And I’ve blogged a couple of times here about the ambitious reading goal I set for this year, and how working towards that goal has help me tackle perfectionism and anxiety. Fifty-two books; mainly women writers and writers of colour; a book a week for a whole year, with public Instagram posting to keep me to account, especially when I was miles off target a few months in and wanted to bail out.
It’s not quite the end of the year, but barring a very generous layover on my flight home to Perth and the wilful ignoring of the friends and family I’m returning home to be with, I’ll fall seven or eight books short of my target. As I write this, I’ve finished 42 books, and am hoping to finish three more in the fortnight before the year ends.
As I explained in a recent post about what I learned this year, progress towards the goal has been the point, not the 100% perfect achievement of the goal itself. And today, as I finished and posted book number 42 on my Instagram, I was asked if I had a post on this blog about what I’d read this year.
I didn’t! So here it is! The forty-two books I’ve read in 2018; in both chronological order and a few broad categories with my favourites, if you’re just looking for a holiday reading recommendation. And finally, some more personal reflections on my own year of reading.
Curious about where the books come from in a country with no English-language book shops or English-dominant libraries? Here’s where.
The chronological list
This is the order I read these 42 books in, each linked to an Instagram post with my short, inexpert review.
- All That Man Is, by David Szalay
- Autumn, by Ali Smith
- A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby
- Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra: Blood on Whose Hands?, by Desmond Ball and Hamish McDonald
- The Secret Chord, by Geraldine Brooks
- Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
- Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Ripper, by Isabel Allende
- Gut, by Giulia Enders
- Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
- Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan
- Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney
- Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
- Eggshell Skull, by Bri Lee
- The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas
- Arrow of God, by Chinua Achebe
- No Longer At Ease, by Chinua Achebe
- So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder
- Educated, by Tara Westover
- They Came Like Swallows, by William Maxwell
- Human Acts, by Han Kang
- Small Wrongs, by Kate Rossmanith
- Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
- Shakedown, by Paul Cleary
- The Gangster We Are All Looking For, by Lê Thi Diem Thúy
- Silence in the Age of Noise, by Erling Kagge
- Normal People, by Sally Rooney
- The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
- No Country Woman, by Zoya Patel
- The Choke, by Sofie Laguna
- All You Can Ever Know, by Nicole Chung
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling
- Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
- The Pisces, by Melissa Broder
- The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffensegger
- Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, edited by Deborah G Plant and written by Zora Neale Hurston
- Dance Dance Dance, by Haruki Murakami
- The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton
- Milkman, by Anna Burns
- Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
What should I read?
Here’s what I recommend from that (yes, it’s nearly all of them; whoops, but I’ve limited myself to a top three in each category).
If you’re looking for powerful, captivating fiction that you’ll think about for months afterwards:
- The Choke
- Human Acts
This was an early frontrunner for my favourite book of the year; now I think I’ve read too many good ones to pick a clear winner.
If you’re looking for beautiful, tender, but decidedly lighter and less harrowing contemporary fiction:
- Normal People
- No Longer At Ease
- Everything I Never Told You
All three of Achebe’s books I read this year I loved, but it was this one, the third in a loosely linked trilogy, that I found the most enjoyable – confident and fun.
If you love memoir, like I’ve only just realised I do:
- All You Can Ever Know
- Eggshell Skull
If you don’t want non-fiction, but love a fiction book clearly grounded in the author’s lived experience:
- Purple Hibiscus
- The Pisces
- The Gangster We Are All Looking For
When I was younger my mum would take me to book clearance sales, where you could buy like, 10 books for $20, and this was one I picked up, started and never finished, and rediscovered on my childhood bedroom bookshelf when I went home to Perth for a visit in September. This time, I loved it.
If you want a light, easy, but not-daft beach read:
- Conversations with Friends
- A Long Way Down
- The Joy Luck Club
If you want literary heft that’s actually worth the read:
Milkman – the hardest, weirdest book I read all year! But one of the best! My gripe with the cover art is I think a microcosm of how I felt about the book as a whole — first I was like, urgh, what a boring cover, it looks like a Microsoft PowerPoint default slide background image; but then someone in book club pointed out to me it actually illustrates the point made in one of the book’s most important scenes and I was like ohhh duhhh of course, Soph, you duffer; it’s profound because it’s not as literate as your tiny mind needs; maybe the rest of the book’s like that too.
