2019: The Reading Year In Review

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair … we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Dickens must have been looking over my shoulder in 2019 because it was definitely a year of mixed fortunes.

I started with great optimism that I would – finally – complete my Booker Prize project. But I’m ending the year with one book still to go.

In January I was confident I would also finish the long-overdue Classics Club Project. Yet, here I am a year later with two books adrift from that total of 50.

On the plus side of the 56 books I read this year, 39 were by authors I’ve never encountered before. Some of them are going to be writers I will want to read more from in the future; such as Diane Setterfield, Vita Sackville-West; Brian Moore and Patrick Gale.

I also added four new countries to my world of literature reading list thanks to the 20booksofsummer reading project (or in my case 13 books). Austria, Croatia; Jamaica and Rwanda brought the total of countries to 41 and edging me closer to the target of 50.

And now for the 2019 roll of honour

Shortest Book Of The Year

Sanditon by Jane Austen. Calling this a book is actually stretching the description. It is only 128 pages long and isn’t complete. It’s a fragment of a novel Jane Austen was writing when she succumbed to illness. She laid it aside and died before she could complete the text. It was re-issued in 2019 to coincide with a new television version written by Andrew Davies – you can’t even call it an adaptation since he admitted he’s used all of Austen’s material before even episode 2. Not that it matters because I watched part of it, thought it was dire, and resolved not to bother any further.

Longest Book Of The Year

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is 614 pages of sheer bliss. He takes four strangers from different backgrounds and with vastly different attitudes to life and throws them together in an unamed Indian city. Around them the country is in turmoil as the declaration of a State of Emergency gives official licence to detention, torture and forced sterilisation. The novel is a joy from start to finish.

Biggest Surprise Of 2019

I read eight non fiction books this year; more than in any previous year. Even more of a surprise – five of them were outstanding. One is even shortlisted for my Book of the Year award. I seem to be developing an interest in memoirs which is a genre I’ve never given much thought to in the past. It will be interesting to see if this continues through to next year.

Best Book By Welsh Author 2019

The prize goes to Alis Hawkins for None So Blind, the first in the Harry Probert-Lloyd historical crime fiction series. Set in rural Wales in the nineteenth century, this novel demonstrates admirally how to seamlessly weave research into a novel without detracting from the narrative flow.

Most Disappointing Book 2019

I had three contenders for this award. William Boyd’s Love is Blind and Kate Atkinson’s Transcription were in contention but ultimately I gave the prize to An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth among the thousands of readers for whom this was a favourite book of 2019. It was hailed as a powerful story about a miscarriage of justice and the black American middle class experience. But I never felt the injustice issue was being tackled head on in a way I would have expected given all the praise heaped on this novel.

Best Non Fiction Book 2019

I’m really spoiled for choice but I’ve narrowed the options down to three books. Becoming by Michelle Obama was an outstanding mix of humour, insight and reflection This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay took us behind the scenes of the medical profession in the UK with a book that had the ability to make me chortle and vent in equal measure. Reading The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, the memoirs of a couple who embarked on a 600 mile walk when they were evicted from their farm left me awed by their resilience but angry at the way homeless people are viewed.

And the winner is ….. The Salt Path. I felt I walked every step with this couple, feeling their hurt when people shunned their company and sharing their joy in nature. A tremendous book that deserves all the praise it’s received.

Best Book In Translation 2019

A Whole Life by the Austrian author Robert Seethaler was remarkable. Just 149 pages long it was an evocative, tender story of a quiet soul who has a remarkable capacity to accept whatever life throws at him. It was moving but wasn’t sentimental. Just pitch perfect I thought.

Best Book 2019

And now for the ultimate accolade: the title of my favourite book from 2019. I was looking for a book that I enjoyed reading at the time but have continued to think about long after I closed it for the last time. I asked myself which book/s had I recommended most frequently and which book/s had I talked about most often during the year.

There were four books that stood out.

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West for its tremendous portrayal of an elderly woman

How It All Began by Penelope Lively; an exquisitely contrived novel of seven lives derailed because of a single event.

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore is an unflinching yet sympathetic portrait of loneliness. It qualifies as the most painfully sad book I’ve read for many years.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. For the reasons I described earlier.

And the prize goes to ……

…. The Salt Path. A book I have urged friends everywhere to buy and read. I hope I’ve encouraged you all to go out and buy/borrow it as soon as possible.

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

50 thoughts on “2019: The Reading Year In Review

  • January 7, 2020 at 7:51 pm
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    I’m still trailing the Classics Club (50/100) – I just stopped. I’ll read them eventually but meh. And you’re so close to the Booker one, that’s intense!

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    • January 7, 2020 at 7:59 pm
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      I also should’ve mentioned I’ve found myself reading more and more nonfiction recently. I think it’s because publishers and editors are looking at it in a different light and providing a narrative and not just the dry facts like they used to.

