Best adult reads of 2019

Sooo I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I LOVE reading. It’s how I escape, how I learn about myself and the world (and my place in the world) and how I stretch my mind.

I have a wide reading diet: I read picture story books, children’s novels, young adult fiction, lots of education-based non-fiction and, every know and then, I read a grown-up’s book (adult fiction). I love the feel of a book in my hands, so a good deal of my reading is actual physical books, with the remainder of it being on Audible (this is for when I am out and about, either driving or running). This year I also had the pleasure of co-reading the Harry Potter series on Audible with my niece. We listened to the same book and then rang each other to see where we were up to and then discussed what had happened. I have loved having this connection with my niece and we will certainly carry it over to my 2020 reading.

Like many readers, I need to talk about the things I’m reading both to help me celebrate it and to help me process it. My husband usually provides the first set of ears for my book discussions (sometimes willingly, sometimes not ?) and he is often on the receiving end of me sharing a great paragraph, a well written sentence or an amazing fact or idea. Talking about books with people is a great way for me to add to my TBR (to be read) list as well.

So, here is my opportunity to share some of the books for adults that I have enjoyed over the 2019 reading season.

Adult non-fiction books:

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

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Hands down this is the book that had the most impact on my thinking (and probably my life) this year. A good friend of mine recommended that I listen to a podcast where the author of this book was talking about his books. I listened to while running on the treadmill one day and I bought the book as soon as I got off.

In the book Cal Newport explains how it is not just kids who are addicted to smartphones, it is us- the adults- as well. He outlines how we are addicted, talks about the research that has gone into making smart phones addictive and then, the scariest part, he talks about the negative impacts this addiction is having on our lives – increased anxiety, less human connection (even though we think we are more connected) and the list goes on. Wow. This was a real wake up call to me and I’ve made some big changes as a result of reading this book. EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS BOOK! (See how shouty I got just then? That’s how much I believe we all need to know about this stuff and do something about it now).

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming : Oprah Winfrey's Book Club Selection - Michelle Obama

I listened to Michelle narrate her own memoir on Audible and I’m not afraid to admit, I actually almost cried when it ended. I enjoyed it so much that I felt like I was losing a good friend when she stopped reading to me (we had, afterall, spent about 28 hours going through her highs and lows in the car together!)

I was absolutely fascinated to learn about her upbringing, her romance with Obama and their lives in the political spotlight together. Michelle is a strong, intelligent and powerful woman with so much integrity, poise and passion. I’m thinking of inviting her to dinner.

The rise of the ultrarunners By Adaranand Finn

Ultra running book

I love running and so I try to read at least a few running books every year. I am obsessed with the idea of running further and further so I found this book to be a good and easy read. Finn basically tries to work out why some people sign themselves up to ridiculously painful and exhausting long-distance events.

This book really made me ponder that idea that as the way we function in our world changes (more work stress, more tech to do the hard stuff for us etc) some people are starting to seek real physical challenge elsewhere as an outlet and an escape. I found this really interesting and relevant for a running lover (and it gave me some ideas for events to sign up to in the future ?)

Educated By Tara Westover

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I love learning about other people’s lives- especially when they are so different to my own. This memoir tells one person’s experiences of life in an extremist mormon household.

I was often shaking my head is disbelief as I read this book and I was constantly wondering how people could think like that. It made me think of extremism in all its forms and had me wondering about how people find themselves at the extreme of a set of beliefs (be they religious or otherwise). It’s a fascinating read and one that only took a couple of days to get through.

Unfollow By Meghan Phelps-Roper

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I literally saw this on a book recommendation list a couple of days ago and purchased it on Amazon straight away. I had no intention of reading this until after Christmas as I have another book on the go at the moment (not to mention just a few things to prepare for Christmas!). Intent on ruining my well organised plans, Amazon delivered it the DAY AFTER I bought it and I accidentally opened it to read the first page as a sneak peek for after Christmas… Next thing you know, I have finished it and now have a LOT of Christmas running around to do at the last minute. Thanks for nothing, ridiculously-fast-Amazon-delivery!

Anyway, after watching Louis Theroux’s special on the Westboro Baptist Church a few years ago, I couldn’t stop reading this book about Meghan Phelps-Roper’s experience of leaving the church. As with the book Educated, I was constantly aghast at some of the beliefs and thinking that permeated this church. WOW.

My major learning from this book was around the idea of not blocking hate speech from social media platforms as it was Phelps-Roper’s discussions on Twitter that actually helped her to change her thinking. This isn’t something I had thought through before and I’m glad she raised the issue.

Adult fiction

Way of Kings By Brandon Sanderson

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Catching up with a friend for my first ever high tea experience early in 2019 my friend outright told me the best book she has ever read is Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. ‘Are you serious?’ I asked. No-one can EVER easily name their one favourite book of all time. It is way too hard and a completely unrealistic expectation on any reader. When she mentioned that it was ‘fantasy’ my eyes glazed over. ‘Yeah thanks, but besides Harry potter, I don’t read fantasy. Especially fantasy for grown ups!’ Knowing there was a good chance I would never read the book I thought I would at least make her feel good about her recommendation by walking to Dymocks with her straight after lunch and buying the book right there and then.

That afternoon I laid down on my bed to preview the first few pages of this book that was apparently so good it was easily rattled off as the best book ever! On the first page I was reminded of the old Lit Circles book selection catchcry: ‘if there are more than five words on the first page that you don’t understand then you need to consider if this is the right book for you.’ What the heck did all these fantasy related words even mean? How could anyone enjoy this weird book about some crazy made up land? I decided I would give it until the end of the second chapter before I put it on my ‘to be read later’ (aka ‘never’) shelf.

And then it got me.

