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  • Writer's picturecarolineswiftholden

My Top 10 Books of 2019

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

I love to read but I haven’t always been the best about reading regularly. Two years ago, I joined a bookclub at work and started finding more books everywhere I went. By the end of 2018, I realized that I had accidentally read almost 30 books!

Then and there, I decided that I would start to keep track of the books that I read and write little notes rating them so I would remember what I liked or didn’t like about them. Determined to top my numbers in 2019, I ended up reading almost 40 books.

Now how did I choose these books? About half of these selections are from my old job’s bookclub, and the other half are a mix of books that I really wanted to read, books gifted to me from friends and family, and books that were sitting on my bookshelf for years. Some of them had just come out in 2018/2019, some are classics, and some are books that I stumbled on through meeting the authors in unexpected places.

Here are my top ten favorite books from 2019! (Click here for my top ten faves of 2018!)

10. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Now, to be clear, I first read The Golden Compass back when I was in high school, so the story was nothing new. However, I picked up Philip Pullman's classic after hearing that His Dark Materials was being brought to HBO as the newest big budget fantasy epic to follow Game of Thrones to refresh my memory on the story and wow!

The Golden Compass is a masterpiece when it comes to fantasy literature and I got far more reading this book as an adult than I had during the original read. I spent a lot of time talking about the book and the 2007 movie on my podcast Shelf Expressions so if you want to hear more of my thoughts, please check the show out here!

9. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Through my work's book club and my adventures working at a venture capital firm, I spent a lot of time in the past two years reading about entrepreneurial endeavors. Shoe Dog is one of the best books on building a business that I ever read. Before Silicon Valley, before the age of start ups, before China had factories catering to international brands, twenty four year old Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his dad to import low cost running shoes from Japan. The rest is history.

The tale is absolutely fascinating and a must read for anyone who has ever dreamed of starting their own company. For someone who only ever saw Nike as a huge corporate behemoth, this book was an eye opener on how people can build the biggest brands around today.

Note: Nike as a brand has been surrounded by several controversies over the years including poor conditions in their factories around the world and through their Olympic training programs.

8. How to Get Rid of a President by David Priess

If you’re still looking for a way to get rid of a certain individual in office AND you’re a huge fan of politics and history, you will absolutely love this book!

My dad, a politics and history book super fan, got halfway through this book before insisting for three months that I absolutely needed to read it and wow! Thank goodness I did!

How to Get Rid of a President is a series of stories of how various people in history tried to remove (and not remove!) presidents of the United States in every way imaginable: impeachment, assassinations, having your wife pretend to be the president while you’re in a coma (true story!), and more!

If you want to potentially change the political landscape in the US any time soon, grab this book ASAP.

7. Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O'Brien

Fly Girls is one of those books where I learned so many incredible stories that I started finding ways to introduce them into conversations daily with others in everyday life to the point where it may have been annoying.

Everyone knows about Amelia Earhart and how she mysteriously vanished while trying to fly around the world. But did you know about the amazing tales of so many other female flyers as they attempted to break the dozens of glass ceilings or that airplane wings used to be made of wood and fabric? No? Want to support your fellow women professionals rising to new heights? Then you need to read this immediately!

6. Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

This book has almost changed my life. I say almost because I’m a marvelous procrastinator and though I’ve already started enacting some of their strategies and advice on how to design your life to its fullest, I have also just not gotten there yet.

Designing Your Life was incredibly insightful, the stories fantastic, and the advice extremely helpful and weirdly comforting. As someone who has had an untraditional career and kind of a weird life, watching Bill Burnett and Dave Evans weave new career paths of the people they have worked with was incredible to see.

And, seeing as they are Stanford professors who are arguably quite famous, there are PLENTY of Youtube videos of them talking about their book, this class, and their other thoughts which is an absolute delight! I think you can even take the class they’ve described online a couple times a year for a relatively low fee?

Let's just say, I felt guilty that I didn’t put this book in the top five, but then I realized that all of the books on this years list should be in my top three favorite books and that I’ve clearly gotten better at finding good books.

5. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

SCANDAL! Science! Girl Power! POLITICS! Oh my gosh Bad Blood is a WHIRLWIND.

We read Bad Blood for my work’s book club right when the HBO Documentary “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” came out and oh my god our club was packed with people! I don’t even have words just read the book right now.

4. Range by David Epstein

Range is an absolutely incredible book arguing that people who make the most innovative discoveries, companies, or work of art in our time, tend to be generalists rather than specialists because generalists are able to make more surprising connections in a cross disciplinary way.

As a creative with an untraditional career path, I absolutely loved this book. There are some incredible stories about people all throughout history creating incredible products, companies, music/art, and scientific discoveries all because they had a wide range of skillsets in many different areas. Range is not only phenomenally well written, it helped inspire me to embrace my many different talents and treat them as an asset in my work instead of being so self conscious about them.

I would also like to heavily encourage creatives who are unsure of what they want to do career wise to read this. Just because you're an artist does not mean that you cannot take advantage of doing something like working in the sciences or in tech, you just have to know what to bring to the table.

3. We Are the Nerds by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin

We Are the Nerds was part of my work’s book club and it’s possible that I was the only one who liked the book and/or finished it. I know that's not a great start for my favorite books of the year but, it was hands down one of my absolute favorite books that I read this past year!

The first half of the book deals with the founders of Reddit, the creation of Y Combinator, and how Reddit was formed. As an aspiring entrepreneur, it was really fascinating to learn all about the process of developing the original website and how they were able to make it grow despite the fact that the website really didn't make any money for years.

The second half gets a little wilder and really digs into the nasty side of Reddit’s community, the mismanagement of the company by later executives, and just how incredibly difficult it is to manage massive online communities. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, someone who loves learning about internet cultures, or a fan of Reddit, I highly recommend that you check this book out ASAP!

As for why other book club members did not like the book? The majority of members seemed to find the first half of the book dull but the ones who finished the book said they loved the second half of the book much more than the first half. So, if you start the book and aren't head over heels immediately, hang in there for a very different second half of the book!

2. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

I’ll admit I was not expecting much from this book. Though I’m not a “Nerdfighter” I have watched John/Hank Green’s Vlogbrothers Youtube show on and off for over a decade but I have long known that just because you like someone’s Youtube personality doesn’t mean you love their writing style. I read a couple of John Green’s books which I had liked quite a bit but wasn’t absolutely head over heels for and honestly when I saw Hank Green’s book was coming out, I figured I would probably read it but that it might be a bit a cash grab.

I was blown away by An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. It was funny and wild and unexpected. The characters were fascinating, the mystery was super suspenseful, the illustration of what it’s like to become a weirdly famous Youtube person was super fun to watch, and oh my gosh what the HELL was that ending?

It was the last book that I read in 2019 and in my notes I wrote “I LOVED this book. I want to write books like it.”

1. Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming was the first book that I read of the year and I absolutely loved it! Michelle Obama has an incredibly fascinating life story, some great insights, and the book is incredibly well written. The book covers everything from her childhood, to meeting a funny new intern named Barack Obama, to her experience working as a new mom, to her reactions to Donald Trump's 2017 inauguration.

I read it over the 2018/2019 holidays and had such a hard time to put it down even though it was Christmas! Absolutely one of my favorites of the year.

Those were my favorite picks from 2019 but what do YOU think? Do you have any favorites that you want to share or want to share your experiences about any of the books below? Please feel free to leave comments down below!

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