What I Read in 2018

Documenting #52booksin52weeks turned into a surprisingly interesting project. Accountability through publication was a success; for once in my life, I faithfully (and relatively regularly) updated an on-going reading list.

In the process, I learned some things:

  • You like it when I talk books! Surprisingly, these blog round-ups and Facebook and Instagram posts were some of 2018’s most popular content. Who knew?
  • Work doesn’t count. I edited four books this year, each of which I read a minimum of three times through. Until I saw a Twitter comment from a fellow editor, counting those books as part of my reading list had never occurred to me. Go figure.
  • Not every book I begin is finished. Yeah, I knew this (and those goes for reading AND writing) but hadn’t realized just how many I’d set aside until I tried not to. Despite solid efforts at commitment, 2018 closes with five books at various reading stages (plus another I’m editing). Will I ever finish Eleanor Catton’s award-winning The Luminaries? Sigh. #newyearsresolution
  • Chuck Wendig is a god. I discovered this amazing author on Twitter, then read seven of Wendig’s books (six novels plus Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative, on writing), attended his writing workshop in Austin, and pre-ordered the Miriam Black series final book (Vultures is coming in January!). He even read my book review!
  • I like more often than I dislike. Truly, you’ll find many more positives than pans in these quick reviews. The highest compliment? Rereading (hello, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine). Normally, I’m quick to jettison a loser book–see #3–but no such easy out this year.
  • People aren’t really into commenting. I’d hoped to spark some interesting back-and-forth from others who’d read the same books. While I did get some feedback occasionally on Facebook, it was sparse. Is it me?
  • Was that all? I honestly thought I’d have read more books. Stephen King, a self-professed slower reader, averages 80+. I’m a fast reader who didn’t hit 80. Well, there’s always next year!

Without further ado, here’s the remainder of my #52booksin52weeks for 2018.

Books 59 through 71

No. 59: You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson

Cover of Phoebe Robinson's book of essays, You Can't Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to ExplainThis smart, funny collection of essays entertains while making important cultural commentary. It’s not comedian Phoebe Robinson’s responsibility to educate whites about being black in America, but I sure am glad she chose to share her thoughts. Subtitled “And Other Things I Still Have to Explain,” Robinson takes on topics large and small, from celebrity life to sexism, “otherness,” hair, and racism in so many formats. I wish I’d seen her in person at Texas Book Festival, which is where I bought her worthwhile book.

No. 60: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

cover of young adult fiction Dear Martin by Nic StoneOn a sleepless night, I did what I often do: pick up a book. I read Dear Martin until I finished, though the experience was anything but comfortable.

Young adult author Nic Stone was a keynote speaker at Texas Teen Book Festival. Fine books like Dear Martin give hope that young Americans exceed their parents and grow up to obliterate hatred. Stone’s story about violence young black men encounter is sad and all too familiar. His main character, Justyce McAllister, attempts to make “sense” out of systemic racism and one way he copes is by writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Gut-wrenchingly rendered, Justyce is a kid we’d all be proud to know. And love.

No. 61: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

Cover of book Mindhunter by John Douglas and mark Olshaker, with catWhat happens on a winter day when your knee is busted? Baby Luv and I assume the reading position. Lately, I’ve been listening to a true crime podcast, My Favorite Murder, which generates a reading list. One of the books mentioned, Mindhunter, was a perfect distraction. What I find interesting about true crime is puzzle-solving. Profiling is the ultimate puzzle—what kinds of people would commit that act? Though dated (20+ years old, with an updated forward), the book’s a classic. Check out the Netflix series, too.

No. 62: Witches of East End by  Melissa de la Cruz

book Witches of East End by Melissa de la CruzThe library was closing; I wanted something light and fun to pass the time while icing my knee. Having struck out on finding several books from my “must read” list, pressure was on to take something, anything home. There–I grabbed a book  close at hand with an interesting cover.

If only I could magically recoup the time I spent reading Witches of East End. Blech.

No. 63: The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

Cover of Dan Brown book, The DaVinci Code, with Thanksgiving flowersAn upcoming visit to Paris sparked my return to The DaVinci Code. Before our 2017 trip to Barcelona, I read Dan Brown’s Origin, the latest thriller in his Robert Langdon series. Origin didn’t do much for me, especially once I’d spent time at Sagrada Familia (that fight scene? On the stairway? It’s just plain silly).

Published in 2003, The DaVinci Code is a much better book. I enjoyed it even more for having visited many of the locations symbologist Robert Langdon and cryptologist Sophie Neveu encounter as they puzzle their way across Paris and London, deciphering  the Priory of Sion. Rereading it was like spending time with an old friend.

