With an eye on the New Year, the English department bids farewell to 2019 and the best books we read this year:

Mr. Kohn: "Old Rosa" by Reinaldo Arenas

I haven't read anything like it. Two interconnected stories, each one a 40+ page paragraph, that are operatic and heart-crushing. An old woman sets her ranch—and herself—on fire. Her youngest son is sent to an internment camp for gay men. I read the first sentence and didn't stop until I had read the last one.  The book itself is like fire—it burns.

Ms. Basch: "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah

Hilariously written, yet devastating, this autobiography chronicles The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah’s experiences growing up under apartheid in South Africa with a Black mother and a White father -- something so against the law that his very existence was considered non-existent. This coming-of-age story is relatable, yet its circumstances are singular. It is a page-turning gut-laughing easy read that also offers profound insights into surviving human society in all of its ridiculousness and brutality.

Mr. Peterson: "Evicted" by Matthew Desmond

Set in Milwaukee, it tells the stories of eight families struggling to keep roofs over their heads. It illustrates the connection between profit and poverty in the rental market and exposes the staggering rate of eviction in this country as well as its lasting impacts on health and success.

Ms. De Lilly: "Kindred" by Octavia Butler

“Kindred" is my favorite book of all time. I have never been more transported by a novel. I read it in one weekend and couldn’t put it down. I literally left this earth, was no longer in this time period, transfixed by the knowledge that the thoughts of a literary great of the past such as Butler could enter my consciousness and blow my mind.

Ms. O’Driscoll: "Natives" by Akala

I love this book because the musician, artist, and author (Akala) writes about British amnesia concerning race and class and its corrosive effects on the majority of the population. His writing is poetic, much like his music. Akala’s prose speaks to me in a way other books about race and class have not. ‘If we knew our power, we would not elevate not one of these clowns.’

Mr. Hewitt: "Spring" by Ali Smith

"Spring" is the third book in a planned tetralogy (after, yes, "Autumn" and "Winter"), and I can think of no better evocation of the current political moment than these three novels (taken together or read separately). Only loosely connected, they feel both immediate and also richer and less ephemeral than something written just for the here and now. That Smith can integrate the profoundly political with the profoundly personal so beautifully is a remarkable feat. While each has its flaws (is the opening aria in Spring overwritten? Probably - though I still found it moving), I think Smith has done something uncanny and almost impossible with these novels. Real characters, complicated characters, contemplating loss and how to live through these treacherous times.

Ms. Shinn: "Descent" by Tim Johnston

It’s about a teenage girl that goes missing on her family’s summer trip in the Rockies, but unlike many stories about missing girls, the narrative doesn’t just focus on the disappearance. Instead, it shifts between the perspectives of her brother and parents as they try to cope with the tragedy of not knowing what happened to her, along with the guilt they all feel about her disappearance. Pretty sure I read it in one plane flight.

Mr. Evans: "The Carrying" by Ada Limon

While I’ve read a lot of books that affected me this year, notably speculative fiction like "The Future of Another Timeline" by Annalee Newitz, "The Testaments" by Margaret Atwood, or "A Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet" by Becky Chambers, the book I have kept coming back to is Ada Limon’s collection of poetry, "The Carrying." Limon writes about landscape and heartscape with an eloquent directness that reveals strength in vulnerability and joy in language. Each time I revisit the poems, there is another image that jumps out or another line that resonates deeply about love, about hopes, about how we write and rewrite the past and the future as we look carefully and openly at what is around us.