• Taj

Top 5 books of 2018 (part 2)*

Updated: Jan 1, 2019


Top 5 books of 2018


Hiya, it’s New Year’s Eve and just before we ring the bells for 2019, I will conclude my rundown of the best of all books that I read in 2018. You can see which books have made the top five so far over here.





3. Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Factfulness

Unusually for me, I read a lot of non-fiction in 2018 and what I read has been great. This is reflected in there being three non-fiction books in my top five. I’ll write more about non-fiction in a future blog but for now I just want to eulogise about how good this book is. Fiction or non-fiction, I like books that teach me something, which is why I’m putting so much effort into researching the science behind All of Our Tomorrows, my forthcoming novel. I learned loads from Factfulness.


This book by the late, great Hans Rosling is all about global development and why the world is not how many people think it is. Now I like to think I know a thing or two about global development (as evidenced by my getting 11 out of 13 correct in the quiz that opens the book), and this book taught me so much more.


Factfulness covers a range of issues such as: just how quickly is the world’s population growing and what exactly does it mean for resources for future generations? How much of what we think about the so called developing world is based in truth and how much is based on Tin-Tin cartoons? How much do different nations actually contribute to climate change and what should they do about it?If there’s an overall message that I took from this book, it would be that people are not stupid, wherever they are from. If things seem odd or bizarre, I should look harder at both the facts of the issue and my own assumptions.


I’ll give a very quick and timely example. At the time of my writing this, there is a lot in the British media about migrants crossing the English Channel in dingies and being picked up by British coastguards. Reports show that some of them paid up to £3000 for a space on the dingy. Consider this; if you had three grand and wanted to get from France to England, how would you do it? You can get a first class flight from Paris to London for less that a hundred quid. With that much money, why on earth would you risk your life in an un-seaworthy dingy in the freezing December weather? Once you start asking these questions, then you’ll learn more about the asylum processes, the role of airlines and ferries, border control, the EU, the police and how these agencies interact to result in coastguards fishing drowning people out of the channel.


People are not stupid.


I first heard of Hans Rosling via his brilliant TED talks and he does a great job of translating his passion and enthusiasm onto the page. With funny anecdotes and clear explanations, Factfulness has something for everyone. By the way, even if you don’t give a hoot about global development, you should watch one of Hans’ TED talks, just because they are the best demonstrations of how to do a presentation that I have ever seen.


Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

2. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge


Oh my God. This book is brilliant.


Reading it was like a blast of fresh air. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race verbalises so much of my own experience. It talks about the frustrations not only of racism and its impact on those I love but also the frustrations of trying to have a conversation about it.


The sad truth is, a lot people just don’t want to hear it. They refuse to acknowledge that it’s a problem, let alone that they have the ability to do something about it if they choose to. Try to bring it up as you get the “But that doesn’t really happen” look or people say “Everyone has to deal with people being mean to them, so how is this any different?” or “That’s all very well, but what about {insert unrelated discrimination here}” or “But that was only one person being racist, so it’s not really an issue.” (I literally had this one last weekend).


This book began life as a blog entry in which Reni expressed her frustration about the responses she got when attempting to discuss race, racism or racial bias. I have to say that my own experiences of talking about the issues reflect a lot of what Reni says and she does it far more eloquently than I have ever been able to.


The book goes much further than this though. It talks about the black history that has been erased from our culture. Why is it that much of the narrative is from the USA? Brits will know who Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are, but why is it that we have no idea of the British equivalents? Why is it that our role in the slave trade goes so unacknowleged? We literally have streets in our cities named after slavers and stately homes built by money made from the trade in humans but most people don’t know this.


In the summer, I gave a presentation to my work colleagues about race and racism in medicine and in the NHS. Public speaking doesn’t normally bother me but before talking about this subject, I was honestly petrified. It’s such an emotive subject but I’m so glad I did it. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race helped me clarify some of the issues I wanted to talk about.


The book also talks about how race intersects with gender and class. Why are the Brixton riots portrayed as race riots when the majority arrested were white?


One of my friends told me that he used to get annoyed about the concept of privilege, and white privilege in particular but this book made him see what is really meant when people talk about the issue.


I don’t agree with everything that Reni says but that’s the point isn’t it? Not all people of colour are the same. We all have different opinions and we’ve all had different life experiences - just like white people.

On the cover, it states that the book is essential reading and I agree. It’s helped open up the discussion and it’s given my friends who have read it a small slice of insight into issues that they previously didn’t see.


Read this book. You won’t regret it


Fever

1. Fever by Deon Meyer


This book is spellbinding. Right from the very first chapter, no from the very first sentence this book had me hooked.