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      • January 10, 2020 at 9:24 pm
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        I suspect they’ve seen there is a market for books that are non fiction but still have the same kind of narrative quality as fiction.

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  • January 6, 2020 at 7:37 pm
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    LIke you, I found myself drawn to memoirs, and that trend continues this year too. There’s something about reading about other people’s lives that puts your own life into wonderful perspective and context. More often than not, I found myself in a state of gratitude whenever I finished a memoir.

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    • January 7, 2020 at 12:14 am
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      I find memoirs far more interesting than biographies and autobiographies. They seem more honest somehow.

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  • January 3, 2020 at 9:10 pm
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    I may have to put all of your favorites on my list. The Salt Path sounds wonderful. Thank you.

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:37 pm
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      absolutely Angela, The Salt Path is one of those books that doesn’t come around very often.

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  • January 3, 2020 at 11:42 am
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    Agh, my comment got eaten!

    Oh well. The Salt Path wasn’t really on my radar as I’d written it off as another post-Hawk working-through-grief-through-nature memoir. Clearly I was mistaken.

    The Lively I’ll check out as I’ve long been unsure where to go after reading her marvellous Moon Tiger.

    Moore is marvellous. I used to read him a fair bit, but haven’t for years and haven’t read Lonely. He can be a very powerful author.

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    • January 3, 2020 at 5:13 pm
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      The Salt Path definitely isn’t misery memoir (I wouldn’t have even bought it if it was since these are not to my taste).

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  • January 2, 2020 at 11:31 pm
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    Ah! I’m so happy you loved A Fine Bzlance! Such an incredible story! And I just put The Salt Path on hold at the library!

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:36 pm
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      Sad to know that there is only one more Mistry book for me to read – Family Matters…

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  • January 2, 2020 at 11:02 pm
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    Glad you visited more countries this year! And The Salt Path is now finally on my TBR. To a great new year of reading to you!

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:35 pm
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      It has started really well – I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham from my TBR. Brilliant book

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  • January 2, 2020 at 10:50 pm
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    Excellent work. I like how you presented these. I’ll take a look at Salt Path. I’m hoping to do my version of this post next week. Still one more 2019 review to post.

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:34 pm
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      Only one review to do – I am impressed by your efficiency. I think have about six yet to go……

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  • January 2, 2020 at 6:30 pm
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    I began How It All Began on December 31st and am not quite finished. Figures that what may well be the best of my reading year is the very last one.

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:23 pm
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      Even if its not your favourite of the year, it’s a great way to end the year

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  • January 2, 2020 at 3:02 pm
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    Completely agree about the TV adaption of Sanditon, awful adaption.
    I also agree about A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, such a beautiful book. Have you read others by him? I have and loved them.

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:22 pm
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      That was the only Seethaler I’ve read Susan. Did he write one called something like The Tobacconist??
      Re Sanditon -we had an awkward situation because the guy we employed to re-landscape our garden was in the series and kept asking me what I thought of it….

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      • January 13, 2020 at 5:18 pm
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        Hi
        Yes he did write the Tobacconist ,which I definitely recommend.
        Oh dear that does sound awkward x

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  • January 2, 2020 at 2:18 pm
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    Lovely to share Judith Hearne on our end of the year list! I also love All Passion Spent very much, and would definitely recommend exploring more of her work. The Heir is particularly good.

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    • January 2, 2020 at 2:19 pm
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      The Heir is now on my wish list. Thanks for the recommendation Simon

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  • January 2, 2020 at 12:05 pm
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    Still very keen to read The Salt Path – I have it reserved at the library! 😀 And I did love what exists of Sanditon – I avoided the TV adaptation like the plague as I knew I’d hate it. Happy new year! 😀

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    • January 2, 2020 at 2:20 pm
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      I shall eagerly await your reaction to Salt Path though I’m quietly confident it will prove a hit

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  • January 2, 2020 at 9:55 am
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    Happy to see The Salt Path on top! I think it was my favourite as well in 2019, at least in top 3. I decided to give An American Marriage a miss based on the blurb and a couple of reviews, I’ve seen. Sounds like this was the right decision.

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    • January 2, 2020 at 2:23 pm
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      You could maybe get it from the library and see what you think. Although you likely have a stack of other books that appeal more.

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  • January 2, 2020 at 5:05 am
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    I too have been having the same trouble with the “we use cookies” message that refuses to go away. I’m also on the lookout for The Salt Path, and I echo your feelings on Tayari Jones’ novel: I abandoned it around page 10. Over-hyped and over-lauded, but I’m not American so perhaps that’s the reason why I couldn’t relate to the novel. Happy reading in 2020. Looking forward to reading more of your reviews.

