In 2017 I read 52 books as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge, and shared my top twenty here (part one) and here (part two). If you read through, you might notice the majority of those books are over twenty years old and were written by white men. Since then, I’ve been challenging myself to diversify what I read, and to read more recently published books.
I didn’t quite read as many books in 2018, but have compiled a list of my top twenty. Here we go, books from 20 to 11.
#20 NOTHING LIKE THE SUN – Anthony Burgess, 1964.
Not a good start to diversifying my reading habits, hey? Burgess is someone who I consider to be an excellent writer, one of the best. What I love about his varied works is his quintessential English wit, his creativity, and his mastery of language. NOTHING LIKE THE SUN is a story of William Shakespeare’s love life, written in an approximation of Elizabethan English. As much as I’m a fan of Shakespeare’s and Burgess’ works and enjoyed the creative style in which it was written, this book didn’t grab me.
#19 THE QUIET GIRL – Peter Høeg, 2007.
After reading MISS SMILLA’S FEELING FOR SNOW, I was expecting a lot from THE QUIET GIRL. Right from the beginning, the dialogue and interaction between characters is really hard to follow. What kept me reading was Høeg’s occasional magical turn of phrase, the additional musical details and the mystery about KlaraMaria – the missing girl. Høeg honestly does some really clever things with the protagonist’s superior hearing abilities, though there is a lack of consistency. Some parts of it are great. Yet on the whole I was disappointed. Again and again the protagonist overcomes obstacles and fights through henchmen to reach an antagonist, and then he basically just talks to them. And just walks away. One other thing that frustrated me was how perfectly everything fitted together. Life, nor art, is never so neat. And if you’re solving a crime there will always be red herrings, mistakes, fruitless leads and dead ends.
#18 THE GREAT ZOO OF CHINA, Matthew Reilly, 2015.
It’s a fun read based on a brilliant concept, but it’s either poorly executed or poorly edited. CJ, a reptile expert, her photographer brother and two respected American journalists were being given an exclusive tour of a new zoo, unlike anything else in the world. A Dragon Zoo. They found Dinosaur eggs and hatched them, and the dinosaurs look a whole lot like dragons. I guess it’s not a huge spoiler that the dragons get loose and everything goes to shit. The action scenes are great, the characters are exactly what you would expect (and does CJ’s only accessory – a crocodile tooth necklace – come into play? You bet it does!) but there are huge errors. Like CJ, who had spent all day with her brother and two American journalists and English-speaking guides was suddenly surprised to hear someone mention her name in English. And after hours of being shot at by the Chinese military, shooting back, seeing people torn apart and dozens of horribly mutilated bodies, CJ only realises she’s in a war zone after seeing a random gun on the ground. There’s a few issues like that which really detract from the story. The action and characters are good, the idea is good, but it just falls apart if you think about it.
#17 SIDDHARTHA – Herman Hesse, 1922.
Okay. Where’s that diversity I mentioned earlier? Another book that’s almost 100 years old, written by a white guy? SIDDHARTHA is an interesting read, telling the story of a Brahmin’s son’s unusual path of enlightenment. The story of the book also intrigued me. It was written and published in the 1920’s, in the German-speaking world (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) and forty years later was finally translated into English and went in to have strong popularity for a decade or two. Ultimately I would only recommend it to people who are interested in German literature or spiritual exploration.
#16 WHITE NIGHT – Ellie Marney, 2018.
Coming from a tiny country town in Victoria, I was excited to read WHITE NIGHT, hoping that it would feel familiar, authentic and mesh with my own experiences. I was a little disappointed in the first chapter, where the dialogue, descriptions, even the character’s nicknames all felt wrong to me. WHITE NIGHT tells the story of Bo, a high school student, and how his world changed after meeting Aurora, a girl from a nearby Ecological commune. It was a good read, an interesting coming-of-age story, revealing family secrets and Bo’s challenge of self-acceptance. While I liked it, I felt like I never met a lot of the supporting characters. We met Bo and his immediate family, plus Aurora and Sprog (Bo’s best friend. It’s been a year since I read it and that nickname still makes me shudder). But Cam and Loz and all the other kids at school, they just all blurred into one.
#15 R.U.R. – Karel Čapek. 1921.
R.U.R is a fascinating sci-fi story, and this piece (also titled Rossum’s Universal Robots) is where the term ‘robot’ comes from. In fact, Čapek asked questions about our humanity and that of robots that are still being asked some 98 years later.
#14 TALON – Julie Kagawa, 2014.
Ember and Dante Hill are dragons – hatchlings, really – who are spending their summer at a Californian beach town, under Talon’s instructions to blend in, assimilate and observe. Garrett is a soldier in the order of St George, a secret army (made up of teenagers) who are sworn to destroy the Dragons. I loved Ember. Bit of a stereotypical feisty, stubborn redhead, sure, but she was written so well. Garrett, the other main POV character, left me cold. It wasn’t the whole ‘brainwashed child soldier’ thing either. I was much more interested in his squadmate Tristain from the beginning, and wished it was Tristain we were focusing on instead of Garrett. Having said that, Kagawa really wrote the development of their relationship very well. I personally am not a fan of shapeshifting, and I totally get that not every book is written for me, but I just can’t get my head around it. Especially given the massive size difference between a diminutive girl and an immense dragon. But you know what? I really enjoyed TALON. It was a captivating story, and I am keen to read the rest of the series.
#13 THE SECRET SCIENCE OF MAGIC – Melissa Keil, 2017.
THE SECRET SCIENCE OF MAGIC is really good book about two High School kids from Melbourne, both with unconventional passions, maths and magic. Both who don’t quite fit in at school. Sophia is great at reading mathematical formulae, but useless at reading people. She’s prone to anxiety attacks, can’t handle crowds or contact with others. Her best friend Elsie is basically her only friend, and they spend every Friday night at one of their houses. Joshua spends his spare time learning and practising his magic tricks, at the expense of his homework. He does have a few friends outside school, but is definitely an outcast during school hours. It’s a really engaging and sweet story, and I guess the reason it’s not in the top 10 is that there were a few issues with continuity and pop-culture references. Despite these criticisms, the book is engaging, the characters are interesting, believable and well-written.
#12 BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S – Truman Capote, 1958.
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S is one of those iconic works which puts an image in your head – in this case Audrey Hepburn – as soon as you see the title whether you’ve read/seen it before or not. The book contains the story of Holly Golightly that they based the movie on, as well as a few other short stories. What makes BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S such a classic is the larger than life characters, especially Holly, who steals the show as a mysterious, eccentric, and entirely captivating young high society socialite in New York during the early ’40s. Capote brings all the characters to life with his vivid writing style, and I really enjoyed the story. The ending was somewhat unexpected, and leaves you wanting more.
#11 THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA – Yukio Mishima 1963.
THE SAILOR WHO FELL FROM GRACE WITH THE SEA is a really interesting book. It’s set in Japan in the ’50s and tells the story of a thirteen year old boy, his widowed mother, and a sailor who enters their life. All three are vivid and interesting characters with different hopes and dreams. It is a surprisingly dark novel. The son, Noboru, is part of a gang of youths who have a nihilistic outlook, and have rejected the authority of the adults; their teachers and their families. There is a grotesque scene involving the murder of a kitten carried out by these kids, so it’s probably not for everyone. All in all, the writing is wonderful, and I love the descriptions of the Japanese city and harbour, and the way of life of the community.
So that’s the first part of the countdown done, books 20 to 11, make sure you check back soon for my 2018 Top 10!
- Originally published April 2019