Shaun’s Culture Review of 2019: The Year’s Best in Theatre, Film, TV, Books & Music

It’s that time of the year again: early January means it’s time to look back on the year gone by and see what had me ~feeling~ over the past twelve months. Was it Adam Driver in Marriage Story? Was it Ocean Vuong’s debut novel? Was it Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag? Was it Sam Tutty in Dear Evan Hansen? Was it Lana Del Rey’s fourth album?! So much to choose from and so much to say: here are the best in culture from 2019.

COMPLETE COLLAGE (1)

I look forward to compliling this list every single second of the year, I kid you not. I am obsessive when it comes to tracking my consumption of media and I have been for the past few years now. Nothing fills me with much more joy than sitting down, looking over what I’ve consumed in the past 12 months and creating a shortlist of what really stood out to me. It not only feels hopeful and exciting as a passionate fan of the Arts, but it also makes me feel excited as an artist myself.

In 2019, I managed to watch 180 films, see 105 stage shows, devour 50 seasons of television, focus-listen to 100 albums, and read 30 books. How I manage to take in this much art each year and still manage to maintain a pretty busy life otherwise I do not know, but enjoying art is the thing that makes me happiest in the world, so not a single second of this feels wasted whatsoever.

For the first time ever, I’m not ranking my top 10 picks this year. Instead, each list is alphabeticised by either the project title, artist’s forename, or author’s surname. Ironically, in a year where I started a podcast that ranks movies based on scores given to them to find the number one movie of all-time, I finally feel like ranking art is a bit of a waste; my opinions on what stands out to me the most changes day by day. And some choices are only here because I enjoyed them, not because they’re artistically landmark or anything like that.

Now, with the niceties out of the way, please enjoy my summation of the best of culture from 2019:

THE 10 BEST FILMS OF 2019

CINEMA COLLAGE 2019

2019 has actually been a pretty bloody brilliant year in cinema and compiling this list was tricky. While there were some megahits that really didn’t resonate with me (think Joker [dir. Todd Phillips]), and some indies that didn’t either (think Netflix’s The Two Popes [dir. Fernando Meirelles), a lot of films really did and will stick with me for a long time to come.

My top five favourite movies of the year actually include The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos), Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham), and Vice (dir. Adam McKay), but all three of those movies were initially released in 2018 in terriotories outside the UK, so it would feel weird to put them in the official list, but I seriously recommend checking those out. With that being said, critically-lauded films from the end of 2019 like 1917 (dir. Sam Mendes), Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-Ho), and Uncut Gems (dir. The Safdie Brothers) are all yet to come out in the UK, so they will probably get similar shoutouts at the top of next year’s list if I enjoy them, too. (Edit: 1917 was released in the time it took me to write this article and it is incredible. I would definitely recommend.)

Other films that made the shortlist but didn’t make the final ranking include Late Night (dir. Nisha Gantra), Yesterday (dir. Danny Boyle), Hustlers (dir. Lorene Scafaria) Blinded by the Light (dir. Gurinder Chadha), The Irishman (dir. Martin Scorsese), Toy Story 4 (dir. Josh Cooley), Avengers: Endgame (dir. The Russo Brothers), and Frozen 2 (dir. Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck).

Booksmart (dir. Olivia Wilde)

My friend Kyle is absolutely obsessed with high school-set teen comedy movies, and while I enjoy them too, the genre has never really resonated with me despite my complete submersion in it: Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart completely changed that for me. I don’t remember the last time I watched a film with such a big grin on my face from start to finish, laughing out loud with friends and talking about the jokes (and still laughing) after. Wilde does an amazing job in crafting this film with a relentless onslaught of iconic, quoteable scenes, and lead actors Beanie Feldstein (a favourite of mine) and Kaitlyn Dever sell it perfectly.

Le Mans ’66 (dir. James Mangold)

This really didn’t look like my kind of film on paper, so when I saw it and was completely entranced by it, I was dumbfounded. So much so that I went to see it again a week or so later, and was still just as floored. Not only is Le Mans ’66 (named Ford v Ferrari in most other territories) an exhilerating depiction of car racing, but it’s also a story layered with countless morals relating to the human experience that resonate deeply. Even if you think this film is in no way trying to talk to you, I recommend giving it a try. It’s great.

Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig)

Greta Gerwig’s name is one letter switcheroo from being “Great” and I think that summarises her career as a director so far. I’ve long-admired Gerwig for her acting work in films like 20th Century Women, and her writing work for films like Frances Ha, but directing joined that already-palatable plate back in 2017 with Lady Bird, and now it’s been taken to a whole new level with Little Women. Not only has Gerwig managed to turn a story that I adored (but found kind of boring) as a child into a story that never stops for air, but the tone she sets with her direction is faultless; non-linear storytelling did this film a world of good. Some amazing performances are also on offer here – ranging from my favourite actress Meryl Streep, to another favourite actress Laura Dern, to a new favourite actress of mine Florence Pugh (who deserves an Oscar nom for her incredibly multi-dimensional performance in this (Edit: she got one!)) – I think it’s an adaptation to remember.

Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach)

Okay, I know this list isn’t technically ranked, but if I were to have a top three, this film would be in it. Adam Driver is one of my favourite actors and I’m always impressed by Scarlett Johannson, but this film took those feelings to a whole new realm. The always-amazing Noah Baumbach has managed to craft a film that depicts a divorce more honestly than I can even remember the two I’ve seen my parentage go through. Each revisit to this film overwhelms me in a totally new way and I truly believe that everything about it is perfect. It has an incredible score to boot, too. I spoke about it more in an episode of my movies podcast this week, so check that out as well.

Midsommar (dir. Ari Aster)

I came around to Midsommar quite late because it didn’t show in any cinemas that I could get myself to, but despite my late arrival to the party, I was still totally affected. I can completely understand why some would hate this movie (and many friends told me I would be one of those people), but there is something about Aster’s slow burn and borderline absurdity that turned a light on in me. It’s crazy, avant garde, but also totally true and raw in what it’s trying to say. If Marriage Story felt like a classic two-hander play, this felt like an Ivo van Hove nightmare: I loved it.

Official Secrets (dir. Gavin Hood)

This film is probably the most random entry on the list and I’m sure a lot of people haven’t even heard of it, but Official Secrets was a film that really challenged my perceptions and took me on a journey that I didn’t want to end. Following the story of the whistleblower who leaked private papers relating to the invasion of Iraq in the early 00s, it’s the British answer to so many similar films that Americans make (most recently, The Report (dir. Scott Z Burns) on Amazon Prime). I don’t think it’s a film that will change the course of cinema or anything, but it was bloody enjoyable.

Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

My unofficial top three continues in Tarantino’s latest effort. I’m a big fan of Tarantino and was initially apprehensive about saying this, but here it goes: OUATiH is my favourite Tarantino movie… there! I said it! A few of the films on this list have come back to me several times a day since I saw them, and this is one of them. For me, it’s the perfect blend of my romanticism of Hollywood and everything it has to offer, the gore and aggression in a Tarantino movie, and the long-form unique storytelling that Tarantino likes to deploy in films like this and Pulp Fiction. I saw it multiple times in cinemas and the DVD just arrived on my doorstep this morning, so I’m looking forward to watching it a bunch more times at home as well.

Rocketman (dir. Dexter Fletcher)

Rounding out my unofficial top three in this list is Dexter Feltcher’s Elton John biopic starring Taron Egerton. If you know me, you’d know that Elton John is my favourite musical artist of all-time; myself and my family are totally obsessed by him, so when they announced an Elton John biopic, I was scared. The other half of my family has a very strong connection with Queen and 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody (also directed by Dexter Fletcher) fell slightly short for me, so I was worried it would happen again here. But Fletcher (and screenwriter Lee Hall) managed to turn John’s story into a true musical fantasy in a way I have never seen a story be told before. It was one of my favourite films of the year, one of the most unique films of the year, and definitely one of the best musical movies of the decade.

The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang)

Some films become one of my favourites of the year by doing very little, just like Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. And I mean that in a good way. The Farewell is a story about loss, family love, and connecting with those around you in respectful, meaningful, and honest ways. It’s simple, beautiful, poetic, and everything else inbetween. I don’t feel the need to rave about it, I just feel this quiet, peaceful sense of hope when I think about it. It’s great.

