My Top Reads of 2019

Tall stack of books with caption 'My top reads of 2019' by Ruth Dawkins

Have I mentioned before how much I enjoy reading? I think I might have! Once… or perhaps twice.

2019 has been an absolute cracker of a year for good books. My targeted approach of only buying and borrowing books that are on my wishlist – rather than lucky dipping from the sale table – seems to paying dividends. I’ve not encountered many duds this year at all.

We still have a couple of weeks to go, but my reading stats for 2019 are:

Books read: 117

Books started but abandoned before the end: 6

(I don’t like criticising books publicly because reading is such a personal thing, but message me on social media or email me if you want to know what they were!)

New books read: 111

Books re-read: 6

Fiction: 47

Nonfiction: 65

Poetry: 5

Women: 76

Men: 32

Anthologies: 9

To celebrate another very happy year of reading, and perhaps to give you some ideas for last minute Christmas presents, I thought I’d post a quick rundown of my favourite fiction and non-fiction books of the year. In no particular order, my top reads of 2019 are as follows:


1. Things That Helped by Jessica Friedmann. It’s always a good sign when you pick up a book and three of your favourite authors have written endorsements for the cover. This is a beautiful memoir about early motherhood and postnatal depression, which had me both laughing and crying loudly.

2. Findings, Sightlines and Surfacing, all by Kathleen Jamie. A slightly cheeky three-in-one because I can’t choose between them. Three gorgeous essay collections about the natural world.

3. Constellations by Sinead Gleeson and Notes to Self by Emilie Pine. Another cheat with this combination entry for two excellent essay collections by Irish writers.

4. Through Fire and Ice by Sarah Laverick. I bought this for research because I was writing a piece for Guardian Australia about the Aurora Australis, but I had to wait weeks to read it because my 10-year-old son was so engrossed in it. Who knew a book about an icebreaker could be so compelling?

5. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. Straying outside his usual genre, which is poetry, Ross Gay set himself the task of writing an essay every day for a year on something that had delighted him that day. This book collects the best of those essays and it is, indeed, a delight.

6. The Promise of Things by Ruth Quibell. A fascinating book by my namesake and fellow Hobart writer, all about our relationship with objects.

7. My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul. A memoir in books – pretty much my ideal read!

8. The World Was Whole by Fiona Wright. This may be my favourite read of the entire year, a collection of essays about the connection between our bodies and our homes, and an exploration of our body as a home itself. It’s absolutely wonderful writing.

9. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About by Michele Filgate. This is the only anthology to make the list and it’s a collection of essays by writers who have challenging relationships with their mothers. It’s both desperately sad and beautifully optimistic.

10. Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay. This memoir by Scottish makar Jackie Kay details her experiences as a black girl adopted by white parents in Glasgow, and her attempts to connect with her birth parents. It is rich with love and laughter, a shining example of how to write with empathy and generosity.

11. Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe. This much-discussed book should be essential reading for every Australian (there’s now a version for young readers too). An informative account of Aboriginal agricultural practices throughout history, which turns coloniser narratives about the country on their head.

12. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. Another compassionate, beautiful memoir about growing up with adoptive parents, this one from the perspective of a Korean girl adopted by a white couple in Oregon.

Honourable mentions in non-fiction go to Sam George Allen’s Witches: What Women Do Together, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, and Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby.



1. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. An American Marriage was one of my favourite books of last year so I tracked down a copy of this earlier novel by Tayari Jones, which is told in two halves from the perspectives of two sisters who share a father – but only one of them knows about the other.

2. There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett. Set between Melbourne and Prague in the late 1930s and early 1980s this is a beautiful novel about family, memory and the endurance of love. I was so pleased to go with a friend to the Hobart launch of this, it was a special event and one of the highlights of my year.

3. Flight Behaviour/Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. I couldn’t choose a favourite between these. Flight Behaviour is about monarch butterflies, Unsheltered is about an old house, and they’re both excellent.

4. Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee. I bought this one to read with my son but it didn’t capture his attention so I ploughed on myself. Quirky and lovely.

5. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. 2019 was the year I finally plucked up the courage to tackle some more Flanagan! I read The Sound of One Hand Clapping and Death of a River Guide too, but it was his Booker prize winner that I loved the most.

6. The Valley at The Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack. A wonderful, gentle novel about a Scottish island, I absolutely adored this. More slow fiction please.

7. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. As someone who was very much not a fan of Eat Pray Love, I was hesitant to try Elizabeth Gilbert’s fiction, but I picked this up for a couple of dollars in an op shop and I’m so glad I took the chance. It deals with the natural world around the time of Darwin, but from the perspective of self-educated woman botanist.

8. Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar. A novel set in South Australia in the 1850s, this follows a wealthy English family who have fallen on hard times and had to leave Adelaide, and explores their relationship with the Ngarrindjeri people. It is so well written, but completely devastating.

9. Brendon Chase by BB. This was a re-read (after many many years!) with my son, and, as it turned out, the last book I read out loud to him. I wrote about it in more detail for this essay over at Literary Mama.

10. Where the Streets Have Names by Randa Abdel-Fattah. This is a glorious, laugh-out-loud story from an Australian-born Egyptian-Palestinian writer, about a 13-year-old girl from the West Bank trying to save her Grandmother’s life.

11. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. A YA novel about a young mother trying to juggle parenting, high school and part-time work, all while dreaming of becoming a chef.

12. I have to hold a spot here for the book I’m currently reading… The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I’m not even half way through yet, but oh my goodness!

Honourable mentions in fiction go to to The Overstory by Richard Powers, which has changed the way I feel about trees forever, On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, and The Body in the Clouds by Ashley Hay.

And to finish, two bonus poetry recommendations: Janette Ayachi’s Hand Over Mouth Music, which has just won 2019 Saltire Poetry Book of the Year, and Liz Berry’s The Republic of Motherhood, from which the title poem won last year’s Forward Prize for poetry.

I hope you have had a wonderful 2019 of reading – please share any recommendations in the comments below, and if you’re on Instagram come and say hello to me over @ruthreadsbooks.

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

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