Planning to read more in 2019 ? Podcasters and poets, writers, critics and salon hosts – we asked some of our favourite literary people what they’re going to be reading this coming year….
Rather than getting caught up in the frantic pace of keeping up with what’s new, I’m planning to read a lot of classics I haven’t read yet and books by women that have been unfairly ignored. I’ve kicked off 2019 with Marghanita Laski’s To Bed With Grand Music (published by Persephone) which originally appeared in 1946 and is devillishly racy and a brilliantly observed portrait of a marriage dissolved by war and narcissism. In terms of what I’m going to read, I am finally intending to devour Nora Ephron’s Heartburn and no, I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet either.
I’m also looking forward to Francesca Segal’s first work of non-fiction, Mother Ship, which is an extraordinary memoir about having premature twin girls. I’ve read an early proof and it’s stunning. I’ve also read advance copies of The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins and The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal and both of them are going to blow your minds. The Snakes by Sadie Jones, out in March, is an instant classic: a dark thriller that is also so much more. But the one I’m hugely excited about reading for the first time is City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her previous novel, The Signature of All Things, was absolutely brilliant and I can’t wait for this one. My best book(s) of 2018? Educated by Tara Westover in non-fiction and Crudo by Olivia Laing in fiction.
I am glad Zora Neale Hurston is getting recognition in the UK because Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the finest novels I have ever read. But I’d like to share Molly Keane – her domain is the Anglo-Irish country house, but her power lies in making us all feel like we stalk the once-grand rooms and their crumbling inhabitants. Her wit should not be mistaken for a lack of seriousness but a catalyst for it. And I’m excited to read Sally Phipps’ biography of Keane, Molly Keane: A Life (who the fabulous Diana Athill edited!).
This year I’ve decided to read other people’s journeys into becoming. Writing a book myself, I’m learning the importance of observation first. I’m deep into Shoe Dog at the moment. After reading Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, I realised that I want to read how some of my favourite fruits came to be (Scandal, Nike etc). I’ll also be diving head first into as many poetry books as possible. I’ve started with some Rumi, and ordered a whole lot of Warsan Shire, Rudy Francisco, Baldwin and Khalil Gibran. Almost every year I re-read The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. I’m embarrassingly addicted. For years I would buy a copy EVERY single time I saw it in a shop. I’ll probably pick that up at some point this year and fall in love again *sigh*.
Book of the year… SLAY IN YOUR LANE. Such an important book, and I could resonate on so many different levels. Last year I set a book challenge and failed miserably so this year I’m just promising to put down books that don’t wow me. There are enough good books to feel that magic every time.
My reading resolution this year is to spread the good word of the novelist Sarah Moss. If you don’t know where to begin, start with her latest work Ghost Wall (Granta, 2018). The disquieting novella opens with a description of a young woman being sacrificed into the peat bogs of the moors thousands of years ago. We then flash forward to the Nineties but the sense of foreboding doesn’t dissipate. This is the story of seventeen-year-old Silvie who spends a summer with her parents at an Iron Age re-enactment site in Northumberland because her father, Bill, a bus driver, has a passion for history. It’s not altogether her, or her mother’s, idea of a good time. They’ve joined a university professor and his students. The idea is that they should all get a flavour of Iron Age life but Bill, a bully, is far more concerned about “authenticity” than the professor. This is a smart, subtle and menacing work. Why Moss hasn’t been nominated for more literary awards is a mystery to me but there’s no doubt that her star is in the ascendant.
My biggest reading resolution is to try to read 50 pages of a book in the morning before looking at my phone – purely for my mental health. I don’t really like the idea of having a number of books, or a book quota for the year, because I think that perpetuates the idea that books are being endured rather than enjoyed – but I do think that waking up and being transported into someone else’s world is a vast improvement of immediately travelling to one that is crafted by trolls and people screaming ‘BREXIT!’
I cannot possibly pick one best book of 2018 but I posted a Twitter thread of the books I adored, and I have remembered three glaring omissions since – David Barnet’s The Growing Pains Of Jennifer Ebert, Sarra Manning’s The Rise And Fall Of Becky Sharp and Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature. I am looking forward to about a thousand books coming out this year, 2019 is a great time to be a reader – and I’ve just read early copies and fallen in love with A Love Story For Bewildered Girls, Last Train To Hilversum, This Green And Pleasant Land and Daisy Jones And The Six. I’m very excited about meeting your writers and being a bookshelf nosy Parker for my podcast, You’re Booked – we’ve been recording our second series and we’ve got some cracking episodes coming.
