Best fiction I read in 2019

Far and away, I read a lot of incredible nonfiction in 2019. The stories and novels did not hold my attention as much this year, which I could blame on the baby, perhaps. Postpartum, I was so hungry for information (even non-baby-related information) that I was not able to focus much on stories. That said, these were the 10 best works of fiction I read this year.

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1. History, Elsa Morante

I’m perpetually interested in the favorite authors of my favorite authors. Elena Ferrante repeatedly cites Elsa Morante as one of her chief influences, so one of my reading goals of 2019 was to find and read a Morante novel. Her work is not widely translated in English, and many of her novels that were translated are out of print. I asked our lovely local bookstore to order me a copy of History, Morante’s sprawling novel about a Jewish woman on the outskirts of Rome during and after World War II.

History traces the dark and darkly humorous life story of Ida Mancuso, a widowed teacher who discovers that she’s Jewish. After a young German soldier rapes and impregnates her, she gives birth to an unusual and remarkable little boy — whose survival becomes Ida’s passion.

It is absolutely unreal, as a novel, unlike any other historical fiction I’ve ever encountered. Morante writes with force and tireless energy, and her characters are everlasting types, simultaneously and paradoxically embodying both the universal and specific beauty of the human condition. Would rave about it all day long if you let me. (Get a copy)

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2. Selected Stories, Nadine Gordimer

Marvelously composed, startling short stories. I took my sweet time with this collection; Gordimer’s incisive, insightful prose invites such a slow, pleasurable reading. Deep and far-ranging, this collection was the perfect introduction to her brilliant narrative mind. (Get a copy)

Across the Bridge

3. Across the Bridge, Mavis Gallant

In the bleak streets of Montréal, we find Mavis Gallant and her remarkable characters. Beautiful, strange, complex, matchless. (Get a copy)

The Emigrants

4. The Emigrants, W.G. Sebald

Memory, he added in a postscript, often strikes me as a kind of dumbness. It makes one’s head heavy and giddy, as if one were not looking back down the receding perspectives of time but rather down on the earth from a great height, from one of those towers whose tops are lost to view in the clouds.

I read a good deal of this aloud to my newborn son while nursing; I dare say the strangely plain and strangely moving paragraphs soothed us both. (Get a copy)

Honored Guest

5. Honored Guest, Joy Williams

Death, dogs, and dreams! What’s not to love? (Get a copy)

Image result for escapes joy williams

6. Escapes, Joy Williams

Admittedly, I’m not sure I can distinguish between this one and Honored Guest, but if I read Joy Williams in any given year, she will definitely be in my top 10. (Get a copy)

Vertigo

7. Vertigo, W.G. Sebald

Lovely, and unlike anything else (except other Sebald). I liked it perhaps a bit less than his other novels, but it was still beautiful and thought-provoking. Made me want to go walk all day through an old European city. (Get a copy)

The House of the Spirits

8. The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende

Allende has such an expansive imagination, and that is what primarily makes this novel sing. I followed along happily (with a few small narrative reservations) as she spun this complicated family history in Chile. The characters are memorably complex and unusual, which is always a favorite combination of traits. I did not love the blips of first-person narration from Esteban Trueba, cutting into the majority third-person omniscient narrator. Even though the end makes that choice a bit more sensible, it was distracting to me. Only a small complaint. (Get a copy)

Two Lives and a Dream

9. Two Lives and a Dream, Marguerite Yourcenar

Not my favorite Yourcenar (can anything compare to Memoirs of Hadrian?), but it is still an outstanding set of three little novels, because she is a genius. Her particular gift for inhabiting the psyches of historical figures is preserved here with a straightforward sense of joy and clarity. (Get a copy)

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

10. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong

I am writing because they told me to never start a sentence with because. But I wasn’t trying to make a sentence—I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and its prey.

So many beautiful passages and lines, as to be expected! But it is a rather exhausting reading experience. I wanted a break from all the lushness and metaphor, just a bit of reprieve! I always want to tell poets who write longer fiction, “It’s OK: Every sentence does not have to be a poem. Sometimes it is good to have plain, hardworking sentences.” Even still, it is fun to dive in with this, especially if you can treat it like a very long prose poem, which I was admittedly unable to do. (Get a copy)

Up next: Best nonfiction I read in 2019.

Monday Snax

This past week, we celebrated Win’s birthday a day early, by eating super-spicy Chinese food at Peter Chang’s and by clinking glasses of dark craft beer with friends at The Local. It was a classic Charlottesville birthday.

Then, this weekend, we traveled to Greensboro to see Daniel and Lauren get married! They are so wonderful and we were so happy to be there to celebrate with them. Brief photo recap below:

More photos from recent life on Flickr.

