16 Books I Read & Loved in 2019

Monday, 13 January 2020

If you've read my 2020 resolutions and goals post, you'll know that 2019 was the year that I fell back in love with reading. When I was a lot younger, I would read everything I could get my hands on — whether that was cringe-inducing romance novels that had been left on a hotel bookcase, or the trashy magazines people would give to my grandad so he could do the crosswords.

But, when I was 15 or 16 and just starting to work out what kinds of literature I actually enjoyed — namely fashion magazines and Confessions of a Shopaholic at the time — I lost all interest. My A-Levels involved a lot more work than I'd anticipated, and I would struggle to read for fun when my mind was otherwise occupied. Then I went on to study Magazine Journalism at university, and the only books I had time to read were the ones related to my course. 

It's been a few years since I graduated now, and I'm pleased to say I've rediscovered the joy in reading. I was very excited to have made it through 70 books in 2019, and I found some absolute gems along the way, so I'm going to take you through my favourites here. Whether these books taught me some important lessons, inspired me, or simply had me hooked, I loved them all.

10 Minutes & 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

I saw Elif Shafak in conversation with Chi Onwurah at Newcastle's Words Weekend last month, and was completely blown away by how committed she is to telling the stories of those who often aren't given a voice. Her latest book, 10 Minutes & 38 Seconds in This Strange World, tells the life story of Leila, a sex worker from Turkey. We learn all about her from the scenes that flash through her mind in the 10 minutes and 38 seconds that it takes her to die, after she's attacked and thrown into a bin on the outskirts of Istanbul. 

The book covers important topics, such as sexual violence, the bonds that are often built between people in times of need, and where someone like Leila would typically end up following her death —namely the Cemetery Of The Companionless. It's certainly not an easy read, but it's a vital one, and I'd encourage you to pick a copy up.

Expectation by Anna Hope

Has your life turned out slightly differently to how you imagined it back when you were taking your first tentative steps into adulthood? If so, you'll probably see yourself reflected in the characters of Anna Hope's Expectation

The book follows three female friends who are all trying to stay true to themselves and their dreams while they navigate their careers, family lives, and friendships — some of which have fallen short of their lofty expectations. It gives a very relatable insight into what life can often be like for young and promising women. I read it in less than 24 hours, and absolutely adored it.

Money: A User's Guide by Laura Whateley

Last year I decided it was about time I started to be smarter with my money, which is why I finally took Money: A User's Guide off my bookshelf and read it cover to cover. 

I took so many notes that I still refer to — plus, I reorganised my bank accounts and set up a saving plan within the week. There are still a lot of steps I need to take, and I've read plenty of other books and articles since, but this is the one that kickstarted my interest in making the most of the money I have, and it's a great place to start if you're looking to do the same! (Just be aware that it was published back in 2018, so some information — like the section about setting up a Help to Buy ISA — might be out of date).

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez

It took me about nine months to work my way through Invisible Women, but not because I didn't enjoy it. The book did exactly what it was supposed to do: it made me angry. And, after every chapter, I had to put it down so I could process everything I'd read, do a bit of extra research, and calm the hell down.

The book gives an eye-opening insight into how women are often ignored when it comes to studies, manufacturing, and the way the world generally works. It highlighted so many injustices I wasn't aware of, and it's probably the book that I learnt the most from in 2019.

The Lido by Libby Page

The Lido by Libby Page is an emotive and heartwarming story of how important it is to fight for your community and what you believe in. So, it almost goes without saying that it's a book a lot of us could really do with right now. It centres around the unlikely friendship between a young reporter and a pensioner, who team up and campaign to save the local lilo, which they've both become attached to in their own ways. It's such a lovely novel, and I can't wait to get my hands on Page's second book — The 24-Hour Café — once my spending ban is up!

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I tore through all 400 pages of this book in one sitting, and I think it might be the best thing I read in 2019. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the tale of a glamorous and scandalous Hollywood icon who chooses an unknown reporter to write the story of her life.

As the title suggests, the book follows a lot of the love affairs she's had throughout her life, but it also tells a much wider story that's incredibly clever and absolutely gripping. This isn't the only book I read and loved by the writer in 2019, either: Daisy Jones & The Six is another wonderful read that's almost as smart, and just as memorable. 

With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix

If there's one book that completely changed my perspective on something in 2019, it's Dr. Kathryn Mannix's With the End in Mind. She's spent her medical career working with those who have incurable and advanced illnesses, which means she's become well-acquainted with death — a subject many of us avoid confronting until we're finally forced to. But Dr. Mannix wrote this book to educate and reassure people about the reality of death, which is often a lot less scary than we anticipate. I think I cried at the end of every single chapter, but not for the reasons you might expect. With the End in Mind is actually an uplifting book for the most part, and it's one I'd highly recommend to anyone who wants to put some of their fears to rest.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

I was so glad when Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo won this year's Booker Prize and, in December, I was lucky enough to see her talk about it.

During her talk at Sage Gateshead's Words Weekend, Evaristo explained that she tried to make the book as representative as possible without taking anything away from her characters' stories, and she's done that beautifully. The book is structured in 12 chapters, each of which tells the life story of a girl, woman, or non-binary person of colour. It also has a very interesting format, which gives somewhat of a nod to the author's background as a poet. If you're looking for a critically acclaimed novel that will give you a wider perspective on what life can be like for people of colour in the UK, this one is sure to give you a lot to think about.

