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Favorite Books I Read in 2018
2018-12-28

Nonfiction

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog - Bruce D. Perry, Maia Szalavitz

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog cover image
Perry is a psychiatrist who has spent his career trying to help traumatized children. This book describes some of the cases he’s dealt with, including children who survived the Branch Davidian cult, a boy who was kept caged like a dog, and a teenager who committed two brutal murders. The theme of the book is that children are not “resilient” - early trauma can have dramatic long-lasting effects - but there are methods that can give some hope of recovery.

Into Thin Air - Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air cover image
If any part of your brain is casually harboring the notion that climbing Everest might be a cool thing to do some time, this book should cure you of that. Krakauer vividly recounts a horrifying trek through an alien world, ending in tragedies that force you to contemplate the gravity of the risks that we sometimes take for our passions.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work - Mason Currey

Daily Rituals cover image
The word “routine” has not usually had positive connotations for me - I’m tempted to associate it with boredom or entrapment. This book changed my perspective a bit. These short sketches of the habits of 161 different creatives show the wide range of practices that can lead to success, but some common themes do emerge. Many of the writers, for example, were in the discipline of writing for about three hours first thing in the morning.

Stuff Matters - Mark Miodownik

Stuff Matters cover image
Every day I interact with countless materials that I really know very little about. This book is a fun and thoroughly fascinating look into the history and science of a handful of important ones. My favorite factoid from it regards an ornamental scarab found in the tomb of Tutankhamen: it’s thought to be made from the glass formed by a meteor impact millions of years ago.

How to Fix a Broken Heart - Guy Winch

How to Fix a Broken Heart cover image
What I appreciate most about this is perhaps not the advice (though that’s good too), but the affirmation that intense and lasting feelings over things that society does not typically take too seriously - the death of a pet or the loss of a short relationship - are neither invalid nor abnormal.

Fiction

The Book of Strange New Things - Michel Faber

Book of Strange New Things cover image
Faber is an atheist, but writes his two true-believer protagonists with an unusual degree of empathy and understanding. The focus here is not on the plot, but on the characters’ thoughts and dialogues as they try to cope with an alien environment, societal collapse, and separation from each other. Peter’s neurotic attempts to divine the divine will are all too reminiscent of the kinds of dilemmas that once preoccupied me: "maybe what seemed like a backward step would in fact be God pushing him forward, God using the delay to put him in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Or was he just straining to find a theological justification for his own lack of courage? He was being tested, that much was obvious, but what was the nature of the test? Whether he had the humility to appear weak … or whether he had the strength to push on?"

Broken Earth trilogy - N. K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season cover image
The word “trilogy” is generally enough to scare me away from a novel, and I’m not the biggest epic fantasy fan either, but I’m glad I gave The Fifth Season a chance. And once I did, I had to read the rest of the series immediately.

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

Frankenstein cover image
My book club read this in honor of the novel’s 200th anniversary. The ornate language and plodding pace may not be for everyone, but I find it enchanting, and the three narrators of the audio version I listened to establish the perfect gloomy, ominous atmosphere. It’s not “scary” (is fiction ever?) but it is a fascinating reflection on the roles of physical beauty and social acceptance in our lives and on the effects of psychological suffering.

Beat the Reaper - Josh Bazell

Beat the Reaper cover image
This is just fun - a medical student / former mobster applies his knowledge in entertaining ways for an over-the-top adventure.

Have thoughts on this post? Email me at jacobaw@gmail.com



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