2018 was a much better year of reading for me than 2017. In 2017 I fell into a number of reading troughs whereas I felt I consistently had at least one good book going this year. This was largely helped by my finishing the Margaret Atwoods I hadn’t read last year and also by bingeing on all of Maggie O’Farrell’s novels until sadly finding out I had read them all. My Top 2 easily rose to the top but separating them was a much harder task. In the end my best book of 2018 was the one that had the most profound impact on me and literally changed my way of thinking about a subject. The rest of my Top 5 was much more difficult especially as whilst writing this blog post I was reading a Top 5 contender which I had to somehow make room for.
So after much careful deliberation here is my Top 5 reads of 2018:
1. Lost Connections by Johann Hari
A lot of books we read often reconfirm what we already believe or think we understand. It is a rare book that can make you stand back and completely rethink and reevaluate the way you perceive a subject. This is exactly what Johann Hari did to me with this book. Through his own experience and extensive research Johann shows the way we deal with the depression and anxiety is flawed and that when we reexamine the causes of depression and anxiety we find they are symptoms of another issue. One we can find solutions to that doesn’t involve pharmaceuticals.
Set in 1980s Brisbane the story centres on 13-year-old Eli and his mute older brother August. Eli’s dad is out of the picture, his mother is a recovering heroin addict and his step father is small time drug dealer. (Oh and his babysitter is an infamous jail breaking ex-con.) Eli must navigate the cards the world has dealt him as he tries to figure out his place in the universe. As his world starts to become more serious Eli must step up and face the secrets, the lies and the truths that surround him as he struggles to figure out what makes a good man amongst all the chaos. This is a coming-of-age story that will knock your socks off and more. An addictive read that will give you withdrawals when you put it down. A true Australian classic you will read again and again.
3. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Set across two centuries in the same house in Vineland, New Jersey we follow Willa in the turbulent year of 2016 as her family and their home literally and figuratively begin to fall apart. Willa’s story alternates with that of Thatcher Greenwood who has recently moved to the new town of Vineland in 1871, built upon Utopian ideals, to be it’s first high school teacher. When he begins to advocate the theories of Charles Darwin the town founders grow increasingly concerned. The genius of Barbara Kingsolver’s novel is that she uses the past to comment about the modern day and the modern day to comment on the past and by doing so shows us the parallels between both. The literary novel of our times. Barbara Kingsolver is my new author obsession.
4. Normal People by Sally Rooney
This book wasn’t event on my radar when I started putting together my Top 5 books for this blog post but I had to reevaluate my whole top 10 because of it, painfully bumping a book out of my top 5. The only way I can describe reading this book is that it is absolutely intoxicating. I kept needing a break after every chapter to digest and get my breath back. The book follows Connell and Marianne who grow up in the same small town in Ireland who begin an intense relationship. The novel follows the ups and downs of their intense connection as they are constantly drawn together as well as attempt to stay apart. Breathtakingly beautiful.
This is the best YA novel I have read since The Hunger Games. Set in the future where humanity has solved all its problems: disease, starvation, conflict, even death. People can live forever, resetting their age whenever they like. The only problem is overpopulation and that is where The Scythedom comes in. It is a Scythe’s job to glean people for a real and final death. Citra and Rowan have both been chosen as Scythe Apprentices. They have one year to learn the art, responsibility and power of being the only ones able inflict death. But only one of them can become a Scythe. The other will become their first gleaning. The sequel, Thunderhead, is just as good with a cliffhanger to die for! (pun intended)
Honourable mentions go to Sunburn by Laura Lippman; an outstanding noir which reads like a classic, Love Is Blind by William Boyd; a historical romp with all the hallmarks of why William Boyd is so good, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones; an utterly compelling novel about race, identity, love and friendship, Less by Andrew Sean Greer; one of the funniest and most enjoyable literary prize winners you will ever read, and Milkman by Anna Burns; the magnificently mesmerizing use of language evocatively captures an atmosphere of guilt, inaction, judgement and betrayal.
Late December 31st addition: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield. Think Neil Gaiman meets The Light Between Oceans set on the River Thames. An absolute joy to read and get lost in!