Friday, 4 January 2019

All the books I read in 2018

Last year, for the first time - inspired by my friend Franky - I kept track of all the books I read in 2018. And here they are, a few reviewed, a few unfinished (I KNOW!*) and with an explanation, a few just listed. Sorry to the authors of those ones, that seems so mean, doesn't it?

Here goes.

The Girls - Emma Cline

A compelling story of a teenage girl who gets involved in a cult in sixties California. Woozy and wild, it took me back to the freedom of long summer holidays, capturing the confusion of growing up alongside girls who act so much older, the push and pull of female friendships.

How To Stop Time - Matt Haig

Anyone who follows Matt Haig on Twitter probably feels - like me - that you know him personally. I was so excited about this book which probably raised the bar a bit too high. There's nothing wrong with it as such, it's just that I didn't fall in love with his voice. The plot was great, I just felt like I was reading a Hollywood screenplay more than a novel.

Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys - Viv Albertine

This memoir by Slits member, Viv Albertine, came out a few years back but I never got around to reading it then despite several friends recommending it. Now that I have, I'm one of the recommenders - rarely have I read a book bursting with so much life. Viv pulls absolutely zero punches either in life or on the page. I couldn't stop thinking about her. Not into the music? Doesn't matter.

Lullaby - Leila Slimani

Oooooh, crikey! This is one of those books that gets right under your skin. No messing around - the blurb goes straight for it: The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. One of those sinister stories where you know the ending from the beginning and you're just working back to slot all the pieces into place. It's eerie, dark and close to the bone.

A Boy Made Of Blocks - Keith Stuart

One of the many books that now reside in the autism section of my library, this is a novel based around the author's experiences with his own autistic son. It does an excellent job of explaining the realities of parenting a neurodiverse child, and the ripple effect outwards onto family relationships and beyond. But mostly it did an amazing job of explaining wtf Minecraft is all about (the blocks in the title) and why autistic kids love it so much.

Lincoln In The Bardo - George Saunders

When I began this book, I thought it was one of the most incredible books I'd ever read. The language is extraordinary, the structure is unique and the story pretty compelling. But the more I read, the more confusing it became. Too many voices and I just couldn't make sense of it. This one went unfinished, I'm afraid, even though I maintain that it's a fascinating premise.

Elinor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

You've probably read this one (with over a million copies sold, who hasn't?) so what can I add? For much of the book, I thought Elinor was autistic. If you speak to my boyfriend, he'll tell you that I see it everywhere now but I genuinely read her character that way.

Out Of Time - Miranda Sawyer

One of my favourite journalists writes a book on middle age - what could be more fitting? There was a lot in this book, beautifully written, and Miranda Sawyer is a funny, funny woman. So why did it leave me feeling so sad?

The Keeper Of Lost Things - Ruth Hogan

Really wanted to love this book but it just didn't quite do it for me. The story was magical and beautiful but the writing didn't quite match up.

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge

If I could pick one book on this list that I'd want everyone to read, it would be this one. To be honest, I think it should be compulsory on the curriculum. I learnt so much about black history in the UK (as opposed to the US, which seems to be the default narrative) and why racism is/has been systemic in our culture. READ. IT.

Heartburn - Nora Ephron

How have I got to this age without having read any Nora Ephron before? She is so up my street, I loved this book. What a talented, funny woman, able to take what is ostensibly a pretty miserable subject and spin it for lolz. Now itching to read everything she's ever written.

Help - Simon Amstell

T4 music - tick.
Never Mind the Buzzcocks - tick.
Vegan activist - tick.
Simon Amstell's CV does it for me, as does this book. Plenty of insight into his history, Help is kinda therapy, kinda memoir, totally bare and brilliant.

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers - Max Porter

This is the book I cite when people do that 'there are only six stories, there's nothing new' thing. This is new, this is a different story. Beautiful and sad, I read it in an afternoon on holiday. Didn't feel possible to stick a bookmark in it and wander off, it required the courtesy of an extended reading session from beginning to end.

To Throw Away Unopened - Viv Albertine

Her second book (see the first, up top). This follow-up is the one where Viv really gets into the details, describing her relationships with her mother, father and sister in very straightforward terms. Another book where I diagnosed her autism (a few pages on, she made this realisation herself), which added another strand for me. Brilliant, brave human.

Circe - Madeline Miller

My book of the year. The inaugural choice of my new book group, I really wasn't sure about this at first. For the first few chapters, it felt like one of those weighty novels where I couldn't keep track of the characters. But then it really took off and I never wanted it to end. If you're interested in Greek mythology, family histories, feminism, and brilliantly drawn characters, then I'm pretty sure you'll dig this. Note to self: book groups are a great way to make you give something different a go!

Big Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert

I've tried reading this a couple of times, and have dipped in and out now so many times that I must've read it all, albeit in smaller chunks! Elizabeth Gilbert's stories about inspiration, the muse and magic realist definitions of such are inspiring in themselves. Love the way she gives bones to ephemeral ideas.

Body Positive Power - Megan Jayne Crabbe

Game changer. If you follow @bodyposipanda on Instagram, you'll know who Megan Crabbe is. She's one of the body positivity movement's best and brightest pioneers, with her mermaid hair and her Beyoncé moves. I really love her, and I adore this book. It's one of the most radical and helpful books I've read.

