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Favorite Books I Read in 2018

Saturday, January 26, 2019
Well, folks, we are already deep into 2019 but I still want to share some of my favorite reading experiences of the year and throw some recommendations your way.

First of all, click here if you would like the full list of everything I read in 2018. Here is a quick summary of how my reading breaks down by genre from that post:

Comics/Science Fiction7
Legal Thriller5
Literary Fiction17
Science Fiction9
Spy Thriller1
YA Fiction1
YA Fiction/Sci-Fi/Fantasy1
Grand Total95

Secondly - normally my wife would take some beautiful pictures of all the books I read, but we moved and our life is pretty much chaos. So no pretty pictures this year. 

Now to some honorable mentions of sort. These are some books that I highly recommend but weren't quite in my top ten. I already feel like I'm cheating because I'm including so many books on this list, but here it is.
  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond
    • I found this very moving and affecting. Really heartbreaking to read and really made me angry about how the system is set up. I think a really important read for those of us who haven't had as extreme firsthand experiences of poverty in America. Important empathy creator.
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
    • I have seen this on countless lists since it came out so I probably don't need to belabor the point. It's good.
  • Crazy Rich Asians series by Kevin Kwan
    • I found all three of these books to be delightful. They are pure entertainment and yet I also found myself invested in the characters, even moved at times. The series has high points and low points, but ultimately I found all three very enjoyable.
  • It's Not Always Depression by Hilary Jacobs Hendel
    • A very interesting model about how we deal with emotions and how to potentially course correct. I found it to be very enlightening and helpful.
  • Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan (ongoing comics series, issues #1-25 out in trade paperbacks)
    • It starts out in the 80's so it would be really easy to say this was "Stranger Things but all girls and with time travel" but it's so much more than that. Honestly BKV is just one of the best story tellers out there and this series has especially been a treat to read. Basically each time a new trade paperback comes out I re read the series and I love it. They really nail the time travel dynamic and I love to watch the relationships of the girls progress as the story moves along. Krystle read the first 5 issues and said it was "weird" and she is not wrong, but that doesn't mean it's not awesome.
  • Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
    • I think I read this because Bill Gates put it on one of his year end lists. It's quite a nice dose of optimism in a world awash in doom and gloom. The book has received some criticism, I believe, for how it presents some of the arguments, but overall I still think there are a lot of facts in here that are worth learning about. It's basically a series of statistics and studies that show the world isn't quite as bad as maybe we think it is, when comparing key measures of human development and progression throughout history. Definitely worth a read to expose yourself to the arguments and then make up your mind for yourself.
  • A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backman
    • I read this because one of my favorite crime writers (Adrian McKinty) said it made him cry on an airplane. I don't think I cried on an airplane but I'm pretty sure I cried. A beautiful story, well told. Quite charming all the way around.
  • The Wandering Earth and Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu
    • I love this guy. I want to read everything he writes. Short stories, novels, whatever. I love the way he thinks and how he presents his ideas through his stories. The Wandering Earth is a collection of some of his short fiction and Ball Lightning is a novel from 2005 that just recently got an English translation. I enjoyed both immensely but still consider his Three-Body trilogy to be the best starting point. It still might be the best science fiction series I have ever read.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    • I don't have anything to add on this beast of a book, except that I read the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which was awesome. Slight tangent, I think they do the absolute best translations of the Russian classics into English. I love Dostoyevsky and have read The Idiot three times, with three different translations, and theirs really helped the whole thing come alive. I then reread The Brothers Karamazov with their translation and had a similar experience. I knew that if I was ever going to tackle War and Peace it would have to be their version, and I was not disappointed. A wonderful reading experience.
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
    • Great sci-fi mystery. Just entertaining the whole way through. It throws you into the action and keeps going. A lot of interesting ideas and ultimately very satisfying. I think I guessed the ending about 75% of the way through, but the experience was no worse for it.
  • Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell
    • A little dense, but I really love Siegel's mindfulness and parenting material. There was so much in this book that I found helpful just on a personal level, apart from my impending parenthood. I would say a must read for any human.
  • Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull
    • Feel a bit conflicted with this after all that John Lasseter stuff but still really enjoyed this book. I loved the mix of 1) business book, 2) creativity and storytelling anecdotes, 3) behind the scenes Pixar stories, and 4) Steve Jobs biography companion piece. As someone who is only casually a fan of the Pixar movies I still really loved reading about all the behind the scenes of the writers and directors and producers bringing those stories to life.
  • The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
    • I think this is mostly a few articles pieced together with some connective tissue, so it's short, but that just made it a quick and fun read. I always love Michael Lewis. This is a story about Trump's transition team in a sense, but that's really only the hook. As I kept reading I realized that it was much more a deep dive into how pieces of the federal government works, which is something I didn't have any insight about, and found incredibly interesting. It gave me new appreciation for the challenges that these folks have, and why their jobs are so difficult sometimes. I definitely felt less critical of the federal government after reading this book and then felt even more fear about what damage Trump may yet do before his run is over.
Okay, that was a lot, but I like to read books. Here is my "top ten" but it's even more cheating than what I did for my honorable mentions! For three of my top spots I'm giving it to the series, instead of a single book. And for another, while I own one book, it's actually a collection of five shorter novels. May the god of lists forgive my sins. 

