What I read in 2019 (a booklist for highly sensitive, graphic-violence-and-casual-sex-averse recovering intellectuals who read to unwind but also learn and tend to get obsessively into one author at a time)
How’s that for a title? Descriptive, right?
I’ve been putting this off and putting this off and putting this off because writing book lists is, like parenting a newborn, exhausting, and by nightfall all I want to do is fall into bed with a book. Sometimes I’m so tired I don’t even want to read, which is truly a shocking state to find myself in.
But I am determined to get this list down on virtual paper, not least of all because it’s delightful to me to be able to consult past year’s lists, and also because I appreciate good book recommendations for high maintenance persons like myself who are frequently disappointed by currently trending titles. I loathe abandoning books mid-read, but I have zero qualms doing so when inevitably the sex scenes turn graphic. Modern fiction is a real drag for the most part, because for an HSP it’s almost a no-fly zone.
So if you’re like me and you don’t want to read about the darker side of life, step right up to this list of what I read (and enjoyed) in 2019.
(Note: I read almost exclusively on a Kindle Paperwhite and using our library’s ebook borrowing system. This way I always have a book with me and spend very little money or time acquiring said books. The only bummer is when I’m really desperate for a new title or the next book in a series and the waitlist is bumping.)
Dopesick, Beth Macy (on the opiod crisis, definitely recommend. Apart from In Sinu Jesu, probably the most important book I read in 2019)
Health at Every Size, Linda Bacon (a really important book that is foundational to the body acceptance movement, though the author has gone of the deep end in recent years)
The F*ck It Diet, Caroline Dooner (it’s rude, she’s crude, she’s got a sort of bad attitude…but this book is still worth the read. Much dismantling of diet culture. Very freedom.)
61 Minutes to a Miracle, Bonnie Engstrom (It makes me so happy to type my friend’s names in my book lists)
Live Big, Love Bigger, Kathryn Whitaker (ditto)
How to Break Up With Your Phone, Katherine Price (Hasn’t quite worked out yet, need to revisit asap)
Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole (currently re reading this for the third time this year so…highly recommend)
The High Season, Judy Blundall (don’t remember a thing but I rated it 3.5 stars so it mustn’t have been great)
Atomic Habits, James Clear (I really should revisit this one)
The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield (meh)
The Minimalist Home, Joshua Becker (huge fan of his blog, Becoming Minimalist, and this was a mix of recycled content plus some new stuff)
Alone Time: 4 Seasons, 4 Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude, Stephanie Rosenbloom
The Obesity Code, Jason Fungoes (Was super into this when I read it, then realized intermittent fasting is sort just an eating disorder by another name, at least for me)
Bringing Up Bebe, Pamela Drucker (a re read to remind myself how far behind I’m falling from every parenting like a French mother. Working on “the pause” with the resident youngling now…)
The Year of Less, Cait Flanders (another re-read for me, warms my minimalist heart even though she and I are as different as can be)
The Summer Wives, Beatriz Williams (I think I had to stop reading this one halfway through because it was too slutty? I could be remembering one of the dozen other modern fiction situations that fit that description in this year of reading though…)
The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah (This is about as gritty as I can handle, but a beautifully haunting book. Domestic violence and some sex.)
Cozy Minimalist Home, Myquillen Smith (Nester 4ever, loved her first book, the Nesting Place, and loved this one too)
12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson (GET ON THIS BANDWAGON. 5 stars. So good.)
Get Out Now, Mary Rice Hasson (A product of public school myself, I was already acquainted with much of her research and anecdotal findings. A decent read if you truly don’t know much about prevailing modern public school culture.)
The Wall, John Lanchester (I forgot about this book! It was … weird. But entertaining.)
No-Drama Discipline, Daniel J Siegel (Zero recollection and our house is full of drama between 4 and 5 pm every day so I guess it didn’t do the trick?)
A Plain and Simple Heart, Lori Copeland (Is this a safe place to say I inadvertently read an Amish romance novel and … liked it?)
The Lost Art of Feeding Kids, Jeannie Marshall (A fascinating look at why European children eat so differently from American kids.)
Love the Home You Have, Melissa Michaels
Choose, Ryan Levesque
Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport (An absolute must read, along with his previous title “Dhttps://amzn.to/2GjAYaKeep Work”)
My 25 Years in Provence, Peter Mayle (Tell me you’ve read “A Year in Provence,” and the 2 subsequent titles by Mayle? The original moving abroad/food/renovation memoir slash biography, his books are an absolute treasure, especially during the slog of winter)
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, Heidi Durrow (vv depressing if I recall, but in a sort of haunting, beautiful way)
See You in the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy, Frances Mayes (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame)
Daughter of Moloka’i, Alan Brennart (Loved this one, the sequel to his first title, Moloka’i, which is also absolutely lovely)
The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great, Ben Shapiro (a good read, a little dense at times and I tried to read it on vacation and while first trimester pregnant so…I struggled. It did fill in a lot of historical gaps and political context for me though.)