Us (dir. Jordan Peele)

Us is not a perfect film. In fact, after my podcast co-host Verity and I saw it back in April, we spent the whole night discussing plotholes that Jordan Peele left in plain sight. And then, somehow, I stopped caring about any of that and fell totally in love. Us falls into the category of movies that I have thought about multiple times a day ever since I saw it, and now that I was gifted the DVD for Christmas, I can’t wait to watch it again. This bizarre, twisted, ambitious narrative – held down with amazing direction by Peele and an incredibly Oscar-worthy performance by Lupita N’yongo – is perfect popcorn fare.

THE 10 BEST LONDON STAGE SHOWS OF 2019

THEATRE COLLAGE 2019

While I’m happy with my top ten London theatre choices for this year, I can’t help but feel like this was a weak year on the stage compared to previous ones. All of my top ten were amazing, life-changing theatrical experiences, but choosing just ten was actually an incredibly easy thing to do – considering I manage to catch almost every single show that passes through the West End and each major off-West End house, that’s a kind of impressive feat. I hope 2020 causes me a few more troubles.

Special mentions go to When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other at the National Theatre’s Dorfman space (a venue that appears on this list a heck of a lot), Home I’m Darling at the Duke of York’s which I omitted because it started at the National Theatre (Dorfman, of course) in 2018 so is technically a show of yesteryear, Top Girls at the National Theatre’s Lyttelton space, The Night of the Iguana at the Noel Coward Theatre, and Ian McKellen on Stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

ANNA at the National Theatre, Dorfman

If someone wanted to argue with me to say that the script for Ella Hickson’s ANNA isn’t amazing, I’d be okay with that: the story, while enjoyable (mostly because it’s so short), kind of adds up to nothing. But the real achievement of ANNA was its technical elements from Ben and Max Ringham. The entire play took place behind a sheet of soundproof glass, which we watched through as an audience while wearing headphones that relayed sound for us from intimate parts throughout the set, from a microphone on Anna’s dress, to one positioned in the bedroom which we can’t even see inside from out front. I’ve worn headphones in the theatre before, but never in a way like this, that managed to balance technical marvel with edge-of-your-seat tension. If you missed it, you missed out.

Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre

It’s funny to think that Come From Away opened in the West End only in 2019. It’s been on the mind for so long now (thanks to a successful run on Broadway for the past few years) and the only time I’ve managed to catch it thus far was first preview about a year ago, but the show has had an undeniable impact on me. What I really love to see in a musical is what I’d describe as being “music theatre”, a blend of dramatic narrative and music that bleeds into one cohererent piece; the songs flow in and out of the story naturally, more like musical moments than numbers. Like Fun Home that came before it,  Come From Away manages it brilliantly, while telling the harrowing tale of people in the traumatic aftermath of 9/11. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and is truly unmissable.

Dear Evan Hansen at the Noel Coward Theatre

Dear Evan Hansen is more like the kind of musical I just described than I thought. When I saw the show’s London premiere this October, I was adamant that I wouldn’t like it after a lot of my friends told me so, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. Dear Evan Hansen is the first piece of art I’ve seen to truly capture the nuances of a social media-influenced world perfectly, while gut-punching you with a storyline packed full of complicated emotions and situations. I was never much of a fan of the score when it was first released, but seeing it on stage in context changed that for me too. I really think it’s one of the best musicals of the decade — more of my thoughts are in a blog post I wrote the other week.

Downstate at the National Theatre, Dorfman

Anything that Bruce Norris writes is amazing in my opinion. One of my favourite plays Clybourne Park is by Bruce Norris (it’s being revived at the Park Theatre in 2020), but Downstate is probably my new favourite of his. It’s everything you’d want from a hard-hitting drama: moments of comedy, moments that make you want to burst into tears, performances so real you’re totally immersed… this production had everything. Telling the story of a house full of registered sex offenders and pedophiles, the play manages to make you feel for people that you’d never normally consider giving the time of day. It sounds crazy and it won’t work for some, but as someone who likes to live in and explore the grey area of the human experience, it was something completely new.

Fairview at the Young Vic Theatre

Talking of completely new, nothing changed my perception of what theatre can do more than Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview at the Young Vic. Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, I went into this knowing nothing about it other than its critical success, which I think is the perfect way to view it, so I won’t say much here in case you’re going to the end of the run this January. But what I will say is this: Drury’s ability to make you think you’re seeing several different shows over the course of 90 minutes, and making you feel so profoundly and uniquely by the end, is worthy of every award going. It’s a play, but also a serious political and cultural statement all rolled in to one, and it’s a show that I’ll be talking about and mentioning for a long time to come.

