Other 2018 Superlatives and Some Early 2019 Recommendations


My Best Discoveries of the Year: Neil Ansell, James Baldwin, Janet Frame, Rohinton Mistry, Blake Morrison, Dani Shapiro, Sarah Vowell; Roald Dahl’s work for adults


The Author I Read the Most By: Anne Tyler (four novels)


My Proudest Reading Achievement: Getting through a whole Rachel Cusk book (it was my third attempt to read her).


The 2018 Books Everybody Else Loved but I Didn’t: Melmoth by Sarah Perry and Normal People by Sally Rooney


The Year’s Biggest Disappointments: The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa and Sabrina by Nick Drnaso


The Funniest Books I Read This Year: Fox 8 by George Saunders and Calypso by David Sedaris


Books that Made Me CryLeaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller and The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke


The Downright Strangest Books I Read This Year: The Bus on Thursday by Sheila Barrett, The Pisces by Melissa Broder and I Love Dick by Chris Kraus


The Debut Authors Whose Next Work I’m Most Looking Forward To: Julie Buntin, Lisa Ko and R.O. Kwon


The Best First Line of the Year: “Dust and ashes though I am, I sleep the sleep of angels.” (from The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey)



Some Early 2019 Recommendations

(in release date order)

Book Love by Debbie Tung: Bookworms will get a real kick out of these cartoons, which capture everyday moments in the life of a book-obsessed young woman (perpetually in hoodie and ponytail). She reads anything, anytime, anywhere. Even though she has piles of books staring her in the face everywhere she looks, she can never resist a trip to the bookstore or library. The very idea of culling her books or finding herself short of reading material makes her panic, and she makes a friend sign a written agreement before he can borrow one of her books. Her partner and friends think she’s batty, but she doesn’t care. I found the content a little bit repetitive and the drawing style not particularly distinguished, but Tung gets the bibliophile’s psyche just right. (Out January 1.)



When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon by Joshua D. Mezrich: In this debut memoir a surgeon surveys the history of organ transplantation, recalling his own medical education and the special patients he’s met along the way. In the 1940s and 1950s patient after patient was lost to rejection of the transplanted organ, post-surgery infection, or hemorrhaging. Mezrich marvels at how few decades passed between transplantation seeming like something out of a science-fiction future and becoming a commonplace procedure. His aim is to never lose his sense of wonder at the life-saving possibilities of organ donation, and he conveys that awe to readers through his descriptions of a typical procedure. One day I will likely need a donated kidney to save my life. How grateful I am to live at a time when this is a possibility. (Out January 15.)


Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro: Shapiro was used to strangers’ comments about her blond hair and blue eyes. How could it be that she was an Orthodox Jew? people wondered. It never occurred to her that there was any truth to these hurtful jokes. On a whim, in her fifties, she joined her husband in sending off a DNA test kit. It came back with alarming results. Within 36 hours of starting research into her origins, Shapiro had found her biological father, a sperm donor whom she calls Dr. Ben Walden, and in the year that followed, their families carefully built up a relationship. The whole experience was memoirist’s gold, for sure. This is a moving account of her emotional state as she pondered her identity and what her sense of family would be in the future. (Out January 15.)


constellationsConstellations: Reflections from Life by Sinéad Gleeson: Perfect for fans of I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, this is a set of trenchant autobiographical essays about being in a female body, especially one wracked by pain. As a child Gleeson had arthritis that weakened her hip bones, and eventually she had to have a total hip replacement. She ranges from the seemingly trivial to life-and-death matters as she writes about hairstyles, blood types, pregnancy, the abortion debate in Ireland and having a rare type of leukemia. In the tradition of Virginia Woolf, Frida Kahlo and Susan Sontag, Gleeson turns pain into art, particularly in a set of 20 poems based on the McGill Pain Index. The book feels timely and is inventive in how it brings together disparate topics to explore the possibilities and limitations of women’s bodies. (Out April 4.)


The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons on Survival from the Front Lines of Grief by Nora McInerny: In June 2016 I read It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too), McInerny’s memoir about losing her father and her husband to cancer and her second child to a miscarriage – all within a few weeks – when she was 31. In this short book, an expansion of her TED talk, she argues that we are all incompetent when it comes to grief. There’s no rule book for how to do it well or how to help other people who are experiencing a bereavement, and comparing one loss to another doesn’t help anyone. I especially appreciated her rundown of the difference between pity and true empathy. “Pity keeps our hearts closed up, locked away. Empathy opens our heart up to the possibility that the pain of others could one day be our own pain.” (Out April 30.)


Coming tomorrow: Library Checkout & Final statistics for the year


Have you read any 2019 releases you can recommend?

22 thoughts on “Other 2018 Superlatives and Some Early 2019 Recommendations

  1. Hmmm, you may not be the only one who didn’t love Normal People and Melmoth. In fact, I was not that impressed with the previous work by these authors so have only skimmed these titles and then decided not to read them.


  2. I haven’t been able to get into any of Sarah Perry’s books – have got rid of the first two, and won’t bother with the new one. Sally Rooney’s second is on my list for Irish Reading Month in March – we’ll see. I must read Fox 8 – I love a book that can make me laugh. No recommendations for 2019 yet – I’ve only read two OK crime novels, which I know aren’t really your thing.


  3. I’m impressed you got through a Cusk – I have read one and only finished it because Matthew and I read it together and it was something to whine about!

    I love the look of Inheritance and will look out for that one. I have only read one coming out next year and that’s a reissue, “Spring Magic” by DE Stevenson. Gentle, funny and lovely. I would encourage people to look out for the new Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press if they like mid-20th-century women’s writing; they’re uncovering some gems.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m proud of you for making it all the way through a book by Rachel Cusk, but I’m a bit shocked that apparently her books are difficult for you to enjoy. Have you read “Arlington Park”? I’ve just finished it a couple of days ago and felt that it portrayed the lives of modern British wives and mothers well. Cusk did a fine job of depicting how painful being a wife can be, trying to cope with a husband’s domineering ways. One of the characters, Juliet, states without hesitation that husbands “are murderers. They murder their wives.” She means, I suppose, that men take over women’s spirits and crush them until nothing is left but empty shells where women’s personalities and independent minds once existed.

    Not all the women in this book feel as strongly as Juliet about their husbands, but if I were a young and as-yet unmarried woman the book would put me off marriage for a long, long time.

    Thank you for your book recommendations and reviews, Becca. I’ll be reading some of these during the coming year.



  5. I have a DNA test kit story for you. My sister, Kate, who, as you might remember, is adopted, did one of those test kits to help her find her biological parents and/or relatives. Just like that she found out who her bio father is and has since met a bunch of her cousins. There were 13 kids in her bio dad’s family! And it turns out that two of her cousins live in my town and one of them has a daughter who goes to the same school as my son. The world is small! And those test kits seem to be amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

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