Tuesday, January 8, 2019


Best Books of 2018


I love reading everyone's end-of-the-year lists but I always find it agonizing to put mine together. This time to help with the process, I graded all my reading throughout the year as well as reviewed every single book on this blog, so that I would arrive at this time of the year and have some help in narrowing down which titles should go on this list, which were middling, and which would be best forgotten. I have organized this post into sections. The first is romance, followed by poetry, then general fiction, nonfiction, and finally, children's picture books.

ROMANCE

My list is posted on All About Romance and includes these books:
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
A Duke in the Night by Kelly Bowen
The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran
Making Up by Lucy Parker
From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
The Prince by Katharine Ashe
Untouchable by Talia Hibbert
Not Another Family Wedding by Jackie Lau
Band Sinister by KJ Charles
My One and Only Duke by Grace Burrowes

POETRY

The Living Fire by Edward Hirsch
Over the years, I have loved reading and re-reading Hirsch's poetry collection Special Orders. It's a treasured volume in my personal library, so I decided to try out more of Hirsch's work. I'll continue to read from it a little at a time over the next few months. Lately, I have been plagued by insomnia, so this really spoke to me: Silently / you confront the blue-rimmed edge / of outer dark / denied warmth, denied rest, / denied earth's sleep and granite.

Poems by Donald Hall
I discovered him when a friend of mine brought his obituary to my attention. I enjoyed that obituary very much; it reminded me of The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, which I love. He was considered a major American poet. What I like best about his poems which I have explored so far is that he examines a more bucolic past with a reverence for nature, which is what has always drawn me to the Romantic poets. He is compared to poet Robert Bly—Mary Bly AKA Eloisa James's father—whom he met at Harvard. His academic credentials are every student's dream: Philips Exeter, Harvard, Oxford, Stanford. Given my love for Didion's memoir of her marriage, I should read Hall's memoir of his marriage as well: The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon.

Poems by Chinua Achebe
He was a Nigerian poet, novelist, and critic. I have had Achebe on my radar ever since he won the Booker, but it finally took my pursuit of different poets for me to run across his work. What I liked best about his work is his use of expressive language to persuade and convince the reader of his ideas. Like an onomatopoeia is a word where the meaning and the sound are closely related, his poetry is like that: the words and the images they paint are symbiotic.

GENERAL FICTION

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur
I cannot praise this highly enough. The original story is in Kannada (one of the languages of southwestern India) and is set in Bangalore. It is told by an aimless, shiftless young man who resides in a complex, interdependent, joint family situation with his parents, wife, sister, and uncle. The uncle runs his own spice trading business, which has become quite profitable, and is the sole earner of the family. The family, in turn, caters to his every want and desire, even before he realizes he needs it. The story starts with them living in a modest lower-middle-class house and then moving up to a fancy two-storey house. Once prosperity enters their house, so do untold troubles. Shanbhag does a masterful job of teasing out the turmoil in this tightly psychological novella through his protagonist's observations, actions, and reactions.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin
She Unnames Them by Ursula Le Guin
Omelas is simply brilliant. I have nothing else to say about it. The background of She Unnames Them is the Biblical book of Genesis, in which Adam names the animals, but Le Guin subverts this by having Eve unname the animals. The story is in two parts: one part describes how the animals feel about the unnaming and the second part describes how the narrator (Eve) feels about the unnaming. Is there any form of writing that Le Guin does not excel at?

NONFICTION

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Who doesn't love Michelle Obama? I had this book pre-ordered since it was announced in March. I wish, wish, wish she'd come to my town during her book tour, but it was not meant to be. A local private school has a one word mission: Becoming. It is exactly like Michelle says, "It's one of th most useless questions as adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that's the end." Michelle is the epitome of someone who has reinvented herself over and over again as her life has changed around her. She's adapted and thrived with grace and drive in every situation. We only see that she has it all; in this book we see how hard she has worked for it. This eminently readable book for the teens as well as the octogenarians, it is the story of a remarkable woman who is still in the process of "becoming." It has made me fall in love with her even more.

West Wingers: Stories from the Dream Chasers, Change Makers, and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House edited by Gautam Raghavan
This book is a treasure for the stories written within and for how I came about it. I was gifted a signed copy of it by the Raghavan's mother. In turn, I gifted one of my favorite books (mentioned above): Edward Hirsch's Living Fire. In West Wingers, eighteen Obama staffers tell their stories of how they fought doggedly for their ideals and how in Obama they found a president willing to listen, to be educated, and to act. This book gives a glimpse into a dynamic White House where some of history's pivotal events unfolded through people's passion.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, foreword Harold S. Kushner, afterword William J. Winslade
The Dalai Lama posits that the primary human drive is happiness, whereas Frankl's theory is that it is the pursuit of something meaningful. in his book, he argues that while we cannot avoid suffering, how we cope with it allows us to find meaning in it and allows us to move forward. That he discovered this through his experience in the Nazi death camps is remarkable. Frankl's logotherapy concept was later (in 1998) echoed by Kathleen Norris in her Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and "Women's Work", wherein she says that even the daily routine chores can bring meaning to one's life. While Norris' book was an easy read in 2016, Frankl's book will need multiple re-readings to digest it.

