Countdown to 2019: 2018 Books

2018 in Books

Last year, I read 11 books! This year I read 14! Two of those books were A Series of Unfortunate Events books–I had started this re-read of the series with my babysitting charge and now I’m finishing it on my own. I also read the children’s book Hero Dog at babysitting, so I included that as well. I completed my usual goal of 10 books (not babysitting books) per year, adding an extra one this year for a total of 11 non-children’s/babysitting books. I’m glad I’ve kept up and even surpassed my reading pace.

Overall, I read 5 fiction books (3 classics, 1 new (fantasy), and 1 book of short stories–last year I read 4), 5 non-fiction books (1 history book, 3 memoir/personal history books, and 1 feminism book–overall, the same as last year), 3 children series books, and 1 book of poetry. I didn’t read any non-American authors this year; last year it had been 2. I also decreased in my number of women authors from 9/11 to 8/14 (not really a major decrease), with 4 of the 8 being women of color. 4 books were for my virtual book club with my college friends, and 2 were for another book club at work. Usually I read 1 book by someone I know, which I wasn’t able to do last year, but this year I did with the poetry book. 1 book I read because it related to something I was writing/working on.

These stats are fairly similar to last year’s. I am happy that I kept up with reading more women authors, although I’d like to try to read more non-American authors again next year. I also kept up my resolution to read 1 feminism book a year and to keep my good mix of fiction, non-fiction, children/young adult books, and poetry. My resolution has been to read 1 poetry book a year, and I have stuck to that, as well as to my resolution to read 1 Thornton Wilder book a year. However, one of my resolutions last year AND the years before that had been to read a biography, and I still did not do that.  I basically achieved all my reading goals except for biography, though. Next year: Continue with at least a 50:50 ratio for women to men authors and continue with my reading variety–make sure to continue to read 1 poetry book a year, 1 feminism book a year, and 1 Wilder book a year–but make sure to read a biography as well.

I also read 8 New Yorkers (1 more than last year!) and 7 New York magazines (2 more than last year!) in between each book, as well as various other magazine/web articles. Plus, every Time Out New York. Next year: Try to bring myself up to previous years’ numbers of 10 New Yorkers and 10 New York magazines a year.

I’ll still list the online reading/writing classes I was in, although unfortunately I was not able to keep up with ModPo this fall. I kept up with some of the posts, however, and will look over the materials in the new year. Last year I read 9 short stories, and I didn’t read any this year except for those in the book collection I read. I’d like to get back to reading short stories next year as well.

Favorite Book of 2018

My favorite book(s) of the year:
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own
The Ides of March

Special shoutout to Backlash, which I read for the second time and still loved, especially reading it in the reading group.

The List:

1. Kindred by Octavia Butler
My first book by Octavia Butler! Kindred was one of the best books I’d read in a while, and I just kept thinking while I was reading it: Why had I never heard of this book before? Why in high school did we read Gone With the Wind and not this book, which is so rich and complex? I’m glad I read it now though. Like the character of Dana traveling back in time, I really felt as though I too were there in the early 1800s, and I enjoyed the complexity of the relationships and the moral questions brought up by those relationships and the clash of eras.
Finished: February 7, 2018

2. She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan
I had wanted to read this book ever since I saw Jennifer Finney Boylan speak last year. It’s specifically about about a transgender woman and her life and transition but also, more broadly, about navigating any large personal transition. I particularly liked her friendship with the professor and novelist Russo and how that evolved. It brought up a lot of questions that I find interesting in my own life: Is life narrative? Do we deliberately put ourselves into narratives because that’s what we’re accustomed to from stories? (Jenny thinks of her experience as a Hero’s Journey while Russo is stuck in his own idea of narratives.) If life is not narrative, then what is it? Along with transition and narrative, the book explores the idea of identity itself.
Finished: April 6, 2018

3. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi
This is the second time I’ve read this book. I started it again in January of 2017 in conjunction with my Facebook group that read and/or discussed the book and issues in the book. Re-reading it in this way brought me even closer to it, not just from reading it super slowly (about a chapter a month, but sometimes it went longer) but from fully engaging with the content: posting passages for discussion, relating what happened in the 80s to what’s going on today. I started this reading group around the time of the 2016 election with the question: are we going through another backlash today? The last chapter, the chapter on abortion and reproductive rights, is the most interesting and involved, and the question of whether we’re currently in a backlash lingers. My answer for now is that we may very well be, but women are now more adept at recognizing it and speaking out–we understand our power now, and we’re less afraid–and less brainwashed–to use it. We had to learn from our past, though, which is why I find this book about the 80s incredibly important. I still think everyone should read this book, so even if you missed our reading group, please pick it up and start it. After I read it the first time I commented, “I’ll never look at the 80s the same way again.” After a second reading, it’s more than that: “I’ll never look at women in our culture the same way again.”
Finished: May 3, 2018

4. Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick
This book definitely came to me at the right time in my life. Both personal and historical, it burrowed into the crevices of my interior life while helping to expand my world at the same time. I really can’t recommend this book enough for people who aren’t married and/or who question the institution of marriage, even in today’s more liberated world. I also loved how she used historical women as “awakeners,” a term she uses for people of the past whose lives she looks to for guidance as she navigates adulthood as an unmarried woman, or “spinster.” The title of this book is so evocative. I did feel weird walking around with this book, as if people thought I was reading some kind of instruction manual and was walking around with a big scarlet S. As far as our culture has come, we still pity people who aren’t married, or, as I see it, it’s okay to be single as long as you’re trying not to be single. As soon as we enter adulthood, we are defined by our relationship status when, single or married; we should really just all be people.
Finished: May 23, 2018

5. The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder
This book fulfilled my quota of one Wilder book per year and also added another Wilder book to my repertoire in preparation for the Thornton Wilder conference the following week. First of all, it was very satisfying to read a reimagining of Caesar’s final months that wasn’t Shakespeare’s. It’s been a while since I read that play, but now I have another Caesar story to go with it. In this account, Caesar is philosophical on the roles of poetry, government, and religion (his thoughts on religion were the most interesting, as he is basically a struggling atheist in the context of the Roman religion) and values loyalty and meaningful relationships while still being a typical privileged male of the time (trading in one wife for another and having affairs with other women). Along with Caesar are many familiar Roman Republic-era characters such as Catullus, Cicero, Cleopatra, and Brutus; some historical ones I did not know of such as Clodia and Clodius Pulcher; and others that are made up, including a minor character named Sempronia, which was my Latin name in high school. The story is part soap opera and part Wilder’s philosophical musings, a mash-up I very much enjoyed. I also enjoyed that the book is a series of letters, journal entries, communiques, etc, a favorite style of mine from novels like Dracula. Of all the relationships, the tumultuous love affair between Catullus and Clodia Pulcher was my favorite, especially since it gives us this wonderful quote from a love-stricken and rather obsessed Catullus: “Never, never can I conceive of a love which is able to foresee its own termination. Love is its own eternity. Love is in every moment of its being: all time. It is the only glimpse we are permitted of what eternity is.”
Finished: June 30, 2018

6. Negroland by Margo Jefferson
Part memoir, part sociological study, perhaps? I appreciated the look at a community and history of which I wasn’t fully aware and how growing up with that affected how she saw the world as she grew older. I especially liked her take on Little Women and her struggle with depression. While the writing didn’t always feel cohesive, there was a lot that held my interest and I felt I got a good sense of where she came from and how that shaped her.
Finished: July 18, 2018

7. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
I had started this book back in March with my company book club and then read it off and on since then. It’s a collection of stories, and we read three stories in it for the meeting. It turns out, those were the best three stories in the book, although there were some interesting ideas in all the others, and the last one, “Liking What You See: A Documentary” was particularly fascinating. But the first three that I read, “Tower of Babylon”, “Division by Zero”, and “Story of Your Life” really blew me away. It’s possible I read them at the right time in my life when they would be most effective. “Story of Your Life” was my favorite–it’s the story the film Arrival is based on. It comforted me because it validated my feeling that while we don’t know the future, when we know that something will end or know how it will turn out, we should trust in that knowledge. There are some things we do know. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go forth anyway. I then watched Arrival because I couldn’t understand how they could turn that story into a movie, but they did it. It wasn’t bad, but it changed some fundamental things about the story that I didn’t like.
Finished: August 14, 2018

8. The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth Trilogy Number 2) by N.K. Jemisin 
The second book in The Broken Earth trilogy was similar to the first book in that I found reading it to be a very enjoyable experience. The plotting is complex but not forced or too intricate, and, like all good second parts, every storyline and character deepened. Even in big action sequences, while I wasn’t always sure what was going on visually, I felt like I knew what was going on in the story. Though there were certain moments that I had to refresh my memory of what happened in the previous book, I found this second book easier to get through, probably because I was already familiar with the world and many of the characters. I am so glad I started this trilogy and I look forward to the third and final book.
Finished: September 23, 2018

9. Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
I read this book for my company book club. I’m glad I read it because it’s a Vonnegut book I’d never heard of and probably would never have picked up otherwise. It’s his first book, so little different from the others I’ve read and seen adaptations of–I’d say a little less zany, but still a great writing style and fun to read. It does suffers from what I’ve seen as a Vonnegut woman problem (and, granted, I haven’t seen or read that many of his books, so it’s a small sample size), which is that his female characters are a bit stereotypical and underdeveloped. That could be a comment on the times and themes of the book, but in any case, it’s a bit frustrating. The premise and ideas in the book are forever topical, as they deal with what happens when the economy is run by machines. The answer is that it gets pretty bad, but is there even a solution? Could we really go back to a world with no machines?
Finished: November 14, 2018

10. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter
I read this book for a writing project I’m doing–I was told it was the best book about the Stonewall Riots. It was a fascinating read–complete but not sprawling. I knew the basics of the riots but there were so many details of which I was unaware–that the mafia owned the bar, that the riots took place over multiple days not just one night, the formation of the gay organizations in the months after. The Stonewall Riots, or Uprising, was an important moment in history, and if you are going to read about it, this is a great book to read.
Finished: December 29, 2018

11. Leaving CLE: poems of nomadic dispersal by Janice A. Lowe
My final book of 2018 was Leaving CLE by the great Janice A. Lowe. I try to read at least one poetry book a year, and I was so happy to make Leaving CLE that book. I loved the wordplay and how the language created this overall feeling of displacement. In general, I love reading about the experience of uprooting oneself (or being uprooted) and trying to understand the customs of a new place in contrast with the old one. This is also a beautiful book–the layout of poems and overall text is gorgeous and contributes to the reading experience. I know Janice is setting these poems to music, which you can contribute to.
Finished: January 1, 2019

Extra Children’s Books:

12. Hero Dog! (Hilde Cracks the Case #1) by Hilde Lysiak and Matthew Lysiak
I read this to my babysitting charges because I love what pre-teen Hilde Lysiak is doing with her online newspaper in a small town in Pennsylvania. She’s like a real life Lemony Snicket character. I’d happily read more of these.
Finished: March 17, 2018

13. The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 11) by Lemony Snicket
This was my 3rd time reading this book in all my re-reads of this series, and I was struck by this book’s ending, which I had forgotten. One of the literary themes of this book (each book starts with some kind of theme or device that’s carried through the book) was the water cycle, mostly how dull it is, but in general the idea of cycles. I had forgotten that at the end of the book the Baudelaire orphans find themselves back at Briny Beach, the exact spot the series begins and where the Baudelaires get the news that their parents have died and their lives are changed forever. As in the first book, Mr. Poe arrives again to take them to another guardian–or wherever, he doesn’t really say, but the point is, they are going back to the moment of trauma and starting it all over again. The book leaves the reader with this quote toward the end of the final chapter: “It is not a pleasant feeling, to imagine that the tables will never turn and that a tedious cycle will begin all over again, and it made the Baudelaires feel passive, just as they had in the waters of the Stricken Stream, accepting what was happening without doing anything about it as they looked around at the unchanged shore.” Except they don’t start the cycle over again. From their journey in books 1-11, their series of unfortunate events, they now have a clue and the code with which to decipher it which will lead them away from Mr. Poe and break the cycle. This moment in the book made me think a lot about moments in my life when I’ve felt passive and stuck in a cycle I don’t think will ever end and I don’t know how to break out of. And it also made me think of the moments when I did manage to break a cycle and how powerful it felt to do that, how I suddenly felt like I was the one driving my own life. I’m always re-reading these books because these passages jump out for me at different times in life, and I love discovering them.
Finished: May 13, 2018

14. The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 12) by Lemony Snicket
It was so great to revisit this book since I remembered liking it but not much about the sequence of events (although I did remember that three of the events happened simultaneously). The hotel in the form of a library always reminds me of the NYU Library which has a big open lobby from which you can see floors that look like hotel floors. I had previously considered this my third favorite book in the series after #10 and #8, but now I’m not sure. But I do know for sure that I will never forget what “penultimate” means.
Finished: Fall, 2018

Online Classes: 
ModPo, 6th Year (University of Pennsylvania)

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