Happy New Year, everyone! In recognition of the new year, I’m continuing my tradition of looking back at my reading from the previous year. This year, I read 93 books, falling a few books short of my loose goal of 100. But I don’t fret much about that goal. Ninety-something books is typical for me. I just set a goal of 100 to push myself to make reading a priority.
And, this year, I did spend too much time on Internet rage black holes. I’m hoping in 2019 to find a way to enjoy the pleasures of social media, without allowing myself to get into rabbit holes of nastiness. Social media has been extremely useful for me for social interaction, as well as staying informed, particularly about events and issues that are important but that may not make headlines. But, at the same time, so much of social media seems all about the quick snap judgment (positive and negative), and less about nuanced discussion that builds understanding.
On top of that, it’s hard to get on social media today without getting bombarded by political discussion. I know many people find this conversation valuable, and I’ve benefited from both listening to and participating in such conversations. And social media is often a important way for people whose voices aren’t always heard to share their perspectives. But I wish there were an easy way to enjoy light chat when that’s all I have time and energy for without being tempted into yet another enraging rabbit hole that I can’t actually do much about. Sigh.
But we’re here for books, right? Let’s talk books.
Looking back over my reading from 2018, these twelve books stand out to me most.
- Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson. A heart-breaking exploration of the plight of single women in the 19th century.
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. A complex story of the criminal justice system and its effect on a marriage.
- Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith. A beautifully written epistolary novel about an observant and opinionated Appalachian woman.
- Hild by Nicola Griffith. A complex and immersive (and highly speculative) novel about the early years of Saint Hilda of Whitby.
- Home by Toni Morrison. A painful, but ultimately hopeful story about the aftermath of trauma.
- Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King. A new Russell/Holmes mystery, this one is a proper romp.
- The Likeness by Tana French. The second Dublin Murder Squad book, which is a lot of fun if you can get past the ridiculous premise.
- The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. This post-War ghost story was possibly even better the second time around.
- Old Filth by Jane Gardam. A sad story about a man who appears successful but is haunted by early trauma.
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. A multigenerational saga about a Korean Christian family in Japan.
- So Lucky by Nicola Griffith. A novella in which a woman’s life is transformed by disease.
- Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. A delightful story about a slave who escapes to freedom and adventure.
Also notable are One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson, The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall, Transcription by Kate Atkinson, The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff, The Overstory by Richard Powers, Educated by Tara Westover, The Caravaners by Elizabeth von Arnim, and More Than Love Letters by Rosy Thornton. I also indulged in my Ruth Rendell love by reading two of her early novels (To Fear a Painted Devil and The Secret House of Death). This was also the year that I finished Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. And Jenny and I finished reading Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels.
As usual, when I look back over the books I enjoyed, my reading year looks pretty great. But I also read an awful lot of middling books; however, only one book (Stoner) ended up really irritating me. (Minority view, I know, but there it is.)
This year, I intend to stick with my 100-book goal. I read a lot from my own shelves last year, making exceptions mostly for The Tournament of Books and a few other random choices throughout the year. I’d like to continue with that. Over the past few years, I’ve found that about 30% of the books I read are by authors of color, and I feel pretty good about that. It’s getting where I don’t have to put in a lot of extra effort to make that happen. I’d like to read more translated books and international books, but I’m not setting a definite goal. It’s just that both of those went down a bit in the last year, when they were already a low proportion of my reading.
And, as discussed previously, I’m going to think about how to get a suitable balance to my social media use, so I can continue enjoying the book chat without getting caught up in non-helpful, unproductive, and ultimately stressful rabbit holes.