Jay Trachtenberg's Top Books of 2019

From the social upheaval of the Sixties to the double life of an intelligence agent to the secular past of an Orthodox rabbi, splits resolved into memorable books

Jay Trachtenberg's Top Books of 2019

The book I most enjoyed this year was Joshua Furst's REVOLUTIONARIES (Alfred A. Knopf). Like an acid flashback for those of us who experienced it, even vicariously, and an eye-popping primer for those who missed out, this novel revels in the chaotic political, social, and cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s. It's the story of counterculture radical Lenny Snyder – a thinly veiled Abbie Hoffman – as seen through the eyes of his young son, Freedom (aka Fred). Populated with era icons like folkie Phil Ochs, attorney William Kunstler, and poet Allen Ginsberg, Revolutionaries digs deep into the fractious tenure of the times without forsaking its effect on the individuals involved, particularly father and son.

One of my favorite writers, Nathan Englander, hits the bull's-eye with Kaddish.com (Alfred A. Knopf), a cynical and very funny tale surrounding the clash of modern and traditional. As a former Orthodox Jew, Englander writes authoritatively of Larry, a secular Jew somewhat estranged from his Orthodox family but required to say Kaddish, the traditional mourner's prayer, for his deceased father. Instead, he contracts with a website, Kaddish.com, to unburden himself of this unwanted responsibility. Some years later, now an Orthodox rabbi, Reb Shuli, he goes to Israel to track down the website and thank them, much to his consternation.

BERTA ISLA (Alfred A. Knopf) is internationally renowned Spanish writer Javier Marías' novel (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) of a married couple whose relationship is defined by their time spent apart. The title character is married to Tomás, who hesitantly joins the British intelligence services and henceforth leads a secret life largely absent from his wife and family. Marías is a master of slow- simmering, cerebral intrigue. He deftly examines how an unforeseen situation can alter the course of one's entire life and that of those around you.

Two delicious Austin books are Joe Nick Patoski's AUSTIN TO ATX: THE HIPPIES, PICKERS, SLACKERS, AND GEEKS WHO TRANSFORMED THE CAPITAL OF TEXAS (Texas A&M University Press) and TEXAS FLOOD: THE INSIDE STORY OF STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN (St. Martin's Press) by longtime music journalists Alan Paul and Andy Aledort. Patoski's raucous read dives deeply into how the convergence of music, literature, film, food, and high tech has made Austin the unique place we love. With the benefit of two decades of retrospection and plenty of firsthand accounts from band members and musical family, Texas Flood provides the most complete story of music legend SRV to date.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Top 10s
<i>The Austin Chronicle</i> Top 10 Films of 2018
The Austin Chronicle Top 10 Films of 2018
Our favorite films from our least favorite year

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 28, 2018

Top 10 Local Video Games
Top 10 Local Video Games
A horse-woman of the apocalypse and floppy fighting animals top Austin’s offerings

James Renovitch, Dec. 28, 2018

More by Jay Trachtenberg
Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges
Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges

Dec. 6, 2019

Texas Platters
The Texas Horns
Get Here Quick (Record Review)

Sept. 20, 2019


Top 10s, Top 10s 2019, Joshua Furst, Nathan Englander, Javier Marías, Joe Nick Patoski, Alan Paul, Andy Aledort

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Time to vote! Music Poll 2019-20 balloting is underway   VOTE NOW