Ten Memorable Books From 2018 And Ten Books On My “To Read” List For 2019
First let me say — I know it’s May. I know it’s a bit late for a 2018 recap. To that I say — whatever, it’s still the first half of 2019! I know there are companies out there still doing their planning for 2019, and if they can do that then I can do a 2018 recap and a 2019 “to read” list, even if I’ve read a couple of the books on the “to read” list this year already. Also, it’s my list and I’ll do what I want! Let’s talk books, friends.
I read 87 books in 2018. EIGHTY SEVEN. That feels like a lot! (Though I admit this is my first year tracking this). This past year was also the first time I took pictures and wrote a little bit about the books I was reading. If that’s interesting to you you can find me as @theinkfish on Instagram and on Goodreads.
It turns out there’s a whole community of “bookstagrammers” out there, and they are super intensely into reading and a lot of them are really awesome — I’ve loved getting to know some of them over the last year. They are project managers and authors and grad students and parents and teachers, and they SHARE THEIR BOOKS which makes them the best kind of friends to have. I’m thankful for the way they welcomed me as I started on this project a little over a year ago.
I may have read 87 books — but these 10 (5 fiction, 5 non-fiction) stuck out to me, for one reason or another.
I want to talk about these two books together because they occupy a similar space. Both bring female narratives to the fore in canons that have traditionally been male dominated(Greek mythology and early Christianity). In each case, the author and the protagonist are both women. Both offer moving, character driven stories that unfold over a lifetime and bring up aspects of these well known stories that haven’t been considered in any meaningful way before. Circe was my book of the year for 2018 — the story of a self-made witch woman, the child of a god who is both all too human and not anywhere close to it. It’s a book I find myself recommending to everyone, as it’s a stellar example of epic storytelling that doesn’t revolve around violence. I was late to the party with The Red Tent, but I’m not upset about it — in fact, I’m not sure I would have been able to appreciate it had I read it much earlier. Like the women in these stories, I had a little growing up to do. I don’t think I would have appreciated the power of the female-centered friendships and support structures in both of these books if I had read this in high school. That said, it was well worth the wait, and now I’m here to tell you — both of these books belong on your to-read list, however long it may be.
Six word summary: Strong female narratives in male dominated canons — Greek mythology and early Christianity. (Yes this is 12 words. It’s two books. Deal with it).
The Sparrow is another book that’s been around for a while that I never got around to reading. I read it this year with two of my best girlfriends in a sort of impromptu bookclub (sidebar, informal book clubs with friends are the best, highly recommend) and it hit me way, way harder than I expected it to. The central story arc is one of futuristic mission-style space exploration — executed by that group that has long been involved in such activities, the Jesuits. One of the core questions The Sparrow presents is whether, knowing now what we know about many of the terrible outcomes of various missionaries and explorers throughout history, we could do any better if given another chance. It then proceeds to demonstrate how much luck and chance govern new interactions, and how much hangs on shared understanding of concepts that are not in any way shared. If it is the nature of cultures and people to impact the other cultures and people they encounter, is it possible to prevent the cross-cultural adoption of certain norms given a certain level of interaction between people of distinct populations? Should we even try? You’ll find no answers here — only an endless supply of questions. The Sparrow is a major gut check, but it’s absolutely worth the time.
Six word summary: No comfort — just endless troubling philosophizing.
Altered Carbon is one of the few books I have broken one of my cardinal rules for — always read the book first. In this case, it’s because I didn’t know there was a book when my boyfriend and I ripped through the Netflix series over the course of a couple weekends. The show is dark and gritty and violent, and the source material is much the same — though morally “murkier”, in the words of its author, than the adaption. This murkiness works for me. I like characters with pasts, with secrets and troubles and weaknesses and blind spots, things they fall prey to and must try to overcome. These things are all emphasized by the absurdly powerful tech of this futuristic universe, made up of Earth and its surrounding planets and galaxies, which makes it great fun to read.
Six word summary: Gritty futurism with solid Netflix adaption.
Early in 2018 I read my first Kristin Hannah book, The Nightingale. That book would hold this spot, except that for my Book of the Month box later in the year I spotted her new release and snapped it up. I read The Great Alone while taking the train from New York City to Seattle, which definitely added a little… je ne sais quoi. It’s the story of a troubled family that moves to Alaska with basically no plan and even less in the way of supplies, and the great and terrible things that they go through thereafter. Hanging out by myself watching the world go by and feeling incredibly small (and being a teeeeeny bit tipsy off smuggled rum and Amtrak Pepsi) was a perfect recipe for real, honest-to-goodness tears through the entire last three to five or so chapters of this beautiful book and honestly, I have no regrets. What an amazing book for a solo trip.
Six word summary: Love is hard, family is harder.
