My Top Books of 2019

I had such a good reading year this year. It was hard to narrow my top books of 2019 into a manageable list.

For as long as I can remember, my favorite part of my day has been the part when I get to curl up for an hour or so with a pile of books. For years, reading was the last thing I did every day before bed. This year, I changed things up and started doing my reading in the morning (with a cup of coffee, of course). I’ve also shifted things around in that I’m spending more time these days on non-fiction than fiction. There’s just so much stuff I want to know, ya know?

I’ve also initiated a few new reading challenges for myself. In addition to still pursuing the classics (which I define as any famous book—or unfamous book by a famous author—published prior to 1970), I’ve also decided to read all the Pulitzer winners (quite a few of which I’ve already read via my pursuit of the classics). And I’m trying to read a history of every country; this year, I checked off Canada, Afghanistan, and Australia (I may or may not have gotten distracted by histories of the popes and the Templars).

As you’ll see, I read more 5-star books this year than I think I have any year, so that was pretty awesome.

Following you can find my top books of 2019: 5 Fiction Books, 5 Writing Books, and 5 General Non-Fiction Books.

But, first, the stats:

Total books read: 48

Fiction to non-fiction ratio: 13:35

Male to female author ratio: 25:23

Top 5 genres: Social Science (with 11 books), Spiritual Growth (with 10), History (with 7), Writing (with 7), and Fantasy (with 6).

Number of books per rating: 5 stars (12), 4 stars (19), 3 stars (16), 2 stars (1), 1 star (0).

Top 5 Fiction Books

I’ve been reading my fiction much slower this year, savoring it—sometimes just a chapter a day—instead of inhaling a book a week as I’ve been wont to do in years past. For the most part, it’s been a year dedicated to finally reading Rowling’s incredibly wonderful series, which is rightfully the Star Wars of my generation.

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling—Read 10-20-19 Four and Half Stars

My favorite of the series so far, I think (still have Deathly Hallows to go). Tightly plotted, every chapter entertaining. And then, of course, there’s the ending…

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling—Read 1-25-19 Four and Half Stars

Wonderful. Much better fleshed out and smoother and better foreshadowed than the movie. Nothing to complain of. Just a joy.

3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling—Read 7-12-19 Four and Half Stars

The characterization in this one is a master work. Harry is so viscerally, relatably, believably angry throughout the whole thing. There are things in the Climax I liked better in the movie. But overall, it’s smashing.

4. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck—5-25-19 Four and Half Stars

Every word in place, every word evocative. Incredible character study, tightly and tensely moving toward its inevitable tragedy.

5. Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley—Read 3-23-19

This one’s different from most of Kearsley’s stuff, since it didn’t feature a dual timeline. The tie-in with the Merlin prophecies was ultimately a little weak, and the romantic subplot was even more subtle than usual. But it was still a delightful, detailed, nuanced read. I enjoyed nibbling my way through it.

(Really, the entire Top 5 belongs to Rowling, but I stuck in the other two for the sake of variety…)

Top 5 Writing Books

So many great writing books this year—stuff of inspiration, solid theory, and some brand-new ideas that have changed not just how I see fiction but how I see life.

1. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass—Read 9-29-19

I wish I’d written this book myself if only so I could share every single chapter here the site with all of you—because it’s brilliant. More than just on-point writing instruction, this is an inspirational challenge calling all writers to be their best selves and write stories that, in turn, inspire and challenge readers in all the best ways. I wasn’t expecting that from this book, but I was certainly inspired and challenged myself. Read it!

It inspired this post from earlier in the year:

>>A Challenge to Write Life-Changing Fiction

2. The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson—Read 12-3-19

I’ve always appreciated the Hero’s Journey and its archetypal grounding of story structure. But it’s also always bugged me in a vague way because, however prevalent and important it may be, it just never seemed to cover all it needed to. Hudson’s approach, which fleshes out the other half of the youthful journey by adding the feminine side of things (and hints at the corresponding major arcs of middle and old age as well) rounds out the picture in a way that should have been obvious to all of us a long time ago. She gives almost as much time to the Hero’s Journey as well, which makes the book a rounded view of both of these early-life arcs. I found it deeply moving and informative on a personal level as well as exciting as a new tool for grounding stories in fuller archetypes.

