Top Reads of 2018

A Few Reading Statistics

Goodreads Statistics

In 2018 I read 47 books, just under one book a week. Three quarters of them were by women authors and 25% by men. 76% of the books were fiction and 24% non-fiction (poetry, essays, memoir, spiritual).

I like literature from around the world, I read authors from 18 different countries, including Argentina, Taiwan, Uganda, Senegal, India, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Burundi, NZ, Australia and Ireland.

Despite this apparent diversity, half the books I read were by British or American authors, an imbalance I hope to address through more conscious reading in 2019.

It requires more of an effort to find books from other countries that fit my reading inclination, but I will continue to have that as my lead reading intention.  I read 12 books translated from other languages (23%) and I read one in the original French language. 80% of the books I read were physical books and 20% were e-books.

Although I read so many books from the US/UK, as I consider those stories that stood out for me, I find they are predominantly narratives from elsewhere recounting tales of experience and perspective other than the anglo-american one.

Outstanding Read of 2018

Again, my outstanding read of the year came early in the year, one of the most underrated novels of the year, that should have been given more attention, in my opinion.

The historical novel Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is set in 1700’s Buganda ( the largest of the traditional kingdoms in present-day Uganda, comprising all of Uganda’s Central Region, including the capital Kampala) and modern Uganda.

Kintu is a family name, the thread that runs through the six parts that make up the story, beginning with a curse put on the family name and following it throughout the years and generations. It is a combination of excellent storytelling and insight into a culture, its beliefs and traditions. Here’s an excerpt from my review:

It’s brilliant. We traverse through the lives of these families, witness their growth, development, sadness’s and joys, weaving threads of their connections together, that will eventually intersect and come to be understood and embraced by all as the clan is brought together to try to resolve the burden of the long-held curse that had cast its long shadow over this clan for so many generations.

Top Reads 2018

In no particular order here are the other books that made a significant impression and have stayed with me throughout the year, click on the title to read my review, or the book cover image to purchase a copy:

Petit Pays by Gaël Faye  was the one book I read in it’s original language (French) but which I classify as coming from the Republic of Burundi, where the story takes place. It’s a short novel with a significant impact, that has since been translated into English as Small Country’. It is the story told from the perspective of an 11 year old boy, the son of a French father and Rwandan mother in the year of his life when everything changed. It’s a novel of cultural differences, of being an outsider, of trying to belong, of understanding the motivations and fears of people, of life at the intersection of those things, of having to choose sides. From my review:

It is beautifully told, a simple story to follow, with many beautiful, descriptive passages, even though we know that this time will be short-lived. It opens our eyes to the tensions that escalate into hatred and violence with little sense, the many victims and the many wounded by loss, destroyed by it.

So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ, tr. Modupé Bodé-Thomas was the shortest novel I read, and the only epistolary novel, but it was one that had a significant impact, as timeless classics are warrant to do. It’s a brilliant and unforgettable story narrated through a letter by a middle age Senegalese widow writing to her friend who is about to visit. It contains more than she is able to say face to face, an uninterrupted discourse, as letters always must be, the recipient forced to read until the end, the narrator never interrupted, the message allowed to gain momentum and arrive at it’s intended conclusion.

Throughout the narrative she expresses shock, outrage, anger, resentment, pity until her thoughts turn with compassion towards those she must continue to aid, her children and to those who have supported her, including the friend due to arrive, who chose a different path when she was confronted with similar issues to that which the widow is now facing. It’s absolutely brilliant, highly recommended. From my review:

It is a testament to the plight of women everywhere, who live in sufferance to the old ways of patriarchy, whose articulate social conscience has little outlet except through their children, whose ability to contribute so much more is worn down by the age-old roles they  continue to play, which render other qualities less effective when under utilised.

Mend the Living or The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal, different titles and translators for the UK and US editions, I read the UK version translated from French by Jessica Moore. This is an extraordinary and original novel that follows a young man’s heart from its healthy teenage introduction through to its successful transplant into a patient waiting for a donor. Rather than focus on the medical procedure, it highlights all the characters involved and connected to the journey of this heart, from the parents of the boy, to the female intern, demonstrating the changing perspectives of all those touched by these sets of events.  From my review:

This is one of those novels that unleashes the mind and sends it off in all kinds of directions, thinking about the impact events have on so many lives, the different callings people have, the incredible developments in medical science, how little we really know and yet how some do seem to know intuitively and can act in ways that restores our faith in humanity.

