The annual round-up!
Four years of reading!
In 2019, I gave myself a range of 144-150 books to read. I managed to read 149 books, falling short of my 150 goal but solidly within the 12 books a month/3 books a week timetable. So I’m counting that as a win.
Over the last four years, I’ve read around 610 books, averaging about 152 books a year.
I don’t see a pattern from month to month, except for a spike around May/June and December – most probably related to wanting to reach my reading goal to be honest! Hahah. Possibly the dips in April and Nov are related to exam periods at UBD, during which time I’m significantly busier with work.
Keeping the pattern of favouring female authors over male ones, by a ratio of approximately 1:8.
And in terms of genre!
I’m surprised – I’ve read a lot less romance (24???) and thriller (10!!!) than I thought I had. I haven’t done a proper genre breakdown in previous years, so it may be something to keep track of this year. I often use thrillers as ways of jumpstarting myself out of slow reading periods, so I was under the impression I’d read more than 10, but numbers don’t lie.
I am happy to have read more short story collections and graphic novels, and both the play/play collections I read were excellent – Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and Volume 3 of Alfian Sa’at’s Collected Plays.
I totally gave up on tracking expenditure after May 2019, so I’m just going to extrapolate from that period. Up till May, I’d spent 984BND on books, so that works out to around 2361BND in the year. This tallies with my 2018 figure of 2500BND for the year.
In conclusion, books are expensive, and I could stand to cut down.
Top Ten Fiction Reads of 2019 (no particular order)
Seanan McGuire The Wayward Children series – I started 2019 with Seanan McGuire and loved this series about children who have come back from Fairyland and have trouble adjusting. Adult and dark and lyrical, the next one in the series comes out this month and I am excited!
Taylor Jenkins Reid Daisy Jones & The Six – I have been a fan of Jenkins Reid since reading the (amazing, feminist, compassionate) The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo last year, and I worked through a number of her back catalogue this year, but Daisy Jones is my favourite. It was also my pick for Feminist Book Club! Just fantastic fantastic storytelling – a cracking narrative, fast and zippy and distinctly voiced, this convincing and compelling faux-biography of the lives and loves of a rock band.
Angie Thomas On The Come Up – I liked this YA featuring an African American teenage rapper so much more than The Hate U Give, and it gave me a real appreciation for the lyrical skill and improvisational techniques of rappers. Full of heart.
Sabina Khan The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali – It surprises me that this queer Muslim American YA is on my top ten list, because there are some pacing problems towards the end, and I do NOT like the heroine’s love interest, but it’s a story that continues to stay with me. (If you like this, honourable mention also goes out to Samira Ahmed’s Internment, a YA dystopia about Muslim-Americans being rounded up and put into internment camps in a Trump America)
Tahereh Mafi Whichwood – I thoroughly enjoyed this dark Persian fantasy about a young girl whose job is to ritually prepare the dead for the afterlife. One of my favourite things about it was the sureness and comfort of the omniscient voice, something that’s almost exclusive to children’s fiction, and which has mostly fallen out of fashion.
Leigh Bardugo The Language of Thorns – Also loved this collection of short stories that re-tell and twist Grimm’s fairytales into something soaked and dark and poetic and cruel. (I ALSO loved Bardugo’s recent release Ninth House, which is secret societies, Yale, magic, privilege, whose Buffy-esque heroine contends with the sinister claustrophobia of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History to the contemporary beat of something like You or Pretty Little Liars)
Hanya Yanagihara The People in the Trees/ Ann Patchett State of Wonder – A bit of a cheat listing these two together, but how could I not? Not only did I read them within sort of a month of each other, but – academics! Annoying and destroying secretive unknown tribes in the Amazon for their medical miracles/secrets! Faux academic journal articles! Both wonderful, both very recommended.
Madelein Miller Circe – I read this Greek retelling while IN Greece, so that gave the novel extra piquancy and flavour, but Circe. The story of how she swam slowly to consciousness, almost despite herself, and began to recognize her upbringing and the world around her as unfair and awful, spoke very clearly to me. Many times epiphanies happen in stages, in gentle waves that push you inexorably towards shore, instead of a great breaking crash of clarity.
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ Stay With Me – This novel broke my heart in the same way that Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage broke my heart earlier in the year. It’s so painful to read about how love and marriage and wanting the best for another person don’t necessarily always mean the same thing, the painful things we do to each other in the name of trying to make them mean the same thing.
S.A Chakraborty Daevabad trilogy – Am definitely looking forward to the conclusion of this trilogy! Fat, meaty, immersive novels that tangle Islamic history, Middle-Eastern culture, jinn, and a set of characters who are flawed and brave and struggling, and a slow-burn romance (but I’m not sure in which direction), I can’t recommend this trilogy enough. Halfway between Harry Potter and Outlander.
TOP NON-FICTION PICKS of 2019
Angela Saini Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong – This was a Feminist Book Club pick, which I’m glad of as I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise, that lays out how academic and medical research which continues to form the bedrock of beliefs and stereotypes we’ve internalized about women (e.g women want commitment, while men are wired for polygamy; women are more emotional than rational men) are…flawed.
Ann Patchett This is the story of a happy marriage – I love it when admirably good people write memoirs. This review by the NY times calls Patchett “uncommonly kind”, and this set of personal essays was just so wise and thoughtful and large in its compassion that it’s one that I hope to go back to and re-read this year.
