Books, books, glorious books: my 2019 highlights

From a year of rewarding reading, these were my favourite books.

In fiction:

  • Okay, Okay, Okay, Finuala Dowling’s novel inspired by the student protests at the University of Cape Town, is smart, funny, achingly poignant and powerful. Read my review.
  • I devoured Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy; it’s hard to capture succinctly its many beautiful attributes — the eye for detail, the empathy, and an appreciation of nuance. Plot is not a priority; instead, it’s the exquisite evocation of human lives and truths that keeps you turning pages.
  • Half of a Yellow Sun: I finally got around to this searingly brilliant novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Haunting, complex, exquisite.
  • I read two gorgeous book by Philippe Besson. In the Absence of Men elegantly imagines a burgeoning friendship between Marcel Proust and an adolescent in wartime Paris. Lie With Me — his new autobiographical novella packs a punch, precisely capturing the powerful, lingering effect of a short-lived romance
  • Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran: By turns hilarious, heartwarming and tragic, this 1978 novel (republished this year with a lovely forward by Alan Hollinghurst) elegantly and clear-sightedly captures the hedonistic frenzy of gay New York life after Stonewall and before AIDS.
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer was delicious — funny, poignant, moving, wise. It also won the Pulitzer.
  • Sally Rooney is brilliant. Normal People is disturbing, captivating, vital. A book that really captures the complexities of relationships, romantic and otherwise. As does Alain de Botton’s gorgeous, gentle, funny novel, The Course of Love.
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, the debut novel by Ocean Vuong, is a startlingly powerful portrait of the immigrant experience — and an unflinching dissection of tragedy and trauma, large and small. Read my review.

In non-fiction:

  • How to Do Nothing — this terrific manifesto by artist Jenny Odell doesn’t simply bemoan the alienating addictiveness of smartphones: it offers ideas about “resisting the attention economy” and leading richer, happier lives that are more deeply connected to the natural and social ecosystems which we’re part of.
  • The Nature Fix by Florence Williams: An easily digestible treatise on the scientific research which explains why standing under redwoods (or hiking in the desert, or even a stroll in your neighbourhood park) benefits body, mind and soul
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. A memoir about gender transition, pregnancy, the modern family. It’s a book that is both full of raw, pulsing life as well as bristling intellect. Wow.
  • How to Love Wine: A Memoir and a Manifesto by the New York Times’s wine critic, Eric Asimov, is fantastic: a passionate and eloquently argued riposte to the snobbery and anxiety that all too often afflicts our relationship with wine.
  • Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott’s book on writing, is down-to-earth, funny and very wise: in short, a must for any writer.

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