I know I keep doing this (adorable, charming) routine by which I suddenly appear out of a hiatus with a grand declaration of how it’s DEFINITELY the last time, then post once or twice, then wordlessly disappear. And so on.
And I’m here to tell you that this time…
IS JUST ONE MORE TIME IN A PREDICTABLE PATTERN WE’RE GOING TO KEEP ON LIVING IN, BABY!
With one exception: I’m even lazier this time.
Normally I drag my sorry ass back here, wrap up the 3-11 months of reading I’ve missed in my 192nd hiatus, and then die of sheer exhaustion from all that typing, only to resurrect myself in 9-12 business years and do the whole thing again.
But I’m here to say: NO MORE!
I don’t feel like wrapping up those months, and honestly I don’t think any of you are dying to read 12,000 words on every book I’ve read since October either.
(If I’m wrong, you can check my Goodreads and build a DIY wrap-up. But I am never wrong.)
So instead, I’m going to skip straight to the good part.
Let’s talk about EVERY BOOK I FIVE STARRED IN 2019!
This is both “the good part” for obvious reasons (it’s the 12 best books from a selection of 150!) and for laziness reasons (all I have to do is copy and paste reviews, basically).
(Insert victorious song, joyous dancing, and a full-on parade here.)
FIND MORE 5-STAR REVIEWS -> HERE
And the answer is yes.
Well, the answer for me is yes. I can’t comment on your answer. But like, if your answer is no…what is wrong with you? Read a damn Neil Gaiman book, you cretin. Allow yourself that happiness.
The fact that this is his first novel makes me want to throw up and die. How do you write a first novel like this? It is beautiful, it is creative, it is magical, it has lovely prose. The world is clear and well-constructed. It is action-packed and well-characterized (seriously, all the characters are so lovable). Also, IT PULLED ME OUT OF A READING SLUMP. A READING SLUMP, I SAID.
It is, in short, an on-paper perfect book. (Paper pun intended.) (Directly stealing my own description of another Neil Gaiman book – Coraline – only semi-intended.) (But if Neil Gaiman would stop writing perfect books it’d be avoidable, so.)
That’s really all there is to say. This book is perfect and it’s a debut and there is absolutely no justice or sense in this world.
But fingers crossed there’s a little bit of Neil Gaiman-style magic in it.
Bottom line: Is Neil Gaiman well on his way to being on my favorite authors list?? Stay tuned!! (But yes. He is.)
Note: Find my other Neil Gaiman reviews here.
I read the first three books in the Anne series in 2019, and I five starred them all. I’m not going to include all those reviews here because
I’m not a goddamn nightmare monster I’m not THAT MUCH of a nightmare monster.
I’ll insert the first one and include links to the other two, for all interested parties.
(DO IT CLICK IT CLICK THE LINK YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO.)
Do you ever love a book so much that it doesn’t feel like a book? You’re so immersed and reading is so effortless that you don’t feel like you’re reading at all? The characters are real enough to be people, and their problems and happinesses feel like they’re happening to you?
That was me with this.
Which is all well and good until it comes down to reviewing it.
Basically what I’m saying is I’m at a loss for words. I’m saying I have nothing TO say. This is just too damn good.
I didn’t read this as a kid, or for many years after. I didn’t think I’d be interested. I had a copy for years with no intention of picking it up, because I am shallow as hell and only bought a copy in the first place because it’s pretty. (In my defense: look HOW pretty.) Honestly, I can’t remember why I decided to read it in the first place.
But I am very, very, VERY glad I did.
I love Anne so much. I love Green Gables. I love Diana, I love Matthew and Marilla, later on I love Gilbert (although I don’t really understand how people love him from this book alone. Not much to see).
After reading this, I was obligated to chase the high of the reading experience by picking up the next two installments as quickly as possible, and they were just as good. Mostly. But still an unparalleled level of good.
