The 11 Best Books Of 2019 To Binge On Over Summer
The summer break gives us all the chance to pick up a book and get reacquainted with the joy of reading.
So why not explore some of the best recent releases? Whether you’re looking for a gritty story of life on the Melbourne streets, a poetic exploration of family, or a front-seat view of the excesses of a 70s rock band, there's something on the shelf for everyone to get obsessed over this summer.
1. The Rip by Mark Brandi
Make no mistake, Mark Brandi’s second novel The Rip -- which follows a young woman who has fallen into homelessness, drug addiction and occasional sex work -- is just as grim as his debut, Wimmera. However, somehow, in The Rip the Australian writer creates a sense of hope amid the constant threat of violence, poverty and addiction on the streets of Melbourne. Perhaps it is the young protagonist's friendship with Anton, or her companionship with her faithful dog that brings dignity and love into this desperate situation.
2. Islands by Peggy Frew
It is easy to get lost in a novel set on an island while enjoying a hot Australian summer, particularly if you are lying on the sand yourself. But Peggy Frew’s Islands is not a novel of escapism, but a revealing and powerful story of the fragmentation of a family, and the impact of a separation of the parents on their teenage daughters. Its portrayal of childhood holiday on the coast is familiar and nostalgic, while the disappearance of one of the girls offers a stark contrast with the idyllic summer getaway Frew evokes.
3. The Weekend by Charlotte Wood
Centred on the experience of three women who come together after the death of their friend, The Weekend explores ageing, friendship, and memory. While this is another story of women, The Weekend is very different to Wood’s acclaimed The Natural Way of Things. It is full of tenderness, even as the friends grapple with past and present pain, grief and their own flaws and fears.
4. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
If the poetry of the title doesn’t get you, the beauty and wisdom of Ocean Vuong’s debut novel will. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is told by a Vietnamese American, ‘Little Dog’, who is writing to his illiterate mother, who along with her mother, struggles to overcome the trauma of war in her home country. It is also a touching tribute to the complex love between a single mother, and the illicit love between the teenage Little Dog and the boy he works alongside in the tobacco fields, told in a style that is raw and, indeed, gorgeous.
5. Lanny by Max Porter
Lanny is a little magical, a little familiar, and impossible to put down. It is the story of the strange disappearance of a boy from his English village, and everyday prejudices and fears of the local community which the disappearance brings into the light. Against the backdrop of these very human responses is the presence of the mythical Dead Papa Toothwort, a creature who keeps watch over the villagers. Surprisingly, this element adds beautifully to the story and elevates it above the usual mystery or crime novel.
6. The White Girl by Tony Birch
The White Girl is an important novel for our time, exploring the ways cruel and racist laws shaped the lives of Indigenous Australians. However, it is also a heartwarming novel of love between a woman and her granddaughter, fighting a system that would separate them. The grandmother is a strong, valiant and determined character who is difficult to forget. In The White Girl, Tony Birch helps readers to see the human face of past racism in Australia.
7. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
If you love a complicated protagonist, you can’t beat Olive. Introduced in Olive Kitteridge, the follow-up is just as honest and raw as its award-winning predecessor. Again, Strout has written short stories that feature the prickly, wry Olive, and a varied cast of supporting characters. One is a teenager who is trying to cope with the loss of her father, while another is a nurse confessing her high school crush. In the decade after readers first met her, Olive continues to be just as complex, difficult, and irresistible.
8. Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
After Sally Rooney’s Normal People was the ‘it’ book of 2018, this year’s title would have to go to Daisy Jones and The Six. Attracting rave reviews all over bookstagram, the novel follows the story of talented singer and beauty, Daisy, as she joins forces with the band, The Six. The book is great fun, offering an insight into the rock and roll world of the 70s, its wild personalities and its excesses. It’s so convincing that you’ll forget that it’s a work of fiction.
9. The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Could there be a list of this year’s releases without including Margaret Atwood’s blockbuster, The Testaments? The sequel to the hugely popular The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is set 15 years later and narrated by Aunt Lydia from the previous novel, a young woman living in Gilead and a woman living in Canada. As dramatic as fans of the previous novel and the television series might hope, it attracted critical acclaim soon after it was released, sharing the 2019 Booker Prize last month.
10. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
An American Marriage was awarded the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction, and deservedly so. A newlywed couple is in the wrong place at the wrong time, with Roy falsely accused of raping a woman in the hotel where he is staying with his wife, Celestial. It is a thought-provoking novel about race, injustice and gender roles, written with a surprisingly light touch. The characters are both attractive, intelligent and flawed and what is most troubling about their situation is that it is not as outrageous as might be hoped in contemporary America.
11. No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg
Turning the idea of the beach read on its head, perhaps summer is the perfect time to pick up a book that gets you thinking. No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference is a collection of teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s speeches. The message is obviously a sobering one, but also inspiring and hopeful. It might even inspire some New Year’s resolutions that do not involve a gym or a diet.
This article first appeared on December 1, 2019.