This list is becoming a bit of a tradition for me. In 2017, I set out to read 52 books over the next 52 weeks. I read 50 books this year, but I travelled a lot more for work and spent a lot more time on my bike so I’m pretty happy with that number. You can see what I read in 2017 here. Like last year, I was inspired by Rachel’s format because I thought it was awesome (and you can read her 2018 list here). My friend Emma has also started her own book retrospective and I have truly adored learning about what other people are reading — both as a reader and a writer.
I carried on my little 2017 tradition with one difference: I wanted to read more fiction. Compared to last year’s 25%, fiction made up 58% of my list. The years reading included some really interesting surprises. Notably, this year was the year I really enjoyed reading short stories, fiction, and scripts. I still lean towards biographies and nonfiction but I’m finding a taste for fiction.
I love reading and when I committed to turning off Netflix , I found I actually had a lot of time to read. I’ve always loved reading and writing. As a geeky 7 year old, one of my earliest memories of a run-in with the school authorities of my tiny private school were getting in trouble for sliding my preferred book (Anne of Green Gables, thank-you-very-much) in between the larger cover of the text I was supposed to be reading (math and I were never going to be very good friends).
The List, in chronological order
White Hot Truth by Danielle LaPorte —I figured this would be a good book to start the year off with. Danielle LaPorte’s writing isn’t for everyone, but I enjoy it, and I enjoyed this book in particular — it’s a memoir-y type reflection on how to strip back expectations and find what really makes us tick. She talks about love and therapy and creativity and antidepressants and the joy — the joy! — of creating from a place of authenticity.
“Protect your heart so that you can keep it wide open. FEEL EVERYTHING. Keep your heart open, as wide open as you can. Open, open, open. Sooo soft. And then….put a big fucking fence around it. Make the fence tall and make it strong. Ask your angles to guard the gate at all times. Do not let anybody past your gate unless you think that they also have an open, gentle heart. Only let in people who are respectful, and interested, and really really loving. Emphasis on respectful.”
Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki— Off the back of the massive minimalism trend this read was recommended by James. Like any good self-help book, it kickstarted some healthy habits for me but was basically a procrastination tool for what I really needed to do: clean my room.
“Have less, be free, and you’ll be able to go anywhere, whenever you want.”
On Love by Alain de Botton — Recommended by seemingly everyone. This is a really great (and real) depiction of how relationships and false expectations often exist in our heads.
“Perhaps the easiest people to fall in love with are those about whom we know nothing. Romances are never as pure as those we imagine during long train journeys, as we secretly contemplate a beautiful person who is gazing out of the window.”
Twitter and Teargas by Zeynep Tufekci — Read this one for For the People book club. It’s pretty academic, but it’s a look at resistance movements and how they’re affected by technology. There are other books on organising that I’d recommend ahead of this one.
How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays by Mandy Len Catron —If you’ve been single in the last 3 years, it was hard to escape the NYT essay that kickstarted this book, ’‘To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This.” I certainly didn’t, but I found it fascinating, so I read the book. Catron unpacks the stories we tell about love in a really interesting way — that love is as much a way of making sense of the world as it is an experience. And that we pick the love that helps us make sense of our world.
“For a few years, having a good love story felt a lot like having good love.”
“To be effective — to compel people to get and stay together — how-we-met stories require serendipity, implausibility, the implication of destiny. A story needs to feel special.”
“I think of the how-we-met story as the start of a plot. The more our own experiences match the generic conventions, the more likely we are to assume the plot will extend in predictable ways: love, marriage, happiness. So we overemphasise meetings in hopes they have the power to forecast endings.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara— Devastaing. Recommended by Jo last year, I finally read it this year. It’s a story of friends, it’s a story of New York, it’s a story of abuse and love and pain and addiction and longing to belong. It is so beautiful it hurts. It’s a big ole book, but I loved it. Read it, and weep. I certainly did.
“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”
Call Me By Your Name — Recommended by Liv, this book was stunning. The film is also beautiful, but what I think I enjoyed most about this book was that when I read it I could feel what it is to be hopelessly infatuated with someone. That painful-delirious-hopeful-can’t-eat-can’t-sleep feeling. This captured that. And the monologue at the end is worth printing out and hanging onto for a little love and life pep-talk when you need one.
