Saturday, December 29, 2018

Clara's Favorite books of 2018

I'm about to make this into a video over on my YouTube Channel, so by Jan. 1 there will probably be a video there with essentially the same content, but here are my favorite books I've read this year. I'd love to hear yours as well!

New Fiction to me:

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
This is a City drama not only the story of the two title characters, but of everyone in their social web. It’s beautifully written and the way it pulled at my heart reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
This is book two of the Binti series-- They are Afrofuturism where the main character travels away to University in another galaxy, and in this book she returns home, but is changed.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferante
You have probably already heard about this book, its the first in a series, and the series has recently been airing as an HBO show. It’s an Italian personal drama about a young girl and her friend, and it’s gorgeous and devastating.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A book of suburban American life, with especially striking perspectives on motherhood. It has a bit of a Middlemarch feel to it, in that just as you’re beginning to feel totally unsympathetic to a particular character the narration moves so you see things from their perspective.

Favorite Rereads: I did a lot of comfort reading and rereading to balance out all the reading I did for my prelim doctoral exams. So if we’re friends on goodreads you may know that I read a ton of children’s lit this year, most of it reread including

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
I was going to a summer intensive learning how to read Elizabethan secretary hand and was coming to the end of each day pretty brain dead, and listening along as Harry faces trauma after trauma was oddly comforting. I finished the Battle of Hogwarts on the metro into DC; weeping quietly.
The next two are books that I think of as explicitly in conversation with each other, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle and When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. This fall was the first time I taught my own course at the University of Minnesota, and I gave a lot of challenging readings to my students, but at the end of the semester while they were doing individual research I had them also read these two books so we had something to talk about in class. I thought it worked surprisingly well.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
These are some of my very favorite books full of little secrets for the rereader, and they just get better every time I read them. Not everyone loves them, and the first book can be especially jarring on the first read, but to my mind reading now for the 100th time, it feels like I can see the author setting up the dominos to all crash down by the end of the book.

And some non-fiction:

Daring Greatly and Rising Strong by Brene Brown
At this point I feel like everyone’s heard of Brene Brown, but if you haven’t, she is extraordinary and doing incredible work with how we handle shame and vulnerability. I’ll link to some of her TED talks if you’d like to get a taste.

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
I sometimes struggle with “Christian Life” books as they can seem either very cheesy or entirely out of touch with the culture but this book was pretty wonderful, tying the elements of the Anglican church into the everyday chores and activities of the day. For example, “Sitting in Traffic” pulls together with the liturgical year and “an unhurried God” It’s a gorgeous read.

Switch: How to Change things when Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

I know of these authors from their wonderful book Made to Stick, which I also teach pieces of to my students. This book was really encouraging and exciting to read as I was finding myself stressed out and discouraged to hear again and again that change is possible, and there are clear doable methods for making it happen. If you have big new year’s resolutions planned, it might be a nice book to try and accompany those changes you’re going to make.


  1. Thanks so much for this, Clara. Will your video channel also include teaching us as your students what you just taught? That would be lovely though perhaps daunting for you.

    1. I'm editing the video now-- I mention why I picked the books in connection with a the theme of "writing as conversation." I was teaching four days a week the whole semester, and I try to keep videos I make for YouTube pretty short, so I will probably do better answering specific questions than just trying to summarize the whole section of the course where we talked about these two books. For every class period I had them come ready to talk about two observations they'd made about the book: one thematic (what is this book about at its heart? what are some of the ideas the plot and the characters keep pointing back to?) and one technical (what specifically do you notice in the writing? This could be particular word choice, or a metaphor, a use of repetition, a stylistic element, a placement of dialogue could be any part of the writing practice which caught their attention. Often we'd use those two questions as a jumping off point for discussions.


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