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens (I know I know, everyone read this book. I waited months out of annoyance for how many times I saw it mentioned, but it really was a great read)
Uglies, Scott Westerfield (Okay, I went into a pretty intense dystopian fiction kick after this one and subsequently devoured …
Pretties, Scott Westerfield
Specials, Scott Westerfield (the first title was the best and it got pretty weird by the end, but still a fun trilogy overall)
Magic Hour, Kristin Hannah (a little depressing at times but a good, engaging story)
State of Fear, Michael Crichton (Oh man I looooooved this book. And then I went on a serious author binge that lasted most of the summer)
Wild Swans, Jung Chang (THIS IS A MUST READ. Super intense, long, complex, and sad and triumphant in parts. A fascinating true story at the rise and transformation of Communist China as related by a defected Chinese national told through the lens of 3 generations of women)
Next, Michael Crichton (biomedical genetic thriller, is that a genre?)
The Knockoff, Lucy Sykes (4 stars but I don’t remember a thing so it must have been easy breezy)
Airframe, Michael Crichton (weirdly engaging considering the plot was driven by airplane design and manufacturing. Man, could that guy tell a story. RIP.)
The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follet (this was super engaging but too graphic both in the sex + violence department on top of being abysmally historically inaccurate, as my astute Canadian literary coach assured me. Can’t recommend in good conscience, but did learn some fascinating stuff about architecture.)
The Printed Letter Bookshop, Katherine Reay (this was fine…cutesy…good enough for distracted beach read. Nothing to write home about; I preferred her previous title, Lizzie and Jane, an Austen-esque redux.)
Sphere, Michael Crichton (had a psychological thriller vibe and totally wasn’t what I expected the story to be about. If you’re claustrophobic, this will probably drive you nuts)
Storyworthy, Matthew Dicks (read this for book club and just found the author enormously, distractingly self referential. Some nuggets of wisdom, but overall I doubt I’d have read it if it wasn’t “assigned”)
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh (Another book club read…and oh man, how did I get into my mid 30s without having read this one? It was phenomenal, and I’ll definitely be rereading it at some point this year)
The Blood of The Lamb, Peter DeVries (And another book club pick…this one was my choice for the group. Haunting, beautifully written, heavy with grief and human brokenness, and let’s just say the topic wasn’t what I’d intended to foist upon a group of parents with young children.)
The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher (I like it more each time I read it, and I get more out of it, too. This book is one you have to read for yourself rather than letting someone dictate their interpretation of it to you, trust me)
John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father, Peggy Noonan (true story, I was on a work trip to EWTN headquarters, was locked out of the wifi network, and picked this up off the bookshelf of the guest house I was staying in because I had nothing else to distract me at night. I loved reading this so much, it was a shot straight to the heart)
Building the Benedict Option, Leah Libresco (I really enjoy Libresco’s writing and she is scary smart, but this book wasn’t very engaging for me. I think a younger me without community and without a solid parish situation would have loved it, though.
In Sinu Jesu, an anonymous Benedictine monk (this was THE book of 2019. Life changing, earth-shaking, re-reading and referencing it even as recently as this month. Get a copy. Get a priest you know or love a copy. Get a copy and send it to your bishop. A thunderclap for the spiritual life.)
Life Giving Love, Kimberly Hahn (Re-reading this one for Off the Charts and finding that there is so much wealth and depth there now that I’m married and … holy crap, have AS MANY KIDS AS KIMBERLY HAHN. #shook. I read it for the first time as an idealistic theology grad student and found it well worth the revisit with a little life under my belt. There really isn’t anything else out there like this book – I loaned my copy to a religious community of priests who we’re close with, and they read it during community mealtime and said it was tremendously insightful for them as men who would never experience married life and the struggles therein firsthand.)
Eaters of the Dead, Michael Crichton (told you I could be author-centric once I find someone I like. This was a particularly weird – but not entirely unwelcome – departure from his typical novel form and if you’re even remotely into Vikings, I think you’ll like it? Violence and some brief sex scenes.)
Terminal Man, Michael Crichton (this one was bizarre and suddenly in the year 2020 doesn’t seem nearly so far-fetched as it must have been when it was written in the 90’s…_)Case of Need, Michael Crichton (a medical thriller, quick and bingeable stuff)
Congo, Michael Crichton (I liked this one, but didn’t love it, which was disappointing because I was kind of saving it to read as one of his most well-known titles besides Jurassic Park.)