Abundance is a powerful look at the wonders and opportunities that modern technology has presented us with. It’s a truly inspiring look at how current and future technologies could be leveraged to create a world that is truly abundant — one in which everyone’s most basic needs are provided for. This means the bulk of mankind’s effort will go to improvement instead of subsistence. The overall message is that the world is a better place than we think and it’s going to get better still, which is reassuring. More reassuring still is the case Diamandis lays out for it — not an emotional one, but a following of the current movement of the world to a rational conclusion. There’s work to do, of course, and it’s not going to happen overnight — but the overall image is one of hope, and global prosperity, if we all work together to ensure it.
Six word summary: The future’s better than we think.
My little brother fell in love with Real American the moment he read it, and as part of his birthday festivities the rest of my family read it so that we could discuss it with him. The strength of Julie Lythcott-Haims’ voice blew me away, as did the raw honesty with which she shared her experiences as a mixed race woman in America, not only as an individual but also with her parents, husband, and children. On top of the objective greatness of the book, it is also the first book that my brother and I have discussed together in a real, meaningful, “adult” way, which certainly helped it earn its spot on my list of memorable books of 2018.
Six word summary: Moving portrait of race and belonging.
Everyone can agree that words matter. But who decides what they mean? Word By Word is a delightful group of essays from Merriam Webster definer Kory Stamper, who has been sent by the linguistics gods to remind us that words mean what we decide they mean — and that their definitions are ever evolving. The role of the dictionary is not to define words, but to give voice to the way we the collective society has defined them. Sprinkled through with heartwarming and often hilarious personal anecdotes, Word By Word was one of the most fun books I read last year.
Six word summary: Words matter — who decides their meaning?
I first encountered Simon Sinek as many did, through his Ted talk, and then through a few other videos. What he had to say about the ideas behind how companies build off their core values and reasons for existing really resonated with me, both as a professional but also on a personal level. The core tenet of this book is that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” — something that applies to everything, not only business. I believe that it is incredibly important to take time to identify what defines you, what it is that drives you, and what your ultimate goal is. It’s one of the many reasons that I recommend Start With Why to everyone I talk to, even if they’ve read it before!
Six word summary: People don’t buy what you do.
Speaking of books for solo trips — whether you’re planning on taking one or scared of taking one, Alone Time is the book for you. Stephanie Rosenbloom travels by herself to four cities in four different seasons — well, almost by herself. The writing is so vivid it feels like you’re on the trip with her, sitting on the banks of the Seine, drinking wine and watching pedestrians pass by, or getting scoured within an inch of your life at the baths in Istanbul. The goal of her adventures was to take some time alone, to be still, to have time to think and to immerse herself completely in unfamiliar places (and one familiar one). It’s a beautiful, readable book that you can read in sections according to the trips. Then you can read it again and again, whenever you feel the need for a little adventure.
Six word summary: Make time to be by yourself.
I also have a list of books “to read” (#TBR in bookstagram speak) that is almost 900 books long and growing faster than I could ever read, so I’ve picked another 10 books (5 fiction and 5 non-fiction) that I plan to read this year!
I’ll admit, I read A Woman Is No Man already this year. But it’s a stellar book and you should read it too! It’s an especially poignant tale of three generations of immigrant women and their lives in Brooklyn, and it blew me away.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows has been on my list for a while - it’s about the power of learning to tell your own story, which really resonates with me. It’s also had rave reviews from everyone I know who’s read it!
I picked up A Gentleman in Moscow in one of my “Book of the Month” boxes — it’s another “everyone says” book that I haven’t gotten to and want to be able to discuss with people.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a recommendation from one of my best friends, who loved it - and she works in publishing, so that’s good enough for me. Also, I live in NYC these days so I am looking forward to the Upper West vibe of the whole thing!
Daisy Jones & The Six is the newest offering from the author of Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which got top marks. Also, I’m all about a badass front-woman. Sign me up!
Grit is my current read — a gift from my father, and one of several books on my list that centers the virtue of sticktoitiveness. So far, so excellent.
I already read Cathedral of the Wild this year — it’s a beautiful tale of family and self discovery and the meaning of home set in the South African bushveld. I cried reading it on a plane, so it’s earned it’s place here. I can’t wait to go back to Africa!
Another recommendation from my friend in publishing — she read Three Women three times before it even hit the shelves. I’ll be borrowing it from her as soon as as I can peel her hands off it!
I loved dinosaurs as a kid (still do!), and The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs sounds like exactly my kind of geeky science-based narrative history.
Like everyone else on the planet, I am fascinated by the Theranos chaos and all the players in it. However, I must admit that I haven’t read the most acclaimed account of the drama yet, so Bad Blood gets a spot on this list!
So there you have it — 10 books I loved last year, and 10 I’m looking forward to loving on this year. If you have recommendations, I would love to hear them! And if you decide to read one of the books on this list, I would love to know what you think. You can drop me a line here, or you can find me as @thinkfish on Instagram and on Goodreads. Happy reading!
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All cover images are from Goodreads unless otherwise stated.