For the first time in recent memory, I read more non-fiction than fiction books over 12 months, which is not to say I didn't try reading some recommended novels but most of them ended up being lacklustre and I shelved them (er, returned them to the library) within a few chapters.
Thankfully, this year has given readers a gold rush of other engaging and entertaining books, which range from comedic memoirs to inside scoops on Apple to a harrowing journey of a Holocaust survivor. It was hard to narrow it down to five books but that's the life of an infrequent blogger who has a pocket of time on Saturday to tackle non-client work!
Without further delay, here are my top 5 books of 2018:
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng
You nitpickers out there will say Ng's second book is a 2017 release, which is true, but it was in September '17 so it's close enough, and I didn't get around reading it until two months ago, so can you please pump the brakes on the hatorade? Thanks.
So Little Fires Everywhere is undoubtedly one of the best novels I've read in at least 18 months, when David Mitchell's ghost story Slade House floored me completely. What Ng accomplishes in this book is remarkable: she insightfully flushes out what makes functional families veer into disfunction, without ever veering into caricature or stereotype or deadened pacing. She has such a firm grasp of what keeps readers gripped to read more, I couldn't believe the reading sessions I was indulging in with Little Fires Everywhere. I average usually 30 minutes per sit-down, but her book had me glued for at least an hour at a time. This was one one of my rare fiction reads this year, and I'm glad I took a risk on an author I never heard of but came recommended from the New York Times book section.
ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGH SIDE OF LIFE by Eric Idle
If you're in any way a self-described Monty Python nerd, you have to silly walk, not run, to get this long-awaited memoir. Bonus points if you read John Cleese's top-notch memoir, because Cleese laid the groundwork for the pre-Python account of how British comedy was evolving in the 60s and Idle picks up where Cleese left off. By being so candid with his seemingly crystal-clear of oft-told but rarely detailed stories of, say, how miserable it was for the troupe to film Holy Grail, Idle gifts Python fans with an insider's tale that is truly hilarious to read.
I reviewed this book for The Washington Post, so rather than repeat myself, I'll just copy-and-paste my closer: "It’s the kind of book you’ll want to read twice — once when the genius of Python sketches are fresh in your memory, and once when those scenes have faded so you can be reminded how these comedy rebels shook up an art form that was due for a dose of surreal silliness."
LIKEWAR: THE WEAPONIZATION OF SOCIAL MEDIA by Peter W. Singer
You might have heard of this thing called the Internet Research Agency in Russia that paid staff to pretend to be Americans and sow dissent among Republicans and Democrats, sometimes pretending to be Black Americans who urged Americans to vote for Trump or stay home on Election Day. But what cyberweapons expert Peter W. Singer does with LikeWar is excavate more details about exactly how this was pulled off and other similar propaganda warfare waged across the world. LikeWar is an eye-opener, especially if you aren't reading Wired as voraciously as I do; so if you want a clear picture of the niche corners of the Web brimming with deep-fake videos, ISIS online recruitment strategies and fake-news viral messaging than you'll want to give this book a read.
CREATIVE SELECTION: INSIDE APPLE'S DESIGN PROCESS DURING THE GOLDEN AGE OF STEVE JOBS by Ken Kocienda
I used to write exclusively about tech awhile back, when I started my career as a journalist, and I love documentaries or longreads about the hardware of software that make some of gadgets so damn cool. The iPhone OS is one such area of interest for me, and I finally came across a new book that offers Appleheads an in-depth reveal that I don't believe has ever been written before. Ken Kocienda spent his entire career as a designer and engineer at Apple where he famously came up with the iPhone keyboard we all tap away on like a pianist on speed. Did you know the design could've been entirely head-scratching if Jobs didn't give his blessings to Kocienda's iteration? See below for what I mean:
Kocienda doesn't reveal just the origin story of the iOS keyboard but also the Safari browser he helped make what it is today. So if you got a thing for software engineering or how a behemoth like Apple operates, Creative Selection is one heckuva page-turner.
THE LIFE OF MOSHELE DER ZINGER: HOW MUSIC SAVED BY LIFE by Moshe Kraus
This pick is an outlier to many of you because it's a rare find and self-published and on an obscure person to many but a truly important inspiration to me. Moshe Kraus, a Holocaust survivor and cantor in Ottawa, formed part of my solo show Jewnique; I interviewed him about his time at the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, what he found in Jewish music, and how he found a way to remain faithful to his religion when everything around him told him that only chaos and evil reigned supreme. Few memoirs have me get ferklempt but Krause's book did in more than one segment, but it wasn't all tragedy, lest you think Kraus didn't find joy in the aftermath of the Holocaust by bringing his cantorial talent to Mexico City, Johannesburg and Israel, among many others. If you want to get a sense of Kraus's story through my piece on him in Jewnique, see below:
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