I tracked my reading list this year for the first time. I’m not sure why I haven’t done this before. I tend to read several books at a time, and keeping track of them helps me regulate the number and types of books I’m reading at any given time. The list also helps me recall some of my favorite books and quotes from the year.

Notably, the list isn’t comprised of books released in 2019. It’s a list of books I read this year, regardless of when each book was first published. Also, this list doesn’t include books I reread this year (of which there were several), only those books I read for the first time.

I read 44 books in 2019. Here I list my 10 favorite books I read this year.

Ranking books is tricky; if I were to write this post next week, the list would probably change. Such is the nature of ranked lists in time.

10: Assholes: A Theory

Released in 2014, Aaron James’s surprisingly sober, yet still humorous, analysis of the paradigmatic and situational asshole is more relevant than ever. This is a feel-good, self-help read for me (I know; it’s sad). It validates my perspective in the way Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking did for me a few years ago.

This book offers perhaps my favorite quote from any book I read this year:

According to Karl Marx, capitalism is unstable but inevitably gives way to something better. The proliferation of assholes suggests that Marx was wrong: capitalism is unstable but can give way to something worse.

Indeed.

9: Thinking, Fast and Slow

When I read this book and subsequently added it to my reading list, I referred to it as “a revelatory mindfuck that I highly recommend.” Still true.

While I was reading this book, I encountered it seemingly everywhere, as when you buy a car or hear a song and then start seeing and hearing it everywhere. The book was published in 2013, but I saw it in multiple cities in 2019, primarily coffee shops.

8: Homage to Catalonia

I’ve read Orwell’s classic novels, but this year I read some of his non-fiction work for the first time, including All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays, Politics and the English Language (which is included in the former), and this gem, Homage to Catalonia.

It’s both incontrovertible and terrifying that fascism is creeping back into our global politics, but it’s inspiring to read the account of a journalist/author—especially of Orwell’s stature (achieved subsequent to these events)—who would sacrifice everything to oppose its creep.

7: Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

Author and philosophy professor Kate Manne’s website features a photo of her sitting among many, many white dudes at a workshop on diversifying the philosophy canon.

I was a white dude in many, many philosophy classes, as it was my undergraduate major at the University of Oregon back at the turn of the century.

Everyone should read this book.

But this book left me with a lingering question. Manne recounts several feminine-coded traits, among them the cultural expectation that women perform the role of caretakers for our fellow humans (especially men). While this seems indisputably true to me, I can’t elude the idea that we should extend that expectation to all humans, rather than eliminate the expectation from women.

I’m also a white, privileged, cis male, who definitely has a higher expectation from humans in general than is reasonable, and likely comes from a relatively easy road.

Again, everyone should read this book.

6: This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West

I finished this book and promptly gave it to a friend of mine to read.

Full disclosure: I worked for the Department of the Interior while I read this book. Since my oath of service is to the U.S. Constitution and the people of the United States (not the President or any particular party or individual), this book seemed required reading.

If you care about public land, you should read this book. It’s your land.

5: Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

As a content strategist and writer, I’m obsessed with style manuals and content guides. This one is different in a fundamental way: nearly every page made me laugh.

It’s certainly not among the most important books on this list, but it was among the most enjoyable to read.

4: Educated: A Memoir

As I wrote in my book list, I grew up in a rural town in Wyoming, with Mormon grandparents and some radically conservative family members, among them my own parents. My journey to education wasn’t nearly as dramatic as author Tara Westover’s, but the cultural landscape was not far off.

Our political differences often correlate to our level of education, the consequences of which are on full display in this book. In public appearances, the author rejects political and/or religious judgements of her experience, and that seems reasonable to me. But having lived in close proximity to the cultural forces at play here, it’s easy to draw a strong correlation. I’ll leave it at that.

3: The Real World of Technology

The theme of my top books this year seems to be “prescient.” Ursula Franklin delivers a deeply human perspective on technology in this book, derived from from her 1989 CBC Massey Lectures.

The creator of responsive design for the web, Ethan Marcotte, won’t shut up about this book. And neither should you.

Far too many pages of my copy are folded to attempt to quote the brilliance of this book. Picking one, I submit this:

Thus, future citizens may gain in computer literacy at the expense of moral literacy or knowledge of history, and it seems to me quite debatable which agenda of education is more in the public interest.

2: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

The outlook is…not good, in a way I can’t make better by writing about it here. Just read it.

We have simply crowded—or bullied, or brutalized—every other species into retreat, near-extinction, or worse. E. O. Wilson thinks the era might be better called the Eremocine—the age of loneliness.

Ninety-six percent of the world’s mammals, by weight, are now humans and their livestock; just four percent are wild.

That climate change demands expertise, and faith in it, at precisely the moment when public confidence in expertise is collapsing, is another of its historical ironies. That climate change touches each of these biases is not a curiosity, or a coincidence, or an anomaly. It is a mark of just how big it is, and how much about human life it touches—which is to say, nearly everything.

“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” the literary critic Fredric Jameson has written, attributing the phrase, coyly, to “someone” who “once said it.” That someone might say, today, “Why choose?”

No intelligent life that we know of ever evolved, anywhere in the universe, outside of the narrow Goldilocks range of temperatures that enclosed all of human evolution, and that we have now left behind, probably permanently.

1: Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents

I’m just 58 pages into Parable of the Talents as I write this, so it’s ranking here is largely on the strength of the first volume. And while it’s perhaps cheating to combine two books into a single number one, we live in unconventional times.

Octavia Butler seems to have known unconventional times were coming, and, impossibly, wrote a version of our history before it happened. For instance, her character Andrew Steele Jarret campaigns for the presidency on the slogan “make America great again” in an era of climate disaster, income inequality, and resource scarcity. In doing so, Jarret ushers in horrors that are becoming more and more recognizable in our real world as we enter 2020.

Perhaps Butler’s most interesting and important literary invention is that of “hyperempathy,” or of the “sharer.” Portrayed in the books as a liability, the experience is one of crippling vulnerability, whereby the “sharer” literally feels the pleasure and pain experienced by those around them. In Butler’s prophesy, it’s mostly pain.

Colophon

I designed this annual book rank to be reusable (assuming I, or you, can and/or want to reuse it). For now, it requires the manual curation of the top 10 books (in markdown). But the introductory paragraph will automatically collect and print the number of books for the assigned year, in this case 2019.

{% for entry in site.data.books.list %}
    {% if entry.year == 2019 %}
        {% assign bookYear = entry.year %}
        {% assign bookSize = entry.books | size %}
        [I read {{ bookSize }} books in {{ bookYear }}]({{ site.baseurl }}/books). Here I list my 10 favorite books I read this year.
    {% endif %}
{% endfor %}