The 54 Books I Read in 2018, Charted

A few of my faves this year, even though they didn’t necessarily come out this year.

I committed to reading more books instead of periodicals in the haze following the 2016 election. It began as escapism and now, a couple years into it, I think it’s actually helped me grow as a thinker/feeler/human stumbling through life. As Matt Haig wrote, “The process of finding my best self was an endless quest. And books themselves seemed to reflect this idea.”

This year, I liked most everything I read, which included a heavy dose of contemporary fiction and more science fiction tales and genre romance than before. I continued to select non-white and/or non-male authors, which paid off. My book club kept things in balance with random nonfiction picks, like the Patagonia founder’s business book-slash-memoir, which really affected the way I think about consumption. Now I buy so much less crap!

I also got back to reading classics from giants — Philip Roth, James Baldwin, Joan Didion. I had to read them in school but appreciate them much more as a grown-up.

Here’s how this year’s book reading breaks down:

This year’s timeline shows I pretty evenly distributed my reading, though there was a big gap in which I read no non-fiction. Last year’s timeline was more interesting because I had a baby and that affected things.

I am deliberate in choosing more fiction than non-fiction, generally.

To chart “pages by month,” we used the page sum of all books finished in a month. (I don’t have a count of daily pages I’ve read, so this should really be called “Total-number-of-pages-in-a-book-by-month-finished.”) Note that June was when the Trump-Kim Singapore summit happened and my life was held together by duct tape and gum. It shows in the leisure reading completion.

These subgenres are sort of arbitrary, they are just what the Goodreads crowd classifies the books as, following the fiction or non-fiction categorization.

On Choosing Books

I still continually quiz people for recommendations but settled on a few people I really trust for recs, based on what they recommended before, or what they themselves have written. For example, last year I liked Sally Rooney’s book Conversations with Friends so much that when she wrote a positive review of An American Marriage, I made it a priority. Ditto the author Celeste Ng, who alerted me to Rich and Pretty.

My sister from another mother, Kat Chow (who is currently writing her own debut memoir), is a reliable recommender. She is behind many of my choices this year but notably Severance by Ling Ma, and poet Ocean Vuong’s novel (which comes out next summer — we are lucky to work at NPR because publishers are always happy to send us galleys).

I also trust Japan analyst Tobias Harris, who reads prolifically about subjects besides Japan. When he was in Seoul earlier this year, I asked him to tell me the best new books of 2017 he read and he chose Exit West and Pachinko, which became two of the best books I read in 2018.

Of course, NPR’s annual book concierge is an always helpful, delightful tool for choosing what to read next.

The Full List

1 Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
2 Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew Bose
3 Deception, Philip Roth
4 Chemistry, Weike Wang
5 Outline, Rachel Cusk
6 Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
7 The Boat, Nam Le
8 Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
9 Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
10 Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
11 Soul of an Octopus, Sy Montgomery
12 Sam the Cat, Matthew Klam
13 Goodbye Vitamin, Rachel Khoung
14 Hunger, Roxane Gay
15 Emergency Contact, Mary H.K. Choi
16 Fire Sermon, Jamie Quatro
17 The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer
18 The Paper Menagerie (And Other Stories), Ken Liu
19 You Think It, I’ll Say It, Curtis Sittenfeld
20 The Man of My Dreams, Curtis Sittenfeld
21 Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
22 How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, Alexander Chee
23 Tin Man, Sarah Winman
24 Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed
25 Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard
26 An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
27 My Last Love Story, Falguni Kothari
28 Pachinko, Min Jun Lee
29 Three Body Problem, Cixin Lou
30 Exit West, Moshin Hamid
31 How to Fix A Broken Heart, Guy Winch
32 How Toddlers Thrive, Tovah Klein
33 The Internet of Garbage, Sarah Jeong
34 The Hike, Drew Magary
35 Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan
36 Rich and Pretty, Rumaan Alam
37 Love Poems (for Married People), John Kenney
38 The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory
39 I Want To Show You More, Jamie Quattro
40 Forget Having It All, Amy Westervelt
41 The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly
42 Asymmetry, Lisa Halliday
43 Farsighted, Steve Johnson
44 Norwegian Wood, Haruki Marukami
45 Severance, Ling Ma
46 Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin
47 The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
48 The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante
49 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
50 New People, Danzy Senna
51 Us vs Them, Ian Bremmer
52 The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang
53 Crudo, A Novel, Olivia Laing
54 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari

