A difficult question for many avid readers: “What’s your favorite book?” Our minds go blank. We forget the name of every book we’ve read. Remembering one we like, let alone our favorite, seems impossible. But I’ve found something that helps me.
When I look back on my annual reading lists and am reminded of the books I’ve actually read, I can better recall which most impacted me. From there, I can work to remember specifically what I loved about each by re-reading excerpts, old notes.
I’ve decided to further reflect upon my annual reads by compiling lists of the three books from each year that I remember as most thought-provoking or simply enjoyable. Below are my top three reads from 2018.
Although I plan to keep my comments on what I liked in general rather than specific plot points, it’s possible there are spoilers below, so consider this your official spoiler warning for the following books!
Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.Louis L’Amour
1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
This book was among my earliest encounters with magical realism. The novel follows two young adults, refugees from a war-torn country, as they fight to escape the horrors of their homeland and find a place in which to build new lives.
The author depicts emigration creatively through the use of magical doorways. The natives must pay, often their entire life savings, just to pass through a doorway, in search of safety for themselves and their families. They never know exactly what will lie beyond the threshold, can only hope that it will be better than what they’re leaving behind.
This novel was heartbreaking, disturbing at times, beautifully-written, and above all, human. It holds the power to foster great empathy. It exposed me, an American reader, to characters and situations I would likely never encounter otherwise, the complex thought-processes that come with difficult, life-altering decisions, and the myriad struggles migrants endure.
Hamid’s own life has shaped the wisdom with which he writes about such topics. It’s important to read stories from writers with first-hand knowledge and the proper place to accurately educate readers about marginalized experiences. Hamid does this and so much more. He tells a gripping story about the relationship between two young people which also bears the ability to transform readers’ understanding of complex social issues.
2. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
This book was remarkable to read, as memoirs are, because they reveal the tenacity of human beings. That the memoir is written at all is testament to the writer’s ability to overcome what they went through, to have survived at least to the point of being able to write about it.
In this artfully-crafted memoir, Jeanette Walls weaves an account of her life, the struggles she faced growing up in poverty, witnessing and taking part in complicated relationships, and surviving in a tumultuous family dynamic. Her parents were both ill-equipped and too distracted by other things to provide their children with what they needed to live a comfortable, conventional childhood.
Walls and her siblings worked hard throughout their lives to achieve better for themselves, to obtain that which they had always lacked. Although they succeeded at this in many aspects, not everything in the siblings’ lives is solved and suddenly perfect at the end of this book. Walls explores the often conflicting emotions that came with watching her parents refuse to do better for themselves too, to remain in what they’ve always known, in spite of their children offering to help them out of it.
This memoir was heart-wrenching, infuriating at times, and above all, thought-provoking. It captures the intricate complexities of loyalty in an unconventional family and the complicated bonds that form as a result. It was incredible to read about everything Walls went through in her life, knowing she still managed to achieve great things. In spite of it all, she overcame, and from her troubling experiences and painful memories, she created a beautiful work of art.
3. Call me by Your Name by André Aciman
To say André Aciman is a talented writer would be a massive understatement. This story is compelling, entertaining, full of well-rounded and beautifully flawed characters, composed of stunning prose and stimulating philosophies. Aciman could write a description of literally anything, and it would sound like poetry.
In this piece, Aciman captures the heart of young love, adolescent yearning, and self-discovery. He reveals through his characters the sheer difficulty of growing up, the reluctance with which we rid ourselves of youthful idealism. Aciman writes of universally-recognized human emotions, the ache of nostalgia, regret, of wondering what could have been. He does so in a way that makes the emotions the reader’s own, as though it is our life about which he is writing.
The novel depicts a complex and beautiful relationship between two men that blossoms and withers over the course of a summer vacation in northern Italy. It is by no means a perfect connection, one with flaws and questionable qualities of its own. Yet it’s as if, in ending, it’s been fossilized with the mere possibility of perfection; if only it’d had the chance to continue.
This book shattered my heart, as many of the greats do. But the story was real, so human and tragic, its residual emotions lingered with me long after I finished reading. I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind being emotionally wrecked by their fiction reads.