2019 in Books

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Every year I take part in the Good Reads chal­lenge (if you want to add me I’m here). My target this year was 52 books. I completed it with one for luck- 53 books this year. As I read each book I took a photo for instagram and gave a brief opin­ion- I’ve copied and pasted them all here. I’ve separ­ated them into categor­ies, but left them in the order read with­in the categor­ies.

2019 was an extremely stress­ful year in pretty much most regards. I don’t have detailed resol­u­tions for 2020: just earn more money to reduce finan­cial stress, do as much creat­ive stuff as possible and try to have a Nice Time. My Good Reads target for 2020 is 100 books. I’m sure I’ll fail, but why not try.

Gener­al Fiction

Silent Compan­ions– Laura Purcell
Ok, kind of Tesco Value Daphne du Maur­i­er. Not one to re-read.

Outcasts of Time– Ian Mortimer
Two medi­ev­al broth­ers flee­ing the Black Death live a day in each century follow­ing. It was ok- I kept read­ing because I wanted to know what happened, but it was heavy-handed and full of incred­ibly clunky plot device dialogue. It shows that the author is normally a histor­i­an rather than novel­ist.

The Glass Castle– Jeanette Walls
Jean­nette Walls’ account of grow­ing up in the Amer­ic­an desert and then Appalachia as the child of unre­li­able grift­ers. A brutal but good read.

The Secret Common­wealth– Philip Pull­man
A thrill­er defin­itely aimed at adults and set a decade later with Lyra as a under­gradu­ate. As well as the normal targets of author­it­ari­an­ism and reli­gious dogma, Pull­man also takes a pop at Ayn Rand and Richard Dawkins and their smug, joyless world­views. A really good read.

The New Girl– Alex­an­dra Ingrid
Solid but unmem­or­able psycho­lo­gic­al thrill­er from Australia.

Everything Under– Daisy John­son
If Angela Carter was really into canal boats and diction­ar­ies.

Science Fiction

The Test­a­ments– Margaret Atwood
Well worth your time. It takes a differ­ent approach to the first book- it isn’t a terri­fy­ingly claus­tro­phobic mono­logue. It’s told by three separ­ate narrat­ors: Aunt Lydia; and two young girls, one grow­ing up in Gilead, the other smuggled out to Canada. The themes of power and compli­city are still the same however. I read it in two big chunks since yester­day morn­ing.

Semi­os­is– Sue Burke
Inter­fer­ence– Sue Burke
Colon­ists in the near future try to found a eco colony and slowly discov­er the plants are sentient. The first book is a collec­tion of short stor­ies each follow­ing a char­ac­ter from a differ­ent gener­a­tion. A bamboo plant also gains seri­ous polit­ic­al power. In the second book, people from Earth come back, and things don’t go well.


Back Story– David Mitchell
Young David Mitchell really was Mark from Peep Show. He’s had a strangely unevent­ful life in many ways.

Saga Land– Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason
A really lovely travelogue/​history/​family story writ­ten by an Australi­an and an Icelander. It was origin­ally a radio series in Australia. I saw the book in a shop in Tasmania (a place that reminds me a lot of Iceland) and wanted to get it, but it was a bulky hard­back and would have cost me a small fortune to post back to England. So instead I have the ebook. The real book prob­ably has some nice photo sections I’m miss­ing. Defin­itely want to read Kári Gislason’s other books now.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman: Lindy West
A collec­tion of Lindy West’s articles about deal­ing with being in the public eye as a journ­al­ist and comedy writer while also being a fat woman, trying to take down the culture of rape jokes in comedy, deal­ing with moun­tains of online abuse and figur­ing out what makes her happy in life. Well worth a read.

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat– Bee Wilson
A social history of kitchen imple­ments and the radic­al changes new cook­ing tech­no­logy can cause in soci­ety, it’s really inter­est­ing and full of things I never knew before. I had never really given any thought for example as to when the sauce­pan entered history.

Serving the Servant: Remem­ber­ing Kurt Cobain– Danny Gold­berg
A memoir by Nirvana’s manager. It was pretty bland and corpor­ate and didn’t take long to read.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World– Peter Franko­pan
The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World– Peter Franko­pan
Most people don’t give the Persians enough cred­it in history, assum­ing that they disap­peared after the Battle of Mara­thon or some­thing, and often not clock­ing that Iran and Persia are the same place. (Also “aryan” and “Iran” are the same word- some­thing covered up by the eugen­i­cists and Nazis misap­pro­pri­at­ing the name). Also inter­est­ing fact- Farsi/​Persian is an Indo-European language despite using Arab­ic script, and has many recog­nis­able words for speak­ers of other European languages. The New Silk Roads is an update on what’s happened in the region since the public­a­tion of the first book. (Peter Franko­pan also got a sly shout-out in the new Philip Pull­man book as an author Lyra should read. Perhaps the writers are friends in real life)

The Fallen: Search­ing for the Miss­ing Members of the Fall– Dave Simpson
I was given this book at Berlin Airport by a co-work­er on the way home from work­ing in Germany- she’d just finished read­ing it. It had already been read by two other co-work­ers. Mark E.Smith seemed to believe he was running a brutal cult rather than a band.

