It’s time for the obligatory post about which books I have enjoyed most this year. Whilst I don’t particularly believe in books being comparatively better than each other, especially when they’re as far and wide apart in differences as some of these are, I do love to make a list. And making this list allows me to reflect on my year of reading. It has been an amazing year for books. I’ve submerged myself in the online book community, particularly bookstagram, and I’ve followed so many amazing people in the industry on twitter which has provided me with a wealth of great recommendations and literary comedy galore. This year has given me the motivation I really needed to finish my degree, and I’m confident that when the time comes I’ll be more than qualified for my dream job. Okay- let’s get down to the books!
The Mars Room
I posted an in-depth review of this book when I demolished it in a matter of days this summer. If you’re interested in reading that, click here. But oh my- it was so good. I was talking to someone about the book recently and they mentioned it had them feeling conflicted. Torn between rushing to finish, to find out what happens to the protagonist reflecting on her new life in an American women’s prison, and trying to go slowly enough to take everything in, because the style of writing and the content is so delicious. Every interaction and every word seems intentional and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I think the thing which stood out to me was the breadth of thought which this book provoked from me. It left me drained on the sofa thinking about everything that’s wrong with the world (or America more specifically): the justice system, views of gender and sexuality, women’s traumatic experiences- all the stuff that’s very relevant to current on-goings with a certain presidency. The book’s release was perfectly timed and allows crucial reflection on all of this, all curated by Kushner’s eloquence and fearless writing.
The Yellow Wallpaper
Another one which will stick with me for a while. For a review of this one, click here. As a staple book associated with feminist literature, I felt this was a must read for this year. It didn’t fail to meet my high expectations. Although I don’t normally enjoy classics with a very elaborate and flamboyant writing style, I didn’t find this too difficult to contend with and it felt more contemporary than it is. I loved how Gilman presented a very dark and honest situation, frequently experienced by many women, into a sort of satirical masterpiece. It’s about a woman who slowly sinks into insanity after having a baby. Her husband doesn’t help matters, confining her to a room plastered with yellow wallpaper-
‘The colour is repellent, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight.’
The portrayal of the situation is difficult to read but also sends you into an equal state of delusion as you rush to finish it. The Yellow Wallpaper is a very beautiful piece of writing, years ahead of its time, and I can certainly see why it has made it onto the list of canonical feminist works of literature.
Fathers and Sons
Turgenev wrote Fathers and Sons in 1862, one year after Alexander II enacted the Emancipation of the Serfs in Russia. I loved this book! It was one of the novels on my reading list for the Russian literature module I’m currently studying, and I found it very enjoyable to read as well as to analyse. The period surrounding the novel also sparked my interest, so watch out for a blog post on Russian Realism (real) soon. The story explores the generational conflicts between the men of the 1840s, slowly moving towards more liberal views, and their sons, men of the 1860s, also known as the ‘impatient radicals’. I found this overarching theme interesting to think about because of how applicable it is to our own political climate in 2018. Amidst Brexit and the on-goings in parliament over the last few years, its been hard trying to navigate a politics which suits young and old, and this has definitely caused some division. Get a taste of Russian lit with this classic and I promise you you’ll be reading War and Peace or Anna Karenina in no time.
The Dark Circle
When looking over my list initially, I completely forgot about this book because it was the first one I read in the first week of January. Despite this failure on my part, I really did love it. Its a humorous and intriguing tale of human experience, boredom and friendship between a group of people who have nothing in common. The only thing that remotely links them is that they have all contracted Tuberculosis, and they have all been summoned to the first NHS treatment center. I loved the uniqueness of Grant’s story and the two main protagonists are really likeable and interesting characters. Read this for a glimpse of post-war Britain and what its like to be confined to bed rest with too many people you’ve never met. For a full review, click here.
Summer Will Show
This has got to be one of my top books of the year. Warner’s novel changed the way I see books, and generally inspired me to get the pen out and actually start writing something myself. The story follows Sophia, an aristocratic and privileged English woman. She is managing her country estate whilst her husband parades around Paris with his mistress who Sophia cannot stop thinking about. After a family tragedy, Sophia decides to go to Paris and deal with him straight up, but she arrives during the beginnings of the French revolution. GOD its so good. Every element is perfection. From lesbian affairs to revolutionary action, this book literally has everything. I love a historical fiction that tackles so many issues and this one does exactly that, AND its articulated to perfection. You won’t necessarily love any of the characters, but that’s one of the things I liked most about it.
I literally wrote a review about this one the other day, so to read that click here. I’ll give you a quick summary of why it made it to this list though. The unique combination of poetry and prose orchestrated through this memoir was fantastic. It hooked me in. The narration was sly, introspective and drove me on the find out more about Yrsa Daley-Ward, a black girl growing up in the North-West of England, my home. Seeing her upbringing from her perspective, in conjunction with my own memories of growing up in the same area was really interesting, and I generally just loved how honest and bad-ass it was to read. More Yrsa, please!
