Happy New Year's Eve, Ninjas! So many 'best books of the year' posts went up way back in November but six weeks or so is a long time and a lot of reading to discount! As previously documented, I'm terrible at actually keeping track of what I read and this year in particular I've been awful at finishing books, so to be included on this list, a book has to be both memorable and have been compelling enough to keep me reading until the end!
So what are these books that have reached such a high pinnacle of achievement? All independently published but definitely not all 2019 releases - I read way too much backlist for that - this is the non-fiction edition and the fiction edition will be coming very soon.
2019 has contained some incredibly eclectic, phenomenally written non-fiction, but even if you don't like non-fiction I'd urge you to try any one of these titles as I'm pretty sure they could convert the most hardened fiction lover.
If you've ever dreamed of running away with the circus (I know I did!) then Tessa Fontaine's fascinating memoir. The Electric Woman (Sandstone Press) will immerse you in the world of sword swallowers, fire eaters and headless women that is the last American travelling side show. With no circus skills whatsoever, Tessa goes on the road for the summer season, after a major life event leaves her reeling. This is the story of the life she experienced while travelling interspersed with a little history and her own personal struggles, and it is extremely compelling! Read it in one sitting, with coffee and blankets.
Another amazing mixture of personal, social and political history is Sensible Footwear: A Girl's Guide by Kate Charlesworth (Myriad Editions). I've never read anything quite like it - you can read my review here soy I won't elaborate much now, but I really urge you to get hold of a copy.
A couple of remarkable anthologies have been part of my reading in 2019. I finally got to read The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound), a brilliant collection of essays from writers of many different backgrounds from families that are immigrants to the UK. As a white British person I really can't recommend this collection highly enough - the writing is brilliant and will make you think about things from all sorts of perspectives. It does the perfect thing that anthologies are supposed to do of showcasing so many different writers and subjects and tying them together in a fluid and coherent way. The second anthology I read this year that absolutely blew me away is The Passion of Harry Bingo : Further Dispatches from Unreported Scotland by Peter Ross. It is probably the weirdest thing I've ever read and it is just brilliant. Made up of various pieces of journalism, from the heartbreaking and emotionally affecting to things that are pretty silly, everything from huge natural disasters to the Crazy Golf World Championships, I learned so much from the beautiful and immersive writing of Peter Ross and I hugely recommend this for yourself or any hard to buy for relatives this year.
Non-fiction can come from unexpected places and one of the most affecting books I read in 2019 is published by the brilliant Persephone Books. Up until now I'd only read fiction from them, but Maman, What Are We Called Now? by Jacqueline Mesnil - Amar, a combination of the writers' wartime diaries and journalism from the post war period is a hugely important place to start. The writer was a French Jewish woman with a young child. She and her husband spent the war years in hiding, until her husband was arrested and deported on the last train to leave Paris for Auschwitz. Her diaries start on the night he failed to come home and follow her thoughts and actions throughout the war. The second part of the book is her passionate journalism from after the war, where she looks at the process through which French Jews ended up being lulled into a false sense of security, and her absolute rage at what eventually happened and how people enabled it to happen. If you've read much about the Second World War and especially about the Holocaust, there isn't much here that will be news to you, but Mesnil-Amar's voice is an important one to add to the conversation, and living in the world as it is today it felt like an important story to read.
Ending the list on a lighter note, Katherine Rundell's Why You Should Read Children's Books Even Though You are So Old and Wise (Bloomsbury) is a tiny little book about why children's books are so beautiful and necessary for everyone to read. It's full of quotable sentences and the perfect gift for anyone who tells you you're too old to be reading children's books!
The fiction edition of this post is coming up soon, but it's been a fantastic year for reading! Join us for the 2020 Indie Challenge and read more indie books.