“In the weeks we’d been thrown together that summer, our lives had scarcely touched, but we had crossed to the other bank, where time stops and heaven reaches down to earth and gives us that ration of what is birth divinely ours. We looked the other way. We spoke about everything but. But we’ve always known, and not saying anything now confirmed it all the more. We had found the stars, you and I. And this is given once only.”
Breath — This was recommended by James. I hadn’t read any Tim Winton before (resolution: read more Tim Winton). This book, set in Western Australia, felt spacious and surfer-y. I do wish it had more character development, but the setting and descriptions of waves alone made it a relaxing read.
Tracks: One Woman’s Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson — I loved reading this. Robyn Davidson makes a journey across the Australian desert to the sea on CAMELS. I liked the memoir-i-ness of this, the fact that it’s a woman doing things that everyone says she shouldn’t / couldn’t and the way she writes about the outback is fierce, romantic and tender.
Rules for Revolutionaries by Becky Bond and Zach Exley — I forget who recommended this book to me, but it definitely came up in the research for the work I did for the Australian Worker’s Union last year. It’s a behind-the-scenes of Bernie Sander’s 2016 campaign and grassroots organising. If you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a must-read.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout — Recommended by Oli. This is a story about relationships, specifically the relationship between a daughter and an estranged mother. I found it sensitive, if stressful.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt— Recommended by Damian and Bec, the Goldfinch was rich, complex and challenged me to think about why we’re drawn to beautiful things — and how we behave once we find them. It was long — good golly, did it need to be? But, worth it: one of the things I enjoyed the most about it was the monologue at the end of the book about beauty as a legacy. GOOSEBUMPS.
“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only — if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things — beautiful things — that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?”
Triumph of the City — Another For the People book club pick . This was a comprehensive read on urban planning, if a bit academic. I recommend it if you’re interested in the movement of people in urban spaces, sustainability, and the future.
The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape — Recommended by literally everyone I’ve spoken with about finances, but in particular Steph’s recommendation prompted me to pick this one up! In particular, it changed the way I think about property — Pape’s advice is to buy a home because it is, in effect a 30-year forced savings plan — and that gains made over that period are tax free.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg — A kindle recommendation based on books I’ve read, this book for me is the 2018 version of reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird last year (one of my top two). Reading Natalie Goldberg felt like speaking to an experienced writer friend giving you tough love about how to really write (sit down, shut up, write, etc.). I loved Goldberg’s advice — that we learn about writing by doing it. That simple. Her rule for herself? Finish a notebook a month. Simply fill it. I love this…and, it’s helped me shape a goal for 2019.
“I have found that when I am writing something emotional, I must write it the first time directly with hand on paper. Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart. yet, when I tell stories, I go straight to the typewriter.”
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang — When I found out that Ted Chiang wrote the short story that the film Arrival is based on, and Damian and Jo recommended this book, I knew I had to read it. Chiang’s mind is fascinating. I’ve always held a bit of disdain for short stories but I think that’s because I haven’t really read any good ones. Chiang’s are good, almost a literary (and slightly lighter) Black Mirror, but with more of a sci-fi angle than tech. I particularly loved Tower of Babylon and Story of Your Life.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova — I watched the film Still Alice a few years ago with Nicole and was haunted by it: it’s the story of a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The book was even more beautiful than the film. Heartbreakingly so. Well-written — and incredibly well-researched, as it’s written by a neuroscientist. When I hear about how fiction makes people more empathetic, I’ll now think about this book. A raw story about memory, relationship, and Alzheimer’s.
“Reading was fast becoming a heartbreaking chore. She had to reread pages over and over to retain the continuity of the thesis or narrative, and if she put the book down for any length of time, she had to go back sometimes a full chapter to find the thread again.”