I also find I have no interest in ranking the reads this year. I loved all of these experiences for very different reasons and I don't think the comparison adds a ton of value. It really just depends on what you're looking for. SO here is my list, alphabetically sorted according to the author's last name:

The Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn

I guess the last name is technically St. Aubyn? Everything is confusing about what is happening right now.

Anyway, this is my first major list grievance as this is a collection of five shorter novels about the titular Patrick Melrose. This might also be the reading experience that affected me emotionally the most.

I first heard about the show with Benedict Cumberbatch from a favorite podcast about TV and pop culture (The Watch), and somewhere in their conversation about the upcoming show they mentioned that one of their co workers (Alison Herman?) loved these books and they were her absolute favorites. I left with a strong desire to read the books and then watch the show. 

Then it arrived and I saw that it was almost 900 pages and I was intimidated by the length. Finally I told myself, I'll just start with the first novel (150 or so pages) and then I can read something else and come back and finish the others.

I tore through the whole thing in about a week and a half.

First off the writing is incredible. The actual prose. The sentences were often so beautiful I felt myself slowing down just so I could savor the turns of phrase. Then there are the characters. They felt completely alive. Then the conceit of the various novels themselves: showing moments in time of this one man's life and the people around him. It starts when he is five (or there about), and we see his parents and their friends. Then we see him in his twenties, and then his thirties. And then we see him married and with kids and it's just so powerful to see how he changes from each novel to the next, but also the various side characters that we meet along the way.

By the end I felt like I had lived a whole life. It was just an incredibly moving experience. It's often tough subject matter (abuse, addiction, extravagance, forgiveness, fidelity, legacy), but at the end it was a profound journey, unlike anything else I read this year.

November Road by Lou Berney

Every single great crime writer that I follow on twitter has been raving about this book for months before it was released, so I got it and read it almost right away.

It's centered on the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination and follows three main characters. What really impressed me about this book was the depth of the characters. I deeply felt like I knew each of them by the end, and all three of the main players got very satisfying and yet surprising journeys. 

I think that's what made this book so good and such a standout. It's a fairly straightforward crime plot, with a few interesting tidbits thrown in, but it's virtually all driven by character. The main character had urgent and deep wants, and the real magic trick of this book is that I felt that want along with them. And yet, as things ended up surprising me, it felt right. 

Highly recommend if you are a fan of crime fiction.

The Eddie Flynn Series by Steve Cavanagh

Here is my second big cheat (don't worry, there are more coming). Steve Cavanagh is a fantastic Irish crime writer, whose protagonist practices law in New York City. Except he came to the law by way of being a con man. That's one fun little piece of these great crime/legal thrillers is that Eddie is constantly using the skills of his conman days to help practice law, or deal with the shady characters who cross his path.

There are four books in this series and I read all of them last year. 

The Defence
The Plea
The Liar

Out of those four I think The Plea ended up being my favorite, but I honestly loved each one, and I would recommend starting at the beginning and just going through the whole set.

Each book has a great hook (Thirteen perhaps the most compelling premise of the batch), and each moves like a bullet train. It's the rare mix of an incredibly well plotted page turning thrill ride, with character depth and real emotion weaved throughout.

I love these and can't wait for the new Cavanagh standalone book coming out this year.

The books of Yuval Noah Harari

My next big cheat! These are some of the best books I have ever read, and without a doubt they top my non-fiction reading list this year. The books are:

Homo Deus
21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Sapiens is marketed as "A brief history of humankind" while Homo Deus is "A brief history of tomorrow." 21 Lessons is about the present. So the man has spanned all of time itself!

These might be the most influential books I read last year as these ultimately led me to trying a 10 day vipassana silent meditation retreat. Harari casually mentions in one of his acknowledgments how much vipassana has helped him and my thought was "whatever helps the brilliant man that wrote these books is something I want to learn more about."

There is no way I could do justice to the many topics he covers in these books, but I can say it is some of the most mind opening and enlightening reading I have ever done. He reframes topics that I thought I had some familiarity with in ways that threw me off center and made me reconsider many things I thought I knew or understood.

One thing I bumped up against was the somewhat aggressive atheism in his work, but even that was thought provoking. I believe it's always helpful to understand these types of viewpoints or beliefs that otherwise I would take for granted.

If you want to feel a little bit smarter about anything related to the past, present, or future of humankind, I would say give these books a look.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Krystle read this one first and really liked it. This was another one I put off because of length, but then was surprised how quickly I blew through it once I actually started. I'm sensing a pattern here.

I also usually don't like flashbacks. I'm almost never as interested in what happened in the past as what was going on in the main story, and this book uses quite a few flash backs, but they really work. Each one would take me deeper into the story and characters and peeled back layers of the onion. Each time I felt like I knew the characters better, which would completely change the context of the rest of the story. It was like a little bit of a treasure hunt inside the story.

I was also completely gripped by the conflicts throughout this story. I ended up really rooting for certain characters and absolutely hating others! Only to learn more and come around to sympathy or even empathy. It's a book that constantly shifted the ground beneath my feet, disoriented and delighted in equal measures. Great stuff.

The Outsider by Stephen King

I love the slight pivot King has done over the last several years to crime novels. The Outsider retains a sense of the horror that King is known for, but at its heart this is a mystery. If you don't know that Stephen King is one of the greatest of all times by now then you haven't been paying attention.

I don't want to spoil anything about this reading experience, all I can say is that King delivers. It almost doesn't matter where the story eventually goes, the journey was so compelling and satisfying that I couldn't stop reading.  

Engaging and awesome.

Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

My final cheat, I swear! I read them one after the other and so it felt like one long novel to me.

I think both of these won the Man Booker Prize, an award I don't really have any feelings about. I was going to say this was the first winner of the prize that I've read but then decided to google that so I wouldn't be an ignoramus (I've also read The Remains of the Day and Lincoln in the Bardo).

Anyway, these novels are magnificent. The counter argument to A Man For All Seasons, these show us Thomas Cromwell in a way that I had never seen him before, not to mention all the stuff about the King and his wives.

I felt like I was taking a deep dive into history reading these, but also they are the types of books with language that you want to savor. I often found the plot and story itself to be very entertaining, but more often than not I was just enjoying the experience, sentence by sentence. It's a weird combination that I don't often experience: a book that is long, dense, and yet feels like it's moving very fast at the same time the beauty of the language is encouraging me to slow down.

Word on the street is the third book in this trilogy comes out this year, and I cannot wait.

The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

Tevis is probably more well known for *checks notes* every other book he has written besides this one? The Hustler (that movie with Paul Newman), its sequel The Color of Money (Paul Newman and Tom Cruise), The Man Who Fell To Earth, etc. etc. etc. Okay I'm writing etc. because I don't recognize the other ones, but still.

This is the only Tevis book I've read so far, and it makes me want to read all the others. This is a book about chess. And boy oh boy, chess has never been so exciting! It follows a young girl chess prodigy, as she learns she is brilliant at the game, begins to compete and starts winning all over. The novel reads as part thriller, part sports, part coming-of-age novel.

It deals with themes of isolation, loneliness, addiction, genius, connection, all while moving at seemingly breakneck speed as she competes and the stakes keep getting higher.

It's a short novel and not only is it entertaining as all get out, it's also thought provoking and emotional. Love it.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (issues #1-53)

This series has been running for a while now and if you've read it you know it's pretty much the best. Sci-fi wonder with character arcs and world building like Game of Thrones (translation: very good).

I've been reading this series for years, but I took the chance to re-read from the beginning when the last issue of this last arc came out. Being able to speed read through the whole series is a wonderful experience. The story really moves, and reading all at once helped me keep all the characters and story lines straight, which is a little harder to do as a monthly release.

This has adult themes, language, violence, so reader beware, but it's probably the best comic series I've read in a long time.

Educated by Tara Westover

This book is wonderful. If you don't know the backstory, it's an Idaho girl who grows up off the grid, never really went to school or knew a lot about the outside world, who decides to leave home and ends up getting her PhD from Cambridge.

She relays her story with grace, wit and real emotion. Her experiences at home came alive for me, and I felt like I was going on the journey with her throughout each step. So many feelings!

