I love a good book post and while this one is certainly coming in at the very last possible moment to still be considered a 2018 post, I still think it’s the perfect day to curl up and make an ambitions TBR list for the coming year. Here’s the best of what I read in 2018. I finished the year having read 60 books, which isn’t quite as many as last year, but birthing a podcast takes a toll on reading time, apparently. I’ve got three categories for us, non-fiction, fiction and the best author I discovered this year. Honestly while I did read 60 books this year, as I perused my book list I think a lot of my reading may be considered junk food reading this year. I read a lot of light stuff, and I re-read old books (not even the good kind of rereading of poignant or important books but rereading the light breezy books I’ve read a million times). I’m not sure why that was, other than I was in a bit of a rut and I subscribe to the “junk food is better than starving” adage when it comes to reading. Anyway, here’s the best of the good stuff that I read.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
You guys. This book. Everyone needs to read it. I can’t overstate how important Brown’s words are. If you want to understand issues of race in our society, particularly in the white evangelical sphere, this is your book. It will, if you are white, make you uncomfortable, it will push you, it will challenge you, but you will be better for it all. Brown pulls no punches with writing that is beautiful and a message that is desperately needed right now. This was probably my best non-fiction read of 2018.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
This book is not new. It was written in the 90’s but all of a sudden I started hearing about it everywhere. Reichl was the new food critic for the New York Times when she realized that every restaurant in town had a picture of her up in the kitchen and her experience at a restaurant was not the experience of the everyday person who read her column. So she started going undercover, wearing crazy disguises and creating incredibly drawn out personas for each costume. This is a memoir about food, and being a food critic; it has awesome recipes interspersed throughout. But more than that, this is book about how we treat others based on how they present themselves to the world and how the way we present ourselves to the world can fundamentally change how we engage with it. It was fascinating and Reichl is a delightful story teller, incredibly endearing and fascinating. I loved this one.
Educated by Tara Westover
Oh man, this memoir was something else. I walked around for days after finishing it, still stuck in the story. Tara Westover grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon family who were convinced the end times were coming, the government wasn’t to be trusted and neither were doctors. She was “home-schooled,” attending a traditional school for the first time in college where she discovered that the holocaust existed. She went on to attend Harvard and Cambridge and her story of how she did it all, and the ways she still remained deeply connected to her dysfunctional and abusive family was fascinating. Everyone is talking about this book for a reason.
I also loved We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter by Celeste Headlee which will inspire you to get off your phones and have actual, meaningful conversations with the people around you and then even challenge you to have hard, thoughtful conversations with people you disagree with. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson will make you rethink everything about social media, public shaming and how we conduct ourselves on the internet. This is a book that I’m going to make my kids read before they are allowed to use social media and one that should be required reading to be a human. I just finished Becoming by Michelle Obama which was a super fascinating peek behind the curtain and it made me love the Obamas all the more. Obama shares all sorts of interesting details and stories from her childhood and early days with Barack and for a few days I got to live in a world where Barack was still president and it was a lovely suspension of reality. I super loved it.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
I’ve been talking about this book non-stop since I read it. In short, young girls are developing the ability to shock people with their touch and this starts to subvert the current gender power structures when physically men no longer dominate women. As we’ve talked so much this year about #metoo, and harassment and societal relationships across gender I continued to go back to this book and the idea that it all may have less to do with gender and everything to do with power. I can’t recommend this one enough.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This book will break your heart and haunt you. The story centers on newlyweds Roy and Celestial whose lives are ripped apart when Roy is convicted and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. The story follows their lives together apart and then back together when his conviction is overturned and he returns. It’s beautifully written and captivating.
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
This book looks at family dynamics, faith and how seemingly innocuous responses to one person have lifetime affects on another. It was hard to read at times, to see the ways in which this family continued to misstep but the last fifth of the book reveals a perspective and understanding that had me weeping at the library as I finished it. It was beautiful and powerful and gave me lots to think about.
I also loved Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward which was a really fascinating look at family, race and the South with some supernatural elements rolled in. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory made me smile and gave me a needed dose of romcom. Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists was a captivating story about four siblings who are given their “death dates” from a fortune teller as children. It follows each sibling, looking at how those predictions affected how they lived their lives. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai looks at the early days of the AIDS crisis in Chicago with a cast of characters I adored. The Immortalists also touches on this era in our country’s history and I realized how much more I want to learn about this time. And The Book of Essie by Megan Maclean Weir was another one that I got emotionally stuck in for a few days after I’d turned the last page. It looks at the lives of a powerful, reality tv family, who are extremely religious and conservative in their beliefs and politics (think a more sinister version of the Duggars). When one of the daughters gets pregnant we see her use everything at her disposal to propel herself out of the family’s control and into her own life. Good story telling, kept me turning the pages and characters I was rooting for (and against).
The Best Author I Discovered This Year
You guys-how come no one told me about her?? Actually, I did know about her but I made some false assumptions about the content of her book and mistakenly thought my still-a-little-busted heart couldn’t handle a book about a beloved dead father. Which to be fair, Kelly does write about her beloved father and one of her books deals with his cancer diagnosis and another was written shortly after his death but all of them were absolute perfection. I fell in love with her after hearing her on Jen Hatmaker’s podcast and in the course of a month I devoured The Middle Place, Tell Me More, and Glitter and Glue and honestly, I couldn’t pick a favorite. The Middle Place tells the story of Kelly’s own battle with cancer while her father was diagnosed and battling it at the same time. Tell Me More contains 12 essay style stories about the 12 things she’s learning to say and I bawled my way through one of the chapters while away with my husband’s family one weekend and they all thought I was crazy for reading something that would make me cry that hard. Glitter and Glue is a memoir about her life with her mother and her own time as a nanny to a family in Australia who had just lost their mother. I’m telling you, Corrigan is an incredible writer-funny, poignant, sharp and an amazing story teller. She’s so good it makes me mad because I will never be able to write and tell stories like her. I will read anything she writes, and you should too.