I would have said 2018 was not nearly as good a reading year for me as 2017, but when I sat down to look back, I realize that feeling is more a reflection of my mood this year than of the books I read. It’s true I didn’t read anything I loved and admired as much as 2017’s standouts, Autumn and Reservoir 13, but there were plenty of highlights. Here are some, along with trends in my reading and possible directions for the new year.
The first book I finished in 2018 was Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, and that last was Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, both books I loved as a child and still do. That made a nice (though unintentional) frame for my reading year.
My best 2018 resolution was one I stole from someone at Book Riot: to “bookend” my days with reading. Part of my goal was to cut down on my social media and screen time. Starting the day with politics news on Twitter was not good for me. I didn’t stick to this every day, certainly, but I kept coming back to it and overall shifted my habits in a happy way. I’m renewing this one for 2019. And as a result of this “bookending,”
I read a lot more poetry than ever before (before 2017 I never read poetry “for fun”), because I often started my day with a handful of poems. Goodreads tells me I read 19 books of poetry (though one was Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which I barely count). I can’t say I became a “better” reader of poetry, but I did become a reader of poetry, and I liked this almost meditative start to my day. It was all contemporary poetry, with which I am least familiar.
Poetry was my most diverse reading, too. I read Black, Indigenous, Asian-American/Canadian, queer and trans poets. I read poetry by my wonderful colleagues Elizabeth Bachinsky and Kim Trainor. Perhaps most memorable for me was Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas. But how to pick just one? Here’s my Goodreads poetry shelf. (I find rating poetry more impossible and pointless than rating other reading, and mostly don’t bother). This, too, is a habit I aim to keep up in 2019.
I think my best/most memorable books this year were non-fiction. Early in the year I read Svetlana Alexievitch’s Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, an oral history that documents, in part, a strange kind of nostalgia for terrible times, and it haunted me all year. It helped me understand something about Russia today, and also perhaps something about the US, though I wouldn’t want to over-state the parallels.
My top book of the year was probably Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic (I listened to the audiobook narrated by Bronson Pinchot). Mendelsohn’s elderly father attends his seminar on Homer’s Odyssey, and then they go on a cruise together recreating (sort of) Odysseus’ journey. I loved this for its tender, complex portrait of father and son, for its window into a literature classroom, for its reflections on the epic. It led me to read Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, a journey I got more out of thanks to Mendelsohn’s guidance.
Most of my genre reading this year was mystery, but my absolute favorite genre reading–and the most fun I had reading all year were the first three of Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries novellas (I eagerly await #4 from the library). Murderbot is a security bot that has hacked its governor module and has to figure out what to do with free will, who it is, and how it can live with what might be a terrible past (hence the name it has given itself). A great, funny, snarky character; fun, fast-paced, action-heavy stories that raise big questions in a light-handed, light-hearted way. I love, love, loved Murderbot and I’m glad it’s getting a full-length novel.
I continued to enjoy my exploration of Dick Francis, mostly under Rohan’s experienced guidance. Who would not want the refreshing escape of reading about smart, decent, quietly competent men these days? *cough*
Probably my favorite new mysteries were Australian Emma Viskic’s debut and follow-up. These are darker, more violent, more thriller-ish than I usually enjoy these days, but the characters are really interesting–the hero, Caleb Zelic, is deaf, and his semi-estranged wife Kat is Indigenous.
What I Read Less Of
Way fewer audiobooks. (Goodreads says 10, but that doesn’t count all the Christie and Sayers re-listens that kept my company as I feel asleep or lay awake). Too much podcast chit-chat on politics and current events. I’ve already started cutting that back and plan to do more. That will make some more room for audio, maybe, but also more room for quiet, which I feel the need for.
I think I read less “literary” fiction than in 2017, though I wonder if that’s just because I didn’t read (most of) the Booker longlist all in a bunch, like last year. It felt like a lack, though, maybe because I followed more people who were reading more than I was.
What About 2019?
I’ve resolved to make no resolutions, aside from the “bookending” one. As I noted in my last post, by the end of the year, doing the PopSugar Challenge felt like a chore that was keeping me from what I really felt like reading. I plan to follow my whims more next year, though I did sign up for the Wendy-hosted romance TBR Challenge, because I’m hoping to spend more time in that giant romance TBR on my ereader.
Other things I feel might be calling me in 2019: more translated fiction. Other people seemed to be reading such great stuff this year and it’s a real gap in my reading. More of the books on my own shelves. I didn’t buy a lot last year, so didn’t increase my TBR much, but most of my reading came from the library.
I do want to get back to blogging more regularly. I miss thinking deeply about (at least some of ) what I’m reading, which for me is inextricable from taking the time to write about it. I enjoyed going back to Goodreads, which I did early in 2018, and writing quick responses to all my reading. I’ll need to think about how to balance that with blogging, since I don’t want to just re-post those little bites here.
Happy reading year, everyone! May we all find many wonderful books ahead.