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My Books of 2019

Here is yet another Book of the Year list! Clearly, Blue Diode Press published its first ever individual poetry collections this year - Split by Juana Adcock and Bitten Hair by Tessa Berring - and you can take it as read that they are my two favourite books of the year, but here are nine others.

Bertolt Brecht – Collected Poems (Liveright) – tr. by David Constantine and Tom Kuhn

I’m still reading this and, at 1312 pages, I might be for some time. Of course, not everything is great, but this is singular poetry, full of surprise and dark humour.

Marie NDiaye – The Heart Hemmed In (Two Lines Press)

A ordinary suburban couple suddenly face punishment and public shunning, but have no idea why. Bit by bit, the reader senses the reality behind the appearances. A chilling novel that examines important themes of perception, identity and what it means to be a 'good' person.

Tony Hoagland – Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God (Bloodaxe)

His last book before his death and, I think, possibly his best. Humorously ironic, provocative and yet always humane.

Hanne Orstavik – Love (And Other Stories) tr. by Martin Aitken

A mother and her 9-year-old son wander about, separately, during a single night. The reader constantly fears for them both. Tense, spare, crisply written book. Literary and simultaneously edge-of-your seat. 'And Other Stories' is the name of the publisher, by the way. This is a novel.

Kim Hye Soon – Autobiography of Death (W.W. Norton) tr. by Don Mee Choi

This is probably the most original collection of poetry I read all year. It’s an elegy, a meditation of mortality, a cry of anger, a feminist odyssey.

Ilya Kaminsky – Deaf Republic (Faber)

OK, this one is on so many 'Best Of' lists and I normally run a mile from hype. And, yes, his first collection is possibly even better. But Deaf Republic fuses the personal and political in a way that has real impact.

Tim Parks – Out of My Head (Harvill Secker)

One of my favourite fiction writers explores consciousness. Parks somehow manages to explain the science in a way I could understand, also making it seem quite vital, and tells a compelling personal story.

Jeff Sparrow – Trigger Warnings (Scribe UK)

This book follows with alarm the rise of populist right-wing politics in the UK, USA and Australia, takes aim at the response of the self-absorbed left, and tries to find a radical-left way ahead for the future.

Ece Temelkuran – How to Lose a Country (Fourth Estate)

Another very good, sobering book showing how we got into the political mess we are in, how things could easily get worse, and what we might do about it.

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