The Books I Loved and Hated in 2018
I actually finished my Goodreads challenge this year!
The Goodreads challenge is a great way for readers to push themselves to read more than they did the year before. I have gotten overly excited about participating in this challenge, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. The downside of treating reading as a CHALLENGE™ is that you end up reading books just to add them on a checklist, which is a great waste of time. In the past I’ve set lofty targets for myself and proceeded to hurt my brain by trying to consume as many books as I could. This was exhausting – by the time March came around I was burned out and unable to stand the sight of anything book-related.
This year, I decided to be more intentional with my reading, which meant making it something I did when I wanted to do it, as opposed to something to cross off a checklist. I also chose not to use reading to get my mind off a bad situation. Not that there’s anything wrong with using books as escapism, but I found that if I read a book when I was upset/angry, I was more likely to pull the negative situation into the fantasy and end up ruining the experience for myself.
For this year’s challenge I set a goal of 30 books, and managed to reach my target by end of August/beginning of September. I ended up reading more than 30, but they were rereads and I didn’t think to include them when filling the challenge. Here’s a recap of the books I read, since I won’t be reading any new books till the New Year. I HAVE THOUGHTS!
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor – I am a huge fan of Nnedi’s work and this novella series is no exception. When I started this series, the second book was only a few weeks from release, so waiting for the third was hell. However, I was very pleased to find that when I read this book the details were still very fresh in my mind. It does not suffer from Middle Book Syndrome [when the middle book just doesn’t stick in the memory AT ALL]. It was a very brilliant conclusion [I think it’s the final book but I saw tweets that say it isn’t…I’m not sure] with all the feels. Nnedi is an exceptional writer with solid plots and plausible twists, however with the Night Masquerade she really plays on the attachment you’ve built to the characters which leads to a shit ton of crying. If there is another story I hope it’s a prequel or a story within the universe, and not about the current characters. Their stories are neatly wrapped up and to continue to focus on them would be milking it in my opinion. However, if she has chosen to continue their story, I’m sure Nnedi knows what she’s doing.
Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson – I was very conflicted by this anthology. I liked the fact that each story starts with a brief description of what it is about and how it came to her. I think more writers should talk about their inspirations, just to help bridge the gap between the reader and the writer. The stories are wildly different and a great flex, Nalo Hopkinson’s imagination is vast and I was left in awe. There are brilliant ones that will have you wanting to live in those alternate universes. However there are some fucking boring stories in there – some start off weird and then get better but others are just bad from start to finish. There are 18 stories and it’s like playing Russian roulette with multiple bullets. I would still recommend it though, because the stories invoke really high levels of emotion, whether its disgust or anger or intrigue, and that’s a win for the writer in my book.
Area X – The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance) by Jeff VanderMeer – This trilogy… ugh. I loved the first book, really enjoyed the world building, and the narrator does a good job of placing you right there with them. I read the book before I saw the movie, but I had seen the trailer and I felt like Natalie Portman was a good choice for the narrator, and so was Jennifer Jason Leigh as the psychologist. [The movie was a terrible divergence from the book – what was the purpose of the affair with the black co-worker? RACISM! Why did they use names? What happened to the tower – it’s like the focus of the whole series, you can’t just skip to the lighthouse!] Anyway… Annihilation was the only good book; everything just goes downhill from there.
When we get to the second one – Authority – we’re taken from the weird universe outside straight back into the office. I read the books back to back and Authority feels like the first day of work in January– and you were doing hallucinogens during the Christmas break. It’s just…what…why is this happening…can we go back outside??? There is such vivid description of the bullshit of bureaucracy and administration and middle management and office politics to the point that it serves as a promo for unemployment. Fuck that office. The narrator is this unlikeable white man who thinks he is so hashtag deep and mysterious. The whole time I kept wondering what he looked like because he would have to be really good looking to excuse his thought processes. Not that he’s stupid [or exceptionally clever for that matter] but I personally have never met anyone who thinks like that.