Snax:

Two supporting arguments/news trivia related to my list of stuff that makes me angry: Why I’m Reconsidering My Diet Soda Addiction (GOOD) and The Interns Are Organizing (Daily Intel).

Your Guide to Literary Tumblrs. A very comprehensive list of the best book-related Tumblrs. (The Millions)

Thank you, brothers! Thoughtful responses by Christian men to John Piper’s unbelievable/offensive pronouncement that Christianity is and should be a masculine religion, that the best churches are ones with a “masculine feel.” (Rachel Held Evans)

Black-and-White Photos Get a Taste of Color. Ever wondered what Anne Frank, Mark Twain, or Abraham Lincoln might look like in color/real life? Here’s an idea. (GOOD)

New Work, Black on White. Oh, to be this talented with a flexible nib! (Alissa Mazzenga)

DIY Valentine’s Wreath. Those who know me know that I am really not into cute DIY projects, but this one looks pretty darn adorable–and easy enough for someone like me to attempt. (Mod Cloth blog)

So tempting right now. Oh, nothing. Just an announcement that these two glorious dogs from a local Aussie breeder are having puppies in late March. Committed to rescue, committed to rescue… (Inkwell Aussies)

Long exposure photographs of fireflies. This is so magical! (Fox Is Black)

Monday recap

Things we’ve been doing lately:

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

Also, we *might* have found a house for next year! I’m so excited; it’s all I think about. Will let you know once we find out for sure.

Not much in the mood for snaxing today, but maybe later… Too much to do, too much on my mind! You know how it is.

Tuesday Snax

Long weekend = totally awesome and relaxing and filled with dogs and girlfriends and films. (Unrelated side note: Our romantic peach orchard shoot with the great Kristin Moore was also featured on her blog this past week.) My mind escapes me right now, so here are some distracting links.

Snax:

One Hundred and One White Women. Findings: Danish people age really well (see especially the men once they get into their first century). And they have great skin. (The Hairpin)

Read Some of the Meanest Book Reviews of the Year. Maybe it’s just the curmudgeon in me, but I really love reading a snarky book review. (Flavorwire)

Marianne Breslauer. A selection of German photographer Marianne Breslauer’s equally lovely and masculine portraits of women from the 1930s. (Miss Moss)

Sennett Bathing Beauties, 1915. They are so cute in their modest rompers! (Retronaut)

Cuppow. Would totally use this, although I looked at that photo and instantly thought, “Gross, who wants to drink JAM?” I don’t like drinking out of plastic and I should stop using paper cups at work, so this is the perfect solution. It makes mason jars so much more usable on a daily, travel basis! Now hipsters won’t look like doofuses drinking out of mason jars and spilling all over themselves. (Linda & Harriett)

Icebergs. Thoughts, poems, and paintings on the sublime (beautiful, haunting, terrifying) nature of the iceberg. (Ill Seen, Ill Said)

Valentino. Sometimes I just like to look at pretty dresses. (Ill Seen, Ill Said)

The Best Time I Almost Bought a Falcon. I think Nicole Cliffe is the funniest. I definitely LOL’ed at this one, mainly because I’ve probably been tempted to get a falcon myself? (The Hairpin)

Monday Snax

Big city living. Davis, West Virginia.
Matt, Liz, and Ross, surviving switchbacks.

We took a very short weekend trip to the tiny mountain town of Thomas, West Virginia, so the boys could visit Mountain State Brewing Co. (Liz and I were able to find a coffee shop, to our amazement, which provided some respite from the bar.) We narrowly survived the seemingly endless switchbacks and hairpin turns and the little Versa even trucked it up there. A fun and very different way to spend the weekend; more photos on Flickr.

Snax:

Longform’s Best of 2011. The best long-form journalism from last year. I really want to read all of these. I love a good, thorough, and fascinating article. (Longform)

The 25 Greatest Epigraphs in Literature. I love a good epigraph! This is a great and comprehensive list. Have you read any of these novels? Do you agree? (Flavorwire)

World’s Biggest Websites at Launch, 1990s. Wow, Amazon. Looking pretty rough. And Google, that exclamation point? Garish. (Retronaut)

Best Correction in New York Times History. This takes the cake. You have to admire their commitment to accuracy. (Best Week Ever)

Christmas Time with the Family. Grace’s touching recap of our (lovely and goofy) family holidays. (Como Say What?)

Most Anticipated: The Great 2012 Book Preview. Wow. Apparently, there are a lot of great books set to come out this year. I’m looking forward to reading many of them! (I’m especially excited about Marilynne Robinson’s When I Was a Child, I Read Books.) (The Millions)

Dallas Calligrapher: Fabulous Forty. Now that is impressive calligraphy: Flexible nib with white ink, slanted, on a hot pink envelope. I’m jealous of her skills. (The Lefthanded Calligrapher)

Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Cary Grant’s Intimate Bromance. Thoughts on the beautiful and peerless Grant and his versatile loves. (The Hairpin)

Monday Snax

No photos = jam-packed, fun weekend. We had three holiday parties on Friday night; ran lots of errands + had a generally peaceful day on Saturday, and then hosted a soup party + birthday party for Mary Boyce on Sunday after Lessons and Carols at church. Whew! And then we’re jetting off to North Carolina on Thursday night! I’m so excited.

