My 2018 in reading: the awards

I’ve done my top books that came out in 2018, and my top books I happened to read in 2018, but what about some more specific and dubious honours? I didn’t really have a good enough selection for a simple spite list this year (though if anyone’s interested, I can share my least favourite reads of 2018), but have gone for a few random categories and some anecdotal justification.

The ‘finally read it this year’ – tie between Don Quixote and The Odyssey

Apparently 2018 was the year I sat down with some famous journeys. Homer was the greater omission, having read and studied The Iliad in translation at undergrad, and it was thanks to the Emily Wilson translation that I finally got around to it. Don Quixote was more impulsive, but I do now understand references to Don Quixote (and I managed to spill quite a lot of Vimto on my copy of it). A bonus mention to both Metamorphosis and The Trial, as I finally read some Kafka this year, motivated by going to Prague, though it felt less of an achievement.

The ‘oh hurry up and finish’ – Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin

Summed up above, really. I thought Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, which I read not long before this, was slow (it really does take a long time to get to Udolpho), but Maturin does impressively well at making a narrative within a narrative within a narrative that just takes forever. Not an experience I enjoyed (Sarah Perry’s rewrite is worth a read, though).

The ‘thank god the sequel was worth waiting for’ – The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

The first book, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, may be my ideal fun read: a YA historical romp across Europe by a bisexual eighteenth century young aristocrat, taking liberties with the bounds of possibility and throwing in a lot of adventure tropes like pirates and highway robbery. The sequel, focused on his sister intent on becoming a doctor, was worth the wait, a novel which kept the fun, adventure, and travel, but wove in more issues around gender and race in the period. Bonus mention to the novella that was a preorder bonus with the sequel, because it was joyous and proves how wonderful Lee’s characters are that you just want to keep reading more of them, their flaws and their triumphs.

The ‘gamble on the sequel of a book I didn’t enjoy’ – Kill ‘Em All by John Niven

I really don’t like Kill Your Friends. I found it boring, trying to be the British American Psycho or similar without really saying or doing anything interesting. I liked another Niven novel slightly more, so thought I’d gamble on this sequel to Kill Your Friends, set in the modern, post-truth world. I found it clever, darker, and more satirical than the first book, no longer just about excess and murder, but about how you can frame excess and murder in new ways.

The ‘knew it wasn’t for me, was vindicated when I was right’ – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Despite its prize winning, the plot of Lincoln in the Bardo never appealed, and that was before I knew what the structure was. A colleague leant it to me because she didn’t like it (always a great way to come to a novel) and despite odd flashes when I was engaged with what was going on, I mostly just didn’t care.

The ‘YA that made me wish I actually could read it as a young adult’ – Clean by Juno Dawson

This is quite a tough category because there’s some great YA I read now that would’ve been great to read as a young teenager (at which point I mostly read Point Horror and books about teenage spies). However, Clean wins for 2018 because it is an honestly brilliant balance between suitably hard-hitting and grown up in its topics (kinds of addiction predominantly) and full of teenage drama amongst mostly rich, messed up young people. It would’ve been the kind of book that felt exciting to read, but was also bringing new perspectives.

The ‘how was it so actually bad when it could’ve been trash enjoyable’ – The Vampyre by Tom Holland

I know, it’s shocking that I didn’t enjoy the novel with the premise of Byron’s life, but he was actually a vampire. However, it was just…not fun. Too long, too slow, didn’t actually do much justice to any character except Percy Bysshe Shelley who was suitably busy talking about revolution. Better to just read Fiona MacCarthy’s Byron biography and then use your imagination.

The ‘most called out by its satire’ – Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

Are the categories getting more facetious? Possibly. Anyway, Burton’s focus on hipster bars and stupidly specific tea blends felt very much an attack on some of my more hipster habits (I drink a lot of a flavoured tea and do enjoy themed cocktails in themed bars). Though thankfully I don’t use Instagram even vaguely as much as her protagonists.

[Side note: If you fancy seeing everything I read this year (not quite sure why you would), take a look at my Goodreads reading challenge for 2018.]

My favourite non-2018 books I read in 2018

It’s hard to do end of year ‘best of’ lists without making arbitrary divisions, so I did my top books that came out in 2018 already, and now it’s time for those I read in 2018 but that came out earlier (how much earlier does vary). Again, didn’t restrict numbers, so have ended up with a top seven.

  • Letters Written During A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark by Mary Wollstonecraft – Wollstonecraft’s account of travelling with an infant daughter on the business of a man who was ultimately to desert her, and which famously made her later husband William Godwin say “If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book.” It covers varied topics including mocking tourists and lamenting her own mental state, as well as reflections on the self and nature.
  • Marriage of a Thousand Lies by S.J. Sindu – A gripping and at times heart-wrenching novel about Lucky and her husband Krishna, who are both gay but married to appease their Sri Lankan-American families. A look at families, truth, and what happens when an illusion needs to be shattered.
  • If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho, trans. Anne Carson – One of the perks of working in a university was that I could take this out of the library just for fun. There’s not much to say about it: it’s the fragements of Sappho’s poetry, translated by Anne Carson in a punchy, Anne Carson way.
  • A Gothic Soul by Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic – The first of two Czech books on this list (can you tell I went to Prague this year?), A Gothic Soul is a Czech Decadent book that is lyrical, almost without plot, and about a nihilistic protagonist seeing his situation reflected in Prague, which he calls a dead city. Even in translation, the atmosphere comes through incredibly well (and there’s a great little edition of the English translation, which is also true of the following book).
  • May by Karel Hynek Mácha (in translation) – I have on good authority Mácha is the Czech Romantic poet, with his dramatic life cut short, epic poetry, and liking for Byron. May (Máj in Czech) is a four canto long narrative poem with an opening that Czech schoolchildren learn to recite and it is very much worth a read for its description and Byronic narrative.
  • S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett – I had to have something from my favourite genre, privileged group at a university/school/similar do terrible things, on this list. This is a refreshing YA version, in which a scholarship student uncovers a sinister secret relating to a weekend of shooting and drinking that happens every year at a fancy private school. It has a good dose of mystery solving, teenage angst, and class issues.
  • Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson – I didn’t intend to end up with two Anne Carson books on here, but in that case I shouldn’t’ve read multiple Anne Carson books this year. Autobiography of Red is a poem about a modern version of an ancient Greek character, a novel in verse that plays with mythology, love, and sexuality.
The author reading May in front of a statue of Czech author Mácha.
Me, reading Máj (well, pretending to, as it’s the Czech edition) in front of the Mácha statue on Petřín Hill in Prague.

My favourite books of 2018 (in order of when I read them)

Instead of narrowing them down any further, I’m just saying there’s something for everyone. Links to go my full review where they exist, mostly all on this new shiny blog except a couple the import missed that go to Goodreads.