This year has been a rather eventful one for me — in all kinds of ways.
Repatriating after almost 21 years in the UK has posed many challenges, but I’ve not regretted it and I have loved being able to buy Australian books as soon as they’ve been released instead of waiting a year or more for an overseas publication date!
I undertook a few reading projects across the year, with mixed results.
- I read 15 books for the 20 books of summer challenge.
- I planned to read all the novels on the shortlist for the 2019 Kerry Group Novel of the Year, but only managed three.
- I read all the books on the 2019 Stella Prize shortlist.
- I wanted to read 40 books from my TBR, a project I dubbed #TBR40, but I only managed to read 31.
- I aimed to read 10 books for the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge but actually read 26!
- I started a project to read books by writers from Western Australia — and hope to continue it in 2020 and beyond.
All up, I read 87 books — choosing my favourite proved a tough call. Surprisingly, more than half of the titles I loved were non-fiction reads (I seemed to read a LOT of non-fiction books this year) and 50 percent of the titles came from Australia.
Without further ado, here are the books that made an impression on me this year. They have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname. Hyperlinks will take you to my full review.
No Friend But the Mountain: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani (2018)
This award-winning memoir looks at Australia’s offshore immigration detention system from the point of view of a Kurdish-Iranian journalist caught up in it.
A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne (2018)
A rip-roaring read about a would-be writer hellbent on topping the bestseller lists — at any cost.
Eggshell Skull: A Memoir about Standing Up, Speaking Out and Fighting Back by Bri Lee (2018)
This riveting memoir marries the personal with the political by charting the author’s first year working in the Australian judicial system as she grapples with an eating disorder stemming from her own sexual abuse.
Yellow Notebook: Diaries Volume 1, 1978-1987 by Helen Garner (2019)
This collection of sublime and pithy journal entries spans 10 years of Garner’s life and showcases her ability to capture the tiniest of details to elevate seemingly ordinary occurrences into scenes of extraordinary power.
Constellations by Sinead Gleeson (2019)
A brilliant collection of deeply personal essays examining the body, illness and how the relationship between the two shapes our identity.
The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper (2019)
A true-crime story looking at the police investigation and subsequent court trial of a man charged with deliberately lighting a fire in Churchill, Central Gippsland that burnt 32,860 hectares and killed 11 people.
The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie (2018)
This year’s Stella Prize winner, Laveau-Harvie’s memoir recounts how she had to deal with her Canadian-based elderly parents — one of whom was trying to kill the other — from afar.
The Offing by Benjamin Myers (2019)
A beautifully rendered tale about the unlikely friendship between a teenage boy and an elderly woman in Yorkshire following the Second World War.
Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (2019)
This atmospheric Victorian Gothic drama focuses on Irishman Bram Stoker, actor and theatre director Henry Irving and leading stage actress Ellen Terry and follows their complicated, intertwined lives as they work together at the Lyceum Theatre in London in 1878.
The South by Colm Toibin (1990)
A luminous tale of art and love and sacrifice set in Spain and Ireland in the 1950s and 60s, which has lingered in my mind long after I finished reading it. In fact, I loved this book so much I added Toibin to my favourite authors page.
I trust you have had an exciting reading year and discovered some wonderful books and writers. Have you read any from this list? Or has it encouraged you to try one or two? What were your favourite reads of 2019?
Please note that you can see my favourite books of all the years between 2006 and 2019 by visiting my Books of the Year page.