BRL Best Books of 2018

Some of you may remember that I keep a paper book journal in addition to my Goodreads account for book tracking. When I read a book that particularly moves me I give it a star in my paper journal, which equals a five-star rating on Goodreads. As I looked over my 2018 reading I realized that TWENTY books had rated a star this year! So I had some choices to make as it came time to make my Top Ten List for the year. Without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2018. (Note: I’m a huge backlist reader so not all of these books were published this year.)

In no particular order:

  • The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams (2016). This was a life-affirming, uplifting audio book that truly inspired me. I learned a lot about the friendship between the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu, and how each man approaches life’s challenges with grace and equanimity.
  • How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston (1974.) Set in Ireland in WWI, this beautifully written novella explores the growing friendship between a young member of the landed gentry and one of the workers on his family’s estate as they both set off to fight in the war. Truly moving with a devastating ending.
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018.) Just a gorgeous, emotionally probing book about two people who fell in love with the best of intentions – and then life throws them a horrific curveball that reverberates for years. It’s a beautifully told relationship story with well-drawn, believable characters. Unforgettable.
  • Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (2015.) What a surprise! A book that had been on my TBR list for a few years and I’m so glad I decided to read it. It was one of those absorbing reads that made me want to ignore my family for a few days. Linked short stories, all centering in some way around the character of Eva, a young woman in Minnesota with a passion and a gift for cooking. Foodies will love it, but anyone who just wants a good story will enjoy it too.
  • Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016.) The BEST AUDIO BOOK I’VE EVER LISTENED TO. Funny, surprising, illuminating, moving. I learned so much about South African history through this story of Noah’s unlikely existence. I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s one I would read (or listen to) again for sure.
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956.) This novel is exquisitely written and emotionally tough. A portrait of a man utterly in denial about who he truly is. David, a young, rootless, white American living in Paris in the 1950’s, has a fiancee he’s running away from when he meets a handsome Italian waiter and falls in love. His denial sets off a tragic chain of events for everyone involved. Baldwin is a genius! I intend to read everything he’s written.
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean (2018.) I recently wrote about this one, but it’s just a gem of a nonfiction book, about the importance of libraries today and Orlean’s emotional connection to them through her late mother, as well as a gripping true-crime account of the devastating library fire in L.A.’s Central Library in 1986. Lots going on here, but Orlean weaves all the strands together beautifully.
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017.) That rare super-hyped novel that is worthy of all the praise. What starts off as a quirky portrait of a lonely young woman who doesn’t connect well with other human beings becomes a moving and warm-hearted novel about unexpected connections and the capacity for change and growth. A lovely book that I will definitely read again someday.
  • Brother by David Chariandy (2018, first published in Canada and the UK 2017.) Not one word wasted in this slim but powerful novel about two brothers growing up in a poor, multi-cultural part of Toronto in the 1980’s. There is tragedy here but there is also terrific beauty and great love, especially in the character of the boys’ Trinidadian immigrant mother, who works herself to the bone to provide for her sons and tried to give them a better life. I just adored this.
  • The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton (2018.) Another book I recently read and can’t stop talking about – thank you Oprah! Hinton’s ridiculous sham of a trial for crimes he didn’t commit will make you angry, and his emotional journey living on death row in Alabama for 30 years will move you, inspire you, and make you question your beliefs about the death penalty.

51mPEE0qUtL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Honorable Mention: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (2017.)  Linked short stories, a companion piece to Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton. Spare prose and heartbreaking, real characters in small town middle America. Strout is a hell of a writer.

 It’s been such a good reading year. Have you read any of the books on my list? Do any of these pique your interest?

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29 thoughts on “BRL Best Books of 2018

  1. I loved Anything is Possible, which would have been right at the top of my list. The only other one I’ve read is Eleanor Oliphant which I’m afraid I thought was something of a non-event. Still, at least I didn’t hate it in the same way a friend of mine did. It does seem to have been something of a marmite book. You love it or hate it.

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    1. Marmite book – ha ha! I’m glad we share a love for Anything is Possible. I read it at the very beginning of the year and I’d almost forgotten about it. I still haven’t read Olive Kitteridge, but I’m going to do that ASAP.

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  2. What a list! You’ve inspired me to listen to the Trevor Noah audiobook, which I got for free through Audible. Best audiobook you’ve ever listened to? SOLD!

    How Many Miles to Babylon and the Book of Joy have also been added to my list. Sigh. :p

    Thanks for such a great list, friend!

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  3. Since you liked Anthony Ray Hinton’s book, you should really check out Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I listened to a good chunk of the audiobook (before the library snatched it back and gave it to someone else), and really liked it. The narrator of the audiobook speaks slowly and clearly, so if you’re into more audiobooks, try that one. In 2019 I’m going to read Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor. He was at a bookstore not far from me, but I didn’t go! Such a bummer.

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    1. Just Mercy is on my list! I think I had avoided it so far because I thought it would be too heavy. But now that I have read Hinton’s book I know I can take Stevenson’s. Writing My Wrongs is very good, hope you get to read it next year.

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  4. I loved Brother too – I think it was Naomi who got us all reading that one? And I’d really love to read Born a Crime, though actually it’s one that sounds as if the audio version might be even better than the paper. I’ve seen him interviewed about the book and he comes over as such an intelligent and likeable guy…

    Glad you had such a great reading year – here’s to 2019! 😀

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  5. You have some great reads! I loved Eleanor Oliphant, An American Marriage, Book of Joy, and Great Kitchens. I also just finished The Library Book and thought it was such a beautiful ode to libraries.

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  6. I’ve heard such good things about Trevor Noah’s book, and I love that you listened to it. I bet it would be even funnier that way! I also keep a paper journal of the books that I read, but I don’t rate them, I really like that idea though…

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  7. There are so many authors on here whose books I’ve enjoyed, even if not the same one you’ve called out. And I’m so happy to see Chariandy’s book mentioned again: it’s so good. And all the attention so well deserved. I’m thinking of re-reading and reading Elizabeth Strout in earnest soon, either this year or next, much as I’ve enjoyed the Louise Erdrich novels the past two years (all their interconnections being pleasing as well).

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