Monday, December 16, 2019

Books of 2019

And we're off: our (amazingly) 10th annual popular post of books of the year as they feature in the press (excluding pay-walled material, such as the London Times and Sunday Times, Financial Times, and Telegraph) and on some blogs. This is a selective list of what we judge the highest-quality lists: if you want almost everything that moves, check out Largehearted Boy.

The list will be updated pretty well daily up to Christmas.

Previous lists are here: 2010201120122013201420152016, 2017 and 2018.
  • The Irish Times selection includes choices by Sinéad Gleeson, author of one of our own books of the year, Constellations (the interesting Annie Ernaux's Happening, and the spectacular Underland by Robert Macfarlane), Joseph O'Connor, author of another of our choices, Shadowplay (including Sarah Davis-Goff's Last Ones Left Alive) and Diarmaid Ferriter (Shadowplay itself, as well as the final volume of Charles Moore's excellent biography of Margaret Thatcher, and the great William Trevor's Last Stories).
  • The outstanding Five Books site has lots of recommendations (gathered here) by superbly-qualified writers, such as Nigel Warburton's Best Philosophy Books of 2019, Best Non-Fiction Books by the editor of the TLS, Stig Abell, and Best Poetry to Read in 2019 by Jamie McKendrick (though we're wondering where Fiona Benson is).
  • The Guardian has a lot of selections, starting with their own critics, with categories like Fiction, Crime & Thrillers, SF & Fantasy, Graphic, Poetry, Children, and more, as well as well-known writers, starting with Booker winner Bernardine Evaristo (including The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins) and further down top thriller-writer Lee Child noting the departure of the great Toni Morrison by choosing her The Source of Self-Regard. Here are best children's books for all ages ('titles about mental health and emotions are everywhere', which is sad, but Chris Riddell's Poems to Fall in Love with is 'a stupendously well-chosen, feelgood anthology in which even feel-bad poems feel good.' On the same site have a look at the Observer's choice of graphic novels
  • Still with The Guardian, one of the most enjoyable features every year is their readers' choice (free of log-rolling). Magrat123 recommends Deborah Moggach's novel The Carer: 'it should generate discussion about parents and children, relations between men and women, social expectations and obligations, keeping secrets and telling the truth.'
  • The Times Literary Supplement podcast on Books of the Year hosted by Stig Abell is here, discussing this list (as mentioned, not so 'international' as in the past, when foreign languages were everywhere, and the more common titles elsewhere aren't prominent here). Ones to look forward to: Bernard O'Donoghue's Poetry: a very short introduction, and Richard Davenport-Hines: "Richard Bassett’s memoir Last Days in Old Europe (Allen Lane) gives lessons in how to cope with political vandalism, social estrangement and the entrapping tombs of our time."
  • In the New Yorker, Katy Waldman's Best Books of 2019 includes Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (good title?). Their Non-Fiction selection includes David Wallace-Wells's The Uninhabitable Earth, called by some the scariest and most important work this year.
  • In The Gloss, Sophie Grenham recommends Ten of the Best Irish Novels to Give this Christmas: it's been a fine year, but let's pick out a less-noticed book, Doreen Finn's novel Night Swimming: 'If ever there was a novel that encapsulates a season, it’s this one. A perfect snapshot of childhood during the summer of 1976 in Dublin, you can actually feel the sun splitting the stones.'
  • The New York Times's famous feature, 100 Notable Books in 2019 includes Lucy Ellmann's much-noticed mammoth Ducks, Newburyport, and the amazing Edna O'Brien's latest novel, Girl ('immensely painful to read'). Also, 26 best art books.
  • The New York Times podcast discusses 10 books of the year (and nine additional ones), including Irishman Kevin Barry's Night Boat to Tangier ('a dark, witty take on Waiting for Godot').
  • The New York Public Library has, perhaps not surprisingly, a great list, in several categories: teen fiction includes Bill Konigsberg's The Music of What Happens, a well-received YA novel about two teenage boys' love.
  • Esquire's Best Books of 2019 (so far) includes a novel on many lists, Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys (The Underground Railroad appeared on our own list a while ago) and Arias, a new collection by that wonderful poet, Sharon Olds.