3. The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird—Read 7-10-19

Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

I think this might be my new favorite writing-craft guide. Deeply practical, slightly anti-authoritarian, and ruthlessly insightful, it’s a very real look at what goes into creating a solid and entertaining story. No vague truisms here. The author gets down under the hood with clear thinking and solid technique. It gave me quite a few new gems to think about it, some of which I talked about in these posts:

>>5 Ways Writers (Try to) Fake Their Way to Good Storytelling

>>4 Challenges of Writing for a Modern Audience

>>How to Write Interesting Scenes

4. Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer—8-16-19 Four and Half Stars

Incredibly interesting on so many levels. The science was interesting. The art was interesting. The history was interesting. But in the end, the link between art and science is really where the whole thing comes together in a transcendent way.

5. Story Grid by Shawn Coyne—Read 4-15-19 Four and Half Stars

Good stuff. Solid approach to structured storytelling, with some slants that made me think of certain things from new and useful angles.

Top 5 General Non-Fiction Books

It’s been a year of non-fiction for me. As I said, I’m taking it easier on the fiction and devouring the non-fiction. For better or worse, almost everything I read this year was amazing, which meant I had to read most of the books slooooowly, stopping paragraph by paragraph to digest all the amazing ideas.

1. Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes—Read 6-5-19

If I could give it six (or more) stars, I would. Incredibly powerful book that not only unites three of my favorite subjects—storytelling, archetypal narrative, and Jungian psychology—but does so in an intoxicatingly poetic fashion. Incredibly moving and actionable.

2. The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnutt—10-31-19

Complete Enneagram Beatrice Chestnut

Deeply insightful. I’m a fast reader, but it took me two and a half months to finish this treasure trove since I found myself stopping every other paragraph to ponder what I was reading. It’s no exaggeration to say my experience with this book changed my life several times over. I found it one of the best and deepest resources on the subject that I’ve yet encountered.

It helped me write this post:

>>Are You Struggling to Be Creative? This Might Be Why

3. Spiral Dynamics by Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan—2-24-19

Blew my mind. Incredibly insightful paradigm for personal and social growth. Much of the book is focused on large-scale “spirals,” applicable to business and global infrastructures. I would have found a more intimate focus on spirals in personal development to be more pertinent. But it still provided some amazing food for thought.

4. Girls’ Club by Sarah, Sally, and Joy Clarkson—Read 3-29-19

What a beautiful, inspiring, and empowering testament to womanhood. I read this book interested in what it had to say about relationships, but came out of it profoundly changed in my understanding of what it means to live fully into womanhood. Yet another of Sarah’s books that has impacted my life. (Her books Caught Up in a Story and Book Girl made my top books lists in 2016 and 2018, respectively).

5. Falling Upward by Richard Rohr—8-18-19

Wonderful, short, poignant exploration of life’s progression and growth.

My Books

And if all these goodies aren’t enough to fill your To Be Read pile this year, here’s a few more! 🙂

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What were your top books of 2019? How many books did you read? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. The Virgin’s Promise sounds interesting; I’m always curious about different story structures / character arcs. I’m wondering if this book is exploring the “Heroine’s Journey”? I first heard about the heroine’s journey when someone in a BioWare forum was explaining why “Dragon Age 2” was less satisfying than Dragon Age: Origins. It cements the idea that different structures are needed for different types of stories. The hero’s journey is plot-driven, and the heroine’s journey is character-driven, but the actual sex of the character is irrelevant.

    My non-fiction reads were research. My fiction reads this year was less than normal because I’ve been busy. I’ve leaned intensely on undemanding popcorn reads:

    1 ) Books 1 – 8 of the Lei Crime series by Toby Neal are mysteries set in the lush islands of Hawaii, featuring police detective Leilani (Lei) Texeira.

    2) Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold which was such a funny romp that I read it twice in succession. Then I read Cryoburn, the pole-ax ending of which made me read CVA again because I needed the laughs.

    3) Career Night on Union Station, Last Night on Union Station, and Soup Night on Union Station by EM Foner, three books in a funny popcorn series.

    4) I made an exception for the popcorn for my Halloween read: Summer of Night by Dan Simmons. Fans of “Stranger Things” might like it. The book was written in the 90s, and is set in the 60s, so it’s not like it’s cashing in, I promise. While Simmons makes a very true observation in his forward, skip it if you don’t want spoilers for the book. The spoiler did make me put my editor’s hat on, as I “gamed out” how Simmons would get around a particular problem caused by the events in the midpoint. Simmons neatly sidestepped that problem.

