I lost my love for reading this year. It’s my own fault really, I overestimated my capabilities (and the time I had) into thinking I could read 52 books in 52 weeks. Yes, one whole book every week. I got off to a fairly good start mixing the books assigned to me from my queer book club with some personal titles I’ve always wanted to read. But then by the summer reading felt more like a chore and because I was holding myself accountable via my Instagram and I felt I had to read whatever book I could find just to make up the numbers.
All in all, I’m ending 2019 having read total of 32 books. It might not be the 52 books I hoped, but it’s the most amount of books I’ve ever read in any 12 month period, so I’m proud of that at least. Some of the books were amazing, others were okay and there’s a solid 8 titles that I absolutely hated and wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Out of those 32, I’ve ranked just 10 that I really enjoyed (or in one book’s case, left me traumatised and verging on a genuine mental breakdown). Each book on the list is one I genuinely think is worth checking out if you haven’t already. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram I feel like my taste in books is fairly obvious so please drop me any recommendations you have.
And remember! Reading is what? FUN-DA-MENTAL.
10. Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) – L.C. Ronsen
I am a sucker for YA fiction, especially queer YA fiction and Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) is quite possibly the filthiest queer YA book I have ever read. That’s kind of expected when the premise of the book is about Jack, a queer 17 year old who writes an anonymous sex column advising his fellow classmates how best to douche, suck dick, bottom for the first time, get fingered for maximum pleasure… yeah, you get the picture. Obviously it’s not all fun and games and soon Jack finds himself on the receiving end of creepy and sometimes violent messages from a secret admirer who knows Jack’s real identity and threatens to expose him. Having just written a brief summary on this book I can see how ridiculous it sounds and trust me, it is. This book practically reads like a feature length episode of Riverdale, but the story has bucketloads of heart and it got a good few chuckles out of me.
9. The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
What would you do if you knew the exact date you were going to die? That’s the premise of The Immortalists when four siblings stumble across a travelling psychic who claims to be able to predict when they will die. What the four children find out ends up shaping each of their lives in drastic and tragic ways.The book is divided into four parts, one section for each sibling, and spans across 50 years and you see firsthand how each sibling’s life is affected by what the psychic told them all those years ago. It’s an ambitious story to tell and I’m the first to say this book is not perfect, but with a story so vast and open to quite literally any possibility, it was always going to be hard to get it exactly right. That said, The Immortalists really had me gripped from start to finish and I was still thinking about it weeks after I finished it.
8. The Gilded Razor – Sam Lansky
The fact this is a memoir written in the form of prose threw me off a bit because I’ve never seen it done before (perhaps I’m not so well read after all!), but once I got my head around the style I was hooked. Lansky’s journey through drug addiction and failed attempts at recovery is extremely harrowing and just so very sad. However, at no point does he make excuses for himself or expects your sympathy and I really appreciated how the book didn’t try to sugarcoat the true damage addiction can do to relationships and families. If you follow Lansky on Twitter you will obviously know he made it out the other side and is sober and thriving. It’s truly inspiring to see how much he’s managed to accomplish in his life since those dark days.
7. My Sister, The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
Don’t let the title fool you because Braithwaite’s debut is a hell of a lot funnier than you would first think. It doubles up as both a satire and a slasher novel as older sister Korede deals with her younger sister Ayoola and her rather pesky habit of killing her boyfriends. While Ayoola killing her partners is the bones of the book, along with a ridiculous love triangle that wouldn’t feel out of place in any Nollywood drama, I felt like the heart of it was the way Braithwaite explored the sisterly bond between both women, along with their complicated relationship with their mother. This book gets bonus points for being short and snappy as it doesn’t waste any time setting up the scene, you’re basically complicit in Ayoola’s crimes from the first page.
6. Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston
The entire time I was reading this my mind kept thinking: “This would make an incredible Netflix original movie!!!!” Red, White & Royal Blue is so silly and harmless that even if reading a story about how the female president of America’s son somehow falls in love with the prince of England and they begin a secret transatlantic romance isn’t you bag, you’d be hard pressed to not find this book endearing at the very least. The way London is painted in this book is on par with the way Taylor Swift gushes about it on ‘London Boy’. In fact! ‘London Boy’ would be the perfect song for a cute montage scene if the book was ever to be made into a Netflix film. Ugh, MY MIND! My only gripe with the book is that when reading this I was promised there would be some smut-filled chapters and I regret to inform you that there is absolutely no smut whatsoever. Sigh.
