At the start of the year (2018), I challenged myself to read 15 books and had by the beginning of December completed my goal. It’s surprising because I’ve not been able to finish my reading challenges in previous years – this year I had to finish 1.25 books per month. Sounds a little tough but it is totally doable!
I think I had more time this year in comparison to the past few years where I was adjusting to work life and also studying for my Bar exams. So I had other important things going on in my life that I had to prioritise.
This year marked the end of exam taking probably for the rest of my life. So I could dedicate the extra time to reading books instead of studying the law. There is a certain comfort in the written word, immersing yourself in the mind of another human being, like soaking in a nice warm bath and just momentarily forgetting the troubles of your own life. Kind of like how listening to someone else talk is a real comfort instead of drowning in your own never-ending thoughts.
I decided to jot down a quick one liner reviews of the 15 books I read this year before I forget, ‘cos I’ve already forgotten some of the books which I read in 2018. Fortunately I have it all tracked on my goodreads account so I can refer to it in future. It’s really useful, and I highly recommend using goodreads for reading detailed book reviews as well as curating your reading list.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy my mini book review below! (Please feel free to let me know in the comments section what books you’ve read this year and which ones were your favourite!)
1. The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
This was quite a difficult and long-winded read, even though the story takes place over three days, the book is a mammoth five hundred pages (!!!) and it follows the protagonist, Ryder, who is a famous pianist who has arrived in a European city for his concert; Ryder finds himself stuck in a weird world where everything goes wrong and throughout the book he is moving through a ghost-like fog where he has no control over what goes on.
2. The Beauty Myth: How Images are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf
I found this book a little too narrowly focused, archaic and academic in style for my personal tastes, but it’s not too bad; it goes deep into how images of women in patriarchal society are used as a weapon against women to create a sexualised idea of how women should behave and look like, and interestingly enough, this feminist author was formerly the political advisor to Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
3. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro is a British Japanese writer so he provides an interesting perspective – having traditional Japanese parents while growing up in England – in this book he presents a very Japanese literature style (I think quite different from his usual writing style), the book transports the reader to post-war Japan and zooms in on the life of an elderly Japanese artist and his children’s young family, the book is something like a bildungsroman but from the perspective of an old retired man.
4. The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens
If you enjoy reading about tax havens, The Panama Papers, and white collar crime, you’ll enjoy this quite short but very insightful and interesting non-fiction book; this translated work covers the history of tax havens, how they came about and provides meaningful recommendations on how the world can fight back and stop individuals from hiding behind shell companies and start paying their taxes.
5. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
To be honest I started this classic perhaps last year or the year before, it’s a really really long book (more than 1,000 pages), and it’s the first novel ever written in the history of humankind (and written by a woman too!), this dramatic tome follows the life and death of Genji (the son of an Emperor) and his dalliances, and shows us what court life was like during the Heian period, it’s truly like Japanese theatre in beautiful written form, it’s also pretty well translated.
6. Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Needless to say, all politicians are great at talking, but this book focuses on Hillary’s work as Secretary of State during the Obama administration and the tough calls she had to make, dealing with difficult and precarious situations, people, countries, personally I found that it makes for both an exciting and boring read at times, would be a good read for those with a keen interest in politics and diplomacy.
7. The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn
Possibly my favourite book that I’ve read this year, Jeff Guinn and his team make amazingly detailed biographers and storytellers, and so much research has gone into this work, it’s truly a work of art, I highly recommend this book, it delves really deep into the history of Jim Jones and the Jonestown cult.
8. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
I was extremely motivated to finish this book before the movie, and I’ll say the movie is quite close to the book, like a condensed version, but the book has a very very different type of humour to it, it’s super easy to read, lots of cliffhangers, like chick lit to be honest, and I did enjoy seeing all the Singaporean references like ACS and CHIJ, etc, and on some level could relate in the sense that I knew people who lived lives similar to that of the characters in the book, while reading this I did wonder to myself, whether Kevin Kwan wanted the reader to question whether capitalism is wrong, wrong, wrong, perhaps…
9. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz
This book really captured my attention, it’s super easy to read and even though it was written in the early 2000s, it still remains super relevant, it’s a self-help book of sorts, it makes you question why we need to make so many choices each day, and how our lives are more stressful and depressing because of all the choices, I found myself agreeing and disagreeing on some aspects, I think at the end of the day it is something like an opinion piece…
10. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
OITNB is also another book turned into a show, to be honest, the book feels more realistic but it is also kind of “pat on the back”, self-congratulatory, written from a very privileged perspective, I think I enjoy the show a lot more, as it develops the stories of different characters, and focuses less on Pipes and her first world problems, this book was surprisingly short and easy to read, it was a little annoying how she would throw in unnecessarily big words from time to time, but to sum it up, I enjoyed the show more.
11. This is What Inequality Looks Like by Teo You Yenn
This book of essays is written in a very Americanised way, like for an American audience to understand the lives of Singapore poor, something of the opposite of Crazy Rich Asians, funny how the CRA movie came out in the same year as this book, but like OITNB, this book is written from the position of someone who is both quite privileged and educated, I found myself nodding most of the way but towards the end, I was kind of disappointed that she did not go into racism in Singapore and instead kind of sat on the fence about it, I guess it’s quite a taboo topic that’s not safe to discuss, especially in written form, nevertheless, this was an enjoyable, eye-opening, introductory book that confronts poverty in Singapore head on, fearlessly; I look forward to reading her future works.
12. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Didn’t have this in my photo above because it’s on loan to a friend, but this is another very tiny book on feminism (I subscribe to the view that feminism is for everyone and benefits everyone in society, female, male, etc), it’s essentially the TED Talk (which has millions of views by the way) in book form, I really enjoyed it, it’s a refreshing read and I highly recommend getting this book for yourself or others as a gift, or watching the original TED Talk, it’s truly enlightening and very light-hearted but also ever so slightly serious in a good, relatable way.
13. Ayiti by Roxane Gay
A short, unpretentious, very blunt and very fearlessly real book, Ayiti is an easy to read but maybe harder to digest collection of short stories that follows the struggles and successes of various Haitian people.
14. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Took me a while to finish this book, but she’s an amazing storyteller, weaving multiple stories into one story with a happy ending, I quite loved it, it was just a little long, sarcastic and repetitive at times, but it isn’t too bad, it is quite funny and real at times, it’s essentially about various people from different parts of Africa moving overseas and their changing, intermingling lives.
15. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
This book was quite disappointing, very repetitive, had some typos here and there, not really well edited or translated and it was super long at 700 pages or more, I suspect Murakami is past his prime, this isn’t his best work, felt like he was just writing because that’s his job and there’s a certain expectation when you’re famous, at times the book gets really weird, but it’s basically a mystery novel with an unexciting, easily forgettable artist as the male protagonist and some other boring, mysterious characters, if you’ve read Murakami’s earlier works, it’s very similar, just worse and badly edited.