2019 is the first year non-fiction has more or less overtaken fiction in my reading. This is partly due to shadowing the Wellcome Book Prize at the beginning of the year. My favourite titles from this year’s longlist include the excellent This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein and The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein – the latter was our shadow panel winner.
Unfortunately, the Wellcome Book Prize has been paused for 2020. Mother Ship by Francesca Segal and The World I Fell Out Of by Melanie Reid would definitely have been on my longlist wishlist – two outstanding memoirs about the premature birth of twins and spinal injury respectively. This year’s Baillie Gifford Prize winner The Five by Hallie Rubenhold about the lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims is another stand-out title as is last year’s winner Chernobyl by Serhii Plokhy.
Maybe my current run of non-fiction reading is because the content in some of the books I have read is so strange you couldn’t make it up. The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre definitely fits into this category and is a fascinating account of high-level KGB agent Igor Gordievsky’s defection from the Soviet Union to Britain and Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux is the documentary maker’s memoir of stranger than fiction encounters throughout his career.
For anyone currently baffled by current affairs in Britain right now (I expect that’s pretty much everyone), help is at hand in the form of Why We Get The Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman which offers some cogent analysis of the institutional quirks of the political system. It also filled the void left by the cancelled publication of The Secret Civil Servant’s account of what goes on in Whitehall which was one of my most anticipated books of 2019.
I haven’t entirely abandoned fiction though. My Booker Prize predictions post was by far the most viewed post on my blog this year and putting it together reminded me of how many novels I want to read which I probably won’t get to until 2020 and beyond. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid didn’t make the cut but was still one of the most entertaining novels I have read this year.
Of books published a few years ago, Disobedience by Naomi Alderman and The Wife by Meg Wolitzer are two gems from the 2000s and two of my recent favourites are written by Australian authors: Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill is a funny and inventive collection of spoof literary biographies and The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett is the darkest of dark comedies.
What are your favourite books of 2019?