The 28 Best Books of 2019


If you were hoping you could ignore that book everyone’s putting on their Instagram, sorry—it’s good. Along with Sally Rooney’s buzzy novel Normal People, Jacqueline Woodson’s latest Red at the Bone, and Lisa Taddeo’s much-debated Three Women, here are 20 of the best books of 2019 so far. Among them you’ll find true stories of wayward women, memoirs of family discovery, and novels that sharply reflect our lives and times.


In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado


$21.49 (17% off)

Carmen Maria Machado, author of the award-winning short-story collection Her Body and Other Parties, returns with a memoir, In the Dream House. Through 144 mini chapters, Machado offers a complex portrait of a psychologically abusive relationship she was once in with another woman. As one chapter both begins and ends, “Most types of domestic abuse are completely legal.” —Molly Langmuir, Staff Writer


She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor & MeganTwohey


$23.00 (18% off)

When the New York Times and The New Yorker published back-to-back investigations into sexual assault claims against Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, they effectively ended the movie mogul’s career and reignited the #MeToo movement. But how did they get the story? In She Said, the New York Times’ Pulitzer-prize winning journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey recount their entire reporting process, from how they met sources to the various ways Weinstein tried to stop them from publishing. The book, which stands alone as a compelling look into their watershed report, can also be paired with Ronan Farrow’s new title, Catch and Kill, which details his own investigation into Weinstein’s abusive past. —Madison Feller, Staff Writer


Grand Union: Stories by Zadie Smith


$17.28 (36% off)

Acclaimed novelist Zadie Smith releases her first collection of short stories, Grand Union: 18 pieces, 11 previously unpublished. They ricochet between, among other settings, 1950s London and modern-day Manhattan. But each demonstrates that Smith continues to be among the most observant voices working today. —Molly Langmuir, Staff Writer


The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen


$15.59 (42% off)

If a story frustrates you, it’s doing its job. Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s The Liar takes a delicate and timely topic—false accusation of attempted sexual assault—and spins a plot of coming-of-age confusion, complex motives, human suffering and familial love. —Alexandra Clement, Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief


Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino


$21.60 (20% off)

Contemporary life is soul-crushing, but no one parses through the presidential Twitter tantrums and false promises of gender parity like Jia Tolentino. The New Yorker staff writer examines the chaos and uncertainty of a society eating itself alive, from the social media vortex to the “confectionary spectacle” of the wedding industry, in nine essays that terrify, inspire, and demand we hold ourselves accountable. For anyone eyeing the future with insurmountable dread, this is a life vest. —Julie Kosin, Senior Culture Editor


How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones

Simon & Schuster


$14.69 (43% off)

Pushcart Prize–winning poet Saeed Jones turns to prose in How We Fight for Our Lives, a coming-of-age memoir about growing up as a gay black man in Texas. The book, which consists of a series of vignettes, investigates family, love, religion, and queerness; above all, it looks unflinchingly at the price Jones has had to pay to make a space for himself in the world. —Molly Langmuir, Staff Writer


Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller


$18.67 (33% off)

Since January 2015, we’ve known her as Emily Doe, the anonymous woman who was sexually assaulted by former Stanford student Brock Turner. Now, in 2019, we finally learned her name. In her devastating and intimate memoir, Chanel Miller reclaims her identity and delivers a searing examination of the criminal justice system and our treatment of sexual assault victims. It’s clear Miller has always been a writer; her ability to distill trauma and anger into clear and beautiful prose offers an unflinching look into the lasting effects of rape, as well as a rallying call for other survivors. But once I finished the book—having learned all the creative ways Miller coped, including taking a print-making class and joining a comedy club—I couldn’t help but wonder what she’ll do next. —Madison Feller, Staff Writer


A Year Without a Name: A Memoir by Cyrus Grace Dunham

Little, Brown and Company


Cyrus Grace Dunham (Lena’s sibling) explores gender and identity in A Year Without a Name, a profoundly honest memoir written in succinct language that often has the power of a punch and resists tying up tricky situations in a neat bow. As the first sentence reads, “I could try to tell a story that ends with resolution, but the only way to succeed would be to lie.” —Molly Langmuir


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson


$15.69 (40% off)

Author Jacqueline Woodson knows how to articulate aches that, for most of us, remain locked in inarticulateness—particularly that very human craving for validation. In her latest, Red at the Bone (September 17), the National Book Award winner uses this gift to unpack the ambitions and struggles of three generations of a black family in Brooklyn. By the slim novel’s end, she’s painted a poetic mural of their lives. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


