2019 in 50 Books

Better late than never, right?

The COVID19 changes to my work plans has given me more time to read and write but way less time to concentrate on doing either of those. So I thought I might as well use the chance to look at the books I read last year and see what I particularly enjoyed!

Although I read a lot, I can rarely remember plot. I often remember characters, and I remember whether I liked or didn’t like something. So, to be true to the reality of this I’ve included only a short review as I wrote it on my Instagram last year (unless I really loved it and insist you should read it).

Here we go. Hope you enjoy!

1 – Ken Liu: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories: Marvellous fantastical short stories.

2 – Antoine de Saint-Exupery: The Little Prince: Always beautiful.

3 – Jacqui L’Ange: The Seed Thief: Magical! Full of lore and passion and plants and food and adventure. Had me hungry and lusting for travel. I also love books that make you want to learn about something else and this book had me googling plants and looking up gods and goddesses. Loved it!

4 – Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire: I haven’t read a book in a single sitting for ages. Started this at 10pm last night and couldn’t stop reading. Spectacular and devastating.

5 – Alain de Botton: The Course of Love: Loved this and feel grateful for its lessons. Anyone who is or has been in a relationship should read it.

6 – Penguin Moderns: Albert Camus: Create Dangerously: Very cool essays from Camus.

7 – Nic Sheff: Tweak: I watched the film ‘Beautiful Boy’ last week and it was so haunting and sad. This is the other memoir that the film is based on. It’s visceral and dark but ultimately hopeful.

8 – Sarah Knight: The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k: A few useful things but overall a bit smarmy and self indulgent I thought.

9 – Binyavanga Wainana: One Day I Will Write About This Place: Set in Kenya but really set in the writer. A memoir about loving a difficult complicated country, always wanting it to do better – to optimize the potential that’s so obvious to you. I could relate. At times very funny and at times very sad. Wainana passed away last year – a huge loss for the literary community.

10 – Jeanette Winterson: Oranges are not the Only Fruit: The fictional account of a childhood that needed surviving. Looking forward to reading the memoir soon.

11 – Claire Dederer: Poser: The memoir of ten years of yoga practice and all the flexibility of heart and mind that comes with it. Made me want to visit the coastline near Seattle, write more, and do more yoga that is less about the abs and hot pants and more about the heart.

12 – Jeanette Winterson: Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal: This was incredible. Beautiful writing that I feel grateful to have read. ‘Creativity is on the side of health — it isn’t the thing that drives us mad; it is the capacity in us that tries to save us from madness.’ This memoir is so sad and wonderful and emotional. She writes with a clarity of voice and prose that is astounding.

13 – David Sedaris: Naked: Some of this I loved and laughed out loud, some I reflected on how much one person can notice, others I was repulsed at how humour still gets away with so much prejudice, and other parts I felt sad, for the unsaid, the hidden.

14 – A.M. Homes: May We Be Forgiven: The story is gripping right from the beginning, and then the characters grip you too. Very dark and strange. South Africa appears in the story too – villages and game farms and highjacking (is this what the outside thinks is here?) Really enjoyed the writing.

15 – Beneath the Skin: Great Writers on the body: Picked this up on a whim at Kalk Bay Books and it is lovely. Thoughtful, beautifully written essays on various parts of the body. Appendix was my favorite I think, and then nose.

16 – Penguin Moderns: Audre Lorde: The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House: Amazing amazing amazing. 🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌👏👏👏👏👏👏💪💪💪💪💪

17 – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: Good Omens: Laughed out loud a lot. Particularly loved the four hoursemen.

18 – Sara-Jayne King: Killing Karoline: Hard reading. Brave writing.

19 – June Eric-Udorie: Can We All Be Feminists? Fresh writing, lots of new and young voices. (Oh, and obvs the answer is – YES! Please and thank you).

20 – Kirsten Miller: The Hum of the Sun: A story of family and love and understanding. At times sparse and other times lyrical. A lovely read.

21 – Sarah Winman: Tin Man: So beautiful. A good cry at the end.

22 – Margaret Atwood: The Penelopiad.  Just finished her MasterClass and it was nice to hear this in her voice and dry humour.

