Now that we’re well into 2019, I’m finally sharing with you the books that I read in the second half of last year (see this post for the first half). By far, my favorite from this batch was Michelle Obama’s memoir, which helped me close out the year. So, without further ado…
A Book of American Martyrs, by Joyce Carol Oates (****)
A timely book about communities and families ripped apart by the murder of an abortion provider in the Midwest by a Christian fundamentalist who convinced he’s doing God’s work. The story is told from two perspectives: the abortion provider’s family and that of the killer and his family. Oates doesn’t allow for either side to take the moral high ground. In the end, the stories of both men are left to be told by their daughters, who seek to make sense of the tragedy in their own heartbreaking way.
Kindred, by Octavia Butler (****)
One of the first African American women to write science fiction, Butler wrote this classic about an African American woman who is repeatedly pulled back in time to a slave plantation in the South in order to save the life of the owner’s son. Certainly a disturbing tale in some ways, but also an important and relevant read.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (****)
This is a story full of magic and imagination. It is about a man who returns to his home village for a funeral, and gets lost in memories from his childhood – except it’s not quite as straightforward as that. An entertaining read.
Neujahr, by Juli Zeh (**)
I’m making a concerted effort to read more contemporary German authors, and so I picked up two novels by Juli Zeh with a gift certificate I received for my birthday. Unfortunately, Neujahr was not my favorite. The novel takes place on an island in the Canaries on New Year’s Day, where a man and his family are celebrating the holidays. It centers around his memories of forgotten childhood trauma, specifically: an episode of extreme neglect described in great detail for a large portion of the novel. Honestly, I found this quite heartbreaking and difficult to stomach, so I ended up skipping over a lot of the story. The book just didn’t do it for me.
Nullzeit, by Juli Zeh (**)
The second of two novels that I read by Juli Zeh. Again taking place on one of the Canary Islands, this story focused on a diving instructor and two of his customers. It struck me as a bit of a German version of Gone Girl and I didn’t find any of the characters particularly sympathetic.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari (****)
I was fascinated by the first half of this book, which traces the evolution of homo sapiens, homo erectus, and other species of humans. I thought Harari did a great job of breaking down the science into something digestible for those of us who aren’t archeologists or historians. However, I skipped portions of the book related to more recent societal and scientific development and discovery. As a sociologist, these seemed to me to be a little too basic and glossed over – but I suspect that non-social scientists would find these sections just as fascinating as I found the first half of the book. :)
Becoming, by Michelle Obama (*****)
This memoir was a real breath of fresh air. Michelle Obama describes her life in terms of her own personal development: becoming me, becoming us, and becoming more. I loved reading about her childhood, her ambitions as a young woman wondering if she could ever be good enough to meet the expectations of others, and her search for her own place in the world. Of course her insights into life in the White House were also fascinating — trying to carve out normality and stability for their family, while also dedicating herself to making a difference for the causes she believed in. It’s hard not to admire her for using the platform she’s been given to make the largest impact possible to change the world for the better. A definite must-read!
What were your favorites from 2018? Anything I should add to my list for 2019? Please share below!