Home Books My reading year in review, 2019

My reading year in review, 2019

by Ellie Hopgood

Last year, my best-reads-of-the-year blog post only covered my favourites. That made sense at the time, because I hadn’t written about what I’d been reading 2018 at all on the blog, so all the books mentioned were fresh content on Restless. But this year, things have been different. Every single book that I read this year has a full review on this site and many of my favourites have been referenced in the blog posts they’ve informed. If you’ve been reading my monthly reading roundups, you probably already have an idea of which books I loved.

To that end, this post is going to be a little different. I’m going to share my favourites, sure, but I’m also going to share the books I didn’t like but that you might, the books that changed my mind, the books that made me jealous, the books that were tough to get through but so worth it. I’m going to share some books that I thought were just okay but that are still worth mentioning. The books that I think are important, even if they aren’t necessarily the best ones I read this year. I also want to share some thoughts on my reading year in general and talk a little about what I want to read next year.

Anyway, I read eighty-five books this year. Here’s what I thought of them. I will link to the post containing the full review of each book when I share its title.

The best books

The Growth Delusion – David Pilling. Why is GDP a flawed metric, and why does that matter?

This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein. Probably the best book I read about climate change this year (and I read a lot of them).

Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde. Incisive ruminations on race, gender, class, sexuality, art and travel.

The Uninhabitable Earth – David Wallace-Wells. One of the most interesting books about the impact of climate change, which discusses potential issues that I haven’t seen explored properly anywhere else.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A beautiful novel about race, identity and the immigrant experience between America and Nigeria.

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism – Ha-Joon Chang. One of the most insightful books I read this year, with ideas I’d not seen addressed in any other writing about capitalism.

It’s What I Do – Lynsey Addario. Amazing stories and photos from life as war photographer.

The Shock Doctrine – Naomi Klein. Blew my mind more than anything else I read this year. There is so much I don’t know about recent history and how it informs everything happening today. This book taught me so much that I didn’t know I didn’t know.

The entire His Dark Materials universe: Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass, La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth. They are not perfect – my reviews make that clear – but no other book or series overwhelmed my thoughts like these novels. Northern Lights, in particular, is a masterpiece.

The other books

A book that changed my mind:

The Globalization Paradox – Dani Rodrik

Books that weren’t all brilliant but had some truly brilliant chapters and paragraphs:

Doughnut Economics – Kate Raworth, The Great Derangement – Amitav Ghosh

A book that changed the way I donate money and made me think a lot about what it really means to do good, rather than just make yourself feel good:

The Most Good You Can Do – Peter Singer

A book that makes a compelling case for capitalism:

The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality – Angus Deaton

An introduction to a famous author that was just fine but not great, though did make me want to read more of his work:

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

A book that I still think about every time I use an adverb:

On Writing – Stephen King

A book that I feel instinctively is very flawed but is compelling nonetheless and remains stuck in my head:

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism – Kristen Ghodsee

A book that made me uncomfortable at points given the politics of travel but was still hilarious at other points and made me remember why I love travel writing:

To Hellholes and Back – Chuck Thompson

Books with great premises that I wish had been more interesting in practice:

The Secret World of Oil – Ken Silverstein, The World Without Us – Alan Weisman, Storms of My Grandchildren – James Hansen

A book that introduced me to a host of ideas about gender, race, beauty and feminism that I’d never read about before:

Thick – Tressie McMillan Cottom

A book that gave me a lot to think about regarding my future, my work and the purpose of my life:

Bullshit Jobs – David Graeber

A book that is worth reading just for the drama:

Bad Blood – John Carreyrou

Books that stunned me with their creativity:

Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Four classics that are all masterpieces:

1984 – George Orwell, The Color Purple – Alice Walker, A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess and The Road – Cormac McCarthy

The best book I read for understanding the science of climate change:

Climate Change – Joseph Romm

A book that was tough to get through given its heavy details but is still worth sticking with because it’s full of golden insights:

