Thoughts

A Year In Books: 2018

I have always loved reading, but when kids came along and life got busy, it was the easiest thing to forget about. There was no time during the day when the girls were awake and no energy left at the end to focus on it. In 2017, I read a measly three books.  I vowed to do better in 2018 and ended up reading 25 books!

Strangely, I think that going back to reading an actual book, instead of digital versions, has helped. As someone who spends a significant part of my work life on a computer or smartphone, reading e-books just felt like work, whereas holding a real book in my hand felt like an escape.  It helps that our local library has a pretty good selection and I haven’t encountered too long of a wait for the books that are getting a lot of buzz.

My favorite books tend to be on the “heavier” side—lots of drama, complex plots, well developed characters. To me, a good book is one that leaves me feeling sad when I reach the end and hesitant to start a new book right away until I’ve had a chance to really think about what I just read. Those the books that I’ll go around recommending to everyone that I know.

So, with that in mind, here are my picks for 2018:

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee traces the complicated relationship between two sisters, through several decades and across continents as one struggles with mental illness and the other struggles to be the one that keeps everything together. The author did such an excellent job of developing a diverse set of characters, each with their own distinct voices.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng details the intertwined relationship between two families and the fallout that results when the complicated past of one of the main characters throws a close-knit Ohio suburb into a tailspin. I had read Ng’s previous novel Everything I Never Told You, which I wasn’t a huge fan of despite all the acclaim it received. This one is far better, in my opinion, and I was genuinely surprised at the plot twists in the latter part of it.

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel deals with a family as they support their transgendered child. There were so many beautiful passages that resonated with me as parent, when I think of the choices we have to make in general as we help our children navigate challenges and become the people that they are meant to be.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai jumps back and forth between Chicago in the 1980s to Paris in 2015 to weave together the story of a group of friends touched by the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the effect that it had on the course of their lives. I actually found the glimpses of the past more interesting that than the modern day storyline, but understand why the other chose to weave the two stories together.  I thought that she did an excellent job of bringing a sense of urgency into both plot lines and complex emotions, like fear and grief, jumped right off the pages.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones focuses on themes of race, justice, art and love, in the story of what happens between newlyweds Celestial and Roy when he is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Things become even more complicated with Roy is exonerated and released. This was another instance of strong character development—everyone had their flaws, and it was impossible to pick one side of another in considering the set of choices that each of the characters make.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shoba Rao was a book I read pretty early in the year and I’m still haunted by it many months later. The story focuses on two women whose friendship sustains them, even in the face of horrifying abuse that they suffer at the hands of the men in their rural community in India. Circumstances drive them apart, and the rest of the novel traces the winding paths that they take to find each other again. The writing and pacing of the story remind me of two of my other favorite books, A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner—which also have stuck with me even though I read them years ago.

The Immoralists by Chloe Benjamin might have been my favorite book of the year (even though I said this list was in no particular order). I just loved its premise—four siblings visit a fortune teller and learn the exact dates that they will die. Each of the characters reacts differently to knowing this information, and some aspects of the plot become a bit ridiculous. But, it was different from anything I had read in the past and made me think so much about the idea of choice vs. destiny.

Educated by Tara Westover was one of the few non-fiction books that I read this year. Westover was raised by Mormon parents in rural Idaho, who distrusted the government, medicine and the educational system. Without any formal education, Westover set out to chart her own course in life, eventually earning her college degree from BYU and a PhD from Cambridge. Some of the things that happened to Westover were absolutely unreal—if you are a fan of books like The Glass Castle, this might interest you.

I love when people recommend books that they’ve loved, so please share your suggestions and I’ll put them on my list for 2019!

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