Best Books of 2018

When I started this blog in 2007, I wrote about every. single. book. I read. Over the years my writing about reading has morphed in a lot of ways, and 11 years later I find it fascinating to see the role each has played in my life. In terms of posts, this year looked a lot like last year: one or two. 2017 was the beginning of transition for me that started with the IVF process, and 2018 was the epic transition year. When the new year started, my daughter was three weeks old. Not only did I have a new identity in that regard, but I also had to begin job searching while still on maternity leave. The spring became the season of “lasts” at a job and school I loved for 14 years. I packed up my New York City life, rented a minivan, and drove my family to Ohio (while Daniel handled our dog who cried for the entire ride). I started a new job in a new role two days later. We moved into our own home around Thanksgiving and finally started hanging some art this week. My hope is that 2019 won’t feel like transition, but will feel like settling in and breathing deep.

My dad bought my mom and I matching Book Nerd sweatshirts. Tessa wants one in baby size.

In terms of reading volume, I read more during the newborn/maternity leave phase than probably the rest of the year combined. When we moved to Ohio, I was so exhausted I literally read for 5 minutes a night. I think I’m finding my way back, though, and what better time than winter and dark evenings?

I’ll write a bit about each of the books I picked for my best 10 this year, since I (sadly) don’t have a blog post to link to as I’ve done in the past. These are in chronological order.

Going into Town by Roz Chast: this is a graphic novel that the author first created when her daughter was moving to New York City, where Roz Chast grew up. It is a love song to the city and all that is glorious and gross about it–and reading it knowing I’d have to say goodbye made it all the more wonderful and gut wrenching for me. This is perfect for any New Yorker or anyone who is moving there soon.

Sing Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: this was a book club choice and it made me want to read everything Jesmyn Ward has ever written. It’s about loss, growing up, race, and how the present is haunted by history, both personal and as a country. Poetic and deeply poignant.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: I read this for a teacher book club this spring. It started slow and I wondered how I’d make it through its 500 pages. But then I was gripped and couldn’t put it down. It tells the story of a poor Korean family as they immigrate to Japan as basically lasts the lifetime of the matriarch of the family, though the reader gets to intimately know many of characters.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies: this is the book I recommended to every single person I’ve talked to since I finished it. It tells the life story of a gay man who was born in Ireland during at the height of gay oppression. The title alone captures the essence of this book–the deep dive into the protagonist’s life offers so much to think about for all people and a better understanding of contextual history.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds: Jason Reynolds is my young adult/middle grade writer-hero and I would recommend that any parent or teacher of kids 10 and older run to the bookstore to and buy everything. All humans, start with For Everyone, which is a speech he wrote and published. Parents of 10 year olds, start with Ghost. His young adult should be required reading for teenagers and adults (I’ve written about the power of All American Boys in the past). Long Way Down is written in verse and tells the story of a young man riding down the elevator in his building who is deciding whether or not to avenge the death of his brother.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater: one of the most important young adult books to come out this year, I’ve put this book in the hands of Brooklyn urban kids and Ohio rural kids. I usually describe it as a nuanced look at race and gender in America today, and in this case how they intersected in the true story by Slater. This book educates and creates empathy and understanding. I’ve said it before (and have a longer blog post in the back of my mind), that young adult books are paving the way to a better future.

Story of your Life by Ted Chiang: my husband and one of my best friends are considerably more interested in science fiction and space than I am. When the movie Arrival came out I had very little interest in it (and I still haven’t seen it). BUT. My best friend begged me to read the story it was based on, and because I love her I read it the 55 page story…in one afternoon (both naptimes…ha). The science part was fascinating, but the human part was heart wrenching–perhaps because I read it as a new mother, or because my own parents were housing, feeding, and caring for us in our transition, but this was the most moving story I’ve ever read. It’s in a collection of short stories called Stories of Your Life–and it’s one I’ll reread forever. And maybe see the movie.

There There by Tommy Orange: So many people I love read this book and when I found it for $5 I knew it would jump to the top of my stack. My only wish is that I had read it in a book club, but what Tommy Orange has created is truly original fiction. It tells the story of people, but also of a place: the Native American communities in Oakland, California. It’s told from multiple voices who the reader hears from a number of times, and whose stories occasionally overlap. This book was hard to read for me because it addresses really heavy subject matter, and also because it asks me to face my own ignorance about the legacy of our country’s history and how it lingers, but that is the most important kind of book to read, in my opinion.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo: my old commute was literally a one minute walk, so I never really got into many podcasts or audio-anything, because I’d rather read an actual book while on the subway. Now that I drive 30 minutes each way, my ritual is Rachel Maddow in the morning and either a podcast or a middle grade audio book in the afternoon (I did try a young adult book, but it was 11 hours and took me a month to finish! Middle grade books tend to be 4 hours, and I have some catching up to do in that genre). Anyway, I LOVED listening to this book so much. It is about 3 unlikely friends in central Florida in the 70s who meet at a baton twirling class. The main character is dealing with the fact that her dad just left her family, and it was amazing to me how DiCamillo wrote those emotions in such a realistic way in the voice of a pre-teen. As I was reading, all I could think was how much I loved these characters (and the time period with no technology that I believe now impedes on childhood adventures) and how meaningful it would be for any child who has faced similar issues. Her newest book is from the voice of another character in the story is already downloaded for Wednesday’s commute.

Educated by Tara Westover: this memoir was another title that was recommended to me by so many people. This is also the year I realized how much I enjoy memoirs (perhaps because my life was moving at a pace too fast to reflect upon, that I enjoyed others’ reflections?). In this one, Westover recounts her childhood and young adulthood growing up in Utah in a family that was religious and survivalist. She didn’t attend school until she applied for college, and she went on to get a PhD from Cambridge. This book is another one that offers a look into a life I couldn’t imagine, and Westovers courage in the face of all she encounters, both on a personal and a cultural level.

We love reading on weekend mornings. This is New York Baby, which we both love for obvious reasons.

I’ve also spent a lot of time reading children’s books this year, so I thought I’d share ten favorites as well. Many of these come from one of my best friends, who is also a book nerd and whose first daughter is a little older than mine and always recommends the best titles! What a time to be a reader of children’s books–there are so many wonderfully poetic, funny, beautifully illustrated, poignant, important titles out there!

Gaston and Antoinette

City Cat

Franklin’s Flying Bookshop

Little Elliot Big City

The Littlest Family’s Big Day

The Bear Snores On (and all the bear books)

Love

Here We Are

This Little Trailblazer

Tessa reading one of her favorites, Edamame and Edapapa, a sweet book that reminds us of our family. Have you checked your local independent to make sure they have books that can remind all kids of their families, whatever it might look like? And to teach kids that families can be different? Thankful for friends who remind me of this important question.

Cheers to 2019 and many, many good books. My plan is to get to all the books on my nightstand (in July I bought books from every New York City independent bookstore I visited) and to check out some of the summer reading books I wanted to get to and didn’t. Columbus is home to two new and one old bookstore, all of which I love. I want to continue to read books that expand my understanding and grow my empathy. And! My other goal is to use the library more regularly. We are in walking distance of one, so that is my plan with Tessa when the weather gets a bit warmer.

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