Acceptance isn’t a bad book, but is ruined simply by the simple fact that it comes after Authority and the author had to do something with the character he shouldn’t have introduced in the first place. There is a trope that male writers lazily resort to – making the female character mysterious and vague, and then having the male character fill in for the reader what he thinks of the woman, when really it’s just an excuse for him to talk twice. This is at play the entire time in the book when the first and second narrator team up to solve the mystery. You can accuse me of being harsh because the first narrator is now more detached on account of being less human [OR IS SHE?] but lazy writing is lazy. The cherry on the top of this shit sundae is that, in a trilogy which the first book had only female characters, a man somehow is the hero? Okay then.
Lullaby by Leïla Slimani – This was one of the darkest reads of the year. I have it on my Goodreads profile that I enjoy books that leave a bad taste in your mouth, and this book delivers in that aspect. Leila Slimani got the idea from the murders of the Krim children. The first sentence of this book is ‘the baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.’ This isn’t even a spoiler, considering that this is also written on the cover. The author wants you to know right off the bat that the children are dead and the nanny did it. The rest of the book is for you to continuously ask what the fuck and why, because Louise is painted as the perfect nanny. The book pulls you in and makes you a fly on the wall for the story – I like books that are extremely immersive; the more you pull me in the better. It unfolds in a way that is extremely disturbing, everyone is not as they seem [except for the husband Paul – he is consistently trash from start to finish.] This book really made me think a lot about how children are raised, who we leave them with, what we expect from them and what they have to put aside to do this very complex job. It is a disturbing book for many reasons, but I found it unsettling when I found myself empathising with Louise, or at the very least wanting to. She is very human, and it is jarring when you are reminded of it, because there are long stretches of time where she is so perfect, you forget. It is embarrassing to be reminded that you have forgotten/glossed over someone’s humanity, and because humans do not like being embarrassed, they double down. The mother is not a bad person; she does bad things and makes bad decisions, but who doesn’t? This book reminds us that being human is a messy process, and that sometimes we spiral and snap, and we cause others to do the same. I would love to write about this book at length because it really bugged me – and I probably will in a later post, but for now…GO READ IT. Read the surrounding material as well – the interview with the author as well as the coverage from the nanny murder trial.
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison – I really enjoyed this book. It was short and very different from Morrison’s other books – many of the Goodreads reviews seemed to complain about this but I for one was very relieved. I don’t think it’s possible for Toni Morrison to write a light book, is it even Morrison if there aren’t several dark scenes that emphasise the misery of the black human condition, but as far as things go this is the lightest book she’s written. It’s set in a very modern world which is the first time she does this, and it’s worth it. Maybe now light skinned women will understand colorism. Lol. The descriptions of Bride’s skin made my heart sing. I don’t have much to say about this book other than its beautiful and sad and very powerful.
Beloved by Toni Morrison – I do not know what to call the genre Toni Morrison writes under; her work purposely defies definition. I was taken for a rough ride with this one – being appalled by one sentence and moved to tears by the very next one. This is a miserable ass book and as far as stories go, I didn’t like the story. I didn’t need to be involved so intimately with these people’s sadness but I was dragged into it kicking and screaming. It’s a terrible story but very well written, but fuck this book.
And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini –What is this man’s address? I would just like to pull up and fight. By the time the second chapter starts you already know you’re in for a cry-fest. The ending was heartbreaking as usual; Mr Hosseini has zero understanding of the concept of a happy ending. The usual progression is meet character – like character – cry for character –end. There’s not much to say here – how does one review a tear?
