I have learned something new in 2019 already. Writing about books is really hard. Writing about books you read months ago with no intention of reviewing them publicly is harder still.
I tried to write a blog post about the best books I read in 2018. I picked my favourites, wrote a short summary and offered my opinion. But it wasn’t interesting. It all felt too stuffy and formal and didn’t flow properly. The blog didn’t feel like the best format for me to ramble about books. I felt like video would be much better suited to what I was looking for – an opportunity to offer thoughts, questions and comments in a relaxed way with the free ability to gesture wildly as if I was trying to scare pigeons at the same time as reviewing these books.
So I made a video instead. Somehow, I managed to get significantly more bedraggled as the video went on, even though I just was just sitting in the same spot chatting about books. Some mysteries are not meant to be solved.
This post contains a lot more information that isn’t in the video, including extra recommendations that I didn’t have time for. But to hear what my favourite books were, and why, you can watch the video below. Apologies for sniffing but when you insist on jumping into the ocean on the 27th of December a cold is par for the course. I tried to edit out all the sniffs but I’m sure I missed a few given there were approximately one billion of them. Sorry to my mum especially who will shudder every time I sniff (hey, at least it’s not cocaine! Only a good old-fashioned rhinovirus).
I read 104 books in 2018. Here are the best ones.
You can see the whole list of books I read in 2018 here.
I don’t necessarily feel like my favourites of the year are representative of my reading taste in general. I mostly read non-fiction, but a surprising number of novels ended up being in my top 11 list. I think it’s because, while I love to read to learn and expand my view of the real world, I rarely tear through a non-fiction book, no matter how much I love it. Whereas a great novel will keep me up at night or sitting with a full bladder covered in crumbs because I just have to know what happens next.
The books I mentioned in the video were:
Station Eleven – Hilary St John Mandel
Let Them Eat Chaos – Kate Tempest
Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
Garlic and Sapphires – Ruth Reichl
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
Grit – Angela Duckworth
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
Evicted – Matthew Desmond
The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
The Bricks That Built The Houses – Kate Tempest
There are all absolute bangers. All of them. But, out of over a hundred books, more than eleven were eye-opening or moving or impressive. I read a lot of books that I feel are socially valuable and discuss important sociopolitical issues that are especially prominent right now. They are:
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo Lodge
This is an incredibly useful and straightforward book about race and racism that white people can read to learn a lot of important things without asking extra emotional labour of their black friends. Bonus points for being focused on racism in Britain and British history, as most well known books about race focus on America.
Unspeakable Things and Bitch Doctrine – Laurie Penny
Two great books of feminist essays and thoughts. Penny is also one of my favourite new authors of 2018. All the essays are good, but her commentary on the intersection of classism and feminism is particularly strong. I also especially liked her essays on free speech, James Bond and anxiety.
This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay
This book is hilarious. You’ve probably heard of it. The diaries of a junior doctor working in obstetrics and gynaecology, it will make you laugh out loud while simultaneously lamenting the crushing pressures facing the NHS and all of its employees.
Everywoman – Jess Phillips
Jess Phillips is an MP. Her book is part-memoir, part-manifesto and all about politics and feminism and what lead her to the House of Commons. She’s super direct and outspoken, which I love.
Vagina – Naomi Wolf
A great book to read on the tube. If you have a vagina or want to please a vagina or care about someone who has a vagina, you can learn something from this book. A blend of the physiological, historical, social and spiritual aspects of the vagina, this is a comprehensive and eye-opening look at the organ we should all really know more about.
Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado
This wins most chilling title, hands down. These short stories are dark, twisted and totally surreal. Some I was less convinced by but, in particular, I loved Inventory, a chronicle of one woman’s sexual partners as the apocalypse unfolds. There are a lot of great LGBTQ+ stories and representation in this collection which is awesome.
Headscarves and Hymens – Mona Eltahawy
This is a book about feminism in the Middle East, written by an Egyptian woman who also lived in Saudi Arabia. It was great to read about the intersection of feminism and Islam from a Muslim woman who lives in the Middle East, as this is something which is often mentioned but rarely by people who live in this reality.
These books are all also wonderful and thoughtful.
The WORST book
I don’t want to shit on books. Even if I didn’t love it, other people might, and I generally feel bad about harshly criticising something that someone has likely spent many months or years working on. I am not a hater.
That being said.
The book I Love Dick is so awful and problematic that you should never pick it up unless you’re buying a gift for someone and you hate them.
By the way, Dick is a person, and the title is referencing him rather than penises in general. This is the story of how the author, Chris Kraus, develops an obsession with this poor, unsuspecting man after only meeting him once. She is married and both her and her husband are artists, so she tells her husband about her crush and they decide to explore it as an art project. She then proceed to obsess about and STALK Dick, for years, and do all sorts of weird stuff like write letters to him that she ends up creating an exhibition about and publishing things in the book despite him asking her explicitly not to publish them. I feel so bad for this poor man. She doesn’t even use a pseudonym.
Also the writing is constantly self-aggrandising and rambling and just plain boring. Don’t read this book. Even if you love dick.
Across these 104 books, 62 were non-fiction and 42 were fiction, which sounds about right given my interests. As I wrote earlier, I love a good story, but I am more curious to read non-fiction books than fiction, as there are so many non-fiction books that I want to read to expand my view of the world. Now that I’ve left university, I consider reading books, especially non-fiction, part of my continuing education.
There is also a big push for people to read more books by women, a problem I am happy to say I do not have. 74 of the 104 books were written by women and 31 by men (with one book being co-authored by a man and woman hence the total being 105). Women write great books.
I also make sure to read books from people whose lives are different from my own. I have read numerous books this year from people of colour and people of various sexualities, genders and nationalities. That being said, I can always be better, and I want to continue to focus on reading books from a diverse range of authors, especially women of colour.
I feel happy to have read a huge range of genres, reading memoirs, poetry, psychology, sociology, politics, contemporary fiction, classics and more. I always want to read widely as it feeds my busy brain and diverse interests. You can be part of any world or idea you want in books; it’s part of why I love reading so much.
I actually want to read less this year, to free up some of that time for other things. But it’s important to me to always have a book on the go. I am also always looking for recommendations, so please send any my way so can I add them to my already out of control ‘to read’ list.
I love books so much. Nothing makes me happier than getting sucked into a great story. Except maybe cuddles or plane tickets, but it’s pretty close.
What was your favourite book of 2018?