My favourite non-fiction of 2018

I seemed to read more non-fiction than fiction last year. I suspect it is more to do with it being easier to read in situations where you are being perpetually interrupted, like parenthood, rather than any stylistic preference, but you never know. I’d need to do more research.

Also, for some reason, my brain will accept non-fiction from a screen in a way it won’t with fiction. Sure, I prefer reading The Guardian as an actual paper far more than as a website (not least because all the terrible opinion pieces aren’t pushed at me in quite the same way) but my limited budget means that most days of the week I get my fix of Marina Hyde and John Crace digitally, surrounded by adverts for sofas. I’m ok with that. As long as I don’t read the comments or accidentally click on one of the writers that make me all angry inside (no names, because I’m nice) I muddle on through. If I try to read a novel, or even a reasonably long short story, on a screen I tune out. It’s not ideal.

Books though. What did I read?

My big recommends from last year are…

Feel Free, a collection of Zadie Smith’s essays that, being written by Zadie Smith, is superb. She is probably the living writer most comfortable with language. Is that too bold a statement? Probably. But I can’t think of anyone else who uses language so naturally, makes writing look so effortless, blends high and low so seamlessly that you realise the distinction is essentially false. She is a wizard, a magician. She is proper great.

Heroic Failure. Fintan O’Toole’s demolition job of the British mindset that led us into the shitstorm that Brexit now obviously is, is clinical, total, and fair. We deserve no better. It is also very funny. It’s good to laugh between runs to the supermarket to stockpile canned goods and medicine. Everyone likes a laugh.

Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? by Lev Parikian tells of his attempt to see two hundred British bird species in one year. Does he succeed? It’s not really about that. It’s more about the love of nature, and the reclamation of a lovely part of his childhood, and family, and music, and life. But does he succeed? What is success really? How do we truly judge success and failure? Just tell me if he saw the birds or not. No. You’ll have to read it.

Mixed-Race Superman. Will Harris’ long essay about Obama, Keanu Reeves, and Will Harris is a brilliant exploration of race and self.

Oh, I also started reading a book about gulls, but you would just find that boring.