23 – Amy Chua: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. This was great! I laughed so much. So much compassion and gratitude for the moms out there just doing what they believe is right. 

24 – Tessa Hadley: The Past: Wonderful and immersive. Thick rich characters.

25 – Lauren Groff: Fates and Furies: Loved this book. Such a fun use of form and style. The characters were rich and captivating and complex. Will think of Lotto and Mathilde often.

26 – Stephen Pinker, Matt Ridley, Alain de Botton, Malcolm Gladwell: Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead? Transcript of the Munk Debate. Pleasing combo – only Gladwell commented on the fact that no women were involved. Think it would have covered different ground if there had been.

27 – Claire Fuller: Bitter Orange: An interesting and creepy plot, but a bit drawn out and a few too many architectural references to be my cup of tea.

28 – Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath: Loved this. Talented talented writer making complex connections so simple.

29 – Naomi Alderman: Disobedience: I found it strange, interesting, a little sad. Peculiar self-destructive characters that felt very real.

30 – Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go: I loved this story when I saw the film a few years ago, and it was still wonderful to read all these years later

31 – Albert Camus: The Stranger (L’etranger): It is a strange book but somehow compelling. You can’t quite believe it’s all happening to him – how life seems to happen to him rather than him living. Odd.

32 – Esther Perel: The State of Affairs: I could read Esther Perel every day. She’s so frank and honest and practical. A powerful look at what infidelity says about our ideas of fidelity, of love, of power in relationships. Highly recommend!

33 – Nicole Dennis-Benn: Here Comes the Sun: Absolutely loved this. Powerful characters, powerful plot. A reflection on destiny and free will.

34 – Dominique Botha: False River: Beautiful lyrical writing. Like being in a time machine in some parts. All the prizes were very well deserved.

35 – Meg Wolitzer: The Female Persuasion: Wolfed this down. Loved it.

36 – Greta Thunberg: No One is Too Small to Make a Difference: A collection of her speeches from the last six months. Amazing inspiring climate activist. Key message – we have to start now, stop making excuses, listen to the science, and reduce our carbon. 💪

37 – Margaret Atwood: The Testaments: So great to be back in the story in the written form. Pacy, thrilling, clever 👌

38 – Makhosana Xaba: Running and Other Stories: Running was so powerful.

39 – Tara Westover: Educated: Breathtaking. Couldn’t put it down.

40 – Judy Klipin: Recover from Burnout: Such useful ideas, tips, exercises. Extremely valuable read 💪

41 – Matthew Walker: Why We Sleep. The irony of finishing this book while sleep deprived on a red-eye flight is not lost on me. Very interesting read. Key message: sleep as much of you can and your life, health, and productivity will all improve

42 – Sally Rooney: Normal People: Adored this. Started it yesterday on my lunch break and read til the wee hours last night and finished it tonight. So many true things expressed so simply. And the author was born in 1991, which makes me feel very inspired.

43 – Lisa Taddeo: Three Women: Marvellous. True life told so beautifully. So much to think about sex and power and love and gender. Will have to come back and reread. 👌👌

44 – Roxane Gay: Not That Bad: This collection was incredible, extremely difficult to read, and so full of truth.

45 – Louis Sachar: Holes: A young adult book I started reading with some kids I read to. Not what I normally read but I enjoyed it, especially the friendship between the boys.

46 – Amy Heydenrych: Shame On You: Pacey thriller that was quick to read and had a great ending!

47 – Pat Barker: The Silence of the Girls: The story of the women in the Iliad and what they endured. In telling a story about women Barker has also told a story about men and their dangerous pride.

48 – Penguin Moderns: Anais Nin: The Veiled Woman: Saucy short stories 👌

49 – Malcolm Gladwell: What the Dog Saw: I love listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasts and now that I’ve heard him so much I hear him when I read him. It imbues his books with a childlike enthusiasm for the world. He always reminds listeners/readers to be more curious and to ask more questions. Enjoyed this a lot, especially the piece about Late Bloomers (there is still time everyone!)

50 – T.S. Eliot: Points of View: T.S. Eliot on literary criticism, poetry, and other poets. Most of it written before 1935. I thought the bits on literary criticism were still relevant today.