Prey, Michael Crichton (are you weirded out by my author-perseverance yet? This one was really spooky and really stayed with me; a thought provoking exploration of new technology and the blurry morality around biotech and medical investing)
The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton (a good old fashioned science fiction/military coverup story. Loved it.)
The Birth Partner, Penny Simpkin (okay friends, here’s where we get into the weeks 28-37 of pregnancy where it’s the beginning of the end but you still have literal months to go so…you go a little nuts reading (or rereading, in this case) everything you’ve ever read about birth. Brace yourselves)
The Epidural Book, Richard Siegenfeld (this on tended towards a particularly obnoxious blend of being simultaneously mansplained and medsplained in parts, though I did find it interesting to read exactly how pain meds work, and what parts of the body they work on)
Your Pregnancy after 35, Glade B Curtis (I’ve said too much)
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M Miller Jr (OH MY GOSH I FORGOT ABOUT THIS BOOK, I LOVED THIS BOOK. Hands down my favorite read of 2019. The very inaugural pick for of our couple’s book club. “post apocalyptic science fiction” = my genre. Loved. 5 stars.)
Natural Hospital Birth, Cynthia Gabriel (can anyone guess what I was contemplating during the final months of Ben’s pregnancy?)
Hail, Holy Queen, Scott Hahn (re read of an oldie but a goodie)
The Mindful Catholic, Dr. Greg Bottoro (I’ve know Dr. Greg since he was brother Greg, CFR – Fr. Benedict Groeschl was his mentor – and the work he is doing infusing mindfulness with traditional Catholic spirituality and sound psychology is vitally important)
Burnout, the Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski (this one had a LOT of good food for thought and made a really great case for why women suffer particularly from unexpressed stress, but if I had to read the line (or some iteration thereof) “BECAUSE THE PATRIARCHY” one more time, I think I may have barfed. So, grain of salt and all?)
The Hypnobirthing Book, Katharine Graves (let’s just say this birth…did not go as planned. But I’m sure I was calmer for all the reading and positive visualization and healing of past traumas I did beforehand. I will say, once the I read that creator of hypnobirthing came up with it after giving birth and never actually used it herself in labor, I was a little bit skeptical of its advertised claims.)
Leonie Martin: A Difficult Life, Marie Bauudouin-Croix (about the misfit and mentally ill sister to St. Therese and daughter to Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, an absolutely beautiful, hopeful, redemptive story that every parent could benefit from reading. This was our girl name for Benedict, and I reserve the right to someday recover from his birth, get pregnant again, have a daughter, and use it.)
*update: the diocesan phase of her cause for canonization was officially closed today meaning the ball’s in the Vatican’s court. Woohoo!
Childbirth Without Fear, Grantly Dick-Read
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin (guys, I know, I know, I’m a 6th time mom…I just get… fixated. Another re-read.)
Arabella, Georgette Heyer (at this point in the year, a friend introduced me to Georgette Heyer and all I can say is, enchanted, most enchanted. You’ll see what happened next…) ps this is my favorite title of hers. Unless it’s Regency Buck. Or the Grand Sophy. Or Sylvester. DAMMIT I JUST LOVE THEM ALL.
Ornamental Graces, Carolyn Astfalk (a feel good clean romance by a Catholic novelist which touches on themes of forgiveness, redemption, suffering, mental health issues, and chastity. I really like her books)
All in Good Time, Carolyn Astfalk (see above, but this one deals directly with pornography in a way I haven’t seen other contemporary writers – or really any writers – do. Highly recommend)
Rightfully Ours, Carolyn Astfalk (a nostalgic story that took me back to my first experiences of love in a sweet way. Also the last title of hers I’ve read, hope you’ve got more coming, Carolyn)
The Convenient Marriage, Georgette Heyer (literally I’ve loved every book I’ve read from her so far, just keep on scrolling and you’ll see)
The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer (loved)
Frederica, Georgette Heyer (LOVED)
Cotillion, Georgette Heyer (liked)
The Quiet Gentleman, Georgette Heyer (loved)
Devil’s Cub, Georgette Heyer (really loved)
April Lady, Georgette Heyer (loved)
Venetia, Georgette Heyer (did I mention I don’t watch much tv? Liked.)
Black Sheep, Georgette Heyer (loved)
Regency Buck, Georgette Heyer (ALL CAPS LOVED. I really think this may have been her best work: witty, sparkly character development, hilarious, and one liners zingy enough to make Maggies Smith jealous. Please, please tell me you’ll read at least one of the bajillion Georgette Heyer novels on this list.)
