The year in books

Unfinished business.

With only two evenings remaining in the year, I’m not sure if I will finish any of the seven books I’m currently reading, so I am calling it at 138 books read this year. (As always, I have included only cover-to-covers.) Here is my complete list, and here are a few numbers:

— 51 novels (not including graphic works)
— 30 non-fiction works (32, including graphic works)
— 13 plays
— 1 poetry title
— 43 graphic works (2 of which were non-fiction titles)

Expanding on my mid-year review, then, here are the standouts:

Even better on rereading:
Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro; 2005. Fiction.)
Childhood’s End (Arthur C. Clarke; 1953. Fiction.)
Daytripper (Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá; 2011. Graphic fiction.)
Mrs. Caliban (Rachel Ingalls; 1983. Fiction.)

Forgot how wonderful this writer is:
Memento Mori (Muriel Spark; 1959. Fiction.)

For those who loved The Elementals (Michael McDowell; 1981):
The Reapers Are the Angels (Alden Bell; 2010. Fiction.)

Fabulous story for a long car trip:
American Kingpin (Nick Bilton; 2017. Non-fiction.)

Honorable mention:
The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet (Justin Peters; 2016. Non-fiction.)

The most engrossing books I read this year (not including rereads):
Behold the Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue; 2016. Fiction.)
An American Marriage (Tayari Jones; 2018. Fiction.)
The Third Hotel (Laura van den Berg; 2018. Fiction.)
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (John Carreyrou; 2018. Non-fiction.)
Euphoria (Lily King; 2014. Fiction.)

Honorable mention:
Killers of the Flower Moon (Dan Grann; 2017. Non-fiction.)
An Abbreviated Life (Ariel Leve; 2016. Non-fiction.)
After the Eclipse (Sarah Perry; 2017. Non-fiction.)
The Hole (Hye-young Pyun; 2017. Fiction.)
Bel Canto (Ann Patchett; 2001. Fiction.)
Things We Lost in the Fire (Mariana Enriquez; 2017. Fiction.)

Cannot stop talking about the ideas in these books:
Janesville: An American Story (Amy Goldstein; 2016. Non-fiction.)
Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America (Alissa Quart; 2018. Non-fiction.)
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (Jessica Bruder; 2017. Non-fiction.)
Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth (Sarah Smarsh; 2018. Non-fiction.)

Even better than War and Peace:
Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath (Sigrid Undset; 1920. (Trans. Tiina Nunnally; 1997.) Fiction.)
Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wife (Sigrid Undset; 1921. (Trans. Tiina Nunnally; 1999.) Fiction.)
Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross (Sigrid Undset; 1922. (Trans. Tiina Nunnally; 2000.) Fiction.)

Best graphic work I read this year:
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt (Ken Krimstein; 2018. Graphic non-fiction.)

Despite all of that great reading, I didn’t make much progress on my 2018 reading resolutions:

1. Read from the shelves.
Of the 138 books I read cover-to-cover, 55 were published this year. So, yeah, “Read from the shelves” was a bust in 2018, but as I wrote early last month, I have a plan: In 2019, I will read one hundred books from my shelves (i.e., the books must have been in my collection before the end of 2018), including at least twenty-four non-fiction titles and at least one book from each of the following “special collections”: Shakespeare, poetry, NYRB, Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, philosophy, art, and children’s / YA. Since I’ve been finishing between 120 and 150 books annually for the last few years, this goal leaves me a little room for impulsivity.

2. Complete a close reading of Moby Dick.
Next year marks the two hundredth anniversary of Herman Melville’s birth. I’m reading serendipity/synchronicity/synthesis into missing this goal because obviously it will be more fun to complete it in 2019, right? I’ve read Moby Dick (conventionally, words on a page) once and listened to the spectacular audiobook (William Hootkins; 2004) dozens of times, but I would still like to reread it (closely) because it bears returning to. If you’re up for it, please join me!

3. Reread at least one Vonnegut novel.
Sirens of Titan is part of my unfinished business. (By the way, my (tentative) 2019 selection is Player Piano.)

4. Finish reading several books abandoned in 2017 (or *gulp* earlier).
Ayup. I am a shamelessly promiscuous reader, good books don’t deserve such treatment, and I will do better.

5. Read at least thirty non-fiction titles.
Twenty-six has been my goal in the past, so I raised the bar this year. It’s the only resolution I kept. This year, I read 32 non-fiction books, two of which were graphic works.

8 thoughts on “The year in books

  1. Congratulations on 138 books, and kudos for being able to narrow down the standouts! Reading from my shelves was one of my 2018 goals too – and since I failed quite tremendously I will be kicking things up a notch with this goal in 2019 (ideally). I’m also a perpetual book abandoner; there are two books in particular that I’ve been restarting every year for the past three years or so (The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland) – will this be the year I finish them? Who knows.

    Have a happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your book lists/reviews are some of my favorite posts all year on any website/blog! Thank you for the lists and for the unique categories — if you liked …. or Better than war and peace… etc etc. makes the lists interesting and helps me choose a few standouts to add to my list ( because looking into all 138 books you read would be a lot!! Though I do look into many, the rating you give helps me focus my efforts;)).

    Happy new year!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thinking about my reading life in 2019 and wondering …. do you make a list of books you want to read? Do you assign certain books to each month? Do you keep track in a way that alerts you if you are falling behind in your reading goals? How many pages do you give a book before you dump it ?;)
    Trying to figure out a method that works for me and my empty nest!:)

    Thanks for any advice/ insight!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello! I have a little Field Notes pad in which I craft lists of books that seem like they belong together and scratch random notes about books I’d like to read. For example, in May, I put together a short list of memoirs about mother-daughter relationships. (I didn’t read all of the books on the list, but I’d like to.)

      I do not assemble the year’s reading, no. Serendity, synchronicity, synthesis must play a role in how I move from one book to another. I do make a few plans, though — for example, the “Read from the shelves” challenge and rereading Moby Dick before the 200th anniversary of Melville’s birth.

      In a chapter or less I can determine if a book is going to work for me.


      • Thank you for your thoughts!
        I like the flexibility you seem to work in … I’m going to think through what might work best for me and set some goals ( like read certain books or certain themed books in different months or seasons …. ) good idea. I usually let books come to me so to speak but with more free time i want to increase my reading life and having a general plan should help

        Thanks again!
        Ps went to the Texas book festival and really loved it. It’s main sponsor is a local /Texas based book seller. It was quite vast in topic and attendance. If there is one in your neck of the woods you may want to attend.. it was better than I thought!

        Liked by 1 person

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