A little bit late, but I’ve finally rounded up my favorite reads of 2019. It was such a good reading year for me, I’ve found so many new favorites! Let me gush about them!
This book was so much more than what I was expecting. I thought I was getting into a somewhat funny tale of deception but, instead, I got a sharp and current criticism of our society (although I did laugh out loud more than once).
Jessica wanted to be a violinist since she was a child. After years of taking classes, she gets accepted to study music at Columbia University and it seems her dreams will finally come true. Well…
Life in NYC is harder than she thought for a poor girl from Appalachia and she struggles to make ends meet. Not only that but she starts to doubt she has ‘a real gift’ with the violin like she’s been told by her townsfolk. That’s when she’s offered a spot to play for The Composer, believing things will start getting better, only to find out the whole thing is an ‘artifice’ (as she herself puts it—not a scam, an artifice.) Turns out the musicians in The Composer’s assemble “play” in front of muted microphones over a pre-recorded CD blasting from hidden speakers to unsuspected audiences. And the music? It sounds a lot like Titanic.
But all of this serves only as background for the story Jessica is actually telling—an ‘artifice’ I found particularly clever.
Despite the fact that I’m not American and this is a very American story, I related to so much of what Jessica went through. The ‘thing that happens’ with young girls that has seemingly no explanation, the pressure women incessantly suffer and the tolls it takes on our mental health, the pursuit of a dream that ultimately isn’t at all the dream you thought it was, the struggle with money and self-identity, working yourself to exhaustion because we’re taught to put our value into how productive we are… I could go on.
Her time and work with The Composer served as the perfect background to the story Jessica is actually telling—which I found particularly clever.
I loved the writing style (and the narration, as I listened to this on audio), her wit and sarcasm never let the story feel heavy despite the darkness that she exposes in pretty much every chapter.
This is a book for millennials. This is about our coming of age in a world whose worst epidemic is hypocrisy. This is about how we choose to close our eyes—or, in this case, ears—to what is right in front of us.
This book itself is magic. It takes many of the ideas long associated with creativity and making art and offers a new way of seeing them—a lighter, more pleasurable, achievable way. I wrote an entire blog post about this one because it changed the way I approach my own creativity.
One of the biggest issues she addresses in the book is how we talk about art—it’s always linked to suffering and pain. Society spreads this notion that one can only create from a place of darkness, that our torments are the things we have to draw from to create ‘good art’—that’s not true at all. In fact, it’s a disservice to those who actually suffer from mental illnesses since this belief causes them to cling to their demons believing they’re the ones responsible for their creativity. Elizabeth shows us that we are creative despite our pathologies and struggles.
We can be creative and healthy. We can enjoy making art. We’re allowed to make things that are not good, that won’t change the world, that won’t make a difference or save anyone’s life.
Isn’t this shift in perspective freeing? I know it was for me! It gave me the motivation to keep doing what I’m doing without caring whether it’s important or not—because it doesn’t have to be.
It’s still not going to be easy but now I’m certain writing is the thing I’m passionate about enough that I want to keep going no matter what.
Throughout my life, I’ve always struggled with self-expression. I’ve always been a shy, introverted person for whom communication was ever difficult (still is, most times). Writing has always been my way out. I like the time writing allows me to collect my thoughts, put it into words and form coherent sentences. I like how writing makes me feel like I’m emptying my brain—I like the relief it provides. I also like that I can dream through writing. I can create worlds and people and situations and basically live several other lives through it.
Yet, although always present, creativity wasn’t always manifest in my life. And I think that’s because of those old ideas we associate with it.
In recent years, as I slowly stopped fighting with it and let it be part of my life, I’ve been learning how to make space and time for my creativity. How to work with it. And how much I need it. I’ve already been feeling a kind of shift inside of me in regard to what I want out of a creative life and, then, this book happened. It came to me at the perfect time. I can’t help but think that as its title correctly states—it was big magic.
I think the biggest lesson I took from this book is to not take creativity too seriously. As Elizabeth says, Art is a paradox—it matters and it doesn’t matter. It’s hard but also not hard at all.
