Reading lists

Books that shaped 2019

From stirring novels to thought-provoking journalism, inspiring memoirs to data-crunching eye-openers, these are the most influential books of the year.

If one word summed up 2019, it might be uncertainty: in politics, in the future of our environment, in our ability to predict just what will happen next. But throughout the chaos, one thing has stood firm, and that's our love of a good read: in January it was reported that 190.9 million books were sold in the UK, a figure which has risen for the fourth year in a row.

Providing some much needed escapism is only part of the story. Throughout 2019, books were at the centre of the most important debates taking place in society, from climate change to gender equality to the mental health crisis. Sometimes they have enriched our understanding of difficult topics in a way endlessly scrolling social media simply can not. Sometimes they have started conversations we didn't even know we needed to have. 

Here, then, are the books we think have helped shape 2019, from transformative novels to agenda-setting journalism, inspiring memoirs to data-crunching eye-openers.

Writing for the Guardian, author Diana Evans called Queenie an 'important political tome of black womanhood and black British life, a rare perspective from the margins.' It follows a 26-year-old Jamaican-British woman living in London and working at a national newspaper staffed primarily by white people who, following a messy break up, reaches her wit’s end and descends into full blown self-destruct mode. 

As well as being exceptionally funny, Queenie was important evidence of the huge appetite for fiction dealing with black identity in Britain, becoming one of the most celebrated and talked about novels of the year.

There was much hype surrounding New York Times writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel, and for good reason. Check the book review aggregator Bookmarks and you won't find a single negative review of the satire which turned the marriage novel inside out and became a talking point at dinner parties on both sides of the Atlantic.

It tells the story of a post-split couple struggling to come to terms with their past. He’s a newly dating app-obsessed doctor and she’s a workaholic booking agent. One night, she drops the kids off at 4 am and, with a casual text, vanishes from their lives. What follows is a shrewd poke about in the darkest corners of matrimony and untold truths about female rage, male inadequacy and the delicate power-balance marriage involves.

Another 'have you read it yet?' moment of 2019 - this time, non-fiction - Three Women is a painstakingly researched study of the sex and love lives of three women that, as one reviewer put it, confirmed 'the hypocrisies of the heterosexual marriage, the psychological scars that sexual coercion and violence can leave on a person, and the persistence of gender inequality.'

Taddeo immersed herself in the lives of her subjects who were from quite different regions and backgrounds – an intimacy-starved housewife trapped in a passionless marriage; a student whose life is destroyed by an affair with a married teacher; and a reluctant swinger whose husband forces her to have threesomes that leave her feeling empty and unmoored.

A beautifully compassionate and complex feat of modern storytelling, it was a book that, in some ways, captured the #metoo movement in a way no book had done before.

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