Favorite Books of 2018
Is there anything better than a book list? Not much.
Some stats on my reading this year, just so you can get an idea of my reading rhythm. No reason to compare here, friend.
I keep track of my reading on Trello, and you can see more details here.
The second half of the year was a much better reading year than the first half, probably because I started leaning into the kinds of books I love and skipping the ones on the fringes.
I usually read just one book at a time, but not this year. At one point, I had eight books going. Not my ideal. Three is my max.
I read 80% hold-it-in-your-hand books, 20% digital. I much prefer physical books, but having quick access in the parking lot or pickup line is always a good idea. I also asked for a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas because I want to read without the distraction of The Rest of My Phone.
I’ve read 50 books this year. For context, I read 39 in 2016 and 56 in 2017. I thought I was going to read a lot more this year than I did, but I hit a rut because I was reading two slow burns that kept me from picking up other things, hence my reading multiple books at a time. Again, not a fan of this situation.
The Night Circus was my only re-read and worth every word hashtag one of my favorite books ever.
In a future post, I’ll share my reading plans for the coming year, but today we look back. In no particular order, here are my favorite books of 2018.
I love the Enneagram as you have probably gathered. I talked with Sarah James about identifying as a Type One on the Selfie podcast if you want to listen. I listen to all the podcasts, I’ve read a lot of books, and I have a local community that’s into it; I don’t know everything by a long shot, but I’m a devoted student. That said, The Sacred Enneagram is the best book I’ve ever read, not just on the Enneagram but on becoming a person. It’s nice to have a primer on the Enneagram (might I suggest The Road Back to You for that), but once you have an understanding of how it all works, this book will knock you down in all the best ways. It’s beautiful, well researched, introspective, challenging, and gracious in encouraging us to stop hiding in the shadows of our childhood wounds and fully become the people we were created to be. I don’t re-read books often, but this one is on my short list of books to revisit often.
I firmly believe in having one guru per category of life; when we listen to too many voices, we get overwhelmed and paralyzed with indecision. Without question, Myquillyn (aka The Nester) is my home guru now and forevermore amen. Her first book, The Nesting Place, offers story-driven permission to decorate our homes without the weight of perfection. In her words, “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”
In this second book, she gives us a literal step-by-step process to creating a home with the most amount of style with the least amount of stuff. I’m telling you this book will change your home 4EVAH. It’s incredibly actionable, and she knows her stuff. Plus, it’s beautiful to look at. Hardcover, no book jacket, glossy full-color photos… it’s a treasure. If you need a last minute Christmas gift for a sister-in-law or girlfriend, grab this book. I’m giving it to my kids’ teachers for Christmas, and I’m stoked.
You know when you read something and you feel your insides changing with each word? That’s what happened when I read Courage Dear Heart. If you’ve ever experienced any kind of pain, trauma, or sadness in your life and found yourself asking “why?” this book is a balm to a weary soul. Rebecca speaks into the platitudes we often hear (and give) in difficult times and offers new words and a new perspective on what it means to hurt. She doesn’t placate or try to soften rough edges. She confronts suffering head-on and offers a soul-changing perspective on what it means to be a human in a hurting world. One of my favorite books ever.
Knox McCoy is one half of my favorite podcasting duo from The Popcast with Knox and Jamie. When he started writing a book, I knew it would be funny, but I didn’t know it would cause me to think in ways I didn’t expect. Knox grew up in the Christian South, but unlike his friends, his faith was influenced more by pop culture than Christian culture. In a series of essays that will cause donkey-laugh tears and sad tears alike, Knox sheds light on what it means to ask hard questions. Through his own (often hilarious) experiences, we see that it’s not only okay to ask questions but that God enthusiastically welcomes us with every crazy question we have. He loves it when we ask, and Knox is our avatar for what that looks like. I loved these pages so much.
Shannan is the kindest firecracker around, and this book compels us to a new way of living without leaving our neighborhoods. Shannan is on my short list of “the most beautiful writers ever,” and this book does not disappoint. We’re surrounded by messages of independence and minding our own business, but Shannan encourages us to get our hands dirty in the ordinary places right in front of us, namely with our neighbors. It’s hard to put into words what this book has meant to me. In fact, I just finished it last night and need weeks and weeks of mulling. It’s rich and impactful and paradigm-shifting in all the best ways. This book gives me courage to enter into relationships that might take years of ordinary interactions to become anything more, to walk through doors where I’m not the most comfortable one in the room, to have conversations where I stumble over the right thing to say, and to know that all of us - no matter our privilege, skin color, or side of the tracks - are ordinary souls longing to be seen and loved for who we are. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Holy cow, if the whole world read this book, we’d be in SUCH better shape. I’m a recent student of listening. Having been a resident talker and fixer, my default is to form my answers before the other person has asked a thing. The Listening Life isn’t what I expected in that, sure, it talks about what it means to listen, but it’s so much more than I ever realized. I’ve seen changes in my inner life as well as my relationships as a result of this book. A terrific read.
I love a good mystery, and I can’t believe it took me this long to get on the Tana French bandwagon. She’s exactly my style - not a cozy mystery writer but not Gillian Flynn dark either. The Likeness is bonkers, and I couldn’t put it down (not a usual sentiment for me). The story revolves around an ex-undercover police officer whose career gets turned upside-down after a dead body not only looks exactly like her but is holding ID for the undercover identity she had created years before. It’s stupid good I can’t, y’all. If you like suspense without being scared, run to get this book. Tana French has several books, and I will start reading them all. You don’t have to read in order (The Likeness isn’t the first book), but the characters are loosely connected; I’ll read in order from here on out just so I don’t miss anything.
