We’re more than halfway through 2018, so it’s about time to share the books I’ve been reading so far this year, right?
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante (***). I have so many friends (mostly those who read the German translation) who have fallen head over heels for this series of Italian books about two best friends. This is the first in the series and begins with their friendship as young girls in Naples during the 1950s. The author does not shy away from the brutality of the time, touching upon issues that were part of everyday life and did not necessarily carry the labels they do today: domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual assault, mafia violence. Maybe for that reason, I found the storyline quite harsh and had a hard time really sinking my teeth into it. I don’t know — should I continue with the series? Should I be reading it in German instead of English?
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls (*****). Funnily enough, this book dealt with equally harsh topics and yet it was one of my favorite books so far this year! It is the memoir of a woman who grew up with eccentric and nomadic (to put it nicely) parents and plenty of adventure, which was sadly counterbalanced by abuse, alcoholism, neglect, and extreme poverty. In the end, the author and her siblings were able to escape to New York one-by-one while they were still teenagers and have created successful lives for themselves. A truly incredible story.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng (****). I enjoyed this book, but I didn’t *love* it the way so many others did. The story takes place in a town where everything is predictable, orderly, and (from the outside) perfect — and centers around an unconventional woman and her daughter who arrive one day. Definitely entertaining, and probably a good beach read. (Though I haven’t admittedly been to the beach yet this year!)
Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid (*****). A cleverly written story about a young couple who escape their war torn country after a discovering a “door” leading to a safer place. Ultimately, they find themselves having to make their way through several doors, and are greeted with varying degrees of welcome, safety, and stability each time. A beautiful book offering such an accurate portrayal of the state of our world at the moment.
No One Is Coming To Save Us, by Stephanie Powell Watts (****). This is a modern day take on the Great Gatsby, and although it was entertaining enough, it wasn’t really my favorite.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (*****). After hearing about the recent film remake of one of my favorite childhood books (though I think I preferred A Wind in the Door at the time), I immediately reread A Wrinkle in Time. Though first published in 1962, the story touches on so many important themes that are still relevant for today. What a nostalgic read!
Hunger, by Roxane Gay (*****). 2018 seems to be my year for reading memoirs. With Hunger, Roxane Gay offers a difficult and unapologetic look at her relationship with her body. “I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.” Roxane definitely doesn’t have it all figured out, but she is candid in a way that demonstrates a self-awareness that many of us will never possess.
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee (*****). This is hands down my favorite book so far this year. Covering multiple generations of a Korean family living in Japan, it is such a beautiful story about culture, identity, and duty. In telling the story of this family, Min Jin Lee offers fascinating insight into a piece of history that I had no idea about — namely the Japanese occupation of Korea, as well as its aftermath. I couldn’t recommend this book more!
The Residue Years, by Mitchell S. Jackson (****). While not a memoir in the strictest sense, this novel is heavily influenced by the experiences of Mitchell Jackson growing up. The book alternates between the voice of a young black man who’s a successful college student at Portland State University (as well as a successful crack dealer on the side) and his crack-addicted mother who was just released from rehab and is trying to stay clean. The disconnects in their lives are powerful and ring so true that you wonder how either of them ever made it to the other side.
The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan (****). An entertaining story that I tore through rather quickly. Unfortunately, due to the heavy weight of the three books I read just prior to this one, it came off in places as a bit trite and predictable. Probably a good beach read though.
Ellbogen, by Fatma Aydemir (****). This is a novel that I picked up randomly from a box of books that a neighbor had put out on the street to give away. For whatever reason, I’ve had a hard time recently finding contemporary German novels that capture my attention (if you have any good recommendations, please let me know!), but I really enjoyed this story from the perspective of an angry and misunderstood Turkish-German teenage girl growing up in Berlin. About halfway through the book, she ends up fleeing to Istanbul, but discovers that she doesn’t fit in there anymore than she did in Berlin. It’s a fascinating look at this dichotomy that exists so starkly in modern-day Germany. I expected more from the ending though, which is why I ended up giving it only 4 stars.
So that’s it! I honestly wasn’t expecting to already have finished 11 books by this point in the year, so I just started a nice long one (752 pages of A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates) that should carry me through the rest of the summer.
What are your favorite reads so far this year? Any recommendations for me?