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi tr. Tina Kover was another translated work of fiction I read in August during #WIT(Women in Translation) month. Translated from French where the author now lives, it is a dual narrative, set in present day France, where a woman sits in a fertility clinic thinking back over her life, both in the present (daughter of parents exiled from their native country and culture Iran) and the past, her own childhood, what she remembers of the circumstances that lead them away from their home and right back to her great-grandfather and his harem of 52 wives.

Spanning a changing, turbulent time in Iranian history, it travels the highs and lows, for while the passionate intellectual freely expresses their opinion and brings no harm, they can continue to live within their culture, family, an active part of society. But when freedom of expression endangers the individual, the sacrifices that must be made stifle and silence them and doesn’t necessarily ensure their safety. Life in exile, without connections to friends, family and like-minded neighbours, reduces them to shadows of their former existence, unable to truly be themselves, to be seen, in a foreign culture. From my review:

I absolutely loved it, I liked the slow drip revelation of what this young woman’s life had become, having been severed from her country and community of origin and the colourful, abundant richness of the family history and culture, which while separate from her life today, existed somewhere deep in her psyche, in her genes, and in those non-genetic aspects we inherit from previous generations even without knowledge of what has passed.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne is a book I bought for my brother last Christmas, so I decided to read it myself early in the New Year, so we could discuss it. It was on a lot of top reads lists for 2017, and deservedly so. It’s the story of the life of Cyril, from the circumstances of his birth and adoption in conservative Ireland through four periods of his life, including time in Amsterdam and New York before his return to Ireland. Cyril encounters many challenges in his life, many of them as a result of failing to live up to perceived societal expectations. From my review:

Boyne peels back the layers of Irish inclinations and attitudes in the 20th century and shows how destructive this closed mindedness is on the lives of anyone who crosses an imaginary line of acceptable ‘being’. This astonishing novel is a courageous, honest attempt to show how the way we conform to society and culture’s expectations, against our own nature’s can be so harmful to so many and it makes us wonder how life might be, if we lived in a more utopian world, where tolerance reigned supreme.

Little by Edward Carey is another outstanding and original work of historical fiction and a book that left a deep impression, not just for the excellent storytelling and illustrations, but because it tells the story of a woman everyone had heard of yet knew nothing about, she was a trailblazer extraordinaire. Her name as most of us know it today is an illusion, for it tells nothing of the full life she lived before she became Madame Tussaud.

It is the story of the incredible life and survival of a servant girl Anne Marie Grosholt who lost her parents at a very young age and through a series of serendipitious connections, came to be apprenticed to a Swiss medical wax sculptor, whose popularity lead him to flee to Paris, where he resided with the widow of a tailor, another set of skills the young servant girl would acquire, before a chance encounter resulted in her spending eleven years in the palace of Versailles as tutor (Maitresse de Cire) to the princess, until her confidence and boredom combined to get her in trouble, banished back to the widow and her master.

The novel tracks her life and beside it the growing unrest in Paris, as the people rebel against those who ‘have’, against those who ‘rule’, and a frenzy of imprisonments and executions pervade the city, where no one is safe from denunciation and possible death. These stories and the historical references bring the novel alive, in animated prose that explores the noble alongside the grim and ghoulish, for the public of the time desired to see and know it all.

When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife    This is an incredible work of creativity, a writer working through the post-trauma of domestic violence, living through and escaping an abusive marriage, using her writing to narrate the story of her marriage, seeing it as if she is playing a role in a drama. I avoided this title for a while until it was nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 and started to receive enticing reviews. It is a ‘tour de force’ and well worth overcoming any inhibitions you might have about reading it.

And in some ways, that is how I think of it: it is easier to imagine this life in which I’m trapped as a film;  it is easier when I imagine myself as a character. It makes everything around me seem less frightening; my experiences at a remove. Less painful, less permanent. Here, long before I ever faced a camera, I became an actress.

The Four Insights – Wisdom, Power and Grace of the Earthkeepers by Alberto Villoldo I couldn’t write about my top reads without mentioning Alberto Villoldo, as I read three of his books this year and loved them all, but this one was the best and was the first I read, because it gives the background and explanations behind the philosophy of shamanic energy medicine in an accessible way.