Trav­el­lers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Every­day People– Julia Boyd
An inter­est­ing and disturb­ing read. A collec­tion of primary sources from visit­ors to Germany in the inter­war peri­od, all writ­ten at the time without the bene­fit of hind­sight. From outright fascist sympath­isers like Fran­cis Stuart to people like W.E Du Bois at the other end of the continuum with a whole load of ordin­ary tour­ists, students, diplo­mats and journ­al­ists inbetween. The excuses people made are disturb­ing and famil­i­ar “stop exag­ger­at­ing,” “you just have to reas­on with them” etc etc. High­lights are the diary of Ji Xianli, Chinese histor­i­an on an academ­ic exchange acci­dent­ally stran­ded in Germany through­out WWII, and the two sisters from Croy­don who made multiple week­end trips to Germany posing as opera fans for cover smug­gling papers and valu­ables out for refugees, while fund­ing the whole thing by churn­ing out Mills and Boon romances.

At The Tomb of the Inflat­able Pig: Travels Through Paraguay– John Gimlette
Defin­itely an inter­est­ing read, and Paraguay was a coun­try I knew little about aside from once read­ing a Gerald Durrell book about his trip there in the 50s. This book was from 2002 though, and the author defin­itely spoils things some­times by trying way too hard to do that dated edgelord Vice report­er thing. He also does that gross thing where he gives every woman he mentions a review to see if she matches up to his stand­ards of what he finds attract­ive (of course the men don’t get creepy person­al comments about their bodies and appear­ance).

Pinpoint: How GPS is Chan­ging Tech­no­logy, Culture and Our Minds– Greg Milner
A book about GPS- its history, theory, applic­a­tions and psycho­lo­gic­al side effects. Lots of inter­est­ing stuff- espe­cially about some of the Poly­ne­sian navig­a­tion tech­niques it borrows from, and the fact that the signal is also used for synchron­ising finan­cial systems and monit­or­ing earth­quakes.

Agatha Christie

I had a peri­od earli­er in the year when I was on enforced sick leave after having concus­sion. Agatha Christie books are excel­lent fodder for those kind of times- there’s loads of them, they’re enga­ging and well-observed, but completely unchal­len­ging, and if you leave it long enough you forget the plots and can re-read the same one a few years later.

Closed Casket (ghostwrit­ten by Soph­ie Hannah)
A perfectly compet­ent detect­ive story that didn’t feel like an Agatha Christie book at all. I guess it was a market­ing thing. Accept­able sick leave fluff read­ing. One of the suspects was basic­ally Enid Blyton, but Irish.

The Mystery of Three Quar­ters (ghostwrit­ten by Soph­ie Hannah)
The Mono­gram Murders (ghostwrit­ten by Soph­ie Hannah)
At Betram’s Hotel
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans
Towards Zero
Dead Man’s Folly
Mrs McGinty’s Dead
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
Taken at the Flood
Murder is Easy
Hick­ory Dick­ory Dock
The Moving Finger
The Hollow
Third Girl
Elephants Can Remem­ber
They Do it With Mirrors
Appoint­ment With Death

Ursula Le Guin

The Dispos­sessed
The Day Before the Revolu­tion
A re-read. The clas­sic book explor­ing what a soci­ety based on Mutu­al Aid would look like. You can read it for free online here.

I got a discount copy of the complete Earth­sea collec­tion, and re-read them all after seeing the Ursula Le Guin docu­ment­ary on tv (highly recom­men­ded)

A Wizard of Earth­sea
Re-Read­ing it surprises me how short it is! I remembered it feel­ing like an a epic that took forever to read as a kid. That’s prob­ably because a lot happens and there’s a lot of new concepts for a kid. The thing that strikes me as an adult is how rare it is to not have a Big Bad Enemy in this type of story. Instead the main oppon­ent is a monster the prot­ag­on­ist liter­ally created by magic from own insec­ur­ity and fragile ego, and the only way to stop it continu­ally ruin­ing his life is to liter­ally face up to it. (Also always still love the section where’s he’s running through an Iceland like coun­try pursued by a creepy zombie man and has to take refuge in the equally creepy castle)

The Tombs of Atuan
Read­ing it as an adult rather than a child, you real­ise just how creepy the setup is. As a ten year old or so you just kind of take it as given that a young girl is dedic­ated to the services of name­less evil, and that’s just where the adven­ture begins. From the docu­ment­ary and the descrip­tions in the book the Oregon desert looks like a place I’d love to visit, and prob­ably has fewer evil labyrinths filled with shal­low graves in real­ity.

The Farthest Shore
It’s always been my least favour­ite. I find the char­ac­ter of the Prince extremely irrit­at­ing. I guess it very accur­ately captures the grey­ness of despair, but that prob­ably too accur­ately matches my own mood right now.

One of my favour­ites of the series. What happens when the adven­tures are over but you don’t have any social or magic­al powers left to save your­self with? Lots of slow moun­tains, rain, laun­dry and goats. Way more engross­ing than the third book in my opin­ion, but always a divis­ive one.

Tales From Earth­sea
The Daugh­ter of Odren
The Other Wind
I find the short stor­ies a pleas­ure, and the final book a total drag. Everything seems stronger and clear­er when set on forgot­ten islands or remote moun­tain villages with people who are busy mopping floors or muck­ing out cows in between super­nat­ur­al things happen­ing to them. As soon as the stor­ies get near palaces or kings they get all life­less and leaden. Anyway that’s the whole series read now.

Diana Wynne Jones

I also went to a confer­ence in Bris­tol focus­ing on the works of Diana Wynne Jones, and re-read some books that came up in the talks that I hadn’t read in a long time.

Howl’s Moving Castle
Deep Secret
A Tale of Time City
The Dark Lord of Derkholm

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