The Books I Read in 2019

2019 book review Rebecca Spelman

Looking for a 2019 reading list? You’ve come to the right place! Here you’ll find every book I’ve read in 2019. I’ve read everything from fantasy to business, so hopefully there’s something in here that you’ll love reading!

1. The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna

My copy of this book had been on quite a journey before it came to me, according to the stamps and scribbles inside its front cover. It’s only when I started to read did I realise how fitting this was. The Year of the Hare follows a man named Vatanen, who ends up on the side of a road with nothing but a suitcase and an injured hare. Frustrated with how his life has been until now, he decides to start again. The book follows this unlikely duo as they travel around Finland, having adventures and living life one day at a time.
★ ★ ★

2. The Oberon Anthology of Contemporary Irish Plays

I make a lot of theatre, so I’m always trying to get my hands on new plays to read. I was given this book for Christmas, and really enjoyed the opportunity to become more familiar with modern Irish theatre. The book features HEROIN by Grace Dyas; Trade by Mark O’Halloran; The Art of Swimming by Lynda Radley; Pineapple by Phillip McMahon; The Big Deal by Una McKevitt; Oedipus Loves You by Simon Doyle and Gavin Quinn; The Year of Magical Wanking by Neil Watkins; I (Heart) Alice (Heart) I by Amy Conroy. 
★ ★ ★ ★

3. Mr. Salary – Sally Rooney

I was hearing a lot of good things about Sally Rooney around this time, particularly about her latest novel, Normal People. I haven’t read that, and only ended up reading this short story of hers because someone left it in my house. I found it pretty underwhelming, to be honest. It read like bad fanfiction- a young woman who happens to be close with an older, attractive man in a way that would never happen in real life. There’s sexual tension, it builds throughout the entire story, and then suddenly they’ve slept together and the story’s over. Like I said, underwhelming.
★ ★

4. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

I read this because someone asked me if I’d read Sense and Sensibility before, I said no, and they said I absolutely must. About halfway through the first chapter, I realised I actually have read this before. That makes it sound like this book is really forgettable, but it’s actually an enjoyable classic read. The story is about two sisters, Eleanor, and Marianne. One has sense, one has sensibility. Crazy, I know! It’s what you’d expect from an Austen novel- English countryside, romance, and gossip. It doesn’t beat Pride and Prejudice in my opinion, but it’s still very enjoyable.
★ ★ ★ ★

5. The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

The Stepford Wives is one of those books you always hear about and tell yourself you’ll read. I finally got around to it, and it was brilliant. Despite being written in the ’70s, this story of a housewife trying to figure out the strange goings-on in her strangely perfect neighbourhood is gripping and modern.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

6. The Story of Lucy Gault – William Trevor

During the Irish Civil War, some local men come to the local big house in a Cork village to scare its rich inhabitants into fleeing. The owner of the house, Captain Gault, shoots one of the men in the arm, starting a chain of events that would change the lives of the entire Gault family. The Story of Lucy Gault shows most of the 20th century in Ireland through the eyes of its protagonist, cataloguing a melancholy life that had so many opportunities to go differently. While it isn’t the most upbeat of books, the kindness of its characters makes it a touching read.
★ ★ ★ ★

7. #GIRLBOSS – Sophia Amoruso

As someone in the early stages of running my own business, this book was given to me as a source of inspiration. I’ve been a fan of Sophia Amoruso, the founder of NastyGal and Girlboss Media, for a while now. This book is half-autobiography, half-motivational guide. I’m not sure how interesting it would be to someone who isn’t familiar with Sophia Amoruso, but I found it uplifting.
★ ★ ★

8. Marketing on a Beermat – Chris West

This book was originally published in 2008 and while I’m sure it was a useful resource at the time, it’s in need of an update. Its approach to online marketing hasn’t aged well, and it mentions some resources that can’t be found any more. I understand that books like this don’t always age well, so I think all it would take is for a revised edition to be brought out. I will say though, the beermat concept the title uses is never referred to in the book.
★ ★

