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  • Writer's pictureRussell Magee

Top 10 Best Reads of 2019

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

Of the books that I read this past year, here is the list of my top ten favorite.

10. The Abominable by Dan Simmons

The Abominable is a fast-paced, masterful blend of horror and historical fiction. A 1924 English hiking team on a recovery mission to find two fallen hikers on the rocky, snowy cliffs of Mt. Everest encounter a mysterious and deadly force that begins picking off hikers left and right. As they slowly close in on their destination and inch closer to the truth, they find something more sinister than they could have ever imagined.

It was such a fun read; Simmons’s writing is truly top-notch, completely riveting and entertaining beyond belief. It is perfect for the supernatural-horror-thriller and alt-history fan who can’t get enough of historical rabbit holes of which there are countless in this menacing read.

9. The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace

This postmodern, super-meta, deconstructive roller coaster of a tale follows Lenore Beadsman as she struggles to not only find her lost grandmother but also distinguish her own existence, position and role in reality from that of fiction. David Foster Wallace, being the literary giant he was, conveys such a plot through a cast of bizarre characters, awkward circumstances, and hilarious moments of irony and total ridiculousness.

This one goes down as one of most entertaining books I’ve ever read.

8. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This colossal classic of magical realism follows the Buendia family through seven generations of wildness. Jose Arcadio Buendia founds the town of Macondo and, with his wife Ursula, raises his two sons and one daughter as the town slowly but surely evolves and grows. And as the town flourishes, so does his family who grow and blossom of the coming years in ways that are completely unimaginable.

Every single page is a story within itself, some spanning the length of a single day, others multiple years, some simple with their plotlines, natural elements inherent to familial situations, others absurdly ridiculous, dirt-eating, magical butterfly-flying, floating-priest kinds of stories that baffle and amuse a reader to no end. And moreover, the relationship between the content of these stories and the form in which they are told alludes to the importance and literary brilliance that elevates this novel into the canon of classic literature.

7. Hyperion & The Fall of Hyperion (Books 1 & 2 of The Hyperion Cantos) by Dan Simmons

The Hyperion Cantos is a staggering feat of science fiction, a truly unparalleled achievement of creativity and literary brilliance. In books 1 and 2, six chosen “pilgrims” are selected to journey the planet of Hyperion to investigate the Time Tombs, an epicenter of time-dilating monoliths that may hold the secret to turning back time, an important force sought after as a defense tactic against the imminent attack of the Ousters against the Hegemony of Man. However, the Time Tombs are guarded by the Shrike, a monstrous, metallically armored beast that is devastatingly destructive and virtually invincible.

Book 1 contains all the backstories to the six pilgrims, stories that are far and beyond the limits of imagination; they are tales of exploration, science, war, peace, family, disease, success, loss, death, and pain, but they are some of the most incredible tales that exist in the realm of science fiction. Book 2 is their journey after they arrive on the planet Hyperion, their battle against the Shrike in the hopes of attaining valuable information, but in that journey, their past lives come back, either to help them or haunt them. These books are truly unlike anything I have ever read, and I cannot wait to finish the rest of the series.

6. Stoner by John Williams

This was one of the most fulfilling and simultaneously heart-wrenching tales that I’ve read. It is the story of William Stoner, a farmers’ son who, as an adolescent, goes to school with the intention of studying agriculture but instead discovers a passion for literature. He attains his PHD in English literature and finds a lifelong career as a college professor. But the story indeed finds its movement seemingly in the losses that follow every triumph of Stoner’s, which truly begin to become apparent after he meets a woman named Edith.

One thing I found striking about the tale of William Stoner is the eerie plethora of similarities that I share with the character. Even more striking is the unbelievably accurate portrayal of life with all its unease, unanswerable questions, and humanly responses and behaviors. It is a brutally honest depiction of a man, his passion, and his unending search for meaning in life.

5. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

It is the story of Stephen Dedalus which begins early in his childhood and follows his life through puberty and adolescence as he slowly finds himself and becomes further and further disenfranchised with his religious upbringing. But that is truly only a fraction of the story.

For weeks on end this book occupied my thoughts; the relationship between form and content, Joyce’s depictions, descriptions, and details, of which coalesce into a prosaic monument of modernism. It is an evocative bildungsroman that contains layer upon layer of philosophical, religious, and human nuances that are all too strikingly relatable.

4. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

This was one of the most poignant, heart-wrenching, and absolutely brilliant novels that I have ever read. It is the story of the life of Phillip Carey, a physically afflicted, young aspiring artist who moves away from home to pursue his dreams in Paris but falls under a multitude of misfortunes including extreme poverty, hunger, torment, and unrequited love.

For over a month I was utterly engrossed in this novel; Carey’s footsteps were my own, his emotions and sensations my own, his losses and triumphs my own. Maugham’s prose illuminates the dark world in which Carey lives. He drags the reader to Carey’s level of existence, forcing not only horrible instances of misery, despondency, and pain but also the scarce moments of love, happiness, and exaltation in ways that envy even the greats.

3. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Few novels I would describe as “perfect,” but this is one of them. It is the multi-generational tale of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and their connecting, interweaving stories of loss, triumph, love, hate, good, and evil, mirroring loosely the biblical tale of Cain and Abel.

The greatest and possibly the most important storyline of the novel involves a woman named Cathy Ames, whom one of the Trask boys falls in love with and marries, and later they meet Samuel Hamilton. I can’t even begin to describe the effect that the character of Cathy Ames had on me as I read. This novel inspired in me a true whirlwind of emotions that ranged from absolutely fury, frustration, and empathetic sadness, to the most incredible levels of elation that I have ever experienced from a novel.

2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

It is arguably the most important work of realism ever written, and that is not even the half of it. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a tale of one woman’s never-ending struggle with attaining her fantasy’s picture of perfect; of love, of life, of happiness, of wealth, of everything, Emma Bovary comes up short, and it is this constantly growing distance that stands between her and her dreams that ultimately leads to her demise.

Flaubert’s writing parallels Steinbeck and Maugham but with a sense of laconic brilliance that somehow supersedes most of the literary greats. It is in his description that the plight of Emma Bovary is fully illuminated and confronted and embattled from beginning through to the bitter end. It is an absolutely incredible novel, a damn masterpiece if I’ve ever known one.

1. My Struggle Book 6 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I’m at a loss of words for this one; it was indeed the ending of the era, the end of a series that, in my opinion, is comprised of some of the most important works of literature that exist today. Knausgaard is a modern day Proust, and his prose, not to mention his historical, literary, philosophical, and political analyses and insights, will endure through the ages as a monument to genius and literary virtuosity.

Honorable mentions

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

White Noise by Don DeLillo

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Hunger by Knut Hamsun

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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