    5) Crooked House, as well as Halloween Party, by Agatha Christie. Christie was apparently feisty in her later years…

    6) Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart. For anyone who’s into old-school romantic suspense set in exotic locales, Stewart is for you. I mean old school as in Phyllis Whitney and early Mary Higgins Clark. Fun reads.

    May the new year bring blessings to you.

  2. Eric Troyer says

    Interesting list of books! Makes me curious about what my list would have looked like this past year. I do most of my reading through audiobooks, but I’ve gone through quite a few — I think.

    Anyway, my mind was kind of blown that you hadn’t read the Harry Potter series until this year!

  3. I’ve been doing a top five fiction list the last couple of years. It’s been really fun – and a little challenging to try to pick only five books. This year, it was Mr Standfast by John Buchan, Veiled Rose by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, The Ball and the Cross by GK Chesterton, The Burden by Agatha Christie. The fifth was really nonfiction, autobiography, Fighting the Flying Circus by Eddie Rickenbacker, but it read as well as a novel.
    I like doing a five top new authors of the year too. This year was Mary Stewart, Roseanna M White, Amanda G Stevens, Anne Elisabeth Stengl, and OG Wodehouse.

  4. I’m so jealous that you get to read the HP series for the first time– it was a big part of my childhood and teens. Also, glad to see The Emotional Craft of Fiction and Falling Upward on there– I read those both for the first time this year and they just floored me with their wisdom.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I know. I actually feel really blessed to get to read them now, at this point in my life.

  5. SJ Robertson says

    The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teicholz was a great non fic book about health and food. What The Wind Knows, by Amy Harmon was a beautiful novel. Things You Save In A Fire, by Katherine Center was a fun read. I read a few more, one was a Charles Martin book I enjoyed, but I didn’t keep track of the others, and other than a couple of re-reads for my book club, nothing comes to mind at the moment. This year was taken up by an incredibly difficult move to a new state, so my reading (and my writing) took a huge hit.

  6. Nice list. I haven’t read Harry Potter yet. Not really my thing…but I’m really curious because they’re so popular. Sounds like you founds some good books last year! I have some of them but they’re buried under a mountain TBR list. Not really familiar with the Enneagrams but it seems very interesting.

  7. Good list. Falling Upward is a strange title. (Strange in a good way.) I’m going to go check it out.

    • Joanne Roberts says

      Funny story, I received a copy of Falling Upwards for Christmas, but it is the history of balloon travel not the one reviewed here. LOL and incidentally, it is fascinating so far.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s what a good title does. 😉

  8. I was scrolling through the list, idly noting a couple of books to add to my seemingly-infinite TBR list…and SPIRAL DYNAMICS stopped me cold. You’re the only person I’ve seen (outside my immediate circle of friends) who’s read and recommended it.

    As to your comment about appreciating it applied to personal growth, you might check out the work of Ken Wilber. He covered some of that in some of his works.

  9. I’m glad you read Harry Potter!! I’ve been trying to convince my fiance to read them but so far, no luck.

    I want to check out The Secrets of Story based on your review – adding to my reading list for 2020.

    My favorite books I read this year were The Testaments, People of the Book, and This is How you Lose the Time War. The last one in particular challenged myself to read outside my usual genre, and it had really beautiful language. I recommend it if you want to read about space/time travel in a poetic way. 😀

  10. Sherie Greer says

    Thanks for sharing and giving me some fresh ideas on what to read this year. If you like history I’m sure you’d love Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. Not a book I would have chosen myself but it sucked me in from the very beginning.

  11. Joanne Roberts says

    I enjoyed and appreciated your list (though how Chamber of Secrets beat Prizoner of Azkaban I’ll never know LOL) But seriously, I am desperate for a good recommendation for an Australian history book. just starting research for my new fin de siecle novel. Do you have a suggestion for a good place to start or favorite historian/author? Thanks. Happy new year!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The book I read covered the settling of New South Wales by the first convict ships. I thought it was going to be a complete history, but obviously didn’t read the back cover closely enough. I still need to find a full history. The one I read was called Commonwealth of Thieves.

  12. Neville Eric Copperstone says

    Hi
    Mind stirring list, but I would love to read the entire list of Spiritual Growth and Writing, two of my favourite subjects, I ask so that the remaining books can hopefully join the list accruing from today’s post.

    I am now readying myself a list from your books above to buy from Amazon/Barnes & Noble et al. You have certainly tickled my mental fancy and sweetened my entrance into 2020.

    Many thanks. I look forward to reading the remaining list. 2020 is looking like my year of near perfect vision.

