2019: My Year in Books

Another year done, another bunch of words written, another pile of books read.

My writing life is still slow enough that it doesn’t warrant an end-of-year post on its own. My two highlights of the year were:

  • My novella-in-flash AT THE BOTTOM OF THE STAIRS being shortlisted for the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award.
  • My story EXCHANGE RATE being published by Ellipsis, and then going on to be selected as one of the BIFFY50 (the top 50 pieces of British and Irish flash fiction of the year)

I’ve spent much of the year building on my novella and I hope to complete it in 2020. After five and a half years parenting full-time, both my boys are now at school and I am enjoying getting some more hours of writing in. I am hopeful of a productive start to the next decade (in between school holidays, tummy bugs, parent craft afternoons, school assemblies etc….)

Now on to the good stuff… I have read 33 books this year. I always read quite a wide range but this year was particularly broad. I’ll get on to the novels in a minute, but I read several collections of short and flash fictions, and even one collection of short plays (oooooh, fancy!), plus a novella-in-flash or two. I often don’t find collections that compelling but there were several I LOVED this year. So a little shout out to:

  • BUSINESS AS USUAL - Gaynor Jones (flash fiction)
  • WE LIVE IN THE DEAD END - Simon Webster (connected short stories)
  • ELSEWHERE, HOME - Leila Aboulela (short stories)
  • NOCTURNES - Kazuo Ishiguro (short stories)
  • BOTTLED GOODS - Sophie Van Llewyn (novella-in-flash, rightly longlisted for the Women’s Prize!)

I also read some fabulous non-fiction, including WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES by my favourite essayist, David Sedaris, SOME KIDS I TAUGHT AND WHAT THEY TAUGHT ME by Kate Clanchy ,and the heartbreaking, must-read memoir of a dying doctor, WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanathi. All brilliant.

On to the novels. In chronological order:

  1. BLAME - Jeff Abbot
  3. EDITH’S DIARY - Patricia Highsmith
  4. APPLE AND RAIN - Sarah Crossan
  5. SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE - Sarah Schmidt
  8. KIM - Rudyard Kipling
  9. THE WATER CURE - Sophie Mackintosh
  10. COMING FROM BEHIND - Howard Jacobson
  11. THE SECRET ADVERSARY - Agatha Christie
  12. HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW? - Holly Bourne
  13. THE EYRE AFFAIR - Jasper Fforde
  14. MOONRISE - Sarah Crossan
  15. THE POISONWOOD BIBLE - Barbara Kingsolver
  17. POSTERN OF FATE - Agatha Christie
  18. US - David Nicholls
  19. THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD - Agatha Christie
  20. HEART OF DARKNESS - Joseph Conrad
  21. DEATH COMES AS THE END - Agatha Christie
  22. WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT - Sarah Winman

Of these, I wasn’t too keen on KIM, but the only ones I actively dislike were POSTERN OF FATE and HEART OF DARKNESS. I have been trying to catch up with the Agatha Christie books I don’t already know, but I’m sad I read POSTERN. It was rambling, repetitve and confused. It was also her last book - probably written when she had early-stage dementia. It’s interesting that a book about central Africa should be my other least-favourite because my book of the year was also set there and about colonialism and missionaries and all sorts of other things I would never have thought I’d enjoy reading about…

My Novel of the Year: THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver. So breath-takingly beautiful, I literally had to stop and let some sentences sink in. Interesting and devastating and brilliant.

Second place goes to MOONRISE by Sarah Crossan. I love Sarah Crossan’s free-verse style books. They are so raw and moving and simple. As somebody who campaigns against the death penalty, I found this horrific and gripping and very human.

My top three is rounded off by OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS by Claire Fuller. It is a tense, claustrophobic, psychological drama, but not a typical crime or horror book. It has a brilliant premise and is carried out so, so well.

Honourable mentions to THE WATER CURE, US, and WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT. (And if we were including all my reads in the awards, then WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR would probably be in the Top 3, and BOTTLED GOODS an honourable mention.)

There we have it. I have a very exciting pile of books waiting to be read in 2020. What were your top reads of this year?