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer — Somewhere I heard this book was good. I did not enjoy it. I didn’t feel any sort of plot in this. Waste. Of. My. Time. Harsh, I know. There’s no thief like a bad book. Now you know.
e: A Novel by Matt Beaumont — This was one of the lighter For The People book club picks: a novel composed entirely of emails shared in a fictitious London advertising agency. The literary equivalent of fairy floss: delicious and enjoyable but not substantive. Great airplane or beach read, and a little too true to life if you’ve ever worked in advertising!
“Lightbulb Joke #1: Q — ‘How many account directors does it take to change a lightbulb?’ A — ‘How many would the client like it to take?’ This tells you all you need to know about account directors.”
Into the Woods by John Yorke — Recommended to me by a script editor I went on some dates with, this was a fascinating book on story structure, and in particular, in screenwriting. On par with McKee’s Story, it breaks down familiar films and offers a structural look at why stories work. If you’re a story nerd, you’ll like it.
Almost all successful plays, films and novels are about primal human desires: success (Legally Blonde), revenge (Falling Down), love (Notting Hill), survival (Alien) or the protection of one’s family or home (Straw Dogs). Love, home, belonging, friendship, survival and self-esteem recur continually because they’re the subjects that matter to us most.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie — I read this one nearly every year. I love it. I love Hook, I love a book I read last year called Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook (which paints Peter as a bully and Hook as a misunderstood character), I love the whimsy of the original novel. I think it’s special, and it’s one of the few books I re-read. The prose is beautiful.
“You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”
“Stars are beautiful, but they may not take an active part in anything, they must just look on for ever. It is a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that no star now knows what it was. So the older ones have become glassy-eyed and seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the little ones still wonder.”
High-Rise by J.G. Ballard — This was tedious to read. Probably by design? It’s the story of a society in decline, told through the parable of a high-rise apartment block with an increasingly lowered bar for how to treat fellow humans. I don’t rate it.
A Winter’s Bone (screenplay) by Debra Granik — This was the first script I read. It was sparse and spare. I didn’t love it, but I loved the experience of reading a screenplay. If you decide to pick up your first script, I’ll give you the same advice I was given about reading a script— read it all in one sitting. Like watching a film, not like reading a book.
The Social Network (screenplay) by Aaron Sorkin — I love this film. I love Aaron Sorkin. And when I started taking an interest in screenwriting, I knew I had to read this script. Apparently they teach the opening scene of this script in film school. The staccato-ness of the dialogue is delicious to read.
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle — I’ve seen this pop up on a few book lists. It’s a raw memoir-y sort of book about the messiness of relationships and how our flaws can lead us to building walls that isolate us from one another.
Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller — I enjoy Donald Miller’s writing. He’s not for everyone but I enjoyed this book in particular, where he talks about moving beyond ‘performance’ based relationships.
The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferris — AWKWARD but I put on a few extra kg’s over winter and thought I’d give his diet a go. I changed the way I ate and exercised as a result of this book and feel healthier, happier, leaner, and stronger. Not bad for $15.00.
Reinventing Your Life by Jeffrey E. Young, Ph.D — Yes, another self-help-y book. I read this because I’d heard about the concept of schemas and thought they sounded like an interesting way for decoding the way people interact with each other.
When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger — I’m on a bit of a roll here for embarrassing books but what the heck. I’m a ride-or-die Devil Wears Prada fan and I’m here for whatever Lauren Weisberger writes. Total fluff. Should have had an apple-tini while I read it. Good fun.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig — I’ve been meaning to read this for years. It’s one part travel memoir, one part peek into an unravelling mind with some soaring philosophical ideas. The parts I enjoyed most were the stream-of-consciousness musings while the protagonist was flying through Montana on a motorcycle. As a cyclist, it felt relatable: I feel like I often think my best thoughts flying down switchbacks or struggling up mountains. I felt good saying I’ve read it (people seem to rave about it and look at you with respect when you join the #haveread club) but I’m not sure I enjoyed it — didn’t have enough plot for me.
Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx — Wow. Just wow. Read this book while I was camping in Wyoming and had Annie Proulx recommended to me several times by both Chris and Oli before I picked up this book. The stories are incredible. The Blood Bay was my favourite. Rural, grim, dusty, lonely and striking. Best enjoyed with a glass of whisky and a view of the mountains.
