According to Goodreads I read 106 books this year, which sounds about normal for me, always a book or two on the go, always a book I’m itching to discuss with someone, anyone. I also started my own personal reading challenge this year, where I have to read at least one book from each African country. This challenge is moving into 2019 as I started it more than halfway through 2018, and there are many countries in Africa, and many, many choices of literature and authors to choose from.
2018 has been a real mix of books: new, old, recent, and important. There have also been some duds here and there and others that I just couldn’t get into, and a few library books that I kept renewing until I finally realized I wouldn’t be reading them. I don’t consider reading to be just for entertainment, it is also part of my overall continuous education, and some books are not read for personal enjoyment. But not everything is for everyone, and there were definitely some of those on my list this year. There were also some stunning pieces of work, books that I will be revisiting again and again.
Reviews for all books that I have read in 2018 can be found here. This post will focus only on my favorite books released in 2018 and why you and everyone else should read them. For each of these books I can remember exactly when I read them, exactly what my mindset was at the time and exactly why they touched my heart and mind. If you haven’t read them I certainly recommend you do, and if you have I would love to hear your own thoughts! Here’s to a very happy new year full of laughs, of love and of great new reads to share!
(Books are in the order I read them, no other meaning to the order as there is no way I could ever pick out a number 1! Full reviews are hyperlinked. I also haven’t read anyone else’s best of list yet, but I am going to have a look how many of my personal faves appear on other lists after posting this!).
Based on a roundtable discussion that took place in early 2017 this book is full of topics we really need to talk about, and even more importantly the work we need to do in order to make proper change. It’s also a great introduction to the enormous amount of work that Sherrilyn Ifill, Bryan Stevenson, and Anthony C. Thompson have done and continue to do.
A beautifully written memoir that reads like a novel, Tara Westover recounts her extraordinary life growing up “off the grid” in a world that many of us can’t really imagine actually exists in current day USA, and how she manages to get herself an education that ultimately leads her to Cambridge University in England.
A deep look into the fight against sexual harassment and violence in areas that have historically never been as well regulated as other areas: farmworkers, domestic workers, and janitorial assistants. These are also areas that employ a high percentage of immigrants, and the book provides a real in-depth look into exploitation, harassment, and violence in the workplace, as well as the continuous battles to create real change in these areas of work.
Blondy Baruti is a real inspiration: from playing basketball barefoot on the streets if the Democratic Republic of the Congo, surviving civil war, violence, and starvation, to receiving a basketball scholarship in the US, and then starring in Hollywood movies, he lives to fight for a better day. The book is so well-written you feel like you are sitting by his side and listening to his voice. It was an unputdownable read for me!
Can you imagine spending 30 years on Death Row for a crime you didn’t commit? Anthony Ray Hinton did just that. The Sun Does Shine is a beautifully written memoir of a wrongful conviction, of forgiveness, and of strength. It is also, in my opinion, a very important view of why the death penalty should not exist.
Marwan Hisham provides us with a real look into revolution, (civil) war, ISIS occupation, and into Syria in general. Can you imagine living in Raqqa under occupation? Neither can I, but this memoir is a must read and shines a good light on the ongoing conflict that we all have a part in perpetuating.
A profoundly marking story of genocide, survival, strength, and honesty: Clemantine was only 6 when she was forced to crawl out of her grandparents’ home and run for her life, and she kept on running out of Rwanda, in and out of refugee camps, and finally to the US where she made a life for herself despite everything she went through. I want everyone to read this book.
An anthology that raises the voices of women, of mostly underrepresented women, and makes them heard. An absolutely necessary read in my opinion, and one that I keep going back to. I also love the work that Nothing But The Truth Publishing is doing for women of color writers, editors, and illustrators.
One of the most beautifully written books I have ever read… The story of leaving a home for another, of borders, of maps, seas, and stars, and of family. Very, very current, but also timeless.
Gun violence, the never-ending evil of US society, which seems to touch everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from. Pati Navalta Poblete’s memoir is a heartbreaking read of a mother’s loss, and how she turns her grief into a way to help the community.