  13. Three Harry Potter books ahead of John Steinbeck, eh? To each her own…

  14. Abigail Lyman says

    Ooh, I can get the Proust one free on Kindle and I’m going to try it out, seems fascinating.

    This year I haven’t read as much outside of school. Nevertheless…
    Fiction:
    At the beginning of the year I listened to A Tale of Two Cities which is now one of my absolute favorite novels by one of my absolute favorite authors. Dickens deserves to be part of popular culture again like he used to be! P.S. the Audible audiobook read by Simon Vance is inseparable from the book for me. He brings Dickens’ very characteristic voice to life impeccably, best audiobook I’ve ever listened to.
    I read/reread all of your books, which were fantastic as usual and made me ponder life late at night which is always a good thing 🙂
    I picked up Les Miserables without any idea of the story beyond ‘boring book I can read slowly’ and then right about the 60% mark it discovered it had a plot, and I fell in love head over heels so that’s probably my actual top favorite book. (So many tears… more late-night pondering of life.) If you’ve only seen the play, READ the book. It’s so much deeper and funnier and quirkier and better in every way! also you’ll get a free, entirely unsolicited education on a number of eclectic topics.

    Nonfiction:
    Speaking of pondering life, I ended the year by reading “Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl” by ND Wilson on a car trip, and it was a jarring, beautiful, inspiring, heartwrenching, perspective-changing experience which I wholeheartedly recommend… except he finds it necessary to be crude about 3 times, which adds nothing, and his theology is I think a bit off in the area of Hell and confusing God’s creation with sin’s corruption of it.
    And right now I’m half through “Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking” which has also changed my perspective on language and thought and humanity – my favorite topics! – and is an all-around perfect book, elegantly written, surprisingly approachable, every word fascinating, wish there were 5 more books like it. If you’re interested in linguistics or human cognition or metaphor/analogy or memory, you MUST read it.

    • Abigail Lyman says

      More organized version, I wish I could delete/edit comments on here:

      Fiction:

      1.) At the beginning of the year I listened to A Tale of Two Cities which is now one of my absolute favorite novels by one of my absolute favorite authors. Dickens deserves to be part of popular culture again like he used to be! P.S. the Audible audiobook read by Simon Vance is inseparable from the book for me. He brings Dickens’ very characteristic voice to life impeccably, best audiobook I’ve ever listened to.

      3) I picked up Les Miserables without any idea of the story beyond ‘boring book I can read slowly’ and then right about the 60% mark it discovered it had a plot, and I fell in love head over heels so that’s probably my actual top favorite book. (So many tears… more late-night pondering of life.) If you’ve only seen the play, READ the book. It’s so much deeper and funnier and quirkier and better in every way! also you’ll get a free, entirely unsolicited education on a number of eclectic topics.

      2.) I read/reread all of your books, which were fantastic as usual and made me ponder life late at night which is always a good thing 🙂

      Nonfiction:
      1) Speaking of pondering life, I ended the year by reading “Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl” by ND Wilson on a car trip, and it was a jarring, beautiful, inspiring, heartwrenching, perspective-changing experience which I wholeheartedly recommend… except he finds it necessary to be crude about 3 times, which adds nothing, and his theology is I think a bit off in the area of Hell and confusing God’s creation with sin’s corruption of it.

      2) And right now I’m half through “Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking” which has also changed my perspective on language and thought and humanity – my favorite topics! – and is an all-around perfect book, elegantly written, surprisingly approachable, every word fascinating, wish there were 5 more books like it. If you’re interested in linguistics or human cognition or metaphor/analogy or memory, you MUST read it.

      • A Tale of Two Cities is FOREVER one of the best-written books in my opinion! Love that one!!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Can’t beat Dickens. 😀

        • Abigail Lyman says

          Yess, you are so right – plot, characters, setting, poetry of his writing style – all impeccable. It was so unforgettable listening to the plot slowly build its completely separate-seeming threads and distinctive characters (ahem except for Lucie she’s kind of perfect), and then tie them all together so skillfully in one scintillating climax. I started out completely confused and then by the end, well I knew what was coming and it was heartbreaking but so so beautiful..

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      *I read/reread all of your books, which were fantastic as usual and made me ponder life late at night which is always a good thing.*

      Well, that just made my day. 😀

  15. I want to read so many of these! I love Richard Rohr and have read many of his books including two on the Enneagram. (I’m a One) I read 17 books this year, and the ones that most affected me were Becoming by Michelle Obama, Educated by Tara Westover, and The Moment of Lift by Melissa Gates. My favorite fiction books were the first three books in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I’ve long heard Rohr discussed in Enneagram communities. Falling Upward isn’t about personality, but it definitely made me want to pursue some of his other books as well.

