2018: Jola’s Year in Books
We have entered a new year with all the pomp and circumstance associated with it and of course the anticipation of new book releases and the discovery and re-discovery of authors and their writing. It goes without saying that I like to read a lot and while there is never really any rhyme or reason to my reading adventures, the global reading community is replete with reading challenges with a wide range of motifs – read a book you have read before, a book based on fantasy, a book written by two people, a book by a female author, etcetera etcetera. I have never followed any of these because I want my reading to be a pleasurable experience and not one where I have to conform to certain rules or nuances. That being said, as I examined the books that I read in 2018, I decided to do something rather playful and place them in categories that I came up with to highlight how they added a somewhat unique flavor to my reading life in 2018.
It started quite innocently with Tara Westover’s Educated and before I knew it, I ended up reading five memoirs in 2018. I think I can confidently say that these are the most memoirs I have read in a single year. I have written about this in a previous blog post earlier in the year
In addition to Ms. Westover’s brilliant memoir, I read The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil, I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda, The Gospel of Trees by Apricot Irving and Never Stop Walking by Christina Rickardsson.
Jola’s 2018 Most Anticipated Book Releases
Two of my favorite authors of all time released books in 2018. The early part of the year saw me devouring Jojo Moyes’ Still Me – the latest installment featuring the delightful Louisa Clarke. I had to wait until later in the year for Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered. Brilliantly written as always.
The Books That Fell Short of My Expectations
I was excited to read Isabel Allende’s In The Midst of Winter but the story line fell short of my expectations as did the others in this category. Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone ended up being one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. While it started strong, I struggled to finish Julia Fierro’s The Gypsy Moth Summer. There was a lot of buzz around Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists and I was intrigued by the story line but the narration was unwieldy and turgid and I was left rather deflated at the end of it.
The Book I Listened To
2018 will go down as the year that I finally opened up to the idea of audio books and I listened to my first book. I had skittered on the edge of book listening before and tried to dive in but it just did not work. So, it was not until during the summer when I found myself adjusting to a fitness regimen that saw me going to the gym more often that I decided to try it out again. The truth is I needed something cerebral to keep me occupied during the one hour that I spent on the treadmill. That is when I came to the epiphany that I can listen to books as long as they are non-fiction – it will almost be like an extended podcast. In the spirit of full disclosure, I do not have a political bone in my body and listened to Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House because I admire Mr. Woodward’s writing style.
Read The Book, Saw The Movie
I started out having just one book as my read the book, see the movie choice and that was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. I am so glad that I read the book before I saw the movie because…let’s just say the book is a lot much better as is always the case and I would recommend that anyone who is curious about the story, should bypass the movie altogether and go for the book. Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians was different. The book is a lot better of course, but the movie is great, fantastic entertainment value. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi had been on my reading list for more than a year and I read it in one weekend because I had a 48 hour rental on the movie and I wanted to read the book first. Perhaps it was the pressure of this that made me enjoy the movie more than I did the book. Although I am glad my introduction to the story was in the written word.
The Short Story Collections
Three out of four of the short story collections that I read were all by authors that I discovered in 2018 and whose work I will be looking out for in the future. Stephanie Powell Watts’ We Are Taking Only What We Need provided an illuminating insight into life in the American South, Anjali Sachdeva’s All the Names They Used for God used a rich, declarative voice to tell stories which portrayed the fragility of human nature and not pictured because I chose to put it in a different category is Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It, which blew me away with the beautiful prose and the inventive use of dramatic irony. Short stories continue to be my first love when it comes to reading and writing and I ended the year with Jojo Moyes’ collection which I put in a different category. She is also one of two authors whom I read more than one of their books this year.
The Re-Read of the Year
One of the things that I love about reading is the ability to be transported to a different time and place to the point where you become emotionally invested in the lives of the people you encounter and are giddily anticipating a positive outcome as their stories unfold. Many of the books I have read have done that for me, some more so that I have to go back and relive that experience. One such book is Rani Manicka’s The Rice Mother which I read again this year. I wandered into a local used book store and saw this book sitting on the shelf (I have no idea where my original copy is), I said “Hello, old friend, I remember you” and I set aside everything else I was reading and dove in.
