Best Arts Books 2019

Dig in for music history, trailblazing animators, and incisive critiques of film and TV. The best arts titles published in 2019.

See all of our 2019 Best Books lists.

Abdurraqib, Hanif. Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest. Univ. of Texas. ISBN 9781477316481.
This arrestingly personal, sweeping biography explains why A Tribe Called Quest mattered—both as musicians who helped transform the landscape of rap in the 1990s and as artists whose albums changed the author’s life.
Erigha, Maryann. The Hollywood Jim Crow: The Racial Politics of the Movie Industry. New York Univ. ISBN 9781479886647.
In this impressively researched, scholarly look at structural racism in the movie industry, Erigha dismantles Hollywood executives’ excuses for passing on films by and about black people. She persuasively argues that despite triumphs like Black Panther and Moonlight, we still have an uphill battle when it comes to ensuring representation in front of and behind the camera.
Gioia, Ted. Music: A Subversive History. Basic Bks. ISBN 9781541644366.
Gioia’s expansive history of music, beginning with the “universal symphony” of the big bang, is ambitious, academic—and the perfect starting point for readers who know nothing about music. He makes the case that music that changed the world has always been created by outsiders, and then quickly coopted by the mainstream.
Despite frat house antics and a literal boys’ club on the penthouse floor, the women working at Disney in the studio’s early days persevered, paving the way for future generations of female writers and animators. In this captivating collective biography, Holt restores Mary Blair, Grace Huntington, Bianca Majolie, and other pioneers to their rightful place as Disney legends.
Nussbaum, Emily. I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through the Television Revolution. Random. ISBN 9780525508960.
TV criticism has risen to new heights, in large part thanks to New Yorker critic Nussbaum. In this graceful, deeply relevant collection of essays, she mounts an impassioned defense of shows dismissed as feminine fluff, discusses how reality TV set the stage for the 2016 election, and considers the disturbing realization that good art is often created by bad people.
O’Meara, Mallory. The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. Hanover Square: Harlequin. ISBN 9781335937803.
Milicent Patrick, the trailblazing animator and special effects mastermind who designed the monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon, receives her due in this personal biography. O’Meara is an enchanting narrator, geeking out as she dives into the archives and draws cogent parallels between the misogyny Patrick encountered and her own experiences as a filmmaker.
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence. ed. by Michele Filgate S. & S. ISBN 9781982107345.
Though many of the contributors to this anthology work through abuse and trauma, this isn’t a self-help or fix-it book—it’s a searingly intimate examination of the power of the mother-child bond.
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