When I think about my reading year 2019, I first and foremost think about big, big books. For someone whose general preference lies with shorter books (250 pages just seems pretty ideal), I did pick up a lot of books going on 400 pages and far beyond – and in a lot of cases, I did love these books. Altogether I read more than 180 books in 2019 and picking favourites was not easy at all. So instead of forcing myself to cut my list down to a top ten or any other arbitrary number, I give you these assortments of lists with books which moved me, taught me something, made me laugh, broke my heart and amazed me all around. Where possible I linked to my reviews.
My favourite (longer) fiction of the year span from the multi-generational, multi-genre sweeping epical novel The Old Drift to brief but also inventive, clever, and thought-provoking novellas like To Be Taught, If Fortunate and The Deep. I loved books which disrupted genre (The Old Drift) or took a well-loved genre and broke it open (Die Schwarze Madonna) and books which allowed told often marginalized histories (like The Island of Sea Women taking its readers to 1930s Jeju Island or Cantoras following a group of queer women in 1970s Uruguay). And then there was Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s very relatable depiction of depression and suicidal ideation (in a novel which reads much lighter than the topics make it seem).
- Namwali Serpell The Old Drift (Review/ Podcast)
- Carolina De Robertis Cantoras (Review)
- Bernardine Evaristo Girl, Woman, Other (Review/ about Evaristo)
- Lisa See The Island of Sea Women (Review)
- Ocean Vuong On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Review)
- Colson Whitehead Nickel Boys (Review)
- Becky Chambers To Be Taught, If Fortunate (Review)
- Rowan Hisayo Buchanan Starling Days (Review)
- Kirsten Arnett Mostly Dead Things (Review)
- Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn Patsy
- Noah Sow Die Schwarze Madonna – Fatou Falls Erster Fall: Afrodeutscher Heimatkrimi
- Rivers Solomon The Deep (Review)
YA and Middle-grade
I don’t read a lot of YA and Middle-grade novels but I am always interested to see what kind of narratives about LGBTQ+ teens and children – especially by LGBTQ+ authors – are available now. The following four books were all pretty much fantastic.
- Akwaeke Emezi Pet (Review)
- Meredith Russo Birthday (Review)
- Dean Atta The Black Flamingo (Review)
- Junauda Petrus The Stars and The Blackness In Between
Short Story Collections
If I had to describe what kind of short story collections I love most, I might say something like dark, speculative, queer. Nino Cipro’s Homesick hit all these aspects pretty well. But actually, besides this collection, I read mostly realistic short stories this year. My favourite collection might have been Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s which focusses on migration in such a fresh and inventive and beautiful way.
- Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi Manchester Happened
- Nino Cipri Homesick (Review)
- Kali Fajorde-Anstine Sabrina & Corina (Review)
- Edwidge Danticat Everything Inside
This category brings together so many books which shaped my year. I still think about the launch of Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum and can’t express how happy I am that this quietly radical book on Germany, identity, and power structures had quite a few print runs through the year. I am still making my way through New Daughters of Africa which on more than 1000 pages brings together writers from many decades. But in the end, each of these – very different anthologies – deserves to be read and dissected.
- Fatma Aydemir and Hengameh Yaghoobifarah (eds.) Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum (Podcast with Sharon Dodua Otoo)
- Dami Ajayi, Dzekashu MacViban and Emmanuel Iduma (eds.) Limbe to Lagos: Nonfiction from Cameroon and Nigeria (Review)
- As you like it: The Gerald Kraak Anthology African Perspectives on Gender, Social Justice and Sexuality
- Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton (eds.) Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers (Review)
- Samin Nosrat (ed.) The Best American Food Writing 2019 (Review)
- Sophia Kwachu Memphu (ed.) Contemporary Plays by African Women
- Margaret Busby (ed.) New Daughters of Africa (Review 1/ Review 2)
- Quintu Collab Meanwhile … Graphic Short Stories About Everyday Queer Life in Southern and East Africa
I already decided that I want to read more essay collections next year – especially those which are not particularly memoiristic. The Collected Schizophrenias and I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying are both explorations of living with mental illnesses and really made an impact for me. And of course, The Source of Self-Regard is such a gift Toni Morisson left us (in 2020 I will read/ reread all her novels!).
