My Favorite Books of 2018
It has been a fantastic year of reading! I have never read so many books in a year and each one was purposefully chosen for growth and challenge – I hate “fluffy” or lightweight books and I have just one on here…but it was so beautifully written and there was so much pleasure in reading it that it’s actually on my favorites list. More on that one later.
In total, I read 96 books – I had actually written down a lot more than that, but that’s because I was counting each book of the Bible as I read it chronologically but I don’t feel I can really count the small epistles as each one, so I decided to count each section – Pentateuch, Wisdom Lit., etc. making 6 sections instead of 66. It was kind of a blow to my ego to drop that number by 60 but I’m still proud of myself for both the number and the quality of books.
(A note on my overall reading plan: I have two very specific goals. First, I am working my way through Mortimer Adler’s Great Books Series of 500 titles. It’s on Wikipedia if you’re interested. I would love to be able to say that I have read all 500 before I die. So far I’ve read 6. Ha! I have a way to go – I hope I live a long time. A sub-goal is to have read all of Shakespeare’s Cannon and to be able to synopsize each of his plays succinctly and with main characters named…which is a hard one for me, I ALWAYS forget the names of characters in books. These two goals are keeping me busy and will continue to for a long time.)
But here are my favorites – it’s been hard to choose! I would go out and buy each of these and re-read them again and again, that’s how good they are. The top three of this list are saved for the end. That was hard to choose, too!
Best books of 2018:
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
This memoir is not perfect or written by a perfect person but the wisdom and insight he brings to the page is remarkable. I wrote a lot of quotes out from it. Here’s one:
“I think I am learning more and more each year that all worry simply consumes, and to no purpose, just so much physical and mental strength that might otherwise be given to effective work.”
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
Lewis explains the complexities of love in clear language and brings behaviors to light that I’d never thought of before, I learned to name different aspects of love (brotherly versus romantic for example) and saw habits in myself that are not loving…but might seem to be. Very interesting.
“Envy always brings the truest charge, or the charge nearest the truth, that she can think up; it hurts more.”
Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self by Manoush Zomorodi
Using surveys gathered in a social experiment in 2017, Zomorodi compelled me to find time each day to not do anything – to empty my mind and just take a walk around the backyard (with or without the kids) and be mindful of reaching for my phone. It’s not a guilt trip it’s a manifesto for the need for some mental space. I still think of this book and still work to create “bored” space in my day – and I read it in April.
“In order to consume information, you need to pay attention…the currency of information is attention. An overabundance of information, through a mindless consumption of all that junk information, will lead to a poverty of attention.”
The Book of Isaiah
I read this in the New King James Version – it’s so hopeful, so beautiful. Before 2018, I’d always thought of it as pretty boring and doomsday-ish. I was wrong. It was my favorite book of the Bible this year. It’s poetry, pure and simple and just awesome.
“But a generous man devises generous things and by generosity he shall stand.” 32:8
My 25 Years In Provence by Peter Mayle* (This is what I consider a “fluffy book” – but it’s so perfectly fluffy and light that I can’t help myself: it’s a gem of a book.)
I enjoy Mayle’s books on European living since I’m something of a wannabe expat. His previous books are delightful but this one, published posthumously in 2018, is the best of them all. He tells little stories about people and animals so well and is funny and kind. I wish I’d gotten to meet him. R.I.P. Mr. Mayle.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
It’s more than entertainment – though it is highly entertaining – it’s a potent literary nectar part vitamin/magic potion/Monster energy drink for daily life. I had a rough year and from moments of great courage demonstrated by the different (and many) characters, I actually drew real strength for my life. Amazing. This is one big reason why I read: virtue cometh first in our thoughts!
“Other evils are there that may come…yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world but to do what is in us for the succor of these years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” (Return of the King)
The Third Man by Graham Greene
So elegant and wise and witty and just-the-right-amount-of-dark, too. A great mystery that I can’t wait to read again.
“A buffet laden with coffee cups; an urn steaming; a women’s face shiny with exertion; two young men with the happy, intelligent faces of sixth formers; and huddled in the background, like faces in a family album, a multitude of the old-fashioned, the dingy, the earnest and the cheery features of constant readers.” (Hahaha, that still strikes me as hilarious!)
Freak Factor by David J. Rendall
Part self-help but that really sells it short – more motivational but that’s also not quite right – you need to read this book and see what I mean. It’s a gift to anyone who wonders if they couldn’t be just a bit like everybody else. (I think that’s everybody.) I loved it.
“Devotion is a great substitute for discipline. Discipline is scarce but devotion is abundant. Discipline is painful but devotion is enjoyable.”