Yuletide Snax:

Stereotyping You By Your Favorite Book of 2011. Any of these apply to you? The one for Blue Nights made me laugh: “The same people who think it’s healthy to see Greek tragedies in the winter.” (Flavorwire)

Gift Ideas for the Book Lover Who Has Read Everything. Want those Frankenstein bookends. Actually, I’d take just about anything from this gift guide. (Flavorwire)

New York in the Snow, 1892-1920. Makes you really grateful for cars and for traffic lanes. The carriage pile-up in that last photo looks so stressful. (Retronaut)

Are We the Nation of Sushi Abomination? Ah, excellent. Someone else rants about the state of American sushi so I don’t have to. (Tofugu)

Congressional Wives, 1947. The dresses are dowdy, yes, but these ladies look pretty awesome. I bet they’d be a lot of fun at a cocktail party. (Retronaut)

Weak, I know. What? It’s been a busy week.

Tuesday Snax

What's better than an Aussie puppy?
Huck, Jodi and Michael's latest addition. Me? Not jealous at all...

It’s been way too busy around here lately. But I got to meet Huck, the Aussie, on Sunday, and he was a dream. A fuzzy, razor-sharp-toothed dream. (I’d forgotten how much puppies, like babies, want to put everything in their mouths.) He belongs to Jodi and Michael, who brought him home just a week ago. When I stood up to reluctantly leave, he laid down on top of my boots and looked up at me. KILLING ME, PUPPY. KILLING ME. It took all my willpower not to pick him up, stuff him in my purse, and make a run for it.

Belated snax:

Best Photos of the Year 2011. So powerful. Warning: Some are violent/graphic/upsetting. But they’re all incredible. Especially #46! If you don’t see any other photo, at least get to #46. (Reuters)

“Pale Fire,” The Poem: Does It Stand Alone As a Masterpiece? It’s nice to have other people suss out the answers for you. Something I’ve been wondering since I read Pale Fire… (The New Yorker)

Unremembered Celebrity Couples. This is pretty interesting. Who knew that Brad Pitt and Thandie Newton were a thing? Ashton Kutcher and January Jones?? (Retronaut)

Hate Actually. Snarky critic makes some good points about why “Love Actually” isn’t such a great film after all. (The Hairpin)

Printable Holiday Gift Tags: All Free! Get on this. This is what I’ve been using for all of my presents this year. (How About Orange)

Inside the Sketchbooks of the World’s Greatest Type Designers. In another life, this would have been my vocation. (The Atlantic)

Come Together. All I’m thinking is: Why didn’t we have this brilliant idea for our Christmas card? (Awkward Family Photos)

Monday Snax

Small group dinner at our house!

A wonderful weekend of gatherings and dinners! On Friday, my small group + husbands came to our house for a potluck dinner after we returned from the Compline service at the monastery in Crozet. On Saturday, I went for a run with Liz K. and Bo, and then we had lunch and went to Mallory‘s for a holiday-themed domestic afternoon of baking and nail polishing with the set of super-beautiful and funny Trinity ladies. Then that night, Dave and Kirby had a bunch of us over for an incredible lasagna dinner. Sunday, we finished almost all of our Christmas shopping, which was an incredible feeling. When we got home, I started wrapping them all like a fool. I realized that I really love wrapping presents, even though I am objectively terrible at it. I am way too impatient with ribbons and paper. But I love it just the same. Even if my presents turn out looking like a four-year-old boy wrapped them.

I don’t really feel like snaxing today. Ho-hum. Back to work. But here are a few things:

Americans Are 20 Pounds Heavier Than They Were Just 20 Years Ago. Way to go, America. I think you’re winning this one! While we were at the mall yesterday, Guion commented that they would soon have to widen the lanes to accommodate shoppers. It’s only a matter of time, apparently. (The Atlantic)

Pretty Books Redesigned: Virginia Woolf. I approve! I think Woolf and her sister and creative director, Vanessa Bell, would have approved, too. (Black Eiffel)

Uptown. Just looking at this arrangement makes me feel calmer, happier. (An Apple a Day)

Um, yep. That’s all. It’s been a busy week! More important things to do!

Monday Snax

Family + Dublin
My family + our surrogate dog, Dublin.
Thanksgiving girls
Girls of Thanksgiving. L to R: me, Dana, Grace, Emily, Kelsey, and Nicole.
Proper Pratt siblings
Pratt siblings on our best behavior. Win is so stoic.