How To Be Both
I’d never read any Ali Smith before this year and I’m so glad I took the plunge. She has a very unique voice and its really hard to find a writer who I can pick up again and again and never get tired of hearing from them. The story encapsulates grief, innocence, identity, all built through a complex narrative mirrored in the second half by a completely new one, following a spirit who is lost and inaudible and on show in an art gallery. I’ve heard this book can be read either way round, and some versions of the book are published with the second narrative printed first. I don’t know how reliable this information is but the parallel lives aspect is certainly present. Please read because I don’t think I can explain it any more eloquently than that!
Women and Power
Mary Beard. A real life babe. She’s had a lot of grief online this year and I just want to profess my support for her right here and right now. She is one of the coolest women ever and I love how she tackles feminist issues from a historical and academic perspective in this book, published at the end of last year. Its just come out in a really pretty paperback copy too if you’re interested, but the hardback is super cute and tiny and perfect for carrying round in your coat pocket in case of emergencies. The book is essentially a mini manifesto which explains what the patriarchy is, and looks into the way its origins are rooted in history, politics and literature. Its a humorous but also a really important read and I highly recommend it for any of my feminist queens out there (or any of you who still say ‘men are equal to women already’- you guys suck!)
Even this page is white
A very powerful collection of poetry from a very important voice in the world right now. Vivek Shraya explores everything from trans rights to black identity to political crisis in this stunning collection and I find myself returning to it again and again. There’s something very dramatic about the simplicity of this poetry. Its not like Rupi Kaur simple though. Everything is intentionally stark and almost empty feeling but then also full of truth and a sense of tiredness with the way things are.
Written in History
This is one of those books that anyone who loves history will enjoy. It’s a gorgeous little collection of letters from and throughout time, from Stalin to Catherine the Great to Rosa Parks and even to literary figures like Oscar Wilde and Pushkin. Simon Sebag Montefiore has a way of making me want to read everything historical, and this was yet another fantastic read that dragged me right into its many historical settings. I’d definitely recommend this book if you like things to dip in and out of too. I’ve loved nothing more this autumn than picking this up at a random page and seeing what era I get transported to. Very unique and memorable read!
Where to begin with this one? I’m surprised I haven’t written a full six page review of this one already, one because its the most talked about book of 2018, but also because I genuinely fell in love with everything about it. Including Daisy Johnson- she is a national treasure. The way her words literally pour out of the pages of this book really struck me. Every word grips you and her writing style is visible from a mile off. I loved all the characters, I loved the retelling of Oedipus, I loved the really crucial issues she tackled. The playful language, the tenderness of the story. So beautiful. I’ve been recommending this to anyone and everyone, but particularly people who don’t read a lot. This is the kind of book that makes you want to read. GOD bless Daisy Johnson. This one is definitely up there with the best of the year.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Another one which has stuck with me over the year and provoked many interesting conversations. I was gifted this book after having an interview at Vintage Books (part of Penguin Random House), very exciting because I got to read it pre-release and I’d been waiting ages for it after seeing the iconic cover. The narrative is a first person account from an unnamed upper class girl in Manhattan. Her parents are dead, her ambitions have faded and she’s lost her purpose. She decides she wants to sleep for a year, facilitated by a concoction of prescription narcotics. It’s a super funny and simultaneously dark read and I highly recommend not reading it if you’re even the slightest bit overwhelmed by life- you might be tempted to ditch your responsibilities for an extended nap.
The Water Cure
And here we are. At the end of the list, with the very best book of 2018. I’m proud of you if you’ve actually read this far by the way. This book convinced me that it was going to be amazing as soon as I read the first chapter. Everything about it makes me want to read it again and again. The way Sophie Mackintosh crafts a story really is beautiful. Her prose is almost poetic, and the wistful and dark journey it takes the reader on is quite like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The Water Cure follows the isolated lives of three sisters and their parents who live on a secluded island, safe from the danger on the mainland- men. When their so-called safety is compromised, we get to watch the girls, their strange rituals and their perspectives of the world shift. It’s a very unique plot and I loved the dystopian aspect, although as Mackintosh said at the book launch I attended, the issues are very present in our lives today and the time of the novel is intentionally left elusive. She’s got a new book coming out in 2020 about motherhood lotteries and I couldn’t be more excited, I feel like I belong to the book community more and more when I see authors grow from their very first debut. I read Sophie’s short story which won the White Review prize and ever since then I have been hooked by both her personality and her art.
So there is it, 2018 is over. Here’s to more reading in 2019, shopping at indie bookshops and supporting indie publishers, and raising awareness for books like these, which leave a lasting mark and change the way we see the world as we know it.