so many factions together and eventually brought the country back together. You learn so much about Lincoln, but also notable figures including Edwin Stanton, William Seward, Salmon Chase, John Hay and others. It also goes into great detail about how this self-made man evolved on his theories of slavery and the black race in America.
The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-nehisi Coates: an incredible memoir detailing Coates’ coming of age in Baltimore amid endless violence and drugs. A very quick read by a tremendous author, who offers insight into what it means to be black in America.
Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Green, Heart Berries: A Memoir: by Terese Marie Mailhot, The Long Honduran Night by Dana Frank, Nathanael Greene: A biography of the American Revolution by Gerald M. Carbone, Columbine by Dave Cullen, Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar
— Craig Craker
Here is my entire list
- Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- Heavy by Kiese Laymon
- Autumn by Ali Smith
- The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
- Columbine by Dave Cullen
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
- Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
- The Baghdad Eucharist by Sinan Antoon
- Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing
- A River of Darkness: One Man’s Escape From North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
- Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
- Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick
- Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr
- 1776 by David McCullough
- The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon
- Ghettoside: A true story of murder in America by Jill Leovy
- Winter by Ali Smith
- The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang
- Women Talking by Miriam Toews
- Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
- Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
- Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James
- Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
- Outline by Rachel Cusk
- I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
- The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
- White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin Diangelo
- Spring by Ali Smith
- Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Green
- I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody by Sinan Antoon
- Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli
- Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot
- Tin Man by Sarah Winman
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
- Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim
- Valiant Ambition by Nathan Philbrick
- Census by Jesse Ball
- In The Hurricane’s Eye by Nathaniel Philbrick
- On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- Nathanael Greene: A biography of the American Revolution by Gerald M. Carbone
- The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
- 1919 by Eve L. Ewing
- Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution by Mark Puls
- Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
- Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America by Steven Mayers and Jonathan Freedman
- The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck
- The Swamp Fox by John Oller
- The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
- The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army by Paul Lockhart
- The Odyssey by Homer translated by Emily Wilson
- Between the World and Me by Ta-nehisi Coates
- Home by Marilynne Robinson
- The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-nehisi Coates
- The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
- The Spider and the Fly by Claudia Rowe
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
- Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora
- Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
- We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-nehisi Coates
- Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Country Ahead of us, the Country Behind by David Guterson
- Less by Andrew Sean Green
- The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
- Jazz by Toni Morrison
- The Long Honduran Night by Dana Frank
- The Water Dancer by Ta-nehisi Coates
- Postcards from Babylon by Brian Zahnd
- “Worse than Slavery” Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David M. Oshinsky
- Transit by Rachel Cusk
- Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara