30 December 2018

Best and Worst Reads of 2018

Happy new year! As we enter 2019 we wanted to re-cap our favourite reads from 2018, and also the ones we didn't enjoy.

Let's start with the best, counting down to number 1...

I found out about Mary Karr because of her relationship with David Foster Wallace and how much he loved her memoir The Liar's Club. Of course all of this is to her horror as you can read here in her interview with Lena Dunham. This book is everything any child memoir hopes to be. It blows Jeanette Walls The Glass Castle (which I also read this year) out of the water. Karr writes prose like a true artist/poet. I actually got The Art of Memoir for Christmas this year and can't wait to learn about how she approaches writing about her life.

I went on and on about all the reasons I loved this in my full review here, but basically I just loved this piece of fiction. It's about a family court judge who has to decide if a Jehovah's Witness teen should receive a life saving blood transfusion against his religion, but she's also going through a ton of personal drama as well. I felt like it was an incredibly realistic portrayal of a woman facing the choices she was faced with and it made me want to read a ton more from Ian McEwan. There is one weird plot twist that I simply chose to ignore entirely, so if you've read it or seen the film adaptation I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. I haven't seen the film adaptation yet, but it has a great cast and McEwan wrote the screenplay so I'm sure it's *almost* as good as the book.

I had a strange relationship with this book while I was reading it. I remember almost feeling like I wasn't that invested and that it was a bit of a slog, then suddenly I wrote the review and after going over all the passages that I noted in my phone I was like in love with it. Dave Eggers has always been good at writing real, relatable, slightly unlikable people. I was captivated by this one-line review I read when the book first came out: "Eggers paints a fine and sympathetic portrait of a life that is never quite unbearable, but never all that far off." This book includes everything I love: idealized/remote locations, bad marriages, and the struggles of motherhood. I'd recommend anyone read this.

I had the best time reading Moneyball and I reviewed it in full only recently despite it being an older novel. It's a perfect blend of facts and plot. I love sports culture, I love learning about the 'politics' on any sort of field, and Moneyball delivers hard in this arena. Journalist Michael Lewis outlines the events that lead to the success of the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s, using a controversial player scouting method that was based almost entirely on statistics. I'm sure most of you have seen the movie (it's fantastic). Lewis is the perfect writer for this sort of non-fiction as he's funny without making it a comedy and serious without making it a drama. I've seen the movie a handful of times but I still loved reading the book. You learn so many more fun facts and backstories through text that they just could never adapt for a regular length film.

This is my favourite kind of non-fiction book and the best book I read in 2018 (you can read my full review here). I love learning a ton about one very specific thing, and in this case it was orchids. I also love to read about anyone who is passionate about something, it really inspires me to have more hobbies / interests. Susan Orlean is a strong writer and I like the way she combines research, interviews, and anecdotes. I got this book for Christmas last year after I learned that the movie Adaptation by Charlie Kaufman is actually related to this real book. I'm excited to read another non-fiction by Orlean and already have my sights set on The Library Book.

This was the best book I read all year, hands down. Reading this book is likely definitely the closest I'll ever come to the excitement of actually climbing Everest. Jon Krakauer writes about his brutal experience on Everest during the infamous 1995 disaster and it is the perfect combination of drama, experience, and hard facts. If you're thinking this sounds appealing to you then I highly recommend checking out Meghan's full review of the book, she's read a lot more about this particular Everest incident than the average person (and a lot more about mountain climbing in general) and is the best to discuss it with. It's also worth noting this was on Meghan's 'best' list in our "Best and Worst Reads of 2016" post - the girl is years ahead of me, literally. The 2015 movie Everest is based on the events in this book and it is incredibly fun to watch but you won't feel half as educated after watching it as you will after reading the book.

...and now on to the worst, counting down to number 1

I say this every year but I really do hate picking my "worst" reads of the year. I usually enjoy 95% of the books I read so often this part of the list is made of books I didn't hate but unfortunately didn't love as passionately as I love Joan Didion, Lebron, etc. That being said, I didn't dislike this book but it was definitely the biggest disappointment of my 2018 reading year (you can read my full review here). I had incredibly high hopes for this book because it won the Pulitzer, had a foreword by Dave Eggers, and a blurb of praise on the front cover by Joan Didion. It's about a famous, true case in Utah about Gary Gilmore - the first man to experience capital punishment once it was brought back. I should also mention that this book is more than a thousand pages long .... so you have to deliver. I got another Norman Mailer book for Christmas so I can give him a second chance.

Meghan is going to kill me for slipping this on here because Joan Didion is her favourite author and ruler of her world, but alas, I didn't like this book at all. As I mentioned in my full review, I'm willing to chalk it entirely up to content- I had/have no interest in Cuban exiles. I thought I would enjoy learning about them as I do random topics, but I didn't. Getting through it felt like pulling teeth. It lacked any kind of comedic, dramatic, or romantic relief that I usually cling to in dry nonfiction. I've read other nonfiction by Joan Didion and loved it, so I don't know that this is a testament to her, I just didn't like this book in particular. The blog might be over now since I've put Meghan's beloved Joan on our 'worst reads' list. It was nice getting to share with everyone - or just our moms - I think it's mainly them who read this.

I am fiercely passionate about Lebron James and my love for him causes 65% of my fights with Ben, SO having this book on my "worst" almost feels like treason.. but I blame the authors obviously, not Lebron. The thing is is that Lebron's journey into the NBA, away from Cleveland, and back again to do the unthinkable - win a championship for his home state when they were down 3-1 - is an AMAZING story. It is literally Shakespearean literature. But the book was not written with any involvement from Lebron and so it reads that way (you can read my full review here). It really is just a play-by-play of those years and the last two chapters just summarize Game 7. It still made me excited to read about Lebron's win again and think back to watching the game on the edge of my parent's couch, but it's not a great piece of sports writing. I can't wait for Lebron's memoir.

If you read my review of this book you'll remember I had absolutely no clue what was happening throughout the entire plot, but I did like the writing. I would be interested in trying a less adventurous plot from Douglas Light, but I did not enjoy this one. It could just be me though, sometimes I miss the most obvious of things.

I had high hopes for this book because I also actually love a medical memoir (I got another one for Christmas) but it was the 'worst' book I read this year (full review here). This is Julie Rehmeyer's account of her struggles with Chronic Fatigue System, something I find immensely interesting. Rehmeyer is also trained as a mathematician and a science writer so I was excited to see how this would translate in a memoir. I was disappointed because I felt like it was mostly just +250 pages of saying the same stuff over and over again. There was also a lot of stuff about her mother who I could not sympathize with at all. This book is also misleading in that based on the cover and the blurb I thought a lot of this book would be set out in the desert, and that's only a small portion of her story. I did learn a little bit about mold sensitivity though.

This was just... a textbook. I didn't know. It's not their fault. I did hate it but only because it was a textbook and nobody chooses to read those for pleasure. It was so dry, so technical, so research-y, and even though the content was good I just couldn't obsess about it because there was too much detracting from it. If you're a sociology, women's studies, criminology, psychology, or even anthropology professor, this would make a fantastic addition to your classroom, students would love it. If you're looking for true crime to read for fun, this is not your book. I reviewed it in full here (but again, the review is likely insulting to the academics who's life's work this is).

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