It’s time for me to recommend five books I read in 2019. As always, I leave off the bestsellers and best-known books—those you’ve read about ten times in the last few weeks of top ten books lists. But speaking of bestsellers, I enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing, and I also have to mention Transcription by Kate Atkinson, because it is brilliant and so well layered and just a wow of a novel. I will keep all my recommendations to books that were published within the last couple of years…but I want to start by mentioning an important book that is coming up in 2020:
Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era, edited by Amy Roost and Alissa Hirshfeld. You can pre-order this brilliant anthology on Amazon or at the publisher’s site here. (My essay, “Viva La Raza” is included, but that isn’t the main reason to buy the book, now is it?)
A book I helped “birth” that is out now is The Last Getaway by Clay Savage. This book is much harder to describe than to recommend. It’s a fast-paced thrill ride, but it is also funny and oh-so-timely; the two men at the heart of the story—one, a light-fingered young black father from the ‘hood, the other a privileged white boy from Beverly Hills—must learn to work as a perfectly imperfect team. Those of you who read my blog know I've mentioned Clay as an author to watch for—now you can stop watching and start reading!
Here’s my Top Five list, in no particular order:
1. A great choice to gift to someone who reads books on Kindle (It’s currently .99 so the price shouldn’t be a problem—you can get a copy for yourself, too) is Supermen (For America) by Ken Kuhlken. If you or your Kindle-reading buddy love baseball, as I do, this gift will be a home run. If they happened to have grown up in Southern California in the 1960s and come of age in the 70s, then they will surely love the sprawling epic tale that begins with this winning book. There are a few sequels and you will want to read them all. Get them now while they’re cheap!
2. Learning about border politics is pertinent, since I currently live in San Diego or “the greater Tijuana area” as a friend of mine once quipped. But the border region of the southwest U.S. is key to the country’s future—what we are doing there, in the name of U.S. immigration policy, should be of interest to every American. A great book to start with is The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú. The author put his ideals in action not just by researching the border, and living on it, but by actually serving on the U.S. Border Patrol for a few years before writing about this book. The results are harrowing, unsettling, and poetic.
3. Racial tensions are also brewing in the Wisconsin town that is the setting of Jerkwater, by Jamie Zerndt. Native American fishing rights enter into the plot, but this is not simply a novel about that town, or any other “jerkwater” town, it is a novel about life—funny, tragic, and ultimately real. Told from three alternating POVs, Zerndt’s voice as the young Ojibwa woman named Shawna is as authentic as in the two others, who could not be more different. The story is as much about the place as the people, however, and feels as real as your own hometown.
4. I was surprised to learn how much one’s race had to do with getting evicted, which can screw up the rest of your life. Also, how much there was a whole (very profitable) system built up around evicting poor people from their homes and apartments and trailers. If you doubt that the cards are stacked against poor people in America, and most especially poor women of color with children, then read Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.
5. I like a quirky novel, and I haven’t read one as quirky as If You Tame Me by Kathie Giorgio in quite a while. Starting off with a woman of a certain age who is adopting an iguana, it swiftly brings you into the world of this woman and her nice, but not too exciting neighbor. He has pet birds, parakeets to be precise, and the lizard and the birds feature largely in this book, along with love, attraction, old friends, new politics, and a whole lot more.
Now, get going to a bookseller, or click the links to purchase some of these books on Amazon. Enjoy your end-of-the-year reading and the holidays...