June is World Refugee Awareness Month. To bring insight into the diverse experiences of refugees, we’ve rounded up some of the best books by and about refugees. Whether you’re interested in reading a memoir, a reported work of nonfiction, a novel, or sharing a story with a young reader, there’s a book here for everyone. Read on, and enjoy some deep conversations inspired by these thought-provoking books.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, translated by Berliani M. Nugrahani
- The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
- My Brilliant Friend (and 3 companion novels) by by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
- The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu
- Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
- Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy
- Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
- Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
- A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein
- The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
- Transcription by Kate Atkinson
- A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
About a year ago, when I was setting up my reading plan for the upcoming year, I came across one challenge that included this entry: “Read a book to learn something.”
My immediate reaction to this directive was, “Every book I read, I read to learn something.” Nevertheless, within the context of that particular reading challenge I interpreted this entry as a directive to read a nonfiction book.
But every time I finish a novel I remember anew that I do learn something from every book I read, not just from nonfiction. I’ve learned a lot from novels explicitly categorized as historical fiction, but I’ve also learned from novels in various genres such as science fiction, mysteries, and thrillers.
Here are 15 novels that have contributed to my general knowledge of several topics.
Many novels have served as fictional introductions to other cultures. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, translated by Berliani M. Nugrahani, taught me about the ethnic, religious, and political turmoil in present-day Afghanistan. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman introduced me to what life was like for lighthouse keepers on isolated islands along the coast of Australia in the years after the first world war. I learned what life was like for working-class people in Naples, Italy, after World War II from My Brilliant Friend and its three companion novels by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein. And I got a first-hand picture of life during China’s Cultural Revolution from The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu.
I’ve learned from novels more about war than I ever wanted to know. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier made me understand how the Civil War devastated both the land and the people who lived on it. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows both made me realize the magical power books can have for people experiencing horrors such as World War II. Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy made me marvel at how resilient and brave people can be in the face of those same horrors. Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars taught me how unfair and long-lived political and ethnic suspicion and hatred can be. From A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra I learned the basis for the Russian war with Chechnya.
Spies are a big part of war, and I’ve learned just about everything I know about espionage from novels. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein taught me about courage and the power of friendship in the face of unspeakable fear. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn showed me bravery under threat of death in the first world war, as did Transcription by Kate Atkinson in the second. From A Column of Fire by Ken Follett I learned about the origin of spying during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
But I don’t just learn historical facts by reading fiction. I learn about human nature, about human desires and aspirations, about the desire to love and be loved, the search for one’s identity, and the courage to act in extraordinary circumstances. And also, yes, about the dark parts of the human heart and our capacity to inflict pain and suffering on others throughout time.
I’ve had a lot of formal schooling. But much of what I know about life I learned from reading fiction.
© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown
As with all my annual reading lists, this one comprises books I read in 2018, regardless of when they were published.
In past years I’ve limited my list to 15 books, broken down into the best (10) and honorable mention (5). This year I found it particularly hard to distinguish between those two divisions. I was tempted to present just a single list of 15 items, but, because of that hobgoblin of little minds—consistency—I did subdivide it. However, I won’t mind if you think of this presentation as a single list of 15 items.
Listed alphabetically by author’s last name:
- Connelly,Michael. Dark Sacred Night
- Ferrante, Elena. My Brilliant Friend
- Galbraith,Robert. Lethal White
- Grann, David. Killers of the Flower Moon
- Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven
- Marra, Anthony. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
- Ng, Celeste. Little Fires Everywhere
- Piercy, Marge. Gone to Soldiers
- Stein, Garth. The Art of Racing in the Rain
- Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give
- Benjamin,Chloe. The immortalists
- Follett, Ken. A Column of Fire
- Ford, Jamie. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
- French, Tana. The Witch Elm
- Harper, Jane. Force of Nature
How about you?
Did you read any of the same books I did in 2018? If yes, what did you think of them?
And what’s on your list of the best books you read in 2018?
© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown
The Oscars (but less white and for books) is in its second year here at Book Riot, and we’re honoring the best of the best 2018 releases in Hollywood fashion!
From Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN, USA.
This list from Barnes & Noble includes these categories:
- young adult
- young reader
- thrillers & suspense
- best books (apparently an inclusive category that contains both fiction and nonfiction)
The year’s best young adult books aren’t just for teen readers. Read on for our favorite immersive historicals, sweeping fantasies, stories that tackle some of today’s most headline-grabbing social issues and more.
