Best of 2018 from the #TOpicks Team
We’re nearing the end of 2018, and all the year-end booklists are out. Our four new Twitter librarians present their favourite books, music and movies of 2018 – and they’re ready to discuss them with you!
These are the titles which left me awestruck this year. All these titles moved my heart, soul and mind. If you're into works that make you pause to reflect, follow me @TPLBRNDN.
The Mystery of Existence by John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn
It is rare nowadays to find works which embody the tenets of true intellectual freedom. I am a huge fan of Robert Lawrence Kuhn's work, in particular his PBS series "Closer to Truth: Cosmos. Consciousness. God". In his series, each half-hour episode has interviews with the top academics in the fields of science, theology and philosophy. This compelling collection of essays is similar in format and provides non-judgmental and equal representation to numerous scientific, theological and philosophical explanations of the unanswerable and elemental question, “Why is there anything at all?” and the equally stupefying, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The essays are diverse, short and readable, and each section of the book is prefaced by helpful editorials.
If you want to question your very existence, check out Kuhn’s staggering essay “Levels of Nothing” (I bet you didn’t know there were at least nine levels of nothing– physicists are stuck on level five!
The Greatest Story Ever Told–So Far: Why are We Here? by Lawrence M. Krauss
Elegantly written in his engaging style, Krauss makes the history of physics come alive for the reader in sometimes overwhelming ways. Take for example his description of the most complex machine humans have ever built: The Large Hadron Collider – a massive particle accelerator which was built to explore the universe’s mysterious and exotic primordial past via high speed collisions between particles. He eloquently describes and positions this machine as a present-day “Gothic Cathedral” and provides jaw-dropping facts such as the amount of cable needed to make up its magnetic coils span 270,000 kilometres, or six times the circumference of the Earth. Krauss’ willingness to pepper fascinating facts in a cohesive story of scientific endeavour in pursuit of the understanding the fundamentals of the fabric of space and time, make this a great read for the layperson.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Scientific history comes alive in this intensely readable tome as Bill Bryson ties together, like a great Netflix or HBO series, all the great scientists. Bryson explores their ideas, their petty and humorous squabbles, their happy accidents, their eccentricities, difficulties and tragedies, and unifies them with an accessible narrative of the totality of existence. A multitude of disciplines are covered in this short history of “nearly everything”, including history, chemistry, geology, zoology, astronomy and anthropology. Bryson provides a sweepingly interconnected, entertaining and astounding tapestry of all that there is, and our individual place within it.
If you like to read about people, this book can function as a series of biographies. If you like science, this functions as one of the most exciting science textbooks you have ever encountered. If you are a human being, this book is relevant to you.
My Movie pick: The Florida Project
“The Florida Project” would be the film Charles Dickens would make about the present-day plight of children in impoverished circumstances. Director Sean Baker objectively renders the reality of modern-day poverty in Orlando, hidden from tourists in rundown motels. The film centers around six-year-old Moonee: an Artful Dodger-like girl who has a dysfunctional sister-like relationship with her mother, and the friendships she has with other children who live in her motel and surrounding motels.
The story is sad, but the film rewards its viewers with remarkably natural performances, and the assurance that the very essence of childhood fun, adventure, and hope can widen the eye of the storm which surrounds their lives. This is as close to incisive European filmmaking as North America can get about its own circumstances, only with more charm and grace.
My Music pick: Triangles by Andre Sobata
This is meditative music you listen to with your brain before your ears even know what is going on. Andre Sobota’s EP “Triangles” is an enveloping piece of crystalline sonic beauty. If you are into truly deep, atmospheric, well-engineered and progressive house compositions which take you to either a) a vast, cavernous, empty future world made entirely of black onyx designed by Syd Mead, or the more likely b) an incomprehensibly beautiful dimension before the universe existed, this is your music (this could be a background soundtrack to Kuhn’s “The Mystery of Existence”).
Check out the rest of Sobata’s work if you find your way out of the dimension he sends you in “Triangles”.
I’m a self-professed bookworm. Here are some of my favourite reads from 2018. You can follow me on Twitter @TPLChristie.
My Urban Fiction pick: If I Can’t Have You by Dawn Jiles
Three best friends. The “It” girls. But are they as close as they appear?
Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. Author Dawn Jiles cleverly depicts that not all friendships are as friendly as they seem. Secrets, lies, betrayal, and heartbreak tests Monique, Bria, and Samariah’s relationship, and brings new interpretation to the phrase, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
My Revisionist pick: Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
We know all about Anne Shirley (That’s Ann with an e, thank you very much!), now we get a glimpse into Marilla Cuthbert’s life as told by author Sarah McCoy. Not meant to be an exact portrayal, and Anne of Green Gables series purists might not like this alternate re-telling of Green Gables before Anne, but as a fan of revisionist fiction, this one was a great read!
My “I can’t believe I haven’t read this book until now” pick: Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
How I have not stumbled upon this gem before is beyond me! What a funny, lighthearted, read! The hijinks of Jeeves and Bertie is enough to make you laugh out loud, for pages at a time. The ninth in a series of eleven books, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves involves a black amber statuette, a blue alpine hat, and a dispute over vegetarianism.