The Dutch House by Ann Patchett


$16.79 (40% off)

In The Dutch House, Ann Patchett’s latest, Maeve and Danny Conroy are two thick-as-thieves siblings whose lives resemble a fairy tale, complete with a missing mom, tuned-out father, and callous stepmother. Set in the Philadelphia suburbs, this story’s magic lies in the house itself, an extravagant mansion from which they’re unable to truly escape. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames


$18.90 (30% off)

The debut novel of the season, The Other’s Gold reads like an origin story for the women of Big Little Lies. Author Elizabeth Ames introduces four best friends, brought together by chance via their first-year college housing placements, and chronicles their twenties as they stumble head first into adulthood and scandal. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste


$18.87 (30% off)

With The Shadow King (September 24), Ethiopian American novelist Maaza Mengiste transports readers to her home country in the midst of Mussolini’s 1935 invasion, when legions of women—the author’s great- grandmother included—joined their countrymen on the front lines. Her story follows Hirut, an orphaned servant girl who rises to unexpected political influence. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro


$18.29 (27% off)

When an ancestry test unravels Dani Shapiro’s family tree, the best-selling author reckons with her Orthodox Jewish roots. How much of identity is nature versus nurture? When you’ve spent your adult life thinking about generational trauma (and explaining the concept to others) what happens if it suddenly doesn’t belong to you? The resulting memoir, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, reads like an introspective mystery as Shapiro sorts fact from fiction. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


Trust Exercise by Susan Choi


$14.99 (44% off)

This is the best book I’ve read in ages. Pulitzer Prize finalist Susan Choi’s spellbinding novel centers on a group of teenagers and their magnetic drama teacher at a performing-arts high school. Choi inserts herself into their hormonally charged lives and lusts, but then upends the very credibility of her narrative. The experimental plot structure pushes the literary form forward, truly. Ultimately, Trust Exercise examines memory, its fallibility, and the subjectivity of truth. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


Women Talking by Miriam Toews


$15.18 (37% off)

At what point should women respond to systematic violence by leaving? It’s the question at hand in Miriam Toews’s new novel, based on the true story of a group of Mennonite women who discovered they were being drugged and raped by members of their community when night fell. With a somber intensity, the book chronicles a secret town-hall meeting in which they debate uprooting their lives and starting anew. (This book is begging for a stage adaptation, cc: scriptwriters.) —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


Magical Negro by Morgan Parker

Morgan Parker


$8.91 (44% off)

Poet Morgan Parker speaks with a thousand tongues at once. In her caustically funny, shrewdly observed new poetry collection, Magical Negro, she is speaking as a black nation, and as the notion of black womanhood in a staring contest with the lived reality, and as a Greek chorus made up of the many selves that she is and was. Often using evocative moments in pop culture history as framing devices, Parker uses her words and her wit to explore the gaze that she feels on herself and the gaze that she returns to the world: analytical, suspicious, voracious, and passionate. —R. Eric Thomas, Senior Staff Writer


Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval by Saidiya Hartman


$18.87 (35% off)

This genre-bending literary history follows the intimate lives of young black women in New York and Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century. The women’s search for an existence beyond domestic servitude leads them into the sort of unconventional and utopian arrangements millennials like to think we invented. (100 years before the orgy tent went up at Burning Man, Madame C.J. Walker heiress A’lelia Walker was hosting three-day-long sex parties.) These are dishy, illuminating, and heartbreaking stories about the knotted relationship between desire and freedom. —Kat Stoeffel, Features Director


Normal People by Sally Rooney


It’s such a drag when everybody’s reading the same book. You have to cultivate a unique personal opinion about it to trot out at parties, and you have to admit that your reading tastes are no more ~refined~ than those of Leonardo DiCaprio’s 21-year-old girlfriend. Well, suck it up. Sometimes things are popular because they are good. —Kat Stoeffel, Features Director


Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss


$16.01 (27% off)

Compact and alarming, Sarah Moss’s fourth novel begins with a striking scene that seems to come from the troubled mind of a young Iron Age woman about to be sacrificed. That alien dread becomes more familiar when we cross over to Silvie, the daughter of a resentful history obsessive whose anger spills out into his erratic behavior. Her bruised observations could belong to so many women cowed by the rage and violence of men. —Estelle Tang, Senior Editor


The Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz


Chanelle Benz’s debut novel, The Gone Dead, transports readers to the mucky Mississippi delta, where rising humidity and a few probing questions unearth a long-buried crime. Thirty-four-year-old Billie James returns to her father’s rundown home, where, decades prior, her dad—an esteemed poet and civil rights activist—died in a freak accident. Or so she was told. Thus begins Benz’s page-turner, an examination of racial justice and history—and whose versions are accepted as truth. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane


In Ask Again, Yes, two Irish American families live nearly parallel lives as next-door neighbors in suburban New York. Both of the husbands work as city cops; the wives have pregnancies in tandem. But privately, their lives veer ever closer to combustion. Mary Beth Keane tracks the ripple effect of untreated mental illness and addiction across the community and, ultimately, across generations. It’s a beautiful novel, bursting at the seams with empathy. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner


As a journalist, Taffy Brodesser-Akner has profiled the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Kris Jenner. With her debut novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble, she re-enters the world of the moneyed elite via a neurotic Manhattan hepatologist, Toby, whose wife (from whom he’s separated) drops off their two kids and vanishes. Toby oscillates between fury and worry: Did she abandon them, or did something terrible happen? Brodesser-Akner examines this anxiety-ridden milieu in sharp, satirical prose. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert


$14.69 (48% off)

It’s 1940, and Vivian Morris has been expelled from Vassar and sent to live with her eccentric aunt in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. There, she meets a lovable troupe of theater folk and showgirls who frolic around New York in unabashed debauchery. When Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) set out to write City of Girls, her goal was to tell a story of female promiscuity that didn’t end in death or misfortune—a direct and delicious rebuttal to the tragic, sexist fates of the Emma Bovarys and Anna Kareninas of the canon. The result is a wildly entertaining summertime romp. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn


$15.49 (43% off)

In her second novel, Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn (author of the award-winning Here Comes the Sun) follows a young Jamaican mother who moves to Brooklyn and leaves behind her five-year-old daughter, Tru, in the Caribbean. While the titular character searches for her own slice of the so-called American dream, Tru is inserted into a family (her father’s) where she doesn’t fit in neatly. Over the course of 12 years, the chapters alternate between mother and daughter as their stories diverge. Dennis-Benn, a Jamaican immigrant herself, writes with keen awareness of what others experience living undocumented in America—and the compromises that women make in order to prioritize themselves. —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong


$14.88 (43% off)

In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, a Vietnamese American man named Little Dog pens a letter to his illiterate mother. As she’ll never read his message, he’s free to unleash a candid meditation on masculinity, art, and the inescapable pull of opioids. In the process, T. S. Eliot Prize–winning poet Ocean Vuong peels apart phrases and reconfigures them into new, surprising ideas, placing tense moments within the most banal of settings—like when Little Dog professes his queerness to his mother at a Dunkin’ Donuts: “We were exchanging truths, I realized, which is to say, we were cutting one another.” —Bri Kovan, Associate Editor


The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg


“I shot him between the eyes,” says the narrator of this eviscerating Italian tale, but there’s no mystery about why she kills her husband: It’s all to do with the indignities of marriage and being a woman. Originally published in 1947, Natalia Ginzburg’s novel serves up a truth in a scant 96 pages that takes some a lifetime to understand—that wedlock can be a prison and a life sentence. —Estelle Tang, Senior Editor


How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell


This book is going to appeal to a certain kind of person. That’s the kind of person who is overwhelmed, not only by all the stuff they have to do, but by all the digital demands on their time: How they get the news, how they interact with others via little text boxes, how they are compelled to view and make content about themselves all the time. Artist Jenny Odell has thought about all these things a lot and come up with some transformative ideas about how to move away from that kind of life. —Estelle Tang, Senior Editor


Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster


$16.29 (40% off)

It’s easy to mistake the trio of women at the center of Taddeo’s staggering debut as fictional characters. Lina, despondent in a sexless marriage, seeks comfort in an old flame. High school student Maggie shoulders the blame for an inappropriate, and illegal, relationship with her teacher. And self-actualized Sloane harbors a secret unconventional sex life. But they are all, in fact, very real. Taddeo spent nearly a decade delving into the women’s innermost thoughts—not to mention bedrooms, hotel rooms, and backseats of cars—to deliver this singular exploration of the complex, often misunderstood, and overly judged world of female desire. —Katie Connor, Digital Director

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