My Favorite Books of 2018

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

Save the Date-- bookspoils

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

Bad Jews -- bookspoilsThis 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

קשורה בנפשו

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:bookspoils

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.
Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55Ending 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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Review: Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley

Long gone are the days of failing to remember the genius idea I came up with while washing the dishes, or when I’m just about to fall asleep.

Kevin Horsley’s Unlimited Memory offers up a multitude of methods to advance our memory, and I plan to return time and again back to the strategies I took down in my notes. The most helpful of which was visualizing what you’re trying to remember and make a movie in your mind with a creative spin so it sticks out more easily in the daily hubbub.

 

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Girlhood and Coming-of-Age Review: The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

I was on the search for a lightweight book to bring with me for a day full of travel, when the simple beauty of this cover, filled in tan, freckled skin, enthralled this fellow tan, freckled gal to pick it from the tucked away library shelf (the second time around). Funnily enough, I made a trek back to the library later that same day to grab the book because it wouldn’t escape my mind from that morning sighting when I had failed to pick it up.

Rainbow Rowell recommended Rufi Thorpe’s Dear Fang, With Love years ago, which meant for me that this author would nail down life specificities the way I enjoy in Rowell’s books. The Girls from Corona del Mar did not disappoint within the first page, reading about a loving family’s presence in Lorrie Ann’s life.The Girls from Corona del Mar bookspoils

And it took me a single sitting, reading swiftly through ten pages, to realize this was something to hold on to. I particularly enjoyed how the first couple of pages started with a tantalizing proclamation, “You’re going to have to break one of my toes,” then veered off to familiarize these characters, and ended the paragraph the same way it started so that we’re included in their motives; a full circle.

Set in the mid-90s, The Girls from Corona del Mar follows two best friends, Mia and Lorrie Ann, through spot-on observations on life, growing together and apart, and always having that nature pull to return to each other. This read like an extremely attentive and introspective novel, full of vivid stories on Mia’s lifelong friendship with Lorrie Ann. My mind was bursting with all that I wanted to note down with each page I read. You know it’s a good book when you close your eyes at the end of the day and continue completing the story in your head.

Normally, friendships between girls are stowed away in boxes of postcards and ticket stubs, but whatever was between me and Lorrie Ann was not so easy to set aside.

I was surprised to find a unique storytelling mode where, instead of having two narrators who each tell their own tale, we follow Mia’s perspective of Lorrie Ann’s toils through the details Lor gives her best friend. You can peek this in the passage below:

“I love you,” Lorrie Ann lied. (Was it a lie? I never knew, exactly. I couldn’t understand her love for Jim and so I made my peace with Lor’s decisions by assuming her feelings for him were either feigned or a delusion, but perhaps they were not. Perhaps she loved him with the same animal part of herself that couldn’t let that baby go.)

I really liked how the author gained control with this little insert because Mia went a little off-task into Lor’s (the name Lorrie Ann is a pain to type) world, and the usage of first-person brought it back to the narrator.

I’ll be honest by saying right off the bat I was as wrapped around Lorrie Ann’s finger as much as Mia. Something about the utter kindness and goodness of her always shone so brightly on the page. It’s best told in this incident that captures Lor’s character through the author’s storytelling:

Once, when we were about ten, Lorrie Ann had been given too much change at the Chevron snack shop: she had paid with a ten, but the man must have thought she gave him a twenty. Lorrie Ann didn’t even notice until we were five blocks away, and then insisted we walk all the way back so that she could give him that unearned ten-dollar bill, which as I recall was soft and wrinkled like wilted lettuce. I am sure Lorrie Ann would never remember that day, such an insignificant anecdote, but in my mind it became a central organizing allegory about the differences between us.
Everything I had in life was half stolen, a secret, wilt-y ten-dollar bill that Lorrie Ann would have been too good to keep, but which I could not force myself to give away.

What makes so much of these eyeful remarks is how grounded in reality they are.

I was initially won over by Lorrie Ann with this truthful statement when faced clearly, at only eighteen, with an impossible choice: “But don’t you learn to love someone?” Lorrie Ann asked.

This right here is what too many novels fail to realize when they proclaim that love is all or nothing. Love isn’t some overbearing emotion that takes control of your sane thought process, love is something that you need to discover how to do with morality. “You don’t fall in love. You grow in love.” Love is recognizing the grandiosity of the person standing before you; love is including that person within your own being.

Her thought process of said impossible choice is demonstrated touchingly. She had this terrible death happen within her family, which she concludes as her fault for not being good enough or observant enough of the signs in her life, so she doesn’t want to set off something now that’ll make bad things appear back in her life. She chooses what she deems the right thing. What follows changes the trajectory of her life and Mia’s along with her.

