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My Best Books of 2018 and Reading Goal for 2019!

By December 29, 2018Books

2018 was my best year of reads yet.

I’m excited to share my best books of 2018! It’s hard to narrow the list, especially when it is longer than last year. I set the goal of reading 45 books, and hit 65 instead.

Here are some stats from GoodReads:

2018 Year in review Books

I actually set the same goal every year. I don’t know why I pick 45. Maybe because it’s always doable (but sometimes tough), but it keeps me reading consistently all year? Either way, I was surprised, especially since some of the books I tackled this year were longer.

A few quick reflections on my year of reading:

We started a little book group on Facebook.

Since I have friends who are also full of book talk and recommendations, a few of us started a low-key book club on Facebook. We thought there might be other people like us who love to talk but who struggle to find time for traditional book clubs.

We put out a list of books assembled by vote and had everyone read and discuss at their own pace. It’s been a lot of fun and no pressure.

GoodReads continues to be a huge motivator.

Having your goal in front of you and seeing all your friends read and bookmark awesome books is hugely motivating. Since we chat books just about everywhere, this is just an extension.

Creeping blogs, lists, and the NYT.

I LOVE the New York Times Book Review. It’s probably the only piece of newspaper I read religiously. I love hearing about new books and authors and what well-known people are reading. It definitely reflects in my stats this year too. Many of my books were brand new releases I wanted to get my hands on before anyone else. I loved requesting them immediately from my local library, even if it meant waiting months while they were on order.

I also enjoy several blogs and Instagram profiles that talk books on the regular:

Finally tried audiobooks.

You might be surprised to hear that until this year I’d never listened to audiobooks (more than books on tape as a kid). I have trouble staying focused enough to follow the narration, and I often finish books faster (I know I’m probably the only one).

But as I now work with two people absolutely hooked on Audible, I’m learning to love them. They are perfect for those little in-between moments — especially driving in the car or cleaning the house. I didn’t realize how long I was spending in the car each day in my little town until I was ticking away 30-45 minutes in my book.

Libby App from Overdrive
Libby App

I’m definitely learning as I go. My first audiobook, The Book Thief, was over 15 hours, I might choose a shorter one for my next go-round. It’d be nice to finish one every 2 weeks. Also, who narrates the book matters a lot. I DNF’d an audiobook because the voiceover was shrill and didn’t change pitch for different characters, making it hard to follow.

Another factor in getting acquainted with audiobooks has been the Libby app, I heard about from our local librarian friend. It’s super easy-to-use, and fast to find things that are available.

Reading multiple books at once.

Another key to my success is reading multiple books at once. And I have books lined up so I know which one I’m grabbing next. I’m never really deep in the story of multiple books so much as I make sure I start one well enough before I finish another. That keeps me from that awkward point between books where I have a hard time getting going again.

So let’s get to it — the 10 best books of 2018!

(Note: If you want to see my full list of 65 reads and ratings, check out my 2018 GoodReads Challenge.)

Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Goodbye, Vitamin is a diarist story of a woman at crossroads in life. Her marriage has ended, she has left her job, and has chosen to relocate to help her family deal with the declining health of her father (dementia) and keep her mother from spinning off into another dimension of ambiguous and conspiracy health cures.

In trying to connect who her parents were with who they are becoming, reconnect with her estranged brother, and save her dad’s career, she forms new relationships with each of them as they enter the next stage of their lives.

This is a short, easy read that I would say is perfect for a weekend or vacation take-along. While the subject matter may seem like a downer from my description, the humor and insightful moments are relevant to people who are going through periods of transition.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

An intense and fast-paced thriller that will have you questioning every clue and twist you’re given.

Anna Fox is a recluse living alone, unable to venture outside without getting ill and experiencing vertigo and becoming severely disoriented. She passes her time drinking, trying to find even ground, and watching old movies — recalling happier times when her husband and child were home.

But then new neighbors arrive, the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her already confusing world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? This is a gripping thriller you’ll read cover to cover in about 24 hours.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

This was my second “small group” book club read at VU — and I’m so glad I chose this group.

I was a bit intimidated at first because it was an in-person group led by my boss. More so when everyone in the group other than two of us had read the book at least 4x already. But when they explained that each read brought something new (there are also multiple translations), I was absolutely intrigued.

They were right.

We all look for meaning in life. We all look for something to give us a purpose and, in essence, a reason to actually be alive. Nobody wants to get arrive at the end and realize it was all for nothing. So how do we find this meaning?

Hesse’s classic inspires, influences, and provokes thoughtful discussion. We follow Siddhartha, a Brahmin who leaves a life of privilege and security to seek spiritual fulfillment and answers. Along the way, he blends his experiences in the philosophies found in Eastern religions, Jungian archetypes, and Western individualism.

This is a perfect club read because it provokes so much thoughtful discussion and the opportunity to research. Everyone will bring something different to the table. Your feelings will be all over the place.

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover

I found myself having to remind myself that this story is true — it’s just that unbelievable. In one of the most vividly nauseating books I’ve ever read, you follow Tara Westover as she comes of age in a family preparing for the End of Days. Her life off the grid is pretty scary — the least of which are not having a birth certificate, school records, or medical records. Her family didn’t go to hospitals, and according to the federal government, she simply didn’t exist.

