Best books of 2019 (so far!)

Our staff share the best books they’ve read so far this year, including new releases and older titles just discovered.


Chris Gordon, programming and events manager

I find myself searching for ways to escape and reading is the easiest and most efficient means of achieving this goal. I want a read that is going to take me far away from the grim reality of our environmental crisis, toxic world leaders and conservative government. To that end I have enjoyed books about women (by women) doing their own thing, kicking it here and three, relishing life for all its wonders and most importantly for friendship. I want, in essence, good news stories! Stories that illustrate alternatives and recognise goodness in its most pure form. My top picks for losing yourself this year include:

  • Andrea Goldsmith’s Invented Lives, set right here in Melbourne, is essentially a love story between two people from vastly different backgrounds who find one another through respect and affection.
  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls is a delight with the lead women choosing joy over so many other tedious options.
  • Jaclyn Moriaty’s Gravity is the Thing is frequently hilarious, and follows a single mother’s journey into the unknown.
  • Sabine Cotte’s Mirka Mora: A Life of Making Art is filled with stories about how to save artworks, and how to show love and enthusiasm without hindering pure joy. I was very sad when Mirka Mora died and felt as if we had lost something here in Melbourne. If you know what I mean, this book will help.


Angela Crocombe, shop manager at Readings Kids

Sadie by Courtney Summers. This was my first time reading young adult author Courtney Summers, who is known for looking face-on to some dark subjects, such as in her sexual abuse survivor story, All the Rage. In this novel, the eponymous Sadie and her little sister Maddie have had a tough life growing up in a trailer park with a drug-addicted mum. The story starts two years after Maddie has been murdered and Sadie is still raw and angry. She takes off, telling anyone who asks that she is going to find her father; but really she is on the path of the killer, her only motivation revenge. Juxtaposed with Sadie’s narrative is a Serial-style podcast of a journalist tracking Sadie and her journey, giving us important backstory, always a few steps behind. Sadie is one hell of a kick-ass heroine – the terminator in teenage female form – and the reader doesn’t quite know how far she will go, which is part of the thrill. But we are absolutely rooting for her as she fights for primitive justice for her sister and all the other damaged girls. This was a brilliant, brutal story for older YA and adult readers that was an absolute standout thriller and stayed with me long after I’d finished reading it.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. I was completely engrossed in this compelling memoir of homelessness and dogged endurance in contemporary Britain. Raynor Winn and her husband, through terrible bad luck, lost their house in a dodgy business deal at the same time as her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness. When all seemed utterly bleak, Winn chanced upon an old book she had of walking the South West Path on the coast of England. Rather than go into temporary government accommodation for the homeless or encroach upon friends, the two of them chose to go for a rather long walk. Hopelessly unfit and unprepared, they trudged along the path finding themselves and the simple pleasures of life along the way. There are some beautiful descriptions of being outside in nature and it was such an uplifting read that I was cheering for this brave couple transforming their ordinary lives into something quite unique.


Alison Huber, head book buyer

The first really excellent book I read this year was The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, which I read in January. I was actually surprised to see it on the list I keep of the books I’ve read in 2019, since it has become so much a part of my psyche and reading autobiography, it feels like I read it years ago. The same could be said for Max Porter’s Lanny, which entrances everyone who finds their way to it. Tony Birch’s The White Girl is his best novel yet, and one of this year’s essential books.

I’ve been a fan of Rachel Cusk’s writing since reading her debut, Saving Agnes, in the mid 1990s, but for some reason, her much-feted Outline came at the wrong time for me in 2014 and I missed reading it – when you have so much new material to read, it can be very hard to go back. I have at last remedied this omission, and will get onto Transit and Kudos later in the year for a treat. She’s so great.

I both admired and was completely obsessed with Nicola Redhouse’s Unlike the Heart, her memoir of psychoanalysis and post-natal anxiety. I’ve been talking about the greatness of Three Women by Lisa Taddeo for a few months now, and it is finally on sale mid-July: I can’t wait for people to read this and for the conversations to begin.

I’ve also enjoyed Halle Butler’s The New Me, Salvatore Scibona’s The Volunteer, Anna Hope’s Expectation and Marcy Dermansky’s Very Nice (which is cheating because is not out in Australia until September).

Looking back at my list of books I’ve read this year, it is heavily populated with work from emerging Australian authors thanks to my role as a judge for this year’s Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. I won’t add anything about my thoughts on those books here, but I hope that my favourites will be on the shortlist, which we announce in August.


Ellen Cregan, marketing and events coordinator

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. This debut novel is remarkably good. It’s both heartbreaking and hilarious, pulpy and hard-hitting, and just a highly enjoyable portrait of modern young adulthood. I read this book in just a couple of sittings, and was very sad to finish it.

Another amazing debut of the year has been This Taste For Silence. This collection of short stories is so beautifully written. Amanda O’Callaghan does an excellent job of harnessing the strengths of short-form writing – each story feels perfectly self-contained, but will still linger in your mind after you’ve finished reading it. If you only read one short story collection this year, make it this one!

I am a big fan of Helen Oyeyemi’s writing. She is a master of blending fantasy with reality, and her new book Gingerbread does exactly this. This is a weird, wonderful book. It tells the story of three generations of women who have a magical knack for baking gingerbread that drives people to obsession. It’s a contemporary, abject fairytale, and while I wouldn’t classify it as an easy read, I very highly recommend it.

Stop Being Reasonable by Eleanor Gordon-Smith made me see philosophy in a totally new way: accessible, enjoyable and easily applicable to everyday life. In this book, Gordon-Smith takes a close look at six cases of people changing their minds about something fundamental in their lives. She goes into detail about how and why someone might change their thinking, and what that can tell us about the way we connect with each other. In a world of increasingly polarised thinking, this is an essential read.

As I read Witches by Sam George-Allen, I couldn’t stop enthusiastically nodding my head. This is an engrossing book that looks at women on the fringes of society – the ones who don’t fit into neat and tidy concepts of what womanhood means. Reading this book feels like having a great conversation with a close friend about feminism, and how we can best boost each other up.

The Five by Hallie Rubenfold. Frustrated by the sexist and voyeuristic treatment of the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper in historical and true crime writing, Rubenhold decided to tell their stories, depicting them as more than just bodies. Through meticulous research, she paints a portrait of what their lives were like, where they came from, what kind of people they were, and what they had in common. I feel like I learnt so much about what life was like for those living in poverty in Victorian London from this book, and it’s not as gory as you’d think.

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Helen Oyeyemi

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