Books of the year 2018

From a poetry collection about SA's history to Tim Winton's apex about the fragility of masculinity, and the story of the beloved Eleanor Oliphant, these are some of our leading authors' favourite books of 2018

10 December 2018 - 12:00
By BooksLIVE, michele magwood AND Michele Magwood

Ekow Duker

Happiness by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)

It’s a remarkable story, simply told, with delicately written characters that emerge from the author’s deep intelligence. It gently prods you to think with every page.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires (Simon & Schuster)

Even though its focus is on the black American, I think the South African reader can gain an immeasurable amount of reflection and self-soothing from these stories. Our struggles are real and in many ways universal, and Thompson portrays this with clarity.

Mphuthumi Ntabeni

The Overstory by Richard Powers (William Heinemann)

The book goes back to the classics. The language is not just poetic but utilises the traditional Homeric epic style, telling the story of a universal human condition that’s reminiscent of an era when man was in tune with nature.

Rebecca Davis

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (HarperCollins)

If you’re a fan of true-crime podcasts, this is for you. It chronicles a woman’s decades-long obsession with a serial rapist and murderer in California in the ’70s and ’80s. A gripping, chilling - yet often funny - account of McNamara’s quest to unmask the psychopath’s identity.

Qarnita Loxton

Sleeper by Mike Nicol (Umuzi)

Clever, funny, unpredictable. Set in beautiful Cape Town, this crime fiction will make locals see the city through new eyes, and make tourists want to come here anyway. Then there’s that slap in the face on page 12. Classic Mike Nicol.

Karina Szczurek

Free Woman: Life, Liberation and Doris Lessing by Lara Feigel (Bloomsbury)

A tour de force of biography-writing and self-discovery, this was a profound revelation to me as a woman and a writer, specifically a memoirist. Examining Lessing’s life and work, Feigel is fearless in facing her own inner truths and inspires on all fronts.

Siphiwe Ndlovu

The History of Intimacy by Gabeba Baderoon (Kwela Books)

The title alone deserves an award, but more than that it contains the evocative lines, “Your father played you Bird/like he was family/and your grandfather gave you Marabi,/so you come from a long line/before the future opened/ in you”.

Vanessa Raphaely

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton (Picador)

It’s brutal. Raw. A snotklap of undiluted masculinity. And not one for the animal lovers (poor kangaroos and a goat or two meet their end in ways to churn a delicate reader’s stomach). But no-one can bring outsiders to life quite as powerfully and authentically as Winton.

Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh

Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier (Bodley Head)

Lanier’s stunning and terrifying case is that social media undermines individual freedom, economic mobility and democratic debate. Looking around, it is hard to argue the contrary.

Vernon RL Head

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Jonathan Cape)

The opening sentence crafts a magnificent stage for a dance of memories shaping the adolescence of a man, each one a glittering jewel linked on the most delicate chain. Ondaatje must surely be the greatest stylist writing in English, anywhere.

Mohale Mashigo

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah (Headline)

I’ve never read a collection of short stories that made me never want to write another short story again. These are set in the future, the present and a fantastical now. It’s a book about relationships people have with each other; broken ones, odd ones and heartbreaking ones.

Pamela Power

Snap by Belinda Bauer (Bantam)

The way she writes about the children in this book is heartbreakingly poignant, plus it is beautifully written and has great suspense. No wonder it was longlisted for the Man Booker award and winner of the National Award in the UK for crime fiction.

Bill Nasson

First You Write a Sentence by Joe Moran (Viking, 2018)

Moran’s latest book is a nourishing sip of the mother’s milk of any writing - how a good sentence gives order to our thoughts. What is Professor Moran’s advice? Read Virginia Woolf and Gustav Flaubert. Go for verbs and go easy on nouns. Mix together long and short sentences. It’s an exquisite love letter to literacy.

Fiona Melrose

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (Hutchinson)

This is a fictional retelling of writer Truman Capote’s self-destruction after he was punished and ostracised by the group of society hostesses known as The Swans. He broke their confidence in a tell-all piece for Esquire magazine and lived to regret it. Sharp, racy, beautifully written, it’s an utter corker.

Kimon de Greef

I Want To Go Home Forever: Stories Of Becoming and Belonging in South Africa’s Great Metropolis, edited by Loren B Landau and Tanya Pampalone (Wits University Press)

This is a frank, illuminating set of oral histories documenting life at Johannesburg’s margins. We need more nonfiction like this in SA.

Nozizwe Cynthia Jele

Soweto, Under the Apricot Tree by Niq Mhlongo (Kwela Books)

I have a bias towards short stories. I love the concise form and unexpected twists. Mhlongo’s collection delivered just that. I related to the diversity of characters and their everyday journeys. He has a way of engaging critical social issues without judgment.

Sihle Khumalo

The Land is Ours by Tembeka Ngcukaitobi (Penguin Books)

A thoroughly-researched and apt book that reminds us how the black legal pioneers fought for constitutionalism, incorporating individual rights and emancipation. How they stood their ground and traded legal punches under an extremely oppressive socio-political system of the time.

John Hunt

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins)

This debut novel is a very funny book. Its socially inept central character, Eleanor, is wrapped in a loneliness you can feel on every page. At the same time, you sense her warm heart and wait for the light to finally shine through. It also reminds us to be kind. To everyone.

Bibi Slippers

The Overstory by Richard Powers (William Heinemann)

I loved Powers’s fresh take on environmental debates, focusing on the plight of trees in a world obsessed with progress and economic growth, and the surprising intersection with developments in Artificial Intelligence.

Craig Higginson

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton (Picador)

Winton is a brilliant model for how South African novelists could be. Deeply passionate about the people and landscape of Western Australia, with a rich and poetic language that’s all his own, memorable metaphors and deeply engaging storytelling. One of the world’s finest novelists at the top of his game.

Harry Kalmer

Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy (Bloomsbury)

Beautifully written, including descriptions of Jozi’s 1964 snowfall, the life of George Sand and Frederic Chopin, and growing up in a country different from the one where you were born. (Levy’s father was a political prisoner prior to their departure.) But above all, it is a (almost reluctant) celebration of the writing life. I loved it.

Maxine Case

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Atlantic)

This frank, fascinating memoir by Steve Jobs’s eldest daughter is about more than growing up with a famous father. I was surprised by how much I could relate to her story - the time, the hippy subculture, and coming to terms with a parent’s mortality in the face of their failings.

Simone Haysom

The History of Intimacy by Gabeba Baderoon (Kwela Books)

This exquisite book of poetry reminds you that the best ways of confronting our history and of navigating the present involve deep thought and deep feeling - and don’t lose touch with beauty.

Achmat Dangor

The White Room by Craig Higginson (Picador Africa)

This is a complex but engaging novel that explores human relations; love, sensuality, etc, countered by the reality of what fragile human emotions can do to such relationships. The language is incisively eloquent.

Compiled by Michele Magwood