  • John Wilson's annual Year of Reading is thoughtful, including the Selected Letters of the great novelist Ralph Ellison. 
  • Quill and Quire from Canada has its Editors' Picks, include Sonnet L'Abbé's Sonnet's Shakespeare, in which she 'overwrites each of Shakespeare’s sonnets, submerging the originals in meditations on Indigenous justice, sexual assault, climate change, David Bowie, and Prince', which is pretty ambitious.
  • The Spectator's selections are always worth checking out, and this year come in two tranches. In Part 1 Sara Wheeler recommends Alice Oswald's Nobody which is 'perfect for a bedtime read' (seems odd for that particular poet) while in Part 2 Douglas Murray goes back to the reissue of R.C. Sherriff's excellent The Hopkins Manuscript (nothing to do with the poet)
  • The American Spectator selection includes Stephen Bayley, who goes for Ian Sansom's September 1, 1939: a biography of a poem, a 'fanatically detailed investigation of the W.H. Auden poem' which in the end is 'unforgettable.'
  • Smithsonian Scholars make their choices here with a list that concentrates on history, geography and science. One novel that makes its way in is Marie Benedict's The Only Woman in the Room, a fictionalised treatment of the life of Hedy Lamarr, and 'an important reminder, even today, that femininity does not preclude a person from having strength of will or brilliance' in the words of Danielle Hall.
  • GQ Magazine's selection includes New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe's Say Nothing: a true story of memory and murder in Northern Ireland, a work which delves into the culture of Belfast in the Troubles, unpicking the background to the murder of Jean McConville: it's a devastatingly sad reminder of what we faced not so long ago.
  • Slate magazine has a choice by its books editor, Dan Kois: Limbo by Dan Fox, a selection of short essays from the excellent Fitzcarraldo Editions looks interesting. In her selection, critic Laura Miller goes for many we'd second, including Underland, Say Nothing and Normal People.
  • The Washington Post's 'Best Books of 2019' include Say Nothing (see above), and there are also lots in the categories Thrillers and Mysteries, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Children, Poetry, Fiction, Non-Fiction and Audiobooks (via the same link above). To pick out one from Children, the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye has There Is No Distance Now in which a 'series of semi-connected (very) short stories explore the influence of class, ethnicity, war, peace, life and death on our daily lives, through the eyes of characters who are both three-dimensional and deeply universal.'
  • Time magazine has 10 Best YA and Children's Books (including the lovely work of Oliver Jeffers), 10 Best Non-Fiction Books (including the great Underland) and 10 Best Fiction Books (including unsurprisingly Margaret Attwood's The Testaments).
  • The Toronto Star has various categories, starting with its overall Best Books of the Year, Part 1: the great nature-writer Barry Lopez features with his new book, Horizon.
  • For NPR, Maureen Corrigan's '10 Unputdownable Reads' include new new 'gorgeous and devastating' novel from Ann Patchett, The Dutch House.
  • Powell's City of Books Best Kids and Young Adult selection is one of their several lists.
  • History Today has a high-quality list. Kathleen Burk chooses the great Robert Caro's Working (a mere couple of hundred pages as we all wait for the final volume of the LBJ biography, and very enjoyable too). Jessie Childs calls Tom Holland's acclaimed Dominion: the making of the Western mind 'the most intellectually stimulating book I've read all year", and Helen Parr goes for Robert Saunders's Yes to Europe! on the previous 'Brexit' referendum of 1975, when we saw ' a British society alert to the devastation nationalism could bring, and anxious of economic disruption.' Hmm.
  • Foyles Books of the Year: Katherine Rundell's The Good Thieves sounds great (the children's winner). 
  • A new one to us, but providing an interestingly different perspective: The Beijinger in its review of the year is perfect for anyone visiting  or wanting to know more about China. Under Red Skies, a multi-generational memoir by Chinese writer and former New York Times researcher Karoline Kan, sounds promising.
  • Constance Grady in Vox gives her favourite 15 books of the year and the uniquitous Sally Rooney is there with Normal People.
  • David Didau has a rich selection on The Learning Spy, including Tom Holland's much-noticed Dominium and Lucy Mangan's Bookworm: a Memoir of Childhood Reading (mention here of the wonderful The Phantom Tollbooth).
  • The Millions has one of the most comprehensive collections around each year,  and the 2019 version has over 90 contributors on their way. Nick Ripatratzone, for example, often writes interestingly.
  • Sinéad Crowley from RTÉ starts with mentioned the BorrowBox app for Irish libraries (including audiobooks). Her crime novel of the year was by the successful Australian writer Jane Harper, The Lost Man, another by this author in which the environment features powerfully. 
  • Not surprisingly, the School Library Journal has some of the best-informed recommendations each year, and this year there are categories such as Picture Books, Transitional Chapter Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, Graphic and Non-Fiction. And a special feature - you can download the whole lot as a colour PDF for printing-out.
  • The Belfast Telegraph gives us best books by Northern Ireland writers, from Damien Smyth. We can endorse David Park's short A Run in the Park.  
  • And Largehearted Boy himself (David Gutowski) has chosen his best 11 novels of the year, including Lanny by Max Porter, 'a fable for our time'. 
  • The BBC History Magazine presents 37 books from 11 historians. Susannah Lipscomb goes for Jack Fairweather’s The Volunteer: The True Story of the Resistance Hero Who Infiltrated Auschwitz, which 'tells the astonishing story of underground operative Witold Pilecki, who chose to be imprisoned in Auschwitz in order to uncover what was happening there.'
  • The GoodReads Choice awards round up the best 20 books this year according to their readers, with unsurprisingly Margaret Atwood's (shared) Booker winner The Testaments heading the list.  
  • Jeffrey Brown of PBS has a fine selection of 29 books. Kevin Barry, Ann Patchett and Robert Macfarlane are here. For a different name, there's Jericho Brown with The Tradition, 'Poetry that engages history and today’s front page, in lyrical language that moves quietly and then lands with a punch. Brown’s is a tough and tender voice.'
  • The New European has both the best and the worst books of the year, from Charlie Connelly, the biggest disappointment for him being Ian McEwan's The Cockroach (sad to see how poor McEwan has become in recent years).
  • In the Wall Street Journal, Meghan Cox Gurdon, author of one of our own selections, The Enchanted Hour, gives us the Best Children's Books of the year, and they have lots of other categories too. 
  • Turn to Polygon for the best science fiction and fantasy books of the year. Sarah Gailey's Magic for Liars, set in a 'magical high school', sounds fun.  
  • iNews has Christmas present choices from the best books of the year, with Crime represented by the excellent Attica Locke and Heaven, My Home.
  • Newsroom from New Zealand has Best Kids' Books of the Year, including local ones. Best title goes to Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?
  • The Skinny's Books of 2019 goes for Books of the Year and Honourable Mentions. Hallie Rubenhold's The Five; the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper is getting tremendous reviews, and is here chosen by Rebecca Wojturska.
  • The English and Media Centre Christmas list is always good (unsurprisingly). Annexed by Sharon Doggar reimagines the Anne Frank story through the eyes of 'Peter', and another YA novel, Toffee by Sarah Crossan, also sounds interesting.
  • The Paris Review contributors are always on the 'high end' of recommendations, and this year is no different.
  • ABC News has the Best 24 LGBTQ books, from Lambda Literary (just a list, without comments).
  • The Quietus Best Fiction & Non-Fiction includes in the former category Deborah Levy (great cover for The Man Who Saw Everything), and in the latter Joe Thompson's Sleevenotes ('core curriculum reading for those just embarking on the path of rock music today'.)
  • On RTÉ Damien O'Meara selects the Best Sports Books, starting with Richie Sadlier's Recovering ('the bravest book I've read in a long time').
  • The Big Issue magazine has Kids' Books of 2019, including The Fate of Fausto by the great Oliver Jeffers.
  • Rick O'Shea from RTÉ has made his selection of 30, including Kevin Barry's novel Night Boat to Tangier ('probably the best book I've read this year') and E.M. Reapy's Skin (criminally overlooked this year').
  • Vanity Fair's choice by Phoebe Williams includes The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (great cover), which sounds really good.

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