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    • January 2, 2020 at 2:28 pm
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      Th cookies issue is hopefully now resolved – sorry about that Alison. I did finish American Marriage but only because it was a book club choice…

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      • January 2, 2020 at 4:51 pm
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        Fortunately for me, I was not bound by any group rules, so was able to close the book fairly smartly. Well done for sticking it out to the end.

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        • January 3, 2020 at 9:21 pm
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          I’m getting ever more comfortable ditching books, even if they are book club reads. The next choice I have abandoned after 40 pages….

        • January 4, 2020 at 10:59 am
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          Go for it. Life’s too short for boring books.

  • January 2, 2020 at 4:03 am
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    I love that you read so much non-fiction and loved it Karen. Fiction is my favourite but there’s some wonderful non-fiction out there.

    As for Sanditon, the big mistake Andrew Davies did there was his utter venality from my point of view. Rather than try to do an honest job of telling the story and making some good guesses about where she was going and/or making it relevant to some contemporary issues (with the race component she only introduced but didn’t get to develop) he decided to go for gold, leaving us with a cliff-hanger so he could make another series. The end result is, I believe, people hated it so much that there will be no second series. Serves him right for his lack of integrity.

    BTW Are you aware that there’s a Privacy and Cookies popup that pops up on your blog (as it does on many, perhaps even mine), but when I click “close and accept” it pops up again, and again and again, each time I click. This has been happening on all the posts of yours I’ve commented on lately. I don’t know if it’s just me, which is why I’ve posted it here.

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    • January 2, 2020 at 10:39 am
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      The is for alerting me to the pop up issue Sue. Somehow the widget got installed twice so. Now I’ve fixed that I hope the problem has gone away. Sorry for the hassle.

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      • January 2, 2020 at 10:42 am
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        I’m really glad I mentioned it then Karen. I thought it might have been out of your control so have been putting off saying something.

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        • January 2, 2020 at 2:10 pm
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          I’m so glad you decided to tell me. It’s not the user experience I want people to have when they get to the site.

  • January 2, 2020 at 3:23 am
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    Great post! You’ve convinced me to put Salt Path on my TBR! When I read An American Marriage, I was disappointed in all the unlikeable characters!

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:20 pm
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      I took a dislike to Roy. His father was more relatable I thought but of course he wasn’t much in evidence.

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  • January 2, 2020 at 2:21 am
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    I have All Passion Spent in a job lot of Viragos I bought some years ago. I don’t read, as distinct from listen to, many books, but I might try and squeeze it in. And I think I’ll add Most Disappointing to my categories next year – that heady mix of hype and clunker. I bought myself a Cixin Liu for Christmas and it’s already on the shortlist.

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:19 pm
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      I think I picked up a Cixin Liu a few years ago out of curiosity but didn’t get very far with it. I thought it was just that sci fi isn’t my thing but if you didn’t get on with it either then I’m reassured …

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  • January 2, 2020 at 12:50 am
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    Yes, we’re in heated agreement on American Marriage. I had the Boyd in the TBR stack – I will ditch it (I don’t have time for dull).

    I have A Salt Path in the reading stack, based on your recommendation.

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:17 pm
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      Ugh yes don’t waste your time with Love is Blind. It didn’t resonate well with our book club so I know it wasn’t just my reaction……

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  • January 1, 2020 at 11:57 pm
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    What a cracking reading year you’ve had! I fell a smidgen short of a couple of my hopes and dreams for reading as well, but the good news is the books aren’t going anywhere – they’ll be there on our shelves waiting for us whenever we’re ready 😉 I loved finding your blog and following along your reading adventures in 2019, here’s to a happy new year filled with wonderful reads!

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:16 pm
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      Thanks Sheree.I am glad I discovered your blog too!
      Yes absolutely the books won’t go anywhere other than if I make them a victim of a periodic cull.

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  • January 1, 2020 at 11:15 pm
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    I’m not gnashing my teeth, but now I am regretting spending my hard-earned on An American Marriage, languishing on the TBR!
    PS I agree with everything you say about Sanditon, the whole thing is a triumph of cynical marketing. The fragment is of interest to scholars, and rightly so, but to market it as a book and make a film out of to harness Austenmania is IMO a crime — because we will never know how many young readers choose Sanditon as their first Austen because it’s short, and then never read her again.

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:14 pm
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      I have that same fear that Sanditon could deter first time Austen readers. I’m not sorry I read it though it felt very much like an appetiser rather than a feast..

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  • January 1, 2020 at 10:35 pm
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    I agree completely with your choice of Salt Path. I bought the Vita Sackville book after reading your review. I’d like to read the Judith Hearne book. Of all the bloggers I follow I have much the same taste in books as you do. Whole Life was fabulous too. Here’s to great 2020 reading. 🍷🍷

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    • January 3, 2020 at 9:13 pm
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      How fantastic to find we are thousands of miles apart geographically but can connect via our love of the same kind of books. One day I hope to return to your part of the world and maybe could even meet you for real 🙂

      Reply

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