Thursday, January 2, 2020

The best books I read in 2019

Yesterday I crunched the numbers for the 61 books I read in 2019 and how I did with my reading targets.

Today, it's time to look at the books I enjoyed the most.

You can find similar lists for previous years here: 2018, 2017, (let's not speak of 2015 or 2016), 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.

Boom - there's your best of the decade list right there.

In scanning through those best reads posts just now, some books have stuck with me more than others and I'd rejig there orders, but there's a lot of books I love on there.

Here's to another decade of great books!

Okay, here's my list for 2019:

#1 How to be Both by Ali Smith

What I said about it in November:
Loved it... even more than I liked Autumn, which was in my top ten a couple of years back. It pushed a lot of buttons for me: it's about (partly) art and artists; narrative invention; a sense of whimsy without being flippant... Stuff it in my veins!

#2 The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

What I said about it in December:
The combination of David Attenborough's narration, Baker's en pointe nature writing and the avian subject matter... och!

#3 Feeld by Jos Charles

This was my favourite poetry collection I read in 2019. I stick to 6-word reviews for poetry collections, coz I'm a bastard, and this is what I wrote in December:
Brain re-wiring, trans Chaucer nature writing.

#4 There There by Tommy Orange

What I said about it in May:
Wow. I loved this.
...I was still like: How's he gonna land this plane?
And he fucking does!
There's so much heart in here it's easy to overlook the head required to corral so many moving parts.

#5 A Death in the Family (My Struggle Book 1) by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This is my annual multi-book fudge, as I read Books 1 and 2 this year and loved them both. Book 1 edges Book 2 because it felt more radical. I enjoyed Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet in 2017, but My Struggle is just extra. 

Here's what I said about Book 1 in February:
So I've finally got around to reading Knausgaard. I resisted because did I really need to read the inner workings of another white male writer? But golly, is it good. It had me thinking about life (and Life) and writing almost constantly.

And here's what I said about Book 2 in April:
Book 1 hooked me with its obsession with death, particularly the death of a father, and the brutal honesty (or the convincing facsimile of brutal honesty) of being a writer.
Book 2, as the title suggests, is more concerned with romance and what comes on its heels (in Knausgaard's eyes: the emasculating labour of the modern father), and the challenges of balancing family and writing, doled out with equal depth and brutality. So, again, it spoke to me...

#6 Normal People by Sally Rooney

What I said about it in February:

Yeah, so, this deserves the hype. And the fact Will Self can't see it? Even better.
...despite the fact Rooney's characters are a decade younger, there was a lot that cut close to the bone.

#7 The Angel's Cut by Elizabeth Knox

What I said about it in June:
It only took me ten years to get around to reading the sequel to The Vintner's Luck but boy howdee this was good.
It sent me scrambling for reasons for how a sequel could be this good. Like, it helps when the main character doesn't age, so the sequel can take place at any time or place that takes your fancy up until the present day... but it still takes a massive amount of  skill to pull off!

#8 Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter

What I said about it in December:
I was partway through this book when I did a wee "fave books" thing for the NZ Women's Weekly. I said: "I’m also loving my current read: Shayne Carter’s Dead People I Have Known, which struts and sneers and sulks like a great rock memoir should."
I meted out the remaining chapters, in part because it was such good fun, but also because there's a lot of darkness and loss in the book.

#9 An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira

What I said about it in May:
There's a particular kind of story that suits the level of compression and focus required to make it feel bigger than a short story but not leave you wanting more. The title of Aira's 2000 novel, translated by Chris Andrews and published by New Directions in 2006, tells you a lot about how this one works.

#10 Basketball & Other Things by Shea Serrano

What I said about it in July:
Like the slow food revolution for NBA-heads. A wormhole back to the not-too-distant-past when you had to take some of these feats on faith, until the VHS arrived with the proof.
It helped reduce my screen time and open windows into a more creative application of my own NBA addiction.

#11 Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

What I said about it in December:
...Would I have got more out of any of these stories if they were blown up to four-times their length so I could spend more time with the characters? No.
Give me the bare essentials rather than bloat.
Give me four high concepts for the price of one.
Give me the hack to ensure my toaster can brown whatever the fuck I want.

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