According to Goodreads I read 127 books in 2018 (something which seemed implausible to a person on Twitter but it definitely happened!) so I thought I’d dust off the blog to write a round up of the ones which were particularly good. All the links in this post take you to Hive who work with independent bookshops around the UK to sell their products online – because Amazon get enough traffic quite frankly!
In no particular order:
1. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
Why I loved it: Set partly in the present day and partly in China in the 50s, 60s, and 80s it tells the story of an extended family and the impact of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and the Tianaman Square protests on their lives. It’s also the story of Marie’s attempts to understand her father’s life and find her cousin Ai-Ming who disappeared in the mid 1990s. Marie’s narration interweaves with flashback scenes from the past in China which gradually reveal the truths Marie has been seeking. I found the story a little confusing at first but by the end I was completely absorbed. A beautiful, heart-rending piece of writing which taught me so much about modern Chinese history.
2. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane
Why I loved it: This is a beautifully written book in which Macfarlane thinks deeply about paths, memory, and the ways in which landscape shapes us as humans. It’s been an absolute joy to read slowly and savour Macfarlane’s evocative descriptions and it’s made me think differently about walking and the landscapes around me.
3. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (trilogy) by Jenny Han
Genre: Young Adult/Romance
Why I loved it: I don’t think I’ve ever read a series of books which so acutely captured the intensity of teenage feelings – not just about romance but about family, friendship, and the future. The first book (which is also now a Netflix film) starts with Lara Jean, an introvert who writes letters to her crushes which she never sends but who has never had a boyfriend. Then the letters get sent and chaos (and romance) ensues. I loved the series’ portrayal of sisterhood and family almost as much as I loved Lara Jean’s romance with Peter Kavinsky. Definitely a series for reading curled up on the sofa on rainy Sunday afternoons!
4. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Why I loved it: the characters that Ng writes are some of the best I’ve ever read – she writes nuanced, compelling, deeply flawed people and tells their stories in such a compelling way that you can’t help be completely absorbed by the story. Little Fires Everywhere ostensibly tells the story of two families – the Richardsons, long standing residents of the affluent suburb of Shaker Heights, and the Warrens, newcomers who become the Richardsons’ tenants. It also tells the story of a custody battle over a seemingly abandoned Chinese baby adopted by an affluent white couple and the cracks this creates in the seemingly perfect community. However at it’s heart it’s a story about mothers and daughters, and the contradictions and complications that these relationships can hold. I was completely absorbed by this book and find myself thinking about it still, months after I finished reading it.
5. Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves and the Will to Swim by Alexandra Heminsley
Why I loved it: You know when you begin reading something and it’s like someone has been inside your head? That was very much the experience I had whilst reading this book. I’ve been struggling with open water swimming for a while and getting more and more dispirited – particularly after I ended up dropping out of a triathlon in 2017 because I completely freaked out in the swim. This book made me feel a bit more like those demons could be conquered. As in Heminsley’s previous book “Running Like a Girl” the book combines her personal journey, a relentlessly honest discussion of her experiences, and practical advice for would-be swimmers. A great read whether you aspire to take up swimming or not. Content warning for discussions of miscarriage, infertility and pregnancy.
6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Why I loved it: Children of Blood and Bone tells the story of three teenagers: Zélie, Amari and Inan whose lives are changed forever when they discover a way to return magic to their world. The story is inspired by Yoruban folklore but is also infused throughout with a real sense of the oppression and injustice faced by black people throughout history and across the world. Adeyemi’s characters fight for freedom and to create a better, more equal world – it’s powerful, painful, wonderful storytelling and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.
7. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddartha Mukerjee
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science
Why I loved it: A long and fascinating read about the history of the discovery of the gene, the human genome, and what that may mean for the future of medicine and society. Mukerjee writes in a way that is accessible to non-experts (of which I am definitely one!) without ever being condescending and it’s probably been one of the most educational books I’ve ever read.
8. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Why I loved it: Eddo-Lodge writes so well that this book is a pleasure to read besides being one of the most important books I’ve ever read. So much is written about race and racism in an American context, which is valid and important, but I often feel that this can allow white British people to position themselves as somehow less racist than white Americans when this is generally not the case. Eddo-Lodge sets British white supremacy in context and delves into the ways in which it permeates British society today, from the overt racism of the BNP (including a jaw-dropping interview with Nick Griffin) to the insidious nature of the kind of white feminism which refuses to engage with structural racism. This book has made me think and will continue to make me think about my own whiteness, the structures of white supremacy that have benefited me, and the work I can do to dismantle those structures and challenge racist thinking particularly in white spaces. It’s a truly excellent book and one that every white person in Britain should read.
9. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Genre: Historical Fiction
Why I loved it: A rich, complex, intergenerational saga following the descendants of two estranged sisters from the Ghanaian Gold Coast. This book will stay with me for a long time, unpacking as it does the complexities of slavery, colonialism and racism and the long shadow they cast across the centuries, right down to the present day.
10. The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla
Genre: Non-Fiction, Collected Essays
Why I loved it: This book brings together essays from 21 black, Asian and minority ethnic British writers to explore the experiences of multiple generations of immigrants to the UK and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms. Honestly, if you haven’t already read this book, read this book! It’s such a fantastic, clever, honest collection of essays about the experiences of people of colour in the UK today. It should be on everyone’s bookshelf and at the front of everyone’s mind.
11. A Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Why I loved it: One of the most beautiful and evocative pieces of writing I’ve ever experienced. Part memoir, part history of the sheep farmers of the Lake District James Rebanks speaks honestly about the challenges of being a shepherd in a country that doesn’t value working people or traditional farming. He also shines a light on the people of the Lake District and their way of life, ancient long before the Lake District suddenly became a popular tourist destination. If you love the Lakes, as I do, this is a must read for the real lives of the people who have shaped the landscape you love and a much needed eye opener.
I try and review books as I read them on Goodreads so if you want more book opinions give me a follow over there. I also write a semi-regular newsletter at https://tinyletter.com/EmotionalWhiplash which includes book, podcast and TV recommendations (when I get around to writing them!) – please subscribe if you fancy hearing from me more often than once every 18 months…