Many events occurred in the Year of Our Lord 2018, the highest ranking of which on a global scale is the fact that I read a whole 56 books – but last year, last year I read 59!!!!
I was going to calculate some stats about the books but honestly, my colleagues are very rudely talking about their jobs or something and it’s affecting my ability to write blog posts.
(I’m joking, obviously. They’re talking about fantasy football).
The stats you can have are that of the 56 books I picked up, I stopped reading 4 of them, a fairly average rate of DFNing*.
*DNF is a term used by Booktubers** that stands for Did Not Finish. As far as I know, it shouldn’t be used as a verb but what can I say? I’m an innovator. I tend to DNF books if I don’t like them because YOLO.***
**Booktubers are people who make videos about books and post them on YouTube. What a time to be a portmanteau.
***YOLO is a term that nobody has used since 2013.
To name and shame (because I live for the shade), the books I stopped reading were:
- I Love Dick by Chris Krauss (too pretentious)
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guin (too many aliens)
- The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (can’t relate. I was particularly annoyed that I didn’t like this one because it had a lovely yellow cover and I bought it in hardback. HARDBACK!)
- How to be a Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan (too patronising)
That leaves 52 books that I finished, an average of a book per week; how satisfying. Of these 52, 37 were by women and 13 were by men. For the maths-y among you, 1) what are you doing here? and 2) I know that 37 + 13 does not equal 52, but that’s because two books were without named authors. (One of these was a tourist guide to Oslo and YES I am counting that as a book I read this year). That means that 71% of the books I finished this year were written by women – a high proportion, but lower than I would have estimated.
That completes 2018’s stat attack; on to the important part of this blog, the part you’ve all been waiting for – my top ten books of 2018! It was an easy decision this year, which makes a nice change. The books appear in the order in which I read them.
1. Sisters by Lily Tuck (Text Publishing)
First up, we have a little known Australian novella that I would never have heard of had it not been for a review by Eric at Lonesome Reader (thank you Eric!). I really loved this book, which probably goes without saying as it’s on my top 10 list.
It’s a narrative about a woman who is borderline obsessed with her husband’s ex-wife. I’m surprised that the subject of the Person Once Removed, the person who knows someone we know, isn’t more common in literature, as it’s a relationship that seems to be so present in our lives. Not just the classic Partner’s Ex or Ex’s New Partner (though that too), but the friend of a friend who we stalk on Instagram or the guy your sister is dating. At the risk of sounding like everyone who has written on the internet ever, in The Age Of Social Media™ the Person Once Removed is easier to access than at any other time in history and it is potentially more acceptable to do so. Is it really normal to know that your ex’s new squeeze went on holiday to Croatia in 2011? Probably not – we all do know these sorts of details though, to a lesser or greater extent.
I think it’s an incredibly interesting, not-quite-there relationship that deserves a bit more page time.
2. All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister (Simon & Schuster)
This was a massive non-fiction hardback that I toted around in my bag with me for weeks, which is really saying something considering that I usually refuse to take hardbacks on the tube; they’re too bulky and my wrist starts to get tired if I don’t get a seat and have to hold the book in one hand and hold on for dear life with the other. It’s too much to ask, it really is.
I made an exception for this book because I loved it so much. It’s about the evolution of the institution of marriage, cohabitation and relationships throughout history. While the book is quite America-focussed, much of it is also relevant to the UK. I really liked that Sarah Traister included women of colour, disabled women and queer women in the narrative even when history has tended to deny them any such right. She writes clever, funny, clear and engaging prose even when writing about issues that make her angry and will make you angry too.
Something else I love about the book is that Traister offers potential solutions to the problems she presents. Another book I read this year, No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein, stresses the importance of having an alternative to say yes to when rebelling against a cause. Traister offers us alternatives elegantly and convincingly, and as such I can highly recommend this book. She’s got a new book out this year about women’s anger and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
3. Peach by Emma Glass (Bloomsbury Circus)
Perhaps the most bizarre book I have ever read. I picked this book up as a proof when I was working for a literary agency and the cover caught my eye (the needle and thread peach one, not the knickers one). It’s very short, maybe 100 pages or so, and for the first 15 pages I was not keen at all. It starts in the immediate aftermath of sexual assault, which I wasn’t expecting and was a bit of a shock, but that’s what you get when you go borrowing proofs at random from a literary agency. Another thing that I wasn’t expecting is that all of the characters are inanimate objects – the protagonist is a peach, her assaulter is a sausage, her boyfriend is a tree, her little brother appears to be a jelly baby and her best friend is a hair net. Not that this is ever explicitly mentioned, it’s just something you glean from the text itself. It is weird and dark and surreal and unlike anything else I have ever read – and while it’s definitely not for everyone, I absolutely loved it.
4. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)
I am well and truly on the Sally Rooney bandwagon. I’m not just on it – I’m driving the bloody bandwagon. I still feel a bit bitter about this book because it was on my list of books to read before it was even released, but I didn’t get around to reading it until everyone was already raving about it and I wanted to be the first one to rave. Now I can’t technically say I liked her before she was cool. Grump.
Well, I say everybody was raving about it, but I also know a lot of people who weren’t too keen on Conversations with Friends. I can understand this – for some, it just isn’t as good as Normal People (spoiler alert: see #10). Others found difficulty with it because none of the characters are particularly likeable, and the protagonist is especially self-involved and annoying. I, though, found it very insightful and quite tongue-in-cheek; a kind of subtle satire. I’m not sure if it was meant to be, but either way, I really enjoyed it.