Also from BookPage:
Although the year has been a challenging one, the effervescent world of children’s literature has been filled with diverse voices, messages of hope and plenty of silliness. Here are our editors’ picks for the 30 best children’s books of 2018.
Most “best books of the year” lists prepared by the publishing profession include only books published during the year in question. But this list uses the same approach I use every year for my own list of “best books read”: It includes the best books people read during the year, no matter when the books were published.
And this list earns bonus points for including one of my Top 5 Novels of All Time.
Here’s another list like the one above.
It’s comforting to know that even professional reviewers can’t keep up with the staggering number of new books published every year.
Here’s another variant on the “best books of the year” round-up.
Cal Flyn—writer, journalist and the deputy editor of _Five Books_—lists the 10 best books she read this year.
We’ve already looked at the Goodreads Readers’ Choice Awards. Here, several Goodreads staff members each share the top three books they read this year.
From the folks at Science Friday.
From The New Yorker.
Because I like mystery/thriller/crime novels, I can’t resist offering you this list by Marilyn Stasio, mystery reviewer for The New York Times:
Ho-Ho-Ho, kiddies. Here comes Bad Santa with another gift sack filled with mysteries, crime stories and body parts. Ugh, what’s that gooey red stuff dripping out of Santa’s bag? Not to worry, just some melted candy canes. Now, on to this year’s rundown of the best Good Books for Bad Grown-Ups.
See who wins her awards in categories like “most original murder method” and “most unprintable dialogue.”
Here’s another list similar to Marilyn Stasio’s. The categories here also vary widely: “best title,” “most studious,” “best conspiracy,” “best use of new media,” “Rotary Club Award for new small business owners.”
A beautiful list from the inimitable Maria Popova of Brain Pickings.
Again, because I like crime fiction, here’s a list from Books in the Media:
Our team have collated the best of the year selections from the following publications: The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times, Evening Standard, The Spectator, Daily Mail, Financial Times and Slate.
There are some titles here that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
The Real Lolita author Sarah Weinman on the crime writing that burrowed deep into her psyche and stayed there for a long, long time
Trends in this year’s noir releases include a revival of PI stories and classic hard-boiled tales of the “starts bad, gets worse” type; rural noir continued to make a strong showing, while procedurals featured a wide variety of protagonists, arrayed along a vast scale of crooked to incorruptible. Noir tends to be the crime world’s voice of conscience, fully on display in many of the works below, and the prominent presence of 1970s settings harkens back to the last great era of conspiracy fiction. To make our selection process more reader-friendly, we divided our selections into three categories: Private Eyes, Police / Procedural, and that most ineffable, expansive, and existential of labels: straight-up Noir.
The staff of Criminal Element choose their favorites.
It was a banner year for psychological thrillers, with Trump-induced anxieties and #metoo stories entering into prominence in a genre already concerned with dangers at home. It’s no surprise that two years after the election, a mess of crime novels newly focused on the psychology of betrayal and the effects of toxic masculinity, but it did come as a bit of a surprise to see several novels that fit in perfectly with the #metoo era, and we’re sure to see many more over the coming years. As has been the trend for the past few years, psychological thrillers have shifted towards exploring relationships between women as much, if not more, than the domestic interactions that were once the subgenre’s bread and butter (so much so that for a few years, the crime world was inundated by the aptly named sub-sub-genre of domestic suspense).
There are many interesting entries on this list by journalist and Five Books editor Sophie Roell.
More from The New Yorker.
From Town & Country magazine.
Off the Shelf is a web site that allows users to set up their own shelves on which to place books they want to read. This list includes the books that readers most often placed on their shelves.
Adam Woog, crime and mystery fiction reviewer for The Seattle Times, lists some of his favorites of 2018. He promises part 2 of his list in his first column of 2019, which should show up on the second Sunday of January.
From me, Woog gets bonus points for describing Tana French, author of the recent hit The Witch Elm, as “ a ridiculously talented Irish writer.” That she is.
From BuzzFeed News.
This extensive list from John McMurtrie, book editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, contains both fiction and nonfiction.
To feed the need for a meta fix, Off the Shelf lists its lists from 2018 that drew the most reader responses.
To mark the end of the year, we’re looking back at the books that BookBub members enjoyed the most in 2018. With an average of over 4.5 stars each, these books are tried and true reader favorites across all genres.
I was a bit surprised to see that a lot of these debut novels are also on a lot of “best of 2018” lists.
Includes graphic novels, music, politics & history, art, poetry, fiction, society, cookbooks, tech, theatre, architecture, thrillers, photography, and science.
