A Backward Glance
A look back at 2019’s favorite books from our favorite bookseller
Compiled by Brian Lampkin
Let’s take a column and look back at 2019 before we return to our regularly scheduled 2020. Here at Scuppernong Books we reject the idea of “Best Of” lists because we don’t believe that our authority extends to such absolute determination of quality. Instead we prefer the inarguable conviction that accompanies a list of our “Favorite Books of 2019.” Each staff member at Scuppernong has offered the two books they most loved — with a few reasons why — without any concern for hierarchy of quality. It’s a good way to go through life: Love more; judge less. Here’s a sampling of our choices:
The Furious Hours, by Casey Cep (Knopf, $26.95). A fascinating investigation of a corrupt, murderous, small-town Alabama pastor who terrorizes an entire county. Eventually, this nonfiction account connects to the unwritten last book of Harper Lee, whose own fascination with small-town murderous Alabama is well understood. It’s a remarkable piece of literary journalism, and Cep will be featured at the May 2020 Greensboro Bound Literary Festival. (Brian)
The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, by Balli Kaur Jaswal (William Morrow, $26.99). Once again, Balli Kaur Jaswal proves herself to be a captivating and extraordinary writer. Full of authentic characters with rich histories, individual voices, relatable struggles and controversial dilemmas, this book manages to be a family portrait, a mystery, a drama, a cultural exploration and a comedy all at once. With the passing of pages, I alternately shed tears and laughed aloud, which, let me tell you, is no small thing. (Chella)
The Source of Self-Regard, by Toni Morrison (Knopf, $28.95). Morrison’s death in 2019 left a crater in the literary world that is unlikely to be filled any time soon. This collection of essays, speeches and meditations is her final published book. The Source of Self-Regard is brimming with all the elegance of mind and style, the literary prowess and moral compass that are Toni Morrison’s unique purview. (Ashley)
Who Killed My Father, by Edouard Louis (New Directions, $15.95). “That’s the trouble with stolen things, like you with your youth: We can never quite believe they are really ours, so we have to keep stealing them forever. The theft never ends. You wanted to recapture your youth, to reclaim it, to re-steal it.” Skillfully and incisively balancing love, terror, and rage, this taut memoir examines Louis’ own relationship with his father, and the social and cultural conditions in France that formed his father and laid the groundwork for his death. A rare memoir of righteous anger laced with inexplicable affection. (Steve)
The Ash Family, by Molly Dektar (Simon & Schuster, $26). “You can stay for three days, or the rest of your life.” Thus is the ominous timeline given to Berie — renamed Harmony — when she runs away to live off the grid in the North Carolina mountains. At first, life with the Ash Family seems idyllic, but soon Harmony finds that the disturbing feelings she’s tried to ignore were rooted in sinister happenings on the farm. A literary thriller, this novel also has gorgeous nature writing that casts an eerie melancholy throughout. (Shannon)
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28). This is an honest look at the practice of psychotherapy as told by a therapist and the therapist’s therapist. “Therapy elicits odd reactions because, in a way, it’s like pornography. Both involve a kind of nudity. Both have the potential to thrill. And both have millions of users, most of whom keep their use private.” A must-read for anyone interested in psychology. (Timmy)
Normal People, by Sally Rooney (Crown, $29.95). This is worth all the hype! Rooney distills what it feels like on that curious edge of teenage/adult life while stumbling through a first love headfirst. Honestly, she may be a mind reader. She is that good at capturing the lives of two friends (and lovers) from very different backgrounds at Trinity College in Dublin. Sally Rooney, I love you. (Mackenzie).
Other choices: Dreyer’s English, by Benjamin Dreyer (Chella); Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson (Brian), Women Talking, by Miriam Toews (Steve); The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett (Shannon); A Devil Comes to Town, by Paolo Maurensig (Ashley); Monster, She Wrote, by Lisa Kröger and Melanie Anderson (Jenny); Trick Mirror, by Jia Tolentino (Mackenzie); Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan (Timmy). OH
Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.