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The Best Books of 2019 to Pack for Your Next Trip

By Shannon Reed

Sep 27, 2019

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Foodies, mystery lovers, and essay fans alike will find great reads on this list of 2019’s best books.

Book covers courtesy of the publishers

Foodies, mystery lovers, and essay fans alike will find great reads on this list of 2019’s best books.

With works from best-selling authors like Toni Morrison, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Colson Whitehead, these books top our list for the year.

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A boozy romp through 1940s New York. A memoir in modern-day New Orleans. A vibrant contemporary kitchen serving up delights in Mexico City. The best books to appear in 2019 take readers across centuries and continents and range from the mouthwatering to the thought-provoking to the delightful. Any one of them offers a vacation from everyday life, just by cracking open the covers. Whether you’re heading out on your next long flight or need a great read for your beachside lounging, here are our favorite picks of the year. 

Thrilling novels with twists and turns

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (Knopf)

Kamchatka makes an unusual setting for this debut novel. Phillips spent two years in the isolated Russian province, using what she knows to write about two young sisters who are kidnapped by a stranger. Mysteries unspool, with twists up to the very end. Phillips’s depiction of Kamchatka—gorgeous, eerie and unwelcoming—lingers.

Buy Now: amazon.com

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (Flatiron)

Reese Witherspoon chose this novel for her book club, a sure sign of a great read. Set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, the story alternates in perspective between Jin, a dance hall girl, and Ren, a houseboy, who get caught up in a mysterious string of murders. The book is a finely wrought page-turner perfect for your next binge read.

Buy Now: amazon.com

History-focused fiction

Inland by Téa Obreht (Random House)

Set in the Arizona Territory of 1893, Obreht’s latest novel tells the story of two memorable characters: Nora, a frontierswoman waiting for her family to return, and Lurie, a former outlaw who is haunted by ghosts he has the power to see and interact with. How Nora and Lurie eventually connect is part of this fascinating intersection of historical fiction and fantasy.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballantine)

the book of the summer, Reid tells the story of an imaginary 1970s band, cleverly aping the oral history style of VH-1’s “Behind the Music” series. But the book lingers because of the sexy, unknowable title character, whose fate makes for compelling reading. Goodreads ranks this 4.23, averaged from over 100,000 readers.

Buy Now: amazon.com

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World)

Buzz started early for the acclaimed essayist’s first novel, a work of African American fantasy fiction. Hiram Walker, born a slave, can remember everything that’s ever happened to him, except the day his mother was sold. As an adult, a brush with death incites him to try to escape to freedom.  

Buy Now: amazon.com

Memorable memoirs

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom (Grove)

Instead of telling her own story, Broom uses the house her mother, Ivory Mae, bought in New Orleans in 1961 as her focus for an unflinching look at poverty, inequality, and race over 100 years of her family’s life, including her own upbringing with 11 siblings.

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Read an excerpt from The Yellow House about Broome’s time working in the French Quarter that ran in AFAR’s July/August 2019 issue.

Buy Now: amazon.com

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams (Random House)

In this devastatingly beautiful book, the late author told her remarkable story: from being born blind, to her arrival in America as a refugee from Vietnam, to her life as a Harvard-educated lawyer with two children, to learning she had terminal colon cancer. What she learned along the way, and what she has to say before she goes, drive the book’s anger, humor, and life.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl (Random House)

Fans of the iconic author have been waiting for years for her account of her decade-long stint as editor-in-chief at
Gourmet magazine, including both its surge in quality and abrupt shuttering in 2009. It’s finally here, and doesn’t disappoint, full of sensory-rich passages about food that will leave you craving homey noodles or fried oysters or praline-y cake. Luckily, some of her recipes are included, too, so you don’t have to stay hungry for long.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Must-read essays

Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison (Little, Brown and Company)

A collection of 14 essays by Jamison was one of our most-anticipated books of the fall for good reason. The best-selling author is always worth reading, whether writing about a mysterious blue whale, the online world called Second Life, or the Sri Lankan Civil War, all topics she explores in this latest collection.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Finding Two Faces of Paradise in Post-War Sri Lanka

