This year was both long and fast all at the same time. Through the different personal challenges I faced throughout the year, I found myself in a place where reading was no longer my outlet.
After reading the most books ever in a year in 2017 at 53, maybe I felt tired, but in my down time I was turning on the TV rather than picking up a book. And with this I was falling out of the reading habit I had worked so hard to form over the previous few years.
In the last few months things have gotten better, and I have found the joy again through reading and got myself back into the habit. Because that’s what it really is and sometimes we need that reminder that we could be reading instead of scrolling through social media or some other time wasting activity.
I have also tried to supplement my reading by listening to audiobooks as a way to absorb more content in the times when reading a physical book is not really possible. This has been both a bit challenging for me, but also effective. The types of books I think that I can absorb when I listen are different to those that I physically read so I think it will provide a nice variance.
But even as I end this year having only read a total of 26 books, half of what I had hoped to achieve once again, I can say that I have read some truly amazing works of literature and am so excited to share them with you here.
This is the third year I have written a best books I have read this year list, and it is one of my favourite posts as I love reflecting on the past year of reading, and I cannot go past a list of book recommendations myself!
I don’t normally give an outright winner, but this year I just had to. This is a big post, so grab a cup of coffee and get ready to have your summer reading list sorted!
The BEST book I read in 2018: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
This book destroyed me. It challenged me in ways I had never imagined and broke my heart over and over again. But it also did something powerful. It changed the way I thought. It presented a reality so far removed from my own that I couldn’t relate to and made me feel every hint of emotion.
With each page I held my breath and experienced the deepest heartache as the stories of the characters brought with it a different understanding within me of my own emotions.
The story follows a group of friends in New York. They have different backgrounds, different goals in life, but the same unknowing about their futures. The story unpacks their complex friendships over the course of many years and as a reader you become invested in each challenge and each triumph.
I won’t talk too much more about the plot, it’s not really important or I don’t want to give it away – I am not sure which really. All I can tell you is to be prepared. You may, like me, need to put it down at times. To walk away and get some space because it can be all consuming. But you will always come back with a powerful need for a conclusion.
This story I can guarantee would not have been as powerful in the hands of any other author. The way the story was told was through some of the best writing I have been privileged enough to read over the years and it made me fall in love all over again with literature. At the end of this book I just needed time to reflect and to think about everything that had happened. It is a story that will stay with me, always.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (2017)
This is the story of a little boy who becomes a little girl, and how this transition impacts their family and everyone around them.
The author makes note at the end that this is not in any way a true story, just one that is inspired by her own transgender child and the situations and challenges that are a reality for them and within society.
The main family is a mother and father who have 5 boys. Their youngest Claude, starts wearing dresses at age 5 and becomes Poppy. The book explores many questions of gender stereotypes, not only with trans children, but within family dynamics. I think that is what I loved most about this book is that Rosie and Penn take on non-traditional family roles, with Penn being the creative and stay-at-home parent while Roise is the highly paid, strong role model and breadwinner.
The question then becomes why are we ok with girls wearing shorts and doing ‘boy’ things, but when a little boy wants to wear dresses there is suddenly a greater problem? It also explores the difference between wanting to just wear a dress and gender dysphoria and transitioning and the morality of the questions that are asked to be answered by young children and their parents.
Overall I loved this book and have started recommending it to everyone as I think it is not only a topic that is so rarely discussed, but one that is told so beautifully and with a tone of acceptance and understanding.
The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017)
Poetry is not something I have really explored greatly in my literary adventures, but after reading Milk and Honey last year, I felt so overwhelmed with emotion and the beauty of Kaur’s words, that I grabbed this book of the shelf almost rudely as if it already belonged to me. I think it also helps that Kaur’s style of poetry is modern and simplistic, which I believe allows it to be more easily interpreted within our current society.
Can I just say that I loved this collection even more than Milk and Honey. The poems are laid out in a way that allows you to follow on a journey, of growth and learning, of history and ancestral roots, and of finding solace and understanding within yourself.
