“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”
– Victor Hugo
Once again, I set myself a target of forty books for 2019, using the Goodreads Reading Challenge as a motivator, but I really struggled to make that target this year! Finding more time to read in 2020 is definitely a resolution for me. Back in April, I reviewed what I’d read so far at that stage of the year (imagine – I was ahead of schedule then!), and you can check that out here.
I’ve continued to expand my collection of audiobooks, which are brilliant for the many long car journeys my GAA role involves, and this year’s highlights included Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Joseph O’Connor’s Shadowplay (I enjoyed it so much I bought the print version too!) and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, all of which I’d highly recommend.
Just finished this on @audible_com and really enjoyed it. If you get nothing else out of it, you’ll learn something about yourself #currentlyreading pic.twitter.com/G5tKFSN0HI
— Tracey Kennedy (@Tracey_Cork) December 12, 2019
As you may notice, I mainly read fiction, but there were some excellent non-fiction offerings in this year’s reading list too. I loved Emma Dabiri’s very powerful examination of the relationship between hair and race, Don’t Touch My Hair, the fascinating and frightening The Secret Barrister and of course The Double, by Adrian Russell, the story of the era-defining Cork GAA All-Ireland double of 1990. For anyone who hasn’t yet read Michelle Obama’s Becoming, it’s a really inspiring and interesting story of a woman who is far more than America’s first black First Lady.
I always try to read as many women authors as possible, and one of my goals this past year was to read more work by women of colour; I’ve definitely increased the proportion but could still improve it further. Becoming, An American Marriage and Don’t Touch my Hair were joined by Zadie Smith’s wonderful essay collection, Feel Free, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, which I also loved, the beautiful Man Booker International winner, Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, and Small Island by Andrea Levy, which I certainly should have read before now.
Other highlights included Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson (I have a taste for the slightly weird!), Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (same!), Jane Harper’s The Lost Man and Force of Nature, and of course, The Testaments, which I really enjoyed though it received mixed reviews. The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews proved to be an unexpected delight which would also go down well with Young Adult readers and is very timely in the Greta Thunberg era.
As always, there were one or two that I really didn’t like, but this is of course a matter of personal taste. I found Friend Request, my last book of the year, rather predictable; I didn’t love The Wych Elm, despite its excellent reviews and I struggled a bit with The Light-keeper’s Daughter.
Here are my top ten reads of 2019 (in alphabetical order of author surname):
- The Word for Woman is Wilderness – Abi Andrews
- The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
- Night Boat to Tangier – Kevin Barry
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey
- Seven Days of Us – Francesca Hornak
- An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
- The Tattoist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris
- Becoming – Michelle Obama
- Shadowplay – Joseph O’Connor
- Frankissstein – Jeanette Winterson
Very narrowly missing out on the top ten were Rewind by Catherine Ryan Howard (largely set in East Cork, local readers!), The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse, both the Jane Harper books and Little Fires Everywhere. You should be able to view the full list of what I read here.
I’m going to stick with the target of forty again for 2020, but will hope to surpass it if at all possible (my GAA term ends in early December so there is hope!). I started Kieran McCarthy’s Something in the Water, the story of Skibbereen Rowing Club, in the dying hours of 2019 and finished it on January 1st, so it goes down as the first book I’ve finished in 2020, and I’m just about to start the classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, which I received as a wonderful Christmas gift. Some 2019 titles I missed out on and am looking forward to reading as soon as possible are Machines Like Me (Ian McEwan), Girl, Woman, Other (Bernardine Evaristo and the joint winner of the Man Booker Prize) and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. I’ve also just started an audiobook that’s been on my list for a while, The Cyber Effect by Dr. Mary Aiken.
Lots to look forward to in 2020 – comments and suggestions appreciated!
*I’ve linked to Dubray Books for most of my recommendations here, simply because I ordered online from them in the past and got brilliant service, but ideally, we should all try to support our local booksellers too when possible. Midleton Books is a brilliant shop in East Cork, and I also like Vibes and Scribes and Waterstones in Cork city. I use Audible for my audiobooks.