My 2019 books

I read 234 books this year, the fourth lowest of fifteen years that I have been keeping count. (Full numbers: 262 in 2018, 238 in 2017, 212 in 2016, 290 in 2015, 291 in 2014, 237 in 2013, 259 in 2012, 301 in 2011, 278 in 2010, 342 in 2009, 374 in 2008, 235 in 2007, 207 in 2006, 137 in 2005). Being Hugo Administrator ate into my reading time. I am Deputy Hugo Administrator next year, so expect similar.

Page count for the year: 64,600 – third lowest of the nine years where I have kept count (71,600 in 2018, 60,500 in 2017; 62,300 in 2016; 80,100 in 2015; 97,100 in 2014; 67,000 in 2013; 77,800 in 2012; 88,200 in 2011)
Books by non-male writers in 2019: 88/234, 38% – second highest ever, partly thanks to Hugo ballots. (102/262 [39%] in 2018, 64/238 [27%] in 2017, 65 [31%] in 2016, 86 [30%] in 2015, 81 [28%] in 2014, 71 [30%] in 2013, 65 [25%] in 2012, 22% in 2011, 23% in 2010, 20% in 2009, 12% in 2008)
Books by PoC in 2017: 34/234, 15% – a record high, partly but not only due to the Hugo ballots. (26/262 [10%] in 2018, 17/238 [7%] in 2017, 14 [7%] in 2016, 20 [7%] in 2015, 11 [5%] in 2014, 12 [5%] in 2013, 5% in 2011, 9% in 2010, 5% in 2009, 2% in 2008)

Most-read author this year: I read 7 books by Brian K. Vaughan, 6 of which were co-authored with Cliff Chiang (previous winners: Tove Jansson and Marcel Proust in 2018, Colin Brake and Leo in 2017, Christopher Marlowe in 2016, Justin Richards in 2015 and 2014, Agatha Christie in 2013, Jonathan Gash in 2012, Arthur Conan Doyle in 2011, Ian Rankin in 2010, William Shakespeare in 2009 and 2008, Terrance Dicks in 2007, Ian Marter in 2006, Charles Stross in 2005).

NB that book titles below mainly link to my reviews, and book covers link to pages if you want to buy the book from them (and kick a wee bit back to my Amazon credit).

1) Science Fiction and Fantasy (excluding Doctor Who)

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
77 108 68 80 130 124 65 62 78 73 78
33% 41% 29% 38% 45% 43% 27% 24% 26% 26% 23%

Lower than last year, still squarely in the middle of the historical ranking.

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.

2) Non-fiction

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
49 50 57 37 47 48 46 53 69 66 88
21% 19% 24% 17% 16% 16% 19% 20% 23% 24% 26%

Again, squarely in the middle of the historical range.

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.

3) Non-genre fiction

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
45 36 26 28 42 41 44 48 48 50 57
19% 14% 11% 13% 14% 14% 19% 19% 16% 18% 18%

Quite a high percentage, swelled by hitting the non-genre fiction part of various TBR piles.

My top three non-genre fiction books of 2019:

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.

4) Comics

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
31 28 29 27 18 19 30 21 27 18 28
13% 11% 12% 13% 6% 7% 13% 8% 9% 6% 8%

An all-time high, partly due to Hugos and Retro Hugos, partly also because of more Doctor Who comics coming through the system, and a couple of re-reading projects which are detailed below.

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).

4) Doctor Who

2019/ 2018/ 2017/ 2016/ 2015/ 2014/ 2013/ 2012/ 2011/ 2010/ 2009/
32 32 51 39 43 59 72 75 80 71 70
14% 12% 21% 18% 15% 20% 30% 29% 27% 26% 19%

Same number of Who books as last year, but a higher percentage because fewer books overall. Basically I have read almost all the Who books that there are – just a few spinoff lines to catch up with.

My top Doctor Who books of 2019, including non-fiction:

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 yet reviewed here) – 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) I haven't reviewed this yet online, but 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.

5) Plays

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.

My Book of the Year

No hesitation at all in naming my Best New Book of 2019 as Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo. It won the Man Booker Prize jointly with Margaret Atwood's The Testaments, which is also high on my reading list for 2020. But I also enjoyed revisiting The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Previous Books of the Year:

2003 (2 months): The Separation, by Christopher Priest.
2004: The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread).
– Best new read: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin
2005: The Island at the Centre of the World, by Russell Shorto
2006: Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland troubles, by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney, Chris Thornton and David McVea
2007: Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
2008: The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, by Anne Frank (reread)
– Best new read: Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray
2009: Hamlet, by William Shakespeare (had seen it on stage previously)
– Best new read: Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi (first volume just pipped by Samuel Pepys in 2004)
2010: The Bloody Sunday Report, by Lord Savile et al.
2011: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon (started in 2009!)
2012: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë
2013: A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
2014: Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
2015: collectively, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist, in particular the winner, Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel. However I did not actually blog about these, being one of the judges at the time.
– Best book I actually blogged about: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, by Claire Tomalin
2016: Alice in Sunderland, by Bryan Talbot
2017: Common People: The History of an English Family, by Alison Light
2018: Factfulness, by Hans Rosling

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1 Response to My 2019 books

  1. beamjockey says:

    Neill was the definitive illustrator of Oz books. Late in the series he moved into the author’s seat and wrote three of his own.

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