The Best Books I Read in 2018

This year I set a goal to read 20 books and while I started 30 I abandoned three leaving me with a total of 27 books read in 2018. The list includes some new books and some older books, but for the first time, the list also includes books selected by others as this year I joined my first book club. You can cut to the chase right here if you like and head over to Goodreads to see my complete list.

The books I completed included eight nonfiction titles and 19 works of fiction. There were a couple of memoirs, a few health-related books, and a few short story collections. Looking at the titles, I suppose my overall impression is that there were only a couple of truly outstanding books, a handful of average books and a few I struggled to complete. By the way, my rule is that I’ll give every book a minimum of 100 pages at which time if I’m not enjoying it I’ll abandon it. Life is too short to read bad books.

Here are the best books I read in 2018:

  1. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki — The biggest surprise of the year for me is just how much I loved this 2013 novel by Japanese American novelist Ozeki. I picked it up on a whim after looking through a list of Man Booker nominees and it sat on my shelf for a while before I picked it up early this year. From the moment I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. It’s the story of a writer named Ruth who lives in the Pacific Northwest and one day while walking along the beach she finds a diary written by a teenage Japanese girl. The novel takes the reader back and forth to the life of the girl as well as the writer who makes it her mission (or obsession) to find out what happened to the young girl in the wake of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. This story has everything I love —
    it spans multiple time frames, it has multiple narrators, it teaches the reader about history and about a different culture, it is contemporary, it provides life lessons, it is heartbreaking and uplifting, it is philosophical, it has rich and interesting characters, and it even includes a little physics and just the right touch of magical realism. A Tale for the Time Being is the only novel I read in 2018 that garnered five out of five stars on my rating system and it most definitely has been added to my unofficial list of favorite novels.
  2. World in my Eyes: The Autobiography by Richard Blade. If you grew up in the 80s and listened to alternative rock music, you probably have Richard Blade to thank for introducing you to many of your favorite bands. Blade’s voice has become a global force now that he’s a regular on Sirius XM’s modern rock station First Wave, but he was one of the deejays who launched the modern rock phenomena in the early 80s as the top jock on Los Angeles’s KROQ. I couldn’t get KROQ in San Diego, but we had our own version of Blade in 91X’s Steve West who was certainly a product of Blade’s work. That said, whenever we drove north past Camp Pendleton we’d quickly tune into 106.7 FM to spend some time with Blade. Over the past few years as a Sirius XM subscriber, I’ve gotten to know Blade even more but nothing prepared me for how influential and amazing his life truly was. From his humble beginnings playing parties in England and then across Europe, he made his way to America in 1980 and soon after became a fixture on Southern California radio where he “introduced” us young Americans to the likes of Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, and The Cure. Blade’s autobiography was so much more than a trip down nostalgia lane, it turns out he overcame great odds and never gave up in his quest to become successful. His story provides a lesson for anyone hoping for success in any endeavor.

Here are the rest of my favorites from the year. If you click on the title it’ll take you to my review of each.

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Book Review: Part-Time Indian Creates Full-Time Concerns

One thing you can count on, and that is if a book is banned or in any way censored I’m going to read it. So it should come as no surprise that I have always wanted to read the young adult novel The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This weekend I finally got around to it (and no, it was a coincidence that I read it during a holiday wherein Americans celebrate a fake feast with a people against whom it committed genocide).

The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of the most banned books in America. According to Wikipedia, among the book’s controversial themes “include cultural insensitivity, provocative and explicit language, scenes that are sexually explicit or anti-family, anti-Christian content, alcoholism, and depictions of bullying and violence, among others.” Despite these concerns, the book was well received by critics and won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Add to the mix that author Alexie was caught up in the #MeToo movement over the last year, with a reported 10 women having gone public with sexual harassment allegations against the author who later made a public apology for his “poor decisions.” This certainly complicates things and opens the whole “can you love the art while despising the artist” argument. I’ll nip that question in the bud right away by saying I can generally separate the two, enjoying the work while simultaneously condemning the artist. I loved  The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and I also enjoyed Smoke Signals, the film adaptation of his short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. 

I’m a sucker for a good coming of age story, and The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a great one. The novel is semi-autobiographical and concerns a nerdy Native American teenager (Arnold “Junior” Spirit) who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State but because he longs for a better education and an escape from constant ridicule by his native schoolmates he decides to transfer to the nearby off-reservation white school. For this he is ostracized by his native community but also finds it difficult (at first) to fit in at the all-white school. In a great bit of true comic irony, the Reardon mascot is the Indian, so Junior says he is one of only “two” Indians at the school.