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Adored this one. Celeste Ng writes in such a deceptively simple way about American family life, carefully unpicking what holds it together before exposing the darkness beneath. It reminded me a lot of the TV series Big Little Lies so if you liked that, you'll probably like this.

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow - Jessica Townsend

We began 'reading' this as an audiobook on the long journey home from Cornwall back in the summer. I say 'we', but really it was just me by the time the kids nodded off, one by one. It's a glorious story and I shifted to the printed version once home (audiobooks aren't really my thing, different bit of the brain maybe?). Yes, it's a kids' book. No, I didn't read it to a child. Yes, that's fine!

The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin

My pick for book group, the premise of this novel is fascinating: 'If you knew the date of your death, how would you live?'. A story of four siblings and how their lives progress after visiting a fortune teller who predicts each of their deaths, I was most interested in the first two siblings, less so in the other two.

The Self Care Project - Jayne Hardy

Bought as a gift for me by my friend and collaborator, Tina of Mapology Guides, this is a neat little guide to looking after yourself. I know that self care is a bit of a 2018 buzzword but, actually, it's something I really needed to focus on last year and this book tells you how.

Just Eat It - Laura Thomas

This amazing book isn't even out yet but go pre-order your copy now. Laura is amazing and this book (along with one-to-one sessions with Laura) has completely radicalised the way I eat, see and move my body, and understand diet culture.

My Thoughts Exactly - Lily Allen

Kinda felt a bit mucky reading this as it's so revelatory about Lily Allen's personal life and I came away feeling her vulnerability so strongly. I like Lily Allen herself but I'm still not sure how I feel about the book tbh.

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng's first novel, but I read it after Little Fires Everywhere as I like her writing so much. As a teenager, my favourite books were by Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Pahlinuk, which I think explains my love of a dark American novel. Everything I Never Told You is one such book. It was hard to put it down.

The Course Of Love - Alain de Botton

While I adore A de B's non-fiction writing, I wasn't sure how his novel would work. His voice is just so him. The story works and the way he writes is pretty good, plus chapters are interspersed with non-fiction snippets and it didn't feel shoe-horned. What let it down for me was the writing of the female character.

The Happiness Trap - Russ Harris

Read partly for a writing job I was doing at the time, The Happiness Trap has turned out to have tangible, long-lasting and positive impact on my life. It's along the same lines as CBT but rather than teaching you to change your thoughts, it teaches acceptance instead, and practical ways to distance yourself from unhelpful thinking patterns. And it works.

Reservoir 13 - Jon McGregor

Well, here's a thing. I'd been looking forward to reading this novel for a while, my boyfriend read it first and enjoyed it. If you don't know what it's about, have a little read about it first - the Amazon reviews are split between people who loved its slow pace and others who found it frustrating. I was in the latter camp, so ended up abandoning it halfway through.

The Descent Of Man - Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry is ace, there's no denying it. I like him, his art, his documentaries. So why couldn't I get on with this book? Not sure. But I didn't. So I stopped reading.

How To Be A Grown Up - Daisy Buchanan

Of all the books I started reading this year, this was the least appealing to me. Not sure I'm the target audience - let's be kind and assume it's that.

The Little Friend - Donna Tartt

It was a mistake to start reading this incredible book when ideas for my own novel had just begun to swirl in my mind. Donna is the queen and all it did was to give me massive imposter syndrome! Will try another time.

Autumn - Ali Smith

A book group pick and the first Ali Smith book I've read. I couldn't get over how singular her style is, how unashamedly her is every choice of word and every page and everything, every single thing. It's the kind of book I'd love to write, but weirdly, I wasn't sure if it was actually the kind of book I wanted to read. Avoid if Brexit is doing your head in too much!

Christmas Pudding - Nancy Mitford

Massive Mitford fan here, I can't believe I hadn't read this one before. There's a reason The Pursuit of Love is her best-known book and I'm not sure this lives up to it; however, a jaunty seasonal read that was short and sweet.

Eat Up! - Ruby Tandoh

I'm halfway through this glorious book filled with joy and humankind and food and eating. I hadn't realised what a talented writer she is. It's bloody ace.

Outline - Rachel Cusk

I'm a huge fan of Rachel Cusk - her books on motherhood and divorce were my companions through each life changing experience, but I'd never read any of her fiction before. Outline is a peculiarly understated novel. It's sparse and a bit chilly, despite being set in Athens in the summer. The first of a trilogy, I'm not sure if I'll persevere with the other two which isn't a great review, is it?

AND THERE WE HAVE IT! 34 books in 2018, that's a massive step up from where I was last year and I've loved reading more than ever. Turns out I had something to say about every one, so I'm feeling less mean than when I wrote the intro.

*About the unfinished thing. I've never really felt comfortable with starting a book and not finishing it. I used to think that if you started a book then you'd made a commitment and therefore HAD to finish it. 

I used to be such a people pleaser. 

But a friend introduced me to Daniel Pennac's Rights of the Reader (reproduced below, illustrated by Quentin Blake) and it's freed me up to read whatever and however I blooming well please. What freedom!

What was your favourite read of 2018? I'm starting my 2019 list and am always up for recommendations!

Photograph: Alice Hendy Photography
Contains affiliate links, which means that if you happen to click and buy then I may get a penny or two. 
That's not me being coy, btw, it really would be pennies!
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