sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

October 6, 2019

top ten reads of 2018
posted by soe 1:35 am

I found this in my drafts tonight. I didn’t published it back in January when it made sense because I needed to write summaries of why I liked each book, which didn’t happen — obviously. So tonight I’ll just give a sentence or two to highlight each book and move on.

  1. A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles: This was a masterpiece of historical fiction set in the years following the Bolshevik revolution, in which the hero, a count, is spared the death sentence because of a book he’d published years earlier lauding the workers’ struggle. Instead, he’s given a life sentence of house arrest in his favorite hotel, but in its garret. People come to visit him, he befriends patrons and employees of the hotel, and time passes. And I kept forgetting that it was fiction and not a well-told story of a real person.
  2. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, David Grann: In this nonfiction history, we learn what happened when a Native American nation is driven out of Kansas, forced to settle in Oklahoma, and then oil is discovered beneath their sovereign land. It was horrifying to learn that even in the 20th century, Native Americans weren’t considered reasonable adults and were, by default, assigned white “guardians.” When members of an Osage family start dying off in 1921, a federal investigation is launched, but its scope isn’t sufficiently broad, the author decides. The final third of the book, in which the author inserts himself into the narrative, is the weakest, but it was still an informative, infuriating story into a shameful moment of our history.
  3. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman: A 20-something woman whom one might describe as being on the spectrum fixates on a local pop singer and starts a campaign of self-improvement in an effort to connect with him. But as she starts to step outside the well-constructed world she has built for herself, we discover that Eleanor is not fine and has not been for some time — but that she might be on the road to being so.
  4. Harbor Me, Jacqueline Woodson: A middle school teacher takes six of her most vulnerable students (each dealing with major issues, such as an incarcerated or illegal parent or growing into a Black teenage boy or familial financial struggles) and puts them in a room together every week with the assignment to talk to each other. While it takes them time to trust one another, eventually they come to consider each other friends.
  5. Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, Ashley Herring Blake: This middle-grade novel utterly disrupts the life of the titular heroine when a tornado destroys her family’s home. In the aftermath, her journal goes missing, she starts to realize she might have a crush on a female classmate, and her family — including her teenaged sister and her infant brothers — must move into temporary lodgings and she must deal with tumult in both her physical life and her emotional one.
  6. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin: Lin writes the most lyrical Chinese folktales and then beautifully illustrates them. In this tale, Minli leaves her parents to go on a quest for answers from the Old Man in the Moon on how her family can change its fortune.
  7. Obsidio, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff: In the final novel of The Illuminae Files trilogy, our favorite teen space opera stars return to take on The Man at the scene of the original crime — Kerenza, where BeiTech forces attacked unarmed settlers seven months earlier, forcing Kady and Ezra (among others) to flee for their lives. The two of them, plus Hanna, Nik, and Ella (and, of course, the mostly reformed murderous AI, AIDAN), must find a way to stay alive long enough to get word back to authorities about the corporate genocide that has occurred. Joining them for this final battle are Asha and Rhys and a little girl named Katya. Non-stop action in this highly anticipated — and satisfying — finale.
  8. Moxie, Jennifer Mathieu: In a year of #MeToo, this y.a. novel set in a Texas high school gives us the hope that the next generation will have learned from our mistakes. In a town where football is the most important thing, a young woman, the daughter of former riot grrl, decides she’s had enough of the favoritism and sexism she sees in her school hallways every day and starts to take steps to rise up and make changes.
  9. Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver: This novel, which focuses on a multi-generational family down on its luck, considers what it means to be American in the 21st century, where our future lies, and what our past can tell us. The story is broken into two alternating POVs — one is a male teacher in the early years of the town, who chafes under Victorian niceties, and the other is a contemporary writer, whose entire family no longer seems to find the American dream a possibility. She and her husband have both been downsized and now face underemployment and a crumbling family home; her father-in-law is in failing health, but there’s no money to care for him; her daughter-in-law commits suicide and her son struggles to care for their infant son; and their daughter, who dropped out of college several years earlier, returns home from living abroad in Cuba, with ideas about how to live a responsible life. Kingsolver always writes about how families at the edges cope, but this story felt particularly devastating and particularly disheartening, perhaps because I was reading it at the same time I was downsized from my job of 15 years. But it has stayed with me and resurfaces from time to time, particularly when I consider issues of sustainability and my meager contributions to making the world a better place for future generations.
  10. If God Invented Baseball, E. Ethelbert Miller: This series of poems from a D.C. journalist considers the humanity of America’s pastime, how the game of baseball (and he himself) has changed over a lifetime, and how imperfection is more interesting than perfection in both sport and life.

Honorable mentions:

  • The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
  • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
  • The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert
  • See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng
  • The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya
  • Lethal White, by Robert Galbraith
  • Puddin’, by Julie Murphy
  • A Properly Unhaunted Place, by William Alexander
  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer, by Leigh Bardugo
  • Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
  • The Wild Book, by Juan Villoro
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