Alexie does a wonderful job in the novel addressing native themes with openness and honesty. Alcoholism and poverty are ever present, as are racism and Native American stereotypes. The white kids don’t know what to make of Junior, and truthfully Junior isn’t sure what to make of them. The unwritten rules of the reservation don’t seem to apply in the white school so Junior’s sense of equilibrium is thrown off. Back on the reservation he is treated like a traitor for leaving, yet Junior wants to hold on to his native roots not abandon them. 

Ultimately the novel is a story of personal growth for all involved. I’m not giving anything away by reporting that all of the characters learn valuable lessons about life. But more importantly, it is the reader that learns the most. Alexie doesn’t pull any punches as he discusses life on the reservation for his friends and family. Living on the reservation offers little in the way of prosperity for its inhabitants, with poverty and alcoholism — and as a result, death — an ever-present feature. Readers, and young readers especially, need to understand the plight of Native Americans in our country so we can hopefully learn from our mistakes and move the country forward with more justice. Not that we’ve done a good job to date, but I suspect the more young people learn about this situation the better chances we have for a egalitarian future.

One thing I loved about the novel is that Alexie doesn’t try to teach the lessons of the story by sugar-coating the truth. Too often young adult novels don’t speak the language of teens, and ironically it is exactly this fact that causes the book to continually be banned. Junior is real because he is based on Alexie, but mostly because he talks and acts like a real 14-year-old kid. He is crude and sexually explicit. He talks about boners and masturbation and he and his friends use inappropriate terms to refer to each other’s masculinity. Should we ban the book because he uses a bad word? Of course there are no bad words, only bad intentions. Using the word “faggot” to dis your friends is something that teen boys do (and yes, they shouldn’t) but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate reality into a novel. Junior is a flawed character as we all are, but he’s a realistic character. I wonder if some of the same politically correct people who want to ban this book for its use of gay slurs decried the banning of Tom Sawyer for it’s use of the “n” word? Art needs to be real to be effective.

The best way to learn from Alexie’s book is to read it and discuss it, not to ban it. If I were assigning this book in a class you bet I’d have a class discussion about the use of derogatory terms for gays — that’s called teaching. I’d also have a discussion about why Reardon High School should change its mascot (yes, it is really still the school’s mascot). And why poverty is rampant on reservations. And why alcoholism is so prevalent among Native Americans. And why young Native Americans are torn between two worlds. Discussing questions like these is what’s missing from American schools and why we are still so divided as a country.

The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a fun read with a lesson for everyone. I don’t typically read young adult novels, though like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak it’s definitely suitable for adults as well as teens. And also like The Book Thief, The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is apparently being made into a movie with Hugh Jackman among others  signed on as a producer. I’m looking forward to seeing the story on the big screen.

What to Blog About

I’ve spent the past four years blogging at Valley PR Blog, a blog I co-founded to help bring together the Phoenix area public relations community. VPRB was much more successful than I ever thought possible, and it helped me build a name for myself in the PR and social media world both locally and around the world. It was fun, but PR was never my passion.

These days I’m working for Apollo Group as a communications professional and that side of my life is fulfilled. But I still feel the need to write, and I’m most comfortable writing in the blog format. So recently I asked myself what would I like to blog about for which I have a passion? The answer was easy enough — I love movies, music and books. OK, maybe love isn’t a strong enough term. I live for movies, music and books. When I’m not working or hanging with friends and family I’m usually reading, watching movies and always…sometimes at the same time as the other things…listening to music. If you’re friends with me on Facebook you know I’m always posting about the songs I like, the films I’ve seen and the books I’ve read. It makes me happy to share my love for this kind of entertainment. That’s what this blog is about.

Through this blog I’ll be sharing my thoughts on movies, music and literature…and perhaps some other similar topics. I may provide a review, or perhaps just a quick mention of something I’d like to pass along. I’ll do my best to provide links to the things I blog about so you can get more information, and when I can I’ll embed a song or a clip as well. I hope you’ll offer your opinions too, since I get most of my best recommendations from my friends who also like movies, music and books. And of course, whether you agree or disagree with me, I hope you’ll feel free to tell me what’s on your mind.

Along with the launch of this blog, I’ve decided to attempt a silly blog challenge with inspiration from the film Julie & Julia. No, I’m not going to eat my way through Julia Childs’ recipes. Instead, I’m going to watch, in order, all of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies! I’m not giving myself a time limit, and my thoughts on those films will be interspersed throughout this blog, but I will try to get through all 100 beginning with Ben-Hur and ending with Citizen Cane between now and the end of the year. Interestingly enough, I have already seen 63 of the top 100…but most of them I haven’t seen in a while so it should be fun. And ironically, I’ve never seen Citizen Cane, which is considered by most aficionados to be the best film ever made. We shall see.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoy this blog please pass along the feed to your friends.