2019 has been a busy year for me: my first grandchild, moving house and getting back into researching my family tree – no apologies, but this blog and my writing have been neglected. I still found time to read, however, and here is my annual book-reading summary for the year.
My reading habits haven’t changed much, half the books I read were published in the last two years, but I did read more non-fiction this year. This is reflected in my top three books for 2019 – all non-fiction.
1. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
Reclaiming the hidden lives of the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper. A grimly evocative study of poor women in Victorian England which also debunks the prostitute myth. Feminist history at its best.
2. Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
A blond, blue-eyed Jewish woman discovers via an Ancestry DNA test that her father was not her biological father. How she solved the mystery behind this revelation is fascinating but she also goes deep into the spiritual questions: Who am I? Why am I here? How shall I live?
3. The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson
This dives into the world of Victorian collectors, the late 19th-century feather craze, and the weird fetish of tying fly-fishing lures which culminates in the 2009 heist of rare bird skins from the Rothschild Collection in the British Natural History Museum at Tring.
4. A Mistake by Carl Shuker
My top fiction read is from a New Zealand author, with a very recognisable Wellington setting. When a patient dies, a female surgeon has to contend with risk, ambition, and medical politics – all described in taut, surgically-precise prose.
5. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
On the medical theme still, this non-fiction book reads like a thriller. Carreyrou is the Wall Street journalist who exposed the Theranos blood-testing fraud in Silicon Valley. As a lab worker, I was incredulous how a “disruptive” start-up, that ignored basic scientific principles, could deceive investors.
6. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Although not as ground-breaking as The Handmaid’s Tale, I couldn’t leave this off the list.
7. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
I was completely drawn into the world of Danny and Maeve, brother and sister, who are banished from their distinctive home in Pennsylvania after their father dies.
8. No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani
This book details Boochani’s imprisonment on Manus Island under the harsh Australian refugee resettlement policy and won the Victorian Prize for Literature. An event at the National Library with the author (after he was granted a visa to leave PNG) was one of the best literary sessions I’ve been to – the power of literature to change lives.
9. Medieval Bodies by Jack Hartnell
It may not appeal to everyone, but I found this book about medieval cultural attitudes to the human body fascinating. Superb illustrations, scholarly but readable, it included Islamic concepts as well as European. Published by the Wellcome Medical Museum.
10. The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
Disparate characters trying to rebuild their lives in Japan, China, and Hong Kong after World War II. This won the National Book Award in 2003.
One book, that didn’t make my top ten but was the number-one bestseller in the United States, was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I feel this needs a special mention because it brought an increase in visitors to my website, as I have a similar name to the main character of the book.
Although I enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing, I thought the plot was a little far-fetched but then, (spoiler alert) I read this article.
Wow! You could not make this up! I think that’s been the theme for my reading this year.