2018 was a great reading year. I had a goal of reading 60 books and used Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2018 Reading Challenge as a base to plan which books I’d read.
Success! As of this week, I’ve surpassed my goal of 60 books by 5.
Failure! Although I hit my number, I stuck to only half of the books I intended to read.
Lesson learned! I definitely over-planned. Who knew? I’ll have to keep my 2019 goals a little looser and allow for those “impulse reads” I enjoy so much.
I read a lot of good books this year but here are 15 of my favorites, in no particular order.
The Hate U Give
I was a little apprehensive to read The Hate U Give since I’d only heard resounding praise. I didn’t need to worry.
Starr lives in a rough neighborhood and goes to the fancy private school across town — caught between black and white.
At the beginning of the novel, Starr is in the passenger’s seat of her friend Khalil’s car, witnessing a white police officer pull over Khalil and shoot him dead. Starr knows that every life — including Khalil’s — has worth, and she must speak up for what is right.
THUG checks all the boxes of controversy: violence, drugs, language, teenage sex, and racism. But here’s what THUG teaches best: no one is a perfect citizen. Khalil isn’t a martyr, but he deserved better. Most of all, Khalil deserves to have lived. It’s a relevant story, which makes it a valuable read for teens.
The Goldfinch is a monster of a book. It’s almost 800 pages; it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014; it’s simultaneously loved and hated. I had to read it for myself.
It’s a devastating story, but I think the primary lesson Tartt wants to convey is that beauty exists, even in this harsh world — whether it’s in a painting or in a relationship — and when life is difficult (because it will be), one can cling to beauty even in the pit of despair.
I loved this clever murder-mystery-within-a-murder-mystery. The story begins with Susan, the editor of notable author Alan Conway, giving us a warning that the book we’re about to read changed her life.
Magpie Murders is the final novel from Conway, an author of throwback mystery novels featuring a detective reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Just before the murderer within Conway’s novel is revealed, we shift back to real-time to hear Susan find its missing last chapters as she realizes that Conway’s novel and her own life may be intrinsically linked.
Now one of my all-time faves.
Brooklyn is the sweetest story set in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey must leave her tiny Irish hometown for a job opportunity in Brooklyn. She is homesick at first, but she eventually finds her place with her new job, community, and night classes at Brooklyn College. At a Friday-night dance, Eilis meets and falls in love with Tony, a kindhearted Italian man. A crisis brings Eilis back to Ireland, and she must ultimately decide where her true home is after all she has experienced.
Eilis is a sympathetic and realistic character, and the writing is simply gorgeous. I wept as the story came to a close, and I probably fell in love with Tony.
What Alice Forgot
Another great read from Moriarty. As with Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret, Moriarty tackles weighty subjects with a lighthearted precision.
In a freak accident at her morning spin class, Alice hits her head when she falls off her stationary bike and forgets the last decade of her life. The last thing she remembers is being 29, pregnant with her first child, and wildly in love with her husband. She’s shocked to realize that she’s 39 (!), she has 3 kids (!), and she and her hubby are involved in a bitter separation.
While reading, I began to ask myself questions like, Would my younger self like who I’ve become?, Am I a good wife?, Is what’s important to me now actually important?
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
I loved this quirky, heartwarming story.
Eleanor, a painfully awkward thirtysomething, works “in an office,” and really enjoys her routine — buying a frozen pizza and a bottle of vodka every Friday night — and tries to forget about regular life the rest of the time. But her pesky and annoyingly friendly coworker Raymond won’t leave her alone.
I didn’t want this book to end! How about a sequel, Ms. Honeyman?
Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice is a classic that doesn’t feel a bit stuffy. You may think you know the story (and both film versions are quite good), but I fell in love with it all over again while re-experiencing it this year.
On the surface, P&P is about two flawed people who fall in love, but it’s really about Lizzie’s emotional growth. She thinks she knows so much, and (to be fair), she’s a pretty good judge of character. She’s beautiful, she’s brash, and she goes with her gut. She’s also incredibly flawed and slow to realize what her faults actually are. During the course of the novel Lizzie is humbled, and while this story does have a happy ending, she doesn’t emerge unscathed.
