Does anyone else feel like they don’t remember much of last year? My memories center around a few key events, but the rest of the year blends into one long day, huddled around the TV, listening to the news. One of the few activities that kept my morale up and kept me feeling sane was reading. I dived into many books, found an online community via my new #bookstagram account (come follow me @uncorked.bookshelf for my book and wine recommendations!), and surpassed my goal of reading 20 books (I tracked it on goodreads!)! Books were, and continue to be, my escape from reality, as well as my teacher. Here are some of my favorite *non-audiobooks* from last year…
1. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
To say that The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett was anything less than amazing is to do it a disservice. It really was that good. In order to really grasp the nuances of the story Bennett is trying to tell, you have to have (at least) a little bit of knowledge of US history, the racial divide, slavery, and racism that sometimes resulted in the phenomenon of ‘passing’ as a different race. I won’t even pretend to act like I know what I’m talking about regarding the suffering Black people have endured (and continue to endure) over the centuries at the hands of white people, but reading this story helped me better understand how skin color can dramatically change your opportunities. The Vanishing Half is set in a fictional town not very different from this one, and it follows the story of twin sisters that end up living very different lives. One lives her life like a Black woman, and the other one, at the cost of her family and roots, lives her life as a white woman. Their choices impact their families through several generations. I can’t recommend this book enough!
2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko was another one of my favorites. I seem to have a taste for multigenerational, literary-fiction, with strong female characters! This story begins in Korea in a small fishing village and centers around a family of three. After the father dies, the mother raises her young daughter alone. When Sunja, the daughter, gets a little older, she is pursued by an older businessman, and her decisions in regards to this relationship set off a series of events that changes the trajectory of her and her family’s future. I loved Lee’s storytelling and style!
3. The Binding by Bridget Collins
I read The Binding for Poppy Loves Book Club in October and did not expect to fall in love with the story when I started reading the first few pages. I’ll be writing a review of it soon!
4. Educated by Tara Westover
I have to admit, I picked up Educated because I saw it trending all over the internets, without actually knowing what it was about. This is a memoir of a young woman who grew up in a devout Mormon community in rural Idaho. Her parents feared big government, feared modern medicine, and education. Their children didn’t have birth certificates, let alone were able to go to school. Yet somehow, Tara ended up being curious about learning, ultimately overcoming abuse and neglect to pursue a university education. I found her story relatable, having I grown up in a similarly devout community that shares many of the same fears. I was one of the few people in my former community to get a university education, and similarly to Tara, I remember how naive and ignorant I felt when I first stepped through CU Boulder’s doors. If you haven’t read it, add this to your TBR list ASAP!
5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
I can’t decide if East of Eden made it on the list of my favorites just because of how much I had to wrestle with reading it (it took me AGES) so finishing it gave me a huge sense of accomplishment, or if it was just a literally masterpiece, or maybe a bit of both. If you want to read a classic and a challenge, this is the book for you. I wrote a review about it here.
6. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah is one of my favorite comedians/hosts. I knew he was from South Africa and extremely witty, but that was about all I knew of his story. Born a Crime, Noah’s memoir, shed some light on the conditions of apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, and the challenges and hurdles he and his mother experienced growing up. It was funny at times, sad at times, but always raw and engaging.
7. What Red Was by Rosie Price
This was another Poppy Loves Book Club selection. What Red Was is, by no means, a fast-paced novel. The story revolves around a young woman’s sexual assault and the aftermath. The build-up is slow, and the aftermath is slow too. I normally like a faster pace in the books I read. However, what I really liked about the book, and where I believe it’s valuable, is how genuine Kate’s experiences, thoughts, and anguish came across, especially navigating in a #metoo era. Sometimes, in the aftermath of a sexual assault, there is no ‘epiphany’ moment or ‘justice served’ – life just goes on. Kate’s thought process felt like a real-life, authentic struggle with trauma with zero glamour. While I would have liked to have more details or insight into the other characters, I really liked reading it, as heavy as it was.
8. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
This is Going to Hurt made me laugh, made me cry, made me feel all the regret for not pursuing medicine (I was in pre-med), and then made me feel relieved that I did not end up doing it in the end. It also made me have a deeper appreciation for the NHS, and the doctors that saw to me in my times of need, despite the sleep-deprivation and exhaustion. I was able to get into the book really quickly. Kay is really funny and I loved his style of writing. I can imagine what he sounds like in real life from his words on paper, and I think that’s a rare gift. Don’t pass up the chance to read this book!
9. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (trilogy)
This trilogy reminded me a little of the Gossip Girl books when I was back in my prime. Was it deep? No, absolutely not, but it was juicy, fun, and a little bit of a fantasy. Who hasn’t fantasized, even if for a minute, about getting a hot, secretly rich boyfriend, and then getting swept up in their lavish lifestyle? This was 10/10 entertainment.
10. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Two years ago, I read The Nightingale, and absolutely loved it. A strong female lead, WWII theme, and romance are the perfect combination to win a place in my heart, so I was excited to pick up another book by Hannah. The Great Alone did not disappoint! I have been fascinated by Alaska ever since reading this! The story is about a young girl, her mother, and her abusive father (suffering from PTSD). Her mother, Cora, continues to take the brunt of his abuse and is still helplessly in love with him. They can never stay in one place because of the father’s paranoia and his lack of ability to hold down a job. This prompts the family to move to Alaska, and pursue a life in the wilderness. Everyone thought solitude would be good for the dad, but the abuse towards Leni’s mom only grows worse. What I loved about this story is that the main ‘love story’ wasn’t between partners, but rather, the love between a mother and daughter.