-ed. Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape – Another Feminist Book Club pick! It’s no exaggeration to say that the essay “Towards a Performance Model of Sex” by Thomas Macaulay Millar, on how to rethink sex away from the economic model towards the collaborative music making model was hugely eye-opening for me. Most of the essays helped me to identify and then re-assess ideas about sex I’d internalized without realizing it. Just a great collection that offers a hope that if we can imagine a world without rape we can move towards it.
2019 Discovery: FRANKENSTEIN is one of my favourite books?
When I’m asked what some of my favourite novels are, I always struggle, both because I have the memory of a goldfish and because I have loved and fallen out of love with so many books in my life that I don’t know that I could winnow it down to even a top twenty. But this year I read two retellings of Frankenstein and Charlotte Gordon’s huge and fantastic biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley and I have an appetite for more, even though I have taught Frankenstein many many times, and read several re-workings…and so I realized that it’s a text I go back to again and again both for pleasure and work without tiring of it, and therefore it’s earned a place on my (in-progress) Favourite Novels list.
It’s one of those rare and wonderful cases where the story about the novel rivals the story in the novel itself.
Anyway these are the ones I read this year, and would recommend the first two especially. The third was too cerebral for me.
Kiersten White The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
Charlotte Gordon Romantic Outlaws
Jeanette Winterson Frankissstein
2019 Discovery: Eva Ibbotson
Thank you BookTwitter for bringing Eva Ibbotson on to my radar! Loved these sweet, mostly chaste romances with a core of honour and decency – Eva herself was Austrian-born, and her family moved to England when Hitler came into power. The two novels I’ve read from her so far (The Morning Gift and A Song for Summer) have that sense of heroism that was so necessary between the World Wars, undergirding sweet romances featuring heroines that come of age during a time of turmoil. Loved the suffragette aunties in A Song for Summer, but also the homage to the toil and value of domesticity.
Looking forward to more Ibbotson in 2020! Think – grown-up Heidi, Joan Wolf style romance, the femininity of Little Women or Rilla of Ingleside.
This is a list of books which would make for great discussions in a feminist book club!
Chanel Miller Know My Name – brave, searching, tender, this memoir from the Jane Doe of the horrific Brock Turner case is unflinching about the way that assault lingers, and the courage and community it takes to keep moving forward.
Christina Dalcher Vox – in this dystopian riff on The Handmaid’s Tale, women wear Fitbit type watches to monitor their speech during the day – they’re only allowed up to 100 words.
Amy Reed The Nowhere Girls – YA for the #metoo era – three girls take on rape culture in their small American town.
Margaret Atwood The Testaments – the long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale does not disappoint.
Bernadine Evaristo Girl, Woman, Other – the co-winner of the Booker Prize 2019, this many-voiced, many-storied history of black British women is a treat.
Eve Ensler The Vagina Monologues – say the word, own the word, own your body and inhabit it fully.
Lara Williams Supper Club – women eating hedonistically, bachannalian-ly, taking up space, Fight Club with food.
2019 Reflections and Resolutions for 2020
Inconclusive reflections on reading in 2019:
I’d like to do more re-reading in 2020 – sinking into and appreciating books in a way you can only do when re-reading. Some books are worth getting to know intimately.
I realized this year that I really like retellings of fairytales/mythology and stories about witches, in which women rise and fight and take revenge and I particularly like stories in which the sea or a winter landscape features prominently. One book I read that combined the two was Shea Ernshaw’s The Wicked Deep, about three girls who are accused of being witches and drowned, who then come back every summer to kill men. Earlier in the year, another one that combined the two Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch concluded the amazing Russian mythology-based Winternight Trilogy (and I was so tempted to put it on the Top Ten list – if you’re going through Naomi Novik withdrawals, you may want to check this out)
So I suppose in 2020 I want to learn more about my reading tastes now as a 35 year old, in a more coherent fashion. I don’t think I’ve done that properly since I was a teenager. I think for myself I’d like to put together a favourite books list, (Outlander will probably be on it) books that I go back to for sheer pleasure, books that have changed or shaped my way of thinking so irrevocably that I can’t even remember how I used to think before that. So I guess in 2020 I want to reflect more on my readerness.
There were a couple of months in 2019 where I went through a number of not-so-good novels, like they were fine, but not great, and it was quite frustrating to be halfway through a novel and just be like – okay, I am interested enough to finish it, but not interested enough to like finishing it, but I’m not sure how to minimize these instances in 2020.
In 2019 I loved following bookstagram reviews! So will continue doing that. The photos give me serious hard copy envy too.
I’d like to maintain a good schedule of about 144-150 books this year, and prioritize pleasure but also growth in my choices.
Books I’m looking forward to in 2020: the next in the Wayward Children and Daevabad series; the next Outlander novel (fingers crossed!), the next Sally Thorne novel, Daniel Ortberg’s Something That May Shock and Discredit You, Lindy West’s The Witches Are Coming (technically out, but not available on Amazon UK Kindle yet) and the English translation of Cho Nam Joo’s Kim Ji-Young, Born in 1982. And I really want to read more Bruneian fiction, including the first Bruneian novel, Mahkota Berdarah!
To finish off this annual round-up, here’s a picture of other books I’m excited about that are currently on my bedside table.
May we all read books that give us great pleasure and purpose in 2020.