The 10 books you must read in 2018

My records show I read 52 books during the second half of 2017 as Stu and I travelled the USA and Canada. That’s two books a week – not bad, considering what else we packed into 26 weeks. I’ve picked the top handful, the books that changed or moved me the most, to make this reading list for 2018, should you choose to accept it. It starts in March, given I got to this post rather later than I planned!

March: The Course of Love, Alain de Botton

Read in San Francisco.

Not so much a novel as popular philosophy novelised, a story examining modern love – not something natural, but something that occurs now, as it always has, within a particular social context. Alain de Botton has noticed that after the old “how’d you meet?” chestnut, no one ever seems to want to know what happened next – after the marriage. He talks about boredom, compromise, fighting, cheating. Childcare, and eventually parent care. The erosion of ideals of passion, perfection, grand romance. And then – what remains. He explores all the evidence that a lover can’t be everything, perform every function and fulfil our every need – and yet how we still expect them to be. This is a conversation society must have – indeed is always having, almost unconsciously and circuitously. De Botton gives it meaning and usefulness via a beguiling and very readable parable. Should be required reading for all adults.

April: The Ellie Chronicles, John Marsden

Union Reservoir, Longmont, Colorado

Read in Union Reservoir, Longmont, Colorado

The follow-up trilogy to John Marsden’s groundbreaking Tomorrow series, these books are riveting. I know I have now listed a trilogy as one book, but hey, they’re short. Together they make up one large book and they’re smarter than plenty of so-called adult novels. As well as satisfying the hunger to find out what happened to Ellie and her friends, they’ll remind you how blunt and delicate and evocative and honest John Marsden’s writing is. I’m so grateful this wonderful man gives us what we so badly need: our own country on the page. You can practically smell the eucalyptus wafting up from the page, yet above all these are stories of people: their loves and losses, grief and courage, the weird bonds that remain when everything else in a life changes beyond recognition.

May: The L.A. Quartet series, James Ellroy

Read in a poky room in LA.

I’m cheating again. This is actually four books. Four big, gloriously fat, difficult books. I had already read The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential. While away I completed The Big Nowhere and White Jazz. James Ellroy is known for his razor-sharp prose, hard and dense and staggering. It’s unlike any other author’s writing, ever, and you can’t really say you know crime literature or even American literature without knowing Ellroy. Be careful, though – this is the most violent stuff I’ve ever read (or seen onscreen, for that matter). It’s not for the fainthearted. It requires time and commitment and focus. It’s worth every minute. And I recognise that realistically you’re only going to finish the first one in May. That’s OK. Just make a start.



June: The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson

Echo Park, LA - a good place for reading

Read in Echo Park, L.A.

For fans of clever, classic sci-fi. So clever I confess to skim-reading some parts I just couldn’t understand (Stephenson is actually a scientist). But above all it’s a rip-roaring story. Nell is a smart but disadvantaged child in a supremely uncaring dystopia. She gets one chance to break free from her origins when she comes into possession of a stolen “book”, the world’s most precious technological creation: a copy of the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. What she learns inside will change history as much as it changes her. This book is top-shelf. There’s a reason Neal Stephenson is as rare as hen’s teeth in secondhand bookstores. He is the real deal.

July: Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer

New Orleans

Read in New Orleans.

Modern literature from one of the world’s best. A family saga, an examination of modern Judaism, a visionary contemplation of the fragile peace between fraught nations, a deeply intimate look inside a crumbling marriage. A funny, sad, page-turning read, the kind you can’t put down even when your eyes get sore and you’re afraid to find out what happens. Do it for book club. Give it to anyone. Sink your teeth in. A solid bet.

August: All the Light we Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Our first AirBnB, in Bangor, Maine

Read here in Bangor, Maine.

I seemed to read a lot of books about marriage, perhaps unsurprisingly given the opportunity to navel-gaze for six months in tiny rooms with the love of my life. The other emerging theme turned out, to my surprise, to be war and Judaism. Synchronicity perhaps, as we looked at so many museums of world history, with the Holocaust staining it all like red paint thrown across a canvas. In this vein I also read the older but still incredible The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and the Victor E Frankl classic Man’s Search for Meaning. This book, All the Light we Cannot See, won the 2014 Pulitzer after taking the author ten years. I understood why it took so long. The quality and quantity of detail, its careful arrangement, the love and work that went into these parallel stories of a young blind French girl and a young German boy soldier in WWII glimmers from every page. An absorbing, original, readable, beautiful book to bring you to your knees.

September: The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron

Read throughout the east coast and finished somewhere around here, North Carolina.

Still flying off the shelves after 26 years in print. It’s a workbook above all else, an inspiring, amusing and practical book on loosening the pent-up creative artist inside every human – that artist most of us lock up sometime after childhood, and before adulthood. This is perhaps one of the most illuminating books I have ever read. It’s changed the way I see the world, the way I interpret every event. It ensured I not only left NYC having completed my manuscript edit, but that I spent the final few months of our trip churning out the manuscript of a second novel. And it ensured I spent all the intervening time jotting notes for the third. If you’ve ever buried a secret love of drawing, writing, painting, performing, or silently felt longing to write a screenplay or movie or play or just MAKE something, and that little ache just always stays in your heart… read this.

October: Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel

Read by the window in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

You’ve had your Alain de Botton primer and you’re ready for Lesson 2. For anyone interested in marriage, fidelity, sex and passion, healthy relationships and just the art and science of human communication, both are required reading. Esther Perel is a rock-star in the field. She has been interviewed on the Tim Ferriss Show and recommended by Dan Savage of the Savage Lovecast. A holistic, fascinating and vitally refreshing look at the poetry, politics and power of sex and the role it plays in modern relationships, it really changed my perspective. Our subsequent discussions on the topics it introduced deepened our understanding of each other and of society, and without doubt strengthened the foundations of our marriage.