How Democracies Die – Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

A book that I hope to go back to when I can engage with its dense content better:

The Socialist Manifesto – Bhaskar Sunkara

The other Naomi Klein books – compilations of speeches, columns and essays – which are all fantastic reads but not as good as her epic tomes:

Fences and Windows, No Is Not Enough, On Fire – Naomi Klein

A book everyone should read about China:

We Have Been Harmonised – Kai Strittmater

Books about politics, economics and climate change that are not the best of the bunch but are still solid and worth a read if you are so inclined:

Yes We (Still) Can – Dan Pfieffer; Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics – Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner; The Fifth Risk – Michael Lewis; Out of the Wreckage – George Monbiot; Don’t Even Think About It – George Marshall; Why Capitalists Need Communists – Charles Seaford; Utopia for Realists – Rutger Bregman; Sapiens and Homodeus – Yuval Noah Harari; Penny Red – Laurie Penny

Miscellaneous books that I don’t have much to say about but are worth reading:

A Billion Wicked Thoughts – Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam; I Am, I Am, I Am – Maggie O’Farrell; Ethics in the Real World – Peter Singer; Without You, There Is No Us – Suki Kim; The Hunger Games series – Suzanne Collins; The Diet Myth – Tim Spector

Some books that lots of other people liked that I thought were just fine or kind of annoying:

Normal People and Conversations with Friends, both by Sally Rooney; The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

A book that I thought was dark, sad and full of trauma that lots of other people described as ‘delightful,’ which I am still confused by:

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

The only book of poetry I read this year, which was beautiful:

Don’t Call Us Dead – Danez Smith

The worst book I read this year:

Geek Love – Katherine Dunn

Some non-fiction I read that was fine, I guess:

Heartland – Sarah Smarsh; How to Be a Writer – David Quantick; Future Sex – Emily Witt; Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now – Jaron Lanier; Text Me When You Get Home – Kayleen Schaefer; How to Be a Person in the World – Heather Havrilesky; Drop the Ball – Tiffany Dufu; All About Love – bell hooks; Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton

A book that would perhaps be good for teens starting to learn about feminism but that was too simplistic for me:

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink And Other Lies – compiled by Scarlett Curtis

A book that has not aged well and is problematic in some ways but did have excellent commentary on gender politics in domestic relationships:

The Female Eunuch – Germaine Greer

Some fiction I read that was fine, I guess, but not very good:

American War – Omar el Akkad; The Testaments – Margaret Atwood; Hotel Silence – Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir; A Spark of Light – Jodi Picoult; A Place For Us – Fatima Farheen Mirza

Some fiction that was very good:

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara; Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah; The Vegetarian – Han Kang

My favourite new author of the year is Naomi Klein, without contest. She has taught me so much. While I had some good luck with fiction, most notably with the fantasy novels I read towards the end of year, non-fiction books definitely hit the mark more often in 2019. I felt like I learned so much from everything I read this year about climate change, economics and politics. It has changed the way I think, as good books should. It is so amazing to know that, whatever thoughts I’m exploring, there will inevitably already be some books written about the topics in question that can help deepen my views. I am so lucky to have so much information available to me; I hope I always make use of it!

In 2020, I hope to read more about feminism – especially the core texts from the 70s, 80s and 90s – and in particular, more from Audre Lorde. I plan to read the final Naomi Klein book left for me to devour, No Logo. I plan to read more about philosophy and ethics, more about China and more about writing. In service of my political resolutions, I plan to read more about class, wealth, poverty and race in the UK. Ayn Rand has come up in a number of books this year – often negatively – but I admit that I’m curious about her work, as it seems to have been so influential. I hope to read more from Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami. As far as fiction goes, I can’t wait to dive into more fantasy and dystopian novels – I might even attempt Lord of the Rings. In doing all of this, I hope to read some of the books on my shelf that I have yet to get through, as I can’t imagine how much knowledge is waiting for me there, if only I picked those books up and spent a few hours with them.

What was your favourite book from 2019? Do you have any recommendations for me?

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