THE BEST OF 2019
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the top 10 recommended reads from 2019
As 2019, and indeed the decade, comes to a close, it’s a perfect time to look back over the many exciting, powerful, searching and moving books published this year: to reflect on those we loved and also those we still haven’t quite got round to reading (anyone else’s reading pile teetering on the brink of collapse?)!
If you’re wondering how to invest your new book token or are simply looking for a great read for the end of your Christmas break, then maybe this will help: it’s my own top 10 for 2019, the criteria for which I decided should simply be books that I was engrossed in, inspired by and would have no hesitation pressing into your hands!
Season’s readings and Happy New Year
The Man Who Saw Everything
I read this book in the summer and I’m still thinking about it now. Levy has an incredible knack of re-framing how we see the world and in this book she manages to make past and present coexist. At first we meet young student Saul Adler, who has an accident on the crossing outside Abbey Road studios but is seemingly fine and goes off to do research in Communist East Berlin, where he falls in love with a man. Later, 56-year-old Saul is seriously injured in an accident in the exact same place, and his memories, as he lies in hospital, seem to contradict the younger version of himself. A novel about perception, truth and history that deserved its place on the Booker longlist this year.
The Dutch House
JARROLD PRICE £15.99
A powerful, brilliantly told novel, set over five decades in Philadelphia, about the unshakeable bond between siblings Danny and Maeve who were exiled as teenagers from their family home by their stepmother. The Dutch House, a sumptuous but ominous character in itself, was the lavish home bought by their father in the 1950s that ended up sparking the demise of the family. Danny and Maeve can only move on when they finally confront the drama and rage that their past has burdened them with. An astounding read.
I was eagerly awaiting Max Porter’s second novel, published in March, being a big fan of his experimental debut, Grief is the Thing With Feathers. Lanny didn’t disappoint and was equally dark, bewitching and addictive, about an extraordinary little boy in an English village, whose inhabitants’ voices swirl around, reminiscent of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. Lanny falls into grave danger after attracting the attention of ‘Dead Papa Toothwort’, a menacing voice representing the spirit of the land and its history.
Olive Kitteridge is a kind of anti-heroine – an aging battle-axe of her small-town Maine community – and anyone who has met her on the pages of Strout’s eponymously titled book (first published in 2008), will not have forgotten her. Olive, Again, sees Strout triumphantly resurrect widow Olive, now in her seventies, still as cantankerous but also still deeply perceptive and sensitive (though she’d never acknowledge it). The book is formed of thirteen interlinked short stories following Olive’s relationships and once again showcasing Strout’s ability to express the most complex of human emotions and relationships: grief, loneliness and family.
Machines Like Me
A new novel form UEA’s first ever Creative Writing graduate is always exciting and although I didn’t think this was McEwan’s most beautifully written novel, its subject – artificial intelligence – was gripping and the story has absolutely stayed with me. In an alternative 1980s Britain where Alan Turing is alive and a great scientist, we meet narrator Charlie, who has just spent his life savings on an ‘Adam’, one of 25 robotic humans. A great moral dilemma unfolds in which Adam’s ethical codes come into sharp conflict with Charlie’s more ‘human’ ones.
Lady in Waiting
JARROLD PRICE £17
Though only recently published, this book slid right into my top 10. Having been Princess Margaret’s lady in waiting and a maid of honour at the Queen’s coronation, Lady Glenconner has led a privileged life. But what makes it extraordinary is the personal drama she has encountered, from a challenging marriage to the eccentric Colin Tennant, to the death of two of her sons, quickly followed by nursing the third out of a coma. We were thrilled she spent an evening with Jarrold in November, telling these stories and celebrating her Norfolk roots and her childhood spent at Holkham Hall.
Push: My Father, Polio and Me
I urge you to read this fascinating, beautifully written memoir by Norfolk-based Passingham: the deeply moving story of her father, engineer Push Pulman, whose future as an Olympic rower was thwarted in 1952 when he contracted polio. It left him wheelchair-bound and having only been married for six weeks when it happened, meant his roles as husband and later as a father, were far from what he expected. Through it all, Passingham does not shy away from the realities of the illness and the ways in which medicine has evolved but she also celebrates the power of love over adversity.
My Name is Why
Often an uneasy read but all the more important and powerful for it, the poet Lemn Sissay MBE’s emotive memoir recalls his childhood growing up in the care system but is also shot through with hope for the redemptive power of creativity. Shockingly, at the age of seventeen, ‘Norman Greenwood’ was given his birth certificate, only to discover that his name was in fact Lemn Sissay and his Ethiopian mother, living in London, had been pleading for his return since his birth, despite his childhood spent in foster care and care homes. Subsequently, he learned that his social workers had covered up these wrongs and he writes without flinching about institutional racism.
A Claxton Diary
JARROLD PRICE £13.99
A worthy winner of this year’s East Anglian Book Awards, A Claxton Diary is both a celebration of our local environment in Norfolk and a welcome reminder of the power and importance of the natural world. Launched at Jarrold this summer with a fantastic accompanying slideshow of Cocker’s nature photography, A Claxton Diary gathers together some of the finest short essays. For seventeen years, the author and naturalist has taken a two-mile walk down to the river from his cottage on the edge of the Norfolk Broads National Park, daily observing the occurrences and patterns of all flora and fauna, insects and weather he encounters.
A Girl Called Justice
Though I loved the latest instalment of Elly Griffiths’ Norfolk-set Ruth Galloway series for adults at the start of this year, I thought this, her first book for younger readers, was inspired. Justice Jones is a boarding school student turned super-sleuth, when her school is cut off by snow and the teachers start behaving suspiciously. Our event in the book department with Elly and some of you and your children, back in June, showed the joy young readers can find in storytelling and books. Having said that, I think this book is just as enjoyable for adults too and look forward to the next in the series in 2020!
Prices and availability checked Tuesday 24 December 2019.