At the end of the day, it’s a character driven book about a bisexual girl in her twenties, navigating love and sex and relationships and having an affair with an actor. Of course I was going to love it.
5. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Abacus)
Never have I ever read a book that tells a story from different points of view SO WELL. This is the story follows a mixed-race American family as they try to process the events leading up to the death of their daughter/sister and navigate its immediate aftermath. It’s a book about truth and it doesn’t exist in just one form, but instead appears differently for everyone. It’s about what we don’t say, our interpretations of events, how our upbringing shapes us the way we see things and the secrets we keep.
I thought the multi-voiced narrative was brilliantly executed because whichever character’s story I was reading at the time was the one I totally and wholeheartedly agreed with – until the chapter changed and I read someone else’s interpretation of what happened.
I also appreciated that Ng didn’t use first-person but rather an omnipresent third-person narrator – I think a pitfall that multiple-focalisor narratives risk is that the voices aren’t always distinct enough, but the third-person narration in this book worked really well.
(I know, get me, talking like I have an English degree. I don’t, by the way, I’m not qualified to say any of this).
6. Plum by Hollie McNish (Picador)
A poetry collection that I wasn’t expecting to love as much as I did. Very readable and #relatable, Hollie includes poems that she has written throughout her life – as a teenager living at home, as a young woman at university, as a mother. It’s fascinating to see how one woman can contain so many different identities, sometimes being more one person, sometimes more another, but always being all of them to some degree. That was my interpretation, at least – but isn’t that the delicious thing about poetry? We can all think whatever we want, and nobody can tell us we’re wrong.
(Unless you’re taking an A-Level English exam. Then you can, and probably will be wrong. Sorry).
7. Talking to my Daughter about the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis (Bodley Head)
The only book in my top ten that was written by a man, but don’t let that put you off! Varoufakis truly deserves to be up here with the rest of the women.
In all seriousness, though, as ex-Greek finance minister, Varoufakis really knows his shit. The concept of this book is brilliant; as the title indicates, Varoufakis is ostensibly explaining the economy to his daughter, who seems to be about A-Level age. As such, it’s not as academic a text as Varoufakis usually writes; it isn’t footnoted, doesn’t include a bibliography and is written in simple language with allusions to Shakespeare and Greek myth that are employed in such a way as to enhance the main thread of the argument rather than throwing you off as you might think they would.
In the book, Varoufakis breaks down what the economy is, how is started, and how we got to where we are today. I think this is a book that everyone should read because we aren’t taught in school how the economy works. A lot of people grow up with a kind of irreverence for financial matters and a reluctance to ask about it because they’re embarrassed of their imposed ignorance. Better just leave it to the experts, we think. DON’T DO THAT – basic financial literacy is important for everyone! This book will help you without being patronising. Don’t be embarrassed. I read it with its bright red, attention-attracting cover on what must be London’s busiest tube line that takes me to my job in the financial district. Everyone saw me reading it. So what? If I can read it, you can.
8. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Granta)
Oh Mossy, you’ve done it again.
Another short book (they seem to be featuring prominently on my top 10 – I wonder what that says about my attention span this year?) with a big impact. This book follows the story of Sylvie, her mum and her dad who are taking part in an iron-age reenactment in the woods along with a university professor and some anthropology students.
It’s dark and introspective and relationship/character-driven with beautiful, thought-provoking writing and realistic dialogue. It’s about a woman’s place and women’s voices and women’s bodies being sacrificed to or in front of men, and the value we place on women and women’s bodies as objects. It’s brilliant, and Sarah Moss writes young people so convincingly. I want to read everything she has ever written, but then I also don’t because then there will be nothing more of hers to read.
9. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding (Picador)
What can I even say about this book? Several people have told me over the course of my life that I remind them of Bridget – because of the diaries, because of the scraggy blonde hair, because she’s a young woman living in London working in publishing, and, in one instance, because of her ‘great love life’ (no, really, someone said that to me once. Megalolz).
I strongly relate to this book, but I don’t think it is because of any of the things I specifically have in common with Bridget; I think most women on the planet will find that they have something in common with her. Bridget is all of us.
This book remains laugh-out-loud hilarious and as relevant as ever, despite being published over two decades ago. It’s one of my favourite books of all time and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I will never stop going back to it and will never throw it away. I will guard it with my life.
10. Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)
Daaaaaaaaaaamn Sally, back at it again with the bestsellers! I don’t need to tell you about this book, do I? You already know. It’s won or been nominated for every literary prize on the planet and bookshops are putting notices in their windows to let customers know if they have it in stock. If you haven’t read it, what are you doing with your life?
It’s a story about friendship and love and the development of a pivotal relationship over the span of a few years. I have yet to hear a single word against this beautiful, relatable, tender, heartbreaking, hopeful book, and even though I feel like it was written about my life, I’m sure everyone else does too. In my opinion, Rooney’s talent comes in part from writing extremely realistic, unique characters with a lot of depth, who simultaneously manage to have an element of the universal about them – so much so that everyone I know who has read this book (so, everyone I know) has found something in it that strikes a chord with them and a line that has made them catch their breath.
Those, ladies and gentlemen, are my top 10 books of 2018. Predictable maybe, but I am nothing if not consistent. Happy belated New Year and I wish you lots of wonderful books and tasty cake in 2019.
Peace out xoxoxo