2018 was a great reading year for me. While I used to read almost exclusively non-fiction, this year marked my almost complete transition to reading almost exclusively fiction. I’m not sure why that is and doubt it’s a permanent move, but it still made for an interesting year.
Of the hundred or so books I read this past year, here are my ten favorites, in no particular order.
(Alice Walker, 1982, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
This is a stunning, beautiful, and heart-rending portrayal of African American life in the early twentieth century. Full of pathos and deeply earned themes of resilience, growth, and faith in adversity, there’s a reason this has entered the canon of classics of Western literature.
(Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2003)
This coming of age tale set in a time of turmoil in post-colonial Nigeria explores themes of hope and the nature of goodness and truth in a complicated world, where appearances are often deceiving. (I quoted from this book early last year in my post “Religion that Works”.)
(S. A. Chakraborty, 2017)
A sweeping adventure set in a breathtaking fantasy world drawing on Middle Eastern cultural tropes (instead of the Northern European tropes so common in the Fantasy genre). Our heroine discovers there is more to her identity than she imagined as she gets sucked into the complicated political intrigue of the great city of the Djinn.
(Diane Setterfield, 2006)
This is gorgeous Gothic novel, full of all the atmosphere and tension expected from the genre. An author whose life has been intentionally shrouded in mystery and misdirection invites an unknown biographer to write the true story of her life.
(Anthony Doerr, 2014, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
While the premise of a blind French girl and a nerdy German boy whose paths intertwine during the Second World War is a little ‘awards-bait’-y for my general tastes, this is a truly beautiful book and a worthy Pulitzer winner. (I found the writing so beautiful that I used this book in my “Fiction as a Sacred Text” week.)
(Alison Bechdel, 2006)
A tender and touching exploration of the themes of gender, sexuality, secrecy, and family life, this thoughtful and thought-provoking book pioneered the ‘graphic memoir’ genre, and has since been made into an award-winning musical.
(Elizabeth Gilbert, 2013)
This is a meticulously researched and beautifully written book. It tells the story of a brilliant but lonely woman seeking to understand the nature of life at the moment when science was beginning to separate itself from philosophy and theology. Truly beautiful.
(Nnedi Okorafor, 2015-2018, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella in Science Fiction)
This collection of three novellas is a stunning piece of Afro-futurist speculative fiction. It explores the themes of identity and belonging through its portrayal of a brilliant young woman who must draw on both the ancient wisdom of her people and her own initiative and ambition to face the dangers of deep space and the perhaps more frightening prospect of returning home again.
(Michael Chabon, 1988)
Michael Chabon (who later won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his brilliant the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay) has long been my favorite author, so it’s a bit of a surprise that it took me so long to read his lauded debut novel. This is a classic coming of age tale, reminiscent in some ways of The Great Gatsby, set in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. It may not hit the heights of some of Chabon’s later work, but all the pieces of his luscious writing style are already present.
(Hilary Mantel, 2012, Winner of the Man Booker Prize)
It’s a running joke among my friends that, despite it being a brilliant achievement, I did not enjoy Wolf Hall, the first book in this planned trilogy, which also won the Man Booker. But, for whatever reason, Bring up the Bodies blew me away with its depiction of the fall of Anne Boleyn through the eyes of King Henry VIII’s adviser Thomas Cromwell. It is every bit the immaculate and erudite triumph that Wolf Hall was, but in my eyes, far more engaging. I couldn’t put it down!