I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this year I’ve really been getting into non-fiction, but this novel absolutely blew me away and showed me once more that fiction at its best has the capacity to really transform you as a person.


I first heard about this book when the two Marks over at The Bestseller Experiment interviewed the author Deon Meyer. The premise of a global pandemic has some similarities to my book, All of our Tomorrows, so I was very interested to see which way Deon Meyer would take this story.


The book is set in a post-apocalyptic South Africa. Sometime in the near future, a pandemic coronavirus has killed the vast majority of the world’s population. Two of the survivors are thirteen year old Nico Storm and his father, Willem. The story is framed right from the very first sentence in which Nico narrates:


“I want to tell you about my father’s murder.


I want to tell you who killed him, and why. This is the story of my life. And the story of your life and your world too, as you will see.”


Talk about a hook, right? This is the best opening to a novel I’ve read since I started paying attention to such things.


The novel is set up as Nico’s memoir. He is telling it on his 47th birthday, the same age his father was when he was murdered. It begins after the pandemic (the eponymous “Fever”) has wiped out the majority of the world’s population. Thirteen year old Nico and Willem are travelling through the empty country, trying to survive.


As you can imagine, the country is now wild, lawless and dangerous. The story tells of Nico and Willem’s survival in this new world and of how little, by little, Willem realises his dream of building a new community out of the ashes of civilisation.


This book blew me away. With my writer’s hat on, I can say that this novel is an absolute masterclass in storytelling. The way Deon Meyer structures the narrative is incredible. There are so many characters, but you never get lost or confused in the cast. Each character is well crafted, believable and interesting. This brings me on to the second, and most important reason why I love this book so much. The characters are so beautifully written.


The older, wiser Nico berates himself for what he did when he was young. The character of his father comes across so well and the relationship between the two is at the core of this book. Domingo, the rebel to whom Nico looks up to says so little, but his personality and backstory come almost wholly through his actions.


Like the characters in the book, the reader never has the full picture of what is going on not immediately in front of them. There are mysteries laced throughout the book which make it a real page turner but it has so much depth and richness that it never feels contrived.


Though the first sentence sets it up as a straight-up who dunnit, this story is so much more than that. The plot twists and turns with mysteries to be uncovered along the way. It’s part post-apocalyptic thriller, part coming-of-age story, part family drama and part murder mystery and it has a smattering of romance thrown in for good measure.


I really enjoyed the diversity of the characters in this book. It talks about race throughout, but the book never makes a big song and dance about it. I really liked that.


Issues the environment, global warming, memory, destiny, racism, the march of technology, religion, the vaguaries of memory, violence, the rise and fall of societies, social order, the need for structure, love, joy, it’s just great.


I mentioned before that I like books that teach me something and Fever delivered that in spades. I learned about Cessna aeroplanes, about how petrochemicals degrade over time, about the geography and topology of South Africa, about how the ecology of the area would adapt without the stressor of humanity. It’s clear that Deon Meyer has done a LOT of research fro this book, but most importantly, this information was passed on in a way that was never jarring. The information always served the story and was delivered in a way that never took me away from the plot. Dan Brown could certainly learn a thing or two from this book - to be fair, we all could.


Another thing that really captured me about this book was the descriptions. Whether it was the sun rising over the mountains or the smell of salt by the coast, the book did an amazing job of making me feel like I was right there. Here’s an example from near the start of the book:


“We drove slowly into town. In the near dusk of the late afternoon it seemed ghostly, bereft of life, like all the others. Weeds on pavements, lawns thickly overgrown behind their fences. On the horizon, far behind the squat buildings of the wide main street, lightning criss-crossed in spectacular displays on a backdrop of fantastical cloud formations. The entire western rim was blooded a strange, disturbing crimson.”


I loved it.


And it’s not just descriptions of the physical environment that are captivating. In the story, characters end up in various states of ill health and disorientation and the author captures them beautifully.


At this point, I must also mention Fever’s audiobook. I repeated the trick that I first did with Children of Time in that I downloaded the audiobook as well as the ebook. That way when I’m on one of my walks, I would stick on the audiobook and continue enjoying the story. The audiobook is narrated by Peter Noble and Jennifer Woodburn and their gravelly South African accents are just perfect for this story. Whenever I think of this book, I will forever hear their voices in my ear.


As I approached the end of this novel, I had that delicious feeling where I want to simultaneously speed up reading because I can’t wait to find out what happens and slow down because I don’t want my enjoyment to end.


I’m an unashamed bibliophile and, somehow, this book has made me fall in love with reading even more.


Everybody should read this book. It’s just amazing.


It is my favourite book of the year.

*This list excludes Jurassic Park which I re-read this year and remains my all-time favourite novel.

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©2018 by Taj Fregene.