I said last year that I would endeavour to read more non-fiction this year, and I certainly feel I have done that. I’ve stuck, however, chiefly to education-related non-fiction. I’ve tried to cull my list down to ten fiction and ten non-fiction, as not even my immediate family could be trusted to read beyond that.
Roxane Gay: Difficult Women: I picked this up in a bookshop when on holiday and it is the longest I have ever been unable to put down a book prior to buying it. A series of phenomenal short stories.
Hilary Mantel: Bring Up the Bodies: for an unknown reason, possibly related to its weight and the length of time I had to carry it around for, I didn’t enjoy Wolf Hall. I now need to re-read it, because Bring Up the Bodies evoked that world of old political intrigue so convincingly.
Meg Wolitzer: The Wife/The Interestings: I can’t decide which; don’t make me. I’d read no Wolitzer until this year; both of these have stayed with me – the former for its incredible twist, the latter for the characters I am still thinking about.
Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire: Thank goodness for friends who read: Carly Moran told me to read this modern telling of Antigone. I loved the multiple voices and the ambiguity of the twists (the kind where I had to text Carly saying: ‘did that really just happen? Have I misunderstood?’)
Zadie Smith: White Teeth: Smith is in my top five living authors, but I’d not enjoyed this when I read it while at university. Thank goodness I re-read it this year; there was just so much I’d missed the first time around. I’ve grown into loving epics that span generations, so this was a perfect read for me.
Amor Towles: A Gentleman in Moscow: Matt Pinkett recommended this on Twitter and again it is one that has haunted me (in a good way) since reading it. A fascinating perspective on the Russian revolution and one man’s journey through it, with an almost ‘magical realism’ element.
Sally Rooney: Conversations with Friends: This is a strong contender for ‘book of the year’ for me. I’m somewhat biased, because I too went to university in Ireland, and there’s nothing quite like recognising first hand where characters are in the world. But the complex, believable relationships and starkly beautiful writing style make this a firm favourite for me.
Nathan Hill: The Nix: I rationed myself three days on a beach holiday to crack through this, messed up my reading schedule (yes, you read that correctly), and ended up with this ‘to begin’ on an overnight flight. I both started and finished it on the flight. An epic American tale spanning generations and warmly human. Again, thank goodness for friends who read, especially Dani Quinn, who only seems to recommend books I will love.
Alain de Boton: On Love: Second contender for book of the year, this was such a clever little book that was spookily accurate about relationships and brought you from start to finish without really investing you in the characters – almost a clinical look at human psychology, told through story.
Wallace Stegner: Crossing to Safety: Stegner takes the friendship between two couples and tracks it back over the decades, using a few key events as focal points. I loved all the characters so much. If ever there was a book that made you think that language can never fully express meaning, this is it.
Peps McCrea: Lean Lesson Planning: I also loved Memorable Teaching. Peps makes big ideas feel easy in his tiny but mighty books.
Hockman and Wexler: The Writing Revolution: I wrote about this here – although there is so much more I’d like to explore with this, it has already had a huge impact on my teaching.
James M. Lang: Small Teaching: I wrote about this here – I loved this book for its clear explanation of complex cognitive science, along with the fact that it introduced me to a few concepts I’d not come across before.
Craig Barton: How I Wish I’d Taught Maths: I wrote about this here – I adored this book, and it has been invaluable in working with the Maths team at my school to work on curriculum and lesson planning.
Leonora Chu: Little Soldiers: I wrote about this here – a fascinating insight into another culture and another school system.
Marshall Rosenberg: Non-Violent Communication: I wrote about this here – this really made me consider what we do with our ‘edge-case’ kids who seem impervious to systems, but also how we use language to communicate with all our children.
James and Diane Murphy: Thinking Reading: I think this is the book I have returned to most this year. On reading the immortal words – that ‘reading is the entitlement of every child’ – I bounced into my Head’s office unannounced and she responded by making reading a core priority for the school this year.
Alex Quigley: Closing the Vocabulary Gap: This wins the prize of ‘most discussed in line management’. The Head of English has been working on putting some of Quigley’s advice into practice, and I think it is going to have an enormous impact.
Iain Hall: Glass Ceilings: I wrote about this here – this book took me back to my roots, reminded me why I do what I do, and helped me out of a dark night of the soul professionally.
Maryanne Wolf: Reader, Come Home: I wrote about this here – I was absolutely floored by some of Wolf’s analysis. This was the book that made me re-think how I read.
And with that in mind, some reading resolutions for 2019. I’ve learned from Wolf that I don’t need to feel so guilty about reading fiction, but I do need to regret time spent on my phone. I could have read so many more books if I’d had a little bit more willpower. I’ve deleted nefarious, time-wasting apps from my phone’s home screen (so when I unlock my phone now I think: why am I here?), downloaded the app ‘Space’ to track screen time, and resolved to be more mindful next year. That said, I probably do read a little too much. I’m hoping to spend more quality time with people I like and the dog in the new year, and get more balance away from a leisure time that is 95% me reading on my own.
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I will start by saying that I have been a regular reader of your organ for almost three years, and a casual reader for even longer, since the moment it was recommended to me by one of my faculty colleagues (one of the smartest men I ever knew, R.I.P). Without failure you have introduced us to real gems in fiction and non-fiction alike, in particular in the field of education related non-fiction, in which it is so difficult to separate true authoritative voices from charlatans. And for this, we thank you.
I cannot however refrain from noticing in this latest issue (R.A.T.B. — “Top Reads Of 2018”, 22 December 2018) the glaring omission of what I consider not only one of best books read in 2018 but also a timeless masterpiece of modern English language literature. I am referring to “All That Man Is” by David Szalay, which I am reliably informed — thanks to photographic evidence from your superb (albeit predominantly canine) IG feed — you have indeed read in 2018, thus qualifying it fully for a coveted position on Readingallthebooks’s 2018 “Top Reads Of”.
Whilst recognising all Top-something lists are by their very nature subjective and a product of unimpeachable judgment, this list I humbly yet firmly plead be immediately put right.
Otherwise, please keep up the largely excellent work, and I take the opportunity to wish you a very happy Christmas.
Eustace M., Herts
Hi Jo. So is your goal for 1 year? 20 books in one year? Thanks.
My goal is a book a week… I generally always meet this, but also try and ‘over-read’ on holiday to make up for those hugely busy times or hugely long books!