One piece of personal progress I made last year was that I started to read quite a bit more. I have always loved reading, but I just felt really burned out after graduate school and had lost the habit of reading as much as I had in the past. Last year, that changed. It especially changed after I quit facebook and suddenly found more time to spend on a chapter here and there- and a chapter here and there really adds up! So without further ado, here are my top 12 books from 2018.The books are in no particular order- they aren’t ranked or listed in the order I read them. Some of them aren’t even what I thought were the BEST books I read last year, just the ones that stuck with me the most…
*Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone who is a fan of Gaiman’s other books, any Marvel fan who want to imagine Loki and Thor in new ways, fans of poetic language, humor, and the classics.
The main idea: Norse Gods going off on adventures, tricking each other, dealing with other mythological creatures. A good collection that mixes the serious and the silly.
Why I loved it: I forgot how much I actually love myths and legends. (that will come up again in this list) and over the past two years I have absolutely fallen in love with Gaiman’s mix of humor and linguistic mastery. The tricks, the jokes, the adventure… also, I listened to this on audiobook and any time you get a chance to hear Gaiman read his own works- DO IT! He’s a masterful storyteller.
*THE POWER by Naomi Alderman
Who I’d recommend it to: Feminist. Those who enjoy chilling, dystopian novels- this one is DARK. Those who want something to read while waiting for the next season of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The main idea: It’s hard to say too much without giving some of the brilliance away, but basically women begin having the power to shoot electricity from their hands- it sounds a little stupid, but is written so well, an what the book is really about is exactly what the title says- Power. Physical power, political power, military power, social power etc. etc. etc.
Why I loved it: This book weaves so many interesting characters together and the chilling countdown in the way it is structured was very effective for me. The way it dealt with the blatant, disturbing themes of sexism and power alongside the subtle, everyday sexism I have experienced so much I almost forget to think about and acknowledge before was brilliant. The questions it raises, the specificity of the scenes, it was all just very powerful but extremely disturbing at times so if you are squeamish, maybe this won’t be for you. Also, one of the most brilliant uses fo a frame story I’ve ever read.
*My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Who I’d recommend it to: Those who are OK with a slow start for the payoff of detailed writing, deeply diverse and gritty characters, and an ending that made me angry I didn’t have the next book to start immediately. Those who are ready to invest in a rather long series. Bonus if you have ties to Italian culture/geography.
The main idea: The first book in Ferrante’s Neopolitan Quartet, it starts with the childhood fo the two main characters- Lila and Lenu (those are their nicknames) and follows them up through adolescence. They are both brilliant but in different ways and the themes of the book set up the series as a whole. There is a lot of violence, so much that I don’t think I could bring myself to watch the TV series, but also a lot of gorgeous description.
Why I loved it: I deeply related to the struggles of being a smart girl and yet always feeling behind and not quite smart enough. The feminist themes, the descriptions of Italian culture that I’m familiar with, the sparkling prose are what made it worth it to me to trudge through some of the slower parts and to go on to the rest of the series. It helped that I read this alongside some other friends as we all picked up on different nuances.
*The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
Who I’d recommend it to: Those who understand that books marketed for young adults can be as brilliant or even far better as those marketed toward adults. Those who love a good plot twist. Those who like historical/political fiction, but also like not having to know too much about history to get through the plot.
The Main Idea:This is the sequel (or, rather, second in the series) that starts with the book The Thief. I think it may be the strongest int heh series that deals with mystery, politics, gods and goddesses but in a delightfully subtle way, and more.
Why I loved it: Because of the surprises, the realistic but not gratuitous depictions of pain and love, the specific considerations when dealing with nations trying to manipulate each other, and just some really freaking wonderful writing.
*Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
Who I’d recommend it to: Those who love character driven novels. Those who have dealt with the complications of the foster system. Those who have experienced having a child on the spectrum or who has lived through trauma.
The main idea: Ginny was adopted by parents who are now going to have their own baby. They are deeply concerned about some of her behaviors all the while Ginny is concerned that she is going to lose her family or that she needs to save her baby doll that everyone keeps telling her to forget.
Why I loved it: I know some people hate first person novels, but I like them, especially when they have a voice as unique as Ginny. The writing was deeply compelling and while I don’t think it’s the next classic or anything, I do think it was easy to get lost in this book, it was a fast read, and the author knew how to build tension and maintain incredible specificity. I stayed up really late finishing this one.
*The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Who I’d recommend it to: Those who forgot that the Little House series went past Little House on the Prairie. Those looking for a tale of resilience and persistence.
The main idea: It’s the Little House series at its bleakest. A winter that threatens to freeze or starve people in the little town where Laura and her family lives.
Why I loved it: The resilience of the human spirit, the descriptions that were truly harrowing. The tension. After the frivolity of Farmer Boy, this book represented a huge jump in writing quality.
*Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Who I’d recommend it to: Everyone. You may not enjoy it, but I think it is that important.
The main idea: And exploration of the death penalty, and other concerns about our justice system.
Why I loved it: As a Catholic, the death penalty has always been inconsistent with my values, but I have been woefully under-informed about some of the facts and specific examples of this flawed system. God bless Bryan Stevenson and any who choose this difficult line of work.
*Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming
Who I’d recommend it to: Anyone whose life has been turned upside down by a 23 and me test result, those who love personal memoirs that have a bit more substance.
The main idea: Alan Cumming talks about his relationship with his father and the question of whether or not he actually is his father’s son.
Why I loved it: Maybe it just hit a little to close to home with my own family having the aforementioned 23 and me revelation, but the hope, vulnerability, and quality of writing made it stick with me for a long time. I also listened to this one as an audiobook (I always do for memoirs. Love hearing them in the author’s voice. Use them much less for fiction but mostly out of preference.)
*Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
Who I’d recommend it to: Once again, Everyone. You may not enjoy it, but I think it is that important.
The main idea: Brene Brown brings her social research on shame, vulnerability, and relationships to the question of belonging, group dynamics, and the way we keep segmenting instead of connecting.
Why I loved it: This book made me want to cry at times, it puts into words so many feelings I have struggled to express in recent years and it is one of very few books I finished reading and thought, I NEED A HARD COPY OF THAT because I will read it again and again in years to come. I wrote a whole other post about it here.
*Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller
Who I’d recommend it to: Those who loved the Little House series but are open to hear it from a new perspective.
The main idea: Little house on the prairie from “Ma’s” perspective.
Why I loved it: It added a level of grit and adult reflection to a book I had just re-read and had strange memories of from childhood. The strength of this character throughout motherhood and frontier life was so inspiring, and the familiar scenes, slightly shifted in perspective was a delight to read.
*Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Who I’d recommend it to: Your book club. It’s a perfect book club book. Those who are curious about the HBO series but don’t want to pay for HBO (or is that just me?)
The main idea: Secrets, bullying, gossip, upper middle class #momlife
Why I loved it: Liane Moriarty is at peak humor and plot manipulation here and it was definitely a page turner. The characters were funny and the stakes were high. Not my favorite of her books (What Alice Forgot I just read at the perfect time and it gut punched me in a way I can’t forget), but probably one of the best to start with for those new to her writing.
*Circe by Madeline Miller
Who I’d recommend it to: Mothers. Feminists. Those who love the classics with a twist.
The main idea: Circe- that character you know so well from the Odyssey- only told from her perspective.
Why I loved it: I’m having a really hard time with talking about what I love on here because so much of it is spoiler-y, but the language used was really good and the reimagining- when Miller chose to have motivations change from the well known story and why are strong as well. But… the last fourth of the book really is what made me keep thinking about this book.