This was the first full year of tracking my reading, and it's been a delightful process to see how the stories stacked up. (Pardon the bookish pun.) You can read more about my approach to reading and rating books here, and connect with me on Goodreads to see what's sitting on my nightstand these days.
Ready for some literary stats and stupendous book lists? Jump on in!
Total Books Read
Favorite (A-Grade) Books
My love affair with all things literary started young. I grew up on a farm without a TV in a place where the winters last six months. (Wikipedia will kindly inform you that it has snowed in North Dakota every month of the year except July and August.) Entertainment came in the form of books, board games, and our imaginations.
We went "snowmobiling" on the couch, turned the basement into a hotel with a rotating cast of absurd characters, constructed some seriously epic forts, recorded our own radio show, and at the pinnacle of our achievements, created an entirely pointless game called "rump" that requires nothing more than...rumps, obviously. It was glorious.
In between those escapades (and sometimes during them), I had my nose and my brain in a book. It started with Where the Wild Things Are in first grade, an obsession that continues to this day. (Maurice Sendak is an underappreciated genius of the gentlest sort.) Then it was Misty of Chincoteague, Number the Stars, and The Giver. Anyone else remember the sheer elation of getting the Scholastic book fair flyers? I deliberated over those crinkly, thin-papered pages with such fervent concentration, you'd think they held the secret to life. Come to think of it, they kind of did.
I guttled through one series after another: The Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie, The Babysitters Club (Claudia was my hands-down favorite, although I knew in my heart I was more of a Mary Anne), Goosebumps, and my mom's Janette Oke books. Then I hit the angsty intellectual years and got into Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, and Ayn Rand. ("Wow, I totally get this," I remember thinking as I slogged through The Fountainhead in that overconfident, puffed-up way of gangly teenagers so eager to be of the world.)
Since those childhood days of escapism, books have become my answer to just about everything. Looking for ways to procrastinate? Read a book! Can't figure out how to do something? Read a book! Need some balm for a heartache? Read a book! Want to impress that cutie with the argyle socks and tortoise shell glasses (or me)? You guessed it - read a book!
In the dark, Kenny’s eyes grew big. “How did I get so far?” he asked.
“You made a wish,” said the rooster, “and a wish is halfway to wherever you want to go.”
Super Geeky Graphs About Books
The split between fiction and non-fiction often ends up being almost identical. This isn't intentional, but owes to the fact that I generally keep multiple books going at the same time: one fiction, one non-fiction, and something brain-sparking like poetry or a spiritual text.
Are you one of those personal development buffs who thinks reading time should be invested primarily in non-fiction? I was a card-carrying member of that club until I learned that fiction is fabulous for your brain. Besides, life is serious enough and we can all use a good imagination romp now and then.
Here's a frequent question from the folks who make the mistake of asking me about books (don't say you weren't warned):
How do you manage to read so much?
Apart from a general predilection for downing some words whenever I get the chance, there were a few factors that made 2018 a particularly bookish year.
For the first half of the year, I was nomadic, and in my world, travel time = reading time. The hours racked up in airports, on flights, and all the in-between places were usually spent with a book (or my Kindle) in hand. This applies to the everyday waiting time too. Keep a book tucked in your bag or queued up on audio and you'll be amazed at how many paragraphs you can gobble up in bite-sized chunks.
I'm an evangelist for the power of habit, and if there's one thing that has amped up my reading volume, it's consistency. Most days, I read for about an hour before bed and fall asleep with a book on my face. On some especially raucous Saturday nights, I've been known to wake up the next morning with not one, but TWO books in my bed. Embarrassing.
It's no secret that I'm a sucker for well-placed rules and I have a ridiculous tendency to create my own if they don't already exist. That seeped into my literary life, and I had restrictions about reading only non-fiction during the week, finishing every book I started, and maintaining an even split between genres. In 2017, I let go of all my self-imposed mandates and started to (gasp!) read whatever I felt like. It has re-infused joy into the process and keeps me turning pages.
In spite of my longstanding passion for structure and rules and all things orderly, my grading system is entirely arbitrary. If you're the persnickety sort and insist on some criteria, here are the ultra-official guidelines:
A: Rocked my socks, made me think, changed my behavior. Definitely subjected everyone in my vicinity to incessant conversation about it.
B: Pretty legit, probably learned some stuff. Mildly page-turning; only rocked one sock.
C: Average to sub-par, bordering on lame. May have gagged slightly while finishing it.
(The last category speaks for itself.)
If you want the list of all 80 books and their corresponding grades, drop me a line!
Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.
Here's a glimpse of the genres that got the most love (and an A) from me in 2018. This view revealed a few things:
- The bulk of my fiction diet is historical. This has been true since I was a teenager, and I don't see it changing anytime soon. If you can get lost in a good story and learn something in the process, what's not to love?
- Poetry speaks to my soul like nothing else. My ardent devotion to the realm of verse is a new development in the last two years, and a full 50% of the books I read in this category earned an A.
- I will use any excuse to make a graph.
To learn about the four books that moved me the most and why, you can pop over to my year-end reflections.
The 20 Overachieving, A-Graded Books of 2018
Books I'm Still Thinking About
| NF | Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
| NF | The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
| F | In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
| F | 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Books That Took Me Places
| NF | The Lost City of Z by David Grann
| NF | Educated by Tara Westover
| F | People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
| F | The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Books With Exquisite Wordplay
| P | The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
| P | 20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
| P | The Book of Ecclesiastes (authorship debated)
| NF | Anam Cara by John O'Donohue
Books That Made Me Want To Do Something
| NF | A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine
| NF | Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
| NF | How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
| NF | Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Books That Charmed My Pants Off
| NF | Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
| F | Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
| F | The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
| F | The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows