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Maureen Corrigan's Favorite Books Of 2019: Here Are 10 Unputdownable Reads

Petra Mayer
/
NPR

My best books of the year list for 2019 is a mix of literary fiction and true crime and memoirs and essays. There are acclaimed authors here, as well as some brand new voices. The only thing that unites all these books is that, in my opinion, they are unputdownable.

Copyright 2024 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Fiction

The Nickel Boys

by Colson Whitehead

With his inventive plots and charged (and often witty) language Colson Whitehead knows how to his lure readers into looking squarely at some of the worst episodes in American history. In the early 1960s, an African American teenager finds himself wrongfully convicted of a crime and sent to the brutal Nickel Academy, based on a real-life reform school for boysthat operated in Florida called The Dozier School. Whitehead's novel is short, intense and compassionate.

Trust Exercise

by Susan Choi

A deliciously sharp and self-aware novel, Trust Exercise is set in the 1980s in a performing arts high school. Two students fall in love within the hermetically sealed world of the school and Susan Choi somehow makes out of that teenaged affair an ingenious and entertaining meditation on the ways memory and art can comfort and tragically mislead us.

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett

A gorgeous and devastating novel about a brother and sister who stand by each other through the loss of their parents, the lavish house they grew up, and the certainties they shared about their childhood memories. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've reread the ending of this novel at least five times, trying to unpack its sad magic.

Lost and Wanted

by Nell Freudenberger

The heroine of this powerful novel is a professor of physics at MIT who receives a phone call from a friend. The catch is that that friend has just died. From that classic creeper premise, Nell Freudenberger crafts a deeply engaging story about friendship, midlife uncertainty, and the mysteries of universe.

Orange World and Other Stories

by Karen Russell

The eight stories in Karen Russell's new collection range from good to really good to one certified masterpiece. That would be the first story, "The Prospectors," about two young women who hit the road during The Great Depression. In that tale, Russell gives us the grit and hollow dreams of deliverance that characterized the 1930s and she does so in language that's spirited and true.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

by Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong emigrated to this country from Vietnam when he was two years old and his autobiographical debut novel explores the vexed situation of a child who surpasses his immigrant parents. Written in the form of a letter by a son to his illiterate mother who works in a nail salon, Vuong's poetic novel explores the heavy price to be paid for dreaming of a better life.

Nonfiction

Say Nothing

by Patrick Radden Keefe

This is a panoramic investigation into the disappearance of a young widowed mother of ten in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1972, the era of "The Troubles." Patrick Radden Keefe's book is part true crime; part narrative history. However you want to characterize it, Say Nothing is a stunning book.

The Yellow House

by Sarah M. Broom

Sarah M. Broom's debut memoir is a vivid multigeneration account of the lives lived in her family's house in New Orleans, which was blown off its foundations when Hurricane Katrina hit. By intently focusing on that house, Broom constructs a larger narrative about race, class, and the long-term toxic consequences of shame.

Black Is the Body

by Emily Bernard

In this outstanding essay collection, Emily Bernard writes with depth, poetic intensity and humor about growing up in the South and living and teaching in the snow globe state of Vermont. Bernard's autobiographical writing about race never hews to safe or expected paths.

How We Fight for Our Lives

by Saeed Jones

In his debut memoir, Jones writes about growing up black, gay and isolated in Texas. Jones' voice and sensibility are so distinct, he turns the traditional coming-of-age memoir inside out and upside down.

<a href="https://apps.npr.org/best-books"><strong>NPR's Book Concierge</strong></a><strong> </strong>returns with 350+ new books handpicked by NPR staff and critics — including recommendations from book critic Maureen Corrigan and <em>Fresh Air</em> staffers Seth Kelley and Molly Seavy-Nesper. <strong><a href="https://apps.npr.org/best-books/">Click here to find your next great read.</a></strong>
/ NPR
/
NPR
NPR's Book Concierge returns with 350+ new books handpicked by NPR staff and critics — including recommendations from book critic Maureen Corrigan and Fresh Air staffers Seth Kelley and Molly Seavy-Nesper. Click here to find your next great read.

Maureen Corrigan, book critic for NPR's Fresh Air, is The Nicky and Jamie Grant Distinguished Professor of the Practice in Literary Criticism at Georgetown University. She is an associate editor of and contributor to Mystery and Suspense Writers (Scribner) and the winner of the 1999 Edgar Award for Criticism, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. In 2019, Corrigan was awarded the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing by the National Book Critics Circle.
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