2018 in Review

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.

 

 

  1. Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson. A heart-breaking exploration of the plight of single women in the 19th century.
  2. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. A complex story of the criminal justice system and its effect on a marriage.
  3. Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith. A beautifully written epistolary novel about an observant and opinionated Appalachian woman.
  4. Hild by Nicola Griffith. A complex and immersive (and highly speculative) novel about the early years of Saint Hilda of Whitby.
  5. Home by Toni Morrison. A painful, but ultimately hopeful story about the aftermath of trauma.
  6. Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King. A new Russell/Holmes mystery, this one is a proper romp.
  7. 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.
  8. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. This post-War ghost story was possibly even better the second time around.
  9. Old Filth by Jane Gardam. A sad story about a man who appears successful but is haunted by early trauma.
  10. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. A multigenerational saga about a Korean Christian family in Japan.
  11. So Lucky by Nicola Griffith. A novella in which a woman’s life is transformed by disease.
  12. 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.

 

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19 Responses to 2018 in Review

  1. Hilary J. Held says:

    At last, another serious reader made queasy (well, to be fair, you didn’t actually say “queasy”) by STONER. You know, I rushed headlong to that book, more than once, on recommendation – and, more than once, just couldn’t bear it and couldn’t finish it. And I’ll pretty much blaze through anything in an NYRB edition. Oh, what was it about STONER? The workmanlike style, the hero without irony, the mindless women – well. Enough. Possibly we could argue about why we disliked it, but, for the moment, it is a richness to know that someone whose reading is strong found it weak tea. Happy New Year!

    • Teresa says:

      I’m so surprised that Stoner has had such universal acclaim. I didn’t mind the writing, but the women characters were terribly written. If the wife had just been unlikable, I could have gotten past it, but the character made no coherent sense. The universal acclaim probably added to my irritation as well. But at least we’re neither of us alone in our disappointment!

  2. Lisa says:

    I had An American Marriage from the library, and let it go back unread (as happened all too often with library books this year). I’ve just put it on reserve again – and there is still a waiting list for it. I have Island of the Mad on the TBR stacks, but The Murder of Mary Russell didn’t sit well with me, and it put me off reading it. I like the sound of a proper romp, though! And I was excited to read in LRK’s newsletter that a new Kate Martinelli story is coming this year.

    Happy New Year, and happy reading!

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve taken many a library book back unread. Not so much this year, since I’ve been reading from my shelves more.
      I liked Murder of Mary Russell, but Island of the Mad is much lighter and more fun. A good adventure, and Cole Porter makes an appearance! One of these days, I’ll get around to the Martinelli books someday. I started the first one decades ago, when it was fairly new, and got irritated with it and gave up.

  3. curlygeek04 says:

    I loved An American Marriage! I really liked Pachinko, and learned a lot of history from it, but found the later parts of it a bit uneven. Transcription was also very good. I’m really looking forward to reading Washington Black. Happy new year!

    • Teresa says:

      I agree that the later parts of Pachinko weren’t as good as the first part, but the first half was some of the best reading I experienced all year. I learned so much from it!

  4. priscilla says:

    Happy New Year! I feel exactly the same way about social media. I find myself avoiding it to avoid the rage, and also people who are less interested in having meaningful or difficult discussions and more in their own self-righteousness. I miss the connection atpund books, though, so hope to keep a focus on that this year.
    I am so happy to see Fair and Tender Ladies on your list! That book is so wonderful and deserves all the love and attention it can get. Also happy to hear that you enjoyed The Likeness, one of my other favorites. Happy reading in 2019!

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve been told that Instagram is better, so I might try using that more. I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone, so I’m less likely to check them quickly and get sucked it.
      Fair and Tender Ladies may be my favorite of the year. I absolutely loved it, and I wish Lee Smith got more praise and attention. She’s such a fantastic writer.

  5. Elle says:

    So, so glad you enjoyed Hild (as well, of course, as The Likeness)!

  6. Stefanie says:

    A fantastic year! I think 93 books is really amazing and so many good ones too! Happy New Year!

  7. banff1972 says:

    A nice list! I am fairly early in the Mary Russell books (reading The Moor just now) but I really quite like them. Glad to hear the series holds up.
    I was glad to see you liked The Carhullan Army (and gave it its proper title! The US Daughters of the North is the worst). I am a real fan of that book, and even taught it a couple of times.
    The Likeness is exactly as you say: excellent, though preposterous. I think some of the later ones are even better.
    Here’s to more good reading in 2019–and the strength to stay out of those social media pitfalls! I know just what you mean.

  8. What a wonderful selection! I’ve pressed Old Filth on to everyone I know and I love that More Than Love Letters earned a mention. Fair and Tender Ladies is going straight on to my to-read list – it sounds fascinating but I don’t think I’ve ever come across it before. Thanks for the recommendation!

  9. Happy New Year! I hear you about social media — on days when I don’t feel able to deal with politics, I just stay off social media. BUT, I know that some other people have a thing where they create a list that’s a subset of the people they follow, filtering out the likely politics talkers. Then on bad days, they limit themselves to only that list of people. I dunno. It’s hard to find the balance. :(

    • Teresa says:

      I’ve thought about the list thing, and maybe I’ll do that at some point. My follow list is not that large, so there’s not a lot to filter. I think I just need to be more intentional about when I get on social media and what I click on once I’m there.

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