Our Reading Lives

Our Biggest Bookish Achievements of 2019

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Claire Handscombe


Claire Handscombe moved from Europe to DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but actually – let’s be honest – because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan, and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives. She also hosts the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing. Blog: the Brit Lit Blog. Twitter: @BookishClaire

As we look to the new year, many of us set goals in our shiny new planners and, of course, on Goodreads. And because we love books, they often feature in those goals. 2019 was a big year for me: I finally, after ten years of writing seriously, became a published author. In 2020, though, I’d like to read a lot more than I have this year. What about you? Maybe, for your 2020 vision (sorry!), you  can be inspired by the various things my fellow Book Rioters managed this year.

This year, I accomplished three of my long-term writing goals. Name and None published my personal essay on how Vincent van Gogh’s example has inspired me as someone who struggled with severe depression in college; I also became a Book Riot contributor; and I was chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee by Mary Ann Marlowe.

Andy Winder 

This year was chaos for many of us, I think—myself included. But there have been bright spots. In May, I finished a two-year master’s program and, along with it, I completed a draft of my first novel: a weird and plucky middle grade fantasy that, upon reflection, is very much catered to the needs of 12-year-old me. As the querying process continues, it’s good to remind myself that finishing that manuscript is an achievement, one I sometimes doubted I was capable of. Naturally, I hope someone will see its shine and help me get it into the hands of other awkward, misfit kids. Regardless, I now feel much more confident about starting (and finishing) the next story. 

Nicole Hill

I completed my first Read Harder Challenge! Things I’ve learned from it: I can like romance, especially if it’s by Alyssa Cole; there are a lot of excellent books with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads; and, for the most part, I read pretty diversely across multiple genres.

Margaret Kingsbury

For me, 2019 was about tending to my happiness. This year I began posting regularly as a book blogger/Bookstagrammer. I am also in the process of drafting my second collection of poetry. And I became a Book Riot contributor! 

—Cathleen Perez Brenycz

In 2018, as a tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin, I posted an essay that I’d written about her novel The Left Hand of Darkness as a 20-year-old Stonehill College junior in 2009, on Medium. This year, I found out that my essay has been taught in more than one class, including a college course entirely on Le Guin. I’m amazed that students and professors I’ve never met are reading my undergrad paper and stories ten years later. I never went to grad school, so I never expected that!

Also, author Amanda Leduc interviewed a lot of other disabled writers, including me, for her book Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, out in February. She said I’m quoted/cited for whole paragraphs in her book! Disability and fairy tales are topics that I care about a lot, and BR has given me a lot of opportunities to write about them.

Grace Lapointe

I read 200 books this year; I interviewed one of my favorite authors, V.E. Schwab; and I got to meet so many of my heroes. But my biggest achievement this year was something else. For the last several years, it’s been a ‘fake it til you make it’ mentality, where I would talk up my blog to get reviewing opportunities that I knew I could handle. But I entered this year as an established books writer, and a book reviewer for Booklist, with a well-performing blog. Early in the year, when people asked what I did, I would try to be humble, as if this was a cute little blog just for me. But at SXSW 2019, my social media skills and my media pass to the Good Omens event led to several viral tweets, and that got me invited to the VIP party. It was only once I was there, with my media pass to the VIP event celebrating the TV show of my favorite author of all time, that I realized I have made it. That I can stop pretending I have a successful blog, because I actually do. And then I got to meet Neil Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon. I’ve worked hard for many achievements this year, but truly my biggest one of 2019 was realizing that I deserve and have earned this success, and that I truly am a books writer—not an aspiring one.

Leah Rachel von Essen

I met my self-imposed goal of reading all 56 original Nancy Drew books in 56 days. And I also started a couple of gigs reviewing books and comic books with some intelligent and funny people. Overall, not a bad year for me, book-wise!

Eileen Gonzalez

One of my reading resolutions for 2019 was to read no more than two books by a white man. I am ecstatic to report that not only have I not read a book written by a white man in the year 2019 of our Lord Beyoncé, I did not read one book written by any cisgender man. Whoo!!! This year, I wanted to make a conscious effort to read more women, and I did just that. I started the year with Becoming. I read my first books by Zadie Smith (Swing Time) and Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express). When I took a slight detour into science fiction, I read Children of Men by P.D. James and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. My favorite read has been The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, and my current read (as of this writing) is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. By the end of the year, I want to cross read a book by Octavia Butler off my bookish bucket list. Got any recommendations? Tweet at me bro!

Katisha Smith

My first book deal came through this year, and I’m super grateful. Mango Publishing will release my book America’s First Female Serial Killer in May of 2020. I worked really hard researching and writing the manuscript, and when a publisher reached out to me because of a post I wrote for Book Riot (7 Reasons Why You’ll Love Carmilla More than You Love Dracula) I thought for sure that it was a scam. It wasn’t. The book is actually already available for preorder. It’s kind of surreal! (Tell all your friends, please and thank you!)

Mary Kay McBrayer 

I read fewer books than ever this year, which seems odd, but then I remember a huge personal accomplishment: I bought my first home. And with it, I created something I’ve dreamed of since I was 8 years old: my very own home library. I devoted my second bedroom entirely to books and reading, and sometimes I sit in the chair and simply look at the room, taking in the feeling of being surrounded by my favorite books and books I have yet to read, and I am so, so happy.

Cassie Gutman

This was the first year that I finished writing a novel that I could imagine wanting other humans to read. I haven’t yet been successful with trying to get a book deal out of it, but I’ve got to save something for the 2020 list. This is also my first year writing for Book Riot and some other outlets, which has been a blast. Reading-wise, I’ve already met my goal of reading 100 books this year, so I’m in enjoying life in bonus points land.

Isabelle Popp 

In 2019, my long-beloved homemade Kindle case finally kicked the bucket. RIP Kindle case. I made it from the cover of a published dissertation about one of Dylan Thomas’s poems and the waist and leg from a pair of corduroy jeans. Through the night I worked with glue gun in hand, until finally, my creation shone before me, the solution to my Kindle protection needs! For ten long years, my invention served me well. I carried it hither and I carried it yon, and everywhere I carried it, I also spilled drinks on it and dropped it in weird places. When my Kindle case died, it died hard. Warped and peeling from water exposure, torn, nibbled by something unknown and separating from its lining, it finally cracked and broke, part of its venerable spine turning to dust. Long did I weep. My woe was such that I barely read for many days. (Also, I had no good way of safely carrying my Kindle around anymore. As you may by now realize, I am a mite hard on my possessions.) But happy circumstance (and a Little Free Library) brought a hardcover book into my life that was a duplicate of one I already owned in paperback. My heart leapt as I held it in my hands. Could this become the replacement Kindle case for which my soul had yearned? With scissors in one hand and needle in the other, I commenced to excavate the book’s pages and line the interior with scrap denim and elastic straps. I was not deterred as I snipped and sewed, measured and glued. At last—at long last!—my Kindle’s new home was complete. Now I carry my new Kindle case proudly, secure in my awareness that the precious ereader inside will survive my ability to break valuable stuff.

Anna Gooding-Call