- Esmé Weijun Wang The Collected Schizophrenias (Review)
- Toni Morrison The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches and Meditations
- Nishta J. Mehra Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion
- Bassey Ikpi I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays
I just love a good memoir (good for me mostly means that I love the writing, that interesting themes are discussed and that maybe something interesting is done with regards to form). 2019 was a fantastic year for memoirs by queer writers in particular. Almost all of my favourites fall into this category with Carmen Maria Machado and T Kira Madden being on top of my list. Though I also need to mention Chanel Miller’s Know My Name which is such an honest, tender, angry depiction of rape and the legal repercussions – and Lucia Osborne-Crowley who dissects how trauma affects the body.
- Carmen Maria Machado In The Dream House (Review)
- Jaquira Dìaz Ordinary Girls (Review)
- T Kira Madden Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls (Review)
- Zeba Talkhani My Past is a Foreign Country (Review/ Podcast)
- Tegan and Sara Quin High School
- Saeed Jones How We Fight For Our Lives (Review)
- Chanel Miller Know My Name (Review)
- Lucia Osborne-Crowley I Choose Elena (Review)
- Cherríe L. Moraga Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir (Review)
- Mira Jacob Good Talk
In When Brookly Was Queer Hugh Ryan shows how to write about queer histories without assuming identities and also dealing with varying degrees of lacking sources.
- Hugh Ryan When Brookly Was Queer (Review)
- Sofie Hagen Happy Fat: Taking Up Space in a World that Wants Your to Shrink (Review)
- Emma Warren Steam Down or How Things Begin
Mahtem Shiferraw’s debut poetry collection is one of my favourite collections of all times – her sophomore collection published this year did not disappoint me either. I also loved reading the four booklets belonging to Tilted Axis’ Translating Feminisms series offering poetry translated from
Nepali, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tamil exploring feminist themes and the question of what is feminism.
- Mahtem Shiferraw Your Body is War (Review)
- Gala Mukomolova Without Protection (Review)
- Ladan Osman Exiles of Eden
- Fatima Asghar and Safia Elhillo The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 3: Halal If You Hear Me (Podcast with Safia Elhillo)
- Joy Harjo An American Sunrise (Poem)
- Translating Feminisms (About)
Of course, I did not solely read books published in 2019, so I want to share some of my favourite reads which were published earlier. Interestingly enough most of the ones I loved were just published in 2018 and I hadn’t gotten to them earlier. In 2020 I want to read more backlist titles which are actually way older.
- Nicole Chung All You Can Ever Know (2018) (Review)
- Imani Perry Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant Life of Lorraine Hansberry (2018) (Review)
- Sarah Moss Ghost Wall (2018) (Review)
- Ellen Klage Passing Strange (2017) (Review)
- Andrea Lawlor Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl (2017) (Review)
- Inter: Erfahrungen intergeschlechtlicher Menschen in der Welt der zwei Geschlechter (2013) (Review)
- Casey Plett Little Fish (2018)
- Dionne Brand Theory (2018) (Review)
- Aminatta Forna Happiness (2018) (Review)
- Sarah Ladipo Manyaka In Dependence (2009) (Review)
And lastly: These are 2019 publications which I held already in my hands, started to read, but just didn’t manage to finish in time for the end of the year but I am beyond excited for all of these.
- Maaza Mengigste The Shadow King
- Yvonne Adhimbo Owuor The Dragonfly Sea
- Mesha Maren Sugar Run
- Amal El-Mohtar This Is How You Lose The Time War
- Helon Habila Travelers
- Janelle Adsit Critical Creative Writing: Essential Readings on the Writer’s Craft
- Sara Ahmed What’s The Use