A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams by Michael Pollan — Read this while on vacation dreaming about owning a tiny home. I like Michael Pollan but this book, about his need to design a space of his own, and the subsequent process of building it, felt a little indulgent.
Crazy Rich Asians — Highly entertaining. Like eating Cheetos. Salacious, not particularly nutritious, but highly entertaining.
China Rich Girlfriend — Same as above, part 2. Entertaining.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer— Picked this up after hearing it won the Pulitzer. As a comic novel, this is quite a different choice for the Pulitzer — which are mostly reserved for Very Serious Works. The interesting thing about this book is that (apparently) the author started writing it as a very serious book about being gay and ageing — and then as he told the Washington Post “I couldn’t do it anymore, what I was writing about was so sad that I thought to myself that the only way to write about this was to make it a funny story.” That arc shows in the book — and it’s very beautiful. I also thought Greer’s observations on love were both poetic and profound. The book is an utter delight...especially the ending.
“How can so many things become a bore by middle age — philosophy, radicalism, and other fast foods — but heartbreak keeps its sting?”
Becoming by Michelle Obama — Grace Palos suggested this one and I’m glad she did. It reads like Michelle is cementing the Obama legacy. Reading about Obama made me feel emotional, nostalgic and hopeful amidst the backdrop of today’s news.
The Making of Mona by Adrian Franklin — I’ve always thought it would be great fun to work at Mona, and after going to Dark Mofo this past year, I thought I should learn about how Mona got started.
The Alchemist — This was one I promised Oli and Mel I’d read and I eventually got around to. It’s one of those books that I think people tend to read when they reach a fork in the road of their lives, so it gets recommended a lot (IMO). I liked the message: it is, in short, an exhortation to dream — and that if only we will listen to our hearts, and to dream, that all the universe conspires in helping us to achieve our dream.
“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked, when they had made camp that day. “Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.” “But my heart is agitated,” the boy said. “It has its dreams, it gets emotional, and it’s become passionate over a woman of the desert. It asks things of me, and it keeps me from sleeping many nights, when I’m thinking about her.” “Well, that’s good. Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say.”
Department of Speculation — This was one Justine tweeted about and I thought sounded interesting (Note: if you want the low-down on Australian authors, literary gossip etc — follow Justine — she’s also a prolific writer)!. It’s a well-written peek into domestic life, from the perspective of a wife and young mother. The structure of the novel is fragmented and distracted, much like what (I imagine) young parenthood is.
“What did you do today, you’d say when you got home from work and I’d try my best to craft an anecdote for you out of nothing.”
Draft Animals by Phil Gaimon — Jess recommended this one. Reading about sports makes me even more motivated to get out and ride / run etc. This one will really only appeal to the cyclists…but if you’re a cyclist, I think you’ll dig it. Phil’s funny.
Being a pro cyclist reminded me of Oregon Trail, a computer game I’d played as a kid based on pioneers moving west in the 1800s. In the game, you’d purchase “draft animals,” like oxen or horses, to pull your covered wagons. You could sell or trade them, but more often, you’d just use them up and buy a new one when they died.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou — My dad recommended it, Bill Gates recommended it, it started turning up on all the best of 2018 book lists, so I read it. Wowza. At first blush it’s a isn’t-she-terrible vignette of a manipulative founder / CEO but I think the larger narrative here is about how Silicon Valley got played by Elizabeth Holmes, a young, charismatic (if sociopathic) entrepreneur with connections in the Valley’s insular tech network and what happens when ‘vaporware’ (software that’s sold publically without ever actually existing) meets public health. It’s Oracle all over again (and, fun fact, Larry Ellison acted as a mentor to Holmes. Go figure). I couldn’t put this down.
Outline: A Novel by Rachel Cusk — Picked this up on the recommendation of its sequel from an Instagram pal. I found it a bit slow, but I’m going to read the sequel — fingers crossed it picks up! The protagist is a writer who goes to Athens to teach a writing course, and while we know little about here, we see the world through her eyes as the people she meets tell her the stories of their lives.