9. Lolita – Vladimir Nabrokov

This is a brilliant book on a horrible subject. At multiple points, I found myself feeling conflicted about whether or not I could allow myself to enjoy it because of its subject (spoiler alert: it features a lot of paedophilia). Despite that, it’s a gripping read and I would highly recommend it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

10. A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

I started reading this series when the Game of Thrones TV series met its disappointing end. I’d been a big fan of the show (season eight aside) and wanted to give the original version a go. I loved Martin’s style of writing, and his descriptions reminded me of how much I loved fantastical fiction when I was younger. It’s strange to read the first book in a series when, for the most part, you already know what’s going to happen. Surprisingly, this actually added to my enjoyment of the book. Rather than not being bothered to continue because I know where the story’s going, I’m excited to see how Martin will take me from A to B. I’m definitely going to read the second book in the series.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

11. Crushing It! – Gary Vaynerchuk

I’ve really gone back and forth on the rating I’d give this book. Gary Vaynerchuk (commonly known as Gary Vee) is a famous entrepreneur, known for his love of social media. Crushing It! is a sequel/ follow-up to his 2009 book, Crush It! I enjoyed reading this book, but I don’t think it was particularly helpful. A lot of the book was either hypothetical or stories from other entrepreneurs. This book is aimed at people who want to start and grow a business, but it’s more of a motivational tool than a practical guide to reaching your business goals.

(I wanted to give this book two and a half stars, but I couldn’t find an alt code for half a star. When it came to choosing between two and three stars, I had to go lower.)
★ ★

12. A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin

I have to admit that, because I’ve been reading the books in this series so close together, I can’t remember exactly where one book ends and another begins. To be honest though, I’d see this as a sign of how good these books are. As soon as I finished one, I picked up the next. There’s a lot in the books that the TV show never mentions, and these characters and subplots add intrigue as I try to figure out how they fit into the story I already know. The writing style is wonderful; every sentence combines information with art. I’m enjoying this series as a writer as well as a reader. Every time I read a really good book, it inspires me to write well. George R. R. Martin’s writing has made me feel more inspired than I have in quite a while.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

13. The Cargo Ship Diaries – Niall Doherty

If you’ve checked out my blog before, you might know that a dream of mine is to become a digital nomad. A digital nomad is someone who travels the world while working from their laptop; a person like Niall Doherty. The Cargo Ship Diaries was written while Niall crossed the Pacific Ocean on a cargo ship as part of a challenge to go around the world without air travel. His stories of digital nomadism are a real eye-opener, and tell you so much more about this lifestyle than your typical “working from the beach” Instagram post. I’ve read lots of books about personal stories, but they were always people I didn’t know. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Niall, and knowing the person behind the story adds a whole other level to his story. If you’re considering the digital nomad life, you should definitely read this book.
★ ★ ★ ★

14. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

This isn’t the first time I’ve read this book, and it won’t be the last. Memoirs of a Geisha is an incredible novel, following the life of Sayuri as she becomes and flourishes as a geisha in mid-20th century Kyoto. At points, I felt the emotions so intensely that it was hard to keep reading. Embarrassment, despair, fear; whatever Sayuri felt, I felt. There has been some controversy around the accuracy of Golden’s writing, with real-life geisha arguing that their profession has been made to look almost seedy in parts of the book. I don’t know how true-to-life this book is, but it’s a fantastic story all the same.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

15. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

It can be difficult to enjoy a book as a stand-alone piece of media when you’ve seen the film version multiple times before reading. It doesn’t happen very often, but I have to say that I did prefer the film to the book. While some people might find the writing style punchy and reflective of the narrator’s mental state, I found it unclear. If I hadn’t seen the film, it would have been harder to follow the story. The big plot twist had already been ruined for me because of the film, but that’s not the book’s fault. I have to say, I preferred the book’s ending to the film’s. I feel like the book was alright, but the ideas were really brought to life in the film. Despite that, my rating reflects how I felt about the book on its own, rather than directly comparing it to the film.
★ ★ ★

