Hello Friends, Yes I know it’s been a couple of months since I’ve posted on this platform… The self-guilt has been eating me alive but I have been pursuing other creative outlets which have kind of taken over my life. Hopefully 2019 I will have some balance because I’ve missed chatting about books.
So 2018 reading wise had it’s up and downs but I discovered some amazing books that helped shape my identity. They were engaging, surprising, heartbreaking and all the emotions one can experience when they encounter themselves in a book.
Here are my favorite books of 2018
Why you should read them (Mini Reviews Below)
If Beale Street Could Talk
“Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.”
I can’t believe it took me this long to get acquainted with Baldwin’s prose… Finished this over the weekend and I’m still staring at the wall dumbfounded that I just experienced one of the most heartfelt love stories and I am not one who typically gravitates towards romance 😅
Set in Harlem New York we Follow the love story of Fonny and Tish who at the beginning of the narrative are torn apart as we find out Fonny is being falsely accused of a heinous crime and Tish discovers she’s pregnant. We dip into their past love affair whilst exploring the crippling effect of the justice system against African Americans, Family relationships, mental illness and so much more.
The writing was mesmerizing, the dialogue brought the characters to life. He tackled topics effortlessly… Current social issues like Black Lives Matter movement are still not tackled, years after this was published, really made me stop and think. Some scenes still replay in my head because even though the narrative sounds bleak it had some heart at the center of the story. I laughed, I was moved and I’m definitely excited to continue this literary love affair with Baldwin. ( Looking out for Giovanni’s Room )
One of my favorite passage
“Being in trouble can have a funny effect on the mind. I don’t know if I can explain this. You go through some days and you seem to be hearing people and you seem to be talking to them and you seem to be doing your work, or, at least, your work gets done; but you haven’t seen or heard a soul and if someone asked you what you have done that day you’d have to think a while before you could answer. But at the same time, and even on the self-same day– and this is what is hard to explain–you see people like you never saw them before.”
“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”
It’s been two days since I finished this beautiful masterpiece and I am still trying to pinpoint why this was such a successful novel. The story opens with the death of a famous actor as he is performing King Lear on stage and that same night a devastating pandemic arrives ( A Flu) in the city which kickstarts the end of civilization. Throughout the whole book, we come across characters who were in some way linked to the famous actor and we see their lives before the flu, during the flu and years after civilization has collapsed. We particularly follow The Travelling Symphony a group of actors/performers who travel from town to town performing Shakespeare after civilization has collapsed. I know what your thinking ” This sounds so depressing” but the author manages to capture so much beauty and hope amidst all the darkness that the dreadful atmosphere felt comforting. The writing was wriggle and flowed so elegantly, I didn’t struggle to get into the text and even the slow part felt necessary. I can definitely see why this might put off some readers it doesn’t have so much action for a post-apocalyptic novel.
The traditional norm for most post-apocalyptic text feel more aggressive and plot driven but this one tackles the more philosophical side and is rooted in so much realism that I was actually terrified. We come across relatable characters who are aware of the situation and they don’t know how to turn that “badass switch” on. They long for answers but the truth is that shit happens and they just have to deal with it. One powerful message that stood out for me was the importance of art and how it can offer such relief in dreadful time because even as everything was basically going to shit the individual characters found comfort in plays, music, books etc. This is the sort of book that will sneak up on you, make you see the fragility of society, which in turn will make you stop and appreciate the small things around you. I highly recommend this.
I Capture the Castle
“When I read a book, I put in all the imagination I can, so that it is almost like writing the book as well as reading it – or rather, it is like living it. It makes reading so much more exciting, but I don’t suppose many people try to do it.”- Dodie Smith
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” The first line in this enchanting classic that follows 17-year-old Cassandra who practices her writing through her journal, as she tries to capture the essence of her peculiar family who resides in a castle but are ridden with poverty. We follow her as she improves in her skill and experiences complex emotions of love, class, religion and so much more by the end of the book the fourth wall has been shattered and the reader will feel like they are part of her life.
The reading experience felt more intimate, this was due to the main characters strong witty presence that flowed alive with emotions and curiosity. She was vivacious and found solace in her writing, her solitude, and love for her family. She did make very questionable choices but I had to remind myself that she was 17 years old that she needs to make mistakes in order to learn from them. The awareness of their poverty was so refreshing and it did show the family’s true colors but they all worked together to make the best out of the little they had. The writing was so-so exquisite, I swear I wanted to drop everything sell my kidneys and buy a castle because the descriptions of sunsets on a warm summer day or the cozy feeling of the rain made me feel nostalgic ( and I have never lived in the English Highlands). The only issue I had was with some characters motives and some parts were too slow for my taste but other than that I think this book is fantastic. Some readers might not enjoy the tone of the book and I totally understand because I’m typically not drawn to these sort of books but I was pleasantly surprised. It goes so much deeper and the characters grow organically throughout.
An exceptional novel chronicling the history of the HIV epidemic that paralyzed the world in the 80s. The aftermath, the voices that fought to be heard, the loss of families and the continuous efforts to eradicate the stigma and find a cure. Set in New York city we zoom into an apartment building called Christodora where we come across (Milly & Jared) a privileged white couple who have decided to adopt (Mateo) an AIDS orphan and we also meet (Hector) A Gay Puerto Rican man who was a strong voice in the 80s AIDS movement but has succumbed to drug addiction in his later years. We see how their lives intertwine and the huge impact of that one virus can have on a generation.
