2019 has been a good reading year for me. I've managed to surpass my reading goal of reading 105 books, and I have used my local library a lot more than in previous years, so while it might not look like it from the state of my bulging bookshelves and piles of books on the counter by the door, I have in fact curbed my book purchasing. As far as the goal of reading at least 45 of my previously purchased unread books has gone, I have lost track of the number but I believe that I got very close! Next year I will increase that number and be somewhat more strict with myself about the number of new books I can bring into the house-- I am even considering bringing back the old rule of not being allowed a new book until I have read ten others. As a side note, Australian writer Stella Glorie (who has just started a great Booktube channel called Thirty Books (latest video linked here), based on the idea that if everyone bought thirty Australian books a year (that's roughly $1000 or the price of a daily cup of coffee) then the Australian publishing industry would be a whole lot more sustainable, so that's something I am going to keep in mind when I decide which books to buy and which to borrow.
Enough preamble! Without imposing any sort of order, here are the books that I loved the most in 2019.
The Night Tiger by Yangzee Choo
A novel with a bit of everything (mystery, magic, romance, history), the story follows Ji Lin who works in a dance hall in Malaysia in the 1930s, and Ren, a houseboy who has been gifted by one doctor to another and tasked with an unusual quest at his new home. There's lots of mythology and drama in this one, and though it's a long book, it's a quick read because you just do not want to put it down. There were a few secrets going on that the author doesn't reveal but for a savvy reader, there are a few things written between the lines for you to discover.
The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett has quickly become one of my new favourite authors after reading State of Wonder for one of my bookclubs and then picking this one up on the recommendation of the Diving In Podcast (a wonderful bookish show based here in Perth!) This is the story of Sabine, who after the death of her husband, Parsifal the Magician, travels to Nebraska to learn the truth of his early life, and to better understand his later life and her own through the eyes of his family. It's moving and tender and smart and I just loved it.
Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone
The story of two men who knew each other as boys and reconnect in North Africa during the Second World War. The prose in this one is just stunning.
The Trespassers by Meg Mundell
A strange tale peopled with compelling characters that busts all expectations of genre. I loved it way more than I thought I would, particularly the interplay between the three narrators.
The Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson
Is it cheating to put a whole series on here? I don't think so and anyway it's my website. 2019 has been, above all else, the year of Kate Atkinson. I have read at least four of her novels in the course of this year and I am in awe of the diversity of styles and genres she can work in. This series is no exception. They aren't your average crime novels (thank goodness for that, my least favourite genre) and I love the way each novel calls back to its predecessors.
Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard
I've been lucky enough to interview Holden twice this year at local libraries, and what makes this book even more special is how generous Holden is with his readers. The story of three young men who are growing up gay in a small West Australian town, the novel is heartbreaking but also funny and smart and rebellious and it is just so incredibly important. One that will bear many re-reads I think. Holden, if you're reading this, I'm so proud of you, you deserve all the success that this novel is bringing.
A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop
Inspired by her own family's experience during the Black Saturday bushfires, A Constant Hum is a series of short stories and flash fictions about fire, peril, family, loss, trauma and healing, and it is incredible reading. Particularly poignant given the devastating bushfires that have happened recently. Perhaps a copy should be sent to Kirribilli House this Christmas.
Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls
I've long loved David Nicholls for his Thomas Hardy adaptations but now I love him for this novel. It's dripping with nostalgia for long hot summers, and explores the curious nature of friendships forged between cast members rehearsing a Shakespeare play, which brought back many memories for me. I got to see David speak at the Subiaco Library this year and it was superb.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
As I was reading this one, I was struck by the sense that it could be happening alongside an older favourite of mine, Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. Gilbert has taken a real deviation from her earlier novels with this one but she's created a sumptuous world and a main character you can't help but want to cheer on.
House of Glass by Susan Fletcher
A little known one here, but beautifully gothic in an almost Daphne DuMaurier like way. I enjoyed this immensely and will now be seeking out more by this author. It's got a link to the war, a crumbling old house, a mysterious inheritance, and a young woman with osteogenesis imperfecta, who has been sheltered from the world for far too long. Just lovely.
The Huntress by Kate Quinn
For anyone who has ever wanted to learn Russian swearwords.
No, but in all seriousness, while I still prefer Kate's previous novel The Alice Network, this novel was a fascinating story about the Russian Night Witches, elite female pilots who were at work during World War Two. It has moments of real humour but the real strength is the relationships on the page.
You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian
Yep, it's the book by the author of 'Cat Person', the short story which went viral last year after it was published online. And if you thought that story was confronting, be prepared, because it's one of the tamest in the book. This one surprised me, because due to the reviews and the fact of my not really liking many American short stories, I'd expected to find it so-so, but it was fabulous.
Here Until August by Josephine Rowe
As a lover of short fiction, my top read of the year in that genre would have to be Josephine Rowe’s incredible collection Here Until August which is a shining example of what Australian short fiction can do and be. From her intense characterisation to her tight control of language, this collection is near perfect and cements Rowe as one of my favourite Australian writers.
Meg Keneally’s fictionalised version of the life of Mary Bryant, her novel Fled saw her step out of the shadow of her literary giant father and announce her arrival as a writer of historical fiction to be reckoned with. I loved this tender portrait of life at the bottom edge of the world for this woman convict so much that I’ve recommended it to everyone I know, and now have a new found respect for stories of this era of Australian history— a period I had previously thought too dull for good historical novels.
So there we have it. And the reading year isn't even over-- it's not even December yet! (One more day, and then, yes I will be putting the Christmas tree up.) . I'm looking forward to long warm days on the outdoor sofa with a book in my hands-- if you've read anything great this year, do let me know in the comments.