The only piece of "feedback" I thought of as I read, is I wished for more anecdotes about her actual education experiences, and that journey instead of all the stuff with her family in Idaho. Highly recommend for a transforming reading experience.

And that's it! Happy reading in 2019!

Books I Read in 2018

Friday, January 4, 2019
I read more this year than ever before. I was trying to break 100, but it's a little arbitrary as you can read short books or long books and who really cares as long as you're enjoying it?

Which I did! Here is the list of the books I read in 2018, sorted by the dates that I finished them.

TitleDate FinishedPublishedPagesGenreType
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan1/1/20182002544Science FictionPaperback
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari1/7/20182017462Non-FictionPaperback
The Remains of Day by Kazuo Ishiguro1/13/20181989258Literary FictionPaperback
The Defense by Steve Cavanagh1/16/20182015320Legal ThrillerKindle
The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone1/17/20182011240Non-FictionKindle
A.D. After Death by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire1/18/20182017256Comics/Science FictionHardcover
The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman1/23/20182014402FantasyKindle
The Nix by Nathan Hill1/27/20182016737Literary FictionKindle
10% Happier by Dan Harris1/31/20182014240Non-FictionKindle
Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven2/2/20182017125Non-FictionKindle
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews2/4/20182013547Spy ThrillerPaperback
Evicted by Matthew Desmon 2/7/20182016334Non-FictionLibrary Kindle
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari2/20/20182011466Non-FictionPaperback
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle2/24/20181962232YA Fiction/Sci-Fi/FantasyPaperback
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer2/26/20182014195Science FictionPaperback
Shaker by Scott Frank3/7/20182016352Mystery/ThrillerAudible
Authority by Jeff VanderMeer3/9/20182014340Science FictionPaperback
The Narrows by Michael Connelly3/12/20182004416Mystery/ThrillerLibrary Kindle
The Overlook by Michael Connelly3/14/20182007304Mystery/ThrillerLibrary Kindle
The Widow by Fiona Barton3/14/20182016340Mystery/ThrillerLibrary Kindle
The Girls by Emma Cline3/17/20182016346Literary FictionLibrary Kindle
The Plea by Steve Cavanagh3/20/20182016379Legal ThrillerPaperback
You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh 3/23/20182001138Non-FictionPaperback
You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames 3/24/2018201397Mystery/ThrillerPaperback
The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly3/26/20182009552Mystery/ThrillerLibrary Kindle
The Power by Naomi Alderman3/29/20182016416Science FictionKindle
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown3/30/20182017163Non-FictionHardcover
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 4/4/20182005288Literary FictionLibrary Kindle
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan4/9/20182013546Literary FictionLibrary Kindle
9 Dragons by Michael Connelly 4/15/20182009385Mystery/ThrillerLibrary Kindle
We Have Always Lived On Mars by Cecil Castelucci4/15/2018201310Science FictionKindle
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley4/22/20181978258Mystery/ThrillerPaperback
Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin4/24/20181992329Non-FictionLibrary Kindle
The Keto Reset Diet by Mark Sisson4/25/20182017352Non-FictionHardcover
The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis4/29/20181983243Literary FictionPaperback
The Liar by Steve Cavanagh5/1/20182017327Legal ThrillerPaperback
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan5/13/20182015498Literary FictionLibrary Kindle
The Drop by Michael Connelly5/16/20182011401Mystery/ThrillerPaperback
The Art of Living: Vipassanna Meditation by S. N. Goenka5/26/20181987166Non-FictionPaperback
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell5/30/20182013277Non-FictionPaperback
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders6/1/20182017368Literary FictionLibrary Kindle
The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks6/7/20182008659FantasyPaperback
Adjustment Day by Chuck Palhniuk6/13/20182018336Literary FictionLibrary Kindle
It's Not Always Depression6/16/20182018296Non-FictionKindle
Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman6/18/20182016288Mystery/ThrillerKindle
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan6/23/20182017418Literary FictionLibrary Kindle
Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh6/26/20182018357Legal ThrillerPaperback
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan (issues #1-53)7/2/201820181166Comics/Science FictionPaperback
Reborn by Mark Millar (issues #1-6)7/2/20182017133Comics/FantasyPaperback
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan (issues #1-15)7/3/20182017360Comics/Science FictionPaperback
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan (issues #16-20)7/5/20182017120Comics/Science FictionPaperback
The Rooster Bar by John Grisham7/5/20182018465Legal ThrillerLibrary Kindle
We Stand on Guard by Brian K. Vaughan (issues #1-6)7/6/20182017160Comics/Science FictionPaperback
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker7/10/20182018455Non-FictionLibrary Kindle
Quiet by Susan Cain7/11/20182012263Non-FictionPaperback
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl7/12/20182018324YA FictionHardcover
Here by Richard McGuire7/14/20182014304ComicsHardcover
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins7/21/20182017394Mystery/ThrillerLibrary Kindle
The Practice of Freedom by Joseph Goldstein7/21/20182015256Mystery/ThrillerPaperback
The Outsider by Stephen King7/25/20182018576Mystery/ThrillerKindle
Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke7/27/20182018288Non-FictionHardcover
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem7/29/20181961204Science FictionPaperback
A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backman 8/5/20182012339Literary FictionPaperback
What The Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell8/9/20182009411Non-FictionHardcover
The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu8/10/20182017447Science FictionPaperback
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle8/16/20181997236Non-FictionAudible
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Turman Capote8/20/20181958174Literary FictionAudible
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski9/9/20181993281FantasyKindle
Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski9/13/20181992374FantasyKindle
There There by Tommy Orange9/15/20182018233Literary FictionCloud Library
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari9/26/20182018400Non-FictionCloud Library
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy10/1/201818671223Literary FictionPaperback
The Good Sleeper by Janet Krone Kennedy10/3/20182005259Non-FictionPaperback
Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski10/11/20181994398FantasyPaperback
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss10/12/20182014159FantasyPaperback
Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu10/17/20182004384Science FictionHardcover
My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies by Ed Brubaker10/17/2018201872Comics/CrimeHardcover
The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn10/27/20182015880Literary FictionPaperback
Oblivion Song by Robert Kirkman10/27/20182018144Comics/Science FictionPaperback
Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz10/30/20182017352Non-FictionCloud Library
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty11/3/20182017361Science FictionKindle
Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell11/4/20182003294Non-FictionPaperback
Nineteen Seventy-seven by David Peace11/7/20182000340Mystery/ThrillerPaperback
Educated by Tara Westover11/8/20182018344Non-FictionCloud Library
The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis11/10/20182018219Non-FictionHardcover
Vicious by V. E. Schwab11/16/20182017360FantasyPaperback
The White Van by Patrick Hoffman11/18/20182014256Mystery/ThrillerPaperback
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel11/27/20182009650Literary FictionPaperback
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel12/3/20182012482Literary FictionPaperback
The Humans by Stephen Karam12/5/20182015150PlayPaperback
Hell to Pay by George Pelecanos12/13/20182002385Mystery/ThrillerPaperback
Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull12/23/20182014368Non-FictionHardcover
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown12/25/20182018229Non-FictionCloud Library
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan (#21-25)12/26/20182018128Comics/Science FictionPaperback
November Road by Lou Berney12/28/20182018299Mystery/ThrillerHardcover