Bonus quote from opera singer Pavarotti on the same topic: “People think I’m disciplined. It’s not discipline. It is devotion. There’s a great difference.”
Living Life Backward by David Gibson
Written recently by an English pastor on the book of Ecclesiastes, I slowly worked my way through this book. It’s meaty and tough and intelligent.
“Don’t hate yourself – laziness, frenzy, envy and love of money will each in its own way corrode you from the inside out. Take the middle path of loving your neighbor and so properly loving yourself.”
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
I read this play twice: it’s what every romantic comedy in Hollywood wants to be when it grows up – frothy, witty, hilarious, true, insightful and supremely enjoyable. It has Beatrice and Benedict as verbal sparring partners whose comments made me laugh aloud again and again.
Says Benedict of her, “She speaks poniards [daggers], and every words stabs: if her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no living near her; she would infect the north star.”
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Do nothing more until you read this book! Told in the first person by a 1956 era aging English Butler, it’s a gentle, sad, wise and enjoyable book that will keep you thinking it over for long time after you’ve read it. I had watched the very good movie (with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson) twice over the years and enjoyed it but the book is much, much better. I have no quotes from it – I think because I inhaled it over 24 hours (whereas I usually read slower) but this was just too good to put down and I had the opportunity to read like an addict – so I did! I can’t wait to read it again.
Road to Calcutta by Mary Poplin
Mary Poplin is a modern day Professor at Claremont Graduate University in California and has a story that is compelling: in her 50’s she went and spent time serving in one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the poor in India. She tells stories, calls everyone to action in a non-preachy way and her professionalism and excellence in writing in delightful. I so enjoyed reading this. (I wasn’t interested to start it but friends (whose reading lives I trust) kept raving about it. I am so glad I took the time.)
“I think at first we assume grace means having our own plans fulfilled and feeling good, rather than that grace is also the propeller for growth. Sometimes this means not having our plans fulfilled and not feeling good.”
And now in no particular order…my top three books of 2018!
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
I loved this book. It’s a story that has so many interesting, lifelike characters and such a true mix of exciting moments and mundane ones and reading it you can barely breathe at moments, it’s that real. It’s masterful and you will not be sad that you spent hours of your life enjoying it (it’s about 1400 pages). I have so many quotes written into my Quote Book that I don’t even know what to choose for this post. But here’s one that is particularly sweet to me. It’s told from Rostov’s viewpoint (a young man returning home from war) as he looks at his sister, Natasha.
“Sitting in his old schoolroom on the sofa with little cushions on the arms, and looking into Natasha’s wildly eager eyes, Rostov was carried back into that world of home and childhood which had no meaning for anyone else but gave him some of the greatest pleasures of his life.”
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
This is writing advice from an accomplished fiction writer and it is so fun! It is wise and insightful and challenging. Her tone is perky without being saccharine. Again, I copied out so many sections it is hard to choose.
“Truth is a hard apple to catch and a hard apple to throw.”
How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon
It’s such a difficult question to consider but the authors bring to life both WHY it’s important to ask and how to answer it. It’s definitely not a “quick-fix” book but instead a guided tour through parts of our lives (parenting, careers, friendship, etc.) and then questions that help you think through your course; both the course you are on and the course you may want to jump to. I didn’t write out a quote from this book; it’s best read in its entirety. And, I love that it’s a book for all ages. It’s not too late and it’s not early.
Some last thoughts to wrap up my 2018 reading year...
This post was a lot of fun to write as I re-lived each book and decided what books I wanted to share with others the most. I actually didn’t read a book that I didn’t enjoy at some level. I think my hardest book was The Confessions of St. Augustine (that was a slog) but something interesting about that book was that I read the first half in the first half of the year and then had to return it to the library and when I checked it out again (and had sufficiently recovered to attempt to finish it) in November, I was surprised at how much easier it was to read and understand the archaic language. I saw that my understanding and comprehension was improving a little bit and that inspired me to keep reading and keep challenging my mind with stiff books.
This was also the year of the least amount of starts and stops – meaning if I started a book, I was sufficiently challenged or interested to read it completely. I only started one book that I didn’t end up finishing…it was a 2018 memoir from a modern day writer that I picked up for fun at the library and after reading a couple of chapters just didn’t appreciate it. That’s ok! I don’t have to love everything but I think the reason I had such a great year of incredible books was that I was using some good lists for ideas and recommendations.
I have found these resources helpful:
The Close Reads podcast https://www.circeinstitute.org/podcasts/close-reads
The Afterthoughts Blog https://afterthoughtsblog.net/
Adler’s List of 500 Books https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Books_of_the_Western_World
If you have books you’d recommend, tell me about them. I’m always building a “to-be-read” list! Happy reading in 2019!