November: On Writing, Stephen King 

Read on NYC subways. Lots of them.

I owe this writer so much for his inspiration and practical advice, as well as the hours of sheer pleasure of devouring everything he’s ever written. He has taught me not only that writing can be fun but that it should be fun. Yes, you can do it. Yes, you can make money. No, you don’t have to be a tortured soul or a starving artist or an alcoholic or suicidal or a drug addict to make good art. This, like all his books, is just a bloody good read. Part memoir, part deconstruction of process and part solid advice, it’s a must-read for all fans. In fact Gerald Winters, owner of the King bookstore in Bangor, Maine, told me the vast majority of King fans, writers or not, name this their favourite of all his works.

December: Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach


Read near Woodstock in the Catskill Mountains, upstate NY

Don’t hold the title against her. The publisher probably made her do it. Tara Brach, also featured on the Tim Ferriss Show, is an American meditation teacher. Don’t hold that against her either. Hell, just swallow all your judgy superior thoughts and excuses about why you don’t meditate for a minute, all right? This book is wise and powerful and compassionate. It’s a thoughtful examination of the role suffering plays in human lives. It offers an – dare I say it? –  enlightened understanding of the experience of being a thinking, feeling, loving, living, feeling, hurting person. It addresses that gap you feel deep inside yourself, the one that usually makes you go and get another glass of wine or handful of crisps rather than thinking about what’s bothering you. Reading this book made me do that thinking and it reverberates through my consciousness daily.


OK, now it’s December, you don’t have time for any more reading. Go do your Christmas shopping.


How to Cure a Bibliomaniac: Best Of



Gosh, it’s an interesting experience to look back through what you’ve read in a year!

And remember the pleasures of the great books and, admittedly, the tedium of the less-amazing books.

To be sure, not one of the titles I read was a bad book, but the blazing light of the best as listed here really testify as to why I embarked upon this project in the first place – to teach myself that any book you’re not enjoying is not worth forcing yourself to finish. When you read a book you’re loving, you’re really enjoying, you know it.

And you know what? These books were overall quite serious books. One I finished sobbing like a bereft child. But they didn’t drag, and they didn’t depress. They just glowed. They make you realise life’s too short to read anything second-best. So from now on, I’m only finishing stuff I love. Hell, I’m only starting stuff I love. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to read smart books or hard books. But they have to be great.

So without further ado, the best books I read this past 52 weeks:

photo 1








I’m not going to rank them, it’s too close a call. Trust me, and read them all.

(If you won’t trust me, at least trust Dr Seuss)

031Honorable mention:

On Beauty – Zadie Smith (radiant, absorbing)

To be honest, this was just as good as the others, but I didn’t have a copy of it any more because I decided to pass that one on so it could brighten other people’s lives. So it didn’t get in the group photo.

Stay tuned! Before this project officially closes, one more post to come… The Aftermath

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 6: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer, 2005)

Books remaining: 20. Weeks remaining to read them: 40 (argh! Get a move on, lassie. Actually, I blame Umberto Eco). 

“Hilarious!” he said. “It is! I never heard from her again! Oh, well! So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to leave the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!”

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer (COVER)

Oskar’s Dad, Thomas, died in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Nearly two years later, Oskar, his mum and his grandma are trying to work out how to live without Thomas.

Oskar finds that his dad left behind a mystery. And he decides he must solve it, no matter how long that might take.



From a giant, lovely tangle of words emerges the inner world of Oskar, one of the best-rendered children I have come across in a work of literature. I’m reminded of Arundhati Roy’s classic The God of Small Things, Michael Cunningham’s Flesh and Blood and, more recently, Emma Donoghue’s Room.

Oscar's business card.

Hire this boy.


But Oskar is very much his own self, and is quite capable of standing alone, as his business card attests.






Oskar meets many people on his quest, which takes him across the whole of New York. He sees and hears the private stories of these people’s own losses, obsessions and inexplicable commitments.

My boots were so heavy I was glad there was a column underneath us. How could such a lonely person have been living so close to me my whole life? If I had known, I would have gone up to keep him company. Or I would have made some jewelry for him. Or told him hilarious jokes. Or given him a private tambourine concert. 

It made me start to wonder whether there were other people so lonely so close. I thought about “Eleanor Rigby”. It’s true, where do they all come from? And where do they all belong?

Safran uses special effects: illustration, some inventive punctuation and conversational styles, and other visual devices that rather defy description. But none of it feels contrived, pretentious or pointless. It feels like I am getting a closer look into Oskar’s world and the way he processes information. And the way he processes loss.

Because above all, this is a story about grief – grief, and the guilt that slinks in alongside it. It is about the people left behind, trying to make a new space for loves that will last forever, but that have changed into something invisible. It is about how we try to hold on and how we have to let go.

“Looking for it let me stay close to him for a little while longer.” “But won’t you always be close to him?” I knew the truth. “No.”

This book is 341 pages long. By 305 I was weeping like a baby. I kept it up until the last page, and then for a few more minutes after that. Any book that makes that happen, and still not get called depressing, is special. This book is a heady jumble of ideas, it is funny and illuminating. It charms and puzzles and delights.
I felt as though it understood me and helped me understand myself. It will make your eyes hot and your throat tight. It will remind you of everyone you ever lost. But it’s worth it.

Keep or not? I’ll keep it for the moment, but only so that I can give it to someone who is interested.

Postscript: The Ministry and I tried to watch the film of this a year or two ago. We found it disappointingly mediocre and turned it off after half an hour. I might have another burl at it now, though, not because I think I’ll like it better, but it’s fun watching stories you’ve read come to life, even if they don’t do it the way you wanted.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here.