What were the best reads of 2019? Local bibliophiles offer favorite titles | January 1, 2020 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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Community - January 1, 2020

What were the best reads of 2019? Local bibliophiles offer favorite titles

by Kate Bradshaw

With five library locations, two bookstores and a robust book club scene within The Almanac's coverage area, there was no shortage of local readers consuming all the literature 2019 had to offer. We asked our local book experts to share some of their favorite reads of the year and data on what titles were most popular.

Bookstore picks

Aggie Zivaljevic, general book buyer at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, shared two suggestions for Almanac readers: The novel "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" by Ocean Vuong, and the short story collection "The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast: New and Selected Stories" by John L'Heureux.

Of Vuong's book she writes: "The autobiographical debut novel by Ocean Vuong, a young queer Vietnamese poet, might ... well be the most beautiful book in the world. Written in the form of a letter to his mother who cannot read, the book is a lyrical, tender testament to the mother/son/grandmother relationship and their immigrant experience."

Describing L'Heureux's book, she states: "A posthumously published collection by beloved local author John L'Heureux, a former Jesuit priest and the longtime director of the Stanford Creative Program, is the book I keep at my bedside. These illuminating stories range from humorous to tragic, each a true gift of compassion and grace."

Kepler's also offered two recommendations for children.

Caitlin Jordan, Kepler's buyer for children's books, recommends "The Oddmire, Book 1: Changeling," by William Ritter. "The writing in this is incredible," she said in an email to The Almanac. " It is original and classic, funny, and astounding. I felt like I found a treasure when I opened this book."

She also recommends "Greek Myths and Mazes" by Jan Bajtlik. She describes it as "a combination of interactive mazes and facts about Greek mythology (that) will keep you engaged and leave you more informed. Wonderful illustrations and interesting facts make this an excellent choice for the budding historian or mythologist — a unique addition to any bookshelf."

Jack Feldman, owner of Feldman's Books, said that since he runs a used bookstore, it can be hard to say what the most popular title sold in his store this year has been — it could be anything from "The Iliad" to something that came out recently, he noted. Generally, though, mathematics, history, poetry, literature, travel writing, children's books and antiquarian books are popular among the store's visitors, he added.

His personal favorite read of the last couple of years is "A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles, followed closely by "1Q84" by Haruki Murakami and "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, he said.

After The Almanac contacted several local book clubs through the website Meetup.com, an organizer of the Peninsula Gal Pals' Wine and Book Club, based in Menlo Park, reported that the group's favorite read of the year was "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine," by Gail Honeyman.

What people read

The Almanac also contacted local libraries to find out what the most popular books that people checked out or borrowed digitally were over the course of the year.

In Menlo Park, data from Library Services Director Sean Reinhart show that the three most popular adult titles in 2019 were nonfiction. They were "Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir," by Ruth Reichl, which led with 50 checkouts; "Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed," by Lori Gottlieb, with 47 checkouts; and "The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life," by David Brooks, with 42 checkouts.

The remaining top 10 titles were, in order:

• "Redemption" by David Baldacci

• "Mrs. Everything" by Jennifer Weiner

• "Big Sky" by Kate Atkinson

• "Skin Game" by Stuart Woods and Parnell Hall

• "The New Girl" by Daniel Silva

• "Summer of '69" by Elin Hilderbrand

• "Fleishman is in Trouble" by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

The Almanac also contacted the Atherton, Woodside and Portola Valley libraries to find out what the top titles were in those locations. Since these are all part of the San Mateo County Libraries system, it was simpler to collect the most popular titles systemwide than by specific location, according to libraries spokesperson Katie Woods.

The most popular titles in 2019 in the county library system were as follows, listed in separate categories for print and e-books.

In print:

• Adult fiction: "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens

• Adult nonfiction: "Educated: A Memoir" by Tara Westover

• Youth picture book: "The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!" by Mo Willems

• Youth fiction: "The Berenstain Bears Play Football!" by Mike Berenstain

• Youth nonfiction: "Minecraft: Guide to Farming" by Mojang Ab and The Official Minecraft Team

In e-book format:

•Youth fiction: "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio

•Adult fiction: "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens

•Adult nonfiction: "Becoming" by Michelle Obama

The Almanac also asked county library staffers for a book recommendation. One recommendation is "The Unkindest Tide" by Seanan McGuire, the 13th book in a fantasy series for adults.

Caroline, a senior librarian with the county wrote: "I have read almost everything this author has written, and in my opinion, there's not a bad book in the bunch. This is the 13th volume in the story of October "Toby" Daye, knight of the realm, since she woke up from being transformed into a koi fish and trapped in a pond in the Japanese Tea Garden (yes, the one in San Francisco).

"Toby sets out with her squire, fiance and various other allies to fulfill her debt to the Sea Witch in the Duchy of Ships. Of course, things don't go quite as planned. You'll find elves, shapeshifters, and magical beings of all kinds in this volume, as well as adventure and intrigue and an engrossing storyline. Toby is tough but human (in a manner of speaking) and McGuire has built her a complex, interwoven world. If you want to start from the beginning (I highly recommend it!), the first book in the series is 'Rosemary and Rue.'"

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