This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in late 2023. Every six-ish days, I’ve been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I’ve found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.
Ach, the innocent days of late 2019! We had no idea what was around the corner. At the start of the month I took B to explore a deserted church in Wallonia, little knowing that the opportunities for such excursions were shortly to become very scarce.
That was followed by an epic trip which started in Rome, went on to London, then Belfast for general election coverage and finally giving an after-dinner speech in Oxford where I sat beside Congresswoman Linda Sánchez for the evening. An old friend captured her household’s fascination with the election coverage.
H came for Christmas, and helped us get the traditional family photo.
H and I also went to the superhero exhibition at the Brussels Jewish museum:
And we had a further expedition to Laeken Cemetery:
And the week before Christmas was Gauda Prime Day, so I finished my rewatch of Blake’s 7:
I read only 16 books that month.
Non-fiction: 4 (2019 total 49)
Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution, by Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp
The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border, by Garrett Carr
I Love the Bones of You: My Father And The Making Of Me by Christopher Eccleston
Fiction (non-sf): 5 (2019 total 46)
Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
Hild, by Nicola Griffith
She Was Good-She Was Funny, by David Marusek
The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey
sf (non-Who): 4 (2019 total 77)
My Morning Glory and other flashes of absurd science fiction, by David Marusek
Being Human: Bad Blood, by James Goss
Being Human: Chasers, by Mark Michalowski
Dragonworld, by Byron Preiss (did not finish)
Doctor Who, etc: 4 (2018 total 32)
Revelation of the Daleks, by Eric Saward
Revelation of the Daleks, by Jon Preddle
Wildthyme Beyond!, by Paul Magrs
Doctor Who: The Target Storybook, ed. Steve Cole
~4,600 pages (2019 total ~64,600)
4/16 (2019 total 88/234) by non-male writers (Trapp, Evaristo, Griffith, Massey)
3/16 (2019 total 34/234) by PoC (Dumas, Evaristo, Massey)
Several very good books here. I loved Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo, which you can get here, and also really liked:
- Hild, by Nicola Griffith, which you can get here;
- I Love the Bones of You, by Christopher Ecclestone, which you can get here
- The Target Story Book, which you can get here.
I did not especially like:
- Dragonworld, by Byron Preiss, which you can get here
- The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey, which you can get here.
I read 234 books in 2019, the fourth lowest of nineteen years that I have been keeping count. Being Hugo Administrator ate into my reading time.
Page count for the year: 64,600 – sixth lowest of the nineteen years I have been keeping count.
Books by non-male writers in 2019: 88/234, 38% – fourth highest ever (exceeded both in 2021 and 2022).
Books by PoC in 2017: 34/234, 15% – highest percentage ever, though I have exceeded the raw number both in 2021 and 2022.
Most books by a single author: Brian K. Vaughan with 7.
Science Fiction and Fantasy (excluding Doctor Who)
77 (33%), lowest of the last few years.
My top three sf books of 2019:
3) Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Great combination of loads of different SF themes – the degenerate generation starship, a very non-human civilisation; AIs pushed beyond their limits – and an intricate and well thought out plot with a satisfying ending. Won the Clarke Award in 2016. You can get it here.
2) Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman – A great YA novel combining elements of Tess of the d’Urbevilles, with a story of redemption from trauma and travel across a richly imagined landscape. A Lodestar finalist so I didn’t review it at the time. You can get it here.
1) Time Was, by Ian McDonald – Fantastic queer romance timeslip war story, tying in lots of lovely detail (both historical and narrative) and building to a conclusion that I didn’t quite see coming. Won the BSFA Short Fiction award. You can get it here.
The one you haven’t heard of: Cat Country, by Lao She – A very very direct satire on China of the 1930s, portrayed as a country on the planet Mars inhabited by cat people. You can get it here.
The one you can skip: Heartspell, by Blaine Anderson – A pretty rubbish example of the Celtic misht subgenre, where manly men fight battles and women do womanly druidic magic. In the very first chapter our hero is attacked by a cougar (there are no cougars in Ireland). There are tame wolves (wolves basically cannot be tamed). Ireland’s eastern coast is much more rugged than the west (it isn’t). Misspellings of Irish names abound. If you want, you can get it here.
49 (21%) – average.
My top three non-fiction books of 2019:
3) Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, The Wall, and the Birth of the New Berlin, by Paul Hockenos – It’s always good when someone you like writes a book you like about a subject you like. This is about West and East Berlin before the fall of the Wall, and the early years of reunification, and music. You can get it here.
2) Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, by Alec Nevala-Lee – Great book about the men who made the Golden Age of science fiction, warts and all; a Hugo finalist which I therefore didn’t review. You can get it here.
1) Alarums and Excursions: Improvising Politics on the European Stage, by Luuk van Middelaar – A tremendously lucid look at the weaknesses of the EU’s internal architecture, and the possible ways forward. You can get it here.