My Non-Fiction pick: Disobeying Hitler: German Resistance after Operation Valkyrie by Randall Hansen
I was intrigued by Operation Valkyrie after seeing the movie Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise, Kenneth Brannagh, and Bill Nighy in 2008. After the plot to kill Hitler was thwarted, in this non-fiction read, historian Randall Hansen delves into how resistance to the Nazi movement began to build following the July 20th plot. What is fascinating is the resistance was not these big, grand gestures, but small pushbacks against the government. An intriguing read for my fellow history buffs.
My Movie pick: Crazy, Rich Asians
I loved this movie! Funny, poignant, and heartwarming. Based on the book by Kevin Kwan, the film focuses more on the relationship between Rachel and Nick, while some of the more prominent characters in the book are given less airtime on screen. Regardless of some lost-in-adaptation changes, it is brilliantly written, both the book and the screenplay, and one of my favourite romantic comedies.
I read whatever sounds interesting. These are some of my favourites of 2018. Follow me @TPLMaggie for more.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Roy and Celestial are a normal couple until he is arrested and convicted of a crime he did not commit. Celestial is determined to support and stand by her husband but the longer he is incarcerated, the more she finds she is detaching from their relationship. Meanwhile Roy's devotion to Celestial and their marriage is one of the only things he can cling to as he tries to survive his sentence. You don't have to take my word for it though, Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey have both spoken highly of this one.
My discovery of the year was the Australian mystery novelist, Jane Harper. Of course she is hardly my discovery, all I did was take notice of the rave reviews and award nominations and read her books. I posted a glowing review of The Dry when I read it. Force of Nature is a more typical police procedural and it's also excellent.
My Speculative Fiction pick: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (alt title The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle)
This book gets my vote for the best concept of the year which The Sunday Times described as a "mind-bending mash-up of Agatha Christie, Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day". Briefly: a person regains consciousness in the woods. He doesn't know who he is but learns that he is trapped in a nightmare. He's at a country house for a party where a murder is destined to occur and he must live the day of the murder over and over until he solves the crime. To complicate matters, every time he falls asleep, he wakes up in a different body. It's a lot of fun.
My Memoir pick: The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife
Following 20+ years in the British Army, Skaife was put in charge of caring for the ravens at the Tower of London. Although he saw it as just another assignment, he soon grew to love the birds and their quirky, sometimes frustrating personalities.
My Non-Fiction pick: Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
All of the non-fiction I read this year was grim but this is the one that has stuck with me the longest. The Lusitania was a luxurious ocean liner that was torpedoed during World War I by a German U-Boat. It is more than the story of the ship, Larson instead tells the stories of the people involved--Lusitania passengers and crew, the U-Boat captain and heads of state fighting World War II.
My Music pick: Retribution by Tanya Tagaq
Seeing Tanya Tagaq perform live is intense, heartbreaking, and uplifting simultaneously. If you don't get a chance to see her in concert, this CD will let you experience her brilliance.
I love to read things that are a little unusual. If you're up for surprising reads, I'm on Twitter @TPLWendy.
Kudos by Rachel Cusk
One of the good things about 2018 for me was discovering Cusk’s jaw-dropping trilogy (also including Outline, 2014 and Transit, 2016). All three books consist of one-sided conversations with a roving writing instructor. We only hear what she hears, and the conversations range from the banal to the poignant to the infuriating. Taken together, they’re a tour-de-force – philosophical, formally experimental novels that read with the compulsive momentum of thrillers.
Trickster Drift by Eden Robinson
The summer release of Robinson’s Trickster Drift led me to its precursor, Son of a Trickster, and the two together were another of my most enjoyable reads of 2018. Fans of urban fantasy will be pleased with the shape-shifting river otters, the apartment full of ghosts, and the immensely likable protagonist who just wants to finish his I.T. course – if he can get a break from all the magic.
My Movie pick: Annihilation
Confession: I haven’t read the book yet, and I’ve seen the movie twice this year. Five scientists go on a mission to explore an expanse of swamp that’s disappearing under a mysterious iridescent radio-wave-blocking shimmer. No spoilers, except to say that it’s a transformative experience for all of them (and there’s a terrifying bear-creature). It’s like a weird, pretty, scary riff on Tarkovsky’s Stalker. My new year’s resolution for 2019: read Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy.
Liminal by Jordan Tannahill
A young man walks into his mother’s bedroom and sees her lying too still. Is she alive, or dead? This book takes place in the moment before that question is resolved, and it reels irresistibly from art-world autofiction to ruminations on the neurology of consciousness. Tannahill won three Governor General’s Awards for his plays before he recently turned thirty, which is reason for optimism – several decades more of work like this, please.
How To Be A Good Creature by Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Rebecca Green
Heads up: this slight, short, adorably illustrated memoir in thirteen animals looks like it’s going to be cute (it is) and unchallenging (it isn’t). Science writer Montgomery grapples with difficult memories while she describes how her relationships with different creatures have shaped who she is as a human. Moving, thoughtful, intriguing. (It also launched me onto an animal-book-reading jag – follow #AnimalBookClub on Twitter to join the discussion!)
Share your Best of 2018 in the comments below or on Twitter with #TOpicks!