The books that (almost) got away in 2019

Vannessa Cronin on December 27, 2019
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The best part about the job of an editor is the endless supply of books to read. The bad part, if it can be called that, is the endless supply of books to read. I mean, there is only so much time and there are so, so, many books. Inevitably, we make trade-offs; books on top of the TBR pile are supplanted by newer, even more exciting titles, and next thing you know, that interesting book you picked up last month is now on the bottom of the TBR pile.

Each of us has that book we never quite got around to reading. But some books have what people in publishing call "legs," meaning the buzz never quite fades. In fact, the buzz increases once the book is out in the world. Our fellow editors may decide it's one of the best of the month. And then, the best of the year lists start appearing, and you are reminded you need to circle back to that book. Here are a few that we will be moving back to the top of that TBR pile.


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Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Who can resist this line on the book’s jacket: “A tale of power, privilege, dark magic, and murder set among the Ivy League elite”? This spooky thriller about a young woman given a free ride to Yale in order to spy on the secret societies there—and who then gets caught up in supernatural happenings—has been at the top of my TBR pile since it came out, but other reading priorities have kept it glued there instead of leaping into my hands. Before January 1, I’m going to finally immerse myself in Leigh Bardugo’s novel and learn why so many of my fellow readers here have been singing its praises. —Adrian Liang


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The River by Peter Heller

I love Peter Heller's writing. His novel The Painter was hands down my favorite book of 2015 and it still remains in my winner's circle of lifetime favorites. So it is with my tail between my legs and in a whisper that I'm letting you know I have not yet read The River, which we not only named a Best Book of the Year So Far, but also one of our top thirty Best Books of the Year! So, with four days left of 2020, I’m reading what I hope will be classic Heller—gritty and lonesome characters, soaring sky, rising mountains, rushing rivers, and a story to get lost in. —Al Woodworth


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Running with Sherman: The Donkey with the Heart of a Hero by Christopher McDougall

Who can resist a story about a down-and-out donkey getting a second chance at life? Well, me. Until now! In Running with Sherman, the best-selling author of Born to Run tells the heartfelt tale of how he took in a rescue from an animal hoarder and trained him to run in the World Championship of burro racing (yes, this is a thing). A colleague has been talking up this book since it was released in October, and it’s just the sort of uncynical, feel-good read that I want to close out 2019 with. —Erin Kodicek


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Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

I love a good true crime story and I’ve had an advanced reading copy of this book sitting on my shelf long before it released in February 2019. Time is not always on our side with the number of books we need to read, and while everyone else on our team who read Say Nothing raved about it, there were other titles that kept needing my attention and so it’s languished. I’ve got some time off over the holidays and will be driving over the mountains so I’m planning to finally get to this one using my usual method of catching up on something I missed: the good old audiobook. The story of a violent period in Ireland’s history, known as The Troubles, is something I’ve always wanted to learn more about, and by all accounts Keefe’s style of writing is both riveting and highly informative. —Seira Wilson


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Normal People by Sally Rooney

Hailed (per The New Yorker) as the “first great millennial novelist,” Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel, Normal People, made it onto over 20 Best of the Year lists by the end of 2019. A comedy of manners set in Trinity College, Dublin, it’s the story of two Irish college students “who try to stay apart but find that they can’t.” I’m no millennial, so it didn’t seem to be my cup of tea when I first heard about it. However, many of the reviews mention Rooney’s gift for observing both the complex and the commonplace aspects of first love, and since first love is universal, I’m going to make sure this smart, witty, heartbreaker of a love story isn’t the one that got away in 2019. —Vannessa Cronin


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The Pioneers by David McCullough

Back when we were reading books for May 2019, another editor picked this one up first. So I went on to read some different fiction and nonfiction, including Casey Cep's Furious Hours and Ben Mezrich's Bitcoin Billionaires, both of which made our list of the Best Books of May 2019. That's fine, we can't read everything; but the customer reviews for The Pioneers have been very positive (currently, there are more than eleven hundred, with a rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars). And it's been the sort of best seller that lingers on the best-seller lists for some time. So, having not read it, I have found myself wondering what all the hullabaloo is about. I figure it wouldn't hurt to close out the year with a little hullabaloo. Chris Schluep


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