  16. Casandra Merritt says

    I know the Harry Potter books have been out for some time now. Just curious…what made you finally read them?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I didn’t even watch the movies until a few years ago. Of course, I promptly fell in love with them. But I had to wait until I had finished some other reading obligations before starting the books.

  17. Brenda Jackson says

    Ah, your tracking of ‘books read’ is a delight to a data geek’s heart. LOL! Usually each year I track my reading habits but 2019 was so utterly insane I didn’t have a chance and I’m quite bummed about it-bummed because I didn’t get to track, and bummed because I 100% finished very few books in 2019. Probably a hundred books passed through my hands, but I only got to read snippets of most. I want both my reading and my tracking back on course for 2020. So many books, so little time.

  18. Brenda Jackson says

    Somebody posted above about Australian history. I have NOT had a chance to read this book yet, but someone mentioned this book to me back in August when I was hunting for suggestions. You may want to look it up and see if it might be to your liking:

    The Making of Australia
    by David Hill | Nov 1, 2015

  19. Have you read LEXICON by Max Barry? Blew me away. Dystopian novel about the power of words. Incredible. Barry begins in media res and weaves in flashbacks so expertly there’s no disconnect. It’s a joy ride that doesn’t end. The book begins with a kidnapping, a needle through the eyeball, and a hit-and-run. Bad guys are named after dead poets. And something happened in Arizona that killed 3000 people.

  20. Mary Davis says

    I’ve read, umm…. probably about 100 books this year? But mostly romantic fiction, as I have chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, so reading helps me deal with the pain, and my brain’s usually too foggy to deal with any deep subjects. 😉 I need feel good stuff like fairytale retellings right now. I am intrigued by the book on creativity – I tend to only be creative on better days and there are stories that want to see the light of day so badly if I ever can recover enough to get them out of the deep recesses of my brain! Working on healing via natural therapies (as doctors have been little to no use), so have read a lot of articles on mindfulness and meditation, as practicing those has already made a difference to my health in just weeks. 😀

    Good on you for reading Harry Potter! I’ve read them so many times… reading them helped me through one of the most difficult episodes of my life, and re-reading them helped me through another… just so immersive! 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good for you! I used to read 100+ books a year, but I’ve kind of had to accept that I think those days might be over. :p

  21. Casandra Merritt says

    I’ve never read them before myself, not really my kind of thing. It just seems like the Harry Potter has been consuming more and more people lately. I think there must be something to its ever growing popularity, something more than great characters and storytelling.

  22. Hi – I don’t know what I would have done without your Story Structure book/blog for my first draft of my first novel. Even put your colorful “Structuring your novel” chart from your blog directly into my text at each key spot so I could estimate if I was too heavy or light in certain areas word-count wise. This also provided easy visuals when scrolling!

    Once I finished the first draft I printed it out – sort of a waste of money as I only seemed to want to line edit. Started looking for an alternative best next step when I came across Shawn Coyne’s Storygrid book and podcasts. So I have the editing hat on now and am working on the spreadsheet (painful process!) I’m so glad to see his book in your Top 5 Writing books, as your methods seem to complement each other quite nicely, although his terminology is a little different (and I’m partial to your terminology/definitions now- especially re inciting and key events). What are some of the things you are now thinking about from different angles?

    I will take a look at the other books you mentioned too. Thanks much for all you do!

    Another question:

    Elsewhere I came across the term “Freytag’s Pyramid” as defining proper story structure. There is a website which apparently is geared to helping writers become authors using this term as the starting point. To me it seems far too simplistic compared to your detailed structuring advice. As your time permits, comments on this description of story structure?

    Thanks!
    Barbara

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Freytag’s Pyramid is a great big-picture look at story structure. Most story-structure systems, including mine, zoom in from there.

  23. This has been a good year of interesting reads, mostly some kind of fantasy. I’ll have to list my top authors rather than individual books since a lot of them were in series.

    Katie turned me on to Garth Stein, and I read four of his books, including The Art of Racing in the Rain. Christopher Stasheff’s wizard series occupied several months of all night chain reading. I ennjoyed Sarah Maas’s Court series and am now near the end of her Throne of Glass series. Kim Harrison is also a winner in 2019

    I spent 35 years writing 19 for the year. It was good to be able to write it again without going oops.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.