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A few years ago, I got halfway through a book before I realized I had read it before. This inspired a new endeavour: a journal where I hand-wrote the title and author of every book I read, with some thoughts about it and how it related to my life at the time. When that journal was lost (long story), I gave up on this practice. But toward the end of each December, when I reflect on the past year and what’s ahead, I like to type out a list of my favourite books of the year gone by.
I’m Marsha Lederman, the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, and, clearly, a nerd. I had the privilege of guest editing Amplify last week, and this time, I’m back to talk about my favourite books of 2018. When I started compiling the list of reads that utterly captivated me – the ones I have recommended repeatedly – I noticed an interesting common denominator: They were all written by women.
I like to give books as gifts and not just for the holidays or birthdays. In my prekid days, when I had more time, I used to love bringing a favourite book as a host gift for a dinner party, along with a bottle of wine. That rarely happens anymore, I’m afraid. A leisurely trip to the bookstore is often just not in the cards. It’s hard to make the time to follow through on being thoughtful when there are deadlines looming and laundry to fold.
But perhaps you still have some gifts to buy – or, even better, maybe you will have some time to yourself over the holidays to kick back and read something longer than a Globe and Mail newsletter. So here’s a little bit about some of the books I have loved in 2018.
I literally pumped my arm, cheered and laughed out loud reading Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls by my colleague Elizabeth Renzetti. At times, it felt like somebody had taken a bunch of my own incoherent thoughts about life as a woman and written them down so much more eloquently. I was thrilled to see Shrewed included on Chatelaine’s top books of 2018.
I brought Sheila Heti’s Motherhood on a long weekend away with one of my closest and oldest girlfriends. This made a long overdue catch-up in two-and-a-half days all the more difficult; all I wanted to do was talk about Heti’s novel.
Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and was named one of the top ten books of 2018 by the New York Times and several other publications. It is magnificent.
Susan Orlean is one of my favourite writers, and in person, when I interviewed her at the Banff Centre this summer where she is the Rogers Communications Chair in Literary Journalism, she was as animated, smart, passionate and funny as she is on the page. (So much for never meeting your heroes.) Her latest, The Library Book, is about a catastrophic fire at the Los Angeles library – and so much more than that. A word nerd’s delight.
I read Rachel Giese’s Boys: What It Means to Become a Man ahead of a live interview at the Vancouver Writers Fest this fall. As the mother of a boy, I was interested in what Giese had dug up in her research and was also hoping to pick up some tips. But Boys is so much more than that; it is an intensely personal, compelling read that I had trouble putting down.
Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries is a beautiful heartbreaker, a memoir of the Indigenous woman’s life first in British Columbia and later in the United States. This shattering book can be read pretty much in a single sitting but it will stay with you for ages. I was very happy to see it long-listed for the RBC Taylor Prize, along with the final two books on this list.
Kate Harris’s Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road made me want to live differently, and also got me all the way to remote Atlin, B.C., where Harris lives off-the-grid in a tiny cabin, for our interview. It’s a place I hope to return to someday, preferably during the summer, so I can see Atlin Lake in its splendour (and not spend a dark, snowy drive from Whitehorse contemplating my premature death).
Finally, I have just started Elizabeth Hay’s All Things Consoled: A Daughter’s Memoir and I can’t put it down. The book, which won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction this year, examines the difficult journey of becoming a caregiver to aging parents. Because that’s what women do. We care, and we give.
This is a time of year when we think a lot about giving meaningful things to the people in our lives. A book that transports you with beautiful writing or wise reflections or even just a fast-moving, enthralling plot – now that is a gift. A book might offer something as essential as knowledge, as simple as distraction or as complicated as recognizing your own experience reflected on the page. It is a portal to another world. And couldn’t we all use that sometimes?
I hope you have a wonderful holiday, if you are celebrating.
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