I found the poems in this collection more relatable to my own story while at the same time learning more of the story of the author as being more than just the definition of her trauma, but through the exploration of her relationship with her mother.
I still love reading her beautiful words:
“ what is the greatest lesson a woman should learn
that since day one
she’s already had everything she needs within herself
it’s the world that convinced her she did not “
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017)
This was the first book I read this year, and I have been waiting until this post to be able to talk about it. I knew then, before I had read anything else that this book would make it onto this list.
This is an epic tale that spans over generations, focusing on a Korean family who migrate to Japan. It is a rich tale of family and history as well as exploring Japanese-Korean culture which is something I knew very little about. The historical context and the displacement of Korean families to Japan during the war was something that I found really interesting to learn about, along with the stories of racism faced by the Koreans in Japan. I had no idea about any of this and found Lee was able to tell it in a way that made you understand how these families felt having to experience leaving a country that was literally split in half during the war.
The story is so impressive in the way it winds through the different layers of history, telling stories of love, loyalty, family and sacrifice. I love the way Lee shapes the characters in this book, with strong women, and complexities that many other authors would skim over. Lee makes sure you understand the inner motivations of her characters and for that, this book to me is one of those great achievements of literature.
You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero (2013) and You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero (2017)
I decided to add both of these books together in this list because they both have similarities that made me appreciate them, and really You Are a Badass at Making Money is really just a companion to the original.
I listened to both of these as audio books and found I loved consuming them this way. Jen Sincero is a coach and public speaker so having her narrate her own stories really just reinforced the lessons she was sharing.
The main takeaway from both of these books for me was really about challenging my mindset and changing the way I thought about things. It was about being more open to receive and addressed a lot of weird hangups we seem to have about our own paths and ability to receive positivity and greatness into our lives.
These books came to me a time when I was really open to listen and to take on board the advice Sincero was delivering and began for me a journey of looking into my own mindset and changing the way I react to different situations. I think I will be listening to these on repeat whenever I need another reminder or a bit of an energy boost.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has quickly become one of my favourite authors. This year I also read Purple Hibiscus and was tossing up between which of the two books I was going to include on this list even though I could have easily added both.
I chose this one because of the way Adichie told the story of Biafra’s struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960s – a significant moment in the history of Africa, but one I had never heard about. As always, the story is built upon a few central characters as they move through the changing environments.
I love the way Adichie can create a sense of environment through the eyes of her characters. She so brilliantly paints a picture of chaos and violence while celebrating the little moments of hope. I just couldn’t put this book down, needing to know what would happen next.
This is a powerful insight into a modern Nigeria and the reality of the struggles of what those citizens had to face when they awoke to find their country amidst a civil war. I cannot recommend anything by this author enough.
Also, listen to her TED talk on feminism if you haven’t already.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (2007)
I had wanted to read this book for a very long time but for some reason I hadn’t. This year I read both this and Hosseini’s first book, The Kite Runner in the space of a month. Both books were excellent and incredibly powerful, but this one to me just stayed with me a little longer.
This book explores the lives and the roles of women in Afghan society. It talks about the changing class structures brought upon by the Taliban, pushing any progressive views about women back.
The story focuses around Mariam, a illegitimate child forced into a marriage with a much older man who becomes very violent and abusive. As the situation in Afghanistan declines, a young neighbouring girl is also forced to accept a proposal from Rasheed, Mariam’s husband after losing her family.
What happens from here is an endearing story and strength, love and faith as Miriam and Laila form their own relationship under the oppressive gaze of their husband.
This story is intense but so incredibly written. Even through the situations these women have to face are unthinkable, I think Hosseini crafts it in such a clever way that it is a story that is equal parts heartbreaking and a celebration of the resilience of Afghan women.
A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (2018)
In need of something beautiful to read following the conclusion of A Little Life, I stumbled upon this new release. The first book published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint as part of Penguin Random House, this book came with it a lot of chatter as a celebrity released an unknown authors debut.