As we read her story and she grows older, her father becomes more radical, her brother scarier and more violent. Slowly, she realizes the need for emotional separation and starts to educate herself. Her struggle to emancipate in the smallest ways triggers her father and brother, and often puts her life in danger. Her struggle for education and self-discovery is both inspiring, amazing, but frustrating at times as she finds it hard to totally break free. Every time she would make contact with her family after leaving, it was hard not to want to scream at the book.

I’m sure her story has happened in our country much more than we’ll ever realize. The emotions and struggle are so real and so raw, you’ll feel it physically. But more than ever I came away appreciating this not being my story.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Block out your calendar for 12 hours and grab this book. You won’t be able to put this down. Set in the ’70s, you follow the Allbright family as they make for another “fresh start” in rugged Alaskan Bush.

Ernt (the father) struggles with untreated trauma from being captured during the war. His wife and daughter do their best to hold life together or move out of the way when they can’t.

Against the backdrop of Watergate, Vietnam, the gas crisis, Ernt decides to move the family to Alaska. Their Alaskan dream seems like the safety from it all, but it ends up being quite the opposite.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but wow, what an intense, tragic love story. Not only for the main character, but for her parents.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This book is powerful — so powerful it changed my views on the death penalty, and opened my eyes (further than they’d already been opened by writing criminal justice courses for a college).

The stories begin with how he started in law as a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.

One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case took Bryan across the spectrum of the legal system and transformed his understanding of what mercy and justice, taking us with him.

It’s not only a coming of age story for him, but the reader as you are taken into the lives of those he has defended and how true justice requires compassion.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The story begins in 1939 ahead of World War II breaking out. As her mother is bringing her and her brother to a foster home, her brother passes away and Liesel’s life is changed forever when, at his graveside in the snow, she uncovers a book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook. Her first book theft.

Thus begins a love affair with books she can not yet read and a coming of age story as her new foster parents open a world to her, as well as their home. The stories unfold almost episodically as the country is plunged into war and danger is close and ever-present.

I listened to this wherever I went and whenever I got a chance. The audiobook is excellently narrated (by Death, literally Death reads the story), but each character emerges within the tales. If I were to change anything, I only wish there had been a bit more closure.

Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss

Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss

If I’ve learned anything since becoming a parent, habits, routines, and efficiency matters. That’s why I was excited to receive Tribe of Mentors as a gift. Compiled from over 130+ interviews with the world’s top industry producers, they each answer some of the great questions Tim covers on his podcast each week.

This book is full of useful information to edit and alter your morning habits. I enjoyed learning everything from their morning routines and exercise regimens to their most worthwhile purchase under $100. There are plenty of useful (albeit sometimes ritualistic) behaviors they’ve cultivated, as well as how they look at creating value, priority, and focus on a daily basis.

I think how you read this book matters. I think if I had just tried to read it for more than an hour and straight through I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. But I read a few each day in the morning to start my day and it was PERFECT.

I came away with tons of tactile information to use and highlights to come back to for enrichment. Plus, if you’re one of those people always looking for more books to read, I have at least 20 highlighted from this book that are on my “next up” list.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

When Trevor Noah emerged on the scene to replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, I think a lot of us scratched our heads. We had no clue who he was. But as he’s come to make the show his own, it’s brought many of us closer to it than we realized we could be. That’s because Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the satire news desk captures the issues in a deeply personal and experienced way. Trevor doesn’t just bring humor to the news, but his deeply personal experience with many of the issues we are currently facing.

Trevor was born in South Africa to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison — literally born a crime. Because of this, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away.

Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth living openly and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle, while at the same time, skirting many of the problems leftover.

This was one I meant to read in 2017 but it kept falling down the list. I’d only known snippets of Trevor’s story before reading the book, but wow. This book, more than any history book I was required to read in school, really explained the human side of Apartheid.

Kids should be required to read this in school, because he’s relevant, and I think that’s highly impactful. I think if we’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s that we don’t always learn from our mistakes in history.

I only regret not doing the audiobook for this one, because I heard it is fantastic (obviously narrated by Trevor himself).

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

This was my favorite book of the year. It’s not an emotionally easy read, so it took me by surprise that as I picked my favorites and ordered them for this post that this one beat the others out as the one that stuck with me the most. After reading it, I immediately wanted the experience of reading it for the first time all over again. What happens to Poornima and Savitha, two girls in a once-in-a-lifetime friendship that are driven apart but never stop trying to find one another again is nothing short of dark, haunting, devastating, and heartbreaking.

The story begins with Poornima’s father hiring the more impoverished Savitha to work one of their sari looms. The two girls are quickly drawn to one another. Despite her circumstances, Savitha is full of passion and energy. Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond the arranged marriage her father is desperate to lock down for her and the family.

But when Savitha disappears, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend again. Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India’s underworld of sex trafficking, to a harrowing cross-continental journey. She is sold, and eventually finds herself in an apartment complex in Seattle where she is basically enslaved.

As you move back and forth between the girl’s perspectives, they emerge resilient heroes. Shobha Rao tackles the most urgent issues facing women today: domestic abuse, human trafficking, immigration, and feminism.

If you want to see my full list of 65 reads and ratings, check out my 2018 GoodReads Challenge.

Tell me, what your favorite books were in 2018? Have a round-up of your own? Link it to me and I’ll add it to the post!

Anything I should be adding to my library bag plan for 2019? DM me your suggestions! Looking for book ideas? Check out my GoodReads, or our Very Busy People Facebook Book Group!