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh – I mentioned this book in my July recap. This book was very problematic. There were parts I liked. For one, there’s absolutely nothing special about the titular character. Main characters are usually framed as morally complex heroes; humans who appear larger than life, deeply flawed but with ultimately good intentions; righteous victims going up against a greater evil…Eileen is none of those things. She is awkward, peculiar and sometimes downright disgusting, an unlikeable shrew of a person, somehow self loathing and arrogant at the same time. I felt sorry for her initially but it feels like she’s going out of her way to make you hate her. The ending was also cool – it was bizarre but the main character is a mess so it was almost fitting. I won’t say that she deserved what happened to her [do shitty people really deserve it when bad things happen to them] but I would like to point out that Eileen is very desperate for companionship and that’s probably what led events to unfold the way they did. She ignored obvious red flags, because if she was as self critical as she pretends to be, she would realise that no one like Rebecca Saint John would want to hang out with her for real, and those are facts. What I hated the most about this book was Eileen’s fatmisia. It’s a prominent part of her character and it’s very off putting. She is the skinny girl with low self esteem who takes that self loathing and projects it onto fat people – her fat-phobic comments are almost always immediately after she points out something awful about herself. Secondly it’s just baffling that someone who moves as mad as she does [and move mad, she does] has the time to be so opinionated about fat people. Her life is a fucking mess, she should face her front. I thought I could forgive it because the book is written as a reflection of the past – but even future Eileen who has ‘her shit together’ still hates fat people, so fuck her.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – I love going into critically acclaimed books without knowing about them – I had no idea what this book was about, but had seen the hype on Tumblr and Twitter. I was initially confused by the –aire suffix on everything but figured it was part of the universe building, but it didn’t really do anything for me. Amari was unbearable in the initial chapters but her character development is by far the best. I loved how she leans into her privilege and uses it to help, rather than trying to discard it to blend in with the cause. Zelie is such an awesome character – she is stubborn, tenacious, impulsive, talks too much for her own good, doesn’t know when to stop…. UGH I FEEL SO SEEN. A huge plus for me was the way the boys are described in this book, they are all so hot, which is unrealistic but makes for great YA fiction so I allowed it. #TeamZoen. I am not usually a fan of the guy meets girl-guy and girl hate each other-guy and girl fall in love trope, but I really enjoyed the dreamscape scenes between Inan and Zelie. The ending did seem a little bit rushed to me. Just a little bit. I had really enjoyed the pace of the story but the final scene felt like the most recent season of Game of Thrones….BAM explosion BAM magic BAM epilogue. It was a fantastic debut for an author and I cannot wait for the next one.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi – This was a weird collection of stories, but not in a bad way. I don’t think I’ve encountered any writer who builds worlds the way Helen Oyeyemi does. I loved ‘books and roses’ and ‘sorry doesn’t sweeten her tea’. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the rest of the book, I loved a shared universe and would have loved to see the connections between the stories develop… had the puppets not been there. I absolutely hate puppets and nothing, not even Helen Oyeyemi can make me sacrifice my sanity for them. After they were introduced I was mostly irritated, and did not enjoy the call backs. It’s not you Helen, it’s the fucking puppets.
The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin – N K Jemisin is one of the current leading voices in fantasy and science fiction, AND I STAN. The Broken Earth series is fantastic, and every single book in the trilogy has won a Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction novel. She is a huge fucking deal. That being said, The Obelisk Gate, which is the second book, suffers from Middle Book Syndrome. I had hoped to go into The Stone Sky without having to reread it, considering that the events of The Fifth Season were still very vivid in my head. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and I went back when I was just way too confused to continue. The Obelisk Gate wasn’t necessarily filler, but it had its own thing going on, so I gave up on trying to get context and went back to the final book. Despite the initial bumps, The Stone Sky is still very good, and a strong finish to an overall brilliant story. N K Jemisin points out that her mother was unwell and eventually passed away from cancer as she was writing the book, and while it is subtle, there’s rawness in emotion that I had not seen before from her. The scenes with Nassun and her daughter are even more heart wrenching when you consider that little bit of information, however it’s really beautiful what she did with her grief. I was blubbering like a baby at the end.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi – I’ve been a long time fan of the Emezi siblings – Yagazie’s photography was one of the main inspirations behind me starting mine, and Akwaeke’s nonfiction is exceptional. I also went into this book without knowing what it was about. Reading Freshwater is like watching children playing Double Dutch and wanting to join in; at first you’re not sure how things work but once you realise that the rhythm isn’t that hard you get into the flow of things. Once you’re into it you will feel alive and free and want to laugh and cry at the same time, you are plugged into electricity and cannot dare break the current. This book is arresting – it is almost impossible to put down, if you can see through the tears and snot. There’s a line in there that got to me – “The first time I met you, I told another friend that you were lovely, but that I had this feeling you would die soon.” I felt such a connection to Asughara – I know that character intimately, she is so familiar and cruel, reading her parts was like looking into the sun. I know that voice because it has been in my head, I have won that mask. This is a very powerful piece of literature and should be required reading. 5 stars.