No. 64: Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Colette (published in one volume)

Copy of Cheri and The Last of Cheri in front of Colette's grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris
Yes, I brought my copy to Colette’s grave in Paris’ famed Pere-Lachaise cemetery. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

This quintessentially French author made me wish I spoke the language. Once in Paris, how could I not make a pilgrimage to her grave?

Everywhere we went, Colette popped up in street names, public dedications, all sorts of places. She is truly beloved but my modern American sensibilities interfered with my enjoyment of her characters. I’d always thought “Cheri” was a woman, so imagine my surprise at meeting this spoiled, indolent, male main character.

On my “to do” list: writing a full review, because these novellas sparked so many thoughts (that, and a particularly terrible review I found online needs rebuttal).

No. 65: UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

Cover of thriller UNSUB by Meg GardinerI totally devoured this thriller. Author Meg Gardiner spoke on a panel (“A Trio of Texas Crime Writers”) at this year’s Texas Book Festival and I was smitten. I picked UNSUB from her list of award-winning works. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. The relationship between main character Caitlin Hendrix and her father, retired detective Mack, was as riveting as the mystery surrounding the diabolically clever and destructively long-lived murderer known as the Prophet.

No. 66: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Cover of Eleanor Elephant is Completely Fine by Gail HoneymanBooks are friends. I needed to spend some time with Eleanor again; she’s a sweet one.

Eleanor Oliphant is the only book that, having read it for the first time this year, I went back to read again. That’s saying something.

No. 67: Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner

Second book in UNSUB series by Meg Gardiner, Into the Black NowhereI gulped this thriller down, then immediately reread it, at a slower pace, to truly savor the details.

Inspired by Ted Bundy and some creepy Polaroids, Into the Black Nowhere is set along the I35 corridor in Central Texas where author Meg Gardiner lives. Action-packed, dynamic wording and short, punchy sentences plunge you into the fast-paced story–Detective Caitlin Hendrix is stalking an escalating serial killer–while never sacrificing character development. There’s such a visual element to Gardiner’s work that I’m sure a TV adaption is in the making–and producers better cast this smart, intuitive, strong, vulnerable, and very real detective exactly right.

My only complaint? Having to wait for the next UNSUB book. Damn it!

No. 68: Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly

Astronaut Scott Kelly autobiography EnduranceI started following astronaut Scott Kelly on Twitter and Instagram while he was completing his last assignment on the International Space Station and became a big fan of his gorgeous images and commentary. His posts, though brief, were full of wit, intelligence, science, political commentary, and an overriding sense of awe about the wonder of it all.

Kelly’s autobiography, however, falls short of those starry heights. Though I’m a complete NASA geek, reading Endurance felt like work, not the thrilling, transporting ride I’d expected. Not until around page 300 did I became truly interested, and those last 100+ pages were almost solely devoted to Kelly’s 365 days on the ISS. Previously, chapters  alternated between past and present and that construct didn’t invite personal connection; much of that was recounted read like a laundry list of events:  “I did this and then this happened.” Where, I wondered, was that awe?

Read Endurance for the final section; otherwise, if you’re into astronauts, space exploration, and testing human limits, follow @StationCDRKelly on social media, where he truly shines.

No. 69: Little by Edward Carey

Cover of Little by Edward Carey
That background? A reusable bag I bought to go to the market in Paris.

A friend asked what 2018’s “Top 3” books would be, and this magically sad, heroically brave, and ultimately lovely novel about a woman’s life in revolutionary France may belong in my answer.

Little is set in the tumultuous 1700s, as odd, tiny, poor, and orphaned Anne Marie Grosholtz recounts her life. Having just visited Paris and France’s Alsace region, my imagination was fully firing; Carey’s descriptions bring the places and his characters, so fully entwined, right off the page.

I won’t spoil its reading by revealing anything more. But I highly recommend this extraordinary book.

No. 70: Educated by Tara Westover

Cover of Tara Westover's memoir EducatedNow THIS is a memoir that begs discussion. While I can relate to Westover’s visceral connection to Idaho’s beautiful natural setting, her family background–Mormon; survivalist; distrustful of public education, modern medicine, and outside assistance of all sorts–is a strange, strange world. For someone who had no formal schooling before college (and for someone who’s had formal schooling, for that matter), she’s an incredible writer. How she finds her separate, adult self is a journey all of us take (though almost always on a lesser scale).

Last, but not least,

No. 71: Damn Fine Story: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative by Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig's book on writing, Damn Fine StoryPerhaps it’s fitting that this is the last book I’ll complete in 2018. If I found out Wendig wrote ad copy for car dealerships, I’d read it. No matter the genre or form, this prolific author is funny, smart, and worthwhile. While educating on basic and fine points of story craft, Wendig is–as always–fully entertaining. I wish I were half the writer he is.

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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