To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life. – W. Somerset Maugham
Once again this year, I used the Goodreads Reading Challenge as a means of recording my reading and keeping myself on track! Having only made it through 45 books last year, and with extra GAA commitments this year, I set myself a target of 40 for 2018, but I managed to exceed that target and finished my forty-seventh book on December 30th. I’m often asked where I find the time to read, but the truth is, reading is my escape and without that release, I couldn’t manage all the other aspects of my life. I read before bed, I read at the hairdressers, I read when others might watch tv. And if I could ever actually wean myself off social media, I’d be able to read even more!!!
I didn’t find this year’s supply of fiction as inspiring as last year’s (maybe I’m reading the wrong ones?), at least in the early part of the year anyway. It took me till the end of March and Eleanor Oliphant before I read a novel that I really enjoyed; Louise O’Neill’s Almost Love gripped me, as it did many others with its gritty reality, but I don’t think it’s a book that’s meant to be enjoyable. Liz Nugent’s Skin Deep was a wonderful read for those who enjoy crime thrillers, and I loved The Dry and Vox (a must-read if you’re a 1984 fan). Louise O’Neill’s other offering of 2018, The Surface Breaks, a feminist re-telling of The Little Mermaid, was one of my favourite books of the year. I had always found that story disturbing, particularly the torture suffered by the Little Mermaid in return for her legs, and O’Neill’s version is superb, particularly the dramatic ending.
Late in the year, Anna Burns’ Booker-winning Milkman was definitely one of the most unique books I’ve read in some time. It took me a while to get used to the narrative voice, but it was well worth the effort and gave me a completely new perspective on what life must have been like during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I also loved Normal People, though I found it very sad, and Transcription by Kate Atkinson, whose complex plots I always enjoy.
In a new departure this year, I dipped a toe in the water of audio books, and tried Mythos, written and read by Stephen Fry, on the recommendation of my sister. I really enjoyed this and found it an excellent alternative to the radio on many walks and long drives (and at times when avoiding the radio was the the best option for my mental health!), and when the follow-up, Heroes, came out, I devoured that too.
I read very little non-fiction in 2018, but what I did read, I enjoyed. Quiet by Susan Cain is a must-read for any introvert (or anyone lucky enough to live with or work with one of us!). Why We Sleep is actually quite a disturbing read, given that so few of us get enough sleep in today’s busy world, and Madam Politician is a really interesting account of Ireland’s nineteen female ministers (yes, only nineteen EVER) and two female presidents. I also loved Personal History, the memoir of the extraordinary Katherine Graham, which I was inspired to read having watched the film The Post. It’s a huge book but absolutely fascinating. Unusually for me, my favourite book of the year (I think!) was another memoir by another truly extraordinary woman, Educated by Tara Westover. If you haven’t read this book, GO AND DO SO NOW!!! Her story is utterly compelling and deeply disturbing in equal measure, and she must really be a phenomenal person to have overcome the many obstacles of her life.
As always, there were one or two that I really didn’t like, but this is of course a matter of personal taste. I didn’t enjoy Dear Mrs. Bird, which had received some very good reviews, I struggled with Two Sisters and I was disappointed with Paris Echo, my final book of the year, as I normally enjoy Sebastian Faulks.
Below is the list of my top ten reads of 2018 (in alphabetical order of author surname as I couldn’t think of any other way to rank them!) and you can view the full list of what I read here.
- Transcription – Kate Atkinson
- Milkman – Anna Burns
- Vox – Christina Dalcher
- Personal History – Katherine Graham
- The Dry – Jane Harper
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
- Skin Deep – Liz Nugent
- The Surface Breaks – Louise O’Neill
- Normal People – Sally Rooney
- Educated – Tara Westover
Very narrowly missing out on the top ten were The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard and The Importance of Being Aisling by Sarah McLysaght and Sarah Breen, which I enjoyed even more than the original Aisling!
I’m going to stick with the target of 40 again for 2019, but will hope to surpass it if at all possible. My first read of the new year will be Michelle Obama’s Becoming.
Comments and suggestions appreciated!
*I’ve linked to Dubray Books for most of my recommendations here, simply because I ordered online from them during the year and got brilliant service, but ideally, we should all try to support our local booksellers too when possible.