Tuesday, January 01, 2019

booklist 2018

Here it is- the full list of books finished for the first time in 2018, with favourites starred:

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
*Mirror Sydney: An Atlas of Reflections by Vanessa Berry
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
*Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O'Porter
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
Goose by Dawn O'Porter
Autumn by Ali Smith
Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch
Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante
A Rare Book of Cunning Device by Ben Aaronovitch
The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton
*Nevermoor: The Tales of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
*My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Snotgirl Vol. 1: Green Hair, Don't Care by Bryan Lee O'Malley
*To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
*Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
*Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
*Bossypants by Tina Fey
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
This Water: Five Tales by Beverly Farmer
*The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
*How to be Second Best by Jessica Dettmann
*Any Ordinary Day: What Happens after the Worst Day of Your Life? by Leigh Sales

I think having children has put a long-lasting dent in the number of books I can read in a year. But looking back I see that most of the books I read this year were good onese. I know that I went through several reading lulls, where I had nothing on the go, but then would pick something up and be completely immersed. Like everyone else I read Lincoln in the Bardo and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and enjoyed them. I was a bit behind the hype on Bossypants but very much liked it too. Possibly my hyped read of the year was My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. This was just beautiful, with a great mix of sadness and hopefulness that just seems particularly truthful. I am very keen to read Anything is Possible now.

I think all my non-fiction reads were good ones, though in very different ways. I love Vanessa Berry's writing about the forgotten and overlooked corners of Sydney, and Mirror Sydney is a beautiful book to boot. Perfect for me as I love Sydney, history and a good wander. Low Life was another book about a city- but focusing on the underworld of turn of the century New York. It's a fascinating read, though it did seem to get a bit bogged down in a roll-call of gangsters in the middle there. I read The Midwife after binge watching Call the Midwife and it didn't disappoint- though a lot of the stories are lifted straight across. My final book of the year was Leigh Sales' Any Ordinary Day, which looks at how people react to sudden tragedy. In one way it was nothing startling- people tend to catastrophise, they look for meaning in disaster, people don't always react well, etc. But the specifics of what that looks like and what it means, the insight into various people and how they have dealt with disaster, and the general call to empathy made this a rewarding book.

Not as many graphic novels this year, and neither of them particularly exciting. Awkward was nice but not great, and Snotgirl was very disappointing, I actively disliked it. But I should mention my favourite comic of the year, Giant Days. It's not on the list because I've been reading it mostly issue by issue and am not sure how to list it, but it's my favourite comic series (by John Allison, whose comics I've been enjoying for many years) so I wanted to mention it in some way. Also eBook versions of comics are great for reading while feeding a newborn in the middle of the night.

The title of most disappointing book of the year probably has to go to This Water: Five Tales by Beverly Farmer. It was so promising, being a collection of fairy tale inspired short stories by a prominent female Australian author (who I hadn't really heard of before, but nevertheless). But it was a real slog to get through these- this might be one of those wrong reader at the wrong time things, but the writing is very slow, very descriptive and somewhat distancing. The first story is long and rambling- it's more of an impressionistic picture of an old woman's life than a story with an actual narrative thread, and the hints at connections to the legend of the selkie didn't seem to come to anything. Some of the other stories were more traditionally fairytale-esque, but the characters felt distant, the stylistic repeating of phrases felt, well, repetitive and I didn't engage. The last tale- a Bluebeard(?) type story set in an ice palace was well done, and there was also an interesting take on Clytemnestra, but overall this was not my cup of tea.

And finally, my favourite books of the year would be To Say Nothing of the Dog and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Two time travel stories set in the same universe, with time-travelling historians dealing with all the dilemmas of time travel, along with academic bureaucracyy and an irritable costume department. Its future Oxford is a well realised world, and a delight to visit, but I really love that these two books are so clearly part of a series and yet so different in tone. Doomsday Book involves travelling back to the Medieval era and is tense, slow paced and in the end quite sad. But To Say Nothing of the Dog (my favourite) is a Victorian comedy, in the best British comic traditions (though the author is American). It's also a romance. Anyway, the race for favourite book is close this year but I really enjoyed these.

Some more honourable mentions: Nevermoor (a really enjoyable YA fantasy, I'm excited to read the next in the series), Incendiaries (a super timely and quite confronting, pacy and thought-provoking read) and How to Be Second Best (I guess this is chick-lit? It's by a blogger whose writing I've always liked. Funny and human, and about parenting as well).

Looking forward to reading everyone's reading round-ups for the year!

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