I can be terrified but I also have to be brave. I can feel the pain but I can’t build up my castle on it.
It demands work and discipline, but, some times, it’s pure magic.
It’s complicated. But, also, the simplest thing I’ve ever done.
I read this one as research for Once in a Lifetime and I loved it so much more than I thought I would! I have no idea who half of the people mentioned are, still they got me so invested at times that I had to Google their faces and listen to their songs. I came out of this story with a newfound admiration (and hatred) for people I don’t even know and this weird nostalgia for a place I’ve never set foot in.
I’ve mentioned before that music is my favorite art form. I listen to music while I work; I started writing because of band-related fanfiction; most of my stories are inspired by songs; I’ve met my best friends of over a decade now because we all loved the same band; my second and third novels are about bands on tour. Hence why I was so excited when this book popped up on my radar. And let me tell you—it did not disappoint!
I’ve always been interested in seeing how things work, the behind the scenes, the invisible engines that make the magic happen. That’s exactly what this book shows— the unglamorous, gritty, ugly side. The interviewees’ initial struggles, excesses, and spiraling health were heartbreaking at times. But their level of commitment and friendship was heartwarming. I’m not a fan of any of them, but I’ve certainly finished this book with a newfound admiration for most (and hatred for some).
My favorite aspect, though, was how Lizzy manages to show the changes the music industry was going through, how piracy affected it, how the business model crumbled down under the blind stubbornness of its leaders. This shift fascinates me because it happened so fast and we’re still in the middle of it. I’m old enough to have seen CDs be born and die. It seems like it was only yesterday that I was illegally downloading music online, and now I’m paying for a streaming service.
Another shifting aspect is the artists’ approach and mentality. Lizzy presents the bands that emerged in the first decade of the 2000s as the last of the ‘cool’ ones. Because cool then meant something different—it was wild, reckless, unhealthy. Cool now has less to do with image and more about actions. Artists who take political stands, who are concerned with the environment, who speak up about mental health are becoming the new cool (which I’m totally here for).
I’d love to see a sequel to this—a look into the era of streaming and independent artists, the impact of music having a widespread global reach, and what’s in the mind of artists and music industry players nowadays.
Once upon a time, I used to ‘measure’ other people’s struggles by comparing them with my own experiences being a woman. I used to take one account or instance—on race, gender, sexuality, anything—and search for its ‘match’ in my own limited repertoire of injustices and think ‘oh, now I know how that person feels’. I didn’t. I never will. I’m glad I’ve since learned that’s not how empathy works, but I’m aware I still have a long way to go.
This book is so powerful, so current, so necessary. There’s a lot Reni says about Britain’s history and social structure that reminds me of my own. Brazil has also thrived on slavery and is also still deeply ingrained in racism. From the correlation between class and race to the police bias in targeting black people, white privilege, unequal opportunities, pay gaps, access to education—so many problems seem to be universal.
A few years ago, I went to Europe. I was on my own and had a wonderful time. I found people to be extremely polite and helpful, even in places where I didn’t speak the local language and had heard about animosity against tourists. I came back telling everyone how I’d felt so welcome and safe, and during a conversation with friends, one of them—a black woman—said ‘yeah, but you’re white’. That changed my whole perspective about not only the trip itself, but the whole set of circumstances that even made it possible. That ‘yeah, but you’re white’ has been on the back of my mind ever since, making me a tiny bit more aware of my privileges.
This book has contributed greatly to my education towards not only being aware of racism, but being active against it. If you haven’t read it, I urge you to give it a go.
One thing you might not know about me is that I have three favorite topics to read about:
- what it means to be human;
- time and space;
- how our minds work.
The one thing those three have in common is that we don’t know. There are no answers. We have no idea how any of it works, and that’s exactly what this book is about. If you’re somewhat familiar with neurological conditions and/or texts, this might get a bit boring at parts because the author takes her time to really explain what she’s talking about. I wasn’t bored, though! I loved her writing style and the way she explained the disorders, citing other cases, sources, researches, and scientists.