The Classic Re-Reads of the Year
I always try to read at least one or two classics through the year. Most of these are books that I read while I was in school and which I thoroughly enjoyed but like to revisit without the academic pressure of analyzing the characters and the plot lines. There is something liberating about reading books like these for leisure. Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield has always intrigued me as the author explored the vagaries of human life. It was lovely to read this book again, if not only to revisit the tender devotion that the Pegottys had for little David Copperfield. The first time I read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for school, I must have been 12-years-old, I think I may have read it again since then but in any case at some point during the year, I had wandered on to an online reading club where it was recommended as the suggested read for a particular month and so I picked it up again. I had an additional sentimental reason for reading it, it was heartwarming to see my 12-year-old read it for the first time in 2018.
The Books I Read in French
To read a book in French. Quelle joie! I find that I need to intentionally add books written in French to my reading list every year as it helps to continue to enhance my knowledge and grasp of the language. As a non-native speaker who now lives in an English-speaking country, it is so easy to become rusty. A slight addendum to my audio book discovery, I found listening to books in French to be extremely gratifying and in this case, it does not seem to matter whether they are fiction or non-fiction, I think the issue I have is that I write fiction in English and for some reason, my brain is wired to devouring fiction stories through the written word. Anyway, I digress, this year I re-read Stendhal’s Le Rouge et Le Noir, which could essentially fall into the previous category because I actually remember stressing out over a paper that I had to write on this one, so it felt endearing to read this without the academic pressure. Gaël Faye’s Petit Pays was one of the most delightful literary discoveries of the year and I could not wait for the English translation to come out so that I could recommend it to my bibliophile friends. Fatou Diome’s Le Ventre de l’Atlantique was one that I actually started reading in English and switched to the French version because it made more sense to me to read it in the original language and I am glad that I did. I loved the fluidity of the language and the emotion that was brilliantly conveyed..such a well-written book.
The Book I Read in One Weekend
It was the title that drew me in to Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I could not put it down. A page-turner that I hungrily devoured. A charming story with an unforgettable character and yes, indeed, Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.
The Books I Borrowed From The Library
It is no secret that I spend a fortune on books but I made an intentional effort this year to patronize my local library. I have to say that the same could not be said for my plan to try to read at least a couple of books on an e-reader. I. Just. Could. Not. Do. It. Anyway back to the library reading adventures, I found that it was easier to browse the online catalog and put a hold on a book and then walk in and pick it up. This was a departure from previous years when I would browse the shelves, pick out a ton of books and not go through them at all and return them to the library either unread or halfway read. And if the book was really good, I would end up buying it so that I could release the library’s copy. I have piles of books to read all over my home, adding the library books never helped when I did it this way. I adopted a new tactic in 2018 of reserving books that were new releases which was gratifying because I would be the first to read the book before it passed through several other hands *insert sinister laugh here*. Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro was one of my first library discoveries in 2018 and also one of two books that I read this year that was translated into English (the other being Ms. Allende’s). Shoba Narayan’s The Milk Lady of Bangalore which could also fall into the memoir category was entertaining as it was informative as I learned more about Hindu culture in India and the sacred symbolism of cows. I was the first person to read my local library’s copy of Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It, and this was because I reserved it the week it was released. Sujata Massey’s The Widows of Malabar Hill was one of the best books I read in 2018 as was Michael David Lukas’s The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, both books transported me to a time and a place that I would never physically inhabit.
The Spiritual Books That Uplifted and Inspired Me
The year started out on a rather sour note for me and I desperately needed and sought for spiritual sustenance and clarity in order to be able to hold things together. I have always been drawn to the power of the written word and Max Lucado’s God Will Carry You Through struck the right kind of note for me as I wove through the maze of confusion that I found myself in. Christiana N. Peterson’s Mystics and Misfits was deeply personal and so easy to relate to for a misfit like me.
The Book I Read Because Everyone Was Talking About It
Curiosity drove me to Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage. Everyone was talking about it in early 2018 and I wanted to know what the buzz was about. I was glad that I read it and applaud the author’s ability to use fiction to confront some of the difficult issues that we are faced with in reality.
