Steve's favourite books of 2019

Shop Manager Steve runs through some of his favourite books of 2019.

My intention had been to keep a running list of all the books I’d read throughout the year now that I’m a responsible bookshop manager. Unfortunately, due to a number of life circumstances this has largely gone by the by so this round up of my reading is done from going through bookshelves and memory. As I finish a book, I’ve been donating it to the shop although I have held on to a few. It’s still difficult to make space at home as I’m so fond of my books!
2019 has been the year of Penelope Fitzgerald, Michael Frayn and William Boyd as I’ve read a number of their books and thoroughly enjoyed them. They’re all British writers who cheerfully cross genre and style. Further, they write what I call quiet books, even when they are telling a murder story.
I loved Zafon’s The Labyrinth of the Spirits, a worthy end (or is it?) to the Shadow of the Wind saga. As series books go, Sansom’s Tombland is another winner, Shardlake is a great character.
John Lancaster’s Capital and The Wall are both highly recommended, cynical and dystopian but funny with it and Mick Herron’s Joe Country is a worthy edition to the hilarious and vital Slow Horses spy series. Talking of spies, Le Carre’s latest is great as was Alex Gerlis’ Berlin Spies, another series book, I seem to like that kind of thing as do many of us. It’s a comfort catching up with characters you feel you’ve come to know. Rankin’s latest Rebus book was satisfying, and the Philip Kerr’s posthumous Bernie Ghunter book Metropolis was a bitter-sweet read. It’s rumoured that he left one more and both Bernie and Philip will be sadly missed. I enjoyed also, the return of Jackson Brodie in Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky and David Downing was reliable as ever with Diary of a Dead Man on Leave.
The last 6 months have been rather tempestuous, and I retreated at times to the easy page turners from the likes of Ken Follet, John Grisham, Laurence Block, and a suitcase full of Hard Case Crime noir. Robert Harris’s Second Sleep and Joseph Kanon’s The Accomplice were both worth a read, but I think they’ve both written better books. I’m not ashamed to read and enjoy page turners, there is so much so-called great literature that I can’t enjoy (little education see) so I’m happy with a clever thriller or witty crime caper.
None fiction included Jon Ronson’s Shamed, Them and Frank. I feel like I already knew them but was happy regardless. Stalin’s Englishman, Andrew Lownie’s biography of Guy Burgess was enlightening and Stephen Fry’s romps through the Greek Myths and Heroes was fun. Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols delivered a surprisingly moving autobiography. I read a biography of Putin a History of the Cold War and I haven’t got around to The Age of Surveillance Capitalism yet. Real life has been topsy turvy enough this year, so I haven’t read a lot of none fiction.
I could go on as I’m sure if I dug further, I’d remember more books I read but I think I’ve mentioned enough! So, here in reverse order are the top ten books I’ve read this year.
10. The Glass Room – Simon Mawer
9. Red Plenty - Francis Spufford
8. The Beginning of Spring - Penelope Fitzgerald
7. The Russian Interpreter – Michael Frayn
6. Foundation Trilogy – Asimov
5. The History of Bees – Maja Lunde
4. Restless William Boyd
3. Human Voices – Penelope Fitzgerald
2. Waiting for Sunrise – William Boyd
1. Transcription – Kate Atkinson
I loved Atkinson’s Transcription. It’s very different from most of her work and looking at Amazon reviews many call it boring. It’s not, it’s superb! Quiet. But funny and insightful and truthful. I’m sure she was influenced by Penelope Fitzgerald; it has her solid sense of time and place and reserved dignity. Loved it.
I’ve remembered others I’ve read now as I’ve gone over my choices, but these’ll do. Reading isn’t a competition and I hope that whatever you’ve read this year has left you entertained, thrilled, saddened, maddened and gladdened!
Here’s to more hours fabulously wasted in 2020