2018 book list

Here you go, just in time for the dark winter months…

*Where the Past Begins, by Amy Tan. Excessively wordy and dry. I skimmed a lot, especially towards the end. Also: what’s up with the huge paragraphs? They’re not easy to read or fun to look at, so why?

*The Ninth Hour, by Alice McDermott. Pristine writing. Slow, meandering story. Pretty good.

*Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. Interesting and kind of fun, but the plot flaws and underdeveloped/inconsistant characters bugged me.

*The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard. So bewilderingly dense that I felt, at times, like I wasn’t even reading English. Summary: one-third I didn’t understand, one-third I sort of understood, and one-third connected on a deep, deep level. Weird, huh?

*The Great Starvation Experiment: The Heroic Men Who Starved So That Millions Could Live, by Todd Tucker. Interesting and informative. Also, it made me hungry.

*The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. Food porn  over-the-top and light  but fun.

*The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard. Excellent, though I didn’t get all the plane stunt stuff.

*Educated, by Tara Westover. AMAZING. I devoured it in two days, mostly while sitting on the patio of our little vacation house in Vieques [dreamy pause], and then the three younger kids read it, too (though not while we were on vacation we’re not that efficient). Nuanced, gracious, and raw, it’s perhaps the best memoir I’ve read, ever.

*The War Against All Puerto Ricans, by Nelson A. Denis. Stupendous, eye-opening, and extremely well-written. Reading it while in Puerto Rico and struggling to understand the messy relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico (and while attending church with the grandson of Pedro Albizu Campos, no less) made the book feel just that much more relevant. Highly recommend.

*Call the Midwives: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, by Jennifer Worth. Entertaining, and surprisingly similar to (at least the beginning of) the TV series, but so poorly written.

*The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd. Fun and engrossing. The storyline was unpredictable and low-key, and therefore unsensational, which I liked.

*Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah. Entertaining and eye-opening  he has lived such a wildly varied life. I’m considering buying it and making it required reading for the older kids.

*Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love, by Zack McDermott. Written by a lawyer with bipolar, this books makes for an interesting connection between mental illness and the prison system. Also, the vivid writing helped me to understand not just what bipolar is, but how it feels.

*Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s, by John Elder Robison. Great story-telling. Insightful. I made it required reading for the older kids. (Warning: it may inspire certain readers to blow things up.)

*A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines. I didn’t much like the main character, and the flow felt stilted, but the ending was super powerful.

*A Girl’s Guide to Missiles: Growing Up in America’s Secret Desert, by Karen Piper. A personal, informative account of the war-making machine, but as a story goes: meh.

*Speaking with Strangers, by Mary Cantwell. Beautiful, fluid writing, but I did not “get” her at all.

*The L-Shaped Room, by Lynne Reid Banks (the abridged version, because that’s what my mother had lying around the house). Interesting.

*The Power, by Naomi Alderman. Pros: Intriguing concept and good writing. Cons: Weak plot, underdeveloped characters, repetitive, and lacking humanity and nuance.

*The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Insightful, multi-layered, and relevant. After reading it, I bought a copy so the older children could read it. The girls both loved it.

*Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. Super fantastic. Incredible. Exquisite. Delicious. Felt a little Barbara Kingsolver-esque. My husband and I fought over it who got to read it and when (I started it first, so I got dibs.) I inhaled the entire last section, came up gasping for breath, and then was so worked up (in a good way) that I had trouble sleeping.


Currently, I’m reading four books: Becoming (having trouble getting into it), Salt, Fat Acid, Heat (ordered it!), A Gentleman in Moscow (I keep having to take it back to the library and then get it out again), and The Wife (a whippy-fast page turner).

Now, your turn! What good books have you discovered in 2018?

This same time, years previous: balsamic-glazed roasted butternut squash and brussel sprouts, sex for all creation, old-fashioned sour cream cake donuts, the quotidian (12.22.14), the quotidian (12.23.13), bacon-jalapeno cheeseball, marshmallows.


  • Anonymous

    I loved Educated! As an educator, it gave great insight to the effects of trauma on our students and families. It read like a fictional novel and I had to keep saying to myself, "but this is real!!!".

  • DnD_Saga

    I had such a hard time with Educated! I felt like I was just waiting for everything to be resolved and it wasn't!!!

    I just finished The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and loved every minute. Similar to A Man Called Ove in the very best of ways.
    I also enjoyed Paris For One (and other stories) by jojo Moyes.

  • Hattie

    My favorite work of fiction was Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion. It is overly long and, some say, not as good as The Interestings, but I liked how well the reader gets to know the strong female characters. For non-fiction, I was fascinated by Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI about a relatively unknown period in American History; the book ,written by a journalist, reads like fiction.

  • Theresa Y

    The Best Cook in the World by Rick Bragg, The Witch Elm by Tana French and The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah and Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey stood out as a few favorites. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

  • Susan

    I had a similar reaction as Melissa (commenter above) about Educated — it was such a compelling story and beautifully written, but I felt voyeuristic reading it, especially knowing that Ms. Westover is still dealing with trauma and repurcussions of her upbringing. Thus, I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, so much as appreciated her insight and talent.

    I think my two favorite reads this year were "Motherest" (recommended by Catherine Newman) and "Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat."

  • mommychef

    Yes to "Educated" too! Loved that. Also my highest rated book of the year was "An America Marriage" by Tayari Jones. "Counting by 7s" by Holly Goldberg Sloan, I also really loved. It's probably meant for 6th-7th grader. I fell in love with the quirky protagonist and my fourth grader begged for more every night; the themes might have been a bit beyond him but I didn't have to edit anything out to keep it age appropriate. Highly recommend. Also, while on vacation, picked up a copy of Anne Tyler's "Ladder of Years" about a tired mom who just…walks away from it all. Really enjoyed it. Currently into Lisa Brennan-Jobs memoir "Small Fry" and received "Born a Crime" as a Christmas gift. Lots of reading to do!

  • melodie davis

    Late to the game reading The Poisonwood Bible (Kingsolver of course), and enjoyed it so much, even though I don't read a lot of fiction. But it was time to catch up! The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan, her memories of a writing life, also helped me get caught up on her books I haven't read yet (I need to read her Joy Luck Club and Kitchen God's wife now. Finally, a weird one (and I picked up all of these in a Little Free Library so I can keep them as long as I need): The Close: A Young Woman's First Year in Seminary by Chloe Breyer, she's probably about your age. One reason I enjoyed it as much as I did is her year in New York City reminded me of numerous business trips up there where I enjoyed exploring the communities of NYC especially around 475 Riverside Drive where alot of ecumenical church agencies are located.

  • Melissa

    Yes to Educated! Such a bizarre family in a modern world. It's voyuerism at it's best. Tara Westover still has MAJOR issues – watch an interview with her. I'm a native Idahoan and it's so sad that this is happening, not just in my state, but all over in hidden pockets.

  • Unknown

    Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi) is one of the best books I've ever read. For me: enthralling, informative, depressing (in the best way), and inspiring.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll gladly send you my copy of A Gentleman in Moscow.

    His first book is truely one of my all time favorites, this one, no mater how hard I tried, I just could not connect to the main character.

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