All data from my Goodreads Challenge page.
Non-fiction – essays
I spent some of 2018 working on an essay collection (loading. . . ) so it’s no surprise that I dived into a lot of non-fiction. Essay collections I loved: Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments, not least because it allowed me to say things like “daringly inventive with the very form of the essay” in various pubs, Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, not least because it was written by Cheryl Strayed, and of course, as a bookish Irishwoman I devoured Emilie Pine’s Notes to Self . My personal favourite essay-read from 2018 was Leslie Jamison’s new-to-me The Empathy Exams. Her addiction and recovery memoir is on my shelf thanks to Dublin City Libraries and I’m very excited to read it.
When is an essay collection not a memoir? When you read enough of either that lumping them together becomes ungainly, of course!
The most enjoyable memoir I read in 2018 was Helene Hanff’s Underfoot in Show Business. If you’re a creative person, just read it. Please trust me on this.
It’s often hard to call a memoir enjoyable, especially if it was written from a period of great trauma (“sorry you were sad, nice book tho”), but I am very glad that I read Poorna Bell’s Chase the Rainbow while being immensely sorry for everything she went through. It made me better.
Non-fiction – other
I re-read And the Band Played On, by the late fearless journalist Randy Shilts, about AIDS in Reagan’s America. The passage of time has debunked some of the book’s assertions (Gaetan Dugas did not, in fact deliberately infect people with HIV), but it’s still a fine piece of journalism that will break your heart.
When I’m not writing essays, I write YA, and when I’m not reading essays, I read a lot of YA. It’s the category I come back to most often. This year I dug into Coe Booth‘s back catalogue and absolutely loved her work – would strongly recommend that any fans of Angie Thomas check out Booth. Brian Conaghan’s The Weight of a Thousand Feathers (now an An Post Irish Book Award winner) was also excellent.
I read a lot of great YA this year (Cethan Leahy’s debut, Tuesdays Are Just As Bad, has my hands-down favourite book title of 2018, Juno Dawson’s Clean is fabulous, and if you didn’t love Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, seek help). However, for some reason the YA reads that resonated the most with me in 2018 – Conaghan and Booth – were about the working-class teen experience, which is so often absent (especially from American YA – the exception springing to mind is Dumplin‘, which I re-read before the film came out and loved both). I am making an effort to read under-represented voices and so far it’s been a total delight, but I am conscious that class and wealth cannot be excluded from the discourse on marginalisation and I’m pleased to have the chance to read these stories. And on that note, it’s almost time for On The Come Up you guys!!
Putney was unsettling, but wonderfully written, evocative and unflinching (I wanted to throw a lot of punches that week), and was one of the stand-outs of the year for me. I also loved Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.
Catherine Ryan Howard’s The Liar’s Girl was so good that I bought it for my highly discerning aunt, and it’s now Edgar Award-nominated! I read very little else in this category this year, although I did finally finish Hannibal Rising, the Hannibal Lecter origin story, and I was underwhelmed.
For 2019, I’m most eager to read the aforementioned On the Come Up (which one of my book clubs has chosen!), Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering, Sinead Gleeson’s essay collection Constellations, and Deirdre Sullivan’s Perfectly Preventable Deaths, a YA that totally won me over when I snagged a sampler at Deptcon. It’s looking like a good book year…