The Books Whose Authors I Have Met
Jeanne Birdsall’s The Penderwicks At Last is the final installment in a series that has captivated me for years and I was pleased to meet the author at a book reading in PA. I also (finally) read Yejide Kilanko’s Daughters Who Walk This Path, I had met the author a couple of years before and her book had lingered on my reading list for quite a bit. Not included in this category, but with the Memoirs is Clemantine Wamariya’s book. I also met her in 2018 at her book reading in D.C.
The Graphic Novel
In Curtis Wiklund’s Us, the seemingly mundane patterns of life and love are beautifully highlighted and showcased with artistic brilliance.
The Fun Reads
So once I had read Crazy Rich Asians, I had to follow it up with the next installment: Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend. I had actually planned to read the entire trilogy in 2018 but that plan veered in a different direction. Abbi Waxman’s Other People’s Houses was such a fun read despite the seriousness of the issues the narrative confronted in illustrating what happens when the sedate rhythm of life is disrupted. Jojo Moyes’ Paris for One & Other Stories was another lighthearted and pleasurable read. I am committed to reading everything this author has written and this will probably mean that I will always have one of her books on my reading list for the foreseeable future.
The Books That Finally Graduated From My Reading List
This is the result of handling more than one book at a time. Ratika Kapur’s The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma and Joyce Magnin’s Jelly Bean Summer had lingered on my reading list for much longer than I had originally planned. Both charming reads, I was pleased to finally finish reading them in 2018.
The Surprising Discoveries
Every now and then, a book comes along that either exceeds your expectations, takes you on a whirlwind journey or introduces you to a place, times and culture that you would never have known if you had not picked up the book. To be honest, many of the books that I read in 2018 did just that, but these four deserve a notable mention: Nadia Hashimi’s When The Moon Is Low was a revelation of how the consequences of conflict can disrupt innocent lives and the (often humiliating) choices that are faced by displaced people. Even though (spoiler alert) I was a little bit taken aback by the way it ended abruptly, I found it exceedingly illuminating. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms was a profound revelation of the culture of Northern Nigeria which I would not have found through many other mediums, and the same could be said for Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s Waking Lions which provided an insight into the lives of Africans living in Israel encapsulated in a thrilling narrative. Alexis Okeowo’s A Moonless, Starless Sky provided stories of ordinary people who are undergoing extraordinary challenges and still coming up strong. Also worth noting is that all of the memoirs that I read in 2018 were surprising discoveries.
So that was my reading life in 2018. Of course, it goes without saying that I entered 2019 with a full reading list and as I write this, I have already finished reading Josie Silver’s One Day in December (I’ll talk about this in a separate blog post). I continue the precedence set with memoirs in 2018 with reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming which is quite popular (for obvious reasons), Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field has me captivated (it is the book that I am reading on my commute to work these days and I am transported from the Washington D.C. subway to the mountains of Kashmir. I am doing something interesting with Marc Levy’s The Last of the Stanfields, I am reading it in English and listening to it in French (the language it was originally written in). I have not done this before, so I’ll be sure to write about how this worked out. I bit the E.M Forster bug towards the end of 2018 when my child read A Room with a View and then I watched Howard’s End and received A Passage to India as a Christmas present and that is the classic that is presently keeping me company. The witticism in Scaachi Koul’s One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter is also keeping me up at night. A lot of people swiftly breezed through Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone and I am halfway through and hope to finish this one before the end of the first quarter of the year or at least until the next installment comes out. Nomi Eve’s Henna House is going to be keeping me company starting today and Uzodinma Iweala’s Speak No Evil has lingered on my reading list for a lot longer than I anticipated. There are a few other books that I am reading, but I will save the full list for a different blog post.
2019 is bringing the release of some books that will definitely make their way to my reading list. Next week sees the release of Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities (I reviewed his first book and will try and find the time to do the same to this next one). Also out next week is Emma Rous’ The Au Pair which has an interesting story line. Sophie Kinsella’s I Owe You One is a promising lighthearted read as is Jill Santopolo’s More Than Words. So far (and it is too early in the year to make a final conclusion) but my most anticipated reads are: Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans, Sujata Massey’s The Satapur Moonstone (a follow up to The Widows of Malabar Hill), and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Girl, although I still have to read A Suitable Boy which has been on my reading list for nearly two decades).
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, please make some room in your life for books and reading. You won’t regret it. Oh, I have a call. Gotta dash!