Ah, Thanksgiving. It was so ideal. The weather was divine; the food, miraculous; the company, perfect. As always, it is difficult to get back into the weekly routine, but I feel sufficiently rested and hopeful. I left ineffably thankful for our families. And I got to spend plenty of time with dogs, which was naturally another thing to be grateful for. Photos from the holiday weekend on my Flickr.

Snax with leftover turkey and cranberry sauce:

The Extraordinary Syllabi of David Foster Wallace. Kind of thankful I’m not taking a lit class with DFW. Although I think it is totally wonderful that he assigned The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (Slate)

Women Who Write Like Men and Men Who Write Like Women. A somewhat interesting corollary to my thoughts on this matter? So, it turns out that men and women do actually use pronouns differently, and so we can overgeneralize and say that there are some “men who write like women” and some “women who write like men.” Haven’t processed the implications of this, but it’s still interesting. (Full Stop)

Joan Didion on Stage. More Didion (because I’m reading The Year of Magical Thinking right now, probably). And because she is snarky and cool. (The New Yorker’s Book Bench)

Living with (Millions) of Books. Houses without books look soulless. (English Muse)

Jonathan Lethem’s Alphabetical Absolutism: How Writers Keep Their Books. Photographs of contemporary writers’ bookshelves. I liked Junot Diaz’s thoughts on the matter of buying more books than one can read in a year. (The New Yorker’s Book Bench)

Peter Jellitsch Draws the Wind. Now that’s a crazy endeavor. But how cool is this? Very. (Fox Is Black)

Bicycle Portraits, Part III. This looks like a beautiful book. Would make a gorgeous gift for the avid cyclist in one’s life. (Miss Moss)

30 Tech Gifts Under $100. It seems all people want these days are gadgets, so this is a small but helpful gift guide for design-friendly digital-age presents. [Side note: Can I talk about how much I hate the asterisk in the Design*Sponge title? I always want to leave it out, even though copy editor rules tell me you’re supposed to punctuate a title the way a firm punctuates it. Still. I think it is stupid, Bonney. Even though your gift guides and your general website are great.] (Design*Sponge)

Constellation Calendar. Ooh, love. Even though I can’t identify a constellation to save my life (except probably Orion’s belt). (Unruly Things)

The Class Comforter. The sweetest. I would like to have that job/get someone else in my office to have that job. (Sweet Fine Day)

Monday Snax

Dead orchard
Spooky peach trees.
Afternoon in Crozet
Guion on a Crozet farm road.

A peaceful, efficient weekend. Back to the book sale again; ran a lot of errands; Guion was on tour with Nettles, the Hill and Wood, and Camp Christopher in D.C. and Princeton.  One of the highlights of the weekend was a photo session with the incredible Kristin Moore, who took us out to Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet for a fun afternoon among the spooky/awesome dead trees. Kristin is so sweet and encouraging and she made us feel OK about being in front of the camera, despite our overwhelming awkwardness.

My paternal grandfather passed away this weekend. He was a happy man who flew helicopters and told jokes, but I did not know him very well. It is a strange feeling, to acknowledge that you feel so empty and detached about your grandfather’s death, but my heart is heavy for my father and his siblings. They feel something for him that I never got the chance to, and for that, I am sad. Rest in peace, Papa John.

Snax with a box of clementines, which are easily the main reason winter is passable:

Faroes. Good friend Ross McDermott went on an adventure to the mystical and hidden Faroe Islands and his photographs of the trip are just incredible. It looks like such an enchanted place; I want to go! (Ross McDermott’s Flickr)

Palmetto Bluff. Meredith visits this amazing inn in South Carolina. I’m a sucker for hanging moss; it makes me want to go read a dozen Eudora Welty stories. (Meredith Perdue)

LIFE Magazine’s 20 Worst Covers. You have to respect a magazine with the ability to make fun of itself. These are pretty horrendous. (LIFE)

Our Bella, Ourselves. As a self-respecting woman with a functional brain, I have a lot of disdain for all things Twilight. But this is a very interesting perspective on Bella Swan–the weak, useless, defenseless, and indecisive “heroine”–as a mirror of her fanbase. Teen girls love these books, because they see something of themselves in Bella. Sad, but maybe true? (The Hairpin)

2011 Holiday Card Roundup, Part 4. If I were a rich woman, I would spend an unforgivable amount of money on cards like these. (Oh, So Beautiful Paper)

Calligraphy Inspiration: Kathryn Murray. So pretty and whimsical. To have such control over one’s nib! (Oh, So Beautiful Paper)

Joan Didion’s Packing List. That is very efficient, Ms. Didion. I approve. (English Muse)

Reading 1Q84: The Case for Fiction in a Busy Life. A sound and compelling argument for reading thick novels even when your life is insane. (The Millions)