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison (Knopf)

Her death earlier this year reminded many readers of Morrison’s immense gifts as a writer and cultural leader. Her last book is a comprehensive collection of her many decades as an activist for women, African Americans, artists, and more, making for searing reading.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Narratives about families and relationships

Fleischman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Random House)

Journalist Brodesser-Akner’s blisteringly funny debut novel won reviews to match the high-octane buzz. Toby Fleischman is a recently separated New Yorker whose new, carefree life is upended when his ex drops off their two kids for a visit . . . and doesn’t return. Lots of cutting laughs and a big twist follow.

Buy Now: amazon.com

The Ideal Iceland May Only Exist in Your Mind

Dominicana by Angie Cruz (Flatiron)

On New Year’s Day 1965, newly married 15-year-old Ana moves from the Dominican Republic to Washington Heights. She doesn’t love Juan, her new husband, but hopes to help her entire family emigrate to the U.S. What happens next to Ana—a tale of forbidden love and family loyalty—forms Cruz’s widely praised novel.

Buy Now: amazon.com

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press)

Vuong’s debut is written as a letter from a son to his illiterate mother, a deeply moving attempt to bridge the many gaps between their separate worlds centered on their home of Vietnam. Highly anticipated and rapturously reviewed, this novel has scored an impressive 4.16 out of 5 stars from nearly 12,000
Goodreads reviewers—and just landed on the longlist for the 2019 National Book Awards.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Fantastic coming-of-age novels

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)

After winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for
The Underground Railroad, Whitehead returned with another best-selling novel about two boys sent to a hellish reform school in the 1950s. Whitehead based his Nickel Academy on the Dozier School for Boys, a real-life Florida school where dozens of unmarked student graves have been found.

Buy Now: amazon.com

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead)

The author of the beloved
Eat, Pray, Love has followed her novel The Signature of All Things with another buzzy book, this one a frothy delight set in Manhattan’s theatre world in the 1940s. It’s told by Vivian, who looks back with wisdom and delight at the mistakes she made, and the fun she had.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Cookbooks to inspire your next culinary treat

Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook by Tyler Malek (Clarkson Potter)

The Portland-based ice cream that is taking the West Coast by (ice) storm is available to all through this gorgeously photographed cookbook. Learn to make Salt & Straw’s unique—even controversial—flavors, such as Roasted Strawberry and Toasted White Chocolate or Buttered Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, or just drool over the photos.

Buy Now: amazon.com

My Mexico City Kitchen: Recipes and Convictions by Gabriela Camara (Lorena Jones Books)

Chilaquiles Verdes! Chiles Rellenos! Flan! These and other Mexican classics are presented vividly by legendary chef Camara, who operates restaurants in Mexico and the U.S. She includes a dozen essays on the principles that set her cooking apart, as well.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Food of the Italian South: Recipes for Classic, Disappearing, and Lost Dishes by Katie Parla (Clarkson Potter)

Eighty-five recipes and more than 100 photographs capture the rustic and romantic dishes of Southern Italy. Parla is an excellent host, presenting both classic and reimagined recipes, from pizza to focaccia to pasta, all wonderfully replicable at home.

Buy Now: amazon.com

Wine and cocktail essentials

Natural Wine for the People: What It Is, Where to Find It, How to Love It by Alice Feiring (Ten Speed Press)

Natural wines are all the rage right now, but finding the right bottle at the right price for any occasion isn’t easily done. Thankfully, expert Feiring (a longtime natural wine advocate) has put together this comprehensive and nicely illustrated guide.

Buy Now: amazon.com

The NoMad Cocktail Book by Leo Robitschek (Ten Speed Press)

New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas all claim a NoMad Bar, where cocktails, classic and reimagined, reign. Now those recipes, including 100 that are entirely brand-new, are available in this stand-alone volume, which follows up on the roaring success of
The NoMad Cookbook.  

Buy Now: amazon.com

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