Credits

Friend Nicole has been doing a 52 book challenge for a few years and analyzes the data in a big wrap-up post, so these annual look-backs are inspired by her.

“This is such a nerdy post I do,” I said. “You don’t actually DO any of it,” spouse Stiles clapped back, since he does all the data clean-up/analysis/visualizing for me. (Thanks, dude.)

Epilogue

It turns out we can read 200 books a year in the amount of time we spend on social media, but this would require me ending my Twitter addiction and I have given up enough vices in my life, thank you very much.

Related: 2017 Book Look Back

My 52 Books of 2017: A Data-Driven Look Back

I suppose it was fortuitous that the year I decided to read 52 books was also a year the news was an epic dumpster fire. I needed the escape from reading news alerts.

But reading MORE than I already do was tricky, when a huge chunk of my job is simply reading, writing, and then reading out loud. But Friend Nicole Zhu, who inspired me to do this challenge, made a convincing case:

“Even for people who already read 109312 tweets and articles every day, reading books builds a different set of habits and has its own set of rewards. You learn so much more without the distraction of notifications or the temptation to Pocket or bookmark something to read later.”

Hated:
Hausfrau. I HAAAAAATED this book. So annoying that it indirectly made me annoyed with Switzerland.

Breakdown of What I Read:

Before my data journalist spouse Stiles would dataviz my reading for me, he asked me to list some hypotheses that the visualizations would either prove or disprove.

My hypotheses: I read a lot of women authors, mostly fiction, many memoirs and I feel like I read a lot more in the first months of the year than the final months. Here’s what the data show…

Reading Pace

Damn, I was surprised to see how many books I polished off before or in the same month Baby Luna was born. Being unable to drink and not staying out late in the lead up to Luna really gave me a lot of extra reading time. After I got back to my usual shenanigans, my book reading really slowed down.

How I Read ‘Em

I read the same way I work, which is in intervals. (Sometimes I will work my ass off for a week and never sleep and party every night and then fly home, lose my voice, become practically catatonic and move no farther than to the fridge and back.) So when I read books I’ll often read in bursts of intensity, devouring a few in a few days and then take a month to finish the next one.

I leaned on my closest pals for recommendations and read with a far-flung friend, so I had someone to snark about the reading with. Reading books together keeps me accountable in the way you HAVE to exercise if you agree to meet up to train for a marathon. Except, unlike running together, you don’t get to see REAL, LIVE NUTRIA.

I watched a lot less television (but managed to make time for Handmaid’s Tale and Big Little Lies and am glad for it).

I read in transit and in “in between” moments. I read on planes a lot. I read at bus stops and on the bus. In the back of cabs. In waiting rooms, restaurants while waiting on friends, at home as procrastination from work.

I switched my habit of reading periodicals before bed (namely, New York Magazine from back to front because the Approval Matrix is on the back page) to reading books before bed, instead.

Onward

Will try to read a lot this year but I don’t anticipate fitting in 52. Leave a comment here (or elsewhere) if you have recommendations!

On My First Female Role Model Besides My Mom

Last night I fell down a rabbit hole on Medium (usually it’s Wikipedia) and found a list of writing prompts that friend-of-a-friend Nicole Zhu used in order to keep up a daily habit of writing. Between sometimes writing here on this blog but mostly posting on my work Tumblr and a mandate to write for my day job, I don’t think the world needs more of my words. But I felt inspired by the prompts and realized I don’t sit down and reflect as often as I used to, because the explosion of social platforms means I do my sharing in pieces, in snapshots or Snapchats rather than wordier reflections. 

Anyway. I have kept up this blog and its previous incarnations for all these years, so I might as well take some of the prompts and give them a whirl every once in a while, eh? It’s certainly something to do when I am avoiding doing other tedious things, like paying the bills or whatever. [Clears throat.] With that, here’s a musing on female role models.


Let’s get this part of out of the way: My most influential role model, female or not, is my mom. My mom is pure love. She makes me feel safe always. “Listen to me and you can’t go wrong,” my mom says, confident in her wisdom. And she’s right. She is unapologetic about who she is, realistic about the world and her confidence gives me confidence. We laugh about inappropriate topics, since she shares a subversive, macabre humor. We cry together because we wear our hearts on our sleeves (unapologetically). We never want to stop exploring, a value she instilled in me long ago. She told me as a child, “Never live your life for someone else’s gaze,” a lesson that shaped me. She also explained to me when I was quite young the quiet cruelties of being a person of color in a pasty white St. Louis suburb, making it easier for me when I did feel different.

It took awhile before I found other female role models. I grew up surrounded by boys. My only sibling is a brother. My childhood memories of Roger are of our forceful physical fights (I learned how to always go for his nuts when kicking or punching), building homegrown skateboarding ramps on our driveway and buying Fun Dip in between innings at his little league baseball games. My entire neighborhood peer group was also made up of boys; in the four houses closest to mine were each kids in my grade, and all those kids were boys: Ryan, Craig, Tommy and Craig. We waited for the bus together each morning. After school, thanks to huge fenceless yards, we stayed outside playing until dark almost every night. We built forts, played Ghost in the Graveyard and Kick the Can, or wandered to the neighborhood creek where the rocks were jagged and the water could start rushing dangerously quickly when it rained.

Jenny! (Using her current Facebook profile photo, so that I know this is a Jenny-approved photo.)
Jenny! (Using her current Facebook profile photo, so that I know this is a Jenny-approved photo.)

So my closest female relationships didn’t really come together until 5th or 6th grade, when I formed a bond with a fellow subversive — Jes Ingram. I remember going to Jes’ house to play Sim City (which might have been V1), sleepovers watching/reciting Ace Ventura Pet Detective word-for-word and hanging out around her house with her older sister, Jenny. I think she was my first female role model besides my mom. Jenny never passed on words of wisdom in the way moms do, but instead led by example. Jenny was class president and much-admired and beautiful but effortlessly so. Unlike the other popular girls who spent a lot of time primping for boys or to pickup boys at the mall (yes my middle school friends did that back then), Jenny was ‘whatever’ about her place in the preteen hierarchy, and even cooler for it. She seemed to have deep, authentic friendships, which in 7th grade felt sorta hard to come by. But mainly I looked up to Jenny because I find being bored pretty much anathema to existence, and Jenny was never boring. She has so much personality that it oozes from her like the cheese of a four-cheese grilled cheese sandwich. Jenny’s Personality and her personality are innate and not replicable, but for acolytes like me, thankfully she read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies and listened to a lot of music, so at least through all that time with the Ingram’s I got to be inculcated with her cultural influences. (And her sister Jes’s, of course, who I will always trust implicitly.)

I’ve seen a lot of movies in which young protagonists are somehow let down by their role models in the end. But some 20 years after first looking up to Jenny, I can report that she has only exceeded my stratospheric assessment of her.

Last year, Jenny learned she had breast cancer. She’s sadly not my first friend to fight cancer at a young age, but she’s fought it with the most humor and moxie. (Because, of course.) A few days ago, she lost her boobies, as she decided that getting a double mastectomy was the best way to prevent a recurrence. She’s been chronicling her journey on her blog, appropriately titled “Check Those Titties.” Reading it regularly has reminded me of many things (to check my titties, for one), but also how exceptional she is. And that maybe I should reflect and write about these personal memories, because it’s a way to thank people like her, to whom I’m eternally grateful.