I guess what I’m trying to carry across here is that somehow this hundred year old children’s classic about an orphan girl moving to a rural island in Canada was one of the most unputdownable books I’ve ever read.
And also the writing is as pretty as the cover.
Bottom line: I want to live in this book, please and thank you.
Anne of Avonlea review: here
Anne of the Island review: here
Logically, it seems that maybe shorter books would be harder to love. You spend less time with the characters, the narrative complexity must be limited, you live in the world for a minimal amount of time.
But for the past few years, I’ve found that I’m more likely to adore short books. Maybe it has something to do with the incomprehensible length of so many young adult fantasy books I’ve read, which have no need or right to stretch so far past the four hundred page mark.
Or maybe I’m endlessly impressed by the power of some authors to touch me with the strength of their voices, their prose, their characters, their stories, in less than three hundred pages.
I had fallen in love with this book, for example, within a few dozen pages.
Salinger’s writing is glorious, Franny and Zooey and the Glass family leap off the page, I could spend unlimited volumes sprawled in the overcrowded living room of their glamorous unusual apartment. The ending hits like a physical strike. I was reading of both feelings I’d always had and never put into words and emotions I had never imagined.
I need a modern day Frankenstein – someone to wake Salinger up and tell him I need enough of the Glass family’s words to spend the rest of my life with.
I don’t care about the ethics.
Bottom line: Literally no one needs me to tell them this book is amazing, but it is and I’m saying it anyway.
It’s reached a concerning point — seemingly 1 in 3 or 4 books I read is actually a reread. Previously I was way too picky about adding books to my to-read list to suffer a massive TBR issue, but now that I’m barely reading new books, the pile (which is a physical one in the corner of my room, stacked by color because a) rainbow shelves forever and b) I am out of shelf space) is looming. Concerningly.
If I die mysteriously, I was probably crushed by the blue stack. (I also seem to have a problem with buying blue books, specifically.)
Anyway. My sole limit has always been that I must wait at least one year after my initial read before reading it again. This is my last shred of rereading-related logic and sanity.
This book smashed that sh*t to pieces. Less than five months after I read it for the first time, I was rereading.
I could make excuses. “My flight was delayed and I only brought one book, ” I could say, and it would be true (and a fatal mistake and a shame upon my bookworm title). “I happened to have this one because the person I lent it to gave it back.” But it was a nighttime flight, and I finished my first book on board, and I had to go out of my way to turn on that reading light that is really more of a goddamn chandelier considering how well it illuminates everything in an eight-foot radius. (Sorry, everyone around me.)
Also, it was a short flight and I only got 50 or so pages into it. I easily could have put it down.
This is where it’s the book’s fault.
This story is not action-packed, nor particularly suspenseful. Neither is it jam full of what you’d call Exciting Events or even a traditional love story that gets you rooting for your couple in any familiar way.
In spite of all that, it is absolutely unputdownable.
Conversations with Friends, if you are one of the few who somehow haven’t read it yet, is about Frances and, less so, her best friend and ex-girlfriend Bobbi. Frances is thoughtful and cool (in the less-used definition of the word, according to my lexicon), Bobbi is effervescent and charming. They encounter a married couple, Melissa and Nick, and much of the novel is devoted to the changing ways in which the four interact with each other.
The writing is beautiful. Sally Rooney’s style is clean and sharp and true. Each word is thoughtfully chosen. Each image feels real and complex. Her New Yorker profile (which I read in a fit of desperately needing to get my hands on everything Rooney has written, in the wake of my first encounter with this book) highlights a description of a party at Melissa’s home as “full of music and people wearing long necklaces.” Conversations is teeming with terse, evocative descriptions like that, and if you’re anything like me once you start reading writing like that you’ll never want to stop.
Being forced to stop by the dearth of Sally Rooney material has been very difficult for me.
Like the writing, the characterization is somehow spare and complete at once. Frances and Bobbi, Melissa and Nick, even the background actors and extras of their lives are stunningly real. I think about Frances and Nick especially all the time. I can identify statements in life as “very Bobbi” or “exactly Melissa” or “totally something Frances would say.”