Faith, Hope and Charity at the National Theatre, Dorfman

As you can probably tell by a few of the picks on this list, I love realism and naturalism, which is exactly what Alexander Zeldin’s Faith, Hope and Charity aimed to do a few months back. The third in a trilogy of works about the working class in Britain, this play took place in a community hall where a woman cooks lunch every day for those in need. Characters pass through, a choir gets set up, food gets eaten, some drama ensues, but mostly, it’s observational in a way that makes you feel guilty, inspired, hopeful, and emotional all at once. As someone who has seen experiences like this first hand, I found it particularly moving. If you’ve seen Ken Loach’s Palm d’Or winning picture I, Daniel Blake, then you’ll love this. And if you’ve seen the show but not the film, do the flip.

Lungs at The Old Vic Theatre

I love Claire Foy and I have a lot of respect for Matt Smith, so I knew this would be enjoyable at the very least, but I didn’t expect to be most impressed by The Old Vic’s openness to experimenting in the space. The Old Vic is f**king massive, but this play was the kind of simple, bare-staged two-hander that you’d expect to see in a converted conference room at the Edinburgh Fringe. That tactile nature – paired with a thought-provoking narrative that reminded me slightly of shades of a play that I’m actually currently writing – really impressed me earlier this year.

Noises Off at the Garrick Theatre

Noises Off is one of my all-time favourite plays, but I had never seen a good production worthy of that kind of high praise, until Jeremy Herrin’s production which transfered into town from the Lyric Hammersmith a few months back. I could not imagine a better production of this play if I tried, from the direction, to the design, to the performances, and I am devastated that it’s only having such a limited run. It’s the original precursor to farces we have now like The Play That Goes Wrong, and is truly one of the funniest things I have ever seen in any medium.

Small Island at the National Theatre, Olivier

My love for Small Island really surprised me, mostly because I wasn’t all too affected by it in the immediate aftermath of having seen it. I enjoyed it while watching it and found it captivating, but, as I always am in the Olivier, I was slightly distracted by the play’s inability to use the mahoosive and open auditorium to its advantage. But as the days, weeks, and months have gone on, my mind has kept casting back to this play and scenes from it. Not only is the story powerful and poingnant, but the staging and the tenacity of the performances were superb, too.

Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse

This is probably the most divisive entry on the list this year because I know a heck of a lot of people that hated this production, but I was not one of them. Sweet Charity has become one of my favourite musicals of all-time thanks to this production, but I still can’t quite put my finger on why. I think it’s mostly because it made me see the show in a whole new light, finally making it feel less stale that it had grown to become in my memory. And the casting of Anne Marie Duff as Charity — a middle-aged woman who, if I’m being honest, isn’t the greatest singer — made this show feel universal and born-anew in a way that the recording of Broadway’s Oklahoma! revival makes me feel, too.

THE 10 BEST SEASONS OF TELEVISION OF 2019

TELEVISION COLLAGE 2019

There was a lot of great television to choose from this year, but I’d argue that the best we saw was mostly new seasons of great shows, as you’ll see below.

There aren’t really any other seasons of television I’d like to shout out here, as making a top-ten list was pretty easy to do, but the latest seasons of two of my top three favourite TV shows – The Marvelious Mrs Maisel from Amazon Prime, and The Crown from Netflix, both of their third seasons – do not feature because I am still yet to watch them. The Apple TV+ series The Morning Show is also absent because I’m yet to watch it.

Barry (Season 2) from HBO/Sky Atlantic

I don’t have all too much to say about Barry. For me, the second season was largely similar to the first, but with some additional stand-out episodes (particularly “ronny/lily”). Bill Hader is excellent and he has built a world that I love to be inside of. I look forward to the show’s third season in 2020.

Big Little Lies (Season 2) from HBO/Sky Atlantic

Ummmmmm, okay, do I really need to say anything about this? I have watched the first season of Big Little Lies an embarrassing amount of times, and as if a TV show that pairs Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern wasn’t enough for my little gay heart, they throw Meryl Streep into the mix as well!? I know a lot of people who were underwhelmed with the second season, but I for one loved it. I agree that it probably didn’t need to happen, and I definitely think it started to fall apart when it gave equal screen time to all six of the leading ladies, but honestly? Who cares!