I started reading this series (called His Dark Materials) when I found out they were making it into a BBC miniseries starring my beloved James McAvoy. I mean, you know I had to, right? The Golden Compass is the first book and, in my opinion, the best. I read the second book and am struggling through the third because as many trilogies go, the first book has a small cast of characters with a singular mission (think The Fellowship of the Ring), but by the end, there are a million characters and a million storylines and it’s just a lot to keep up with. Here’s what’s crazy - you can read The Golden Compass without necessarily reading the rest of the series. It’s a fantastic reading experience, full of magic, terrific character develop, and a high-stakes plot that will have you quickly turning pages. I just loved it. We’ll see if I ever finish the entire series and feel the same way.
DUDE. This book ticks all my boxes. Magical realism, a touch scary, unrequited love, rich in atmosphere, funny, and completely original. This book is now the bar to which all other magical realism books must reach. This is a bit scarier than I usually like, but it’s stupid good, y’all. The story follows a teenager and her mom who have essentially been nomads for as long as the girl can remember. When the mom goes missing and the only clue to what happened to her is a torn page from a book of fairytales, the daughter, along with a Wallace-from-Veronica-Mars-esque character, go on a mission to find the mom and figure out why they’re being hunted by characters from these creepy fairy tales. It’s just fantastic, and I’m all in.
I’m two books into this four book series, and I’m super into it. It’s part Hunger Games, part Red Rising, and part Lunar Chronicles, so if any of those series fit your style, give this one a try. The story centers around Mare, a poor Red who does her part to support her family by stealing from the rich Silvers. By a strange turn of events, she finds herself employed by the royal family and is suddenly plunged into the Silver world, hoping to overturn it from the inside. The characters are great, the writing is solid, the story is interesting and often surprising, and while I’ve heard murmurs that the series doesn’t resolve well, I’m still reading. Let’s see if the final two books will be on my 2019 list.
I read on my trip to London this past summer, and it’s now my favorite Austen novel. Jane’s snark is epic in this story, and I’m a big fan of female snark in a world of male voices. The story is charming as all her books are, so if you’re looking for a fresh classic, this one won’t disappoint.
This is the second book in a trilogy whose third book is due out in January. The first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, wasn’t a favorite just because it took so long to get into, but by the last quarter of the book, hold your horses, mama. So stinkin’ good, and the second book, The Girl in the Tower, was perfection. Yes, you have to read the first book to understand the second, but I promise it’s worth it. Read it in the winter for maximum enjoyment.
The story takes place in a Russia-like world where magic lies on the fringes. There’s a frost king and weird invisible creatures that hang out in the bathhouses and by the giant stone stoves. There are old ladies who weave strange tales and snowstorms that cause everything to stop. And there’s Vasya, the heroine of the story, who is feisty and independent and very against what her family wants for her. It’s rare that I recommend a series where the first book is almost a slog, but here I am. Just be patient; it’s worth it.
I heard about this book on Anne Bogel’s podcast What Should I Read Next, and her advice was to simply read the book without any pretext. She was right, and I will say the same to you. This book surprised me, made me think, and cultivated compassion in me that I’m grateful to have.
The Dry + Force of Nature by Jane Harper
I read both of these books by Jane Harper this year and adored both. They both fit that non-cozy-mystery-but-not-super-dark category, and I think they’d be interesting to a lot of readers. You don’t need to read The Dry before you read Force of Nature, but the detective in both stories is the same. Jane Harper writes with just the right amount of atmospheric description, the characters are so rich and easily imagined, and the mysteries always take turns you didn’t see coming but don’t feel inauthentic. Super solid modern mysteries and a great gift for any readers in your life.
I did not expect to like this book. Frankly, I can’t believe I even picked it up. It’s enormous, and it’s about a racehorse. You guys. Not my genre. But I kept reaching for it. From the first page, I was hooked. The author weaves such a beautifully intricate tale around this true story, and she gives incredibly humanity to these horses and their riders. I’m not above quitting books that aren’t for me, but I never once wanted to quit, despite the hundreds of pages of tiny print in front of me. If you love a well-told story, you’ll probably be shocked at your affection toward this book.
I read both Celeste Ng books and loved this one the most. This is a bit outside of my usual genre choice since it’s more about modern characters than fantastical story, but the story is great, the characters are well thought out, and the writing is solid. I don’t tend to reach for novels that are more about the human condition than, say, a dystopian patriarchal society in space, but when I do, I often reach for ones that come highly recommended. This one did and for good reason.
The story revolves around the affluent Richardson family who rent out a property to a single mom and her teenage daughter. Relationships intersect, and stuff happens. I love the undercurrent of class struggle and gender-specific expectations within a family. It’s all handled very well, and the story has a satisfying resolution without being too shiny.
I hope you found something that might tick your reading boxes for 2019! Soon, I’ll post some thoughts on reading for the coming year, so be sure you’re subscribed to the mailing list to get a heads up on when that post is available for your reading (get it?) pleasure!
Happy reading, friends!
P.S. If you choose to purchase any of these books through the links in this post, a few cents go to support The Lazy Genius Collective, and for that, I’m very grateful.