Favorite Things 2019

To celebrate the end of the year, our team wanted to share some of the things we enjoyed reading most during 2019.

Clémence Chouteau, Art Editor: 5 BOOKS I READ IN 2019 THAT I WILL KEEP THINKING ABOUT FOR YEARS

1. THE WATER CURE, SOPHIE MACKINTOSH (2019) 

“We hold hands very tightly, so we can blur where the I ends and where the sister begins. ‘Devotions for the women of our blood,’ we say.” 

The Water Cure is Sophie Mackinstosh’s debut novel, and one of the many books I loved this year. Three sisters, Lia, Grace and Sky, live secluded on an island with their parents, away from a world where men are (literally) toxic to women. Then, things go wrong. Mackintosh’s writing feels like a beautiful nightmare and I enjoyed every single word of it. Her second novel, Blue Ticket, is expected May 2020. 

2. DEVOTION, PATTI SMITH (2017) 

“Why do we write? A chorus erupts. Because we cannot simply live.” 

In Devotion, Patti Smith walks the streets of Paris and revives the ghosts of her favorite writers. She thinks about inspiration. She transforms an inscription on a tombstone in the south of France, a few minutes from an ice skating competition and a photograph of Simone Weil into a short story. With this book, Smith lets us see how her mind works and what stories are made of. It’s like magic. 

3. EROS THE BITTERSWEET, ANNE CARSON (1986) 

“Eros is an issue of boundaries. He exists because certain boundaries do. In the interval between reach and grasp, between glance and counterglance, between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too,’ the absent presence of desire comes alive. But the boundaries of time and glance and I love you are only aftershocks of the main, inevitable boundary that creates Eros: the boundary of flesh and self between you and me. And it is only, suddenly, at the moment when I would dissolve that boundary, I realize I never can.” 

I am persuaded that nobody writes about love and heartbreak as well as Anne Carson does. This book was gifted to me by the first person I fell love with. In Eros the Bittersweet, Carson reinvents Ancient Greek poetry with the creative brilliance that made her fame. This is a book that floats between the academic and the poetic, a book that should be read by everyone who is obsessed with love. That probably means you. 

4. CONFABULATIONS, JOHN BERGER (2016) 

“A spoken language is a body, a living creature, whose physiognomy is verbal and whose visceral functions are linguistic. And this creature’s home is the inarticulate as well as the articulate.”

Confabulations is described as a collection of essays about language, but it is really a collection of essays about everything. John Berger possessed a rare wisdom, and he expressed it so naturally that it all seems like an evidence. If you are curious about translation, ornithology, eels, Charlie Chaplin, political discourse, and about how all of these things relate to each other, you will like this. 

5. THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS, ISABEL ALLENDE (1982) 

“Just as when we come into the world, when we die we are afraid of the unknown. But the fear is something from within us that has nothing to do with reality. Dying is like being born: just a change.” 

I know I have read this long after everyone else, but it still mattered a lot to me this year. In The House of the Spirits, Allende imagines a family of extraordinary women which she follows for three generations. She also writes about ghosts and what it’s like to live under a dictatorship. This is the kind of book that takes you far away from reality and still echoes in your mind long after you closed it. I had not read anything so voraciously since childhood, and this is a feeling I had missed. 

Clair Dunlap, Poetry Editor: TOP FIVE THINGS I READ WHEN I WASN’T READING PICTURE BOOKS

2019 happened to be my last three terms of graduate school to become a children’s librarian so I spent most of it reading picture books and middle grade novels. When I wasn’t telling literally everyone about what book I think should win the Caldecott or recommending graphic novels to kids, I did make time for a few other things:

  1. Letter to the Person Who Carved His Initials into the Oldest Living Longleaf Pine in North America” by Matthew Olzmann, published in Tin House
  2. Brute by Emily Skaja (Graywolf Press)
  3. The Wet Body” by Alec Prevett, published in LongLeaf Review
  4. When Will We Ache Less” by Michelle Peñaloza, published in Moss
  5. Junk by Tommy Pico (Tin House)

(Top five picture books available upon request.)

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Bethany Mary, Book Reviewer: TOP 5 BOOKS I READ AT THE LAUNDROMAT IN 2019

  1. Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

This year, this was one of my first finds from getting inevitably distracted at the library. I admit to not fully understanding the abstraction of it, as a ghostlike crow aids a father and his two sons following the death of the wife/mother. However, I appreciated the wit and sage advice sprinkled along the steps to recovery.

  1. Moon Crossing Bridge by Tess Gallagher

I checked this out of the library to satisfy a bit of a completionist streak, because I’ve read a lot of Tess Gallagher in my life. This is filled with the love and grief of a widow and examines coping after death in a loaded emotional spectrum. It’s very gently painful, which is right up my alley, honestly.

  1. You Remind Me of You by Eireann Corrigan

I picked this up at a dollar book sale this spring, and it was one of my best impulsive decisions. This is a poetry memoir about the author dealing with an eating disorder and also the attempted suicide of her high school boyfriend. Dramatic and devastating, as one would expect. I read it in one sitting, and continued to sit and just hold it for a long moment after I finished.

  1. The Anatomy of Being by Shinji Moon

I’ve read this before, but I reread it this year. This might be the only book on my list that doesn’t have a direct focus on death, so I don’t know what that says about me and my gravitation towards tragedy, but this book is impactful all the same. I often thumb through these poems for a little breath of humanity.

  1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Okay, this book is huge and not poetry so I didn’t read this one in its entirety at the laundromat, but I would read as many snippets as I could in a wash/dry cycle before needing a break from sheer sentimentality. The story alternates between the perspectives of a blind French girl and a German soldier during WWII. Super suspenseful and heartwrenching, and it was enlightening to see how scenery was described without the use of sight. 

Ariel Francisco, Translations Editor: TOP 5 BOOKS I READ IN SPANISH THIS YEAR

Bob Sykora, Editor-in-Chief: TOP 5 THINGS I READ AND CRIED TO ON MY BACK PORCH IN 2019

One of the best things in my life this the past year was moving into a new apartment that has this really excellent back porch. I read and felt a lot on the back porch, and these were a few of the catalysts for all those feelings:

1. Rocket Fantastic by Gabrielle Calvocoressi – I don’t know where to start with this, but it’s probably been my favorite read of the past few years. Among the many things that thrilled me about this collection, Calvocoressi uses a symbol as a pronoun that is pronounced “with the intake of breath when the body is unlimited in its possibilities.” I love thinking about the physical act of reading a poem, and this gesture draws attention to that in such a wondrous way.

2. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay – I adore Ross Gay’s poetry and over the course of the year I read these “essayettes” very very slowly. I was already in sort of constant awe with the way Gay uses language, but it was so wonderful to have his voice and energy in my head throughout the year, reminding me that the act of recognizing delight is a habit that takes practice.

3. Ghost Of by Diana Khoi NguyenHaunting, inventive—I still don’t have the words, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it.

4. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (translated by Ann Goldstein) – I know I was late to the party with these. I can’t remember tearing through a series of novels like this since I was in middle school. I’m astounded by both their sense of both scope and intimacy.

5. Utopia Minus by Susan Briante – I attempted #TheSealyChallenge this August (reading 30 books of poetry in 30 days), and this was the perhaps my favorite of the month. I’m obsessed with all things utopia, and like so much of my favorite poetry, these poems made me consider what I thought I knew in a brand new way.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, poetry, and creative nonfiction from marginalized creators.