The most talked-about books of 2019

With the end of 2019 drawing ever-nearer, we look back at some of the biggest and buzziest books of the past months. Here are 21 of the most talked-about books of the year, and you can find even more by browsing the collection below.


Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Dark Emu puts forward an argument for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating, and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer tag. This book has been out for several years now, but continues to inspire discussion and affect real change.


Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Set in Brisbane of the 80s, Trent Dalton’s debut novel has taken the reading world by storm. A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter – Boy Swallows Universe is a story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe. This heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel feels like an instant Australian classic.


Cardinal by Louise Milligan

When the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse brought to light horrific stories about sexual abuse of the most vulnerable and provoked public anger at the extent of the cover-up, George Pell portrayed himself as the first man in the Church to tackle the problem. But questions about what the Cardinal knew, and when, have persisted. Conspiracy or cover-up? Here, Louise Milligan uncovers uncomfortable truths about a culture of sexual entitlement, abuse of trust and how ambition can silence evil.


Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Finally free from his nightmare of a marriage, Toby Fleishman is ready for a life of online dating and weekend-only parental duties. But as he optimistically looks to a future that is wildly different from the one he imagined, his life turns upside-down as his ex-wife, Rachel, suddenly disappears. This debut is a blistering satirical novel about marriage, divorce and modern relationships and Taffy Brodesser-Akner is one of the most exciting new voices to emerge from America today.


Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas

Based around the gospels and letters of St Paul, Damascus explores the themes that have always obsessed Christos Tsiolkas as a writer: Class, religion, masculinity, patriarchy, colonisation, exile; the ways in which nations, societies, communities, families and individuals are united and divided. This high-stakes, drama-packed novel poses contemporary and urgent questions that feel painfully relevant today.


White Tears, Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad

What happens when racism and sexism collide? Ruby Hamad provides some confronting answers with White Tears, Brown Scars. This work blows open the inconvenient truth that when it comes to race, white entitlement is too often masked by victimhood and reveals how never is this more obvious than in the dealings between women of colour and white women.


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Tender, raw and highly original – Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a sweeping and shattering portrait of a family, and a testament to the redemptive power of storytelling.


Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

All Lina ever wanted was to be desired. All Maggie wanted was to be understood. All Sloane wanted was to be admired. But these three lives did not go as planned; consequences are handed out to some but not to others. Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions that tests the boundaries of non-fiction.


The Eighth Life (For Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili (translated by Ruth Martin & Charlotte Collins)

At the start of the twentieth century, on the edge of the Russian Empire, a family prospers. It owes its success to a delicious chocolate recipe, passed down the generations with great solemnity and caution. A caution which is justified: this is a recipe for ecstasy that carries a very bitter aftertaste… The Eighth Life is the saga of a Georgian family and the arrival of the English translation has been extremely welcome.


Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Everyone has been talking about graphic novels for kids this year, none more so than this one from beloved author Raina Telgemeier. Charting her experience of an upset stomach, and her worries about food, school, and changing friendships, Guts is a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face and conquer your fears.


The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells

The signs of climate change are unmistakable even today, but the real transformations have hardly begun. We’ve been taught that warming would be slow – but, barring very dramatic action, each of these impacts is likely to arrive within the length of a new mortgage signed this year. In The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells undertakes a new kind of storytelling and a new kind of social science to explore the era of human history on which we have just embarked.


Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power, and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook the culture.


The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

First published in 2018, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism has continued its hold over society into this year, and the release of the paperback edition has rendered it more accessible than ever. This is a deeply-reasoned examination of the threat of unprecedented power free from democratic oversight. Exploring this new capitalism’s impact on society, politics, business, and technology, it exposes the struggles that will decide both the next chapter of capitalism and the meaning of information civilisation.


The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

This was certainly the most widely anticipated book of 2019! More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results. As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.


Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

An Ohio mother bakes pies while the world bombards her with radioactivity and fake facts. She worries about her children, caramelisation, chickens, guns, tardigrades, medical bills, environmental disaster, mystifying confrontations at the supermarket, and the best time to plant nasturtiums. She regrets most of her past, a million tiny embarrassments, her poverty, the loss of her mother, and the genocide on which the United States was founded. Ducks, Newburyport completely lives up to the hype.


She Said by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey

On October 5, 2017, the New York Times published an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that changed the world forever. For months Kantor and Twohey had been having confidential discussions with top actresses, former Weinstein employees and other sources, learning of disturbing, long-buried allegations. In this book, Kantor and Twohey relive in real-time what it took to break the story and give an up-close portrait of the forces they were up against.


The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust, Volume 2) by Philip Pullman

The second volume of Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed. The Secret Commonwealth is truly a book for our times; a powerful adventure and a thought-provoking look at what it is to understand yourself, to grow up and make sense of the world around you.


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

When Elwood Curtis arrives at The Nickel Academy, which claims to provide ‘physical, intellectual and moral training’ which will equip its inmates to become ‘honourable and honest men’, he is horrified to find the true nature of the school is cruel and vicious. Based on the history of a real reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped and destroyed the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating novel from one of America’s greatest storytellers.


Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

We are living in the era of the self, in an era of malleable truth and widespread personal and political delusion. In these nine interlinked essays, Jia Tolentino explores her own coming of age in this warped and confusing landscape. From the rise of the internet to her uneasy engagement with our culture’s endless drive towards ‘self-optimisation’, Tolentino writes with style, humour and a fierce clarity about these strangest of times.


See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill

Women are abused or killed by their partners at astonishing rates: in Australia, almost 17 per cent of women over the age of fifteen have been abused by an intimate partner. In this confronting and deeply researched account, journalist Jess Hill uncovers the ways in which abusers exert control in the darkest – and most intimate – ways imaginable. See What You Made Me Do is a tough read, and a hugely necessary one.


Lanny by Max Porter

This second work of fiction from Max Porter was one of the most oft-recommend titles at Readings this year. This beautiful and gripping short novel takes place in a village outside London, one no different from many others. This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort who has woken from his slumber and is listening, watching and searching, intently, for his favourite: Lanny.

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Three Women

Three Women

Lisa Taddeo

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