Another year, another failed reading challenge. After missing last year’s target I took 2018’s challenge down to 70 books, one I was sure I would make. Not a bit of it, only coming in at 63. Barely a book a week. Why? I have read a few doorsteps this year, but I’ve found my pace has slowed dramatically. One book took me a fortnight to finish, which is unheard of. I know it’s only a yardstick and I shouldn’t let it get to me, but yeah, I’m disappointed to fail two years in succession. Sitting down to do this, I thought I might struggle to find 10 books to choose for this year. I haven’t felt that magic too much in 2018. However looking back there have been a few pearls among the oysters so let’s go, my top 10 books read in 2018.
Don Carpenter – Hard Rain Falling. I’ve had this book on my TBR for ages, and by chance, a friend lent it to me. It’s a stark and uncompromising novel of a down and out pool hustler on the streets of Portland, Oregon, and his friendship with a black runaway through a life of prison, hardship and bitterness. For a first novel it’s extraordinary, and along with the bleakness there are moments of quiet beauty that take the breath away.
Donald Ray Pollock – The Heavenly Table. If you like Southern Gothic grit, Pollock is your man. This tale of the three Jewett brother, cowboys cutting a swathe across the frontier, is lewd, crude, funny and jet-black dark. What’s not to love?
James Lee Burke – The Lost Get-Back Boogie. For some reason I’ve never read a Burke novel until this year, which was a terrible oversight considering I’m a crime fiend and Burke is one of the most popular out there. I was glad to rectify this in 2018, and this novel set in Montana was the best of them, a stunning tale of a man trying to fly right with beautiful descriptive passages and real heart.
Willy Vlautin – Don’t Skip Out On Me. A running theme on this blog is my love for Vlautin’s books. The greatest living writer in America, for me. If anything this book is his most heartbreaking (quite a feat if you’ve read any of his others!), just so painful and beautiful. Another masterpiece.
Michelle McNamara – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. This book on the Golden State killer caused a sensation on its release, particularly as the suspect has now been arrested. It’s very sad that the author died before this moment, as her painstaking research and quiet desperation to find the killer did so much to keep the crimes in the spotlight, and she passed away before the arrest was made. This book is her legacy, and it’s a must for any true crime fan.
Christopher Hitchins – Hitch 22: A Memoir. Come on, it’s Hitch, all right? As ferocious and funny as you would expect from the great man.
Stephen King – IT. Unbelievably, I’d never read this or seen the films until this year. Obviously the clown stuff is iconic, but the novel takes you to deeper and darker places. I actually found a couple of plot strands very problematic, but the sheer invention and quality of the prose means I had to include it. Bloke’s a genius, let’s be honest.
Donald E. Westlake – Dancing Aztecs. No-one does screwball comedy better than Westlake, and this crime caper about a South American statue is brilliantly written and flat-out hilarious.
Kenneth Cook – Wake In Fright. I’m a huge fan of the film (as is Scorsese, if you need a better recommendation than me) and the book it is based on is equally as good. As disturbing, surreal, horrifying and hypnotic on the page as it is on screen.
Kazuo Ishiguro – Remains of the Day. Saving the best for last. My book of the year by a country mile. So haunting and beautiful. Ishiguro’s writing is perfection, as Stevens’s tale of life as a country butler unfolds in bittersweet tragedy. A worthy Booker winner and a reminder of how brilliant fiction can be. So glad to have read it.
So, a nice way to cap off 2018, with my best book of the year coming in its final stages. Hopes for 2019? To complete a reading challenge would be nice. I want to try to read some more voices from outside the Western world, too. My radar feels like it’s been a bit off this year, so hopefully I can sniff out the good stuff better as well. I turn 40 in 2019 so I’m about halfway through my reading life. So much read, but so much still out there. It’s that thought that drives me on.