We’re nearing the end of 2018, and the time has come for me to take a look back over the past year and remember the good, the bad and the ugly.
Given that there is no shortage of options for the latter two in the news alone, today I’m focusing on the good parts in my first ever “favourites” post: my favourite books from 2018, my favourite music discoveries, and my favourite places.
Best books of 2018
I can’t promise to have read very widely over the year – until June, my reading consisted of university set texts and very little else – but I certainly feel like I have read well, even venturing into non-fiction in a way I haven’t really done before. For the first time in a long time, I’m reading much more regularly for pleasure instead of for my studies, and I’m really enjoying it. So, in no particular order: my favourite books of 2018!
1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor is a twenty-something office worker whose life has become a monotonous blur of work, weekends at home drinking vodka, frozen pizza, and phone chats with Mummy. It seems, on the surface, to be pretty straightforward. She doesn’t feel she is missing out on anything. She is comfortable with her repetitive daily routine. She is fine.
However, when her routine is knocked out of rhythm by a personal makeover mission, a broken computer, and a stranger she helps on the street… things begin to unravel. And she will find that there are things she hasn’t told anyone – not even herself.
This book gripped me from the start and didn’t let me go, leaving me sleep-deprived from many occasions of reading long into the night. The narrative voice is completely unique, and you can’t help but sympathise with Eleanor even when she is acting in ways you can’t relate to at all. It is a well-written portrayal of trauma and a story which will stay with you for days after you finish the final pages.
2. Girl in the Woods
What shocked me most is that this is a true story – a memoir of sorts, written as if it were fiction, about the author’s long solo hike from Mexico to Canada. It is a story of survival, physical and mental, after the author was raped on her second night of college and her identity was thrown into turmoil.
I found this book astoundingly sad, but also hopeful and uplifting – I would read the book and imagine I could feel myself growing and becoming more independent along with the protagonist.
I’d caution that the book isn’t great for body positivity: a lot of the author’s self-liberation is tied to her body, and losing the weight she put on after her rape. While this is natural in the physical challenge of the hike, it could be upsetting to some readers, especially if you tie your weight/appearance to an inner sense of identity. However, a lot of her transformation is in her personal development and her independence, and I found it extremely moving and motivating overall.
3. The Guilty Feminist
Written by the host of the podcast with the same name, The Guilty Feminist is a wonderful overview of intersectional feminism, suitable for beginners to the topic as well as long-time feminists. It is the answer to “everything you have always wanted to know but have been too afraid to ask”.
While I found some parts quite basic, other parts opened up completely new questions. The book includes a huge range of speakers and contributors, of different gender identities, races, class backgrounds, non-disabled and disabled speakers, allowing for a very balanced view. I really liked that instead of simply quoting studies (which Deborah also does, extensively, backing up all her writing), she also hands the mic to these different contributors to allow them to speak in their own words about the issues that affect them.
4. The Wee Free Men
Yep, I’m really late to the Terry Pratchett party but I finally got round to reading this book (and the second in the series) this year. I read them while au-pairing abroad and spent many an antisocial family gathering huddled in the corner with my e-reader, my eyes glued to the page. I love the narrative voice, the world, the characters – they’re so full of life and if you, like me, never got round to it… I fully recommend starting the series in 2019.
5. How To Stop Time
The protagonist Tom Hazard may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. The worst part is not just keeping his dangerous secret from his enemies, but not having anyone to share it with. And those who claim to protect him might have dangerous secrets of their own…
Another book which gripped me with its gorgeous narrative prose and a premise with just the right amount of fantasy and realism. I love Matt Haig’s writing and this did not disappoint.
6. Self-Made Man
In this anecdotal book, Norah Vincent goes “undercover” as a man named Ned for 18 months, experiencing several isolated environments from an insider’s perspective, including a monastery, strip clubs, dating women, and a highly ego-driven sales job. Her experiences allow her to describe “life as a man” in new ways, comparing it to her everyday life as a woman, and coming to realise the ways in which (in her own words) men are suffering.
While the book is based on her experience rather than any kind of scientific data, and can’t claim to speak for the male experience as a whole, this book is a great conversation starter and a lot of food for thought for anyone at all interested in the concept of gender and how it is not only perceived but also performed.
My favourite music discoveries
Some of the following are artists I knew existed previously but had never fully gotten into this year, while others are completely new discoveries. I love the process of finding new music – from the first moment where I realise I like a new song and investigate who it’s by, to the point where I listen to the same album over and over for days on end… until I get bored and find another artist to obsess over.
Steam Powered Giraffe
Quirky, energetic, bizarre – with a whole fictional backstory and characters, too. My favourites have to be “honeybee” and “overdrive”.
Lyrics I love singing along to, and rhythms I can’t help but dance to. This one is courtesy of one of my best friends at university.
Deliciously upbeat and catchy, this is a boyband catalan-style. Discovered while I was au-pairing in Catalonia – I even saw them live late at night in Lleida!
My favourite places
Given that I’m spending 6 months of this year there, it would seem wrong not to include the city of lights in my favourite places. Paris and I have a love/hate relationship; I love its sights, the architecture, the Latin quarter, Montmartre, all the museums and cultural events and the international, diverse community… I hate the pollution, the smoking, the traffic, the metro, rush hour, how long it takes to get anywhere.
I’ve had ample time to try out so many different parts of the city – tourist magnets and hidden gems alike – so watch this space for my ultimate guide to spending a weekend in Paris!
I spent a few days in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival this summer and absolutely loved it – it’s a good size city, with beautiful cobbled twisting streets, easy enough to walk around (and a lot of walking we did, often in the pouring rain), with such a huge range of things to see and do! The festival atmosphere was particularly fun, despite the grey weather, and I definitely hope to go back someday.
I only got to spend a few hours in Bruges as part of a weekend bus trip around Belgium’s major cities, but those few hours were enough to fall in love. This is a town where it could be Christmas all year long, and every gorgeous winding street feels timeless.
It was also one of those places where Autumn actually felt like the best time of year to visit – the perfect time of year to wander down leaf-strewn avenues and curl up in quaint coffee shops nestled below impressive architectural feats. My favourite kind of city.
What have been your favourite books, musical discoveries and places from 2018? I’d love to hear any recommendations – so please do leave them in the comments below 🙂