Fledgling by Octavia Butler – Last year I went on an Octavia Butler binge and read so many of her books. The Xenogenesis series is a perfect trilogy – yes, perfect! FIGHT ME – and Clay’s Ark remains one of the most riveting pieces of fiction I have ever read. After finishing the Xenogenesis trilogy I started on Fledgling, and it was like going from white water rafting to sitting in Thika Road traffic. The pace was way off, so I left it alone but decided to finish it this year. It’s not as bad as I’ve made it out to be. It’s a good vampire story, but like…after reading about aliens it just seemed weird, almost boring. Octavia Butler can write about grotesque things and make them seem beautiful; writing about vampires is not something she needed to do. Weird flex, but okay. Its still good and I’d recommend it if you’ve not read her books/only read Earthseed – it’s a fine introduction to her more out-there ideas. However if you’ve already gone through her work and haven’t read this, don’t really bother – you’ve seen this story before, and executed better.
Earthseed (Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents) by Octavia Butler – so this was another conflicting read. I really could not stand Parable of the Sower, which almost feels contrarian because it’s practically the book that Octavia Butler is most famous for. It’s a good book [duh, of course it is, it’s Octavia Butler] What I didn’t like was how this new religion that’s ‘not a religion’ was very insistent on repeating itself over and over again… I guess all the religious based education institutions I attended rubbed me the wrong way and I have come to detest anything that even vaguely reminds me of mass. So yeah I didn’t like it because I felt like I was reading Christian YA fiction. I did enjoy the general storytelling and that even despite disliking her religiosity –and her if I’m being honest – I was still rooting for Lauren throughout. The relationship between her and Bankole was weird as all hell but huge age differences in romantic relationships aren’t a new theme in Octavia Butler’s work, so it was easier for me to brush off. The conflict came in because I loved Parable of the Talents. I shared the scepticism of her daughter who was not buying this religious bullshit. These books both predict the current American landscape; however Talents is more on the nose. There’s a presidential candidate who’s relying on tyranny to ‘make America great again’ and a subsequent rise of religious fascists who carry out attacks based on his sentiments which he does not condemn. Sower-meh, Talents- better.
Short Stories (Bloodchild and other Stories /Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler) – I quite like her short stories. I feel like some are spinoffs from her larger bodies of work, or drafts of them before she chose a final direction. ‘A Necessary Being’ and ‘Bloodchild’ could have been groundwork for the aliens in Xenogenesis, and ‘Speech Sounds’ could have been happening in the Earthseed universe. An afterword comes at the end of each story in Bloodchild [she had already passed away when Unexpected Stories was released] and they really show how engaged she was with her work. One thing – when a writer is inspired by Octavia Butler it’s very noticeable and always nice to see. I can see the inspiration twinkling out of Nnedi’s and NK Jemisin’s works and they pay homage to the greatest in such respectful ways.
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff – I actually was pretty surprised that this book came out just this year considering how wild the Trump rollercoaster has been. There have been other exposes about the Trump administration, but this one set the tone of the entire year. I probably wouldn’t read it again because I am all America’d out. It was a horror show when I read it in January, but considering how much has happened in the last 11 months I’m not even sure it would hold up to a reread. It’s pretty much clear to everyone that this administration is incompetent, which is all the book says for 300+ pages.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay – This book was such a heavy read and I felt all the feelings. I could feel the raw honesty coming from the pages and understand the catharsis that came from writing. In some ways this book pushed me to write about my own rape, just to break the silence and release what I felt was begin to fester inside of me. I don’t feel the same way about some of the things I wrote in April, but I had to let it out first. It was a story that I had told my close friends, sometimes more than once, and it sometimes felt like everyone was bored of hearing about it. But there’s a kind of release writing brings that talking just doesn’t, and I have to thank this book for reintroducing it to me.
