I’ve read 28 books so far this year, and in the process of creating this list, I’ve found that, on the whole, the books I’ve picked out have been extremely good ones. I thought about ranking them. I then realized that I am too weak of a person to put these books in any kind of order. So, in no particular order, here are my ten favorite books I’ve read in 2018 (so far).
This is the story of a woman named Alexandra Bergson, a daughter of Swedish immigrants who becomes a successful farmer on the Nebraskan prairie. Alexandra is a unique sort of strong female character. Physically and mentally, she is capable of overcoming any obstacle in her way, but the challenges she faces are not of that nature. Rather, she suffers emotional pain due to problems with family, romance, and society. I enjoyed the social questions explored in this novel as well as the spare and elegant prose, which perfectly matches the setting of the harsh, lonely prairie. I was also caught off guard by the twist ending.
Edna, a wealthy housewife from Louisiana, begins to chafe in her role of wife and mother, and slowly gives into the temptation of running away from it all. There’s a plot here, a slow, oozing progression, but more important than the building of action is the building of emotion that rises to a fever pitch by the end. I was taken in by the novel’s atmospheric description and by Edna’s inner struggle.
This book is not a novel, but rather a reworked version of a speech Woolf gave on the topic of women in fiction. While I consider myself well-educated in women’s rights, Woolf’s insights in this text were a revelation to me. Her writing style is compelling, and her arguments are even more so. I don’t quite agree with them point for point, but at the heart of the book are truths about gender politics and womanhood that I have felt for a long time, but didn’t know how to express. It’s an essential feminist text.
Tran chronicles the true story of his family’s flight from Vietnam to the United States in this magnificently detailed graphic novel. If the members of the family get mixed up in your head, if the story seems patchy and confusing, if the whole thing feels too chaotic to you, that’s the point — the Vietnam War was chaos. Tran, born in the U.S., shares with us his own journey of connecting to his roots and learning to understand his family. I was deeply moved by the painstaking love and care painted into every corner of this book, and the artwork is even more expressive than the words.
Lydia Lee is dead at sixteen, and her family members struggle to cope as they try to piece together how and why. There’s no intricate murder mystery here. The story here is in all of the small ways the Lees have failed to communicate with each other, understand one another, and support each other. The pieces, scattered at the beginning, come together seamlessly by the end to form a portrait of a family in crisis. I read this for a class, and ordinarily, it’s the type of book I would scarf down in a day or two. I’m glad that I didn’t and instead had the chance to let it stew.
Shevek is a renowned physicist from the anarchist utopian planet of Anarres, and the first person since the colonization of Anarres to visit its twin planet, Urras, where governments suspiciously reminiscent of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. vie for power. Examining our world through an outsider’s perspective, the faults (and some benefits) of a capitalist system come into focus. In Shevek’s memories of his home planet, on the other hand, we see how the society of an anarchist world might function. It took me a couple of chapters to get into it, but once I did, I was impressed by Le Guin’s gently political writing, which serves as a backdrop to Shevek’s personal narrative.
Esther Greenwood is a college student with a supposedly bright future, but there’s a constant cloud over her happiness, something seemingly not traceable to any particular cause. That cloud turns out to be a bone-deep depression. The story describes her downward spiral in a painfully realistic way, capturing the thought patterns of depression with a level of detail that makes sense when you remember that Sylvia Plath committed suicide. This book left me in a funk for days after finishing it.
Suzu is a young newlywed, naïve and spacey, but kind. Living in Hiroshima Prefecture during World War II, rationing, community service, and an ever-increasing number of air raids becomes her new normal. At the same time, she has to deal with more mundane concerns, like getting along with her in-laws and resolving insecurities in her relationship with her new husband. The simplicity of Suzu’s everyday life and the horrors of war combine in poignant contrast, making the inevitable violent ending of the manga even more heartbreaking, yet inspiring.
Nota Bene: there is a film of this that is also very good, but it cuts out at least one important plot thread from the book.
Irene Redfield runs into an old acquaintance at a restaurant named Clare Kendry. The twist? They’re both black women masquerading as white in a whites-only establishment. From there, a close but toxic friendship grows between the two women. Clare has a secret, and to escape the pressures of keeping it, she becomes a parasitic presence in Irene’s life, to the mounting frustration of the latter. This moody Harlem Renaissance classic pulled me in, then spat me back out again with its abrupt ending.
Catherine Morland is a sweet, ordinary teenage girl with one flaw: she is obsessed with novels, particularly, pulpy Gothic romance novels. While on holiday in Bath with some family friends, she falls headfirst into her own romance, but finds that novels have not adequately prepared her for this course of events. There is a surprisingly modern feeling to this book, with the dialogue often prompting me to think, “ah, people really haven’t changed in 200 years.” Being a satire of Gothic romance, this book is chock full of light-hearted and funny moments.
Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? What are your favorite reads of the year thus far? I’d love to discuss in the comments.
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Check out my masterlist for all reviews!