Another great year of books!! Thank you books!!
2018 in books:
I really ought to rename this shelf to be more descriptive because people always ask me what “the cream shelf” is, but by now the name is kind of stuck and I’ve already gotten used to it :-(. My rough criteria for putting a book in ‘cream’ is if the book either changes my opinion on something or changes my view of the world. Here are my 34 favorite books of the year that did that for me, along with a short description (link takes you to a fuller review, if you’re interested in more info):
If you're interested in an insightful and thoughtful meditation on enlightenment then read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.
If you are interested in a more worryingly realistic dystopia than 1984, and if you want to read the most impassioned defense of unhappiness I've ever read, then read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
If you're interested in a very cute and funny manga about accepting yourself featuring a ridiculously overpowered but very nice kid, then read Mob Psycho 100 by ONE.
If you're interested in an insane experience with a psychological horror visual novel that breaks the fourth wall in incredibly clever and innovative ways, then read (play?) Doki Doki Literature Club by Dan Salvato.
If you like magic and fantasy then read the entire Harry Potter series? But especially Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. If you haven’t read them yet I’m not sure if my one liner is going to help convince you though…
If you are interested in the cultural and social context of hip hop from its birth in the 1970s to the 1990s then read Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation by Jeff Chang.
If you like depressing short stories or if you’re interested in DFW’s project as an author or if you like his writing then read Oblivion by David Foster Wallace. It also has one of my favorite short stories in the world, Good Old Neon.
If you're interested in the goat shounen then read Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa.
If you're interested in a masterpiece of characterization, a dark and depressing story, or the manga that I think best employs the medium of manga, then read Oyasumi Punpun by Inio Asano.
If you're interested in a lovely children's book about learning to be excited about life and some very fun wordplay then read The Phantom Tollbooth by Jules Norton.
If you're interested in Thai food in America and how seemingly innocuous areas like food reflect asymmetrical relations of power, then read Flavors of Empire: Food and the Making of Thai America by Mark Padoongpatt.
If you're interested in modern Japanese architecture then read Maekawa Kunio and the Emergence of Japanese Modernist Architecture by Jonathan M. Reynolds.
If you like Rick Riordan or if you like good characters and immersive modern day mythology then read The Burning Maze; it's so good and Rick Riordan is great.
If you are interested in how China has changed in the last 60 years then read China in Ten Words by Hua Yu.
If you are interested in cheap fashion and how it has affected the fashion industry (and the world) then read Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline.
If you are interested in learning how to appreciate ballet then read Celestial Bodies: How to Look at Ballet by Laura Jacobs.
If you are interested in short, funny, and occasionally thoughtful short stories then read One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak.
If you are interested in a wonderfully dreamy read about a journey of self discovery then read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.
If you are interested in capitalism and the incarceration system and the way the two of them intertwine and interact then read Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang, although to be honest I think everyone should read this book.
If you are interested in learning about the intersection b/w women, race, and class in America then read Women Race & Class by Angela Davis, but honestly I think everyone should read it (especially if you're *not* interested).
If you're interested in the process of self realization or the struggle between the world of illusion and the world of truth then read Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth by Hermann Hesse.
If you’re interested in a fuking great sequel to Beartown then read Us Against You by Fredrik Backman. Alternatively, if you’re interested in a gripping story and great characters about community, then read Beartown and then read Us Against You.
If you’re interested in art, loneliness, and art about loneliness then read The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing.
Everyone should read this book, but if you’re interested in how all struggles for freedom are interconnected, then you would like Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis.
If you like well written love stories with a lovely element of magic then read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
If you are interested in Augustan era Roman art (unlikely) or if you are interested in the power of art to influence society (much more likely) then read The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus by Paul Zanker.
If you are interested in why some things should not be for sale then read Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets by Debra Satz. Sometimes (and this is especially true with non fiction) the titles are pretty descriptive…
If you are interested in wonderfully moody short essays about desire and commodification and identity then read Tonight I’m Someone Else by Chelsea Hodson.
If you are interested in how racial identity is developed (mostly in America) then read “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum.
If you are interested in the feminist movement in China then read Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China by Leta Hong Fincher, but honestly if you’re interested in feminism or in China it’s also really worth a read!!!
If you are interested in the loneliness and pain of a man divided between his human self and his wolf self then read Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse.
If you like Vonnegut or are interested in the problem of hopeless determinism, read Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut.
If you like Vonnegut or are interested in the possibility of art with meaning and soul then read Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut.
If you are interested in Asian economics in the 1970s, and in general how countries develop successfully, then read How Asia Works by Joe Studwell.
Some general notes on the year:
My nonfiction was a lot less focused this year in that they clustered less neatly into topics, but I did spend a lot of my year reading a variety of books on politics & economics & gender studies & ethnic studies that really changed my political views. Most of the non fiction books in cream fall under that category, and all of the books in that category are in this goodreads shelf.
I read a bit of Vonnegut again in December and will continue in January. I thought it would be a nice way to round out this year and start the next, and so far it’s been pretty fun.
I am hoping to read with less focus, so I don’t have any particular reading goals or specific genres/ authors I want to read for next year, although I’ll probably keep going through my current to-reads.
As always I greatly appreciate your recommendations!
My absolute standout favorites of the year are: Oblivion, Flavor of Empire, Celestial Bodies, The Lonely City, Freedom is a Constant Struggle, The Moral Limits of Markets, Tonight I’m Someone Else, and How Asia Works.