Because I am weird and curious I ran a little pivot table to see how things broke out according to genre and the way I consumed the books:

Comics Total1
Comics/Crime Total1
Comics/Fantasy Total1
Comics/Science FictionHardcover1
Comics/Science Fiction Total7
Fantasy Total7
Legal ThrillerKindle1
Library Kindle1
Legal Thriller Total5
Literary FictionAudible1
Cloud Library1
Library Kindle7
Literary Fiction Total17
Library Kindle6
Mystery/Thriller Total17
Cloud Library4
Library Kindle3
Non-Fiction Total26
Play Total1
Science FictionHardcover1
Science Fiction Total9
Spy ThrillerPaperback1
Spy Thriller Total1
YA FictionHardcover1
YA Fiction Total1
YA Fiction/Sci-Fi/FantasyPaperback1
YA Fiction/Sci-Fi/Fantasy Total1
Grand Total95

Or simplified:

Cloud Library5
Library Kindle17
Grand Total95

Comics/Science Fiction7
Legal Thriller5
Literary Fiction17
Science Fiction9
Spy Thriller1
YA Fiction1
YA Fiction/Sci-Fi/Fantasy1
Grand Total95

So I read a lot! I read more Non-fiction than any other category, but I almost feel like that is misleading, because within Non-fiction you have several types of genres as well, really.

I was surprised I only read one play this year. Probably because I bought several throughout the year and am just now realizing I didn't read them! Well a new dawn and whatnot.

Also, yes I do feel cool that I read War and Peace this past year. I also feel proud that I read a lot more from the library (first the Overdrive app, and then when we moved, the Cloud Library app). Libraries are the best. 

Favorite reads post forthcoming.