My Best Books 2018


State Public Library, Bangalore, India. August 2018.

She used to disappear as a child but I never worried about her. I knew she was just holed up somewhere, with her nose in another book. My Mother


Rather inexplicably, I managed to read a little over 103 books throughout 2018.


Reactions to that statement are mixed so let me begin by saying it wasn't intentional. I didn't set out to 'achieve' anything, and I certainly wasn't trying to be competitive (although I think I might be on to something with some sort of competitive reading sport/challenge.)


Throughout my adult life, my love of reading has gone through various phases. From fully immersed to infrequent, and outright non-existent. It's been wonderful over the past few years to dive headfirst into this passion once more and make it a priority in my self-care repertoire. Stendhal is quoted as having said ‘a good book is an event in my life’ and I believe this to be true. Not every book you read will be profoundly impactful, but I’ve found that everything I ingest has added something to my thinking.


Once I got started, I quickly found I couldn't stop. I read novels, novella, short stories, flash and poetry. I read any chance I got: waiting for the bus, on the bus, waiting in line at the supermarket, dentist or doctors, on my lunch breaks, over coffee, when I woke up in the morning and before I went to sleep. And the more I explored reading, the more I realised I had a lot of work to do. Amongst the titles I was reading female identifying and non-western writers were ghosts.


This realisation led me to turning a focus on the types of books I was reading. It led me to The Stella Prize, Sydney Feminist Writers Festival, Liminal Magazine & more. It led me to starting The Introverted Book Club. It helped me grow. I encourage you to also turn a critical eye to your bookshelves and reading lists.


Who's voices are they filled with?


It's worth challenging yourself on this. For as the wondrous Haruki Murakami says:


"If you read the same books as everyone else, you'll think the same things as everyone else."

But enough of that. Out of the 100 and something books, I painfully compiled a list of my top 15 (which is still heavily up for debate to be honest ...) shared below:


1. How to Age by Anne Karpf (The School of Life)


"Embracing age doesn't mean embracing old age but accepting the very process of change that occurs as we move through life."


Insightful, delightful & full of self-love ideas around ageing. I enjoyed this little book far more than I expected. While not overly concerned about ageing myself, this book really helped to prise open my socially sculpted brain to see what joys getting older brings. I have renewed thinking and excitement around what ageing means for me and my personal relationships - which is truly wonderful.


2. Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot


In white culture forgiveness is synonymous with letting go. In my culture, I believe we carry pain until we can reconcile with it through ceremony. Pain is not framed as a problem with a solution.


This tiny memoir knocked the wind out of me, broke my heart, and didn't quite put it back together (as well it should not have to). Raw, passionate prose, I felt connected to Mailhot as a woman, but conceded her experiences in life surpass anything I have or will. An absolutely stunning read and testament to the true redemptive power of writing.


3 + 4. Kitchen and Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto


Truly happy memories always live on, shining. Over time, one by one, they come back to life.


Easy, short, simple, delicious, loving, hopeful. All of the good words to sum up Yoshimoto's works. Beautiful reads to warm the heart. There really isn't much more to say, except read them.


5. The Lonely City, Olivia Laing

"What's so shameful about wanting, about desire, about having failed to achieve satisfaction, about experiencing unhappiness? Why this need to constantly inhabit peak states?"


I picked up Laing's book from the library, a little fearful it would be more self deprecating woman-of-privilege memoir to trudge through. Imagine my delight to be proven so utterly wrong. This book helped me connect with some personal experiences I've ignored from my younger days, filled out my TBR pile, and took my artist knowledge to a whole new level. A wonderful book I anticipate coming back to many times in the years ahead.


6. I am I am I am by Maggie O'Farrell

"We do what have to do to survive; as a species, we are inventive in the face of adversity. Robert Frost said 'The best way out is always through' & I believe this to be true but, at the same time, if you can't go through you can always go around."


This was the first of O'Farrell's works that I've read, and I can't wait to read more. Her prose woke some far off English memories within me and it was a wonderful experience. The stories contained tell of a life that's been wholeheartedly embraced, lived, and nearly missed. Definitely pick up a copy.


7. Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

Every woman thinks it’s going to be different for her, but she ends up at the bottom of the heap all the same.


