One of my favourite types of literary content to watch on YouTube are yearly favourites. I have found that I discover books that I wouldn’t have otherwise by seeing the books that someone read in a year. There is normally a wonderful mix of recent releases and bestsellers, and quite often books that I’ve never heard of that become classic favourites. Most of the books I will be reading for my Masters in the Fall are theoretical in nature, so I’ve decided to write this post now rather than at the end of the year. As of the time I’m writing this post, I have read 39 books so far this year. Here are my top 9, in no particular order.
Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862)
Genre: Classics (Victorian)
This novel by Mary Elizabeth Braddon is a classic example of sensation fiction, and the first of this Victorian subgenre that I had ever read. Braddon’s background as an actress lends itself naturally to the characteristics that define this genre: melodrama, romance, mistaken identity and gothicism. We follow the story of Robert Audley as he investigates the circumstances surrounding the death of his dear friend George Talboys. People are not what they seem, and everyone has a secret in this wonderful novel of murder and mystery. The prose style is engaging and the narrative compels the reader to continue. This is the type of “classic” novel that I would recommend for those who find nineteenth-century fiction difficult to grasp. It is a great example of the amateur detective that preceded the genius of Sherlock Holmes.
Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818)
Genre: Classics (Regency)
One of my 2018 reading goals was to read all six major novels by Jane Austen, including those already familiar to me. Persuasion was new to me, and it did not disappoint. The love story of Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth is unique among Jane Austen’s works by demonstrating “older” characters finding love in an age whose novels show the love matches of teenagers and early twenty-somethings. Anne and Frederick had been engaged nearly ten years before the novel takes place, but the match was frowned upon by her father, who has a gargantuan pride that far exceeds his station in life. It’s a beautiful tale of rekindled romance that is guaranteed to make you smile and realize that above all other people, you must trust your own judgement.
What Happened by Hillary Clinton (2017)
Genre: Political Memoir
I read this book gradually between January and July, taking breaks for weeks at a time while I was writing my undergraduate thesis. In this memoir, Hillary Clinton tells the story of her 2016 presidential campaign, detailing her efforts, her failings, and what could have been done differently. One might expect her to play the victim, and while there are moments where she does shrug off certain accusations, she defends her position with well-cited research and offers solutions for both how she could have done better and where we can go from here. One of the most meaningful chapters is that titled “On Being a Woman in Politics”, which examines the systematic sexism inherent in the American political system, and the difficulties faced by women in office. If you are looking for a treatise on the role that sexism played in the 2016 American presidential election, then this is the book for you.
The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017)
I first read Milk and Honey, Kaur’s first poetry collection, in 2016 after my first real relationship ended. This February, after my second boyfriend favoured cowardice over chivalry, I turned to Kaur’s second poetry collection for solace. I also turned to it in the hope that there would be a poem within its pages that succeeded in articulating the feelings that I couldn’t seem to express. I found exactly what I needed.
Rupi Kaur has a knack for expressing the inexpressible, and for doing so in a way that appeals to a collective sisterhood. Her poetry, which varies in subject from feminism, relationships, friendships, the pressures of societal expectations to the realities of growing up as a minority first-generation Canadian, is heartfelt, raw, and beautiful. She articulates how society’s beauty standards, which are shaped in accordance to white bodies, can have a damaging affect on women whose bodies and do not adhere to the white and skinny. Her illustrations add a layer to her poetry that, while not necessary to have a strong impact, add another layer of meaning. She is a poetic powerhouse.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (2013)
Malala’s strength and courage have been a source of inspiration to me for at least five years. I Am Malala has been on my TBR list since I got it for Christmas two years ago, and for some reason I just never picked it up. In this book, she tells her story from growing up in Swat Valley, Pakistan, to the bravery that lead her to be targeted and eventually shot in the face by the Taliban. What always amazes me is her complete lack of anger at the people who attacked her. Rather, she constantly uses the platform she has been given to work towards girl’s education and women’s rights worldwide. Another thing that I really enjoyed about this book is that she provides an insight on Islam that I think the world really needs right now. She debunks many popular stereotypes about Muslims by pulling straight from the Quran, and I really appreciate that.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
I read this book while travelling in Europe, and it was the book I didn’t know I needed. I’m almost ashamed to admit that this is my first Atwood – as a good Canadian reader, I should definitely have read some of her books by now. All of the hype around the television series made me want to pick the book up, and I was hooked from the first page. I devoured this book in two days.
The Handmaid’s Tale is the perfect testament as to why Margaret Atwood has earned her place in the canon of great Canadian writers. Her prose style is unique, gripping, and addictive, and the narrative is one of the most compelling I’ve read in awhile. The themes of body ownership and choice are particularly relevant in the era of Me Too and Time’s Up, and there is a certain passage towards the end of the book that just stuck with me. It expresses the ridiculous need that many women feel, as a result of societal standards and gender conformity, to constantly reinvent and change themselves to better appeal to the opposite sex:
If you don’t like it, change it, we said, to each other and to ourselves. And so we would change for the man, for another one. Change, we were sure, was for the better always. We were revisionists; what we revised was ourselves.
If you’re looking for a book that will make you think for hours afterward, then The Handmaid’s Tale is the perfect read for you.
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey (2018)
Genre: Political Memoir’
Sometime around July of this year, I found myself seeking out books about Trump-era American politics. The story of James Comey is fascinating to me, because I have both respected him (for not abandoning his values in the face of Trump) and disliked him (for his horrible timing right before the 2016 election). This memoir, which also acts as a treatise on the realities of ethical leadership, details the 2016 presidential election (and beyond) from the perspective of the FBI Director. Not only does Comey talk about what happened in and around both the Clinton email investigation and the Russia investigation that got him fired, but he also explains how Trump’s efforts to bridge the distance between the presidency and the FBI is actually quite dangerous because it removes accountability. This book was the perfect example that you don’t have to like the author of a book in order to find value in what they say.
Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis (2015)
Genre: Canadian Literature
This was an assigned read for my TA class last semester, and I was honestly quite surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. In this book, two Greek gods have a debate about what sets humans apart from other animals, and they resolve to solve their dispute by giving human consciousness and speech to a group of dogs and to see what happens. What follows in each of the dogs is a battle of human versus beast. The narrative style is SUPER compelling, and Alexis’s prose is nothing short of stunning. It’s one of those books whose brilliance is quite difficult to explain, as much of it lies in nuanced moments of dialogue and short passages that take your breath away. Fifteen Dogs acts as a thought experiment that examines what it means to be human. It’s fun, funky, heartbreaking and thought-provoking, and I recommend this to anyone who is looking for a book that is going to challenge their perceptions.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (1891)
Genre: Classics (Victorian)
Thomas Hardy is a Victorian writer whose brilliance is often overshadowed by the likes of the Brontës and Charles Dickens. Tess of the D’Urvervilles is a work of agricultural fiction that exhibits a sort of photo-feminism in its discussion of the nuances of then-societal expectations of feminine virtue. Hardy’s portrayal of rape and his argument against victim-blaming is daring for his time, and should definitely be commended. This novel is chalk-full of Victorian melodrama, and is a classic that everyone should pick up at least once in their lifetime.
So, there we have it.
Out of the books that I have read so far this year, these ones have stuck out the most. I’ve really surprised myself in the last few months by reading such a wide variety of books, and hope that I can continue on a similar streak in the months to come. Reading this year has felt super refreshing, which is always a nice feeling to get from something you love so much.
Till next time. Love always,