It’s hard to imagine that a year ago I was attempting to write my top 10 of 2017, but here I am attempting to write once again. 2018 was a very good year for books; I read some exciting new voices plus a couple of old classics (a thing I’m hoping to continue into 2019 as I like mixing up my reading). It was hard trying to narrow this list down to 10 but eventually I got there. I’ve also linked my original reviews if you wish to check out these books further, as here I’ve just written a small snippet for fear of repeating myself in the reviews. And now let’s dive straight in:
10. Gary the Four Eyed Fairy and Other Stories by Frank Mundo
The only short story collection to make the list (I must read more in 2019!) Gary is 12 interconnected stories following the life of J.T Glass, a security guard in LA. Mundo has Glass’ voice nailed to a T, and I found the collection as a whole very endearing. Having only one voice throughout means there isn’t a disconnection I sometimes feel when I read short stories, and instead Gary feels like snippets of the life of an ordinary man, with all the highs and lows within. I’m looking forward to seeing what Mundo does next.
9. In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
2018 was a great year for non-fiction, and this is the first of many on my list. The book is Park’s account of life in North Korea and her subsequent escape to China with her mother. This was a powerful, heart-breaking read. Park writes with simplicity but she pulls no punches and doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics. It can be quite difficult to carry on reading. Yet, there is a sense of hopefulness that runs throughout the narrative, this idea that life could be better, and that drives you to keep reading. A great book if you are interested in North Korea and life within its’ borders.
8. The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger
Another non-fiction, and a last-minute edition to the list, is Basinger’s look at the Studio System during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I found this a fascinating read, especially when Basinger backs up her views with case studies of various actors and actresses. You are given a much clearer idea about her arguments, and I also found her writing style to also be accessible. She has a quite dry sense of humour which stops the text being too academic, formal and instead allows the reader to engage in the work. Even if (like me) you knew next to nothing about the ins and outs of Hollywood, The Star Machine is still well worth a read.
7. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
The worthy winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, Shamsie’s novel is a modern reimagining of Antigone set mainly in London, and follows three siblings when one runs off to join extremists. It is a very hard-hitting, topical read and Shamsie pulls no punches; yet the writing has a very lyrical quality and I was completely gripped by it. The characters in particular are excellently written and Shamsie never forces judgment upon them, instead allowing the reader to make up their own mind concerning these characters. I found that even though I did not necessarily agree with their actions, I still felt empathy for each of them. I really must get round to reading more of Shamsie’s work.
6. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
McNamara’s journey into discovering who the notorious Golden State Killer was, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a compelling read. Her research is meticulous, interviewing former and current officers, studying the crimes herself, and offering up possibilities as to who this person may be. McNamara also writes about herself and how she became fascinated with the case and unsolved crime in general, and I found this equally interesting. A powerful read made poignant by the fact McNamara passed away before either the book was published or the killer was caught. If you like true crime tales you’ll love this. Just don’t read this in the dead of night (seriously; every wee noise I heard was a serial killer coming for me).
5. Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr
These two essays (well, one is a letter, the other a sermon) by Dr. King had to make the Top 10. They are articulate, well-written pieces of non-fiction that sadly still have relevance today. Whilst King was writing in the context of the Civil Rights movement, his message of loving oneself and others could be applied any way the reader chooses. Yet the eponymous letter is also an effective rallying cry as to stand up for what you believe in; that the struggle must continue in the streets even if there are those who are against it. A haunting, powerful piece of work and I’m glad Penguin selected it as part of their Modern Classics series.
4. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Excellent Women is a strange one. When I first read it, I enjoyed it immensely but never thought it would end up in my end of year Top 10 list, and especially not this high up. But over the course of 2018 I have found myself going back and rereading passages. Pym’s ability to capture a mood or feeling of a particular group of people in a particular period is stunning; here, she is looking at unmarried, middle-class women just after the end of the Second World War. Her social commentary is second to none, and I found myself laughing as I recognised older family members in these characters. Mildred is such a delightful, funny character that you can’t help but like her, yet Pym has imbued her with this sense of pathos that gives her more depth. As with Shamsie, I really must read more of Pym in 2019.
3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
A story of epic proportions, I find it hard to summarise Gone with the Wind in only a couple of sentences but also equally know I don’t have to, it’s such a famous book and film everyone knows the story of Scarlett O’Hara and her tempestuous relationship with Rhett Butler. Yet I was incredibly impressed with Mitchell’s writing; it is hard to believe it is a debut. The imagery is so vivid that you can imagine yourself at Tara or Atlanta, and I found the prose to be really beautiful and haunting. It is so easy to get swept up in this epic storyline, glorious writing and memorable characters that its’ daunting length ceases to be a cause for concern. It is different enough from the film adaptation that people who have watched it will find something new to enjoy, and it is an incredibly easy read if you don’t know the plot beforehand.
2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Funnily enough the second book I ever read in 2018, Lincoln in the Bardo manages to nap second place. This book is brilliantly barmy. Combining historical events (the death of Lincoln’s young son) with supernatural elements, dick jokes and written like a script, it is a hard novel to define. Whilst it is a hard book at first to get into, mainly due to the odd layout, I was quickly gripped by the plot and humour. I found all the characters engaging and was sad when I had to put the book down; despite the ridiculousness of their situation I still felt empathy for them. This is one of the most original, heart-breaking, funny books I’ve read this year and would highly recommend it.
1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
This reached number one in my Top 10 books so far list and nothing has displaced it. Similar to Gone with the Wind, most people have a pretty good idea of the plot of Anna Karenina so I won’t repeat it here. I loved this book. The characters, in particular Anna and Levin, were so beautifully drawn that I was compelled to read on. Despite their flaws they are such noble, kind people that you cannot help but like and root for them. The ending is probably one of the saddest I’ve read this year and I still think about it months after finishing the novel. And of course, Tolstoy’s writing is legendary, lyrical and haunting yet still being accessible. Anna Karenina is regarded as a masterpiece for a reason, and if you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to pick it up.
And there you have it! What have been some of your favourite books of 2018? Let me know! And I hope you have a Happy New Year when it comes and I’ll see you in 2019!