As much as I love blogging about travel, I also enjoy writing about books.
This is in large part due to you guys – whenever I write a post about books, you give the best recommendations. It’s how I’ve found a lot of my recent favorites (see: 97 Orchard and Born to Run.)
So I wanted to return the favor, and share some books worth adding to your 2018 reading list.
As usual, I prefer non-fiction, and throw in a novel from time to time. Quite honestly, I’ve kind of given up on beach reads – even while I’m on vacation, I’d rather read something more substantive.
But if I am in the mood for something lighter, I opt for a book about France. What can I say? Once a francophile, always a francophile.
1. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
Books for Living is, as USA Today says, ‘a love letter to reading‘. It consists of essays on 26 books that changed the author’s life, which range from cookbooks to classic novels.
Books for Living is all-around delightful; the narrator is charming and wise, and I’ve added many of his favorite books to my ever-growing Amazon cart.
But I especially loved Books for Living because it made me question why I love reading. Schwalbe posits that reading is both beneficial and pleasurable; or as he puts it, “one of the strongest bulwarks we have against tyranny” and “one of the world’s greatest joys”.
2. East West Street by Philippe Sands
Contrary to popular belief, the terms “genocide” and “crimes against humanities” do not date back to time immemorial; they were invented less than 80 years ago. Two Jewish legal philosophers (Lemkin and Lauterpacht) devised them in order to indict high-ranking Nazi officials after the war.
East West Street offers a fascinating look at how the atrocities committed in WWII transformed the way the world saw human rights. But it’s not only about intellectual concepts – it’s also weaves in the personal story of Jewish Franco-British lawyer Philippe Sands, and his endeavor to uncover his grandfather’s past.
Coincidentally, Sands’ grandfather was born in the city where Lemkin and Lauterpacht taught law; Lviv, Ukraine. Sands journeys there to better understand all three men, as well as to pay respects to the thousands of Ukrainian Jews murdered there, including 80 members of his own family.
Anyway, all that to say; read this book, you won’t be able to put it down. And you’ll come away feeling a little smarter, too.
3. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko is like a mix between The Good Earth and One Hundred Years of Solitude, minus the magical realism. Pachinko tells the multigenerational story of a Korean family who immigrates to Japan, where as Koreans, they are treated as second-class citizens.
Although Pachinko is set in a time period and place I know little about, it resonated deeply with me; I loved the richly-drawn characters, and watching generations of the family navigate an often difficult and unfair life in a new country.
4.The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
In her memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, Levy recounts the building and unraveling of her unconventional life.
As a child, Levy is an imaginative kid who reads and writes voraciously. She grows up to become a journalist, and later, a staff writer for The New Yorker. Along the way, she marries an older woman, and at 38, tragically miscarries her baby, alone in Mongolia. In the span of a few months, she goes from pregnant, married, and financially solvent, to none of those things.
I enjoyed this book because Levy writes so beautifully and honestly. I related to so many sentiments she expresses, from “The night before I left, Africa was golden and pulsating in my mind”, to “As far as I could tell, there were two modes of cooking: festive and obligatory.”
As a twenty-something woman, The Rules Do No Apply reads equally like an inspirational story as a cautionary tale. As The Rules Do Not Apply demonstrates repeatedly, all choices have trade-offs. As Levy ominously writes, “Daring to think that the rules do not apply is the mark of a visionary,” she writes. “It’s also a symptom of narcissism.”
5. Ask Polly’s Guide to Your Next Crisis by Heather Havrilesky
If you’re ever feeling lost, read Heather Havrilesky. Havrilesky, the long-time advice columnist of Ask Polly, has a gift for making any problem seem solvable, and for making her readers feel less alone.
In Ask Polly’s Guide to Your Next Crisis, Havrilesky doles out her usual no-bullshit, curse word-peppered advice on everything from millennial ennui to romantic troubles. After reading it, I felt like I had spoken with a wise, funny, and encouraging friend.
Also good: her other book, How to Be a Person in the World.
6. 97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman
97 Orchard combines several of my favorite things: History, food, and New York City. It examines the history of New York through the five immigrant families who lived in the same tenant over the course of the late 19th and 20th centuries.
The book focuses a lot on gastronomic history; how waves of immigrants influenced the food of New York, and later the United States as a whole. As a German-American, I found the German chapter particularly interesting. The book also covers how Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigration as well, all of which I found interesting.
Overall, this book is perfect for history buffs or foodies.
7. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Born to Run centers around two main philosophies: long-distance running was an evolutionary adaptation, and it can actually be fun.
The bulk of the book deals with the Tarahumara, a Mexican tribe that recreationally runs up to 100 miles at once. The book culminates in an epic long-distance race with the Tarahumara’s best runners, as well as some of the premiere runners from around the world.
One of the most interesting takeaways I had from the book was that the human foot is perfectly engineered, and running shoes act as a ‘plaster cast’, atrophying the muscles of the foot. It made me want to buy a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, something I never thought I’d say.
The only thing I didn’t enjoy was McDougall’s writing style – I found some passages a little cheesy. But all in all, it was a fascinating read.
8. The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino
Once in a while, we all just need a light read about Paris, right? At least I do.
The Only Street in Paris is about the Rue des Martyrs, a left-bank street in Paris that Sciolino calls, ‘a half-mile of magic’. But it’s also about Sciolino’s long-term expat life in Paris, and her integration into the Rue des Martyrs tight-knit community of vendors, shop-owners, and residents.
Basically this book will make you want to drop everything and move to Paris.
My reading goals for 2018:
One of my reading goals for 2018 is to read more poetry, especially from Rupi Kaur and Charles Bukowski. (To be honest, I secretly really love poetry. In high school, I aspired to be a professional poet, ha.)
I also want to finally get through a Zadie Smith novel, as I already own White Teeth and Swing Time. Do they start slow and get better? (I can only hope?)
Here are some other books on my list:
The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman – After 17 years, Philip Pullman has written another book! I just ordered it and am so excited.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – After reading Adventurous Kate’s reviews, I’m super excited to read this.
Anything by Flannery O’Connor – all of my favorite writers seem to love her, so I want to see what all the fuss is about. Also, I just realized that she’s a woman – please tell me I’m not alone.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – (finally!)
What are some of the books you’re excited to read in 2018? Any recommendations?
(First photo courtesy of Unsplash.)