I try to read one hundred books per year. I arrived at that number after a few years of pursuing competitive reading, setting ever-higher unreachable goals and then ‘cramming’ in late December in an attempt to slide in under the wire. I was reminded, uncomfortably, of my kids, back in the day, reading easy-peasy picture books to juke the competitive-reading, Pizza Hut-driven stats on the charts posted on their classroom walls. Data, not delight.
My best reading buddy, Claudia Swisher, read 152 books this year, but I have now decided to simply admire Claudia from afar and try to hit three digits, with a mix of old and new, fiction and non-fiction, keeping a book or two (or five) going at all times. I log my reading at GoodReads, rating each book (one to five stars) and writing at least a couple sentences, if not a full-blown review. It took awhile to get into that habit, too, but now I really appreciate having a list of what I’ve read, especially series, wherein titles blur after a few months.
This was not a particularly great year for reading—for me. I read more one- and two-star entries than usual, and for the first time ever, logged two DNF (Did Not Finish) books. It might be my Calvinist upbringing, but I have always powered through books once I’ve read a few chapters.
Perhaps it’s an increased awareness that—tick-tock—I have only so much time left, but I’m done finishing stinkers, forever. And yes, some books take a while to gear up, then reward you generously at the end. But should I have to invest time while hoping things pick up? No. Unless someone I trust (see the aforementioned Claudia Swisher, or my best friend Sandy, or my husband Terry, also a prodigious reader) tells me to persist.
When I was just two books shy of my goal, I asked Twitter for some short but worthy suggestions and Monise Seward turned me on to a YA graphic series—The Amulet. The books are beautifully drawn and feature rip-snorting, mind-boggling adventure plots. I’d read only one graphic novel before, in my life, and decided I didn’t like graphic novels. So—thanks, Monise. You—and others—changed my mind about what to read next.
Here are the best, most thought-provoking things I read in 2018, in the order I read them:
Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng)
The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)
The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell)
The Female Persuasion (Meg Wolitzer)
I read the Wolitzer in July—and since then, it’s been a long, dry stretch wherein I’ve read some fine fiction and some good nonfiction, but nothing that turned me around, emotionally or intellectually, like the seven books (one nonfiction, six fiction) I listed.
Each is hyper-linked to a good review, so you don’t have to take my word for it.
Looking at the list, I am pleased to see that six of seven authors are women. I also see that the central themes of the books are aligned with my most cherished core beliefs or deepest questions, from cross-cultural adoption to the unremitting wrongness of racism in the United States. The books look at male privilege (overt and hidden) and sports privilege and, strange as it sounds, Jesuits in space.
I read three books about our cracked, bizarre political situation this year, but didn’t think any of them had a firm grasp on what we have in store as a nation—how the Trump presidency will alter our future. I read some pretty good books on education, too, but didn’t encounter That One book that will be part of the educational canon of transformational thought.
Many of the four- and five-star books I read last year came from friends’ recommendations.
Would you like to recommend a book or two? I appreciate all of your suggestions.
Also—posting this shot of sunrise on my deck, New Years Day. (I took a picture on Christmas morning, too, at the exact same time, and it’s entirely different.) Happy New Year, fellow readers.
I read The Sparrow years ago and loved it. Now you need to read the sequel: Children of God. I’ve read several on your best 7 list and will heck,out the rest. Thanks for sharing. Linda
Thanks for commenting, Linda. I did read ‘Children of God’–and although I liked it, I found it less provocative than ‘The Sparrow,’ more concerned with life and conflict on the other planet, imaginative fictions, than what humans could learn from the experience of interplanetary communication or culture-sharing. I did love the end of the book.
Did you read Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover? A good one.
Love your blog!!
I did read ‘Educated’–how could I resist? I gave it four stars, and liked it vastly more than ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ another book that was repeatedly recommended. But I had some problems with ‘Educated’…
First, Westover felt like an unreliable narrator at times. Some of the things that her psychotic father put the family through felt like reason for all of them to get out of Dodge, and not come back–and yet, some of the family kept coming back for more reckless, hideous physical and emotional abuse. Westover begins the book by declaring that none of this is the fault of the Mormon church–which felt like a cop-out, to me. Where did this return-to-home behavior originate?
The other thing centers around poverty porn–the ‘my family was poorer and crazier than yours’ impulse that drives writers to air their dirty family laundry for profit. And makes middle class readers gobble this up, so they can feel shocked and superior. The kinds of psychopathic behavior Westover’s father exhibited are not confined to the poor.
Unlike other readers, I found Westover’s claims of autodidactic success completely believable, BTW. Many people who didn’t like the book thought her ascent to the Ivy League unbelievable, but not me–I have met many kids who educated themselves in spite of families and schools.
Thanks for commenting.