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates does some incredible work with and for underprivileged women across the globe, and The Moment of Lift takes a deep dive into just some of the positive effects this has had on their communities. It takes you through a number of the projects Gates has been involved with over the years, and explains that investing in women isn't just right —it benefits everyone.

It's a very inspiring book, and is the perfect read if you want to learn more about what life is like for women around the world, or the constant onslaught of bad news is making you feel helpless and you need a reminder that there is still some good in the world.

The Man Who Didn't Call by Rosie Walsh

It took me a few chapters to get into The Man Who Didn't Call but, once I was hooked, I raced through it in a single afternoon. It starts out with the main character, Sarah, being ghosted after spending the perfect week with a man who she'd pinned her future on. Her friends try to tell her that this kind of thing happens all the time, but she's adamant that there's more to the story — and she's right. There's a lot more to it.

There are so many twists and turns to this novel, I had absolutely no idea where it was going for the most part. It had me on edge, and it even made me cry. It's a book I'll always recommend to people who are looking for something that's sure to have them gripped.

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

While some might try, there's no denying that we're currently in the midst of a climate emergency, and I think we're all now aware that changes need to be made in order to save our planet. Of course, this isn't easy, but we all need to do our bit to drive change by using our spending power wisely, being more mindful about how we're treating the globe, and putting pressure on those who can actually make the biggest and most important changes — specifically our governments, and the people who run the corporations that are doing the most damage.

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference is a collection of some of Greta Thunberg's speeches that she's given over the last year or so. At just 17 years old, she has a very clear idea of what is happening to the planet, and she knows what needs to be done to limit the consequences. Reading her words is obviously very inspiring, but it's also a fantastic reminder that there are people out there who are serious about preserving our planet.

The Confession by Jessie Burton

I think I've read every book by Jessie Burton, but The Confession is my favourite by far. It follows the story of Rose, who sets out to learn more about her mother who left when she was just a baby. After her dad gives her a handful of books written by a woman who knew her mother way back when, she sets out on a mission to get close to the author, and the methods she uses aren't the most orthodox.

I've really enjoyed reading more books with strong female characters over the past year, and The Confession is certainly one of them. While it's not the fastest paced novel, you can't help but fall in love with its characters. Plus, the book certainly delivers on the drama the title alludes to.

"I Will Not Be Erased": Our stories about growing up as people of colour by gal-dem

Glad-dem.com is an online magazine that's committed to telling the stories of women and non-binary people of colour. And, the book I Will Not Be Erased is a great extension of that.

Each chapter sees a person of colour reflect on something they wrote when they were younger — whether that's a diary entry or Facebook message. Every one of the stories in this collection gives a very clear picture of just how much someone's childhood or teenage years can be affected by the colour of their skin. And, while there are a lot of similarities among the writers' experiences, each one is still very personal to them.

I believe the book was written to remind people of colour that they aren't alone, but the introduction also says it includes themes everyone will be able to relate to. I think it's an important read for anyone who hasn't had to deal with bullying or serious persecution due to their race — it'll teach you a lot.

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

On the day I decided to read Daisy Jones & The Six, I ended up cancelling all of my plans, because I just couldn't put it down. Taylor Jenkins Reid — who also wrote The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which is probably my favourite book I read in 2019 — is an incredibly clever writer. And, you can always count on her to create a unique novel with a twist you'll never see coming.

Daisy Jones & The Six has a script-like format, and it charts the rise of a talented and much-loved band that's plagued by the typical drug issues, relationship problems, and business disagreements. But there's just something about the story and characters that makes it incredibly difficult to put down. It's wonderful. 

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

So far, all of the books on my list have been by female writers, which was completely unintentional, but very satisfying. However, I couldn't write a blog post all about my favourite books I read in 2019 without mentioning Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck because, without it, I'm not sure this very blog would exist.

I read it at the very tail-end of December, when I was seriously considering setting this online space up, but kept talking myself out of it. I was worried that people I knew might think it was silly, that nobody would read it, or that I wouldn't always feel motivated enough to keep it up. But, this book reminded me that I shouldn't let thoughts like that stop me from just giving it a go. If you're struggling to commit to a project, you often worry about what others think of you, or you're simply looking for a self-help book that's straight talking and actually helpful, this is a great one.

Breaking & Mending by Joanna Cannon

Some of my all-time favourite books (like With the End in Mind) are medical memoirs, but there are also some I haven't liked — whether that's because I've found them too graphic, too technical, or just a bit boring. So, when I realised I'd have to read a whole book on 31st December to hit my 2019 goal on GoodReads, picking up Breaking and Mending was a huge risk. But it's one that truly paid off.

It's an absolutely stunning book that gives a raw but touching insight into what junior doctors face as they enter the profession, and what they need to contend with as they progress through their careers. If you loved This is Going to Hurt (and who didn't), this is a great book to follow up with — it has slightly less humour, but even more heart.

Did you read any great books last year? I'd love to hear about them! I'm also hoping to beat my personal best by reading 80 in 2020 so, if you would like to stay up to date with that, you can follow me on Instagram and add me on GoodReads
1 comment on "16 Books I Read & Loved in 2019"
  1. Some great suggestions here. I'll add them to my ever-growing list ��