Some of them I had heard about before, some not, but where this book truly shines is in the personal take of each case. The interviews and the way she wrote them made everything feel so much more real and interesting. I think it made such a difference to read about a person with a condition and not only the condition isolated as if it existed in a vacuum.
My favorite chapter was Seeing Auras—Rubén, a Spanish young man, sees people’s auras. He’s a synesthete and associates the emotion he has towards someone (even if it’s someone he doesn’t know) with colors. It was my favorite chapter because I found out I associate feelings with colors, too, and that isn’t something everyone does.
This is actually another thing I loved about this book—how Helen makes us see that our perceptions of the world are absolutely unique. No one processes reality the same way, yet we all think we do. We all think the way we think is the standard way because we don’t know any better. We can’t know any better. Isn’t that magical? Yeah, yeah, it’s science, but it’s magic, too.
I’d like to highlight the last chapter, too, that tells the story of Joel and his condition—mirror-touch synaesthesia. It means he can physically feel on his body what other people are feeling, both physically and emotionally. I’d never heard of it before. I’d never heard of the mirroring mechanism our brain has. Let me tell you, it put a whole different spin on what empathy means for me.
I absolutely loved all the stories here, which is a rare thing to happen with a collection of short stories. Each one depicts such a rich and diverse world and concept that I just couldn’t stop reading. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
This book touches on everything: faith and religion, politics, modern society, and, my favorite, language. As a translator, I’m a bit too obsessed with how language shapes the way we experience the world, which is exactly what Ted shows in the short that titled this book.
In a different book I also read in 2019 (finally enough also a short story book, also written by an Asian-American person), there was a quote about translation that I thought was so beautiful: “every act of communication is a miracle of translation”.
In the bridge we built from one language to another—even from my mind to the paper and then to your mind—something is always lost along the way. Something always changes. We will never fully understand what a particular thought in a particular language means. But the fact that we still try is beautiful—and truly a miracle.
Add to that a discussion of the way we experience time and I have probably my favorite story of all time! Which is now also my favorite movie of all time (Arrival) and the reason why I wanted to pick up this book in the first place.
This book… it’s so good I don’t even know where to start!
Okay, first of all, I have to say the synopsis for this book is a little bit misleading. I went into it thinking I was going to read some fluffy pup love story involving some fluffy quirky teen girl, but this is NOT AT ALL what we get! There is no love story, and every bit of relationship we get (that is, if we can even consider any of Evie’s dates a relationship) only serves to show us a different aspect of how her mind works. And reading all this from inside her mind was heart-wrenching.
I’ve never read a book that dealt with mental health so realistically, yet sensibly. Some parts of this were so hard to get through, I found myself desperately wanting to get inside the book and do something to help her.
Another thing that really worked for me was how the disease, the ‘bad thoughts’, were incorporated into the formatting of the book. I haven’t experienced any of the mental health challenges Evie faces, but from reading a lot about them and having friends that went through similar things, I felt like this ‘trick’ really encapsulated the feeling of going through it.
I also love the structure of it, how things don’t escalate into a climax, but spiral down into the black hole. I loved that it wasn’t a story of recovery, but one of relapse. I loved that we see how it happens, how heartbreaking it is for everyone involved, how difficult it is for the person going through it.
And, most of all, I loved the feminist take on it! I loved the friendship they formed, I loved how she addresses the mental health stigma head-on. I read some people saying it felt preachy or that it even fell flat because all the girls are obsessed with boys, or judgmental of one another, but I didn’t feel so at all! I think that’s exactly what 16-year-olds would be like (even if I wasn’t so myself), and it was quite refreshing to read young people actually be young, make mistakes, learn and grow. I feel like if I had read this when I was 16, it would have changed my entire life.
And 2019 was the year I finally found a romance I love! I almost didn’t pick this one up because the blurb didn’t quite get me and because I’ve been having problems with romance since… well, since forever. But I’m SO glad I did! This one completely restored my faith in the genre!
