My year in books
I have a memory like a goldfish, so when I finish a book I always write about it in my reading journal.
I try to capture the feelings it has provoked, note down big ideas or simply quote a beautiful line of prose. I fear that if I don’t make these scribbles right away, the book will float straight out of my head and I’ll forget I’ve ever read it.
Now, flicking back through my journal for 2019 feels like looking through an old photo album; each book title sparks a nudge of familiarity, a crinkle of humour or a wistful rush of nostalgia.
I’m pleased at how much ground I have covered this year. I chomp through roughly two books a month. Not exactly speedy-reading, but satisfying for someone with children and work filling all corners of her days. If you struggle to find time to read, I’m happy to share my secret: I shamelessly include Audible books in this list. I listen in the car or drift away whilst ironing. But here’s a tip: not all books work well on Audible. A memoir narrated by the author is perfect (try Michelle Obama, Becoming), but maybe save the historical novels for print.
So, having foraged through my journal pages, here it is. A pithy list of my favourite reads of 2019. Some strong themes have emerged, because I let each book lead me to the next.
I hope you’ll try some of these books in 2020. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve already read any of them, or I’ve missed fabulous must-reads for next year.
Happy New Year, and may your To Read pile always be in danger of toppling.
Childhood, parents, growing up and taking control.
Educated, Tara Westover. So intelligently and beautifully told. A favourite. Highly recommend.
Low Born, Kerry Hudson. Revealing and raw on childhood poverty.
Another Planet, Tracey Thorn. Creativity breaking free from stifling 1970s suburbia.
Everybody Died so I got a Dog, Emily Dean. Amusing and deeply moving tale of a bohemian London family.
The Life & Times of a Very British Man, Kamal Ahmed. Race, identity and home. Complex and honest.
Part of a universal language of literature.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood. Never watched it, now I’ve read it. MA is my new crush.
Love in a Cold Climate, Nancy Mitford. Witty, glamorous escapism.
The End of the Affair, Graham Greene. Breathtaking, poetic. Intriguing religious themes.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Snatched from my son’s school bag.
Stuff they didn’t teach me at the convent.
How was it for you? Virginia Nicholson. Highly researched stories from our mothers’ era.
Bloody Brilliant Women, Cathy Newman. The deeper you dig, the more awesome women crop up.
Work like a Woman, Mary Portas. A manifesto for long-overdue change in the workplace.
Seen through the eyes of journalists.
In Extremis, Linsey Hilsum. The astounding life of war correspondent Marie Colvin.
Airhead, Emily Maitlis. Behind the scenes and out of control with Emily. Fun and insightful.
Why we get the Wrong Politicians, Isabel Hardman. Spare a thought for your MP. Would you do the job?
Prisoners of Geography, Tim Marshall. Suddenly geo-politics makes sense. Love this so much.
Selfie, Will Storr. The post-war rise in individualism and the unrealistic pressure to succeed.
A chance to simply fly away.
One Day, David Nicholls. A flashback to my youth, beautifully crafted and poignant.
The Testaments, Margaret Atwood. Gripping, fluid writing. Worth the wait.
Because of the Lockwoods, Dorothy Whipple. As deliciously appealing as the author’s name.
The Confession, Jessie Burton. Beautiful, flawed characters intertwine.
Normal People, Sally Rooney. Entertaining writing that made me feel old.