600 pages of this book and another 1700+ pages of the next three books later and I was hooked! I was really reading adult fantasy! (I even had to go back to the adult fantasy section at the bookshop to buy the next books- you know the area that only those weird people go… that’s where I hang now). I was so enthralled with the characters in this book- it is written from multiple character viewpoints (a style I love) and their characteristics and strengths pulled me into the action.

The bad thing about this book is I literally did nothing else besides read this book for hours on end, so I had to stop reading the series when I started work again. I have just picked up the 5th book again to start reading over the summer (although I was rudely interrupted by the arrival of Meghan Phelps-Roper book earlier this week).

All the Light we Cannot See By Anthony Doerr

I listened to this book on Audible and read the hard copy as well. That happens every now and then when I am listening to a book that I feel I need to touch in my hands to slow down and really savour the sentences. Wow! The writing in this book is so poetic, so thoughtful and just so darn beautiful.

The book tells the story of a blind girl living in Nazi occupied France and a poor boy’s life as a part of Hitler’s Youth (another multiple viewpoint narration). I was waiting in anticipation for the intertwining of their two stories and it did not disappoint. This book, and particularly the writing, is just magical!

Boy Swallows Universe By Trent Dalton

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I take books with multiple medals on the front cover as a challenge. ‘Ok, let’s see how good you really are.’ With no less than 10 award medals on the front of this book it certainly had a lot to live up to!

I fell in love with the quirky characters in this book almost instantly. The more I read the more I loved the way the book was written. I appreictaed this piece of Australian literature so much that I ended up lugging it all over America with me (usually I gift finished travelling books to a second hand bookstore while still on holidays to save me carrying it home). I read multiple lines from this book aloud to my husband and it just reminded me of so many classic Aussies I know that I laughed all the way through it. I know some people didn’t take to this book, but I’m a bit of a bogan so I loved it!

The Fountains of Silence By Ruta Sepetys

Ok, so this is is technically a crossover book, meaning it can be read by adults or younger people but I definitely think it has earned its position on my list of recommended reads for adults. I met the author of this book at the Children’s Book day of the International Literacy Association conference in New Orleans this year. Ruta was the keynote speaker over lunch and when she spoke I was completely mesmerised by her passion for literature and literacy. Ruta told us about her writing life at school and how one teaching moment turned her off writing for years to come. Thankfully for us, she picked the pen up again later in life and now uses her skills to shine the light on little known historical events she feels the world needs to learn about.

Once I was introduced to Ruta I immediately downloaded one of her books, Salt to the Sea, on Audible to listen to in the car as we drove around America. This book tells the story of a World War 2 refugee ship the MV Wilhelm Gustloff (which just so happens to be the worst maritime disaster to have ever occurred- yet I, like many people, had never heard about it).

The Fountains of Silence (which is so captivating I faked a sickie in Las Vegas so I could stay in bed all day and read it) is a historical fiction about life under the 36 year rule of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Like all books I seem to love, the story is told from multiple viewpoints and Ruta does an excellent job of weaving in historical information with a really engaging narrative plot. After reading both of these books I have sworn to read every single thing Ruta Sepetys writes and encourage adults of the young and old variety to read them.

Work related non-fiction:

Focus By Mike Shmoker

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Everyone in education (from the policy makers to classroom teachers) needs to read this book. Mike Schmoker does an excellent job of reminding us what the essentials are in education and gives us permission and a directive to prioritise these essentials. Essentially, he implores us to ‘do less and do it well!’ (You all know how much that sings to my heart!) He outlines what he considers the three essential elements in education and goes into each of these in more depth:

  1. What we teach (guaranteed and viable curriculum and what this actually means)
  2. How we teach (the most effective lesson structure)
  3. Authentic Literacy (purposeful reading, discussion and writing)

If you like this book, he has a skinnier version for school leaders called ‘Leading with Focus.’ I am constantly pulling these two books out and rereading them, they are fantastic.

Disruptive Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst

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This book is a fresh and updated look at how we teach reading in the modern classroom. Whilst some of the content was not new to me it would be a great book study book for teams who want to get onto the same page about the why, what and how of teaching reading. It includes chapters on the skills we want proficient readers to develop (eg. the ability to question and respond to the text) as well as a discussion on the place of Independent Reading (and what this is and is not).

This book is not a hard read (I read it in the car while my husband drove us around America). There is plenty of food for thought in this book.

Guiding Thinking For Effective Spelling (2nd edition) By Christine Topfer and Deirdre Arendt

Teacher resource spelling

This is my new go-to book for spelling instruction. It aligns very closely with my other favourite spelling related book; Misty Adoniou’s ‘Spelling it out,’ AND it is Australian!

In this book the authors strive to build the reader’s content knowledge around teaching spelling as well as provide practical activities teachers can implement in their classrooms. They introduce the 5 different spelling strategies they believe all teachers should be introducing to their students:

  • Sound
  • Visual
  • Meaning
  • Connecting
  • Checking

There are now supplementary teacher guides available to go with this book for F, 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6. They are incredibly practical and useful for building teacher confidence and competence to teach spelling effectively.

What I especially love about these books is that they are not a step by step program for teachers to follow (irrespective of the children in front of them). Rather, they provide the information and resources teachers need to get started and to be able to sustainably and effectively teach spelling to the children in their class. Oh yeah, and did I mention all the resources are Australian ?

I am sure three are many more that I could add to this list but these are the ones that have popped into my head today (as I should be preparing for Christmas day tomorrow).

What are your recommended reads for adults?

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1 thought on “Best adult reads of 2019”

  1. My list this year included:
    Becoming- Michelle Obama
    Boy Swallows Universe
    City of Girls
    Big Sky
    Good Girl, Bad Girl
    and I’ve just reread Bel Canto & my all time favourite…The Bell Jar.


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