Books, 2018

Last year I read 89 books, and this year, based in part on having gotten so close last year and in part on a comment by a colleague about how neat it’d be to set a goal to read 100 books in a year, I made that my goal for 2018. It turned out to be a stupid goal, and I’ll never do it again. I found myself skimming more than I like and sweating the goal a fair amount, even though I was way ahead of pace for most of the year. At any rate, I finished my 100th book of 2018 with a week to spare on Christmas Eve and am glad to be done with that goal.

I’ve had a reading focus for each of the last few years, and this year my intended focus was to spend a fair bit of time with detective or mystery fiction. I got tired of this pretty quickly, though I did wind up reading a fair few such books.

I really didn’t buy many books this year other than books for work. I used to have an ambition to have a big library, but I’ve pared down a lot over the years and in general don’t want to own a lot of books anymore, so I read mostly from the library this year. Because our outlying branch libraries are small, this meant that often enough I read things I hadn’t really wanted to initially because the branch had one or two books by an author I was interested in, but not the book I actually wanted. I generally took this in stride and just read the books that were available.

As I look back over my list now, the ones that really stand out to me are Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Patrisse Khan-Cullors’s When They Call  You a Terrorist, Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, Hala Alyan’s Salt Houses, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, Louise Erdrich’s Shadow Tag and her LaRose, and Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways. Jeanette Winterson and Samantha Hunt stood out as notable authors I’m really glad I encountered this year, and Lauren Groff and Louise Erdrich continued to dazzle me.

I had a lot of four-star books this year and no five stars (these are rare). I read a handful of books for work and reread a few books. I tried to read a fair bit of fiction that’d show me slices of life pretty distant from my own experience (e.g. books set in Asia). I read my daughter’s summer reading fairly closely, and I reread Cloud Atlas to then go and discuss with some students in a high school English class my wife teaches (this was fun).

I list my 2018 books below, by star rating and then broken into a few other categories (all books are listed by rating, and others are re-grouped only where called for in the later listings).

Four Star Books

I give five-star ratings very begrudgingly — the book basically has to have changed my life or worldview in some way — so a four-star book is a pretty resounding thumbs-up from me. By my count, 38 of the 100 books I logged this year were four-star books, which seems pretty high.

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  • A Book of Common Prayer, by Joan Didion
  • The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
  • When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
  • Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
  • Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
  • In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje
  • Behold the Dreamers, by Imbue Mbolo
  • Huck Out West, by Robert Coover
  • Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
  • Pachinko, Min Jin Lee
  • Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
  • Salt Houses, by Hala Alyan
  • The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
  • The Seas, by Samantha Hunt
  • Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
  • Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
  • Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay
  • My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier
  • The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, by Matthew Dixon
  • The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Suhota
  • March: Book One, by John Robert Lewis
  • The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
  • The Letters of William Gaddis, by William Gaddis
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
  • The Fires of Heaven (Wheel of Time #5), by Robert Jordan
  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud
  • Shadow Tag, by Louise Erdrich
  • LaRose, by Louise Erdrich
  • Lighthousekeeping, by Jeanette Winterson
  • The Blindfold, by Siri Hustvedt
  • The Sundial, by Shirley Jackson
  • A Golden Age, by Tahmima Anam

Three Star Books

A three-star book is one somewhere on the continuum between “I liked it well enough but didn’t love it” and “I don’t regret reading it.” If a book was fine but brief, it might find its way on this list, and if a book was long and not gripping but pretty decent on the whole (e.g. the Wolitzer books), it might make this list. I count 37 books on this list, which added to 38 four-star books means that three fourths of the books I read this year felt like at least reasonable uses of my reading time; given that I very rarely abandon books, that seems a pretty good success rate.