16. Why We Sleep – Matthew Walker

Despite the fact that we spend at least a third of our life doing it, most of us know very little about sleep. I learned something new on every page in this book, and I’m so glad that I took the time to read it. This book goes through what sleep is, how it affects your body, and how the modern to relationship to sleep needs to drastically change. I think this book would be a little scary for a hypochondriac to read, but ultimately I feel better for understanding this huge part of my life better. There’s a lot of scientific language in this book, so you need to be in the right headspace and take your time in order to fully understand it. However, I think it’s really worth making that effort for this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

17. The Little Book of Hygge – Meik Wiking

In case you aren’t familiar with the term, “hygge” is a Danish concept that “has been translated as everything from ‘the art of creating intimacy‘ to ‘taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things’“. It’s an idea that focuses on feeling cosy, safe, and content. I’ve had this book since its release in 2016 and read it every autumn. This book tells you what hygge is, why people love it, and how you can achieve it. None of the tips are mind-blowing, but putting them all together creates a really enjoyable experience. As the days get colder and the nights grow longer, this book is the perfect thing to get you through the harsh winter. Light some candles, make yourself a hot drink, and curl up with this book for the ultimate hygge experience.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

18. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

I’ve read this book before, and I’ll undoubtedly read it again. Margaret Atwood is an incredibly skilled writer, and every time I read this book, I can’t put it down. With so many dystopian novels, the author tries to cram in as many details about the world as possible, but not Atwood. She focuses on the narrow slice her main character experiences rather than try to explain the political landscape to us, and that just makes us hungry for more. I re-read this book because its sequel was recently released, and I wanted the details to be fresh in my mind when I pick it up. Despite being written decades before dystopian novels became popular, The Handmaid’s Tale is still one of the best.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

19. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick

First published in 1968, it’s easy to see the influence this book has had on generations of modern sci-fi writers. “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who “retires” androids that hide on Earth after escaping the human colony on Mars. They’re almost impossible to distinguish from humans, and can even believe they’re humans if they’ve had fake memories implanted. As Deckard tracks down six androids through a radioactive and deteriorating San Francisco, we learn more about a world in which the idea of what is “real” is both incredibly important and incredibly difficult. Even though I could see how this book was important for the genre, I couldn’t completely get past the book’s attitude to women. Deckard’s moral struggle centres around empathising with androids, but only the female ones that he finds sexually attractive. In a scene where he has sex with an android, we’re given a lengthy description of how child-like she looks, and how Deckard finds that sexy. I’ll be interested to watch the famous film adaptation Blade Runner and see how it compares.
★ ★ ★

20. The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

I had re-read The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year in preparation for the newly-released sequel, and I’d say The Testaments was the book I was most excited to read in 2019. It had received mixed reviews on release, but I expected that. Writing a sequel to a very famous book is difficult, and I worried that Atwood would fall into the same trap Harper Lee did with Go Set a Watchman. As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry. The Testaments builds on the burning questions the reader was left with at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, and gives us a greater insight into the world that, until now, we have only seen through the narrow gap between a Handmaid’s white wings. While it wasn’t quite as fantastic as its predecessor, The Testaments is such a fitting sequel that I’ll never read The Handmaid’s Tale without it again.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

21. Not Just For Christmas – Roddy Doyle

The year was coming to an end, and I’d recently found an old book that had “Christmas” in the title; it seemed like a fitting final book for 2019. I’d read a lot of Roddy Doyle’s work as a child, and was curious as to whether or not I would still enjoy his work as an adult. Not Just For Christmas is a short story about two brothers who meet for a drink after more than twenty years of estrangement. Doyle really captures that mixture of injustice, obligation, apprehension, and hope that comes with tricky family relationships. Despite the things that happened between them, Danny and Jim Murphy still want to make things work, even if it’s just for one evening. It turned out to not be very Christmassy, but Not Just For Christmas was a nice final book for 2019.
★ ★ ★ ★

That’s everything I read in 2019! I had set a New Year’s resolution to read twenty books, and got there with one to spare. Let me know if you read anything based on my recommendation, or leave a comment with any recommendations you have for me. Happy reading!

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