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
This is an easy-to-read book that nevertheless delivers a series of messages that I was in the right frame of mind to receive. Here are the main philosophical points of her book:
1. We are each responsible for all of our experiences.
2. Every thought we think is creating our future.
3. The point of power is always in the present moment.
4. Resentment, criticism, and guilt are the most damaging patterns.
5. The bottom line for everyone is: "I'm not good enough." It's only a thought, and a thought can be changed.
6. Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the keys to positive changes When we really love ourselves, everything in our life works.

Medieval Illumination: Manuscript Art in England and France 700-1200 by Kathleen Doyle & Charlotte Denoël
A few years ago, thanks to the plethora of massive open online courses (MOOCs), I was very fortunate to be able to take classes about medieval manuscripts from Stanford, Cambridge, and Harvard. My passion for illuminated manuscripts continues unabated to this day, so I was very excited when the British Library put out a book based on their collections. It is a fully illustrated book, with an image of the recto or verso side of a manuscript page on one side and a description on the other with historical details, translation of the text, and other fascinating tidbits. I love my book and leaf through it often.

CHILDREN'S PICTURE BOOKS

Missing Nimâmâ by Melanie Florence, illustrated by François Thisdale
This is a Cree story. Kateri is a young girl living with her nokhôm (grandmother) whose nimâmâ (mother) is lost. Despite the love and care, her grandmother shows her kamâmakos (little butterfly), Kateri talks about her mother and dreams about her all the time. I cried as I read this book, cried for its beauty and its tragedy. This fictional story is based on true fact. There are many , and this has devastating effects on their families and their children who are left behind. Many Canadian women of First Nations who will never return home because they are missing or have been murdered with no justice for their families and no repercussions to the perpetrators. If you would like to find out about this growing problem of the lost indigenous women of Canada, visit the No More Stolen Sisters site at Amnesty International.

The True Story of Balto: The Bravest Dog Ever by Natalie Standiford, illustrated by Donald Cook
I love books that get me in the feels as well as the kids. There's nothing like rooting for a character, being awed by them, and then feeling a sense of pride in them when the story is over. Balto was one such dog. The story is set in a frontier town amidst the ice and snow of Alaska of 1925. In the winter, there was no way to travel in that region except by dog sled. Neither planes, nor trains, nor boats, nor cars could work in those snow drifts and iced over lakes. A year after Balto's great feat of bravery, endurance, and leadership, New York City erected a statue of Balto in Central Park, which stands to this day. This is a true story.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui
This is a book that sets up a frog in your throat from the dedication onwards that doesn't dislodge even after you read the author and illustrator bios at the end. The book is dedicated to refugees everywhere. Both Bao Phi and Thi Bui came to the U.S. from Vietman as refugees. People in their American neighborhoods "did not understand why we were there at best, and blamed us for the aftermath of the war at worst." Both Bao and Thi were very poor as children, and their parents worked multiple jobs just to survive. The story and the style of illustrations is their way of honoring their roots and the dislocation of the immigrant experience through a fictionalized version of Bao's childhood.

This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe
The author interviewed various kids from around the globe and then decided to choose these seven kids and their stories. His artwork and the depictions of the people are based on photographs sent in by the seven families. Lamothe's goal was to appreciate how different we all are, and yet, in so many ways how similar. Inspired by his own travels, Lamothe sought to show us how our common experiences unite us. It's a book that at once fascinates and educates. Children, especially the very young, are able to quickly discern the commonalities and the dissimilarities among the depicted kids and accept them all for who they are. This is a book to savor.

Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) by Amnesty International (written by Henriqueta Cristina, illustrated by Yara Kono, translated by Lyn Miller-Lachmann)
Few books come along that catch you at the right moment that you're poised to receive them. This is one such book. Commissioned by Amnesty International, this is a book about immigration, about hope for a better future in the new land, hope that is destroyed by reality, and then about hope being rebuilt by forging a new identity through hard work and innovation. The message is timely in our current political climate where immigrants are being "othered" and seen as "users" of the current society/culture/benefits and not as "contributors" to a better future together. Amnesty International hopes to convey that defending and protecting the basic human rights of all people is a responsibility that belongs to all of us. (The 30 articles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights document make for fascinating reading.)


2 comments:

Vassiliki said...

Thanks for your list. I am in complete envy of your illuminated manuscripts book! Here's to a good 2019 reading year

Keira Soleore said...

The book of Illuminated manuscript pages was such a chance finding. I follow the British Library’s medieval Twitter feed and chances upon their tweet announcing this.


I have planned quite a bit of my reading for this year already so I am looking forward to getting to them. Hope your reading year is lovely as well.