Joyful Militancy by Carla Bergman – This book took me four and a half months to finish. It’s very heavy and borderline academic, but not that kind of academic that’s set to be exclusionary – if you have a dictionary and time you’ll be fine. When you read this book, come armed with a pen and notebook and check your ego at the door. When I started reading it I could see how rigid radicalism was at play in the movements and spaces I occupied; initially as an ‘OMG look at how X and Y and all those others behave’ which then tapered off to ‘OMG I behave like that.’ This book has shaped how I look at the beliefs I hold; it has made me more critical of how I treat those who are opposed to my values, as well as those who share them. It was largely the inspiration behind the piece I wrote on Will This Be a Problem, ‘Questioning My Feminism: Whose Movement Is It Anyway?’
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown – My sister recommended Brene Brown’s books to me shortly before my 27th birthday, after a lunch date became this long winded bitch session about all the shit that was going wrong in my life. She told me to select any book at random, and I chose this one after reading an unfavourable review on Goodreads. Some lady was like ‘I don’t think anyone is this concerned with what people think of them’ and I knew that I had to read it. I am very much concerned about what people think, at least I was. This book got me off my ass to do something about the unfavourable situations in my life, a large number of which were caused by basing my self-worth on other people’s opinions. I don’t want to know where I would have been had I not read this book!
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown – I immediately downloaded this book after finishing the Gifts of Imperfection. There are a few call backs to it, Braving the Wilderness seems to build from a lot of the teachings in it so I would recommend reading in the same order. The acronym BRAVING has been a strong foundation for my growth this year – Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-judgement and Generosity. These principles can be applied in learning to trust yourself and others, speaking truth to bullshit and being both courageous and vulnerable. These aren’t necessarily self help books, more like tools to aid in introspection.
Words From a Wanderer by Alexandra Elle – I’d mentioned Alex Elle in my March Madness post, and I’m still very much a fan of her work. I did say that I found this particular work a bit juvenile but in hindsight that is not the case at all. Sometimes certain sentiments may seem repetitive and we approach them from a place of ‘why are you telling me this I already know it’s not rocket science’ but sometimes we forget to be soft with ourselves. The book starts with a note from the author where she points out that it is ‘a compilation of some comforting things I’ve had to tell myself to get through the toughest days of my life.’ Sometimes the things we have to tell ourselves to get through the day are so obvious but we just need to hear or see them. This book is not going to tell you how to love yourself, it’s going to show you how someone else loves themselves, and how a little can go a long way.
I finally got my hands on soft magic by Upile Chisala but by the time I did I had seen most of the work posted on Instagram or Tumblr, the same goes for Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. Rupi Kaur was accused of lifting poetry from other paragraph poets and I guess she caught a real feeling because The Sun and her Flowers is much better and more wholesome. I’ll give her points for best improved. Neon Soul by Alexandra Elle and Mind Platter by Najwa Zebian both helped me out of some tough spots, and really helped drive home the importance of setting healthy boundaries.
Honorable Mentions – Every year I read The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron and this year was no different. It’s always a great refresher course in mindfulness. I reread Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, mostly because there’s the HBO series coming out soon and I needed to be up to date so I can loudly criticise them for adjusting the story. It’s still so good; I will be protesting if they fuck it up. Elfu by Kiko Enjani was the only book written by a Kenyan that I read this year. It’s a collection of short stories, and they’re easy to read, which is not what Kenyan writing is known for. I enjoyed the stories, and downloaded the rest of the books from their site to read later.
2019 READING GOALS
More books on finance(how to make, save and invest money), creativity and productivity, speculative/science/fantasy fiction, diverse literature – Asian, South American and indigenous/Native American writers and/or main characters. I don’t know if I’ll ever get into reading biographies, auto or otherwise, especially not of celebrities! But we’ll see. Have you got any book recommendations that you think I’d like, or enjoy hate-reading? Let me know!