I love Japanese literature for it's capacity to take the mundane, the everyday, the subtleties of lives being lived, and turn them into a beautiful story. Territory of Light is no stranger to that capacity. Tackling all those juicy themes - motherhood, parenting, personal identity, generational conflict, societal ideas around being a 'good' woman - this is a book that contains so much with very little happening, in a Japanese sun flooded apartment.


8. The Art of Travel by Alain De Botton

"The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to."


I've been reading De Botton since university so you would have thought I'd worked my through every text he has available by now. Delightful to discover this isn't so and this timely find in a secondhand book shop was very much appreciated. Despite it being written almost 10 years ago, De Botton's insights and ideas are still very much true today, and with the growing use of social media, perhaps even more so. A great read before your next journey.


9. Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong

What imperfect carriers of love we are & what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person, what we felt about that person.


When I picked this one up it'd had a few bad reviews doing the rounds, which completely puzzled me as I thought it was delightful! It's written in a slightly chaotic journal format, but due to the subject matter I felt this really aided the story and the experiences Khong was presenting. A story of love, family, personal growth and finally letting your heart have what it wants. Give it your time.


10. Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin

“Each thing she tells you is going to be worse but if you don't stop this story now we're not going to have enough time for what I have to show you.”


At less than 200 pages, Fever Dream's had a dialogue and pace that had me sweating. Psychological thriller indeed, I'd take this over 'Gone Girl' any day. Read my full review here.


11. Outline, Transit and Kudos by Rachel Cusk


“We examine least that which has shaped us the most.”


Yes I'm squeezing three books into one slot here and if you've read the trilogy you'll understand why. Cusk released Kudos in April 2018 to much furore and fanfare across the #Bookstagram community. I waited a few months and began the trilogy - I am so glad I didn't wait any longer. Cusk's narration and development of her central character was so far removed from anything I've read previously. The insights and perspectives contained in these three keep coming back to find me now, months after reading. Take your time with these, you won't regret it.


12. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”


Didion reflects on her own personal journey the year following the unexpected death of her husband, after almost 40 years of marriage. Can you imagine? The man who has been a constant in your life for so long, passing away, just before dinner on a perfectly ordinary day. This book is not for everyone. Didion is a little repetitive, but if you can stay open hearted and compassionate, you'll recognise the grief contained within the pages. The attempt to make sense of an event that many would struggle to recover from. Didion's writing is sublime and will encourage you to hold onto the small moments with those you love tightly. It can all change in the ordinary instant.


13. Stories by Susan Sontag

“Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”


As an introduction to Sontag, this collection is wonderfully compiled and edited. I enjoyed placing some of her more prolifically used quotes into their correct context and being surprised and challenged at how they have been utilised outside of what seems to be Sontag's originally meaning. I loved meandering through this selection over coffee on Sunday morning.


14. M Train by Patti Smith

“The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing no matter how you land there.”


Have you spied a theme in the list of works that spoke to me most this past year? Another celebrated female writer, Smith took me by surprise. Her narration is full of exact details and descriptions. She likes to inform of her rituals and routines. I didn't expect to enjoy reading this style of writing, but I did. I liked the way she created an ordinary day for us, juxtaposed with her memories and experiences. She creates a distance between the different versions of the life she's lived, and how she's attempting to compile them in this new stage of living.


15. Human Acts by Han Kang

"Some memories never heal. Rather than fading with the passage of time, those memories become the only things that are left behind when all else is abraded."


Last, and by no uncertain terms, least is Kang's debut novel Human Acts. If you're not familiar with Kang's work I suggest you bump her up your #TBR pile. Promptly. I first came across her 2016 Man Booker International prize winning book The Vegetarian by complete luck. I devoured the book in less than a day and knew I had just digested something major in the world of contemporary fiction. I quickly sought out Human Acts, and the impact of Kang's writing was swiftly elevated. Human Acts will astonish and haunt you. It's been almost a year since I first read it and the memory of the story still invokes a tightening in the chest. If I had to name it, this would definitely be the most important book I read last year. Do not miss it.


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Well done if you made it to the end!


Have you read any of those on my list? How did they speak to you?

Copyright © 2021 Elaine Mead