What I read: Jul-Dec 2019

July - December 2019

So, in the second half of last year I didn’t get round to publishing what I’d read. Luckily I still kept the record, so here’s an update. It’s missing a lot of articles but the books are here. Things slowed down quite a lot as I was working again and we had our second daughter in August, two kids doesn’t leave a huge amount of time for reading!

In 2019 I read 21 books, and a lot of New Yorker articles (I’ve put a few stand outs below). Nearly 2 books a month feels a bit ahead of where I’ll get to this year. 2019 is really a year of two halves, 14 books in the first 6 months, 7 in the second (after Lily was born).


  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan — I read this after loving the excerpt in the New Yorker. It reminded me I’d always dreamed of learning to surf. It was good to start with but I couldn’t finish it. Two reasons: 1. I feel like he never really described whatever was driving him around the world in search of the perfect wave. He touched on family issues, not fitting in, self esteem…but never approached them with emotional honesty. 2. There are only so many times you can read a description of the minutiae of catching a wave.
  • Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram — I liked this a bit in the way I like the Lyndon Johnson biographies: it was a picture of a person entirely different to me. Boyd was an asshole. He was also brilliant. But a significant part of what he achieved came from his being an asshole.
  • H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald — I have fond memories of this book but I found it hard going at times. The overall picture of connecting deeply with an alien nature at a time of grief is powerful. I liked her descriptions of connecting with the natural world even more.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead — great book, I really enjoyed it. Hard at times. Whitehead really gets you situated in these bits of history that have passed a lot of people by.
  • Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell — very very good. An “overlooked classic”, it surprised me with its psychological depth and reality. And a great story.
  • In Our Mad And Furious City by Guy Gunaratne — some great language, natural and vivid. But a lot of hollow characters, a bit too obvious what’s on their mind. Then they go and say things like “embers in her mouth” and it seems out of place.
  • Netherland by Joseph O’Neill — a little dull. Not the right pace for me. Some of the thinking about fatherhood I liked, but there wasn’t enough.


  • The Lingering Of Loss by Jill Lepore — deeply moving New Yorker article about the death of a friend.
  • Four Years In Startups by Anna Wiener — excerpt of Uncanny Valley, the tech bro exposé. Chilling how pervasive and real this is.
  • Can a Burger Help Solve Climate Change? — maybe.
  • How TikTok Holds Our Attention by Jia Tolentino — Jia Tolentino has fast become one of my fav New Yorker writers. It shows how the magazine is changing that they can publish this insightful and grounded discussion of TikTok, something that would have totally passed them by in the past.