5. I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff – Abbi Jacobson
It’s not everyday a book quite literally attacks you, is it? But that’s exactly what happened when I read Abbi Jacobson’s book, which is best be described as a stream of consciousness in hardback. Written during a trip she took across America in the wake of a break-up, Jacobson pours all her emotions, her fears and her anxieties about love, her career and her life on every page of this book. If you’re looking for a book with structure then this isn’t the one for you. It’s got some serious chaotic energy to it, along with some really great drawings of the albums she listened to during her road trip. I felt compelled to read this because I’ve always related to the character she played in Broad City and when the show wrapped up in the summer I really wanted to know more about her. The chapter in the book on how she and Ilana met and got Broad City up and running made my heart ache!!! There are tons of great nuggets of wisdom in this book and while it’s not technically a self-help book, it felt super cathartic reading it.
4. Fangirls: Scenes From Modern Music Culture – Hannah Ewens
A book about the history of pop music fandom and how women occupy that space? YES PLEASE. Broken up into sections based on different artists, Ewens explores how different sub-groups of women demonstrate their love, adoration or just passing appreciation for acts like One Direction, Beyonce, Courtney Love and Amy Winehouse. I particularly recommend the chapter on Amy Winehouse, it’s beautifully written. Fangirls was a refreshing read, especially as women who fawn over popstars have always been unfairly mocked for being hysterical because men would rather women sit down, shut up and listen to a white man with a guitar sing about the mundanity of their lives. This book is a great exploration of how layered and nuanced female fandom is and I love how Ewens travelled far and wide to hear and learn from all types of women. We love proper investigative journalism!
3. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
This book was assigned to me at the book club I go to and I stupidly decided on face value that I wasn’t going to enjoy it, so I didn’t read it. Fast forward to a month later when I rock up to book club and hear everyone gush over how incredible the book is I realise I played myself. Note to self: don’t be a dumb bitch! Anyway, my friends at book club weren’t lying when they said this book was great. The story is centered around the colourful life of Cyril Avery, who is given up for adoption after birth, with Ireland and it’s changing attitudes towards sex and sexual freedom as the book’s backdrop.There is that one weird chapter set in New York during 9/11, but for the most part Ireland is the book’s home base. The book travels through the years where Cyril spends a lifetime trying to find out who he is and where he comes from both with the prevalence of Catholic Ireland and the church weighing heavy on him. Guys! This book! It’s the most compelling, heartwarming and charmingly funny book I’ve probably read in years. I don’t feel like anything I write will do this book justice. Just know that at 700+ pages long, The Heart’s Invisible Furies felt waaaaaaaay too short.
2. A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
Christ, where do I begin with this book? Never has a book left me so traumatised and depressed before in my life. I genuinely think A Little Life contributed to my overall reading fatigue because once I finished all 700+ pages I felt emotionally drained. It’s not like I wasn’t warned before reading it, practically everyone told me this book would be a lot and it lo and behold I’ve struggled to get this book out of my head and it’s been 7 bloody months. The plot begins following four friends as they live, work and fuck in New York and while the book starts out being a collective story, you soon realise the book is really all about one person; Jude. He is the glue that holds the four of them together and we learn about what his life was like growing up and why he is the way he is and does the things he does. Trigger warning, this book deals with a lot of issues to do with rape, assault, self-harm and suicide. Jude has not had a good life and A Little Life is a dive head first with no helmet into it all. There are many times where I had my hand raised to my mouth in horror when reading this and I lost count of how many times I cried after every chapter. I even went to Lispenard Street (where the bulk of the story is set) when I was in New York to get some sort of closure and it made me even sadder!!! Yanagirhara’s way with words is simply hypnotic and despite the story being completely bleak and upsetting with no respite, I just couldn’t couldn’t put this book down.
1. Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams
If you know me then you know it was always going to be Candice Carty-Williams’ debut novel Queenie sitting pretty at the top of my list. With blackness unapologetically permeating every page of the book, Queenie puts the experience of black British women front and centre as our protagonist Queenie grapples with the myriad of challenges that come with dating as a black woman, working in journalism as a black woman, simply going to the gynecologist’s office as a black woman, addressing one’s mental health as a black woman and what it means to just be a black woman in the UK today. Queenie is complicated, she’s messy and she makes questionable choices when it comes to dating and sex, but you still root for her. She’s our messy, imperfect hero. Queenie isn’t without it’s truly brilliant cast of characters, whether it’s straight-talking bestie Kyazike or the scarily familiar Pakistani BMW driver who sees Queenie as nothing more than a “big batty”. It’s characters like this, along with the fraught relationship she has with her mother and grandparents that is carefully unpicked as the story develops that helps this book resonate with anyone on even the most basic human level. But don’t get it twisted, Queenie isn’t sanitised for white and non-black people of colour – black culture references and nuances populate the dialogue between friends, family and colleagues and doing this only makes the story better. Queenie is a book that has been so long overdue in an industry that has needed shaking up for years now, I’m just so happy Candice Carty-Williams is at the forefront of that change.