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STACK THEM UP: GOOD BOOKS OF 2019

From funny debut fiction to unbelievable memoirs, these are just some of the year's literary highlights

Phoebe McDowell | 16.12.2019

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Is it me or is everyone really, really into reading as of late? Friends that hadn’t so much as picked up a book since reading To Kill A Mockingbird under duress at school, are pouring over and sobbing into Hanya Yanagihara’s 720-page A Little Life.

Yes, books are as much a part of the millennial cultural curriculum as Netflix. So finishing one comes with the question of who, of the now many people you’ll pass it on to. Knowing that you shouldn’t thrust it in their hand, saying ‘you really must read this’, despite it already having reached ‘you must read this’ status, but doing so anyway, because you can’t bear not to talk about it, if only to exchange a single: ‘wow’. Or in A Little Life’s case: ‘heartbroken, hbu?’.

Instagram posts of birthdays and breakfasts, have been supplanted by vertiginous stacks of books. Obama's summer reading list is awaited with daunt and glee, and celebrity book clubs have more cachet than new Celine. Florence Welsh will often recommend three at a time (breezy for Barack who - riddle us this - reportedly read for an hour every night throughout his presidency). Meanwhile Reese Witherspoon's band of bibliophiles (currently 1.3 million on @ReesesBookClub) shows no sign of abating.

And so, at any given time, there’ll be more than a few of us contemplating whether Celestial and Roy from Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage were destined to fail. Or what Marianne and Connell from Sally Rooney’s Normal People could have done differently. (You’ll struggle to find a millennial woman who hasn’t read the latter, which is a curiously warming thought). 


the 10 must-reads of 2019

Notes to Self

by Emilie Pine

Pine serves her soul on a platter in this series of acerbic short stories. Centred around notoriously hard-to-talk-about subjects like alcoholism, rape, menstruation and miscarriage, it's impossible not to gobble up compulsively.

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The Testaments

by Margaret Attwood

The much-anticipated, Man Booker blockbuster, and the sequel to the The Handmaid’s Tale (you already knew that), three narrators tell their story of gruesome Gilead. The most adroit is sour-faced Aunt Lydia’s, but those of Agnes (the adopted daughter of the commander and his wife) and Daisy (a Canadian immigrant) will have you turning pages just as quickly.

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The Nickel Boys

by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead fictionalises but immortalises a real historical scandal: the systemic and institutional abuse of black boys sentenced to a reform academy in Jim Crow-era Florida. Sad but so very important. 

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Fleishman is in Trouble

by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

From the seemingly superior vantage point of the narrator, a case so strong is presented against Toby Fleishman’s social climbing, morally-bankrupt wife that she’d never be able to redeem herself. Until she can. And she does.

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Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope

by Megan Phelps-Roper

Still thinking about Tara Westover's Educated? Also anchored in fundamentalism, Phelps-Roper’s memoir is about leaving a family she loves, because of a religion she grows to hate. You may recognise the story from Louis Theroux’s documentary, The Most Hated Family in America.

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She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

New York Times reporters Kantor and Twohey - alongside colleague Ronan Farrow - broke the Weinstein scandal, and this is the enlightening, but dismal and demoralising account of how and why the prolific sex offender got away with it for so long.

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Queenie

by Candice Carty-Williams

The catastrophes, mostly defined by bad dates with worse men, are never ending for the title character Queenie. Growing up a Jamaican immigrant in South West London, she grapples with racism, sexism and gentrification. Yes, it's a political tome of black, British womanhood, but it's also one with heaps of humour. 

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Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion

by Jia Tolentino

The subject of each of Tolentino’s essays are, in her own words the ‘prisms through which she sees the world’. She cut her teeth at The New Yorker, and it shows in her nimble and perfectly probing prose. Subjects range from reality TV and the internet, to the the galling culture of wedding excess.  

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The Hunting Party

by Lucy Foley

Set in secluded Scotland, Foley’s first novel, a murder mystery, has the hallmarks of an Agatha Christie, though it's spliced with themes more sinister. Under pressure, the already fractious group of university friends fall apart at the seams in a plot that’s cleverly generous in its ambiguity.

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Girl, Woman, Other

by Bernardine Evaristo

The joint Man Booker Prize winner is a vivid and familial tale of black womanhood. 12 disparate narratives and characters that ultimately, in the the penultimate chapter unite at a party. With little punctuation and no capitals to start sentences, it reads almost as verse, and is all the better for it. 

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