@StephenL asked to hear more about this, so here goes. I record my reading at Goodreads, which is how I'm able to keep track.
I read or listened to 64 books this year. This might seem like a lot, but my highest year was 72, and my lowest was 57, so this is in the middle. This worked out to 16695 pages, which is only slightly higher than my lowest year when I read only 57 books. So the average book length for me this year was only 240 pages - my lowest ever average, with most other years averaging over 300 pages per book.
Of these 64 books, I only gave four a 5-star rating, which is less than half of the number I normally would have. Maybe I was pickier when doling out the stars, or wasn't picky enough when choosing the books! Three of these were novels, and the fourth wasn't really a book at all, it was one of the Great Courses available on Audible (a history of the vikings).
So, my three best books this year were:
The Blue Fox by Sjon, an Icelandic author. This short book is almost more of a fable, but I quite enjoyed it. Enough to write a review, anyway: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2657804728?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
The next of my top 3 books was a fantasy novel - Ursula K. LeGuin's classic The Tombs of Atuan, which is the second in the Earthsea Cycle. In this book, Sparrowhawk the wizard finds himself trapped inside the maze beneath the Tombs of Atuan. While down there, he begins a whispered conversation with a young priestess who is in turn captivated by his presence, and they form a tenuous friendship. This is a wonderful series of books, and better than most of the fantasy that's written today, IMO.
And the third book, the one I was most impressed by, was Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler. I never got around to writing a review for it, but would still like to. It takes place in the late 1800s in Washington Territory and begins when a strange and very ugly woman wanders into a Chinese rail-worker's camp. Soon Chin finds himself following her on a big adventure, meets a mental patient, a taxidermist, a suffragette, a side-show huckster, and several other people, all of whom leave an impression on his life. Like Moby Dick (one of the best novels ever written, I think) this book is filled to the brim with things to think about - feminism, discrimination, tolerance, the meaning of friendship, the nature of god, and more. This book didn't just make me think of Moby Dick, but also Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and also The Wizard of Oz, to which the narration in this book owes a debt. It's great stuff, but in the interest of balance, I should say the other members of my book club didn't like it as much as I did. It rewards a deep reading, in my opinion - don't read it if all you want is a light story - its not how this one works.
Other good (4-star) books I read this year were:
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (who also died this year) - a SF novel that borders on fantasy with lots of biblical allegory.
Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke, considered by many his masterwork (I prefer 2001 myself, but this was good).
Conditionally Human by Walter M. Miller Jr, for which I posted a review here on Cake.
Dark Orbit by Caroline Ives Gilman was a sleeper hit for me, and all the meanings you can think of for the words in the title were pulled into the text. A pretty cool asteroid-investigation-gets-weird type novel.
High Rise by J.G. Ballard, another classic by a British SF writer, this one takes place in a high-rise complex gone wrong, where everything suddenly goes all sideways and gets dystopian.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which had a fair bit of buzz a few years ago. It's a post apocalyptic novel like The Road or The Postman, and holds its own in that company fairly well.
A listened to a few books from the Richard Sharpe series about the Napoleonic Wars (there was a TV series starring Sean Bean which you may have seen - it was also very good). I enjoy these, in part because they make for superb listening thanks to the narrator, Rupert Farley. I don't normally do series, but these are good fun. They'll all kind of the same, though. The ones I most recommend are the first 3, which are set in India - but those were last year's listens.
Last winter I read the first two books in the New Edinburgh History of Scotland and thought those were great. They're called From Caledonia to Pictland: Scotland to 795 by James Fraser, and From Pictland to Alba, 789-1070 by Alex Woolf, which was the better of the two. I have the third (Domination and Lordship: Scotland 1070-1230, by Richard Oram) on my shelf for this year. These are academic books, though designed for lay people. That said, I think they might be a tough go if you aren't a little versed in the period already.
Two lighter-weight books and very approachable by the general reader were 24 Hours in Ancient Rome by Philip Matyszak and The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer. Both of these books put the reader on the ground in their respective period - the former takes you through all the typical activities of a day in Rome, and the second is a bit more like a travel guide. Easy to read and entertaining. I did both of these in audible.
A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell was my longest book at 906 pages. This is a classic survey first written in 1945, and so missing some of the later thinkers. It's also somewhat out of date with respect to the older material - at least I don't think it had a lot to say about the Mesopotamians, and a philosophy prof friend of mine said it was hopelessly muddled about the medieval period. But in it's day it was considered a magisterial work, and to my surprise I found it quite entertaining - Russell interjects quite a few snarky remarks as he takes us through time, and it was fun as well as educational. My only beef is that it's really a History of PhilosoPHERS, not a history of PhilosoPHY - it follows the people who thought the thoughts as wrote the books, rather than the evolution of the thoughts (and their critiques) themselves - and what I really wanted as the latter kind of book.
Not really a history book, more a non-fiction cultural book, was Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar by Robert Lebling. This books give (what I can only assume is) a comprehensive survey of the middle eastern legends of Jinn, from their earliest origins to the present - and it spans many regions as well, telling you the difference between believes from here to there. I takes itself a little too seriously at times, but it seemed legit and I had a good time with it.
MEETING MY 2019 GOALS
I set a goal of 50 books for my reading challenge and had no trouble meeting that. I also set myself of goal of making a dent in my to-read pile by making sure I purchased fewer books than I read. But that was a big fail - I think I bought at least 64 new books this year. Oh well, hope springs eternal. I can save money when I retire, right?
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2020
I've already started my first book of the new year: Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin. I guess you'd say it's Sci Fi since in takes place on earth in the future. Enjoyed the first chapter so far. Maybe @mbravo knows more about this one.
Two books have been selected by our book club. Our January monthly pick is Gone to Sea in a Bucket by David Black, a naval fiction novel set aboard a sub in WW2.
Each year we also do a 'slow read' of a longer work where we read two chapters a week and discuss them as we go. We want books or series that are (a) too long for a monthly pick, (b) very well written, and (c) full of ideas that can be ported into role-playing games, since that's the tie that binds our book club. This year's pick is The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, which was published between 2015 and 2017 and won a total of 3 Hugo awards and a Nebula award. Each book is about 450 pages, so this will last us until at least the end of August.