I read 58 books this year, disgraceful compared to the glory days my twenties, but it’s six more books than last year, and I have some hope that next year will be better. For the first few months of 2018, I did not allow myself any pleasure reading, save what I listened to an audio while walking the dog or doing laundry. The idea was to carve out time for me to write. It was supposed to be an incentive, too: as soon as I finished my manuscript draft, I could go back to reading books!
It was such a dumb idea.
I’m not sure what I did with that time (Twitter? Is it possible I wasted it all on Twitter?) but I was neither reading nor writing. It was a bleak period. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to 100+ books annually, but I won’t deliberately deny myself books again.
Total books read, cover-to-cover:
- Adult: 57
- Children’s: 1 (The One and Only Ivan)
Books that were published in 2018:
- Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
- Transcription, by Kate Atkinson
- A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey
- The Witch Elm, by Tana French
- Elevation, by Stephen King
- The Outsider, by Stephen King
- The Coming Storm, by Michael Lewis
- Academic Libraries for Commuter Students, by Mariana Regalado and Maura A. Smale
Books I wrote that were published in 2018:
- The ABCs of ERM: Demystifying Electronic Resource Management for Public and Academic Librarians
- Forty (this, despite my generally preferring fiction)
- Eighteen. I am, with great trepidation, learning to tolerate fiction on audio. Perhaps fiction will have a greater share of the pie next year.
Genres (as some books have more than one genre, total exceeds 58):
- Biography – 6
- History – 3
- How-to – 1
- Journalism – 1
- Language – 1
- Leadership – 1
- Library science – 1
- Literary criticism – 1
- Memoir – 15
- Psychology – 2
- Science – 8
- Self help – 2
- Social science – 7
- Survival – 2
- True crime – 2
- Crime/Thriller – 2
- Fantasy – 8
- Historical fiction – 1
- Horror – 2
- Literary fiction – 2
- Mythology – 1
- Popular/mainstream – 1
- Science fiction – 1
- Annual fat Russian novel: The Funeral Party, by Ludmila Ulitskaya (disappointing; I should stick with nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writers. Will 2019 be the year I finally read War and Peace?)
- Re-reads: 0. Whoa. I think this is a first.
- Audiobooks: 41
- Unique authors: 53
Partly due to deliberate choice, partly due to the serendipity of what was available for checkout from the library, two themes emerged in my reading: I read more books by and about people of color, and I read more books about science and math (especially true if you include medicine in your definition of science, which you should). These two themes overlapped several times, as with Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Related: the Epic Rap Battle between Sir Isaac Newton and Bill Nye is worth it just for the Tyson cameo (“astrophysics black guy“).
Best book of the year:
When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanathi, a book that is beautiful both in style and substance. This is a cancer memoir by a surgeon who started his academic career as a literature major. It is a lovely meditation on death and dying.
K.J. Parker tho. Isn’t he the best?:
He is, he really is.
- The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. Reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web. I love that the bad guys are not wholly bad and that, when our hero Ivan (a silverback gorilla) faces a difficult decision, there are no good choices available. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a children’s book.
- Transcription, by Kate Atkinson. I would be fine with never reading another British WWII book, by Atkinson’s a good enough writer that she makes it worthwhile, and anyway there’s espionage involved, so.
- The Suicide Motor Club, by Christopher Buehlman, who is the best thing to happen to American horror literature in years.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, which I loved for what I assume are obvious reasons.
- A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey. Unexpectedly good memoir from the former FBI director, including a scene that made me cry. I now understand his Hillary Clinton announcement in the 2016 presidential election cycle.
- My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy. The author of The Prince of Tides talks about the books that were meaningful to him. He narrates his audiobook and it’s just lovely.
- The Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel. Christopher Knight lived in a tent in the Maine wilderness for nearly twenty years. This is a true crime story (Knight stole food and supplies from nearby vacation homes) by, ore importantly, it’s a story that makes you wonder just how much you need other people.
- The Witch Elm, by Tana French. As I have repeatedly claimed, French is the best writer in contemporary crime. Fight me.
- Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann. Historical true crime about a conspiracy to kill Osage Indians in the 1920s. Given the number of murders and the breadth and audacity of the crimes, it’s astonishing that this story fell out of common memory.
- Believe Me, by Eddie Izzard. You’ve got to listen to the audio version. Eddie keeps going off-script and it is HYSTERICAL.
- The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger. You know what’s going to happen (spoiler: the ship sinks), by Junger’s a good enough writer that part of you hopes you’re wrong.
- Detroit, by Charlie LeDuff. Reads like gritty street noir, but it’s a nonfiction history of the city.
- No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy, widely held to be one of America’s greatest living writers. This is my second McCarthy novel, after Blood Meridian, and I found it to be far more accessible. It’s Western noir and, my goodness, that Anton Chigurh is a nasty fellow.
- Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, who can write circles around most everybody else. This is her retelling of Rumplestiltskin.
- The Two of Swords, by K.J. Parker. This is more cheerful than most of Parker’s books, in that not quite everyone is dead at the end–whole armies and most of society, yes, but the spy who is the sort-of main character manages to stay alive.
- So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson, who is an odd man who writes about odd subjects. He is my favorite curmudgeon.
- Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. The basis for the movie of the same name, this is the story of the black women in the space program whose math first put a man on the moon.
- Little Failure, by Gary Shteyngart, who grew up in Russia but emigrated to the United States with his parents. Hilarious memoir.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. This is one of those books that deserved all the buzz it got. It’s the story of the black woman who unwittingly changed science medical science with her cancerous cells.
- The Refrigerator Monologues, by Catherynne M. Valente. Following the Brett Kavanaugh nightmare, I sought a feminist balm for my soul. This is a collection of related stories, told from the perspectives of the wives and girlfriends of superheroes.
- The Inner Life of Animals, by Peter Wohlleben. I am such a sucker for books about animal behavior.
- Get Well Soon, by Jennifer Wright. Laugh-out-loud funny about the history of plagues.
In recent years–as I have become personally acquainted with members of the literary community, and as my own literary aspirations have grown–I have become uncomfortable with publicly criticizing authors who are still living. They might stumble across my opinions and then feel bad, and to what end? Two of the books I read this year were objectionable, but I’ll keep quiet about that here.
But a third objectionable book was by a dead man, so all’s fair. I finally got around to reading Ralph Waldo Emerson and wow, that guy’s a dick. He is Ayn Rand with trees.
All the books I read:
|Applegate, Katherine||The One and Only Ivan||Popular||2012|
|Bennett, Michael||Fuck Feelings||Self help||2015|
|Blackmoore, Stephen||Dead Things||Fantasy||2013|
|Boukreev, Anatoli||The Climb||Survival||1999|
|Brown, Theresa||The Shift||Memoir||2015|
|Buehlman, Christopher||The Suicide Motor Club||Horror||2016|
|Cain, Susan||Quiet||Social Science||2012|
|Comey, James||A Higher Loyalty||Memoir||2018|
|Conroy, Pat||My Reading Life||Memoir||2010|
|de Waal, Frans||Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?||Science||2016|
|Demick, Barbara||Nothing to Envy||History||2009|
|Emerson, Ralph Waldo||Self-Reliance||Self help||1841|
|Finkel, Michael||The Stranger in the Woods||Biography||2017|
|Fisher, Carrie||The Princess Diarist||Memoir||2016|
|Forsyth, Mark||The Etymologicon||Language||2011|
|French, Tana||The Witch Elm||Crime||2018|
|Gaiman, Neil||Norse Mythology||Myth||2017|
|Gladwell, Malcolm||What the Dog Saw||Social Science||2009|
|Goldstein, Amy||Janesville||Social Science||2017|
|Grann, David||Killers of the Flower Moon||History||2017|
|Harris, Dan||Ten Percent Happier||Memoir||2014|
|Izzard, Eddie||Believe Me||Memoir||2016|
|Junger, Sebastian||The Perfect Storm||Survival||1997|
|Kalanithi, Paul||When Breath Becomes Air||Memoir||2016|
|King, Stephen||On Writing||Memoir||1999|
|King, Stephen||The Outsider||Horror||2018|
|Lewis, Michael||The Undoing Project||Social Science||2016|
|Lewis, Michael||The Coming Storm||Social Science||2018|
|McCandless, Carine||The Wild Truth||Memoir||2014|
|McCarthy, Cormac||No Country for Old Men||Crime||2005|
|Melinek, Judy||Working Stiff||Memoir||2014|
|Moore, Wes||The Other Wes Moore||Memoir||2010|
|Munroe, Randall||What If?||Science||2014|
|Nasar, Sylvia||A Beautiful Mind||Biography||1998|
|North, Claire||The Sudden Appearance of Hope||SF||2016|
|Novik, Naomi||Spinning Silver||Fantasy||2018|
|Parker, Dorothy||Parker: Selected Stories||Literary Fiction||1995|
|Parker, K. J.||The Two of Swords, v. 1||Fantasy||2017|
|Parker, K. J.||Mightier Than the Sword||Fantasy||2017|
|Parker, K. J.||The Two of Swords, v. 2||Fantasy||2017|
|Parker, K. J.||The Two of Swords, v. 3||Fantasy||2017|
|Regalado, Mariana and Maura A. Smale||Academic Libraries for Commuter Students||Library Science||2018|
|Riggs, Nina||The Bright Hour||Memoir||2017|
|Ronson, Jon||So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed||Social Science||2015|
|Shetterly, Margot Lee||Hidden Figures||Science||2016|
|Shteyngart, Gary||Little Failure||Memoir||2014|
|Skloot, Rebecca||The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks||Science||2010|
|Strand, Ginger||The Brothers Vonnegut||Science||2015|
|Taleb, Nassim||The Black Swan||Social Science||2007|
|Tyson, Neil deGrasse||Astrophysics for People in a Hurry||Science||2017|
|Ulitskaya, Ludmila||The Funeral Party||Literary Fiction||1997|
|Valente, Catherynne M.||The Refrigerator Monologues||Fantasy||2017|
|Ward, Jesmyn||Men We Reaped||Memoir||2013|
|Wohlleben, Peter||The Inner Life of Animals||Science||2016|
|Wright, Jennifer||Get Well Soon||History||2017|