Obama hails Girl, Woman, Other and Normal People as favourite books of 2019

Obama hails Girl, Woman, Other and Normal People as favourite books of 2019

Former US president Barack Obama has revealed Booker Prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton) and Normal People (Faber) were among his favourite books in 2019. 

He continued his tradition of sharing his annual lists of favourites across his social media platforms on Saturday (28th December), starting with a rundown of books that made the past year "a little brighter for me."

"This has become a fun little tradition for me, and I hope it is for you, too," Obama wrote in a Facebook post. "Because while each of us has plenty that keeps us busy—work and family life, social and volunteer commitments—outlets like literature and art can enhance our day-to-day experiences. They’re the fabric that helps make up a life—the album that lifts us up after a long day, the dog-eared paperback we grab off the shelf to give to a friend, the movie that makes us think and feel in a new way, works that simply help us escape for a bit. Most of them came out in 2019, but a few were older ones that were new to me this year."

Obama's 19-strong list revealed a mix of historic non-fiction and literary works, similar to previous years. It includes Women's Prize-longlisted Lost Children Archive (4th Estate) by Valeria Luiselli, a novel inspired by the migrant crisis, along with Irish novelist Sally Rooney's second novel about two friends growing up in Ireland, Normal People, which took the Book of the Year at the British Book Awards in May. Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton) by British author Bernardine Evaristo was also highlighted, two months after it scooped the Booker Prize in October in a joint win with Margaret Atwood's The Testaments (Vintage).

Other novels highlighted included The Orphan Master's Son (Doubleday 2012) by Adam Johnson, a novel about propaganda and state in North Korea and Trust Exercise (Profile) by Susan Choi, about two American teenagers navigating sex and power. The Topeka School (Granta) by Ben Lerner, a novel about toxic masculinity in an American high school, was also chosen.

Two short story collections also featured: Lot (Atlantic) by Bryan Washington, stories about a young man finding his voice in Houston, America, and We Live in Water (Penguin, 2014) by Jess Walter, exploring themes about the American Family.

The non-fiction choices included essays on growing up with the internet by journalist Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (4th Estate) and How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (Melville House) by Jenny Odell, billed by the publisher as "an action plan for thinking outside of capitalist narratives of efficiency". Another selection relating to technology was The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (Profile) by Shoshana Zuboff, about the danger posed to society by the rise of big tech.

Memoirs included activist Albert Woodfox's insight into his four decades in solitary confinement, Solitary (Text Publishing), and The Yellow House, by Sarah M Broom, about her life in New Orleans, due to be published in the UK by Little, Brown in June 2020.

History selections featured Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (HarperCollins) by investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe, and William Dalrymple's The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (Bloomsbury), insights into imperial expansion through the multinational. Meanwhile an investigation into Harper Lee's true crime obsession, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (Cornerstone) by Casey Cep, features an account of the Alabama serial killer that the celebrated author spent many years researching. American writer and critic David Treuer's The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present (Little, Brown), was also named, combining history with reportage and memoir.

Obama rounded off the year's top picks with two titles aimed at "the sports fans": A Different Way to Win: Dan Rooney's Story from the Super Bowl to the Rooney Rule by Jim Rooney and The Sixth Man by basketball star Andre Iguodala (neither of which are published in the UK).

The 58-year-old politician also included a list of 19 other titles which he had recommended earlier in the year, include the first of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell trilogy Wolf Hall (4th Estate), along with his favourite films and TV shows of the year, highlighting Phoebe Waller-Bridge's BBC show "Fleabag" as a top pick for 2019.