Every year I set a personal challenge for myself on Goodreads. This year I set the number of books I would read to 50. I ended up changing that to 40 once I realized how demanding my job was (I often worked involuntary overtime and often worked until midnight) and how much I valued sleep over reading. When we found out we would be moving to New England, I all but gave up on even reaching 40 books.
But I managed to read 57 books this year! And I’ve started two more – one, My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares, is an audiobook; the other is Severance by Ling Ma, a new release I picked up from my December Book of the Month selection.
A few other interesting numbers: Of the 57 books I finished, 31 of them were fiction. This actually surprises me and makes me a little proud, too. It wasn’t too long ago that I found myself unable to choose a novel to read for fun. Everything I was reading, and had been trained to read, was a historical document or a nonfiction account. Additionally, 35 books were written by female authors and only 13 of my 2018 reads were actually released in 2018.
The Girls by Emma Cline – This was one of the first novels I really got into this year. I’m certain The Girls was meant to mirror some aspects of Charles Manson’s followers, but I found myself appreciating the situation these young girls found themselves trying to navigate, and with little to no guidance from people they trusted. A coming-of-age story in a time when finding yourself could mean losing yourself.
Only Child by Rhiannon Navin – Hands down one of the best books I have ever read. Only Child gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of school shooting survivors, and in this case we meet the little brother of a fifth-grader who was gunned down in his classroom. Released only a week before the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, Navin’s book was a raw read for me. And an eye-opening one, at that. Because we all think about the parents of the dead, but we never think about their siblings. Now I will always think about their siblings.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave – Little Bee was one of my commuter books that I was lucky enough to listen to on audio. I made the mistake of also reading The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya at the same time. Both books are incredible! However, Little Bee is fiction and I found myself confusing the stories. I feel like I did a disservice to them both. However, I will warn you: Little Bee has an emotionally graphic gang rape scene that will tear your heart to pieces. I remember telling myself “It’s not a true story,” over and over, just to shake it from my memory. But because I was becoming familiar with Wamariya’s account of her country’s civil war, I was not so naive to believe such a rape had not actually happened to someone. Something to keep in mind.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal – Why is this not a movie? I want to see these characters in real dimensions. I want to see them cook the food. I want Eva to be my best friend. And her cousin! Both of her cousins! Every character in this story is absolutely lovable, even when they’re being horrible. I’ve considered purchasing a copy of the print book simply so I can bring to life the recipes that featured so prominently in these people’s lives. Mostly I just want to get my hands on Pat Prager’s award-winning peanut butter bars, even if I have to make the damn things myself.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – I loved everyone in this story except for Varya. I’m not sure why, since all the other characters had ample development and some emotional legitimacy, but Varya came off at the end like the author panicked and threw a bunch of emotional problems together. Did Benjamin believe Varya should be the carrier of all burdens? I actually find myself having more sympathy toward Bruna than Varya. This was still a wonderful book. And I think Benjamin touched on a very real and very human idea – would you live your life differently if you knew when it would end? My answer: YES.
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides – I read this book on a whim, really, and only because I had developed some unexpected Polar-centric interests when we moved north to Cleveland from Oklahoma. Now that I’m living a few hours from Canada, I’m practically obsessed with Polar exploration (this theme continues…you’ll see). Sides is an accomplished writer (he has a number of nonfiction books to his credit) and I’m convinced that everything he does is pure gold. In the Kingdom of Ice is a non-stop thrillfest of misery and endurance, from which you’ll find in yourself a deep appreciation of basic comforts, like heat, food, and a shelter that isn’t being crushed by early-forming pack ice.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann – Oklahomans, this should be required reading. Grann is a meticulous researcher and a skilled wordsmith, both of which lend to this incredibly readable account of the government’s poor treatment (that’s putting it lightly) of the Osage people and the tribe’s rightful claims to oil and money. Our library director also selected this book for our book club discussion, months after I had read it, but it was fascinating to hear others’ perspectives on just how and why local, state, and federal officials treated the crimes against the Osage so differently. (I just ordered Grann’s newest book The White Darkness. In it, Grann tells the true story of a trio of descendants of Shackleton’s crew and their attempt to cross Antarctica by foot. Tomorrow I’m ordering two more books of Polar fiction. I’m Polar-crazy.)
Dopesick by Beth Macy – Dopesick was the only book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and wanted to throw against the wall when I was finished. The last page broke my heart. If you’ve read it, you probably know what I’m talking about. Macy gets so deep into her research that she finds herself becoming a part of the story. I can’t imagine that not happening when dealing with a topic like this. But Macy does humanize many of the people we seem to place so much blame upon, even as she tries help those who just can’t help themselves. I was absolutely furious when I closed this book, but not at Macy. Mostly at a particular doctor who tried to prescribe me some Oxy when I tested positive for strep throat. STREP THROAT, people.
The Butchering Art by Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris – I love my diseases and I love President James Garfield, so this book was a delightful marriage of the two. Fitzharris, an American, is a medical historian who lives in England. It seems only natural that Victorian medicine would become her favorite thing in the world. In this book, Fitzharris explores the evolution of anti-sepsis. It’s really that simple! Anti-sepsis and its benefits were not so simple to sell, however. Imagine how sick or dead we’d all be had it not been for Joseph Lister and his tenacity, his ability to convince the right people at the right time that he had the right solution to saving lives. Unfortunately, those who could have saved President Garfield’s life just by washing their hands were not immediately receptive to the idea. Thanks for trying anyway, Joseph.
What Remains by Carole Radziwill – It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am a Real Housewives junkie. I watch OC, Atlanta, New Jersey, Dallas, and New York (Beverly Hills is laaaaaaame). When Carole joined the New York cast a few years back, I found myself immediately fascinated with her. She comes from a middle-class family; she was a war journalist; she was married to a Kennedy (cousin, but still); she became BFFs with Carolyn Bessette; and she can write. How this woman endured such tragedy and grief in such a short amount of time (she loses Carolyn in the infamous JFK, Jr. plane crash, then her husband dies of cancer a few weeks later) is beyond me. So this is a really good book if you like crying in bed.