31st October 2019
Surly’s Most Popular Books of 2019
What was your fav read of 2019? Make sure you’ve checked all these off your reading list – some of the most popular books at Surly for Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, Classics, and Memoirs.
Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata
“My present self is formed almost completely of the people around me. I am currently made up of 30 percent Mrs. Izumi, 30 percent Sugawara, 20 percent the manager, and the rest absorbed from past colleagues such as Sasaki, who left six months ago, and Okasaki, who was our supervisor until a year ago. My speech is especially infected by everyone around me and I probably infect others with the way I speak too. Infecting each other like this is how we maintain ourselves as human is what I think.”
Convenience Store Woman is the first of Murata’s ten novels to be translated into English. The central character Keiko Furukura is a misfit who struggles to connect with people in her social life – but, at the Smile Mart, she is completely within her comfort zone. With a uniform, a roster, and a behaviour manual, she knows her place, knows the rules, and feels a sense of purpose and belonging. Narrated in Keiko’s strange but compelling first-person voice, we are treated to her observations of customers and colleagues, and ponderings on life and social customs.
“How can so many things become a bore by middle age — philosophy, radicalism, and other fast foods — but heartbreak keeps its sting?”
Arthur Less is a struggling novelist, nearing his fiftieth birthday. When he receives an invitation to his ex-(not-quite-)boyfriend’s wedding, he just can’t handle the awkwardness – and so, to avoid the situation, he decides to take on the writers’ circuit and visit any half-baked literary event that will book him. As he travels the world he encounters bizarre situations, quirky characters, and unavoidable moments of self-reflection. This ingenious satirical comedy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2018) and the Australian Book Industry Award for International Book of the Year (2019).
“No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.”
Connell and Marianne grow up in a small town in rural Ireland. They meet as teenagers – Connell’s mother works as Marianne’s housecleaner – and form a deep emotional bond despite the awkwardness of social disparity. Over the next few years in college, their relationship shifts and repositions itself again and again as they begin to navigate adulthood, new friends, relationships, career aspirations, and expressing their own desires. This is a book about the important connections we make with people, how these relationships change, and how they change us.
n.b. we’ve exclude Brandon Sanderson , Patrick Rothfuss & George R R Martin from this list, because they’ve topped the most popular list almost every semester!
“The last thing you will ever be in this world, girl, is someone’s hero. But you will be a girl heroes fear.”
The first in a trilogy published over 2016-19, Nevernight introduces us to a world Kirstoff describes as ‘a collision between ancient Rome and merchant prince Venice’. Mia Corvere is on the run, fleeing the Senate powers who executed her Father as a traitor of the state. Determined to seek vengeance, she joins the deadly Red Church to train as an assassin, while beginning to unravel the secrets of her family’s past. The books are full of rich description and metaphor, and doesn’t shy away from bloodshed – oh, and Mia can manipulate her shadow and has a talking cat, if that’s your kind of thing.
Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo
“So I’d made my choice. I’d pushed my power down and held it there each day, with all my energy and will, without ever realizing it. I’d used up every bit of myself to keep that secret.”
The crumbling nation of Ravka is being overrun by gargoyle-like flesh-eating monsters, and Alina Starkov is living a mundane existence as a military cartographer. When her best friend Mal is attacked and injured, she discovers incredible powers that she’d never harnessed before – and promptly gets whisked away to the capital, where the powerful elite hope to use her to their advantage. The Grisha series is known for the engaging magic, a huge sense of adventure, and a believable romance.
An Ember in the Ashes – Sabaa Tahir
“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after. Such moments are tests of courage, of strength.”
Laia and her family live a meagre existence on the fringe of society, under the oppressive state of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, she aligns herself with the Resistance and goes undercover in the Empire’s military academy. The more people she meets, and the more she learns about the sickeningly evil commander, the more terrifying things become… Fast-paced and action-packed, this is a continuing series with the final instalment due to be released 2020.
The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
“She is oblivious to what I have done to her. She is unaware of the damage I have wrought; the ruin I have set in motion. To this beautiful young woman with the heart-shaped face, I’m as invisible as the pigeon scavenging on the sidewalk next to me. She has no idea what will happen to her if she continues like this.”
Richard and Vanessa are recently divorced, and Vanessa has been left broke, bitter, and alone. Nellie, his young new fiancée, is smitten and excited for the wedding – but she’s also running from her past, and can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching her. Lots of twists, turns, and mysteries to be unveiled in this book: How far will Vanessa go to get revenge? What secrets from Nellie’s past might be creeping out of the woodwork? And what exactly is it that connects these two women?
Behind Her Eyes – Sarah Pinborough
“It’s not that difficult, people cheat all the time. The reasons are always selfish and base, it’s the excuses we make that are complicated.”
