Books read in 2019

Susan Hill Jacob’s Room is Full of Books

Graham Norton The Life and Loves of a He-devil

Ian Rankin Let it Bleed

Robert Goolrick The Dying of the Light

Paula Byrne Mad World

John Carreyrou Bad Blood

Gail Godwin Flora

Martin Amis The Rub of Time

James Salter A Sport and a Pastime

J P Pomare Call Me Evie

John Baxter Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Joanna Nell The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village

Barbara Kingsolver Unsheltered

Joan Druett Tupaia: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator

Kirsty Gunn My Katherine Mansfield Project

Melissa Harrison All Among the Barley

Jane Harper The Lost Man

Holly Throsby Goodwood

Rumer Godden China Court

Max Porter Grief is a Thing with Feathers

Tom Rachmann The Italian Teacher

Atul Gawande Being Mortal

K. Emma Ng Old Asian, New Asian

Vincent O’Sullivan All This By Chance

Lucy Mangan Bookworm:  A Memoir of Childhood Reading

Janice Y K Lee The Expatriates

Clare Morrall The Man Who Disappeared

Richard Flanagan The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Jane Alison The Sisters Antipodes

Shirley Hazzard The Great Fire

David Nicholls Sweet Sorrow

C K Stead All Visitors Ashore

Patrick Gale Take Nothing with You

Kate Atkinson Transcription

William Boyd Love is Blind

Sebastian Faulks Paris Echo

J G Ballard Miracles of Life

Donna Leon Unto Us a Son is Given

Sarah Perry Melmoth

Adam Kay This is Going to Hurt

Stella Rimington The Moscow Sleepers

Min Jin Lee Pachinko

Nora Ephron I Remember Nothing

Margaret Forster Is There Anything You Want?

Anna Quindlen Alternate Side

Tana French The Secret Place

Sue Orr The Party Line

Julian Barnes The Only Story

Catherine Robertson What You Wish For

Mick Herron Slow Horses

Kate Atkinson Big Sky

Jonathan Coe Middle England

That makes 52 books read in the year! And I finished the Jonathan Coe novel on New Year’s Eve. It’s not much of an achievement but I feel pleased, particularly in a year when I achieved very little else.

I can point very quickly to the books I wouldn’t bother to read if I were you: Robert Goolrick’s The Dying Light was banal and badly written and The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village is not worth even the effort to takes to read something light. It is indeed lightweight and some of the contrived malapropisms attributed to the main character are cringe-worthy.

I am hard pressed to decide on the best novel from this list. Barbara Kingsolver’s did not disappoint though I wouldn’t say it was her best novel. For me, that is The Lacuna.  And I raced through and thoroughly enjoyed Anna Quindlen’s latest novel. Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko is unlike anything else I’ve read. It’s written in a deceptively simple style and the plot is complex and fascinating. However, I nominate The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard as the best novel I read this year – it is beautifully written, to the point where one finds oneself reading passages several times just for the joy of it, and the development of the characters and the plot is subtle and absorbing. A close second is Sweet Sorrow, which I enjoyed much more than I was expecting to. I read an interview with David Nicholls in which he said “Decide the effect you want to have on an audience and then do everything you can to achieve it … without being hokey or sentimental or predictable or mawkish” and he achieves that in a coming-of-age novel based around a production of Romeo and Juliet, which is quite a feat!

The best non-fiction I read this year includes Bad Blood, which is an account of meteoric rise and fall of the company called Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes. John Carreyrou is a Wall Street Journal reporter but this reads like a page-turning thriller. I also loved Mad World, which is Paula Byrne’s account of the world in which Evelyn Waugh conceived Brideshead Revisited. But the best non-fiction I read this year was Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading. If you, like me, have always been a bookworm and remember your earlier reading days with fondness, then you will enjoy this too. It made me laugh out loud, brought tears to my eyes and gave me hours of bliss. Lucy Mangan says, “The intensity of childhood reading, the instant and complete absorption in a book – a good book, a bad book, in any kind of book – is something I would give much to recapture” and reading her memoir, you almost do.

According to My Year in Books on Goodreads, I read a total of 15,229 pages during 2019, with the shortest book being 88 pages and the longest 635 pages. The most popular of the books I read was Pachinko, along with 159,537 other Goodreads readers, and least popular The Expatriates, which was read by only 14 other Goodreads readers. Fifty-six percent of the books I read in 2019 were written by female authors and 44 percent by male authors. Sixty-nine percent were novels and 31 percent non-fiction, of which 56 percent were biography and/or memoir.