Fleabag (Season 2) from BBC

It’s crazy to me that the second season of Fleabag happened in 2019 because it honestly feels like a cultural moment that has been going on forever. It’s been years since I first saw Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the original stage play at London’s Soho Theatre, and it’s been at least three years since I devoured the first season of the show on BBC iPlayer. I was scared of the show coming back for a second season, because the first runs the course of the play and encapsulates the story so perfectly, but PWB blew it out the water, demonstrating that this is a story that works perfectly for television (I’d actually argue that the first season worked better as a stage play). Fleabag was the big cultural moment of this year gone by and the thought of that couldn’t make me happier.

Fosse/Verdon (Limited Series) from FX/BBC

We all know how much I adore the theatre, and especially the romanticism of Broadway legends from years gone by, so Fosse/Verdon is a TV show that I honestly think was made for me. Michelle Williams gives the performance of a lifetime in a limited series that I think anyone even remotely interested in the theatre and glamour should devour. I adored every second of this show and am so grateful that it gets to exist.

Killing Eve (Season 2) from BBC

Much like the second season of Big Little Lies, I know a lot of people who didn’t care for the second season of Killing Eve. (My Grandma, who devoured the first season alongside me, didn’t even care for a second season, because the story was complete in her eyes.) But as someone who is a huge fan of subverting expectations and treading dangerous lines, the second season of Killing Eve worked perfectly for me. This really is the ultimate binge-worthy TV show and I absolutely cannot wait for season three.

Pose (Seasons 1 & 2) from FX/BBC

Pose is another show that changed the world in 2019. Finally, BBC iPlayer blessed us with the first season (which I practically inhaled in one sitting), and then it also bestowed the second season upon us in quick succession. This show is not only a wonderful celebration of diversity and joy, but it’s also a fantastically gritty and honest character study, with perfect performances to boot.

Succession (Season 2) from HBO/Sky Atlantic

When I said in the pre-amble earlier that I had three favourite TV shows, Succession was the unmentioned third in that group. I started Succession on a whim at the start of the year after hearing amazing things on Twitter, but I really wasn’t ready for how passionate I’d become about this show. Succession is not only a hilarious and cut-throat depiction of some of the most complicated (and well-acted) characters I have ever seen, but it’s also a perfect encapsulation of some of the biggest issues of our time, mainly the 1%. If you aren’t watching Succession already, you should be, because it really is one of the best TV shows of the entire decade.

Unbelievable (Limited Series) from Netflix

This was a real late addition to the list and I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if it weren’t for all the attention it got online, but much like SuccessionUnbelievable is a brilliant dramatisation of important topics in recent years: rape culture, the MeToo movement, positive female representation in the media. Unbelievable is not only a show with a fantastic moral core, but it’s also great, addictive television.

What We Do In The Shadows (Season 1) from FX/BBC

My relationship with Taika Waititi is very hit-or-miss, but What We Do In The Shadows is a film that I adore, but this new TV show of the same name betters it in my eyes. For those who don’t know, What We Do In The Shadows is a mockumentary about a trio of vampires whose lives are frequently turned upside down by humans, visitors, and other dramatic events. It’s silly, tongue-in-cheek, and absolutely hilarious. It’s definitely the least serious show on my recommended list this year, but it’s also the funniest.

Years and Years (Limited Series) from BBC

And finally, what year-end roundup list would it be without the latest limited series from Russell T. Davies? Years and Years is the show I by far recommended to people the most this year: a story about love, a story about hope, and a story about what will connect us in the years to come. Focusing on one family over the course of the next fifty years, Russell T. Davies breathed new life into the family drama, putting it on the world stage and giving them all the attention and nuance they deserved. If you haven’t already watched it, it’s required viewing, even if for the final episode monologue alone.

THE 10 BEST ALBUMS OF 2019

MUSIC COLLAGE 2019

I think this year has been a really great one in music, especially in the circles I most frequently move around in. I’ve discovered a lot of new artists this year too, but their albums are a few years older so don’t feature on this list, but I would like to give a shout out to Randy Newman’s score for Marriage Story, which probably would be exempt from this list anyway, but I’ve found myself playing on loop over the past month.

