My 5 Favorite Books of 2018 + Relearning to be a Reader
For the past two years, among the other tangible resolutions and goals that I set every January 1st, I have been writing down the number of books that I would like to try to read that year. I started small and manageable- a humble 30 books. This, mind you, was coming out of several years of intense travel and little to no reading at all (partly because I refused to have a kindle since I can’t stand reading novels on a screen). Due to those circumstances, my previous book count was probably about 12. With the goal set for 2017, I was able to make it to 33 and my goal for this year, 2018, was 40. December is not quite finished and I am happy to report that I am already up to 45.
I tend to be the kind of person who tries to put more value on quality over quantity, so why am I setting a numerical goal for something like books? It is a pretty simple answer:
If I don’t, I get lazy.
Reading used to be a huge part of my life when I was a kid, all the way up through late high school. There is always that turning point where it suddenly becomes something you have to do as opposed to what you want to do. I have found that in order to make reading a priority once again, I have to put a little bit of force on myself. I have to break habits and remind my brain why it once loved to read.
When I began this goal in 2017 of reading between 2-3 books a month, I was shocked at how difficult it was at first. My mind was not used to concentrating for long stretches of time on words on a page. I would get antsy and start to think about all of the other things I needed to do for work or around the house. I felt as if something was wrong with me, until I more recently came across this article by Maryanne Wolf (which I also shared in one of my former newsletters) that showed me that I am not alone in this struggle. The piece goes into the research behind how skim-reading is the new norm and why we desperately need to change that.
When we skim instead of really allowing ourselves to absorb reading material, Wolf writes,
“we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.”
What a sad statement. In a world that needs more compassion, beauty and critical thinking, we cannot afford to lose any of these skills, even in an act as simple as picking up a book.
In order to restrengthen each of these traits, the only thing that can be done is practice. Practice setting aside time for reading, as I wrote about last spring, until it becomes an ingrained habit. Practice reading books of all different genres, lengths, and subjects. And above all, while performing the actual act of reading itself, stay mindful of your focus and try to let yourself be consumed by the words. Once you find that sweet spot of literary depth, something unlocks in the creative part of the brain. Jeanette Winterson, another author whose work I read this year, wrote in her memoir,
“It is not only a wild nature that we need as human beings; it is the untamed open space of our imaginations. Reading is where the wild things are.”
We all need a little bit more beautiful wildness in our lives.
For some inspiration going into the next year, I wanted to share with you my 5 favorite books that I read in 2018. It’s a general mix of the old and new, non-fiction and fiction, but all of them brought me insight, perspective, emotion, and joy:
Braving The Wilderness BreNé Brown
A beautiful book about belonging and courage. There were parts where I felt like she was speaking directly to me as an outsider living in a foreign country. The experience has taught me so much about my own confidence, values, and bravery, and Brené Brown’s words echoed and added to so much of what I’ve felt over the years.
Madness, Rack and Honey by Mary Ruefle
Written in gentle poetic prose, scattered bits and pieces of thought on writing, creativity and life come together into one stunning memoir. The title alone hooked me from the start along with how madness sprawls off of the cover page, implying that there are some creative forces outside of our control. I wrote more in-depth about this book in an old post from last winter.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
My year of reading wouldn’t be complete without a little Jane Austen, or something classic along those lines. This was my first time reading this particular novel and while I have heard that it is not the most wildly popular, I thoroughly enjoyed the unconventional moral-driven heroine and dramatic twists and turns of each relationship portrayed.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbey
This was my other favorite fiction novel of the year. It is one I picked up several years ago and put down after the first chapter, getting distracted by something or another, but often I feel like books are meant to be read at certain times in our lives. The depth of these characters in The Elegance of the Hedgehog and the philosophical ideas they are each working through is something that speaks more to me now than it would have when I first tried. This book is smart, witty, oddly poetic and melancholy, telling the story of an old french concierge and the parallel journals of a young girl who feels she is too intelligent for the world.
On Writing by Stephen King
This is the latest book that I have read, so you could say that it is on the list because it is the most fresh in my mind. However, I would also argue that it is possibly one of the most useful books on the craft of writing that I have come across (after Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott). It may focus more on writing fictional novels- not my preferred form- but the advice and strategies are applicable to writers and creators of all types. He also has pushed me to try to keep reading more and more and more because good readers truly do make better writers. It’s a cliché for a reason.
In On Writing, Stephen King states that “Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.”
I would go even further to say that reading is the center of any creative’s life. We need it for the broadening of our imaginations, along with more “internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, perspective-taking and empathy” (as so-expressed by Maryanne Wolf).
With all of this in mind, who wants to join me in my goal for next year?
2019- let’s read 50 books. Minimum.