I absolutely loved it and all its insights, I was familiar with the shamanic levels of perception, of serpent, jaguar, hummingbird, eagle, corresponding to body, mind, soul, spirit and their associated languages. The book expands on those themes and provides deeper explanations of how we perceive at each of these levels, what we need to understand about how we are responsible for creating the reality of each of those levels, and that we can only change our own inner perception and try to uplevel, we can never change another’s perception, except through being the role model that they might perceive and respond to without influence.

And that’s it for 2019, did you have an outstanding read for the year? Or a few? Let me know in the comments below what your favourite(s) were.

Thanks for reading and following and commenting and happy reading to you all for the year ahead.

26 thoughts on “Top Reads of 2018

    • I surprised myself Fransi, it felt like I read less this year, I certainly reviewed less even though the blog had more visits than any year previously, more than likely because of the old reviews that continue to be read, that fascinates and delights me, especially when I see which reviews prove to be popular and have longevity, they are similar to my favourites posted here today, they the Trindadian and Sri Lankan authors, the Guadaloupean. The most popular reviews read on my blog this year were Petit Pays and Two Old Women by Velma Wallis(reviewed in 2017). It’s almost worth a post to see the diversity of that list!

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      • You write the most interesting and compelling reviews I’ve ever read Claire. It’s got a lot to do with your genuine enthusiasm for a book, I think. You have certainly introduced me to a world of books and authors I would never have otherwise read. So I’m not at all surprised that your blog has so many visits and even old reviews continue to be read. And I agree, it is fascinating to see which posts resonate the most. It always surprises me.

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    • Thank you Valorie, I look forward to catching up on your best read of 2018, The Overstory by Richard Powers, I will definitely be adding it to my books to read for 2018, it’s one I’ve been intrigued by in every review I read and shied away more by its length in a year where it feels like I’ve less space for reading.

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    • Thank you and happy reading and reviewing to you in 2019, so many of my reads come from bloggers recommendations, I can’t imagine being without this wonderful source of literary inspiration. I look forward to more recommendations from you too Lisa.

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  1. Great list, Claire! Disoriental was one of my favorite novels as well, and So Long a Letter sounds wonderful. I’ll have to add it to my TBR for the month, since I’m planning on focusing on translated lit.

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    • Oh that’s great you’re doing a month of translated literature, you’re one of my favourite but dangerous blogs to visit with your variety of reads and thoughtful reviewing, even if I don’t get to read them, your blog is like the literature section of an interesting newspaper (in the days when they used to be interesting).

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  2. Kintu is one of my top reads of the year too. I agree that it’s underrated and I hope more people will take notice of it the more I mention it. I’ve already gotten some friends interested in reading it.

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  3. Lovely to see Mend the Living on your list, Claire. Such an interesting exploration of the medical, ethical and emotional issues at play in a case like Simon’s. The film adaptation is very good too, definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.

    Wishing you all the best for 2019 – I’ll be interested to see what you read in the coming months. 🙂

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    • Yes, I must try and get to the film, I watch TV so rarely and when I see the films that are out, they’re rarely familiar, so I wait in catch up mode for recommendations, or take a chance!

      Wishing you all the best for 2019 too Jacqui and look forward to following your reading highlights, I have a nice little stack of books ready to peruse and plenty that are likely to subvert my intentions and those I’ve not yet heard about that I’m likely to be seduced by thanks to you and others! 🙂

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  4. I’ve had Mend the Living on my TBR pile for a while, but haven’t got round to it – I must do so this year. Completely agree about The Heart’s Invisible Furies and When I Hit You.

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    • I had an interesting conversation with someone about Little, who said she found it dark, gothic, which of course the late 1700’s in Paris was, but for me the resonating feeling I was left with, was the ability of this young woman to survive so many dark odds and eventually to prosper, even in a disatrous marriage (which doesn’t feature at all in the book), we are aware (though it is also not focused on) that she retained custody of one of her sons, which must have been something extraordinary given the era she lived in and the fear she was driven by, to be exiled once again. Apart from the excellent, fascinating story, what a formidable woman!

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  5. Happy New Year!

    I think the main reason I started following your blog was the diversity of literature that you read, even though you’re “working” on it in 2019 you still outdid me drastically in diversity and languages. Often times I try to make an effort, but then I push to clear my shelves and those are by authors I know and languages I know so they go head-to-head. I’ll find a balance one of these days.

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  6. Happy New Year, Claire❣️I still love that you read so internationally; and know that I can come to your blog for suggestions about how to broaden my own reading. I read and admired Kintu, last year, as well; for some reason, I thought it was older than 2018. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading Disoriental this year.

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