On a drunken night out, Louise meets a handsome stranger David in a bar. They kiss, they go their separate ways, but the energy is electric and she’s still thinking about him on Monday morning – which becomes awkward when she arrives at the office to find that David’s her new boss. And even more awkward that he’s married. But she can’t seem to keep away from David, or from his wife Adele, and soon she starts wondering where her loyalty should lie between the two of them… Even if you’ve read a lot of psychological thrillers, there’s a good chance this book will surprise you. It’s a compelling read that certainly doesn’t play by the normal rules of the genre, causing a lot of ‘Love-it-or-Hate-it’ reactions from readers.
The Woman in the Window – A.J. Finn
“Something’s happening to me, through me, something dangerous and new. It’s taken root, a poison tree; it’s grown, fanning out, vines winding round my gut, my lungs, my heart.”
Anna lives alone, and with extreme agoraphobia that prevents her from leaving the house most days. Instead she sits at home, alternatively watching old movies, and watching out the windowas her neighbours go about their daily lives. What she sees through the glass one day will completely change her life and force her to take action – but can she be sure of what she thinks she’s seen? And how far can she investigate before danger starts knocking on her door? Finn’s writing is sharp, drawing believable characters and an intoxicating story through short chapters, maintaining a fast pace and an intense atmosphere.
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!”
Wuthering Heights is the old farmhouse on the moor, the iconic setting for this eerie classic. Mr Earnshaw lives with his children Hindley, Catherine, and Nelly, and one day adopts Heathcliff, a young homeless boy. The intertwined passions and fates of Heathcliff, Catherine, and their neighbour Edgar, form the core of this story that is equally about love, family, and revenge. There is so much to love about this 1847 book – the prose, the characters, the gothic supernatural elements, the vivid descriptions of the wilderness, the lively transliteration of Joseph’s Yorkshire accent – and of course, the 1978 dance interpretation by Kate Bush.
Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
“I am always saying ‘Glad to’ve met you’ to somebody I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”
Holden Caulfield – moody, lonely, and disillusioned – is pretty much the poster child for teenage angst. The book details his life the few days after he’s expelled from school, wandering around the city complaining about the ‘phoniness’ of modern life, pondering the loss of childhood innocence, searching for some kind of meaning. The power of this book comes from the way we fully inhabit Holden’s mind, with all his confused and intelligent thoughts – a narrative style that sits ambiguously between satire and empathy. It’s a short book, and worth reading in order to understand the cultural canon that’s followed since its publication in 1951; but fair warning… there are no actual rye fields in this book. ?
Laughter in the dark – Vladimir Nabokov
“Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.”
The first line of Laughter in the Dark (first published in Russian in 1932) neatly outlines the plot of the story, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to read the rest. The genius of Nabokov is in taking these universally-understood stories – love, loss, betrayal, regret – and telling them with precisely-painted characters and immense pathos. The dialogue and language is lovely to read, even in translation, and the book is full of incisive darkly humorous observations.
Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood – Trevor Noah
“If you think too much about the ass kicking that life gave you, you’ll stop pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules. It’s better to take it, spend some time crying, then wake up the next day and move on. You’ll have a few bruises and they’ll remind you of what happened and that’s ok. But after a while, the bruises fade and they fade for a reason. Because now, it’s time to get up to some shit again.”
This is an autobiographical comedy book from Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show in America, describing his life in apartheid South Africa. As a mixed-race person born to parents whose interracial relationship was technically illegal, he was literally ‘born a crime’. From the very first chapter – Noah’s mother throwing him from a moving bus to avoid an attempted kidnapping – Noah’s voice is dramatic, mischievous, resilient, wise, and always allayed with a sense of humour.
“I put my hands out onto my files and thought of the faces of all the women and children I’d seen in court. I’d seen them crying. I had felt their fear and their freeze when they relived their horrors in front of a cavernous room of angry adult strangers.”
As a recent law graduate Bri Lee worked as a judge’s associate in Queensland, watching every day as sexual assault victims told their stories, fought through disbelief and judgment, and largely failed to receive justice. A year later, she made the decision to report her own sexual abuse, and push the case through all the difficult channels of the judicial system. This gripping memoir describes her own experiences throughout the whole process, and illustrates the gross weaknesses of the legal system. Bri Lee is determined to change the narrative around victimisation, and to change the cultural and legal systems which perpetuate violence and assault.
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”
In her public life, Michelle Obama is known as a powerful advocate for women, education, and public health; in her personal life, she is known for being kind, wise, down-to-earth, and fun. In this memoir, Obama discusses a range of experiences – her childhood in Chicago, her adult working life as an executive, reflections on parenthood and family, and life in the White House. She writes with warmth, wit, and intelligence, displaying an unwavering belief in humanity that is sure to leave you hopeful and inspired.