Wintering by Krissy Kneen — This was a pick I plucked from a list that Justine posted. It’s set in Southern Tasmania, where Jessie, a PhD. candidate studying glowworms in Winter Cave. When her controlling partner disappears, Jessie is devastated — despite his history of emotional and pysical abuse. It’s a thriller, a reflection on trauma and grief, and a supernatural twist on rumoured-to-be-extinct Tasmanian tiger. I love everything to do with Tasmania and the writing was smart, entertaining, and I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommend.
Educated: A Memoir — This book popped up on ALL the end of year ‘best’ lists so I had to read it. This is a riveting memoir about the transformative power of education and the price that it requires when that transformation is complete. Tara Westover was raised in a home that prepared her for the End of Days but failed to register for a birth certificate, enrol her in school, or take her to doctors when she was unwell. Incredible read — but also heartbreaking and highly graphic. Highly recommend.
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis — Kari recommended this book and it sounded like a nice way to end 2018 and reflect on any changes I want to make going into 2019. Hollis systematically runs through the lies that she used to believe about herself (each chapter dedicated to a lie) and talks about how she moved past them. “The trouble is, we rarely know they are lies until someone points them out or we get past them.”
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery — I have been working and reworking a draft of a children’s poem or book, and I thought it would do me good to read some much-loved children’s books. My friend Mel loves this book and although I read the English translation, not the original French as she did, I loved it too. Ostensibly, it’s a children’s book, but I think it’s much more than that — it’s philosophy about life, love and the things that we care about, wrapped up in a simple story. There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of a children’s book that I aspire to. I particularly enjoy the commentary on the absurdity of grownups, and the reflection that the care we give to another being is what makes it sacred and special — not the object in and of itself.
“Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: “What does his voice sound like?” What games does he like best?” “Does he collect butterflies?” They ask: “How old is he? How many brothers does he have? How much does he weight? How much money does his father make? Only then do they think they know him. If you tell grow-ups, “I saw a beautiful red brick house, with gernaiums at the windows and doves on the roof…” they won’t be able to imagine such a house. You have to tell them, “I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs.” Then they exclaim,”What a pretty house!”…That’s the way they are. You must not hold it against them. Children should be very understanding of grown-ups.”
“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer — I watched this film on the plane to San Francisco in December and LOVED it. Found out it was a novel and had to read it. A sharp, incisive, insightful novel about an literary-prize-winning author written from the perspective of his wife who has had enough of playing the supporting role to his life. It’s a reflection on how men and women are allowed to wear talent differently, the difference between public and private lives, and the secrets kept in marriage — and what they cost. Gorgeous.
Everyone knows how women soldier on, how women dream up blueprints, recipes, ideas for a better world, and then sometimes lose them on the way to the crib in the middle of the night, on the way to the Stop & Shop, or the bath. They lose them on the way to greasing the path on which their husband and children will ride serenely through life.
When Harry Met Sally (script) by Norah Ephron — I love Norah Ephron so much. Writer, feminist, creator. I read all of her essays last year as well as a biography on her, and if you’ve ever been to my house chances are I’ve been playing a compilation of the soundtracks to her films. I’m obsessed. So I thought it was time to read the screenplay. I love dialogue (shout out to Aaron Sorkin, my other favourite screenwriter) and reading the script made it evident that Ephron’s lens on the world is dialogue between men and women, about men and women. It also felt fitting to finish this on New Year’s eve (who can forget the controversial ‘I love you’ speech Harry makes at midnight!?).
Self-Made by Mat Groom — OK, despite my Wonderwoman rant / fan-girl schpiel on Twitter, comics are not normally my genre. But it’s not every daythat you can add a piece to your reading list that is written by a good friend. Mat Groom is a dear friend, a wonderful human and the creator of a new comic called Self Made: the story of a heroine who sees the siege of her kingdom as a chance to escape her clearly defined role and change her destiny — and also confront her God. If you like subverting the patriarchy, plot-twists and female protagonists (oh and supporting Australian writers!) check this out.
If you made it this far, you must love books, too. I’m always giving / looking for book recommendations, so if you want to compare notes, hit me up on Twitter @amandakgordon. Happy reading in 2019!