The 5 Best Books I Read in 2019

A review of the best books I read this year (in no particular order).

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1. “Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.” -Andy Weir, The Martian

The Martian is a gripping adventure story packed with playful sarcasm and lovable characters. It reads as a series of diary entries from an astronaut who finds himself deserted on Mars due to a catastrophic space accident. Weir’s witty sense of humor shines through the protagonist of the story, Mark Watney, and his knowledge of math, science, and space concepts is evident through Watney’s ability to solve any problem that comes his way. Although The Martian has been adapted into a movie starring Matt Damon, the book is truly-groundbreaking and a great place to start.

2. “A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” -Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

A book like The Things They Carried wouldn’t normally be my first choice. However, I was surprised when I instantly fell in love with this story of The Vietnam War, in its truest and most horrific forms. Although some of the chapters are connected, each one is closer to a short story with its own lesson/meaning. The genre of the book is fiction, but it makes sense that the author, Tim O’Brien, is a Vietnam War Veteran himself. It is evident from the start that O’Brien draws inspiration from his own experiences, comparing the things he and his companions carried on the frontlines with the emotional trauma he still copes with. I read this on my own but found out later that many English classes choose to cover it. Everyone should read this compelling book at some point in their life—it may not leave you with answers about war, but it will deepen your perspective on human nature.

3. “Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

Ifemelu and Obinze are two teenagers growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, who date in high school until they are forced to seek educational opportunities abroad. While Ifemelu is able to get a Visa and move to the US, Obinze stays in Nigeria and eventually immigrates to England. Their love story pauses but continues later on. Meanwhile, through Ifemelu’s observations about her new life in America, Adichie contrasts what it means to be black in Nigeria and the US. Because everyone in Nigeria looks the same for the most part, people are blind to race. In America, however, racism is everywhere. Ifemelu cannot get a low level job (even though she is over-qualified), her professors talk down to her, and she feels alienated by her natural hair. To cope with this disparity, Ifemelu starts a blog. The blog serves as a way for Adichie to incorporate her own assertions and directly address the reader. I looked forward to the blog posts interspersed throughout the novel because they were remarkably thoughtful and clearly drawn from Adichie’s own experiences. Americanah is eye-opening, romantic, fascinating, and most of all, truthful. As I was reading dialogue, I kept thinking, how does Adichie make this stuff up? The answer is she probably didn’t have to.

4. “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”  -John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

I laughed out loud on airplane because of this book—yes, it’s that funny—although when I wasn’t laughing, I was on the verge of tears. This book is about two boys growing up in New Hampshire during the 1950’s: Johnny Wheelwright, the narrator, and Owen Meany, an abnormally small child with an even more unusual voice, indicated with all capital letters. It is also a book about Christianity, but it would be interesting for an atheist. There are a lot of messages in here that I still don’t fully understand; however, one theme I took away is Irving’s affirmation of faith and destiny. At the same time, Irving assures that it is ok to question these ideas. Of any book I read this year, this one probably touched me the most. Like Johnny, “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice,” because I will never forget this book.

5. “Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were.” -Tara Westover, Educated

If your dreams went against everything your family believed in, would you still chase them? Tara Westover’s Educated is a captivating memoir about her childhood, and how she ultimately escaped it. Switching between descriptive anecdotes, flashbacks, and dialogue, Westover effortlessly takes the reader through her life, analyzing it for all its hardships and its triumphs. Growing up in a Mormon survivalist family, Tara was never sent to school but was able to teach herself—so well that she even passed the ACT and was accepted into college. Her intelligence and drive to learn by herself is a feat on its own, and I found myself impressed by her courageousness and honesty throughout the book. There were times I had to put this one down because of the violence and emotional trauma Tara faces, but I came back craving more each time.