Sunday, December 15, 2019

Our Books of the Year 2019

The annual selection of books published in either hardback or paperback for the first time this year.

(Here is our 10th annual round-up of Books of the Year lists from lots of publications).

Book of the Year
Robert Macfarlane: Underland: a Deep Time Journey. Macfarlane is simply one of the best writers working today, and this immense achievement shows again how close he is to the most important issue of our time.


  • Joseph O'Connor: Shadowplay. Light of touch, richly-patterned, this fictional treatment of Bram Stoker and his friends Henry Irving and Ellen Terry is tremendously enjoyable.
  • Rachel Cusk: Kudos. The completion of the Transit trilogy confirms Cusk as one of the most interesting novelists working today.
  • Jonathan Coe: Middle England. Everything Coe writes is enjoyable. This hits the spot right now, during the psychological seizure that is Brexit.
  • Sinéad Gleeson: Constellations. Essay collection of the year: fascinating meditations and accounts of a wide variety of subjects, the most important of which is the female body.
  • Rachel Cusk: Coventry. Cusk makes the list twice: the first few essays in this collection are characteristically edgy.
  • Patrick Radden Keefe: Say Nothing: a true story of murder and memory in Northern Ireland reminds us of a terrible time in our history, weaving together the story of the era with the story of the murder of Jean McConville.
  • Laura Cumming: On Chapel Sands: my mother and other missing persons. Cumming unpicks the truth behind her family's history. The end is seriously moving.
  • Fiona Benson: Vertigo & Ghost. Poetry book of the year - a savage achievement, particularly in the first-half 'Zeus' poems.
  • Robert Caro: Working. While we all await the fifth-volume completion of the LBJ project, surely the greatest achievement in biographical history, this selection of essays about Caro writes just about keeps us junkies going.
  • Bart Van Es: The Cut-Out Girl: a story of war and family, lost and found. Deserved winner of the Costa Prize, this examines the Jewish experience in the Netherlands in the Second World War (and after) beautifully.
Education books

  • Tom Sherrington: The Learning Rainforest Fieldbook has case studies from the UK and around the world' is a rich and fascinating series of insights into schools, unexpectedly moving in its accounts of children and teachers determined to learn. We declare an interest (see pages 58-61). Add also to this Sherrington's hugely successful short book, Rosenshine's Principles in Action.
  • Both of Tom Sherrington's books are illustrated by Oliver Caviglioli, whose Dual Coding for Teachers has made big waves in the teaching world. It's not surprising that his work is so popular now: in a world of clutter and poor design, it's beautifully clear and purposeful.
  • Inventing Ourselves: the secret life of the teenage brain by Sarah-Jane Blakemore  is essential for all teachers of teenagers (parents, too). Deeply rooted in evidence (Blakemore is Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Cambridge University) it tells beautifully clearly the story of what is going on in that mysterious world.
  • David Didau: Making Kids Cleverer: a manifesto for closing the advantage gap. Didau always argues tightly, and this is no exception. He examines questions of nature and nurture, and the always tricky subject of 'intelligence', and what we can do to give all children the best foundation possible.
  • Meghan Cox Gurdon: The Enchanted Hour: the miraculous power of reading aloud in the age of distraction. This convincingly makes the case for the enduring significance of reading aloud to both children and adults (even more so nowadays given the demands on our attention).
  • Finally, two English teaching books previously recommended here, which provide lots of excellent material for those of us in the profession: How To Teach English by Chris Curtis is terrific on the granular detail of improving the quality of pupils' writing, 
  • How to Teach English Literature: overcoming cultural poverty by Jennifer Webb is also excellent on helpful approaches to literary texts.


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