Maggie O’Farrell This Must be the Place: this was the first book I read in 2019. What a way to begin. Absolutely epic family tale which bounces around, so the story sort of comes into focus rather than progressing linearly.
Madeline Miller Circe: This retelling of the Odyssey from Circe’s perspective is like Wicked for people who love literature.
Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife: The balance between reality and fiction is delightfully blurred in the story of the president’s wife. Probably the book I most enjoyed reading this year.
Sally Rooney Normal People: I didn’t think anything could be better than Rooney’s debut novel, but I was wrong. This look at an un-relationship is like One Day but literary.
Tayari Jones An American Marriage: The blurb to this makes the premise sound absurd, but every page feels real and true.
Joshua Ferris Then We Came to the End: My overall favourite fiction read of 2019. I especially enjoyed the character Lynn’s fragility and strength. This is an incredible evocation of the mundanity of office life.
Tom Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities: An incredible tear through 1980s America’s racism, privilege, and finance. Genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.
David Didau Making Kids Cleverer: Definitely Didau’s best, in my view; great ranging over the research with a crystal clear aim.
Becky Allen and Sam Sims The Teacher Gap: This is so engagingly written, and tackles the important issue of teacher recruitment and retention. I think I’ve quoted this book more than any other this year (hopefully accurately).
Eric Kalenze What the Academy Taught Us: Kalenze takes us through a specific project where his school created a “school within a school” for those most at risk of dropping out. He then explores the lessons learned and applies his experiences and research to wider school improvement. I adored it. Funny, smart and full of feeling.
Robert Pondiscio How the Other Half Learns: A fascinating insight into the Success Academies, full of helpful advice and thorny moral issues.
Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff The Coddling of the American Mind: This book is the most influential on the character curriculum I’m developing for Ark Soane Academy, and is a fabulous take-down of “the three great untruths”: “what doesn’t kill us makes us weaker” (not true; we are anti-fragile and challenge makes us stronger), “always trust your feelings” (never trust your feelings – our minds deceive us) and “there are good and evil people in the world” (not really; we all have good and evil within us. Better to view others with a charitable mindset, no matter how different our views).
Ann Patchett This is the Story of a Happy Marriage: the most personally influential book I read this year, Patchett came along at exactly the right time to help me through grief and spur me to action. One of many great pieces of advice? If you want to be a writer, write. So I’m writing… This collection ranges over love, failure, joy and dogs – all the big issues.
Elizabeth Day How to Fail: This book is an absolute balm to the wounds of disappointment. Brutally relatable in places, it is full of warmth and wisdom.
Ben Newmark: Why Teach: this little book is great, and the final chapter moving beyond belief. It reminded me, importantly, of why teaching is the best job in the world.
Kim Scott Radical Candour: This great book is about so much more than candour. Its superb advice is genuinely useful. It is not about doing more, but rather about changing the interactions we have with others to forge improvements in our organisations.
I was surprised looking through the list of books I read this year (thanks to my year 9 English teacher I’ve kept a list since I was 13 years old) at how few were strong contenders for this list – normally I have a big job cutting it down. Next year I think I will be more ruthless about reading books I’m excited about, and stop “saving” the best ones for holidays (or the last week of term, when I tell myself I “need” something brilliant) – there are too many great books out there for that. 2019 was the year that I published a book on education, Simplicity Rules, but, as inspired by Patchett, I really hope to continue writing fiction in 2020, and perhaps feeling confident enough to share it in 2030.