Number of books read: 51
Total word count: 6,965,256
I feel like I should be writing this with a glass of champagne. What a year, y’all! Honestly, it felt great to set aside Netflix and social media in favor of reading more this year. I felt more inspired, more grounded, and more relaxed as a whole.
A few pro tips before I lay out my top 5 for this year:
1. Audiobooks aren’t terrible. I’ve replaced most of my podcast listening with audiobooks because I got tired of listening to people just talk about life and stuff and things in podcasts. Some are still good, but I’ve stopped listening to most of them. HOWEVER it’s important to be picky about who is narrating you’re audiobook. Not all narrators are created the same. AND listening at 1.5x or checking the “minimize pauses” option makes those 45 hour books not quite so long.
2. Always carry a book with you. You’d be surprised when you’ll find moments to read during the day. Sometimes I take the last half of my lunch to finish a book instead of spending more time with work people.
3. It’s okay to stop reading a book. If you jump into one and the plot bogs down or the characters aren’t relatable, just put it down and start a new one. You don’t have to finish something because it’s a classic or because someone else said it was great.
4. BUT, give books a chance. Don’t give up too easily. You’d be surprised what you’ll find lurking toward the end of a novel or just what you’ll learn by finishing something you don’t like.
5. If you’re having trouble finding books to read, find some written by authors from your area or books that are set in a place you love. I’ve enjoyed reading books set in Boston so much since my move. While I don’t know this area super well yet, it’s really fun to read things I could visit or see.
Okay, enough advice. Let’s get down to business. Paring down this list of 50 was a little difficult from this perspective. I’m really glad I posted short reviews on Goodreads when I finished each book. I had a lot of “oh yeah, that’s what I thought” moments in putting this list together.
5: The Very Worst Missionary
Number five was a toss up between this and If You Only Knew by Jamie Ivey. While they deal with different topics, they also touch on a few similar points. There’s no shame in your story. For the longest time I carried guilt and shame over silly things. Both of these books shifted my perspective just enough to allow me to me to see that those burdens weren’t mine to carry. I’ve felt a little dissonant in my Christian faith the last few years. Some of that is due to my experiences abroad, some due to church issues here, some because of my childhood, but a lot of it simply boils down to asking questions about why we do what we do. The truth is, we’re all a little messier than we’d like to be and that’s okay. I’m rarely, if ever, one to take something at face value. I’m the person who asks why all the time and tries to come up with a better way to solve a problem. I asked why too many times while abroad and probably got myself into more trouble than was actually worth. Jamie Wright asks a lot of questions in The Very Worst Missionary that I’ve been asking myself as well. Why do we do short-term mission trips to other countries? Are we helping or hurting? How should missionaries be “trained” before living abroad? Is there a better way to do this? Is there a cookie-cutter version of a Christian life or is there more to it? Jamie talks through her own struggles with some of these while chronicling her family’s years in Costa Rica as missionaries and what they learned about life abroad. It’s eye-opening, raw, and tangible. Honestly, some of her struggles in CR made me laugh because I have been there and I know what it’s like to wake up and really not want to go to soccer ministry (whatever that is, exactly) or hand wash my clothes again. She didn’t really provide any answers, but she asked the questions I think we’ve been afraid to ask and I appreciate that.
4: Celeste Ng
This is an author, not a book, but I’m cheating a little bit. I read two by Ng this year: Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You. Both were incredible. Asian American authors and narratives are few and far between in more popular book lists, but Celeste Ng’s writing style is captivating and her perspective is much needed. She takes a community that seems perfect from the outside and tips the scales just enough to show its cracks. It’s fascinating. I loved reading these and will absolutely be adding her future novels to my list. Oh, and she lives in Cambridge, Mass which is just around the corner from me. Maybe I’ll run into her at Crema or Whole Foods.
3: The Nightingale
My fascination with the World Wars is no secret to anyone who knows me. It probably started with Anne Frank’s diaries in elementary school and has only become more deeply rooted. I’m interested in everything about life and culture in the early twentieth century – so much drastic change happened at once, so many revolutionary ideas, so many mind-blowing events. I’m always quick to pick up a novel that seeks to understand a little bit more about the World wars, anxious for a glimpse into another life played out during such a tumultuous time. Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale brought entirely new perspectives to the table. I was blown away by the gumption of the women she follows through the war and captivated by how lionhearted they were, whether rebellious like Isabelle or seemingly conformist like Vianne. While set in occupied France rather than a concentration camp deeper in Europe, this novel still portrays an outrageous hope and boldness present in so many people who survived or helped others survive some of the most inconceivable years in our recent history.
2: The Eleventh Trade
I realize my bias here, but I have deep feelings about this YA novel by Alyssa Hollingsworth. I love her inspiration for The Eleventh Trade and the amount of labor and love spent in researching a culture of people we often overlook or overgeneralize. As a frequent passenger on the T here in Boston, I know the feel of the crowded downtown stations and the musicians who play there. I see so many different people on the train and I know nothing about them. This novel gave me pause to see them as people with stories, not nameless faces across from me. Sami’s experiences in this novel are full of culture, hospitality, community, and hope. It was truly one of the most moving books of my year. I absolutely recommend it.
I’m cheating a little here because I’m lumping the entire series together. I can’t just choose the first book or my favorite of the eight; I have to choose them all. This is the first series I’ve read that comes close to measuring up to Harry Potter. From the very first chapter, these characters captivated me. All of a sudden I was wrapped up in this time traveling plot full of twists and turns and characters I learned to love (and loathe) like my own people. I honestly don’t know how Diana Gabaldon does it book after book. There are so many minute historical details and extra plot lines to keep up with, but I love it. Having finished all eight, I’m having withdrawals from the Frasers and Mackenzies. I will probably pick up the Lord John novellas in 2019 to bide my time until the release of book nine, whenever that might be.
After a lot (not really) of thought and a Twitter poll (is anyone still on Twitter these days?) I’m setting my 2019 goal at 52 books. That’s one book per week, people, and just two books greater than this year. I think it can be done.
Send me your recommendations! I’m a firm believer that good friends share books. My mailbox is always open!
I’d love to know what you’re reading these days – what you’re loving AND what you think is terrible. Good friends don’t let friends read bad books.