Reading 2019

I read a bunch of books in 2019, and actually did some tracking of what I read. Omitting a number of kid-oriented books and graphic novels, which would put the numbers much higher, and probably missing some things, here’s a list and some notes. This list doesn’t include many books that I actively did not enjoy–I tend to just not finish those.


  • Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven I read mostly at an airport and on a plane during a red-eye home from Seattle, then finished the next day during my red-eye hangover. Which is probably just about the right emotional state for the book’s prevailing mood, but I recommend skipping the red-eye and just reading it in your normal routine.
  • All the Scalzi: this was apparently the year I finally read John Scalzi–and did so intensively–on recommendation from a few different sources. I went through Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, and The Last Colony; Redshirts; Lock-In and Head-Off; and The Collapsing Empire. Of these, all were enjoyable, but I liked Old Man’s War and Collapsing Empire best, as a mix of very classic science fiction scenarios updated to modern writing. They reminded me of better versions of Starship Troopers and Foundation, respectively–Scalzi is much better at characterization than the 50s sci fi guys.
  • Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade was an even better entry in the Starship Troopers genre–military space opera meets cyberpunk social structures with some time travel thrown in. Strong recommend.
  • N.K. Jemisin’s How Long ’til Black Future Month? is a collection of speculative fiction short stories across a range of styles and settings. A lot a lot of good stories, and worth a read even if her Fifth Season was a bit heavy for you to get through.
  • Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is the only repeat on the list. I’ve read it multiple times before, but not in at least a decade. On this read I definitely found some bits cringey, and the implied date being now solidly in the past was a little odd. As a satire of corporate power, social media, attitudes of the comfortable towards refugees, and cults of personality, though, it stands up pretty well almost almost 30 years after its writing. I also found the ending less botheringly abrupt than I remember.
  • Rebecca Roanhorse’s Storm of Locusts, the sequel to Trail of Lightning, was good but I maybe didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first book. Set in Dine’ (Navajo) lands post climate apocalypse, the first book focused plot and world-building on the interactions of humans, gods, and monsters within that milieu, while the second left those lands for the outside and felt like a much more familiar post-apocalyptic adventure narrative. (It reminded me of Snow Crash in parts enough to inspire that reading.)
  • I also read Lavie Tidhar’s Unholy Land, an Israeli parallel history noir, and Seanan McGuire’s In an Absent Dream, a faerie tale which is apparently a fourth book slash prequel in a series, and which maybe I’d have enjoyed more if I’d read any of the others. Both were fine.
  • The Harry Potter books 1-3, read aloud a few pages at a time at kid bedtime. I’ve never read any of them before, or seen more than half of an HP movie. They’re fine.


  • Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City started out second to last on my raw list, but I’ve moved it to the top because you should read it. It’s an ethnography of eviction as an unusual type of societal crisis that has severe, generation-spanning harms, and that we can significantly improve on with relatively modest policy reforms.
  • Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America inventories the many ways that federal, state, and local governments created and maintained racial segregation during the 20th century–an extended rebuttal to the idea that “people just prefer to live near people who look like them!” I strongly recommend it–while nearly everything he discussed was familiar to me by merit of planning school and working/reading in the field, the through line he draws is a good one. (And some was new, like urban highways being routed through black neighborhoods even when it cost substantially more and added travel time to do so.)
  • David Owen’s Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability also covered familiar ground: that urban living is a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle than even the most performatively “green” suburban home. The sum impact of the electric car in the driveway, the pollinator garden in the front yard, the solar panels on the roof, and the compost pile and organic garden in back is dwarfed by living in a smaller urban apartment filled with less stuff, traveling by foot and transit, and keeping your footprint off that quarter-acre of land. If you’re familiar with that argument, you can mostly skip the book.
  • The Paul Hawken-edited Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming was the better sustainability book of my year, a recipe book of quantified strategies to mitigate carbon emissions at various scales, covering food, materials, energy generation, buildings, transport, land use, and human rights. I’m partial to this cookbook style, and it also played to confirmation bias of my preference to have lots of folks working on whatever aspect of climate mitigation is most important to them, rather than trying to negotiate to One True Way. 
  • Extinction Rebellion’s This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook was disappointing? A series of short essays, the first half seemed a call to arms on climate action, but seemed to almost entirely cover ground that anybody inclined to pick up the book would already know. The second half was more interesting, getting into some of the movement theory XR operates on, but still seeming to have limited as-practiced discussion. A “reader” rather than a “handbook”.
  • Charles Marohn’s Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity was another that covered familiar ground, since I’ve been following Chuck’s blog and podcast for a few years. As with Color of Law, the book was good for stitching ideas together into a narrative–unlike that book, though, Chuck tries hard to mostly stay away from discussing race as a factor in contemporary American development patterns. Strong Towns mixes appeals to math and to a sense of democratic civil society in creating a flavor of urbanism that meshes well with mine from a different direction. I just wish they’d try less hard to avoid talking about race.
  • Mark Manson’s Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope is pop buddhism. Life is pain, princess. It’s pain because we hope, and our hopes are disappointed. We should let go of petty hopes, not because that will allow us to let go of pain–life is pain, remember–but because letting go of petty hopes will let us level up into more meaningful pain.
  • Marianne Williamson, A Politics of Love: A Handbook for a New American Revolution. I read this because my therapist recommended it. I got different things out of it than she had intended. Mostly negative things. The only book I finished this year that I would actively recommend against reading.
  • Dan Albert, Are We There Yet?: The American Automobile Past, Present, and Driverless. Do read this for the history of the America love affair with the car, and its central place in our culture. Don’t read it expecting any substantial discussion of automated vehicles. It’s a good read as long as you don’t expect the last two words of the title to be addressed much at all within the book. (I will say that it made me much more pessimistic about the likelihood of Americans using automated vehicles in positive ways, but I had to bring most of that to the reading myself.)
  • Stephanie Land, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive was fine. Think Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel & Dimed, but as a memoir by someone actually living working poor single motherhood rather than a policy journalist’s dive into that experience. I expected more policy from the reviews and dust jacket, and was disappointed. Books, covers, judging, etc.
  • Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water is the oldest book on my lists, dating to the mid-80s, but very relevant to explaining current headlines coming out of the southwest. It starts with the early 20th century water machinations of Los Angeles (think Chinatown) and works up to the Cold War-era competition between the BLM and Army Corps of Engineers racing to build expensive, unproductive, and un-asked-for dams just to get there before the other agency did. I’ve always been skeptical of the idea that the Great Lakes would be tapped to provide water to the southwest, but this made me believe it’s possible: it wouldn’t be the most extreme idea the federal agencies have cooked up.

Graphic Novels — there are definitely more than these that I didn’t track, but:

  • Kristina Gehrmann, Upton Sinclair: The Jungle. I’ve never read The Jungle in its original novel format, so can’t compare, but this was a good-bleak single-sitting telling.
  • Ben Hatke, Zita the Spacegirl, is a good space adventure featuring an earthgirl whose recklessness puts a friend in jeopardy and who collects a motley crew of friends to save him. My kids love it too.
  • Jason Walz, Last Pick, features an Earth subdued by alien masters, a la John Christopher’s Tripods, and a pair of twins aging into harvesting age launching a resistance. My kids…need to be a bit older for this one.

That’s a lot! If I do this again, I should probably do it more often than once a year.

About Me

Michigander, parent of twins, urban planner, role-playing game nerd.


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