OK, this is not a list of the year’s best books, but it may lead you to some new books from this year. Epigraphs are those little quotations from earlier writers that are often featured on one of the opening pages of a newer work. Epigraphs are easy to overlook, but they often lead to new insights about the work. And they’re often more meaningful if we look back at them after we’ve finished the book. Imagine the possibilities.
And finally, let’s look forward:
Including Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.
here are Literary Hub’s most anticipated books of 2019 (so far)—look out for another installment this summer. NB: All dates listed subject to change at the whims of the publishers in question.
The titles here aren’t newly published books, but rather first-in-a-series books to get you started reading in 2019.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
Amazon got us started off back in early November with its many best books lists. This page is the portal on which you’ll find links to lists of best books in many different categories.
This is The Washington Post ’s portal into its lists of books in the following categories:
- the top 10 outstanding books
- The 10 best thrillers and mysteries of 2018
- The 5 best romance novels of 2018
- The 5 best science fiction and fantasy novels of 2018
- 50 notable works of nonfiction in 2018
- 50 notable works of fiction in 2018
- The biggest book news of the year
- The 10 best book adaptations to hit screens in 2018
- The 10 best graphic novels of 2018
- The best children’s books of 2018
- The 5 best audiobooks of 2018
- The 5 best poetry collections of 2018
This is the portal into Publishers Weekly’s list of the year’s best books in lots of categories.
This page presents a whole lot of book covers with a sidebar in which you can choose to filter (e.g., “for art lovers,” “historical fiction”) what type of books you want to see. If you hover your mouse over a particular cover, a pop-up box will appear with a link to more information about the book.
If you find this approach overwhelming, as I did, you can check out BookBub’s report on the NPR choices here.
From BookRiot, a list generated by its followers.
59 BOOKS THAT YOU SHOULD PROBABLY READ SOME TIME IN 2019
After complaining of being woefully behind on her reading, The New Yorker staff writer Katy Walkman offers a list of nine best books of 2018:
To me, each of the titles below represents an energizing alternative to the ripped-apart illogic of our contemporary reality. Even the most disorienting novel is a reminder that you are more than a frayed nerve ending flailing across the Internet—that you, a somewhat coherent person, exist. Each one of these books does what Alexander Pope said wit can do: it “gives us back the image of our mind.”
Suggestions by librarians from all across the United States.
What distinguishes these awards from most others is that they are voted on by readers, not critics. This is the portal into the listings of winners in several categories:
- mystery & thriller
- historical fiction
- best of the best
- science fiction
- memoir & autobiography
- history & biography
- science & technology
- food & cookbooks
- graphic novels & comics
- debut author
- young adult fiction
- young adult fantasy
- middle grade & children’s
- picture books
The 62 Books That Won Our Hearts and Minds in 2018
Literary Hub generated this list by aggregating data from the major reviews of this year’s crime and thriller releases.
This isn’t your typical end-of-the-year best books list, but not including it here would seem like a sin. “There are times in life when we need a spark of inspiration, hope, or encouragement,” and these books provide just that, according to BookBub readers.
And here’s another not-so-straightforward list of some of the year’s best books, this one with a cultural emphasis:
there has been a grassroots pushback against hot-take nonfiction — one led, of course, by women. They didn’t launch any franchises — no “girl”-titled blockbusters and probably no future Jennifer Lawrence vehicles — but collectively, they dominated a shrunken literary ecosystem.
Reinvented auto-fiction, gripping essays, and last stories from a renegade master.
here are 30 of the best book subscription services that are available as of the end of 2018.
From the staff of O, the Oprah magazine:
Our favorite books draw on politics and the news, whether via wrongful incarceration, #MeToo, or the divide between generations. But they also totally captivate us with gorgeously-crafted sentences, their singular take on modern stories, and their insouciance.
This list from the UK’s The Guardian naturally focuses on British literature. This link is the portal page for further listings in the following categories:
- crime & thrillers
- graphic novels
- children & teenagers
- science fiction & fantasy
- memoir & biography
- food & drink
- stocking fillers
- ideas & science
From Book Riot.
And finally … it seems only appropriate to end this list of best books of 2019 (although there will probably be one more such list) with a look forward to next year:
A list by Olivia Ovenden for Esquire.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated between September 15 and October 15 each year, and honors the many contributions of Americans with roots in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Spain, and Mexico. To mark the occasion, we’ve gathered some of our favorite recent books from Hispanic and Latinx authors. These books come from a range of genres, and speak to a wide variety of heritages, cultural traditions, and experiences.
