I read almost 200 books this year, and I wanted to share some of my favorites. I’ve narrowed it down mostly to books released this year (2018) or in paperback this year (2017), but a couple of older titles I read this year had to break into my list because I enjoyed them so much.
The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (2018). 2018 was the year I accidentally became a bit of a Mister Rogers expert. I saw the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor twice (and cried both times). I visited the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in Pittsburgh (see photos below). And I read three books on Fred Rogers. The Good Neighbor was the most in-depth and also my favorite. I listened to the audiobook narrated by LeVar Burton (who was exceptional) and found myself sitting in the car to listen for longer than my commute. The story and analysis are compelling and moving. I haven’t liked a biography this much in a long time, if ever.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (2018). I’m a true crime junkie and this book was my favorite all year. It got a lot of buzz because of McNamara’s untimely death, and because of the developments in the case not long after the book was published, but it is so well written it will outlive the hype. McNamara’s prose sucked me in and the case was so scary I stayed up all night reading, and triple checked the locks on our doors for months.
The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes (2018). This thoughtful memoir by President Obama’s speech writer turned foreign policy advisor offers a lot of insight into the biggest international projects of the Obama Administration, as well as into Obama as a person. I felt like I learned a lot, but the story was also well told.
The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist by Michelle Morgan (2018). This biography of Marilyn Monroe really starts with the idea that she was more than a sexy, dumb blonde and fleshes it out. It focuses in on a particular period of Monroe’s life and offers cogent analysis of how the culture around Monroe changed and how she herself changed as an actress and a person.
Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle (2011) The follow-up to this book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship was published this year, but I think the original is the best. This book is by Fr. Greg Boyle, who runs Homeboy Industries in L.A. In his work he helps gang members transition to jobs, school, and being there for their families, stepping away from the street. In Homeboy Industries jobs, members of rival gangs work next to each other, and often learn to love each other. Boyle’s stories are moving and reflect on the humanity and dignity of each person, including the reader. I cannot recommend this book enough. Read it. Now.
How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery (2018). This memoir features gorgeous prose and illustrations. As an animal-lover, I highly enjoyed Montgomery’s insights and reflections on the animals she’s known and loved during her long career writing about them. It’s a light read, but you’ll need a hankie.
Happily Ever Esther: Two Men, a Wonder Pig, and Their Life-Changing Mission to Give Animals a Home by Steve Jenkins (2018). One of my joys this year was discovering Esther the Wonder Pig. I checked out the first book about her when it caught my eye in a library display and I fell in love. I had to read the sequel when it came out and it hit all the same notes of comedy, compassion, and Esther’s star quality. Check her out on Instagram @estherthewonderpig.
Calypso by David Sedaris (2018). I’m a big fan of David Sedaris’s writing (I even met him once!) and his most recent collection is now one of my favorites. Calypso is more personal than some of his other work, which is saying a lot, and deals greatly with the deaths of his sister and his mother. That’s not to say it isn’t also hilarious in Sedaris’s particular, dark way.
I Remember You by Yrsa Siguroardottir (2014). My husband and I went on a trip to Iceland this October and I had planned to do a whole Icelandic reading challenge before we went. For various big and small reasons, that didn’t happen, but I had several books on my Kindle for the trip. I devoured I Remember You while staying up, hoping for an aurora borealis sighting. It is scary, weird, and feels like an old school ghost story.
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNiequa Ramos (2018). This book was recommended to me by a prison librarian and she made it sound like a real gut-punch of a novel. It is. I loved the narrator’s voice as much as I hated what she went through.
Only Child by Rhiannon Navin (2018). This novel is told from the perspective of a first grader in the aftermath of a school shooting. It pulls a lot on the reader’s heartstrings, but that slight manipulativeness aside, I thought the narration was effective and a smart means of asking some important questions about violence and forgiveness.
Trespassing by Brandi Reeds (2018). I read a lot of this type of psychological thriller centered on a mom or a single woman (Lianne Moriarity, Laura Lippman, etc) and this was the only pageturner this year that really kept me turning pages. The whole time, I couldn’t quite figure out where the story was going. I had to send a copy to my mom for her Spring Break because I found it so perplexing.
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (2017). Another gem of an audiobook, this story made me weep and laugh. It spans three generations of Indian-Americans and moves between India, England, and America, dwelling on the complex relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, and people and the places they call home.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (2017). I found this novel very slow in the moment, but I kept thinking about it long after I was finished. It has so many elements: WWII, a female scuba diver, the mob, a sister with a disability, romance. Yet, all these parts work together in a way that I did not expect.
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory (2017). I also found this novel pretty slow-going, but the characters really held my attention. It would make a great TV miniseries. Spoonbenders focuses on a family of psychics after they have been outed as frauds on national TV. The next generation is starting to show abilities, which begs the question: were they frauds? How did they end up so down and out?
I read almost 200 books this year. That’s probably too many, considering all the other things I want to get done. And considering that reading that many meant reading quickly, often sacrificing enjoyment. Or power reading a book I didn’t like to begin with. So, I deleted my Goodreads account and plan on doing weekly book reviews on this blog and monthly recaps either here or on social media, so I can share what I’ve liked without doing any reading challenges this year. I found the reading log that I used through middle school, high school, and college, and I think it is more effective for me personally to keep my reading log offline.
In the Neighborhood of Make-Believe
Me, King Friday the 13th, and Emily