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Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading

With the solstice and the (official) change of seasons coming around next week, it's time for me to share my fall reading Top Five list.  While my reading has certainly slowed down lately (I attribute this to all my movie-watching at this time of year) (and that gift-knitting I said I wasn't going to do), I have read some really excellent books this fall.  Really . . . I think I saved the best for last when it comes to reading in 2019!  

So.  Here we go!  My list . . . Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading


I was reading The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead just as the summer was turning to fall -- and it's still haunting me.  It is powerful, heart-wrenching, compelling and spare. Colson Whitehead provides just enough detail to take you right to the edge . . . and then he lets you fill in the rest of the narrative all on your own. It's just masterful!  If you haven't read this one yet, I recommend putting it on your to-read list in 2020.  (And his description of watching the New York Marathon?  Just WOW.)


I love Ann Patchett novels, so I grabbed The Dutch House from Audible as soon as it came out this fall.  This one is just a great story beautifully told -- about childhood memories and unbreakable sibling bonds, the strength of family and the ties of place and home. It’s about jealousy and grudges and the price of devotion. It is simply marvelous!  I read the audiobook version of this book, which is narrated by Tom Hanks. What a treat! His narration added so much to the story. I recommend this book all the time now -- and especially the audiobook version.


I have a hit-or-miss relationship with Alice Hoffman novels. I loved The Dovekeepers, for example, but have been lukewarm about many of her others. (I think it’s the magical realism. It just doesn’t always work for me.)  But in her latest novel, The World That We Knew, it DOES work! In fact, the entire novel . . . just works, magical realism and all. Hoffman weaves together a beautiful tale of love, sacrifice, family, and faith against the backdrop of the Holocaust and Nazi horrors. The characters are beautifully and lovingly drawn, the language is lovely, the story compelling. The pace never bogs down, the historical facts are well-placed and meaningful, and the magic is . . . well . . . pretty magical. I was captivated!  I highly recommend this one, and especially for readers who enjoy historical fiction . . . with a touch of magic. (And for those who loved The Dovekeepers, for sure.)


Now, we've got what turns out to be my favorite book of 2019 . . . The Topeka School by Ben Lerner.  I loved this book -- but it's just not going to be for everyone.  It's a dense and challenging read -- with a great payoff  (if you can get there). It’s a brilliant book – one I can’t stop thinking about AND one I can’t seem to describe either (yet I keep trying). The writing is amazing. The characters have depth. There are shifting timelines and voices – that work. But when I try to tell people about the book, I . . . can’t. It’s a story about a family in late 90s Kansas. It’s a coming of age story. It’s about parallels in time and space. It’s about language. It’s about raising children (boys, in particular) in a culture of toxic masculinity. It’s about debate and forensics. It’s about mental health. It’s about Kansas and what WAS the matter there . . . and how that led us to where we are now. And. It’s just freaking brilliant. That’s all.  (I recommend this for those who enjoyed Lerner's previous novels Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04, as Adam Gordon is, once again, the main character.)


This brilliant (but flawed*) book - The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates' first novel - took me a very long time to read. Not because it is a slog of a book. (Not really.) And not because it is overly academic in scope, either. (Because it isn’t; not at all.) It simply took me a very long to read because there is so much . . . weight . . . to it. I needed to take my time. I needed to let things simmer.  (I'd say it also took a long time to read because it is . . . too long.  *Characters tend to talk in "essays" - and especially in the middle portion of the book.)  In the end, The Water Dancer is a story of memory as a power to transport. It tells the gut-wrenching truth of family separation and shares the humanity of enslaved people.  I highly recommend this one -- but prepare to spend some time with it.


How about you?
What books would make it to your Top Five list of fall reading?


If you want to see what I'm reading now, or check out my recent reviews on Goodreads, just check out the sidebar here on my blog.  You can find me here on Goodreads.  And you can read my Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading list here.



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I read Nickel Boys in three days - hard to read but good. I have Dutch House audio version on hold at the library. Celine was a recent favorite. Thinking a lot about how I read as i look at my TBR pile. Think I need to change course for 2020.


The Dutch House is one of my fall favorites, and I'm already in the long Overdrive queues for The Nickel Boys and The World That We Knew. I've hesitated with The Topeka School and Water Dancer, but based on your reviews I definitely need to give them a try. Thanks for helping me line up reading I'm looking forward to in 2020!


Thanks for these reviews! I just started The Dutch House (and the setting is where I grew up!!).


The Dutch House and The World That We Knew are my two (fiction) favorites for the whole year! (and I'm looking forward to Water Dancer and Nickel Boys in 2020)


Your list is almost exactly as mine would be, although I haven't read Topeka School. (I will), so I would substitute Girl, Woman, Other or Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead in its place. This year turned out to be a really great year for grand books!

kim in oregon

Agree on Dutch House. I have The Topeka School on my Kindle for holiday reading!


Sadly, I have not read much at all the last couple of years. (Note to self: you are settled now .... must pick up the books!!!)

I am currently reading Mobituaries by Mo Rocca. Good book. I also picked up the Dutch House and I think that will be my New Year's new book.


I've gone back and forth on whether or not to read The Topeka School but your review has tipped me into the decision to read it. I am on the (very long) wait list for the new Alice Hoffman and I agree with your reviews of The Dutch House and The Nickel Boys. I had a hard time with The Water Dancer for the flaws you mentioned but I do think it's an excellent book, I just struggled to finish it.


I've read two of these five (and greatly enjoyed them), two more are on my TBR list, and now I'm going to have to add the fifth. More and more I find I'm craving those heavy, thoughtful reads, so I'm glad to have some more recommendations.


The Dutch House, The World That We Knew, & The Nickel Boys were among my favorite fall reads too. Other books I enjoyed were The Dovekeepers, Hannah Coulter, & The Hummingbird's Daughter. Here's to some great winter reads!


I am on the wait list for The Topeka School - and now I am eager for it to move up. The Dutch House will easily be my favorite book of 2019. I loved every word! But, your other highlights were also great favorites of mine! I just finished The World that We Knew and wow... this is a book that is so brilliantly written! I can't stop thinking about it!


Currently reading - or perhaps a better descriptor: have in my stack Water Dancer and on my TBR: World We Knew and Dutch House. One of my 2020 reading goals is to read all of the Inspector Gamache series (audio)...I hope to catch up before she pens a new one! I’m trying to up my game on reading fiction titles...I think your top 5 list is excellent, based on reviews I’ve read and these blog comments. I have a friend who’s from Kansas; I’ll recommend The Topeka School to her.
Thanks for an excellent post (as always!)

Jane A. Wolfe

A little behind but I had to find a quiet moment to think about the books I enjoyed the most this autumn. I pick three: Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl for both the essays connecting place, family, and nature as well as the gorgeous artwork by her brother.
After Emily by Julie Dobrow about the stories behind the publication of Emily Dickinson's poetry and the story of how her papers ended up split between Harvard and Amherst Universities.
Ask Me, poetry by the late William Stafford. a collection of poetry written over the course of his lifetime - forward by his son.

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