At this point, I’ve read 47 books in 2018. They were mostly fiction (27), some memoir/essay (eight)) and some non-fiction (seven). (If you want to see everything I’ve read/am reading, here’s a link to my Goodreads profile.) It was really hard to pick my top ten because I never read books I don’t like. I normally know if I’ll like a book within the first couple of pages, but I have been known to quit books 20 pages in, 50 pages in, or even halfway to the end. Life is just too short to read books I don’t love.
Here are my ten favorites from this year, in no particular order.
Educated by Tara Westover
Westover’s ability to create a compelling narrative is unreal. She has this incredible ability (especially at a relatively young age) to make sense of the unbelievable events of her childhood with wisdom, clarity, kindness, and beauty. This is a story about how history shapes the present and the future. It asks questions who is authorized to create history and where that power originates. It acknowledges that truth can be hard if not impossible to pin down without discounting the value of searching for it.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
This book was almost a mix of poetry and prose. Ward’s writing style is juicy and delicious but never overly descriptive or boring. I would love to spend a day in her head just to know what it’s like to sit down at a computer and type (or write) with that kind of language. Beside the beautiful writing, the characters are richly drawn, the plot is compelling, and despite the heart-wrenching agony it evokes on nearly every page, there’s a strong thread of hope and redemption, too.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
The writing is sharp, simple, and evocative. There is so much sensory detail but it’s never flowery or overly wordy. Just enough description to make you feel like you’re right there. Speaking of right there, it’s set in Nigeria. I knew basically nothing about Nigeria before picking up this book, so beside being completely captivated by the story, I learned something about Nigeria and its stormy politics. The book is heavy. SO HEAVY. I was up reading it in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep and it definitely did not relax me. But I loved it so much I was almost grateful for that sleepless night just to get a chance to spend 2.5 uninterrupted hours with it.
I laughed. I cried. I thought about feminism, dumb things I did in my 20’s, my relationships with my grandmother, my mom, my daughters, my friends. I thought about what it means to reinvent one’s self. What else can you ask for in a book? It was delicious and quick- great vacation read.
This was heavy, at times difficult to read, beautiful, and tender. It explores culture, family, and identity while shining a much-needed light on the trauma and injustices that often characterize immigration to the US. It should be required reading for all Americans.
This is the type of book that stayed with me for days after I closed it for the last time. Jones alternates between three different narrators: Celestial, Roy, and Andre. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds when Roy is convicted of a crime he did not commit. While Roy is in prison, the friendship Celestial and Andre have shared since childhood turns into romantic love. My heart ached for each of these richly drawn, relatable, intensely lovable characters. It reminded me of The Light Between Oceans in that you can’t help rooting for each character, even though one’s redemption will be another’s loss.
And while it was about love, loss, letting go, the nature of love, the bounds of marriage, it was also very much about race. I’m not sure what’s “okay” to write publicly about race as a white person but here goes: I do not spend any time worrying that the men in my life will be killed by the police or wrongly imprisoned. And though I am aware, on an intellectual level, that this is something Black people deal with on a daily basis, it’s still not something I consider very often or on an emotional level. Reading this book heightened my awareness of my white privilege.