  • The Story of Your Life and Other Stories, by Ted Chiang
  • Warcross #1, by Marie Lu
  • The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde
  • The Ten-Year Nap, by Meg Wolitzer
  • The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer
  • The Uncoupling, by Meg Wolitzer
  • Coraline, by Craig P. Russell
  • The Feral Detective, by Jonathan Lethem
  • The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance #1), N.K. Jemisin
  • The Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance #2), by N.K. Jemisin
  • Celine, by Peter Heller
  • The Antelope Wife, by Louise Erdrich
  • The Painted Drum, by Louise Erdrich
  • The Keep, by Jennifer Egan
  • Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust
  • An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
  • Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie
  • Maus 1: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman
  • Furyborn, by Claire Legrande
  • The Daylight Gate, by Jeanette Winterson
  • The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
  • Some Buried Cesar (Nero Wolfe #6), by Rex Stout
  • The Red Box (Nero Wolfe #4), by Rex Stout
  • The Golden Spiders (Nero Wolfe #22), by Rex Stout
  • Champagne for One (Nero Wolfe #31), by Rex Stout
  • Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, by Edgar Schein
  • The Miniaturist, by Jesse Burton
  • Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
  • A is for Alibi (Kinsey Millhone #1), by Sue Grafton
  • B is for Burglar (Kinsey Millhone #2), by Sue Grafton
  • Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, The Arbinger Institute
  • Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
  • Hum if You Don’t Know the Words, by Bianca Marais
  • The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett

Two Star Books

I didn’t enjoy these much but didn’t dislike them enough to rate them down to one-star books. These tend to be tedious or poorly written or simply not to live up to my expectations for them. For example, The Golden Notebook is a pillar of feminist literature, but I found it both tedious and overlong and just not worth the big investment, though I know it is considered an important book, and in a case like this, I figure the fault is in me and not in the book. I would have difficulty recommending any of these books to anybody based on my personal feeling after reading the book.

  • The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, by Ken Liu
  • E is for Evidence (Kinsey Millhone #5), by Sue Grafton
  • The Stone Gods, by Jeanette Winterson
  • No One is Coming to Save Us, by Stephanie Powell Watts
  • The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing
  • Candide, by Voltaire
  • Go Tell it On the Mountain, by James Baldwin
  • Too Many Cooks (Nero Wolfe #5), by Rex Stout
  • The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert
  • The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
  • The Kingdom of Gods (Inheritance #3), by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Ballad of Tom Dooley (Ballad #9), by Sharyn McCrumb
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  • Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time #6), by Robert Jordan
  • Half a Life, by V.S. Naipaul
  • If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (Ballad #1), by Sharyn McCrumb
  • The Jane Austen Project, by Kathleen A. Flynn
  • A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster
  • The Invisible Circus, by Jennifer Egan
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
  • The Bookshop of Yesterdays, by Amy Meyerson
  • Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

Other Ratings

I read The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and thought it was awful and gave it one star. I wrote a brief review here.

I also read Appointed Rounds: Essays by Michael McFee and enjoyed it a whole lot. He was an instructor and mentor of mine when I was in college half my lifetime ago, and this book brought back so many fond memories and was also just full of pleasant meditations on writing and writing-adjacent things. I don’t give stars to books by people I have some connection with, so this one’s unrated on Goodreads, though in my heart it’s a solid 4-star book.

Books by White Men

I hadn’t felt like I had read a bunch of books by white men this year (I’ve tried to avoid doing that as a default over the last few years), but about a third of the books I read were by white men, which disappoints and surprises me, though it’s an improvement over last year when about two thirds of what I read was by white men. I’ve got nothing against white men! I’m just trying to be more conscientious about reading things from perspectives other than my own. I did do a fair bit of that this year, picking up books set in or about people from (at least) India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Cameroon, and Nigeria and reading a few books about the African American experience, but this is still a pretty big list of white guys.