84, Charing Cross Road
A short volume of two decades’ worth of communication between a no-nonsense New Yorker and proper British booksellers at a Charing Cross bookstore.
It’s a quick read that’s funny, smart, nostalgic, and true (!). And it would make a great companion piece to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel!
Norse Mythology is delightful. Gaiman’s re-imagined Norse gods are spiteful, ridiculous, and petty — exactly what they should be. Gaiman narrates the audio version, which admittedly made the experience even better.
My favorite of Gaiman’s myths? “Freya’s Unusual Wedding,” in which Thor disguises himself as the beautiful bride: “Why are Freya’s eyes so . . . so terrifying?” Cracked me up.
Piecing Me Together
Often paired with The Hate U Give on the year’s best lists, it’s easy to draw comparisons between the two novels. Both THUG and Piecing Me Together feature African American high school students who attend fancy private schools yet live in neighborhoods that their classmates would call the wrong side of the tracks. However, that is where the similarities end.
Jade, Watson’s protagonist, is quieter and less sure of herself than THUG‘s Starr. Jade accepts every opportunity her school provides to make it out of her neighborhood and go to college, but many of those opportunities feel demeaning to her. I loved Watson’s lyrical style, and the snippets of Jade’s life reminded me of Jade’s collages, her preferred method for artistic expression.
Me Talk Pretty One Day
I’ve been a fan of David Sedaris for years, but I’d never read his most famous collection of essays. In fact, 2018 seems to have been “My Year of David Sedaris”: I read Me Talk Pretty One Day, When You are Engulfed in Flames, and Holidays on Ice.
Sedaris is a master at backing into a story, baiting and switching until you slowly realize what the essay is really about. Sedaris is best experienced on audio; his delivery is pitch-perfect. The eponymous essay “Me Talk Pretty One Day” is one of my absolute favorites in which you experience Sedaris’ shame, embarrassment, and righteous anger at his deranged French instructor right along with him:
“I hate you,” she said to me one afternoon. Her English was flawless. “I really, really hate you.” Call me sensitive, but I couldn’t help taking it personally.
I started Sharp Objects in anticipation of HBO’s miniseries, which is also written by Gillian Flynn.
The show is excellent, but the book is deliciously and disturbingly fun. I inhaled this book, guessing and second-guessing just where the hell this story could go. And I’m proud to say I GUESSED IT. I called it — both twists — and I still enjoyed every second of it.
This is Jane Eyre for the mythology enthusiast — Circe’s “tale of woe.”
A reimagining of the mythological goddess Circe, (in)famous for changing Odysseus’ men into pigs. Miller, a high school classics and Shakespeare teacher, rewrites Circe’s side of things. She’s banished by Zeus to a deserted island for meddling in human affairs, and ultimately she must make the choice of loyalty to the gods who raised her or the humans who she’s come to admire and love.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
The backstory of Michelle McNamara’s true crime exploration of the Golden State Killer is just as captivating as her subject matter. Since McNamara tragically passed away before she had completed her manuscript and before she saw the Golden State Killer arrested earlier this year, her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, helped to see her book’s completion. I mistakenly started it while Chris was away on a week-long work trip, but I was too engaged to stop reading even though I was completely terrified!
It was fascinating to hear McNamara’s theories and research about the Golden State Killer, the man who turned out to be 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo. Her theories included a man with military training and a police officer, both of which turned out to be true of DeAngelo.
I’m looking forward to experiencing Audible’s Evil Has a Name, their own production about the Golden State Killer investigation.
A Christmas Carol
And so, as Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”
I was so glad to re-experience Dickens’ classic this year as a free Audible production. As with all great audiobooks, I saw the story in a new way, enjoying every moment of Scrooge’s journey from a, well, Scrooge to a lover of Christmas in one fateful evening.
A Christmas Carol was Ray Bradbury’s favorite book because, as he describes, it is “all about life and it’s all about death” and that one cannot read it without being changed. He claims, “Whatever Scrooge is in you is vanquished — is made to disappear.”