And yet it was not me but Lorrie Ann whom the vultures of bad luck kept on visiting, darkening the yard of her house, tapping on the panes of her windows with their musty, blood-crusted beaks.“Wake up, little girl!” they cried.“We’ve got something else for you!

I felt suspended the entire time I read through this reflective and tumultuous story. So much of this novel is built on the many tragedies that befall Lor despite her best. And I kept wallowing over just how many they are… I mean, I came to relish whenever Lor walked back into Mia’s life, though knowing it’s only when something unfortunate happens makes it a bittersweet pill to swallow.

At a certain point, when the only times these two communicate is when something bad occurs to Lorrie Ann, it became an exhausting process of “Oh, what now?” It read like a condensed version of A Little Life, which I liked for the subtle quips on life but disliked immensely for throwing tragedy after tragedy my way. It takes away from the realness of life when we only meet these two characters when tragedy strikes. I wanted to spend more time in the in-between moments that make up a lifetime. When everything’s shit, however, it makes you appreciate little gestures of kindness, simple as a sweet nurse over the phone reassuring Lorrie Ann.

On a random note, I enjoyed how the title chapters are indicant of what’s ahead. It’s a little touch that shows how much a book means to an author.

And I’m still so in awe at how this book kept me enthralled page by page with its eyeful observations. This is an author that lets no moment slip by; you have to be really sensitive of your reality to succeed in writing down what you see in real life. And I, for one, am a complete sucker when it comes to introspective novels that reveal a deeper layer that lies within us.

The Girls from Corona del Mar nails down the complexity of maintaining a long-distance friendship. I admired, in particular, what was said about feeling like a character in a book, like, you don’t exist unless I pick you up.

“That came out awful, but what I mean is that when you are a half a world away, it seems more like something happening in a novel, you know, and we’ve lived apart for so many years now that you are kind of like that for me, except when I see you, then you are suddenly terribly real, and that made Jim’s death real and now I feel like I can’t catch my breath because everything is too real for words.”
Lorrie Ann looked at me critically for a moment, as though I were a gem she were assessing through one of those tiny eyepieces. Then she said, “I know exactly what you mean. For most of the year you are just a character in a book I’m reading. And then when you do show up, I think:  Oh, God, it’s her! It’s her. The girl I knew when I was a kid. My friend.”

This is such a sweet moment too real for words… And then this moment on how talking over the phone never fully captures the true experience in a single phrase: “I’m not sure,” Lorrie Ann said, and I wished I could read her face.”

They hold this interesting dynamic wherein Mia feels forever endowed by Lorrie Anne’s virtue. Her “opposite twin.”

I did not pursue my relationship with either for personal reasons, but because I sincerely believed they were the two best specimens of humanity I had yet to run across on the planet.

But when this book turns bad, it goes down all the way. It hit a point of no return after the 150-page mark, and I was left dumbfounded. I felt truly betrayed by the inorganic change in character happening halfway through. I had spent so much time with this book, singing its praises, only to have this abrupt tomfoolery wherein the most moral character had everything immoral thrown her way. I’m still in a state of shock. It came to the point where I had to point the book cover face down on my nightstand, till its fast return to the library the following day, because  I couldn’t bear to look at it without some semblance of anger flaring up inside me. It felt like two completely different stories were being told: One of genuine storytelling, using many sharp observations about family life, and telling a truthful tale of girlhood. And the other is focused on tearing down what we build up for the past 100 pages. Like, when Mia starts being the moral compass for Lorrie Ann that’s when you know something fishy is going down in the storytelling.

 

 

This unnatural change of pace made me feel beyond exasperated. It’s all that I had been warned about on immorality was shown with a turn of a page. W H Y ??? I’ll just say one thing: Those questioning the system of justice while claiming that ridding a child of its life because of a disability are exactly those that the system exists for. I mean:

“Zach’s suffering is not more than a child’s in the Congo just because we are genetically related.”

How is one supposed to react calmly to reading such utter BS? She’s talking so coldly about her own son, and I’m wondering how this is the same person from the start of this book. I cannot stand when good characters are destroyed this way. This felt like an amateurish and insensitive dissection on a character’s life.

I just don’t have the patience anymore to deal with such crude remarks being made for n, such as comparing genocides and reducing both in the process of doing so.

Cue my search for a new favorite book to calm my storming rage.

Make your bookish purchase through my Amazon Affiliate: The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe. I’ll make a small commission!

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