I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus this past month after an unfortunate traveling oversight that came to overshadow all else, but I’m excited to return to my writing with one of my favorite posts to look back on as the months go by: My Favorite Books of 2018. It’s that time of the year!
I’ll start off by noting that I made it a goal of mine with this reading year to focus on reading as close to home as possible with highlighting more Jewish and Israeli books through my reviews, upon realizing with last year’s list, my Favorite Books of 2017, that even though I read close to 200 books, I could recall less than ten meaningful books, I made it a goal of mine to also focus on books that I can read for the enjoyment of reading, and not whether I can finish it quickly to add to my Goodreads goal.
And I’m so grateful that I came to find some of the best gems in Fiction and Nonfiction that have come to together to piece my life story book by book; the kind of books that have come to narrate my everyday thoughts through their quotes.
#1 The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
The Great Alone started off my year on a bang by focusing on a rural outlandish landscape of Alaska, which was a place I had yet to read and discover through reading. The extreme conditions paired with the utmost careful precious in character descriptions made me take notice of this book rather quickly. The budding romance with Leni and Matthew that develops over the pages then took front notice in my mind; it’s still what I hold most closely when I think back on this book. I tend to reread my review from time to time to revisit the quotes I shared for this emotional pair. I always think back on this particular passage, which captures perfectly that moment when you can’t see past someone anymore:
“It didn’t take Leni long to know that she was in trouble. She thought about Matthew constantly. At school she began to study his every move; she watched him as she would a prey animal, trying to glean intent from action. His hand sometimes brushed hers beneath the desk, or he touched her shoulder as he passed by her in the classroom. She didn’t know if those brief contacts were intentional or meaningful, but her body responded instinctively to each fleeting touch. Once she’d even risen from her chair, pushed her shoulder into his palm like a cat seeking attention. It wasn’t a thought, that lifting up, that unknown need; it just happened. And sometimes, when he talked to her, she thought he stared at her lips the way she stared at his. She found herself secretly mapping his face, memorizing every ridge and hollow and valley, as if she were an explorer and he her discovery.”
This captures so much.
Another powerful mark this book hit is when it comes to the mother-daughter relationship examined in a remarkably profound way.
“Mama was Leni’s one true thing.”
It still hits me, and it’s been nearly 10 months since I first read it.
#2 Save the Date by Morgan Matson
Wedding shenanigans, family disasters, and childhood crushes are just the start of what Save the Date, Morgan Matson’s latest contemporary novel, covers in its summer whirlwind. I went into this expecting the usual summer fun, as I’m an avid reader of the author’s work, just like with Sarah Dessen’s summer contemporaries, that came to shape my own summers. Unknowingly, though, this book came at a time when I needed someone to lay it down, clear as day, the true reality of pining after someone. Matson covers the truth of getting together with someone you’ve put on a shining spotlight since day 1: the truth is all the tiny exchanges you recall moment by moment in their presence, they never even noticed you were there in the first place… and it’s just as crushing as it sounds. This says it all and more than I ever can:
“She didn’t know what it was like to look and wish and want, always two steps behind the person, always on the edges of their life. What it was like to stand next to someone and know you weren’t registering with them, not in any meaningful way. That you thought about someone a thousand times more than they’d ever thought about you. To know that you were just a face in the crowd scenes while they were center stage. And then, all at once, to have the spotlight finally swing over to you. To suddenly be visible, to be seen, no longer one of the people in the background who never get any lines. To suddenly be in the midst of something you’d only ever looked at from the sidelines. What that felt like when it finally happened, dropped in your lap when you were least expecting it, like a gift you were half-afraid to open.”
I can still hear the crushing note after he said: “Oh right,” Jesse said, even though I could tell he didn’t really remember.” She recalls something second by second just because he was in the frame, and he can’t even pull his memory to remember…
“He wasn’t who I thought he was all those years, because that person didn’t exist. That Jesse was just a compilation of everything I’d projected onto him, coupled with a handful of real-life interactions that I’d given far too much value to.”
I needed to hear this loud and clear back in May. Seeing yourself from the sidelines grants you clarity like nothing else.
But the truth I realized looking back now after so much has changed, I finally understand why YA is so fun to seek out, for me, because going back to that time in your life when your biggest issue was whether this boy would notice you back is something that is light years away from worrying about something like covering the bills, etc. No one warns you about what’s to come and how much you should be enjoying those simple worries because there’s so much ahead to fret about…
Oh, and there’s comics!