Above all, this book crawled inside my head and stayed there. It ever-so-slightly changed the way my brain works, but mostly it made me feel noticed and heard. It seems a way of looking at the world I hadn’t realized I ascribed to is captured in these pages. It’s surprising and kind of spooky and I’m truly grateful I encountered this book at all.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a review of mine if I didn’t confidently write about something I’m likely not qualified to. And I want to say f*ck everybody who acts like Sally Rooney is some kind of lesser writer because she’s young and a woman. There’s a difference between saying “this writer is not for me” and “I didn’t like this book, and therefore everyone who calls her brilliant or talented is actually wrong.”
You don’t spew that sh*t about the bajillion dead white male writers. Your internalized misogyny and ageism is showing.
Bottom line: Sally Rooney is brilliant and talented. The end. ❤️
At the end of 2014, I was in my junior year of high school, and I was in the deepest depression of my life. Before then and since, I’ve had bad days and dark spells, but none of it has ever been as bad as it was then.
In the winter going into 2015, I watched nine and a half seasons of the TV show Friends. I do not remember a single second of it. I would just go to school, get home, put Friends on, dissociate, go to sleep, repeat.
It was very bad. (The show, not the depression. I mean that was definitely not good, don’t get me wrong, but wow Friends is a very bad show.)
Even when I wasn’t watching possibly the least funny show that manages to call itself a comedy ever in the history of time, I was still on the internet. I don’t really know what I did – I don’t have many memories of that time of my life.
I know at some point during that time, I started listening to Serial. And something about the podcast format really clicked with me – maybe that I needed to do something else while I did it to stay focused. I don’t know. But it felt better than just putting garbage (and I do mean garbage) television on and staring at the wall.
Soon I started googling tons of podcast recommendation lists, which were really in a renaissance then. Honestly I think entertainment sites profited off of articles about podcasts more than podcasts profited off of podcasts. But anyway.
I saw one Vulture listicle on the best episodes of any podcast ever (isn’t it crazy that once upon a time there were few enough podcasts that that seemed possible? How times have changed), and it mentioned an episode of a show called Comedy Bang! Bang! that included a name I recognized: Bobby Moynihan, from SNL.
I listened to it. And I loved it so much. It made me actually smile, actually laugh, when that seemed kind of impossible.
I looked up more best episodes, and one name kept coming up: Harris Wittels.
I listened to every episode of CBB with him on it. I read his Twitter feed. I looked up his standup. He quickly became one of my favorite comedians, at a time when my favorite comedians were, like, SNL cast members.
I listened to an episode of Pete Holmes’ podcast where he was the guest, and he talked for hours about his addiction to heroin.
Then, in February 2015, after just a month or two of him being an unexpected beacon of joy and laughter in what felt like my impossible-to-live life, he died.
I don’t know Harris. I wasn’t his biggest fan or his most ardent follower. But he meant a lot to me, and his death hit me hard.
I’ve listened to and relistened to his podcast appearances, watched his Vine compilations repeatedly, trawled his Twitter feed. I’ve seen Parks & Rec (which he wrote for and guested on) over and over, have fawned over the brilliance of Master of None (in which his role would have been immense, just weeks after his death).
I’ve consumed a lot more comedy since I was 17, and become a lot happier, but Harris has never stopped meaning a lot to me.
I’ve known this book was coming out since Stephanie Wittels Wachs promoted it on Comedy Bang! Bang!, and I’ve had it on my to-read list ever since, but I’ve never felt ready to read it.
I knew it was going to make me very, very sad. Cry-level sad, which is ordinarily an impossibly high level of sadness for me to reach.
But reach it I did.
This is the single most heart-wrenching book I have ever read. Never has a page carried emotion like these ones did. It is real and raw and breathtakingly sad and somehow, still, funny.
