Best Books I Read in 2019

How was your reading year? I read 58 books overall, which was not as many as I’d hoped, but still about one a week, which is OK for me. It was a busy year in many ways, and I didn’t always have much time for reading, but I still read some excellent books.

Here’s a quick rundown of the best books I read this year, followed by a breakdown of my reading by gender, publication year, genre, length, rating, etc.

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

My year started back in January with a surprising hit in the form of a Japanese novel about compiling a dictionary. Read my review of The Great Passage here.

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

How Fiction Works by James Wood

As I wrote in my February reading roundup, this is a “great read both for writers and for keen readers”. New Yorker critic James Wood goes into real detail about what works and what doesn’t work in fiction, with lots of wonderful examples to back up his points.

Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany by Hans J. Massaquoi

This was a more recent read, a wonderful memoir by Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi, a German-American journalist of African ancestry. It’s full of amazing stories about being a black kid in Nazi Germany, surviving under a regime built on racism. I want to write more about this book if I have time.

Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany by Hans J Massaquoi

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

OK, it’s not the catchiest title you’ll ever come across, but this new novel by Turkish writer Elif Shafak is definitely worth reading. A moving account of the life and death of Istanbul sex worker Tequila Leila and of the friends who battle against institutional contempt and try to give her the send-off she deserves. I covered this one in my October reading roundup.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Why do so many white people get that familiar look of frozen terror every time the subject of race comes up? How can we get beyond defensiveness, guilt and discomfort and begin to dismantle a system that harms us all? Find out in this fresh, hard-hitting book, which I first mentioned in my March reading roundup.

Analysis of My 2019 Reading Habits

Although I haven’t been reviewing books on here as much as I’d like, I have kept a list of all the books I read this year, and I just crunched the numbers to see what it reveals about my reading habits. Here we go…


The books I read in 2019 were pretty much evenly split between those written by men and those written by women. I’m happy with that because I know that in previous years I’ve had more of a male bias. The “mixed” part of the chart refers to books with multiple authors.


Again, a very even split here, which surprises me because I don’t really plan my reading, and I’d have expected more fiction than non-fiction, but it came out exactly the same. I didn’t split “novels” out by genre, but they would be almost all literary fiction.


This part reflects the way I live, constantly travelling from place to place. So by necessity I read lots of ebooks on my Kindle and listen to audiobooks on those eight-hour drives, whereas my preference is always to read good old-fashioned books made of paper.


Not at all happy with the UK/US bias here. I’d like to read more books by authors from around the world, especially the places I’m travelling in.


I apply a simple 1 to 5 rating to remind me roughly how I responded to each book. Overall, it’s skewed towards the top end of the scale, which is how I like it. A few duds are unavoidable, I suppose.

Publication Year

This one surprised me: much more heavily skewed to contemporary literature than I had expected. Maybe I’ll try to read more classics next year.


Last but not least, page count. Mostly medium length, 200 to 400 pages, which doesn’t surprise me much.

How Was Your Reading Year?

So that was my reading year in 2019. If you’d like to know more about the books I read this year, you can read my book reviews section—or if you’re really keen, you can check out a list of all the books I’ve reviewed in over ten years of blogging. And why not sign up to my newsletter for regular updates?

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What were your favourite books of the year? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your highlights and recommendations.

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There are 16 comments

  1. That’s a very interesting selection of books, Andrew. One of my colleagues at the bookshop chose the Shafak as his top recommendation of the year, so it’s good to see it on your list as well. Of the others featured here, the James Wood definitely appeals. I’ve been meaning to read some of his essays for quite a while…

    1. I can see why he chose it – Shafak strikes such a good balance between literary innovation and telling a compelling story, with characters that just leap off the page and make you care about them. And she weaves in some important history and social commentary too. So much to recommend it. Hope you enjoy it if you get to it in 2020. Happy New Year!

  2. I love it when stat’s work out to mirror one’s intentions! Although a large part of the reason I started tracking certain data was because I had noticed that the opposite was true for me (e.g. thinking that I was reading a lot of indie-press publications but finding that I was reading far more from the “big 6” than I’d realized). My reading is usually slightly skewed towards reading women authors, which began when I recognized that I’d hardly read any when I was a student and in my younger reading years) and usually skewed towards reading authors who live north of the 49th parallel, whether indigenous or Canadian (or identifying as both/neither): the question from year-to-year is HOW skewed and how and how often I manage to veer off in other directions. One of my favourites for this year is Amy Waldman’s A Door in the Earth, but I haven’t officially made any calculations or choices yet…soon…just a few more reading hours left! Hah.

    Happy New Year!

    1. Yeah, that’s a good feeling! I don’t really plan my reading through the year, so I’m happy to find that overall I had a good mix. The only one that really surprised me was the large numbers of books by authors from the UK or US. I’d like to change that in 2020.

