2018 reads.

Since we’re approaching the end of 2018 and I’ve had plenty of time to read this year, I thought it might be worthwhile to share some of the books I read in the past twelve months that I really enjoyed. For the sake of simplicity I’ll restrict it to eight books, but there were certainly more than what made this list; I’ve also tried to vary the genres and styles of the books here, although they all have the loose constraint of “books Julia wanted to read”.

Top Fiction

“The Idiot” by Elif Batuman

The Idiot was probably my all-time favourite read of 2018 — I’ve read it twice already and I’m currently halfway through my third time. I don’t think that everyone will enjoy it since it’s quite slow-moving, but I absolutely loved the characters and the tone/premise of the novel. It’s about a freshman in college named Selin who is trying to navigate her first year at Harvard and understand her peers, and it reflects the experience of attending university so well that it is full of amusing lines and relevant insights that make it an incredibly enjoyable read.

“Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee

One of my favourite styles of novel is the intergenerational story. Pachinko is an engaging book that follows a Korean family through the twentieth century, including Japanese colonization and huge cultural changes. I’m not very familiar with Korean or Japanese history, so I learned a lot (and recognized many more gaps in my knowledge) from reading this novel. The characterizations are rich and varied, so although the story’s focus shifts between family members it was easy to follow what was happening.

“Cassandra” by Christa Wolf

This was assigned reading for my literature class, and I liked it so much that I’m glad I had to read it. Cassandra is an alternate telling of the Trojan War from the perspective of the Trojan King Priam’s daughter, Cassandra, who has visionary powers. The novel handles relevant themes powerfully, and I especially loved the language and style, which is somewhat fragmented but arresting and thought-provoking. I also enjoyed studying it in a class setting because it gave time and space for discussion, which helped me to understand the book much more.

“Everything Here is Beautiful” by Mira T. Lee

Everything Here is Beautiful follows the lives of two Chinese American sisters, Miranda and Lucia, while Lucia suffers from mental illness. The story is challenging and touching, with moments of sorrow and joy throughout the novel; it certainly felt like I was privy to their entire lives as I read, and could learn from their struggles and triumphs. Definitely a good read if you’re interested in books about mental illness and families, but still recommended if you just like stories about life.

Top Non-Fiction

“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah

This book is Trevor Noah’s memoir about his childhood, but as I read it the circumstances that he lived in and experiences he went through seemed so incredible to me that it may as well have been fiction. Not only is this book engaging and humorous, but it highlights Trevor’s strong relationship with his mother and taught me a lot about South Africa. I’ve recommended this book to many of my friends as an interesting, enjoyable memoir.

“When They Call You a Terrorist” by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

When They Call You a Terrorist is a memoir by one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement that’s primarily about her experiences growing up that led her to start BLM. Reading about the effects of racism on Patrisse’s community and family is heart-wrenching and witnessing the way they care for each other is moving. The writing in this memoir is especially distinctive, and I thought that her practice of naming and crediting other people in the book was powerful as well. It was definitely a challenging and worthwhile read.

“Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft

Why Does He Do That? is essentially a guide to identifying abusive behaviours, debunking myths about abuse, and establishing next steps for either avoiding or leaving abusive relationships. The author draws from personal experience working with abusive men and integrates resources into the book as well. The subject matter is heavy, but I think that it was helpful to read and equipped me with knowledge that will help my interpersonal relationships moving forwards.

“How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough

It’s difficult to find non-fiction that’s accessible enough to understand without being an obvious oversimplification of the topic, and I thought that How Children Succeed maintained this balance well. The book approaches its driving question — Why do some children succeed while others don’t? — from a variety of disciplinary lenses, and its organization makes it easy to follow. I don’t know if I’m completely on board with the book’s conclusions/findings, but exploring the question was a worthwhile exercise and the research was useful for stimulating contemplation about the topic.

That concludes my book list for this year! If you’re interested in reading more of my book reviews, I try to write a few sentences for every book I finish on my Goodreads profile. If you have books that you read this year and really enjoyed, I would love some recommendations for winter break and next year, so please send them to me or comment them on this post. Til next time!

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