For the past few years now, I've been celebrating International World Book Day to the British calendar (2018, 2017, 2016, 2015). So, this year, I've switched to the US/rest-of-the-world date just to spice things up. Because nothing says 'international' like a dozen different dates.
This year has been a year of non-fiction for me. I've gone through a lot of books thanks, in part, to joining Audible, which has allowed me to get through tomes in the shower, whilst cooking and whilst pretending to listen in meetings. I'm not making any distinction between books I've read and those I've listened to.
Because I can get through twice as many books, I've added a lot more non-fiction. Pressed for time, I enjoy the escapism of fiction, but my brain does crave a bit of knowledge now and then. So, here's my top picks. For a more thorough list of books I'd recommend, check out my Juicy Reads section.
Thanks to my friend Emma Lawson for putting me onto this one. The Frighteners by Peter Laws, the Sinister Minister. No, seriously, a priest who writes, and is fascinated by, horror. This book is a lot of fun and explores the human fascination with all things gory and bump-in-the-nighty.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is an excellent in-depth introduction to the history of human kind and our impact on the world around us. Really engagingly written and full of fascinating facts. He's written another, Homo Deus, about the future of human kind, which is on my TBR pile. I think this and The Silk Roads should be mandatory reading in schools.
Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters was an excellent read, I think suggested by my aunty Patsy. Can't remember how we got onto the subject, but certainly remember the story. It charts the life of a homeless man, Stuart, and how he ended up where he did, from childhood to traumatic adulthood. Very poignant read.
A much older biography, The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid written by the man who shot him, Pat Garrett. I couldn't help myself, I've always loved Young Guns, and the legend is an enticing one. Sometimes it's also nice to read yea oldey writing, something in a style completely different to today's slick prose. Something with a bit of history behind it.
Finally, this biography is absolutely worth a read. My African Dream was written by my friend Henri Nyakarundi, who you might remember from my TEDx talk. This is his life story, growing up as a Rwandan refugee in Burundi, then moving to the States for 17 years, and about the events and decisions that led him back to Africa. He's led a fascinating life and it's a thoroughly engaging story.
I fell in love with Differently Morphous by Yhatzee Crowshaw. I've read a bit of China Miéville and currently on Ian Banks at the moment, and enjoying them all, but as far as kookie characters and imagination-stretching goes, this one wins out for me. Occult institutions bogged down by bureaucracy and political correctness - and a lot of glitter.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley is beautifully written and rather enchanting. Plus, who could ignore the sumptuous cover? Set in Victorian England, it's hard to explain this story, so pick up a copy. By the end, I guarantee you'll be in love with an octopus.
I'm including Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M Yardley because it is highly stylised and therefore completely different to anything else I've read in quite a while. It's one of the few times I've purchased something after seeing the cover on Twitter. Usually, this hasn't worked out well for me and those purchases have never been mentioned again, but this one was a good buy. Told as a living fairytale, rich with imagery.
This book, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, blew me away. Some of the best writing I've read in a long time. I'm a huge fan of Bem Le Hunte and Divakaruni, so stories of India and her histories and mysteries always draw me in. I saw this on the table at a local book swap group and liked the title, so went home to purchase a copy. I would recommend anyone does the same.
My short story shout out this year is for my friend Dara Passano. I've known her as a Guardian columnist for some time, but she's released a short story in Meridian this year and it's excellent. You can read it for free online as part of a collection of short stories.
Finally, I'd like to mention Girls & Boys which is a monologue performed by actress Carey Mulligan and released on Audible. It looks at the complexities of domestic violence, but it's extremely good listening. Some very funny moments, peppered with dark humour, and a thought-provoking finale.
Well, that's my round-up for 2019, see you again in a year for more recommendations. Let me know what you've been reading - and would recommend - in a comment below.