2018 Favorite Books
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Though I’ve mentioned them all in my “Year of Making” posts, I want to particularly recommend a few of my reads from this year. But, I want to make a little disclaimer first. It should be noted that I am basically a prude when it comes to my media consumption. I make no apology for that. I put down scores of books because I run into things I just don’t want to read. Having said all of that, there are a few books on this list that have some language or a little bit of sexual reference in them. Nothing gratuitous, certainly. But, if you have similar prudish tendencies, I’ve noted these below as best as I remember. Even with the disclaimer I think they’re worth recommending. Upon completion of these books I immediately was on the hunt for someone, anyone to press the book upon and coerce them into enjoying it.
The Soul of an Octopus
by Sy Montgomery
The first thing you need to understand about this book is that it’s not really about octopuses. Sure, there are plenty of the squishy mollusks in the book. And, there is a healthy discussion of our scientific understanding of them. But, this book is really about what it is to extend ourselves. I walked away from this book believing that if we, as human beings, can extend some part of ourselves to something as alien as an octopus, perhaps there is hope for our communities yet.
The Lost City of Z
by David Grann
It doesn’t seem like a hard sell: the story of a legendary British explorer who walks into the Amazon in 1925 and never walks out. But, really, it was far outside anything I typically read. Before picking up this book I’d never heard of Percy Fawcett or considered how the world of early twentieth century exploration worked. Once immersed in this story, though, I wanted to know everything about it all. I love a book that takes me places I had no idea I wanted to go.
by Margot Lee Shetterly
I know you have already heard of this book. I know you’ve already been told you should read it. But, I’ll add my accolades to the mountain because I think you should read it. The world it reveals is frustrating but the force of the women who operated in that world is inspiring.
by Krista Tippett
This book walked into my life at precisely the right moment. I needed its calm, thoughtful musings. I listened to it as I meandered through fields in Northern England and in my room as I fitted seams together. I took it slow with this one—pausing to think and absorb. I strongly suggest listening to the audiobook because it includes the original audio of several interviews. My soul feels a little bigger just thinking back on the time I spent with this book.
The Undoing Project
by Michael Lewis.
If I had only one word to describe this book it be fascinating. It tells a fascinating story of intriguing people doing compelling science, played out in a dramatic setting. And it’s all real. It was one of those books where I kept stopping to harangue whoever was in the vicitinity with random facts that began with “did you know . . . “. Sometimes what followed was the counterintuitive result of a psychology experiment. Sometimes it was a bit of Israeli history. All of it was fascinating.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave
I have unintentionally read very heavily in the World War II era lately. A great deal of that is due to my readings to get to know Poland better. And, a great deal of that is because there are a lot of great books set in that time period. This one definitely qualifies as the latter. I found the writing beautiful and the characters compelling. I appreciated that, while it’s relatively sheltered from the harshest of war’s realities, everything is not packaged into a neat and tidy fabrication of war.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford
There is a great deal of misogyny and snobbery inherent in the fact that the term sentimental is leveled as a criticism in many literary circles. I just don’t have time for that. When I tell you that this book is sentimental, I mean it as a recommendation. It was a gentle, sweet read and I enjoyed nestling into the comfort of it. Which is not to say that it avoids real issues. Internment camps, immigrant experience in America, and family expectations are only a few of the things it takes on. It does it, though, inside a beautiful story about the things people find and the things they loose.
The Sunny Side
by A.A. Milne
The Winnie the Pooh books were a staple in our read aloud years. But, as ardently as I love those stories, it never occurred to me to look up what else Milne might have written. It was only once I stumbled upon this book at a used book sale that I discovered that he was a humorist and essayist for adults. Some of these pieces are a little stilted now, a century out of historical context. But most of them hold up remarkably well. They are charming and feel like a welcome relief after some of the heavier books I took on this year. I particularly loved “The Enchanted Castle” and “Common”.
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
This may be the book that has hung around my mind the most from the last year. It’s topical, I suppose. But that’s not why it stuck with me. I think it did because it seemed true. Difficult and uncomfortable, certainly. But, also, true. I find it particularly valuable because it is a truth outside of my experience. I’m not suggesting that I understand the truth of intercity life and police shootings by reading a book. But I am saying that I appreciate this book for opening a window into that truth for me. (And also, for being achingly beautifully written).
*It does contain quite a bit of language, but all appropriate to the story. There is also a bit of sexual reference.
Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders
I realize that this book is not for everyone. It is experimental. It is odd. For me, it all worked. I found the format intriguing and the story compassionate. This was a book that made me feel more human, which is the highest praise I can give.
*It does contain some language and sexual references.
We Were the Lucky Ones
by Georgia Hunter
I love this book because it’s the most comprehensive piece of fiction I’ve read in terms of the breadth of experience of Jews in Poland during World War II. It follows the story of one family from Radom, Poland with five grown children. The author’s grandfather’s family, as it happens. It is, inevitably heartbreaking. But, so, so informative. The story is well written and riveting. I flew through this book, unwilling to put it down.