If you want to read a lauded or well-known book out of feeling-like-you-have-to, and actually want to enjoy it:
- Dance Dance Dance
- The Course of Love
You would not believe the number of pages I dog-eared in this book (also, is this an extremely contentious hill I’ve now put myself on — the fact that I believe folding down the corners of books is a sign of love, use and full-throated immersion, rather than of destruction?)
Or, if you want to slog tediously through the item above and wonder if it was really worth your time and ten American Kindle dollars:
- They Came Like Swallows
- The Slap
Don’t bother, in my view! Read this brilliant, weird book instead, and make sure you’re drinking something that matches the cover art.
A final reflection
It’s interesting for me to write this out and look at my own reading patterns and preferences. If you’d asked me last year, I would have confidently told you that I love literary fiction, the weirder the better; I don’t want to read books written by men; and I’m a super-fast reader who adores reading before bed.
From tracking my habits, I can see most of that is bullshit.
I find it really difficult to read regularly, especially when I’m tired before bed — I read most of these pages over lunch breaks, on lazy weekend afternoons, or in desperate late-night marathons trying to make a book club deadline.
And while I did love a couple of the literary books I read — I highly recommend Human Acts, Dance Dance Dance and Autumn — I tore through Melissa Broder’s sardonic depression essays and Bri Lee’s and Zoya Patel’s millennial memoir and Cheryl Strayed’s and Audrey Niffensegger’s airport-bestseller books. Of the 42 books I’ve read so far this year, I read eight memoirs, three hardcore non-fiction books, one semi (Barracoon) and two books of essays — a third of my books weren’t even fiction, let alone high-brow artsy literary fiction.
Me, reading, a white-bread middle-class snob whose world view probably needs a bit of a shake-up.
And the men thing. This was really interesting to me. I started the year simultaneously reading a book of 12 short stories about men and vowing to read only women-written novels for the rest of the year, to personally reduce my own over-representation of male perspectives and power in a patriarchy — a task I ultimately found quite difficult with the shortage of English-language books in Dili, and with the occasional male-author choices of my book club.
But more than that, I realised very quickly that if I want to prioritise women writers to broaden my reading and my world view, I’d be remiss to not to include male authors of colour, and other marginalised groups — if I really want to consider, listen to and throw my book-buying money behind marginalised voices, it may be better to read a Nigerian man writing for a white supremacist American or British audience than it is to read well-off, well-established white American women.
Greedily reading Americanah in Maubisse; before this year I’d only ever heard of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie because it’s her voice at the start of the Beyonce/Nicki Minaj Flawless remix; then my gorgeous friend Naomi bought me the text of her We Should All Be Feminists TED talk, then I found and read all three of her fiction novels in Dili, and now I’m a third of the way through her book of short stories and just finished reading her The Danger of A Single Story TED talk — slow internet in Dili sees me reading speech transcripts instead of waiting for video to buffer, whoops, and without conceit or exaggeration she’s cracked open something for me; made me think differently.
This is something I’ve only recently begun to consider and I’m excited and determined to further this with my reading next year, and to further de-volve my reading habits by picking up the books of queer, trans, disabled, fat, low-income, and otherwise marginalised writers (and I’d love your recommendations, if you have any).
Here’s a breakdown of this year’s 42 books, as a baseline:
- 27 written by women (64%); 15 written by men (36%), made up of:
- 13 written by women of colour (31%); 14 written by white women (33%)
- 8 written by men of colour (19%); 7 written by white men (17%)
(Although of those eight books written by men of colour, three were written by the Nigerian author Chinau Achebe, and of the 13 books written by women of colour, another three were written by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie).
I know it’s rudimentary to only consider race and gender here (and borderline improper for someone like me to make decisions about which voices to prioritise), but I’ve (embarrassingly) gone twenty-plus years of dedicated reading without even beginning to consider any of this, so I consider this year’s reading a basic but important first step.
And it’s been marvellous — in particular, Han Kang’s Human Acts, Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know, Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and everything from Achebe and Adichie were some of the best books I’ve ever read in my life; intersectional reading is a gift and a pleasure.
Thanks for reading along with me — I hope you find something you like in here. And if you’ve got a recommendation for me; please, let me know! You can email me here or message me on Instagram. I’m always looking for a next read.