I read it, for the most part, in a day, swaths of it in public (yes, weepily). I stayed up till 2 a.m. to finish it. This is the first book to make me feel like I had to do that in a very long time. It was that level of unputdownable.
My heart hurt the whole time. Stephanie Wittels Wachs is a brilliant writer. I felt this so hard (and I’m not a reader who feels hard constantly or easily).
Like Harris, it’s a f*cking amazing, once-in-a-lifetime thing.
I feel so lucky to have picked it up. And so glad I finally did.
Even though doing so the day before my birthday made me spend it in a serious state of melancholy.
Bottom line: Do not miss out on Harris Wittels, and do not miss out on this book.
I love her so much that I knew if this book even made me think about her, I’d be a fan, but it did way more than that. I felt like I was in what appears to be the single most magical non-fictional place in all the world: inside Jenny Slate’s brain.
If you have so much as watched an interview of hers, it’s immediately clear that she sees the world in a way that is totally unique to her. It is such a gift to be able to see that perspective for 304 pages.
She uses language differently. Words are lovely and flowerlike and carefully selected. Images are clear and breathtaking. This is an extraordinary thing.
Now, for a small request.
I would like every book I read to be written by Jenny Slate, thanks very much.
Okay, fine, compromise. I at least would like her to write 100 more books.
I got one dose of the beautiful starlike lens through which she perceives everything and just one look through her perception is not going to cover it please and thank you.
This was so gorgeous that when I finished it I immediately wanted to restart.
Also now I want to again.
Bottom line: This is a perfect little book.
Here is the problem with reviewing every book I read: Sometimes I throw around terms before I really need them, and then once I read THE book, The Story that requires and deserves that descriptor, I have nothing to give it.
Right now I have this problem. Because I have used the word “immersive” before, and immediately upon my completion of this book it became clear that I should have saved it for right now.
I felt like I lived inside these pages. I felt like I began to think in the beautiful and sharp prose that fills them. I felt like I knew the characters, ate decadent lunches and walked the snowy campus and whispered with them. I felt an aching emptiness, a genuine longing, when I read the final words.
I miss living here.
This was very, very slow – to the point that about halfway through I said (inexplicably, aloud), “I don’t know what they’ll even do for the rest of the book” – and yet I was gripped by it.
It’s genuinely masterful.
I love Richard and I LOVE Camilla and I love Francis and I, fine, okay, at least like Charles and Henry and even Bunny and Julian.
And I miss them all.
This is an incredible work, but maybe the most incredible thing is how the reader is Richard. I, too, miss my bygone days at my prestigious New England college with my whip-smart group of eccentric friends, and, like him, I am too quickly forced to realize the fallacy of such a feeling.
After all, it was all a fiction.
Bottom line: I’m raising this to a five star rating.
I filed a formal request to leave this reality and move into the world of this book nearly three months ago, and yet here I am, still here.
So what’s the deal.
This reality is fine and all, but if given the option (and I am choosing to give myself the option), I would much rather live in an island world of beautiful ocean landscapes and lovely giant birds and wonderful little inns and divine magical justice, thanks.
If this is not possible, I would be happy with any Katrina Leno world.
Because she is just fantastic.
I love these gorgeous flawed characters so much. I love the inn and I love the island. I love the way this FEELS – so, so real, which is my favorite way for magical realism to feel.
This is so atmospheric and beautifully written and sometimes funny.
I just wish the world we lived in was this world.
Bottom line: This slim little book is so powerful.
I could justify it so easily. “Just refreshing the ol’ memory,” I could say. “It’ll take less than an hour. And think of the review! Masterful, probably.”
<smallWow, I am really convincing myself. THIS IS DIFFICULT.
This was exactly what I wanted it to be. I wanted to read this book desperately that on release day, I dragged myself to Target (by which I mean journeyed out to Target with great delight because that place is the best), and when Target didn’t have it, I did the unthinkable.
