Top 10 Books I read in 2018

Here are 10 of the best books I read last year, in no particular order. For books that are part of a series, I consider them as one in this list. These are books I read, not books published in 2018. 8 are fiction, while 2 are non-fiction. I posted book reviews of some books on this list but not all, if there are they are linked in the titles. By the way, I also made a handy Book Review Index page where I listed (with links) all the books I reviewed in this blog by author and title.

Matilda by Roald Dahl
One of my literary heroes in Matilda. I just read the book this year and I regret reading it too late! Matilda is a bookish and very smart girl in an uncaring place. Her parents and everyone else seems to ignore her existence. When a tyrannical principal tortures the young students in Matilda's school, she decides to do something. I love the relationship between Matilda and her teacher Miss Honey, and the book also has a positive portrayal of a librarian.

Wintersong and Shadowsong by S. Jae Jones
This two books are part of a "duology" and if you're looking for fantasy with beautiful, poetic prose, this is for you. The summary from Google Books: "All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl feels that her childhood dreams are slipping away. And when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. But with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed."

This story is set in Germany. Liesl, an aspiring musician, is the wallflower sister in her poor family. Her sister Kathe is the more beautiful one, while her younger brother Josef is groomed to be a musical talent by their father who had a failed music career. All her life, she has heard of the tales of the Goblin King, the trickster prince of the Underground world. When her sister disappears, she realized that the Goblin world might not be childhood fantasy after all but something real. She descends to that world and tries to save her sister. She meets the Goblin King and she falls in love with the mysterious, dangerous creature. The first book, Wintersong, has very similar themes to the movie Labyrinth.

Out of the two books, the second book is much better. The Goblin King lets Liesl go out of love for her, and she returns to the real world but pines for him. A mysterious patron wants to support Liesl, having heard one of the music she composed played by her brother. But the story gets into a dark turn - Liesl's depression and the growing animosity between her and Josef.

I love how it portrayed art and music. The prose is lovely, and it's worth reading for that alone.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
I spent four months of last year in a Buddhist environment, so the life of Buddha and Buddhism is a big interest for me. This book was originally published in 1922 and is considered a classic. The story is about Siddhartha, who belongs to a Brahmin family. He seeks spiritual enlightenment but wants to do it in his own way, not taught by his society, religion, and family. He meets the Buddha, and his friend Govinda becomes the Buddha's follower. Siddhartha decides to seek enlightenment on his own.

He becomes an ascetic but meets Kamala, a courtesan. He falls in love with her and indulges in sensual pleasure - he then leaves his search for enlightenment and lives a rich life of a businessman. Soon, he finds that he finds no satisfaction in the hedonistic lifestyle and seeks for enlightenment again. In his journey, he does find spiritual awakening.

I love the description of enlightenment in the book and the last passages made me cry - now old men, Siddhartha and his friend Govinda meet again. Though Govinda renounces his life and becomes a monk, he still does not find enlightenment. And in a conversation with Siddhartha, he finds what he seeks. I find myself reading and rereading the last passages often - it is what I imagine enlightenment feels like.

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
I read this book by the author and after that, like an addict, I sought out and read most of his works. This is fantasy, but fantasy like you've never read before. This is the anti-thesis of the Lord of the Rings kind of fantasy. It reads like rock and roll, a love letter to monsters, and after reading it seems as if you've taken an odd acid trip. It has steampunk and wild ideas. It was like nothing I read before (for more of my gushing, read the review).

The Scar by China Miéville
If there's anything I love the most, it's sea stories. I love the ocean, I like reading about the mysteries of the sea, real and make-believe creatures, sea travels, and shipwrecks. In my own stories, I write about it a lot. This book has all of that, and more. This is also probably the author's best works by popular opinion.

Embassytown by China Miéville
Science fiction is one of my first loves. Second to the sea, I love the subject of outer space. This story feels like one of those sci-fi classics during the peak of Asimov and Le Guin. It explores language, the relationship between humans and aliens coexisting in the same space.

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
This is a really gutsy book with an equally badass heroine. Katniss Everdeen may be the most traumatized character in all of literature. This book is brutal, violent, and painful to read. Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games and she's thrust into this totally crazy world but looks plausible with the recent political climate in the world. It explores trauma, violence as entertainment, totalitarianism, and revolutions. But the heart of it all is Katniss Everdeen. She's an atypical protagonist, but we see both her vulnerability and strength.

Dune by Frank Herbert
"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." 

This is one of the most popular science fiction classics and a few sentences would not describe the scope of it, but that quote above is the most-quoted sentence from it.

For Non-Fiction:

Layb Life: mga Kwento at Karanasan ng Isang Librarian by Michael Pinto, RL
There are few published books around talking about the life of librarians, and this is the best and a must-read for Filipino librarians. If you are a librarian, you can really relate to the articles in the book and you might also learn a thing or two to improve yourself and the library you work in.

Keeping the Breath in Mind by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
I read this short book when I was studying Buddhism and meditation in Taiwan. Out of all the books I read about Buddhism at that time, this is the shortest one but stood out to me the most. Written by a Thai monk, it is a practical guide to Buddhism but also a frank look about what to expect on meditation and seeking enlightenment. Some quotes from it:

"We all want nothing but goodness, but if you can't tell what's good from what's defiled, you can sit and meditate till your dying day and never find nirvana at all. But if you're knowledgeable and intent on what you're doing, it's not all that hard. Nirvana is really a simple matter because it's always there. It never changes. The affairs of the world are what's hard because they're always changing and uncertain. Today they're one way, tomorrow another. Once you've done something, you have to keep looking after it. But you don't have to look after nirvana at all. Once you've realized it, you can let it go. Keep on realizing, keep on letting go —"

"Buddho, our meditation word, is the name of the Buddha after his Awakening. It means someone who has blossomed, who is awake, who has suddenly come to his senses. For six long years before his Awakening, the Buddha traveled about, searching for the truth from various teachers, all without success. So he went off on his own and on a full-moon evening in May sat down under the Bodhi tree, vowing not to get up until he had attained the truth. Finally, toward dawn, as he was meditating on his breath, he gained Awakening. He found what he was looking for — right at the tip of his nose.

Nirvana doesn't lie far away. It's right at our lips, right at the tip of our nose. But we keep groping around and never find it. If you're really serious about finding purity, set your mind on meditation and nothing else. As for whatever else may come your way, you can say, "No thanks." Pleasure? "No thanks." Pain? "No thanks." Goodness? "No thanks." Evil? "No thanks." Paths and fruitions? "No thanks." Nibbana? "No thanks." If it's "no thanks" to everything, what will you have left? You won't need to have anything left. That's nirvana. Like a person without any money: How will thieves be able to rob him? If you get money and try to hold onto it, you're going to get killed. This you want to take. That you want to take. Carry "what's yours" around till you're completely weighed down. You'll never get away."

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