Best Of 2019

Best of: November

Scraping it in under the wire with this one, things got away from me a bit at the beginning of December and we’ve been in Australia for the last few weeks. It’s going to be 41C today though, so I am hiding in the house with the air-conditioner on, and I thought I may as well dig out some of the work I brought with me 🙂

Best poetry: Deaf Republic, by Ilya Kaminsky. I don’t feel like I need to say much about this book – it’s been everywhere, winning everything, and it’s marvellous. I read it all in one sitting and felt changed afterwards. I know that sounds like a cliche, but there you go.

Each man has a quiet that revolves
around him as he beats his head against the earth. But I am laughing

hard and furious.

Like a quick sketch artist, Kaminsky creates characters using so few words, and yet they have stayed with me as very real people. This from ‘Before the war, we made a child’:

I kissed a woman
whose freckles
arouse the neighbors.

She owned two pink nipples
which she displayed
like medals for bravery.

I was late to reading the collection, so you’ve very likely read it already, but if not please please do.

Best Novel: Bellman and Black, by Diane Setterfield. Spoiler: next week when I write up December I will be completing my hat-trick of three Setterfield novels in a row, and I wish so much that she had more out. The slow build of suspense over the first half of this book thoroughly creeped me out and I had to take a break, and when I mentioned that on twitter, Setterfield replied saying that she had to take beta-blockers for a while when she was writing it. It’s dark dark dark and I loved it.

Best Non-Fiction: Necropolis, by Catharine Arnold. Yes, there’s a theme going on here – I’ve been doing a lot of reading related to my residency at Brompton Cemetery. Necropolis is a history of the dead of London, reaching back to the bronze age, and is fascinatingly gory. I knew that the grand Victorian cemeteries were built to help with overflow but I didn’t realise that Londoners were pretty much walking around on a damp spongy carpet of bodies for much of the the first half of the 19th century. Arnold’s writing is engaging, and detailed without being stodgy, important when dealing with such an extensive subject. If you’re interested in London, history, death, funerals and plague pits (and who isn’t?) then this is the book for you.

That’s it for November, and December is almost over already so I’ll be back very soon! Let me know what you’ve been reading, did you get books for Christmas??