I think I started writing romance because of the things I hated in the books that I’ve read (I’ve also written an entire blog post about it). But if it was because of the things I loved, then it would be because of this one alone—it has all the things I try to incorporate into my own novels.
My favorite thing about this book was how realistic it felt. It’s such a simple, common-place story, but the character development is so real. I connected with Emma so deeply, and I think part of the reason is that, like her, I’m in my thirties now and I’m absolutely not the person I was back in my twenties (let alone in my teens). People change, oftentimes fundamentally, and some things in our lives cannot be erased or ignored—we have to deal with them. We have to be honest with ourselves about who we are and what we want. At some point, we must realize that, well, this is it now. This is who I am now. This is my life now. And it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
That’s exactly what this book does—it tells us that change can be good, growing up is inevitable, life is going to be painful but also beautiful, and, in the end, everything will be okay.
And love, true love, is perhaps easier than we think
“Hello. I hope somebody is listening…”
This is how Radio starts every episode of his 20-minute podcast, Universe City–an alternate universe he’s trapped in, desperately looking for a way out or someone to rescue him. Someone to listen. Everyone I’ve ever seen that read this book has said they wish they’d have it when they were in school. Well, add me to that list.
I think Alice captured so precisely the feeling of ending school and what comes next, the agony of working towards a goal (getting into University) that seems to be our only option, and then the confusion of realizing it’s actually not. Life is so much more than grades, and work, and studying. Living is so much more than earning a diploma and getting a nice job.
I loved every single aspect of this book. I fell in love with every character. They were so complex, diverse, layered, and their traits never felt forced or just a device to move the story forward. They felt like real people, every single one of them. That’s so hard to do!
The part that really stuck with me, though, was the loneliness Alice managed to portray. Everyone in this book is so lonely. It’s so painful, yet so real.
I felt particularly for Radio and the way he used his art to express himself. The way he hoped someone was listening but was unable to use his own voice. Through his podcast, he’s able to process his feelings. Through the Internet, he’s able to reach out and find the human connection he craves so much. I thought this was such an accurate snapshot of our generation—the way we throw our innermost selves online in hopes someone will see us, understand us, make us feel less alone. Isn’t this the reason we’re all here? Sharing, posting, following, commenting… And yet, despite the connections we do make–online or elsewhere–, we still feel so, so alone.
This story will stay with me for a long time. I’m definitely going to read it again. Multiple times.
This book was the warmest, coziest, snuggliest ball of fluff I’ve ever read in my life. From the first page, it put a grin on my face that lasted throughout. I highlighted so many excerpts, it was really hard to choose just one quote to post. I kept taking pictures of my favorite parts and sending to my friends (who didn’t read them because of spoilers).
Nina is a bookworm, introverted, nerdy woman with a very ordinary life. She enjoys her own company and has very high standards to let anyone into her life. She also suffers from anxiety, which results in very awkward social situations and a panic attack or two. She likes to take pictures as a hobby and works at a bookstore. In summary, except for the work part, I am Nina.
I don’t think I ever related so much to a character before. I identified with so many of her thought processes and “strategies” to manage her anxiety.
Now, one thing that I’d like to point out is her quirkiness. If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know I kind of have a problem with presenting characters with any type of mental health issue as quirky. This didn’t happen with Nina! She has anxiety AND she’s quirky! The author managed to separate things so perfectly (in my opinion) that I want to hand this book out to every other author and tell them “this is how you do it!”
The story itself is lovely, sad and funny at the same time, the romance is so well done and satisfying, the narration so magical! It reminded me of Amelie Poulin at times and it added so much to the story. It made me want to write something in this voice.
I did not expect to like this book so much but it definitely entered my favorites list. It’s gonna be one of those I run to in a reading slump, or whenever I need to smile.
What about you? Have you read any of these books? What were some of your favorite reads of 2019?
∴ Subscribe the Newsletter to be the first to know when there’s a new post up! ∴