My Top Ten Lists of 2019

Ten Favorite Books Read in 2019

I was blown over by so many fabulous books this year!


Milkman, Anna Burns: Burns made impossible prose not just possible but heartbreaking, terrifying, and hilarious

Women Talking, Miriam Toews: A slowly swelling ode to joy amidst hideous abuse

EEG, Dasa Drndic: I was first beguiled and then floored by this stunning novel about illness, trauma, historical memory, lists, and the ravishing, ravaged Istrian peninsula, where my father-in-law was born, the place from which he had to flee and still loves

Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips: Disappearing Earth reminded me a bit of Twin Peaks, a fictional narrative about lost girls in which the setting is a character, but it also speaks to concerns in Canada about how the authorities don’t seem to care when Indigenous women disappear

1984, George Orwell: I had never read it before. Well. Here we are.


What You Have Heard Is True, Carolyn Forché

The Undying, Anne Boyer

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, Alicia Elliott

Motherhood, Sheila Heti

The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang

Lessons learned: More poets need to write memoirs. Forché and Boyer, more famous as poets, wrote two of the most remarkable and powerful memoirs I’ve read in recent years. I empathized with Forché’s beautifully described journey to political consciousness; my struggles with the American health care system, similar to those detailed by Boyer and Wang, as well as my readings of books like Elliott’s, have informed my own evolution of consciousness and ethics. And I loved Heti’s suggestion that those of us women who don’t have biological children may be able to mother the whole world.

Favorite Films Watched in 2019

Shoplifters: I’ve been a huge fan of the Japanese director Koreeda Hirokazu since I saw “After Life” years ago. This is far and away one of the most honest depictions of contemporary Japan I’ve ever seen, right down to the fact that their national pension system does a pitiful job of taking care of the elderly

Cold War: Passion is black and white

Period. End of Sentence: Finally, a feel-good documentary

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: A feel-even-better documentary that reminds us of decency

The Favourite: Power and rabbits

13th: Definitely not a feel-good documentary, but an essential watch

Annihilation: My awesome ex-husband has the most fabulous theories about this movie, which helped me to enjoy it even more

Burning: The Korean setting and Murakami Haruki story on which the film is based blend well

A Quiet Passion: Rather than a literary biopic, it’s a pilgrimage into Emily Dickinson’s soul

The Burial of Kojo: Fairy-lit, child-night imagery amidst exploitation

A lot of these films are actually from 2018. I miss seeing films in theaters—I used to go all the time—but these days usually wait to watch them online.

Ten Favorite Television Series Watched in 2019

Chernobyl: I don’t think I breathed during the episodes

Fleabag: Crazy like a fox after a priest

Babylon Berlin: As Emily Nussbaum said, this train goes off the rails, but until it does, it’s fucking awesome, with spectacular dance sequences and Weimar-era sex dungeons

The “Ronny/Lilly” episode of Barry: Hilarious, surreal, and best of all, it doesn’t feature Sally, the most irritating character who has ever existed in any media

Dark: I’m a sucker for twisted European series

Rilakkuma and Kaoru: Pure delight—and wise to boot

1983: Please see earlier comment about my being a sucker for twisted European fare. Plus, it’s Polish

Deadwood, the movie: David Milch at full lilt; his dialogue, always brutal yet beautiful, has never been closer to pure music. I put this on the TV list because it relies on the television series for its resonance

When They See Us: I already knew that the American criminal-justice system was run by the true deplorables, but it still made me want to cry and scream

A tie between The Good Place and Russian Doll: I never really warmed up to the main actress of Russian Doll, who seems to me like she’s trying way too hard, but I liked the narrative structure and the message. However, The Good Place, to my mind, has more fun with the same themes.

The disappointments:

Game of Thrones: Keep the scene of Jaime knighting Brienne and Sansa’s wardrobe, and throw away the rest.

Jane the Virgin: The finale of the series did what it needed to do, but the rest was dull plot and pacing misfires. Did I really need a full episode with Jane deciding if she should donate her eggs to Lina, the second-most annoying character who has ever existed in any media? And I’ll say it one more time: Since when does Miami have so many literary agents and publishers?

And Ruth on GLOW is a big stupid-head when it comes to Sam. I don’t think I’ve shipped a TV couple this hard since Mulder and Scully.

Copyright © Cynthia Gralla, 2019