It seems inevitable that we book bloggers all spend the end of December and the beginning of January thinking about the last year in books. Goodreads and other apps make it so easy to round up our year in reading! I myself read 56 books, and 21 were from my 20th century “Women’s Library” (for the record, the remaining 35 broke down as follows: 27 poetry books, 7 nonfiction books, and 1 21st century novel).
Honestly, all of the novels were wonderful – there wasn’t one stinker in the bunch (of all the books I read last year, only two of the poetry volumes were junk – happily, all of the rest of the books I read were first-rate). The novels I read were diverse: I read Black authors, Native American authors, Asian American (and Asian-Canadian) authors, and LGBTQIA+ authors. I also managed to cover all of the decades except the 1940s and read authors from all corners of the US, as well as Britain and Australia.
Looking over my list, a lot of the novels I read in 2019 were written by authors when they were very young. I read a lot of first or early novels, without purposefully setting out to do so. I may try to seek out more novels by older novelists in 2020 as a contrast to all the novels by 20-somethings I read in 2019!
I ended the year strong, also: the last few books I read were unexpected treasures each in their own way. I finally read the wonderful Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks, which was as beautiful as I expected it to be: simple, straightforward, poetic, layered. Just like Brooks’ poetry. I will read this novel again soon, I know.
I also read American Indian Stories by Zitkála-Šá. A Yankton Sioux writer, she published this collection of stories in 1921, and I was impressed with how modern her writing sounds – it does not give the impression of being a century old. Many of the stories reflect the harsh reality of a Native childhood split into two parts: before and after being separated from her family and educated in the hostile environment of a missionary school.
The last book of the year was Rattlebone by Maxine Clair, which was published in 1994, but I think may have gotten lost in the shuffle a bit, because it doesn’t end up on a lot of “best of” lists for the decade, even though it was “blurbed” by Terry McMillan and well-reviewed, and I didn’t really remember it from that time. It’s a novel that’s really a short story cycle (in the vein of Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine or Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women) about a young Black girl named Irene growing up in the 1950s outside Kansas City. The characters and stories are well-constructed, I was drawn into the world that Clair drew of the Rattlebone neighborhood. A great way to end a year of reading!