Best Books of 2018

I’ve stopped posting regularly, but I haven’t stopped reading. I read 129 books in 2018! Here are my favorites:

 

10 Best Fiction

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Little Fires Everywhere by Celest Ng

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

People of the Book by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

3 Best Parenting Books

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks

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American Wife

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

This novel is loosely inspired by the life of Laura Bush. Very, very loosely. It asks, what if the wife of a “pro-life” president had had an abortion as a teenager?

The action of the book focuses closely on four periods in the first lady’s life. First, when she was a teenager and fell in love for the first time and had an abortion. Next, her meeting the future president and their whirlwind courtship. Most of the pages of the book are devoted to a period in the couple’s life before his political career, a crisis in their marriage when he was drinking heavily and their values seemed especially at odds. The final section depicts one day in her life as First Lady, a day in which she’s confronted with her past and makes a decision of her own to oppose her husband.

Sittenfeld is one of those authors that I want to read everything she’s ever written. The reasonable, pragmatic voice of this narrator is one that I’ll remember for a long time. The book really made me think about why it’s hard when couples disagree over politics and what kinds of compromises can be made. It’s not the kind of book that gives the one true answer to questions like that, just poses the question and shows one particular character’s answer, and what it costs her.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This book was one of those that I couldn’t put down. It was like juicy gossip shared among moms at a playground. So many of the descriptions of the mothers and how they treated each other rang so true to me. Even the children seemed like realistic characters, each of them with a precisely drawn and unique relationship to his or her mother, and I feel that is a challenge for a writer to pull off.

I haven’t seen the show based on it yet, but judging from the novel, I will say that Reese Witherspoon cast herself perfectly. Her character is big and loud and hilarious, but with an edge of anger and sadness from a tough divorce. Another main character is Jane, a young mother who’s new in town, and has a hard time navigating playground politics with mothers a decade older than her. There’s a bully in the kindergarten class and the daughter of the PTA pres alpha mom has been victimized, but no one is sure which child is the bully until the end. Class and generational tensions are rife, but some of the strongest friendships in the book are the ones that cross these barriers.

I didn’t know that domestic violence would be a main topic of the book, but I was impressed at the way it was handled. It wasn’t easy to read the inner thoughts of an abused wife and understand in a deep way why she would stay and what it would take to leave.

The twist at the end was absolutely perfect. It’s a happy ending, tied up in a neat bow; justice is done and our heroines are in a better place than they were. An incredibly satisfying read.

Hag-Seed

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

This is from the Hogarth Shakespeare series, modern retellings of Shakespeare stories by well-known authors. I’ve read a couple from the series and this is by far my favorite, which makes sense because I love Atwood so much. It’s The Tempest. Prospero is Felix Phillips, a theater director who has been cast out from his regional theater and is now teaching Shakespeare to prisoners. He hatches a plot to teach the politicians who took his theater job from him a lesson when they visit the prison. There are at least 3 layers of play-within-a-play. It’s funny, redemptive, and has a happy ending. It’s kind of a master class in the multiple interpretations of Shakespeare’s play, as well. Felix teaches his students that all The Tempest’s characters are in a prison in one way or several ways. It’s a very appropriate and creative recasting of the old story.

The Gardener and the Carpenter

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik

This philosophical book about parenting was written by a developmental psychologist who uses insight from her research and discussions of evolution to explore the ultimate purpose of the parent/child relationship. I found it hugely reassuring and even inspiring. Gopnik titled the first chapter “Against Parenting,” meaning that she disagrees with the way “parent” has become a verb in our culture, a form of work rather than a simple, fulfilling relationship. She thinks parents focus too much on working to make their children turn out a certain way. Instead, she says they should focus on simply creating a positive environment for children to grow up in. Children are individuals, after all, and parents’ and schools’ efforts to standardize their outcomes are likely to be futile. Gopnik makes very reasonable arguments for why parents worry about the wrong things, and why the things we do as parents don’t make much difference anyway, not in the way we think they do. She even weighs in on the endless screen time debate, comparing the new technology of tablets and smartphones with the old technology of the book, pointing out that people have always adapted to new ways of communicating and processing information. Along with All Joy and No Fun, I consider this one of the most helpful and comforting books on parenting I’ve ever read.

Best of 2017

Best Fiction

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Trespasser by Tana French

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Best Nonfiction

What Unites Us by Dan Rather

Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Ann-Marie Slaughter

Feel-Bad Education, and Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling by Alfie Kohn

Best Memoir

Hunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

MeReader Year Six in Review

Here’s what I did on the blog this year:

I attended a local Women’s March and wrote about it.

I published a personal essay about my most recent pregnancy on HerStory.

I wrote about my experience with an alternative teacher preparation program for Dad Gone Wild and Diane Ravitch retweeted it.

I turned 33.

I wrote about teacher retention and family policies for Dad Gone Wild.

I wrote about school integration from the perspective of a parent who’s also a teacher for Dad Gone Wild. Chalkbeat picked it up!

In all, in 2017 I read 112 books, reviewed 53 of them, and wrote 6 essays, for a total of 53 posts on the blog.

I’ve hinted a couple times about how 2016 was a hard year for me. The shortest, easiest explanation is that I had a baby, so that consumed the first half of the year or more, and then politics got ugly. So 2017 has been kind of a rebuilding year. And now, I have more hope than I did a year ago that the things that went wrong in 2016, on both a personal and national level, will right themselves, with continued work and focus. Nationally, the special election results and #metoo are giving me hope. And, in addition to my boys’ growth, here are a couple reasons I’m looking forward to 2018.

Toward the end of the year, I posted fewer reviews than usual and no personal writing. My writing energy was diverted elsewhere. I took a four-week writing workshop in the fall. I tried more seriously to write my own fiction, coming up with about 50k words in the summer and another 50k in November for NaNoWriMo. I don’t think I came up with any ideas that I want to seriously pursue in the future, but I did prove to myself that I can make time to write and meet ambitious word count goals, so that’s bound to build my confidence.

Also, I volunteered to take on a new class at my school, US History. There has never been a certified History teacher at our small alternative high school. Students have been taking the course on a computer program, so naturally test scores are terrible. I took the test to become certified, and have been spending the last month or two planning brand new lessons from scratch with very little resources, support, or guidance. But I was getting a little bit bored and burnt out on Spanish, so I’m excited about it, even though it means making my job twice as hard for the same salary. Maybe educating young people about our country’s past counts as a way to #resist.

Tomorrow I’ll post about my favorite books I read this year!