But what came next is the world was reading a profoundly beautiful and moving story of an Indian-American Muslim family as they navigate a new life in America, a new marriage and then the challenge of raising their children with the impact of western culture surrounding them.
The story chops and changes, starting in the middle at a wedding, where Amar has returned. We then go back and learn through each family members voice how they grew up and the environments and incidents that changed their paths. We learn in pieces what has happened to get us to this point, with the author never giving away more than just enough detail in order for you to keep moving through and following the story.
There is so much I loved about this book. I loved the way it was written, the way the story had been chosen to be told. I loved the individualism of the children and their ability to make their own decisions. I enjoyed how race and religion was addressed in this book, from both the perspective of someone migrating to America, and from those who were born into these families facing a question of mixed values and the challenge of being viewed differently, as well as the power of minority communities.
If this is a taste of what Parker is going to be publishing, I will be waiting very eagerly to see what she releases next.
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen (2017)
This book is not really in my usual genre being a book that talks about the celebrity gossip scene but I read a recommendation on a blog I follow and it spoke about this book being a powerful celebration of feminism and women in our society in a way that made me want to give it a read.
I loved this book so much. As someone who doesn’t follow celebrities, I am also someone who is influenced by how people speak about them and have a tendency to form opinion from this speculation alone rather than find the information myself to gain further understanding. This book gave me that understanding and showed me behind the faces of these celebrities to understand why people gossip and vilify these women for being ‘unruly’.
I definitely am not suddenly a fan of Nicki Minaj or Kim Kardashian still after reading this book, but rather Petersen uses these women as an example of how they are viewed and makes some fantastic points about why they are gossiped about. And I appreciated that change in the way I thought about them.
My favourite chapters where about Hillary Clinton, being labelled as ‘too shrill’ and Serena Williams who is ‘too strong’. These are labels decided by society and Petersen examains why women get these negative associations. It is a book that I would recommend every woman read as it so clearly examines those stereotypes of femininity and celebrates women who view it differently.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)
Probably the most anticipated book of 2018, the former First Lady of the United States released her memoir. And I have to say, it was so interesting!
Michelle Obama tells the story of her life from a young age growing up in a working class family in Chicago through to the White House and now sitting back and reflect on all of it. The book is broken down into three parts, ‘Becoming Me’ where she talks about her childhood; ‘Becoming Us’, where she speaks about meeting Barack, shifting the focus of her career and starting a family; and ‘Becoming More’ where she talks about being First Lady and their time in the White House.
I must say, while I found her childhood and upbring interesting and ultimately important in shaping every decision she has made, that wasn’t why I was reading the book. I loved learning about her relationship with Barack and how they formed a family strong enough to survive life in the White House and of course what White House life was actually like.
I found it fascinating how she was able to make conscious decisions to not put her own ambitions on hold for those of her husband, and when it came to it she found a way to use her position to give back to what she was passionate about and create her own legacy. And of course how supportive of her being a strong individual Barack was, both happy to pursue professional gratification individually yet come together and help those in less fortunate situations channeling their privilege. All while battling against an America that was said to not be ready for a black president.
She spoke a lot about the challenges women face to want it all, and how she has been able to balance every area of her life, knowing when to let something go to focus on the next. She talks about this challenge as being ongoing and something that requires a lot of continued work, and something that cannot be done without accepting support from family and friends.
Overall I really loved getting to know Michelle in more detail, and I particularly loved her comments (albeit subtle) on what it was like to feel so much progress within a country, only to hand it over to a racist and misogynist white man set on undoing everything.
Overall I am pretty happy with the range of authors and genres of books I have still managed to fit into this year! In the past, I have completed the POPSUGAR reading challenge in alternate years (2015, 2017), and while I thought really hard about participating again in 2019 I just don’t think I am ready to commit to that kind of structured reading. In December I have finally found myself reading properly again, but I just don’t think I need to put that extra pressure on myself.
Have you read any of the books in this list? What is on your reading list for 2019? Let me know in the comments below!