I went to the dreaded Books-A-Million in the mall, which I hate because a) it’s small, b) it’s weirdly dark, c) the employees are overbearing in a way that borders on unsettling, like YOU’RE BOOK PEOPLE TOO YOU SHOULD KNOW I DON’T WANT THIS, and d) the books are so expensive that it seems like they’re adding on to list price.
And they didn’t even have it either.
Anyway, eventually (after an excruciating wait), I got this book, and oh boy was it worth it.
What I wanted:
– trademark Rainbow Rowell Banter & Chemistry
– delicious treats
– pretty art
I got all that in HEAPS.
This is probably the most charming book I’ve ever read? It’s so funny and cute, and the characters are so lovely, and the little world of the pumpkin patch is a goddamn delight.
The first time, I read this fast because it’s addictive, and the second time, I read it slow because it’s filled with lovely little Easter eggs and funny things and turns of expression on the characters’ faces and wowow.
It’s just perfection.
Bottom line: As a reward for writing this review, I’m going to reread the book now.
Someone PLEASE procure me a striking, modern, big-city apartment with lots of windows, where I can hold a glass of expensive wine and gaze unseeing over the skyline at night, because apparently I’m going to feel melancholy for the rest of my life over never again being able to read this for the first time and if I’m going to do so I at least want to be glamorous about it.
Or, at the very least, I need to locate the sort of old-fashioned library described in 1920s mystery novels with a bar cart stocked with aged scotch and shelves filled with leather-bound tomes, except their antique spines will be a façade for the kinds of things I actually enjoy reading, rather than being 800 different copies of the Bible or whatever, and I will never drink the scotch because everything about the process of drinking scotch is like the scotch is asking you not to drink it. (Scotch is the poison-dart frog of beverages.)
Basically what I’m saying here is – Ever since I read the last page of this book three months ago, I have felt a small, unrelenting sadness, which I believe will only be solved by one of the following methods:
a) I dedicate my life to tracking down a door to the Starless Sea, and either I find one or it turns out the real reward was the friends I made along the way;
b) I experience repeated memory loss, allowing myself to read this book over and over again for the first time, re-beginning every time I finish it;
or c) I live the rest of my days in homage to this story.
All options will require funds that I will never have (I’m an English major, after all), so please kindly Venmo me at your convenience. Thanks.
This is the most gorgeous ode to stories and literature. It’s a thank-you gift to anyone who has ever been a Reader, with a capital R – not just someone who reads but someone WHO READS, as an identity, as a life-force, as a passion, as the meaning of life.
I dare any true bookworm to read this book with an open heart and a ready mind and not feel grateful that their life overlapped with its publication date.
Erin Morgenstern’s ability to create divine settings you can see and smell and lust after and yearn to experience is unparalleled.
My favorite book ever is, as anyone who has so much as made the online equivalent of eye contact me knows, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I love it with enough passion that everything about it is my favorite of that thing: my favorite characters, my favorite prose, and, naturally, my favorite setting.
Before I read this book, my unrivaled first runner-up was the setting of the Night Circus.
Now, I think both Wonderland and the circus may have been bumped down a slot. Never has a setting known me, seen my soul, like that of the magical underground great world of stories in these pages.
Plus, I didn’t have to slog through a Night Circus-level instalove romance to get there.
This was a perfect book. Mysterious, confusing, strange, magical. Beautifully written and populated with characters you love hard and immediately. I read this so slowly because I SAVORED it. I, a compulsive speed-reader whose simultaneous highest compliment and M.O. is reading a book in a day or so, knew that my finishing this book would be a small heartbreak, and so I tried to postpone it as long as I could.
So instead, I’ll pay the highest compliment to this that any reader can pay to any story –
Bottom line: It was hard to pick up another book after reading this one.
So there we have it! 4,500 words instead of 12,000. I am the most verbose person alive.
Here is where I would normally promise that I’ll post more regularly now – and I sure hope that’s true – but let’s not make promises we can’t keep, yeah?