  • The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
  • Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
  • Huck Out West, by Robert Coover
  • Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
  • The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, by Matthew Dixon
  • The Letters of William Gaddis, by William Gaddis
  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud
  • Coraline, by Craig P. Russell
  • The Feral Detective, by Jonathan Lethem
  • The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker
  • Celine, by Peter Heller
  • Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust
  • An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
  • Maus 1: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman
  • Some Buried Cesar (Nero Wolfe #6), by Rex Stout
  • The Red Box (Nero Wolfe #4), by Rex Stout
  • The Golden Spiders (Nero Wolfe #22), by Rex Stout
  • Champagne for One (Nero Wolfe #31), by Rex Stout
  • Too Many Cooks (Nero Wolfe #5), by Rex Stout
  • Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, by Edgar Schein
  • Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, The Arbinger Institute
  • The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett
  • The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
  • Candide, by Voltaire
  • American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  • Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time #6), by Robert Jordan
  • A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
  • Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
  • Appointed Rounds: Essays by Michael McFee

Mystery and Detective Books

Fifteen of my books this year fell unambiguously into this category. I enjoyed revisiting the Nero Wolfe stories (I had read a few of these when I was a kid) and enjoyed the Kinsey Millhone ones (I also followed these as a kid) a lot less. The older noir-type stories felt pretty one-note. I had intended to read something like some Kellerman but never got around to it because the guy is so prolific that it’s hard to know where to start, and my library never had the ones I thought I might start with when I happened to be looking.

  • The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
  • The Feral Detective, by Jonathan Lethem
  • Celine, by Peter Heller
  • Some Buried Cesar (Nero Wolfe #6), by Rex Stout
  • The Red Box (Nero Wolfe #4), by Rex Stout
  • The Golden Spiders (Nero Wolfe #22), by Rex Stout
  • Champagne for One (Nero Wolfe #31), by Rex Stout
  • Too Many Cooks (Nero Wolfe #5), by Rex Stout
  • A is for Alibi (Kinsey Millhone #1), by Sue Grafton
  • B is for Burglar (Kinsey Millhone #2), by Sue Grafton
  • E is for Evidence (Kinsey Millhone #5), by Sue Grafton
  • The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett
  • The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
  • The Ballad of Tom Dooley (Ballad #9), by Sharyn McCrumb
  • If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (Ballad #1), by Sharyn McCrumb

Fantasy

Most of these were family read-aloud books. I had high hopes for the Jemisin books but felt so-so about them on the whole (I’d like to read her other series, which I think is the one she’s won awards for; again I was at the mercy of what was available from my branch libraries here)

  • The Fires of Heaven (Wheel of Time #5), by Robert Jordan
  • Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time #6), by Robert Jordan
  • Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance #1), N.K. Jemisin
  • The Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance #2), by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Kingdom of Gods (Inheritance #3), by N.K. Jemisin
  • Furyborn, by Claire Legrande
  • The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert
  • American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

Nonfiction

I always wrinkle my nose when I talk about reading nonfiction, but I read a surprising amount this year, a little less than half of it for work. I really enjoyed Gaddis’s letters (they were a highlight of my year in reading, which I guess makes me a pretty big nerd).

  • When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
  • Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay
  • The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, by Matthew Dixon
  • March: Book One, by John Robert Lewis
  • The Letters of William Gaddis, by William Gaddis
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud
  • The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker
  • Maus 1: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman
  • Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, by Edgar Schein
  • Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
  • Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, The Arbinger Institute
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
  • Appointed Rounds: Essays by Michael McFee

For Work

I don’t generally enjoy this sort of reading, but a few of these were pretty decent for what they are. I’ve written more about most of these over here.

  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
  • The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty, by Matthew Dixon
  • The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker
  • Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, by Edgar Schein
  • Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, The Arbinger Institute
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Young Adult or Kid Literature

I read about half of these aloud to the family and read the others out of my own interest.

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
  • Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi
  • Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
  • March: Book One, by John Robert Lewis
  • Warcross #1, by Marie Lu
  • Coraline, by Craig P. Russell
  • An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
  • Maus 1: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman
  • Furyborn, by Claire Legrande
  • The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert

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