In 2016, I read 100 books. That was a ton of fun and a great challenge (that I still brag about TBH). But the pace was a bit fast for me; I didn’t remember everything I’d read as well as I wanted to.
So in 2017, I read 60, which was the perfect pace. This past year, I set a goal of 50 because I knew I was going to have a busy first few months professionally. Well, I ended up reading 55 books. And many of them were truly excellent.
So (in the spirit of fives), here are my top five books from 2018. Two fiction, two memoirs, and one really fun nonfiction. These are the ones that I talk about unprompted, that I tell people about. That made an impression on me and made me think about them long after I’d put them down.
5. Words On the Move: Why English Can’t — and Won’t — Sit Still (Like, Literally) by John McWhorter
Okay, this book was absolutely delightful. If you’re a word nerd, or if you love linguistics, or if you’ve always wondered why people pronounce their vowels differently, or if you hate it when people say “irregardless,” you have to read this one. Actually, scratch that. You have to listen to the audiobook. John McWhorter is quite funny, and the chapter on vowel pronunciation alone makes it worth it. I learned so, so much, and I tell everyone about this book.
4. Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli
Valeria Luiselli has spent years as a volunteer interpreter for children who cross the border from Central America seeking asylum. This book is really more of an extended essay, so it’s not very long, but it’s very powerful. She creatively uses the 40 questions that are on the intake questionnaire they use to help craft these kids’ stories and legal defenses in order to illustrate how 40 questions will never be enough. How these kids’ experiences and the broader immigration issue stretches beyond our comprehension here at home. It won’t take you long; read this book.
3. The Power by Naomi Alderman
This book received a lot of attention for good reason. The premise is this: Practically overnight, women develop the ability to electrocute people with their hands. The world’s gender power dynamic quickly shifts. But would the world truly be more peaceful if women had more power than men, or does power simply corrupt? This book made me think about history and gender and power in a deeper way than I had before. It made me question my own assumptions, which is always impressive and a little bit surprising from fiction.
2. Poor Your Soul by Mira Ptacin
Trigger warning: Miscarriage, abortion
This one was definitely a dark horse. A friend and I happened across it at the 2017 Brooklyn Book Festival and decided to each purchase a copy so we could read it together. Early in 2018, we picked it up. And wow. The author, Mira Ptacin, was a student in Sarah Lawrence’s master’s program when, despite taking the birth control pill correctly, she got pregnant. And then, once that had settled in, she and the father found out that their baby would not live outside the womb. They had to make a very difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy toward the end of the period of time when that is possible. Woven in her mother’s loss of her son, Mira’s brother. The resulting memoir is unbelievably beautiful, every word perfectly placed. Heartbreaking, healing, and then hopeful.
1. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
While everyone raved about Circe (me included) I fell even deeper in love with Madeline Miller’s first book, The Song of Achilles. I love retellings. I love a beautiful love story. This is both. It tells the story of Achilles and Patroclus from Patroclus’ point of view, from the time they were children until the end. During all those years, they’d been deep, passionate lifelong lovers. The prose is heartbreakingly beautiful. With retellings like this, you know how it ends; it’s the Iliad for goodness sake. I remember finishing it at 6am before work one day, sobbing (in the worst and best way). I originally read it as a library book but loved it so much that I purchased a copy. I’m planning to re-read quite soon.
So there you have it! Did you read any of these books this year? What were your favorite books? Let me know in the comments!