The one you haven’t heard of: Cycling in Victorian Ireland by Brian Griffin – A short but comprehensive book about the evolution of cycling from upper-middle-class fad to a mechanism to erode patriarchal and class oppression in late nineteenth-century Ireland. You can get it here.
The one you can skip: Adventures in Kate Bush and Theory by Deborah M. Withers– A jargon-filled PhD thesis which makes a fascinating subject dull. If you want, you can get it here.
45 (19%) – highest in the last ten years.
3) A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara – It’s a tough read but a very good one, about four friends, one of whom is deeply damaged. The whole scenario is delicately and sympathetically observed. You can get it here.
2) The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters – It’s 1922. Frances and her mother take in Lilian and Leonard as lodgers; there is a restrained clash of cultures – and then romance, and then murder. Frances as the viewpoint character is tremendously sympathetic even when she does things that are fundamentally not very nice. You can get it here.
1) Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo – A huge range of characters across contemporary London (with some flashbacks to earlier times and other places), almost all women, almost all black, all telling their stories from their own perspective, but often those stories intersect and overlap, and we see the same relationships from different angles. Great ending. You can get it here.
The one you haven’t heard of: In Another Light by Andrew Greig – Great novel cutting back and forth between 2004 Britain (mostly Orkney with bits of London and elsewhere) and 1930s Malaya, both of them vividly portrayed. You can get it here.
The one you can skip: Alina by Jason Johnson – A badly written book about unpleasant people in Northern Ireland and Romania. If you want, you can get it here.
31 (12%) – then an all-time high, since exceeded in 2020 and 2021.
My top three comics of 2019:
3) The Berlin Trilogy, by Jason Lutes – A tremendously well-done story of Berlin from 1928 to 1933, seen by just a few people caught up in the wider politics of the times. You can get volume 1 here, volume 2 here, volume 3 here, and (my recommendation) the whole lot here.
2) Paper Girls, by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang – An everyday story of four 12-year-olds delivering newspapers in 1988 in Cleveland, Ohio, all from different ethnic backgrounds, who get swept up into a mysterious time war which takes them to the future and past, both near and far. You can get the six volumes here, here, here, here, here and here.
1) Saga, vol. 9, by Brian K. Vaughan (again) and Fiona Staples. I’ve been following this story of angel-girl and devil-boy In Space for years, and the latest novel brings us to a spectacular climax, at least for now. I understand that the authors are pausing before the next one, which is frustrating but understandable. You can get it here.
The one you haven’t heard of: Animate Europe +, by David Shaw, Marta Okrasko, Juliana Penkova, Bruno Cordoba and Paul Rietzl – Shortlisted entries from this year’s International Comics Competition on European themes, run by the Brussels office of the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung. You can get it here (for free).
The one you can skip: Frédégonde, La sanguinaire, by Virginie Greiner and Alessia de Vincenzi – In fairness, the first volume is fine, but the second is poorly paced and most crucially fails to finish telling the story. You can get get vol 1 here and vol 2 here, but only in French (I think there is a Dutch translation, but not English).
Doctor Who (and spinoff) fiction
32 (14%) – same number and slightly higher % than the previous year, pretty low because I had now read almost all of the Doctor Who books that there are to read.
3) The autobiographies, and one biography – of John Leeson (buy), Mary Tamm (v1 review, buyv2 review, buy), Robert Holmes (buy), Matthew Waterhouse (buy), Peter Davison (buy), Andrew Cartmel (buy), and Christopher Eccleston (buy). That’s roughly the increasing order of quality and interest, Eccleston’s being much the best – not that Leeson’s is terrible, mind you.
2) Two particularly gorgeous handbooks from 2010 and 2014 respectively, The TARDIS Handbook by Steve Tribe and The Secret Lives of Monsters by Justin Richards. A lot of thought and effort has gone into these, and it shows. You can get The Tardis Handbook here and The Secret Lives of Monsters here.
1) The Target Storybook, edited by Steve Cole with stories by Joy Wilkinson, Simon Guerrier, the much-missed Terrance Dicks, Matthew Sweet, Susie Day, Matthew “Adric” Waterhouse, Colin “Sixth Doctor” Baker, Mike Tucker, Cole himself, George Mann, Una McCormack, Jenny T Colgan, Jacqueline Rayner, Beverly Sanford and Vinay Patel is a total delight. You can get it here.
The one you haven’t heard of: In Time, ed. Xanna Eve Chown, the last to date of the Bernice Summerfield spinoff books from Big Finish, this one an anthology with some very good stories (which, alas, will be mostly lost on those not familiar with Benny’s continuity). You can get it here.
The one you can skip: Eric Saward’s novelisation of Resurrection of the Daleks. For completists only. If you want, you can get it here.
Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, is much much better than Faustus Kelly, by Flann O’Brien. You can get Pygmalion here and Faustus Kelly here.
Book of the year 2019
No hesitation at all in naming my Best New Book of 2019 as Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo.