My Best Books for 2018

I did away with ‘top tens’ a few years ago, and instead I finish the reading year with a recap of the books that are still speaking to me (less about four and five-star ratings, more about what has stuck).

I tend to read a lot of memoirs and 2018 was no exception. A handful of memoirs by Australian women writers kicked off the year – Georgia Blain’s The Museum of Words, Biff Ward’s In My Mother’s Hands, and Paula Keogh’s The Green Bell – each deals with illness, albeit in different ways. Elements of each of these memoirs have stayed with me – Blain, that truth is stranger than fiction; Ward, that we just don’t know what is happening for someone, and Keogh, for the part about being loved.

In the middle of the year, I read two harrowing memoirs – Eggshell Skull and Staying – and then I finished the year with Magda Szubanski’s exceptional story, Reckoning. There’s so much in this book about cultural identity and trauma that I’ll be reading it again at some stage.

My Bruce Springsteen project dominated months, all prompted by his autobiography, Born to Run, and I was also thoroughly absorbed in Jessica Lee’s ‘swimming memoir’, Turning (reading it while in Berlin added to the experience).

My annual Richard Yates did not disappoint – I think Young Hearts Crying is up there with Easter Parade.

I laughed my way through Benson’s Queen Lucia and Miss Mapp, and was surprised by Music & Silence by Rose Tremain – what a romp!

Stand-out short story collection, Curtis Sittenfeld’s sharp and funny, You Think It, I’ll Say It – I was pleased to see it on the critics’ ‘best of’ list.

Late this year I came across Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. I listened to Strayed read the audio and as I drove to work, I cried and cried (arrived at work a wreck). I decided I needed the book and immediately picked it up on Kindle for a bargain price. Drove home, listened some more. Cried. Laughed. Loved Cheryl, hard. Ordered a hard copy so that I could have all the passages I wanted to highlight at hand.

There were two absolute stand-outs this year and both were big, sprawling family sagas that made me laugh and cry (the very best quality in a book, I reckon). The first was The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne – it had shades of Irving and I’m still thinking about little Cyril, knowing he’ll never be ‘a real Avery’. Later in the year I read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life – I was embarrassingly late to the Atkinson party but the characters in this book were absolutely exquisite, and the historical detail, stunning.

In summary, 2018 has been a terrific reading year.

Thanks for your readership.

20 responses

  1. It’s years since I read Music & Silence, but the fact that the group I discussed it with still refer to it probably as much as a decade on speaks for itself. And ‘Life After Life’ is one of my favourite novels. My only concern, if this was your first foray into Atkinson, is that you’ve probably started with the very best and anything is going to be something of a disappointment in comparison.

  2. I had better get a copy of the Biff Ward before booksellers stop stocking it. You and I read very few of the same books, but still I’m surprised Terra Nullius didn’t rate an honourable mention.

  3. I haven’t read any of these, except for Music and Silence which I also liked though the idea of those poor musicians playing under the floor still gives me a sense of outraged creepiness.
    I like that we have different tastes in books because I get to hear about books I wouldn’t otherwise know about. Happy reading for 2019!

  4. I have been tempted to read “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne, and your article makes me even more tempted.
    I agree with you about “Young Hearts Crying” and Curtis Sittenfeld’s stories, but found “Music and Silence” to be lesser Rose Tremain who is one of my favorite authors.

    • Music & Silence was the first novel I’d read by Tremain (previously only read short stories). I was surprised by the drama and fun! I’ll certainly read more novels by her.

  5. I love your approach to yearend lists! I felt the same way about Heart’s Invisible Furies and thought Life After Life was outstanding. Oddly enough, both of their new novels fell short for me. I couldn’t even finish Transcription which was such a disappointment.

  6. You’ve inspired me in two ways: I’ll definitely read the Atkinson early in 2019 (I’ve been meaning to since your review but my reading has been erratic in recent months) , and I think I’ll do a Kate Bush version of your Springsteen project 🙂

  7. I don’t do Top Tens either and sort of mix memorable with themes and trends in my post. I read far fewer memoirs this year, but I did read Biff Ward when it came out. Such a good read.

    Our fiction lists are pretty different.

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