Such a deep novel with so many layers, encompassing themes such as immigration, family, Filipino history and culture, home, and also romantic relationships between women. Everything is dealt with in such a realistic fashion that you have no problem falling into the wonderfully flawed and new (to me) world of Elaine Castillo. I learnt so much about the Philippines and about Filipino culture, and realized that there is a giant hole in terms of accessible Filipino literature in this country.
This novel was quite a revelation to me for personal reasons, and I absolutely sped through it because the story had me hanging on by a thread all the way through. Set mainly in a small town in Mississippi in the 60’s and 70’s, it is the story of coming of age in a very unconventional family, amidst secrets, mental illness, and gossip. It is wonderfully written and raises many conversation starters on mental illness awareness that are still very much needed today.
A profound collection of testimonials from people residing in the US who have been affected by prejudice, racism, hate in the build-up to the 2016 elections, and directly afterwards. We have to tell these stories, and we have to remind everyone that by remaining silent we are complicit in the perpetuation of white supremacy and hatred of “the other”.
Colombia in the late 80’s early 90’s, the divide between affluence and abject poverty, and a young girl’s story of learning about life through a climate of war, violence, and greed. This novel is beautifully written, and the perspective is quite original as well as heartbreaking.
An epic novel that is extremely depressing, gray, sickening, and even completely hopeless at times. This one is not for everyone, and you may struggle a bit at first, but once you get into it, the story won’t let you go. The worst (best?) part of this story is that it could be absolutely, 100% true. Who knows, maybe it is?
Family secrets, a mystery that is slowly unraveled, love, a rising Seine that threatens to flood most of Paris… My favorite type of novel, written by one of my favorite contemporary authors. There are some beautiful descriptions of Paris in the dreariness of continuous rain, and there is a profound sadness that emanates from the narrative that makes you want to look at your own life and possibly rectify some wrongs.
You don’t have to have read They Poured Fire on Us From The Sky (written by Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, and Benjamin Ajak) to appreciate this memoir, but I do suggest everyone reads both anyway. The stories of the Lost Boys of Sudan are absolutely heartbreaking and an important read for everyone, especially in these times when our countries are restricting immigration and banning refugees and people seeking asylum. I wish people would remember that so many people don’t leave their home countries because they want to, most leave because they have no other choice.
There is a real reason behind all of the rave reviews of this book: it’s a must read in so many ways. I haven’t read anything like it before, but at the same time so much of it felt wildly familiar. The marks intergenerational trauma leaves on us are deep and painful, something that Terese Marie Mailhot knows all too well. But Heart Berries is so much more than just that, so, so much more.
Heavy is truth. Heavy is Kiese Laymon’s life, truthfully, no sugarcoating and no hiding behind anything. It is also bravery, honesty, and beauty, as well as a profound insight into US society and culture.
This is an honest, accessible, well-written, and extremely important read where Sohaila Abdulali talks about rape and the effects of rape on the individual and on society as a whole in a no-holds-barred manner. It’s refreshing, full of significant facts and details, and a great way to lay the topic open for everyone to talk about, so that we can really make proper changes.
WW2 historical fiction is my consistent go-to read, but I have been pretty disappointed with more recent finds. Until I read Wunderland, which basically blew all of those disappointments out of the window. This is the story of two best friends in Berlin in the 1930’s, growing up under Hitler’s tightening powerful grip, and the legacy that they leave behind them for the next generations. It’s a powerful and very thought-provoking read.
I’ve always been fascinated with Cuba and Cuban culture, so this was a must read on my list. I’m so glad I read it, it reads like a travelogue and a memoir, and contains many important historical and current facts that are woven into the narrative. David Ariosto is a brilliant writer and you feel like you discover Cuba with him, while learning a huge amount about the country too.
Some other noteworthy reads this year: kisiskâciwan - Indigenous Voices from Where the River Flows Swiftly, The Come in All Colors - Malcolm Hansen, Sold on a Monday - Kristina McMorris, Enemies in Love - Alexis Clark, A Dream Called Home - Reyna Grande, The Lost Family - Jenna Blum.