HIV/AIDS is a very touchy subject lots of people tend to shy away from it and most African countries are still heavily affected because of the stigma. What Tim Murphy does with this narrative is quite powerful he evokes so much emotion through the characters addictions, inner turmoil, identity, sexuality, mortality etc. I had no idea the amount of work that went into pushing for a cure back in the beginning stages. The protests and the huge wave of loss that affected families because the government didn’t want to be associated with the name “AIDs” How HIV positive women were set aside because people at the time believed that the virus only affected gay men. It was interesting to see how minorities group came together to push forward the issues and in the end changing history. I really admired Tim Murphy’s honesty and being in the frontline as an HIV/AIDS reporter for 20 years I think he tackled this important issue with finesse, reminding us the importance of literature in destigmatization of HIV/ AIDS. I highly recommend this especially for fans of A Little Life, The Goldfinch & The Interestings
I can definitely see why some reader might be put off by this book, the feeling of an enticing plot to keep you turning the pages and the big reveal is very much not part of this book. What makes this book shine and might appeal to a certain audience is the meticulously detailed exploration of the 6 main characters lives who met and formed a strong bond in an artistic summer camp all the way to their college years & middle ages. The introspective writing style really drew me into these characters live and by the end, they became real-life people. Unlike A Little Life over the top brutality of life’s shortcomings Wolitzers handles her characters with the realism that makes them aware of their actions, capabilities, flaws, and emotions. she captures the feeling of friendship and how it can be vital in shaping your life choices as well as the idea of being talented and not knowing how to channel it or feeling inferior to your more talented peers. I could literally go on and on about the subtle topics that she weaves into the narrative: HIV/AIDS during the 80s, The Autistic Spectrum, Rape Culture, Child Labour etc. If you are looking for a book that makes you feel like you belong and simplifies complex feelings with Ironically well fleshed out characters then definitely pick this one up.
A Fine Balance
“The human face has limited space. If you fill it with laughter there will be no room for crying.”
I have been contemplating writing this review because when everyone was celebrating valentine’s day I was literally depressed from the journey that was this book. It’s one of those books that feels personal and resonated with me on a whole new emotional level. I was sure I would love this book based on the blurb:
Set in 1975 contemporary India an unknown city plagued with corruption and the government has just declared a state of emergency, we meet 4 strangers, (Dina) an independent young widow, (Maneck) a young university student coming to the city from his rural home, (Ishvar & Om) Uncle & Nephew looking for work after running from their village. Fate will draw them together and a strong bond will be developed between all of them as they face the deteriorating society surrounding them.
I literally can’t pass my thoughts t across without getting emotional, every time I look at this book my heart breaks. It unleashed something in me that I honestly can’t explain. The way the author dropped me into the book and made me experience all the atrocities committed to the characters was surreal. Heavy on the politics, exploration of the caste system, he dove into the rich Indian culture using the characters experiences to pass the point across even the side characters had depth. The book challenges lot’s of societal issues and accurately captures how it feels to live in a third world country faced with oppression and a rotting government system. In some instance, I could relate to the political climate as we just experienced one quite similar in Kenya but I was also introduced to various Indian topics, taboos etc. I take pride in my pacifist nature but damn did this book make me angry and it’s supposed to evoke those strong feelings because you will realize how privileged we are and it will humble you. If you are reading this review, go read this book
“Love cannot be reduced to a catalog of reasons why, and a catalog of reasons cannot be put together into love.”
Intricate, Well-Developed narrative that consumed me in 2 weeks. The author who was 28 years old at the time, composed this Dickensian style mystery novel set in 1800s New Zealand during The Gold Rush with such finesse that my brain can’t get around it. Poking fun at the Victorian tropes and writing style each Character is inspired by the zodiac signs and through that angle, she portrays them in the most dramatic way and I couldn’t for the life of me stop flipping the pages.
.“A woman fallen has no future; a man risen has no past.”
19 Characters all connected by the mystery of a missing wealthy man, a suicidal prostitute & a pile of gold found in luckless man’s cabin. She weaves all these perspectives so well & you can definitely see why it took her 5 years to create this epic tale. The first section is 300 pages ( I know that’s a lot) but once you get through it you will not want to put it down. The book stays true to the era in which the men are pompous power hungry, filled with over the top flare and the misogyny is ever so present but like discovering gold some Characters will stay with you for the long haul. The mystery and the plot were balanced and for 800 pages the momentum didn’t whither, as you come to know the characters the need for justice and answers keeps you on your toes.
Dramatic reveals, themes of colonialism, morality etc expanded the story to greater heights. The core of the story is obsession, power, revenge, escapism I could unearth so many gems ( pun intended) It’s been a long time since a book kept me engaged and this had all the elements of a great book. If you are a fan of Historical Fiction and a giant cast of characters, sprinkled with a tantalizing mystery… What are you waiting for? pick it up.
Hope you had a fantastic reading year in 2018 and an even better one in 2019 🙂 Would love to hear your favorite books of 2018, I’m always looking for new books to add to my ever growing tbr.
Happy New Year and Happy Reading Friends.