And my big book ambition is to read Anna Karenina. I’m ashamed that I haven’t read it yet. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to be a lot of pages about Russians using agricultural equipment. But I am pumped, amped and psyched!
I’m really looking forward to Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail. Off the back of her beautifully honest podcast series of the same title, where guests shared (often painful) moments that shaped their lives, it promises to be a cutting insight into the writer’s mind. Also keen to see what Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me has to offer: I’m a pushover for alt-history and the 80s. I try not to get too bogged down in specific genres, although a good friend has urged me to revisit Raymond Chandler and I’ve got a lovely new edition of Wind in the Willows I intend to read as soon as possible. I also want (need!) to read more this year. Sometimes work gets in the way. But I don’t want to put a number on it. And if pushed Sally Rooney’s Normal People really spoke to me. I studied at Trinity College and Rooney’s intimate narrative wound me into memories of Dublin’s streets; my own relationships.
What is my 2019 reading resolution? Well, there are loads of classics I’ve not read, of course, but there are a few in particular which I know I’d love and I’ve wanted to read for ages. This year I WILL make time for them, Heartburn by Nora Ephron and Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm being top of the list. Resolutions aside, there are SO many books I’m looking forward to: The Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Vagina by Lynn Enright, Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and more.
As for my favourite book of 2018? There are too many to mention! I loved Ordinary People by Diana Evans, How Do You Like Me Now by Holly Bourne, The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman – and lots and lots of others too.
2018 was a great year for books, and we were lucky enough to interview a bunch of really fantastic authors on Literary Friction. In fact, both of our books of the year came from the show – for me it has to be To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine. It’s honest, emotionally frank, and she writes with real humour and humility about some really important themes. Carrie’s book of the year was Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan, which she found a total pleasure to read. It’s a great adventure, and a wonderful historical piece, but also a book that thinks deeply and meaningfully about the impact of slavery. I also enjoyed Rachel Cusk’s Outline, so am planning to read Transit and Kudos this yearto complete the trilogy, and Carrie can’t wait to start There, There by Tommy Orange, a debut novel about the Native American community in Oakland that she’s been wanting to read for a while.
As for books coming out in 2019, I’m really excited about Crossing by Pajtim Statovci (who we interviewed about his first book a couple of years ago), a novel that explores ‘the struggle to feel at home – in a foreign country and even in one’s own body’, coming out in April, and Carrie’s looking forward to The Parisian, by Isabella Hammad, also out in April; it’s very long, but a number of people (including Zadie Smith) think it’s great.
This year, in an anti-Brexit attempt to keep my horizons open, I’m planning to read more books in translation. China Dream by Ma Jian and The Piranhas by Roberto Saviano are top of my list, and I really should get round to tackling Karl Ove Knausgaard. Also, inspired by the absolute brilliance that was Black Panther, I’m going to be seeking out more science fiction from people of colour, especially stories involving strong heroines. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor is a must, and I’ve heard great things about the debut from Nigerian author Tochi Onyebuchi, Beasts Made of Night. I also feel the time is ripe to re-read one of my favourite series of all time, the eight-part sequence of Niccolo books from Scottish author Dorothy Dunnett. They follow the life of a brilliant antihero through the mid-fifteenth-century European Renaissance and represent the best sort of absorbing, surprising historical fiction.
As for my favourite book of 2018? Tim Pears’ The Wanderers, the second novel in his West Country trilogy, was as extraordinary as the first. The Horseman. Utterly compelling and quietly devastating, it is a beautifully drawn portrait of rural life at the turn of the twentieth century. I devoured it in a day, but its impact has lingered all year.
In 2019, I’m planning to read more for pleasure as well as for work, by aiming to replace unnecessary screen time with book time. I’m so excited for 2019 in books – particularly from exciting debut authors like Candice Carty Williams (Queenie), Joanna Ramos (The Farm) and Alan Trotter (Muscle). It’s so hard to pick just one favourite of 2018, but I loved The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles, Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott and The Pisces by Melissa Broder.
My favourite book of last year is very apt for January … My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh which follows an unnamed character who decides to take a year off from life to hibernate. It’s bizarre and wonderful and like her I’m very much planning on hibernating with some good books (and good tea) this month.
This year is set to be another great year for books and I’m particularly looking forward to heading to my local bookshop and picking up Samantha Irby’s humorous essay collection We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Kristen Roupenian’s debut short story collection You Know You Want This and Max Porter’s new novel Lanny.