Thursday, January 10, 2019

Three Books That Owned My Heart in 2018

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to narrow down the *best* books that I read in what was, overall, a banner reading year.  I had a lot of five star reads in 2018, but highlighting each of the fantastic books I picked up in the past twelve months seemed like a copout-- let's be honest, not all five-star reads are created equally. Instead, I have opted to highlight the three books I read last year that now own a small piece of my heart.  If I could force copies of these books into your hands (or into your letterbox, or between your windshield wipers, or stacked neatly under your doormat), I would.  They are THAT GOOD.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell | As it's title implies, this inventive memoir is told through a series of brushes with had with death that the author has experienced throughout her lifetime.  Recounting a chance run-in with a soon-to-be serial killer, a childhood illness that shaped her life (an illness that almost ended her life again during childbirth), harrowing escapes from dangerous men while on holiday, as well as her daughter's life-threatening anaphylactic reactions to common allergens.  I Am, I Am, I Am is as much about the perilousness of being a woman living her day-to-day life, where taking a walk after work could lead to your murder, as it is about O'Farrell's remarkable, literary life.

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner | My first foray into Kushner work, The Flamethrowers (2013), was a hard pass from me (you can read my review here).  Her latest, a finalist for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, really struck a chord and has been a read I have had trouble shaking months later.  The novel follows Romy Hall, a single mother and former sex worker now serving a life sentence for the murder of her stalker.  Kushner could very easily have angled the novel to exploit the seedier details of Romy's experience; instead, she crafts a nuanced work that considers the confluence of circumstances that catch young women in the correctional system.  Written with a detachment that heightens the hopelessness of Romy's circumstances and the haunted atmosphere of the novel's Northern and Central California setting, The Mars Room is one of the most gripping and emotionally wretching reads of the decade.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez | Earlier this year, established novelist, Sigrid Nunez's latest work, The Friend was the surprise winner for the prestigious National Book Award.  While the novel may have seemed the critical dark horse going into the competition, it is without question the most moving new release of the past fifteen years.  When her oldest and dearest friend, a fellow writer, commits suicide, the narrator is consumed by grief and left in charge of her friend's aged Great Dane.  Throughout the novel, the narrator transfers her love and attention to the dog, whereby the hound becomes a proxy for the faithful companion she lost and symbol of her fidelity (in all of its incarnations) to the most significant relationship of her life.  The Friend isn't just about a sad lady and a sad dog, or even just a meditation on grief; rather, it is a delicately insightful look at the ways in which we process the tragedies that befall us and find the will to live in spite of them.

What books had purchase over your heart in 2018?  Let me know in the comments or on Insta @thelexicondevil.

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