      Happy New Year to you too! It was great discovering your blog this year… sorry, last year! I look forward to reading your 2019 roundup if you have a chance to write one. Here’s to lots of great books in 2020!

  3. I’m impressed by all the stats. I should read Shafak.

    I’ve been reading a lot of End-of-Year lists recently (it’s that time of year, of course) and I’m amazed at one thing: most of the time I know maybe one book or one author on the list and that’s all. And people’s lists don’t overlap, I don’t see the same books everywhere.

    It says a lot about the diversity of the books we can find out there and about the lively book community that we belong to.

    I wish you and Genie a happy reading year for 2020, a year full of travels and meeting with new people.

    Ou Book Club is reading a Greek book in January. It’s Something Will Happen, You’ll See by Christos Ikonomou. Have you read it? It’s a collection of short stories.

    1. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I just read yours, and it’s the same—I didn’t know any of the books, and I haven’t seen them on anyone else’s lists either. I find the newspaper lists tend to overlap a bit more because they often cover the big, popular books published this year. But even then, there are lots of differences. And we book bloggers are much more eclectic 😉

      I haven’t read that Greek book either. It sounds very good and very bleak. I’m tempted to try it, but I’ll let you be the guinea pig first 🙂

      1. Bloggers read older books too, that means that the possibilities are endless.
        I’m starting the Greek book today, we’ll see.

        1. Yes, it becomes quite a different type of list, doesn’t it? To be honest, I always distrust the lists claiming to name the “best books of 2019”, simply because of the sheer number of books published every year—even the most conscientious journalist or literary editor couldn’t read all of them. So I prefer the bloggers’ lists of the best books they happened to read in 2019. That’s a judgement nobody can argue with.

          Good luck with the Greek book! I just bought a Greek book in a local bookshop, but a different one: Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis. So I’ll join you in a little Greek readalong!

  4. I’m glad to be reminded of how much you enjoyed The Great Passage (can you believe that was a year ago?!). I must put it on my list for this year’s Japanese Literature Challenge 13 which begins this month.

    I have tried to leave comments here (on your blog, not this post) before, and somehow they didn’t stick, but please do not think I haven’t been visiting.

    You crunched numbers beautifully, something I am not so good at. It is a good way to analyze what one has read, and yet…my preferred, non-mathematical brain, comes up with this analysis for my reading: “Hmmm, you surely slacked off this year, Bellezza. What is up with you?” ?? I hope for a return to reading in which I am totally immersed for 2020, instead of being a scatterbrained dolt which I excelled in for the past six month.

    My best to you, Andrew, as we begin 2020. I’ll see you around, so to speak.

    1. I know, I can’t believe it was a year ago. It’s come around so fast. JLC got my reading year off to a great start, so thanks for that! I’m a bit behind this time around, but I plan to find a book and start reading soon.

      Ah yes, the number-crunching… Did you know that I started my working life as a corporate banker on Wall Street? I hated it and left quickly, and the money I was so focused on at the time has long since disappeared, but I still have the spreadsheet skills, so it wasn’t all for nothing.

      Sorry to hear about the commenting problems. It makes me secretly happy, though—now, whenever I get a post with no comments, I can console myself with the thought that it must have been technical problems 😉 Anyway, I’m glad this one stuck.

      Happy New Year to you too, Bellezza! Hope 2020 is a good year for you, both in reading and in the rest of your life. See you around!

  5. Always re-assuring to know I’m not the only one who analyses their reading. I originally starting tracking the books I had read as a way to try and force myself to read more books by women and now use it as a way to encourage myself to read as diversely as possible.
    I read Forty Rules of Love and while I thought it was well-written I didn’t find the subject matter particularly engaging; however, I keep hearing lots of good things about 10 minutes 38 seconds … so I’ve added it to my ever-growing wishlist for 2020.
    Best recent books I read last year were Burnt Shadows and The Hate U Give. I also read a couple of older books which I thought were great; Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and The Sorrow of War.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I do find that analysing my reading is useful for becoming aware of biases and correcting them. I haven’t done it for a few years now, but it was good to get back in the habit this year.

      I also loved The Hate U Give! It might have made it onto my top 5 if I’d written this post on another day. It was certainly one of my favourite reads of the year. I don’t know those other two, but I looked them up and they sound excellent—especially The Sorrow of War. I may read that one in 2020.

  6. I find the way you a analyze your reading very fascinating. I should do it sometime. I realized that Ive started one if the books you mention How Fiction Works but never finished it although it’s so good. I don’t even know where I put it. So thanks for the reminder. I wish you a wonderful reading year and a great 2020.

    1. Good to hear from you, Caroline! I haven’t done this for a few years now, so it was good to start up again and see what I’ve been reading. Glad it was interesting for you too! Wishing you an excellent 2020 too, both in reading and in the rest of your life.

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