Hello, 2018. I am recovering from the flu; I am recovering from 2017.
Some of you may have thought 2017 was a wonderful year. How nice for you. For me, it was a year fraught with fear and loathing, angst and anger, confusion and pathos. Which made it a great year to escape into books. I walked countless miles and listened to almost a hundred audiobooks. Sometimes I listened to Podcasts—NPR, Pod Save America, Pod Save the World—but inevitably, the stench of reality would get to be too much for me and I would find myself jonesing for a good story. There are worse addictions, I guess.
I no longer have any illusions that I can write recommendations for audiobooks for anyone and everyone. (One of the things I learned in 2017–much to my despair—is that there are many people whose values are so estranged from mine that I wonder if we can ever agree on anything. I suppose I used to live in a bubble, but I was happy there.) Anyway, I enjoy Literary Fiction and most of the reviews I read report on such.
When I gleaned the end of the year lists (the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, GoodReads, NPR, Audible and BookPage) the fiction category was overwhelmingly dominated by Literary Fiction. I rather like the egalitarian method that GoodReads uses; they offer a variety of genres and ask their members to vote for their favorites. Nonetheless, the top popular vote-getter was also the choice of literary critics and editors.
Some of the lists included books I read, but for one reason or another I just didn’t like. Or, in a couple of cases, I felt might have been good in print, but didn’t translate well to audio. Nonetheless, I am continuing my policy of only writing positive reviews. Therefore, if a book receives acclaim and I did not care for it, I don’t write about it. Furthermore, if you prefer a select genre of fiction—Romance, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Chick-Lit, Western, Christian Literature, Dystopian, etc., I recommend using the library sub-genres system.
Oh! And by the way, if you haven’t downloaded the Library Overdrive LIBBY ap, I heartily recommend you do so. Libby makes borrowing audio and ebooks very easy and downloading them in your reader or on your phone even easier. Make it your 2018 resolution to look into it. You can thank me later.
So, onto the lists. The novel mentioned in nearly everyone’s Best-of-the-Year-list, and the winner of both BookPage and GoodRead’s Reader’s Choice award is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. A character-driven novel about relationships and chock-full of social issues, this is the kind of book beloved by book clubs that actually talk about their books.
A cautionary note about a popular novel that I saw on several lists of excellence. My book club chose it after reading the cursory description, “Coming of age novel about a 14-year-old girl in rural Northern California.” Why not, we thought? Later, after reading a few more reviews we learned there was a bit more to the story. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent is an exceptionally well-written novel about a teenage girl with an emotionally, physically and sexually abusive father. It is very hard to read/listen to, but equally hard to put-down/turn-off. The “ick” factor was too great for my book club and we de-selected it; only a few of us went on to read it on our own. But those of us who did read it agreed with the critics: a memorable and excellent book.
And yet another kind of coming-of-age tale is represented in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement, this is the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. This is categorized as the top Young Adult novel, but it has demonstrated wide appeal among all ages and is an important topic for our times.
I normally stick to fiction, but sometimes there is something so superior that even I will venture into the land of biography. And, I have to admit, this one was on nearly everyone’s top ten list—including Barack Obama’s. (It makes me wistful remembering that once upon a time we actually had a president that could read, and spoke in complete sentences, and didn’t use profanity and . . . well, no sense belaboring the point.)
Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Chernow’s Grant is an enormous investment in time—1100 pages and about 48 hours of listening. But if you thought you knew about Ulysses S. Grant and his impact on the Civil War and the Reconstruction years, you’ll find there is a lot more to know. I didn’t think presidential biographer extraordinaire Chernow could top Hamilton and I doubt we’ll get a Broadway musical out of this one, but who knows—maybe a movie? This is a comprehensive and well-researched tome that is not only a history of the Gilded Age, but given our own growing economic inequality combined with threats from white supremacists, it is also a mirror on our own current situation.
So, dear readers/listeners, I thank you for your time and attention. I wish you a happy 2018 filled with many hours of literary entertainment and edification—or at the very least, a bit of pleasant distraction. We can all use that.