A Civil Contract, Georgette Heyer (liked)
The Noel Diary, Richard Paul Evans (unspeakably corny but it was Hallmark movie season, what can I say)
The Explosive Child, Ross Green (a little light bedtime reading to break up the regency romance trend. Right.)
Bath Tangle, Georgette Heyer (loved)
The Reluctant Widow, Georgette Heyer (liked)
The Christmas Sisters, Sarah Morgan (dumb and slutty in parts, but set in Scotland at Christmas, so forgiven and resolutely skipped over in parts)
Lady of Quality, Georgette Heyer (liked)
The Corinthian, Georgette Heyer (I can quit any time, I swear)
The Unknown Ajax, Georgette Heyer (class snobbery, proletarian uprising, plus a little romance. All the good Brit stuff)
The Talisman Ring, Georgette Heyer (liked. And this one had a sort of murder mystery vibe)
The Mistletoe Matchmaker, Jennifer Chiaverini (okay, but forgiven for mediocrity by being set in Ireland at Christmastime)
Sylvester, Georgette Heyer (OKAY THIS ONE IS THE WINNER!)
Charity Girl, Georgette Heyer (loved)
The Anti Mary Exposed, Dr. Carrie Gress (MUST READ. life changing stuff here. She’s also one of the brilliant minds behind Theology of Home)
Baby and Beyond: Overcoming those post childbirth woes, Allison Auth (written by a friend, this is the first book I’ve read that specifically addresses the postpartum time and so many of the accompanying issues and experiences therein, and from a Catholic perspective. I wrote the forward for it.)
Whew…that was exhausting. How do I read so much, you’re wondering? Well it helps that I was a. largely (lol) sedentary much of this past year and b. don’t have any other hobbies and c. don’t watch tv. Not because I’m morally superior, just because I don’t have much of an attention span for it. Same with movies. I watched The Crown and a few football games and 2 episodes of the Mandalorian this year but I can’t remember watching much of anything else. Also, I don’t really listen to podcasts or do anything – literally anything – apart from reading when it comes to pockets of available leisure time in my days. Also I suspect I may be a bit of a speed reader.
Hope you find yourself something to curl up with!
Reading is pretty much my sole entertainment too, so I get the long list, but that said, this is pretty impressive! Awesome blog post title, BTW. Thanks for including my books! New one (it’s a short one) due 2/14/2020. Come Back to Me, which revisits some of the characters from my first novel, Stay With Me. Beyond that, I need to keep my butt in this seat and keep writing!
Okay Jenny I added like 8 of these to my Goodreads and now I’m giving you my unsolicited recommendations for your 2020 ;). If you liked Dopesick, you need to read In Pain by Travis Rieder. Opioid crisis looked at by a bioethicist who got dependent on them himself after a motorcycle accident. It was one of my top 2019 reads.
Also if you like apocalyptic fiction read The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin. Top fiction book of 2020, best world-building I’ve encountered in a LONG time. The whole trilogy is fantastic (and absolutely no sex iirc, some child trauma but not overly graphic in any sense) and the protagonist is a 40 year old mom which is the piece of the apocalyptic-fantasy puzzle I didn’t know I was missing.
Okay one last one, the Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley are precocious and darling in every sense. The “detective” is an 11 year old girl in the English countryside and she is plucky and smart and fantastic. And there are like 7 of them (I only read 3 in 2019, had to stop myself from powering through them all). As sweet and entertaining as can be.
Aaaaah, you and I seem to have pretty similar tastes in reading (man, Pillars of the Earth had me like: “Seriously??? ANOTHER rape scene???”) and I was just hunting around for books to read, now I’ve recovered from my months-long Agatha Christie postpartum binge, so THANK YOU (for taking the time to type it all up) 😊
I’m amazed how much you read!! I only have four and just trying to keep up with life. You rock! #goals ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Oh wow I just realized when I saw Georgette Heyer that that name seemed familiar- sure enough I have 23 of them that I kept when my mother in law was moving and getting rid of them- my sister in law had already read them and she thought I would like them, so I should take them. So, I did. Guess I better start reading!!
Yeah, No-Drama Discipline is one of those books that sounds good in theory but maybe the author has never had to have sole charge of 2 or more children at a time or maybe those children never decided to misbehave while he was in the middle of cooking supper. I read it a couple years ago and as I recall it involved having a lot of one-on-one conversations with the child (while the other children and boiling pot of pasta seemingly took care of themselves).
Marvin L. Miller
Yep, you read a lot. Thanks for sharing. I like to read, but do not have a lot of time so I like lists of good recommendations. Not catholic, however on the periphery.
Thank you for putting this list together! I’ve used your previous ones and find them really helpful in knowing what’s worth (and clean) reading!
I love your book lists and I love your writing. Pleeeeeeease keep filling the internet with your voice.