LPL Best of 2019: Book Edition


Not to pat ourselves on the back or anything, but as library workers we have excellent taste in literature. And so we humbly present to you our best books of 2019, hand picked and well loved by our staff, for your consideration and inevitable enjoyment.

Marilyn, Youth Services

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. This is a book about time. It's about a lot of things, really, but that's what sticks with me. When humanity has moved on to a planet called January, where they have to live between a daylight that'll burn you in seconds and nighttime full of subzero temps and impossible predators, there's no such thing as time anymore. In exploring this world and her characters, Anders explores our relationship to time as we perceive it, and time as we live it. It's a beautiful, haunting book that EVERYONE should be talking about.
by Leigh Bardugo. This is Bardugo's first adult novel and it has everything I love about her writing. It's dark, sharp, strange, AND it's only the first in a series! I'm always weak for dark academia, so I couldn't be happier seeing Leigh Bardugo going back to school. With blood! Lots of blood. 
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. This is a world where scientists are trying to manifest the laws of the universe in human form in order to control it. It's a concept so broad and daring that only Seanan McGuire could dream it up AND make it work so well. Her language is just as alluring as her world and the people who inhabit it.
Gregor, Book Van
Blowout by Rachel Maddow. Does a great job of explaining how our current geopolitical situation is largely shaped by the oil and gas industry.
Brad, Director
How to Do Nothing by Jenny O'Dell. This book is a brilliant meditation on how we are sucked into "attention economy" and offers ways to escape. It challenges the notion that productivity and newness are superior to maintenance and care. I'm surprised it hasn't made more "best of" lists for 2019.
Drive your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. Immensely readable and fascinating glimpse into life in a remote Polish village. Truly unique and unlike most books I read. Great twist at the end, too!
Heather, Marketing Director
 by Gretchen McCulloch I've spent the last 25 years personally and professionally in chat rooms, on social media, and on a smartphone. I am also 10 hours short of an English major with a focus on Modern English Grammar, so this book blew me away. To quote Wired magazine: "Because Internet is for anyone who's ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It's the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that's a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are."
Ian, Readers' Services
Peter Orner's Maggie Brown & Others. Orner’s short stories are typically no more than four pages; “Maggie Brown” features dozens of them, each as fresh, and funny, and authentic as the next. Everything fits together perfectly in an equally hilarious and heart wrenching whole. The final story is a novella that follows a struggling former mom and pop furniture owner as he reappraises his life. It's worth the price of admission alone.
Lent by Jo Walton. Based on the true events of 15th century Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola’s life until everything goes off the rails midway through—seriously, it's one of the craziest twists I've ever read and I couldn't put it down afterwards—I found "Lent" a fascinating, if at times dry, dive into some deep theological questions.
China Dream by Ma Jian In this unnerving satire, Ma Daode, a froglike, lecherous, corrupt bureaucrat, is the head of the China Dream project, which is developing a bodily installed microchip that will broadcast government sanctioned messages to sleepers. Unfortunately for him, he can’t escape his own violent dreams and memories of the Cultural Revolution.
Angela, Friends Coordinator
The Overstory by Richard Powers Like a tree, this story is huge and branching. Although this is a work of fiction, it is peppered with scientific information and has profoundly changed the way I look at trees, and life in general. It is uncomfortably hard to read at times, but then transitions to a touching and gentle story you won't easily forget.
Lauren , Youth Services
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. It was amazing. Great writing, hilarious plot. Solid escapism with a Democrat, female President. Totally amazing.
Leah, Readers' Services
When it comes to debut novels, they don't get much better than Alix E. Harrow's The Ten Thousand Doors of January. A truly original story of portals to other worlds, a rich cast of characters (including a furry, stalwart companion), written in a lyrical voice that was difficult to put down at night, and even more difficult to turn the last page.
And then when it comes to more established authors, nobody tops The King. The Institute certainly lived up to the hype, exceeding all of my expectations. He just never fails to come up with a new way to scare me and no one writes kids better. Luke Ellis and the others from the Institute are as endearing as they are tough. The adult players are written with a depth and polarity that makes me feel like I know them. This book frightened me, made me think, made me laugh, and even broke my heart a little.
Tricia, Collection Services
Big Sky by Kate Atkinson - the most recent title in the Jackson Brodie mystery series. Atkinson writes both 'literary' fiction and mysteries, and both are a joy to read - smart and funny - but, most of all - astoundingly insightful studies of the human condition. If you are a mystery fan who enjoys complex, mixed-up, messed-up characters, you can't miss this series.
Mary, Youth Services
Normal People by Sally Rooney is my favorite book from 2019 because it's intelligent and thrilling and irresistible!
My favorite 2019 book for kids is Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly. The ultimate girl power epic based on Filipino folklore, this book absolutely blew me away.
Shirley, Readers' Services
Engage, Connect, Protect by Angelou Ezeilo Angelou Ezeilo’s debut book is inspiring and practical with heartfelt personal and professional stories of connecting and advocating for the natural world. She dispels society's mythology that people of color are not connected or concerned with our environment. And as the Founder and CEO of Greening Youth Foundation, Ezeilo is creating career pathways for diverse youth into environmental stewardship work. Also note, author Angelou Ezeilo will be speaking in Lawrence on February 20, 2020! Find out more here.
 by Téa Obreht A camel looms large in the mythical, ghost-filled and cinematically-rich, parched Western American landscape before all our boarders were drawn. A Serbian immigrant struggles as a fugitive while in a parallel narrative a frontier woman maintains her family with stoicism as their well runs dry. Author Téa Obreht is originally from Belgrade, Serbia. With prescient-like themes of immigration, drought, manifest destiny and Indigenous self-determination, Inland is rooted in our collective hopes for the American West and a story of two adventures that lead toward a shared discovery.
Jake, Info Services
Horizon by Barry Lopez: This new book by one of my favorite authors, his first in years, is a satisfyingly thick memoir that transports the reader around the world, close to home, back in time, and into an uncertain future (ours because of climate catastrophe, his because of illness). Joyous, tragic, honest, sublime, important. Barry Lopez, like a horizon, draws you curiously, hopefully, ever forward.
Number two would be Erosion by Terry Tempest Williams. After that it gets too confusing. Plus there are those I want to read but haven't yet, like Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be An Antiracist.
Dan, Collection Development
Small in the City by Sydney Smith. This book, by a Nova Scotian author/illustrator, is so quietly beautiful and loving, it still chokes me up even after numerous readings. It depicts not so much a story but a state of mind--that of a child looking for their missing cat in a big city setting. The child narrator empathizes with the missing cat, presumably overwhelmed by its environment, as the situation slowly dawns on the reader. The book concludes with an image of a parent who hugs the child in support, while cat prints in the snow hint at a positive outcome.
My second favorite is Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines in Kansas by Craig C. Freeman and Michael John Haddock. This is an updated version of H.A. Stephens' classic guidebook. So much flora, so close to home. Begs the question: What's your favorite Kansas tree, shrub, and woody vine? If you can't answer, you need to read this book.