2019 was quite the satisfying reading year. I had the pleasure to experience a good mixture of classics and contemporaries, European and World literature, short and sweet and long and complex reads. Here are my best reads from 2019 in no particular order.
In some cases the title is a link which will take you to an essay about the mentioned book.
Ottessa Moshfegh: My Year of Rest and Relaxation
There are so many wonderful paradoxes in this book that the unusual scenario doesn’t even take me aback as much as I thought it would.
In our world, the current generation dependant on social media is often referred to as the empty generation, constantly looking for distractions and getting sidetracked while ignoring anything and everything that is real, happening in real life.
I wonder if this is a deformed way of magical realism? Moshfeghs novels are in my opinion unpinpointable, which also makes them absolutely fascinating.
The hilarious nihilism, the cynical detachment and the deep pain of being completely lost make for a very paradoxical protagonist. Which, again, is Moshfeghs most masterful skill. Her main characters are unequaled.
I believe Ottessa Moshfegh to be one of the most interesting female writers of our time.
Patrick Rothfuss: The Name of the Wind
Rothfuss says in the introduction to the first part of his fantasy trilogy The Kingkiller Chronicles that his father tought him to take his time to do something but to get it right on the first try. He has definitely achieved that with the first two parts of this fantasy trilogy. It almost justifies the ridiculously long wait for part three, which I am eagerly awaiting to hit shelves, hopefully soon.
The Chronicles tell the story of Kvothe whose family is mysteriously killed by the ruthless Chandrian who are as old as time and whose true identity of purpose is unknown to the world. Kvothe sets out to revenge his parents, but to succeed in his endeavor he must first master the art of naming in the Academy, where subjects such as alchemy and sympathy are taught.
This is a coming of age story, an independent and very fascinating mythology, a real which stands on its own but is surely connected to many other fantasy worlds. And, of course, a mysterious and complex love story is in there as well.
Anyone who appreciates a good fantasy series will be enamored by the Kingkiller Chronicles. I could not put either of those books down and would highly recommend reading them.
Leila Slimani: Adéle
Adéle is a young woman, who, on paper, should be very fulfilled, as she has a career, a marriage and a child. All she wants, however, is to have sex with complete strangers.
Adéle’s addiction leads to a substantial part of her life falling to pieces, and while the patching-it-together is almost anticlimactic, the idea of addiction per se and having it all on paper while craving something completely different in reality is portrayed in a unique, Kunderaesque style.
Subversion leading to nihilism in regards to all conventional ideals of what ‘woman’ is, leading to breaking molds and conventions, in a radical way – that topic still needs to be dwelved into more, because freedom from stigmatization and conviction for living one’s truth in those regards is still miles away.
Slimani is answering questions about aspects of sexuality that many are afraid to even ask – especially when it comes to women, which already makes Adéle a valuable piece of literature –, and her novel is wonderfully written to boot.
A great read for any Kundera fan, Jelinek fan or Moshfegh fan.
Margaret Atwood: Cat’s Eye
Atwood writes mainly about the ‘education’ of Elaine by her alleged friends in an extremely cruel but real manner. Small girls who only seem to be sweet to those on the outside seem to actually be borderline psychopaths – and yet, memories from somewhere in school, being either the educator or the educated, do come to mind, since this sort of violent psychological and physical controlling of another human, often done in groups, was considered to be somewhat normal child or teen behavior.
Boys are supposed to rough each other up, girls are not supposed to do anything like that – so, naturally, they do it in a much crueler way and in secrecy. Without visible scars.
Furthermore, Atwood takes a hard look at the struggle of outgrowing one’s environment and one’s past – the motive of escaping one’s past returns and mixes with topics like feminism and the concept of femininity, as well as the microcosmos of a little girl under the influence of conventional stereotypes, and what deep harm it can do to the development of true individualism or creative freedom.
Even if this one doesn’t hit home for you, Atwood’s writing is suspenseful, emotionally intellectual, politically and culturally rich with descriptions from thw 1980s in Toronto, Canada, and filled with interesting thoughts on all things woman. I would very strongly recommend this one.
Min Jin Lee: Pachinko
Pachinko is a three or four generation novel and most certainly does for Korea and Japan what Shantaram and A Fine Balance have done for India, and The Cairo Trilogy have done for Egypt.
This wonderful, thorough, exciting story brings us closer to a foreign culture by showing protagonists who manage to escape highly unfortunate conditions just to find another struggle waiting around the next corner.
Min Jin Lee has not only provided a beautiful story of human complexity but also a cultural handbook for Korean and Japanese history.
Often enough there is a niche an author craves for themselves, which can only appear once they decide to unapologetically be themselves and write about that. Min Jin Lee has opened a new world of cultural diversity and historical conflicts and human emotions for me, that I would have never learned about, had it not been for this complex and wonderful novel.
For anyone who loves long stories packed with detail and emotion, Pachinko is a must-read.
Let’s chat. What were your highlights last year? Have you enjoyed any of the books I mentioned?
Let me know in the comment section.