This past year, with the help of Off the Shelf’s 2018 Reading Resolutions, I made an effort to expand my reading horizons. I tried genres I seldom read, like memoir, discovered exciting debut authors, and finally tackled a hefty book that had been on my TBR pile for a very long time. Here are five of the best books I read last year and the reading resolutions that led me to them.
This debut novel took me by surprise and was truly like nothing I’d ever read before. It follows Mona, a woman in her early twenties who cleans houses to get by and volunteers at a needle exchange, where she meets and falls for an addict she calls Mr. Disgusting. The twists and turns her life takes and the characters she meets along the way are as quirky as they are deeply sad, as haunting as they are strangely beautiful. This one will be with me for a long, long time.
Read Sarah Jane's full review of PRETEND I'M DEAD.
I don’t read a lot of memoir, but this one came highly recommended by multiple friends and I absolutely loved it. The story of Trevor Noah’s journey from being a mischievous young boy growing up in apartheid South Africa, where his very existence as a mixed-race child was a crime, all the way to his comedy career and hosting The Daily Show, was at times hilarious, at times deeply moving. I especially enjoyed stories about his relationship with his fearless, independent-minded, stubborn mother. Hearing the whole story read by Trevor Noah himself only made the experience more affecting.
I got this book from the library based on a recommendation from Off the Shelf and I could not put it down. In 1919 New York, Rachel Rabinowitz is a four-year-old living at a Jewish orphanage who becomes the subject of disfiguring medical experiments. As an adult, she is a nurse at Manhattan’s Old Hebrews Home and realizes that one of her elderly, cancer-stricken patients is none other than the doctor who inflicted so much suffering on her. This enthralling novel weighs revenge against mercy and is a moving story about a young woman coming to terms with her painful past, who she has become, and whom she loves.
Read a book you’ve had on your shelf for years but haven’t gotten to yet
When I heard about this novel, it was as if everything in it was tailor-made to my interests: Opera! Dark secrets! Revenge! Lush descriptions of period costumes! At over 500 pages, the thought of carrying it around on my commute had kept it sitting on my TBR pile, but once I picked it up I devoured it in a week. Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, looking for an original role to make her an operatic legend. But when she is offered one, she realizes with horror that it is based on her deepest secret—one only four people know. Who has betrayed her and why?
Lilliet Berne, legendary soprano at the Paris Opera, is offered a coveted original role, but realizes with horror that this new opera is based on the dark secrets of her own past. Who betrayed her? This thrilling historical drama is filled with so many things I love: mystery, political intrigue, opera, and treachery. —Sarah Jane
This short story collection of fresh spins on classic fairy tales and children’s stories was a dark, witty, feminist delight from start to finish. Mallory Ortberg strips every tiny speck of Disney-fication out of these familiar stories and makes them as sharp and grim and subversive as they can be. A VELVETEEN RABBIT retelling in which the rabbit is a malevolent soul-sucking monster? A WIND IN THE WILLOWS take involving a big, sinister dose of gaslighting? Subversions of the traditional roles of fairy-tale daughters and princesses at every turn? Sign. Me. Up.