#3 Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon
This play screamed my name, and I’m still recovering from its aftermath. I’ve never felt as exposed as reading the masterful dialogue within this family conflict. There’s some comfort to be taken in someone expressing what you failed to do in live arguments and could only think up hours after the heated verbal attack; Daphna Feygenbaum is the truth-saying queen of my heart.
Bad Jews follows a vicious and hilarious brawl over family, faith, and legacy, while opening many truths most of us like to keep hidden deep down. With the season of holidays being on the doorstep, I have a particular page on loop said by Daphna (most of my favorite lines were hers) to her brother Liam, who’s strayed a bit too far, that I feel compelled to share as a glimpse into this incredible play:
“As a Jew …” because then you’re a Jew, but only when you can use it to bash all things Jewish which somehow makes you stand a little taller, doesn’t it, puts a little pep in your step like you’re so fucking enlightened even though you reek of fucking cliché; you haven’t lit a menorah since the nineties, but hello Facebook photos of you in a Santy Claus hat ho-ho-hoing it up next to the Christmas tree you put up in your apartment, and it was kind of obvious that, for whatever reason, you actually liked wearing that cheap fake crushed red velvet hat with the shitty white pom pom on the end, or maybe it wasn’t the hat, maybe it was just getting to stand under the mistletoe and smooch paper-cut-lips Melody, amazing, dynamic, smart-as-shit Melody, the icon of your ideal woman…”
I can’t think of any other writer who has said things so clearly with as much passion. I wish I could make everyone read this, and if not everyone, then at least to the one ‘Liam’ we all know, or have, in our lives.
#4 The Storyteller by Eshkol Nevo
Nevo’s The Storyteller remains to be one of the most honest Fiction books with the most interesting format I’ve read this year. The way the story is told is through this neverending interview of an author answering the rawest questions through life, i.e. constant dialogue that shows and doesn’t simply tell, which is all I want in my books (and why the other favorite on this list is a play).
It not only covers intimate truths and their quiet impact, but it explores such a grand scope of themes hidden in the blurred lines between truth and fiction that simply gathering them all together in one paragraph would make my head spin; it’s both grandiose and simplistic in the book. It all comes together like tiny glimpses and snapshots that make up a lifetime. Read, read, read it. Or check out my review here.
#5 Bound Up Soul by Lior Engelman
The previous book (#4) being my first Hebrew novel that I read from cover to cover, inspired me to check out more of the kind when this landed in my hands, courtesy of my local library. I haven’t stopped thinking about it for the past two Shabbats when I first read it.
Unfortunately, this book was read when on my writing hiatus, fortunately, it also arrived at the time closest to the end of the year to be featured on this list when it’s still fresh in mind. Though I do tend to update my Goodreads more frequently, which you can check out here:
On some level, I’m glad I didn’t hurry into writing down my thoughts right after completing the book because after sitting with it on my mind for a few days I realized the reason I connected with it on such a deep level stemmed from the fact that this is the first book I’ve read that undertakes the process of tshuva by covering all the multi-faceted aspects that accompany it, like what do you do when you’ve seen the right way to live but the people you left behind before you made the discovery aren’t on the same page? And what do you do if those people are your family? I’m still struck by what was accomplished during the Pessach scenes, and the Seder Pessach, in particular, it was like watching a camera rotating the family closer and closer till they all exploded; masterful writing captured this scene to the point. I couldn’t even begin to capsulize it. Ultimately, it’s about a mother’s love for her son.
#5 Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Diary Edited by Ari Folman, Illustrated by David Polonsky
This graphic diary edition of Anne Frank’s Diary shares a visual account on Anne Frank’s story through her written words, and it makes for a powerful rendition. There’s so much to be said when words fail you with the tragedy surrounding her at the hands of the Germans… But my mind keeps rolling back to this particular introspective passage:
In everything I do, I can watch myself as if I were a stranger. I can stand across from the everyday Anne and, without being biased or making excuses, watch what she’s doing, both the good and the bad. This self-awareness never leaves me, and every time I open my mouth, I think, ‘You should have said that differently’ or ‘That’s fine the way it is.’ I condemn myself in so many ways that I’m beginning to realize the truth of my Father’s adage: ‘Every child has to raise itself.’ Parents can only advise their children or point them in the right direction. Ultimately, people shape their own characters.
This narrates my perspective.
Ending this post made me realize just how dearly I’ve come to miss the feeling of expressing myself through writing. It grants me so much peace and clarity afterward that I feel like me again after such a long time.
I’d appreciate it immensely if you could help me by contributing to my Ko-fi page: Ko-fi.com/bookspoils,:
For similar movie recommendations, be sure to also scroll over to my My Favorite Films of 2018.
I look forward to reading about your favorite books in the comments!
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