Is it possible not to have a good year for books? Thankfully, I don’t think this has happened to me yet, so here is a list of the books I enjoyed the most in 2018.
I have read more non-fiction than ever this year, partly due to shadowing the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist in March and April which I hope to do again in 2019. To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell won the official prize and was also our shadow panel winner – it’s a fun, informative and pretty terrifying book about transhumanism. , Yet while transhumanists are trying to avoid death at all costs, With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix explores the practical side of dying and what a “good” death can look like from her work as a palliative care consultant and this was a stand-out title for me this year. Another book I would happily press into the hands of everyone I meet is The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken which is an eye-opening account of the inner workings of the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom. And Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar is a book I am still thinking about regularly months after I finished it mostly because the stories of extreme do-gooders are actually more unsettling than uplifting in many cases.
I already have my eye on potential titles for the next Wellcome Book Prize longlist due in February. Among eligible novels, I hope to see Sight by Jessie Greengrass on there – an excellent debut about pregnancy, psychoanalysis and much more. Of the three books I have read from this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist, the standout title for me is Normal People by Sally Rooney even though it didn’t progress to the shortlist. I also loved The Heart’s Invisible Furies and A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne, an author whose work I look forward to reading more of in the future.
Of 2017 titles, the ones which have stuck in my mind are How to be Human by Paula Cocozza about a woman who is regularly visited by an urban fox at her home in Hackney and 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster – a Man Booker Prize shortlisted epic about the four possible paths of Archie Ferguson’s life in the mid-20th century. 2018 has also been an excellent year for unsettling novellas – from the Japanese societal pressures felt by Keiko in Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata to the archaeological dig of nightmares in Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss while the prose in The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark is a masterclass in evasiveness.
I have been to some excellent literary-related events in 2018, mostly in the second half of the year. I reread The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters in September when the film adaptation was released and saw a stage production of Angela Carter’s final novel Wise Children at the Old Vic theatre in London in October with Rebecca who also accompanied me to an event at the Southbank Centre to see Barbara Kingsolver in conversation with Samira Ahmed. Finally, the annual event in November where book bloggers meet the authors shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award is another highlight. In my view, this year’s shortlist was the most consistent in quality since its relaunch in 2015 and I particularly enjoyed the non-fiction titles: The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman about her recovery from an eating disorder through literature and Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth which is an excellent travel memoir of his 2,000 mile journey by canoe in the North American wilderness.
Which books stood out for you in 2018?