Stories of escape, abduction, friendship, growth and crisis make up The New York Times’s 10 Best Books of 2019, announced November 22.
The Times’s fiction picks include Ben Lerner’s “The Topeka School,” the writer’s third novel. In it, Lerner, through the voices of several characters, evokes the Kansas of his Clinton-era late adolescence. The novel’s kaleidoscopic prose touches on major hallmarks of the Jewish canon: Freud, sex, parents and psychologists — the parents are the psychologists — all make appearances.
On the nonfiction front, Rachel Louise Snyder’s “No Visible Bruises,” an examination of the domestic violence epidemic, reveals the broader societal context for the phenomenon. The compassionately-reported book is a vital resource to readers looking to understand a pervasive problem.
Also recommended is Leo Damrosch’s “The Club,” about the boisterous meetings of such English luminaries as writer Samuel Johnson, historian Edward Gibbon and economist Adam Smith. Damrosch brings these figures to vivid (sometimes raucous) life.
Adam Higginbotham’s “Midnight in Chernobyl” is a riveting companion piece for Craig Mazin’s Emmy-feted HBO miniseries about the 1986 Ukrainian nuclear disaster. The event has new resonance given today’s headlines, as does Patrick Radden Keefe’s “Say Nothing,” which revisits a 1972 murder in Northern Ireland — an area still dealing with the fallout of the Troubles.
The Times list allowed itself the rare work of science fiction with Ted Chiang’s story time travel story collection, “Exhalation,” blurbed by President Barack Obama.
A number of books on the list have been nominated for — or already received — high profile awards. Sarah M. Broom’s memoir, “The Yellow House,” won a National Book Award for nonfiction earlier this week, while Julia Philips’s debut “Disappearing Earth,” about the disappearance of two girls from a far-flung Russian peninsula, was a finalist for the fiction category.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org