Last year, in the music section, I decided to shake it up a bit (and reduce the word count for those of you who are reading this start to finish) by describing each album in three words. This year, I’m going to simply list my top-three favourite songs.

thank u, next by Ariana Grande

“needy”, “bloodline”, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”

WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? by Billie Eilish

“bad guy”, “xanny”, “wish you were gay”

Charli by Charli XCX

“Gone”, “1999”, “White Mercedes”

Fine Line by Harry Styles

“Watermelon Sugar”, “Adore You”, “Canyon Moon”

Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana Del Rey

“Mariners Apartment Complex”, “Love song”, “Cinnamon Girl”

Cuz I Love You by Lizzo

“Like A Girl”, “Jerome”, “Exactly How I Feel”

LOVE + FEAR by MARINA

“Handmade Heaven”, “To Be Human”, “Soft to Be Strong”

Late Night Feelings by Mark Ronson

“Late Night Feelings”, “Pieces of Us”, “Don’t Leave Me Lonely”

Sucker Punch by Sigrid

“Mine Right Now”, “Don’t Feel Like Crying”, “Sight Of You”

Heavy is the Head by Stormzy

“Big Michael”, “Crown”, “Superheroes”

THE 5 BEST BOOKS OF 2019

BOOKS COLLAGE 2019

I say this every year: ranking books of the year is hard. It takes a lot of time to read a book and when it boils down to it, I read more books from previous years than I do new releases, but 2019 was an exception. I actually ended up reading more than enough books to do a top five ranking, which I’ve got below for you.

Edit: In the two weeks it’s taken me to slowly write this piece, I’ve read three 2019 releases that I’d thoroughly recommend: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, a book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist about his journey to releasing the expose on Harvey Weinstein; Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, a collection of essays about the ways we delude ourselves in the 2010s/2020s; and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Professor Shoshana Zuboff, an (extremely long) academic look at how Google and the like are ushering in a new era of capitalism. All three are top-of-my-list recommendations for books that came out in 2019.

The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger

Who wouldn’t want to look inside the life and mind of Disney CEO Robert Iger? While this book isn’t as much of a tell-all as some people may like, I do admire Iger for being as open as he is here, and his life in general is a fasinating one. What I was most impressed by was how readable this book is: I devoured it over the course of just three days.

Me by Elton John

Everyone who knows me knows that Elton John is my favourite artist of all-time, bar none, so this Johnaissance that we’re currently experiencing (quote me on that) has been very warmly recieved by me. Serving as a fantastic follow-up read to one of my favourite films of the year Rocketman, Elton John’s autobiography Me is everything you’d want from an Elton John autobiography and then some. Plus, if you listen to the audio book, it’s read by Taron Egerton, which is pretty freaking cool.

I Like To Watch by Emily Nussbaum

I read a lot of journalism and one publication that I get through my door every week is The New Yorker, to which Emily Nussbaum is the magazine’s television critic. I first fell in love with Nussbaum a few years back when she published a huge profile on Ryan Murphy, so when she published an essay collection this year, I was all over it and devoured it quickly. I, personally, decided to listen to the audiobook because it was read by Nussbaum herself, but I’m looking forward to reading a paper copy as well.

Lanny by Max Porter

I absolutely detested Max Porter’s debut novel Grief is a Thing with Feathers so much that when this was longlisted for The Man Booker Prize, I almost skipped it. (It didn’t help that most of the other longlisted books I’d read thus far, I didn’t enjoy.) But Lanny felt like a breath of fresh air to me, the kind of quirky novel that I enjoyed not fully understanding. I read the book in one sitting, which is a testament to how much I enjoyed it, but what I particularly admired was how attached Porter made me feel to the characters. It’s definitely one I’d recommend taking a chance on.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

And finally, my ultimate favourite book of the year. In literary circles that I try and keep a part of, this book recieved a heck of a lot of hype before I could get my hands on a copy in my local library, and for the first 40% of the book, I couldn’t understand why: I found it tedious, slightly repetitive, and lacking in drive. But just before I gave it up, I thought I’d try to the half way point… and then my whole perspective changed. The book started building dimensions and layers, depth where I didn’t notice it before. And in addition to that, it’s structured with poet Ocean Vuong’s gorgeous, vivid, and visceral prose (I started off 2020 by devouring his TS Elliot Prize-winning poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, which I also recommend). If you pick up one book in 2020, make it this one. It’s absolutely beautiful.

Check out previous versions of this ranking here: 2018, 2017, 2016 (Musicals), 2016 (Plays)

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