The final year of the decade has come and gone. It’s strange how one of the most ordinary things in the world can feel so uncanny sometimes. The last five years were long, there is no doubt, but I can’t escape the sense that they were the fastest five years of my life. 2019 itself was weird for feeling both long and short, in its own right.
With the year over and done, that is also another load of books that I’ve finished reading. Every year I pick my top five favourites among them, in no particular order, and this year is no different. They needn’t have come out this year, I just need to have read them this year. Without further ado…
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
This novel was by far the most unique book I read this year. Telling its story in second person, a man buys a copy of a book, only to find that there was an error in the printing and the first chapter repeats throughout. In trying to find a proper copy of the book he keeps accidentally being given new books, which coincidentally also only have one chapter. Each time he starts a new book, we get to read the first chapter he does. It’s a thoughtful representation on the nature of stories, where they come from, and how we consider them when faced with no proper ending. I especially praise the fact that each new story we read feels distinctly written, despite all of them having presumably been written by Calvino himself.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Stephen Brusatte
I have an ongoing effort to read more scientific nonfiction, which is part of what directed me toward this book, and I’m forever grateful for this drive because I absolutely adored reading this. In line with paleontology’s current understanding of these ancient creatures, the book explores the history of dinosaurs in exquisite detail that is both concise and riveting. The author’s conversational style makes the book fun to read, yet the science never felt reigned in for the sake of this. Not only does he describe what we know, but why we know it, and it’s the most consciously I’ve ever found myself learning new things from a book. The experience was simply exhilarating and I continue to cherish it.
Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
This is the second year in a row I’ve had Gray on here for a Star Wars novel, and for good reason. If you read any of the new canon of novels, anything by Gray is definitely the cream of the crop. Following two star-crossed lovers who find themselves on opposing sides of the Galactic Civil War of the original trilogy, this book was simply a pleasure to read. It offered an alternative perspective on iconic scenes from the films, while also crafting its own little microcosms that set the book apart. I especially enjoyed how it provided some passion, both emotional and physical, to a franchise that is often strangely sexless. Its more YA writing style felt especially more appropriate too, injecting the story just enough melodrama to completely hook me.
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
Discworld novels are becoming a common occurrence in these lists too, Terry Practhett’s series easily becoming among my favourites of all time. This standalone novel, however, about a god who finds himself trapped in the body of a tortoise and desperately seeking out his last true believer to find out what went wrong, stood out most among those I read this year. It was funny to read as always, but was also a novel where Pratchett really had something to say. In this case, there was much about the nature of gods and the nuances of our relationship with them, when they are so dependent upon our faith, as well as the ways fundamentalist dogma can be abused by those in power. I’d highly recommend the book regardless of interest in the rest of the series.
The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
I honestly hadn’t been expecting to count this science fiction classic among my favourites of the year, but I was deeply surprised by my experience reading it. Though concerning the birth of extraterrestrial children in a small English village, what was most captivating about the story was how the first half of the book was more focused on the consequences of forced pregnancy upon a population of women. As a science fiction novel written by a man in the 1950s, I was very surprised that it tackled the situation with such sensitivity and care toward the female perspective. For this aspect alone I’d say it’s worth reading, but beyond that it is also a poignant story of a non-military invasion that questions whether beings of exceptional difference from humans could truly live harmoniously with us.