Septembr 23 is Bi Visibility Day and the start of #BiWeek. Here, one reader discusses four books about bisexuality that made her feel valid and understood.
I welcome you and ask that you join me on the journey of understanding bisexuality. It isn’t another “kind of gay.” It’s its own orientation. It’s real, it’s not a phase, it doesn’t mean I’m confused, it doesn’t mean I’m straight if I’m dating a man or a lesbian if I’m dating a woman. I’m bi. Bi people are just as varied as any other group, but we’re real and we often go unseen. Here are four books about bisexuality helped me understand it and claim it for myself.
What I’ve been reading around the web recently.
An interesting history of bibliotherapy, or the use of reading to help “people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence.”
For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.
If reading more books by women is one of your 2018 reading challenges, this list is meant for you. It contains both fiction and nonfiction titles.
A lock of Walt Whitman’s hair, Jack Kerouac’s boots, and Virginia Woolf’s cane are just a few of the items available to inspect at the eclectic Berg Collection—if you have an appointment.
Carola Lovering’s potent debut novel, Tell Me Lies, tells the story of the complicated relationship between college freshman Lucy Albright and charming sociopath Stephen DeMarco. While alternating Stephen and Lucy’s points of view, Lovering depicts how Lucy’s depression drives her codependency. Stephen’s sections show his remorseless Machiavellian sensibilities: unable to genuinely feel affection, he studies people in order to learn how to act normal and get what he wants. Lovering discusses the capability of inhabiting another person’s mind in fiction.
The Millions shares news about new books being released in the second half of 2018, July-December.
We’ve got new novels by Kate Atkinson, Dale Peck, Pat Barker, Haruki Murakami, Bernice McFadden, and Barbara Kingsolver. We’ve got a stunning array of debut novels, including one by our very own editor, Lydia Kiesling—not to mention R.O. Kwon, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Crystal Hana Kim, Lucy Tan, Vanessa Hua, Wayétu Moore, and Olivia Laing. We’ve got long-awaited memoirs by Kiese Laymon and Nicole Chung. Works of nonfiction by Michiko Kakutani and Jonathan Franzen. The year has been bad, but the books will be good.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
When you find yourself not knowing what book to pick up next, here’s a list that contains “a mix of modern fiction, true stories, and timeless classics.”
Was writing invented for accounting and administration or did it evolve from religious movements, sorcery and dreams?
This fall’s collection of promising debuts features problem children, supernatural freedom fighters, captive mermaids, mad scientists, righteous vigilantes, and, last but not least, a narrating dog.
I used to stay away from narrating dogs, but a recent reading of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein may have changed my mind—or at least opened it a bit.
A look at the life of one of my favorite authors.
“Every time I begin a book I think this one is going to be completely different, and then it isn’t,” Tyler said. “I would like to have something new and different, but have never had the ambition to completely change myself. If I try to think of some common thread, I really think I’m deeply interested in endurance. I don’t think living is easy, even for those of us who aren’t scrounging. It’s hard to get through every day and say there’s a good reason to get up tomorrow. It just amazes me that people do it, and so cheerfully. The clearest way that you can show endurance is by sticking with a family. It’s easy to dump a friend, but you can’t so easily dump a brother. How did they stick together, and what goes on when they do? — all those things just fascinate me.”
Novelist Cristina Alger offers a list of novels that present the kind of modern heroine she’s looking for:
I find the collective lack of strong, tough, reliable heroines depressing. Are unreliable women the only women we want to read about? And why do so many female authors choose to focus on them? I’m not asking for female protagonists to be perfect. But I would like to see more fictional women who have a true sense of agency, intelligence and guts—women with the same characteristics we’ve come to expect from the male heroes of traditional thrillers.
© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown
Since I’m choosy about what I read and mostly read only books I’m interested in, it’s often difficult to choose the titles that belong on my year-end “best books I read this year” list.
And this year the task was particularly difficult. After much adding and subtracting, I’ve finally hit on this list of the 10 best plus 5 honorable mention.
Backman, Fredrik. A Man Called Ove
Connelly, Michael. Two Kinds Of Truth
Crouch, Blake. Dark Matter
Harper, Jane. The Dry
Honeyman, Gail. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Jenkins, Reid Taylor. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Macdonald, Helen. H Is for Hawk
Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You
Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Sternbergh, Adam. The Blinds
How About You?
What books made your list this year?
© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown