Saturday, December 07, 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.
  • 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?)
  • 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').
  • 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).

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