Hello, and welcome to the only blog post I write anymore, the annual list of books I read.
My Goodreads goal was 25, which seemed realistic last January, and forty-three books later seems low. 2018 was a Robert Caro off-year, so no LBJ tome, which always helps the total count.
This year, I added Reading Glasses to my weekly podcast diet. I’d heard their ads, and as with every new podcast recommendation, my reaction was, “I already don’t listen to all the ones I subscribe to, I don’t have time for a new one.” Once I started listening this summer, I regretted waiting so long. The hosts are hilarious (one of them read 157 books in 2018!), their recommendations have exploded my Goodreads To Be Read (TBR) list, and it’s making me a wider reader. They have a 2019 Reading Glasses Reader Challenge, and it’s only ten reading categories and activities, which feels achievable while also doing a part-time graduate degree.
Yes, that is still happening. Happily, one of the classes I took this year was a book-a-week class. That kind of syllabus is stressful but does wonders for book consumption. The assigned books took me on journeys to Japanese forests, Zimbabwean wildlife ranches, and the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. This class and the reading made me more excited about anthropology than any of the others I have taken over the last few years, probably because the theory included in most of these books felt accessible.
One of my reading goals for next year is to quit reading books I’m not feeling (not including required class reading). Logically, I get that everyone has different tastes, life is too short to spend time reading uninteresting books, and that just because I’ve started something, I don’t have to finish it. I find those ideas difficult to put into practice, but I forced myself to quit one book this summer. More of that in 2019!
Anyway, here is the list, with stars for recommendations and some notes about which books made me cry, among other things. Rather than a photo of a stack of books, I’m including photos taken around the time I was reading certain books.
1. Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story, Peter Bagge
2. Rice and Beans: A Unique Dish in a Hundred Places, ed. by Richard Will and Livia Barbosa
3. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi**
4. Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, Robert Wright
5. Baby’s First Picture: Ultrasound and the Politics of Fetal Subjects, Lisa M. Mitchell
6. Stay with Me, Ayobami Adebayo**
7. After a While, You Just Get Used to It, Gwendolyn Knapp
8. À la recherche du temps perdu: à l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, Marcel Proust/Stanislas Brézet
9. Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders** - weird, sad, and lovely. It briefly made me worry about heaven and hell.
10. Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Mary Norris
11. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas** — While changing from work clothes to bike clothes in a public bathroom at my place of employment, I grabbed this book from my bike bag to finish a chapter. At least 20 minutes later, I remembered I was half-dressed, reading in a bathroom stall at my place of employment, when I could have been at home.
12. À la recherche du temps perdu: à l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, vol 2, Marcel Proust/Stanislas Brézet
13. How to Say Anything to Anyone, Shari Harley
14. God Save Texas, Lawrence Wright** - This is a good book for homesick Texans. Wright includes a post-Harvey letter from New Orleans to Texas that ran in the Houston Chronicle. I read this letter in a doctor's waiting room and shed a couple of tears. Then I bought it for my dad.
15. Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng**
16. Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins - yes, I reread all three of these books again.
17. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
18. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
19. Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward**
20. The Museum of Us, Tara Wilson Redd** - a former library colleague wrote and published this book! It takes place in Webster Groves, Missouri, where I went to college, and features St. Louis sites like the City Museum.
21. Mount Pleasant (Images of America: D.C.), Mara Cherkasky
22. Street Style: An Ethnography of Fashion Blogging, Brent Luvaas
23. Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn - I impulse-bought this at the airport on our way to Switzerland. I do not feel like I need to watch the HBO series, because the world is dark and terrible enough without me giving myself additional nightmares. That said, if you like dark and terrible things, this one’s for you.
24. Buttermilk Graffiti, Edward Lee**
25. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
26. Make Your Home Among Strangers, Jennine Capó Crucet** - Before we went on vacation, I did a frantic search for available e-books from the library and downloaded this. Crucet does a beautiful job depicting the first-generation student experience.
27. La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust vol. 1, Philip Pullman** - I read the His Dark Materials trilogy three years ago and was excited to return to this world.
28. Boy Kings of Texas: A Memoir, Domingo Martinez
29. Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
30. Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress American, Setha Low
31. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts, Joshua Hammer**
32. Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan** - I have a library hold on the next book.
33. Imposing Wilderness: Struggles over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa, Roderick P. Neumann
34. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing** - Recommended if you want to think about the possibility of life in capitalist ruins! Not at all a light read, but man, I am still thinking about it months later.
35. The Nature of Whiteness: Race, Animals, and Nation in Zimbabwe, Yuka Suzuki** This is another one that stayed with me, maybe because I used it in my final research paper.
36. Gold Fame Citrus, Claire Vaye Watkins
37. Nature in Translation, Shiho Satsuka
38. The Cabin at the End of the World, Paul Tremblay - This book falls into the category of “I recommend it if you like dark and terrible things.” Reading Glasses recommended it and interviewed the author, and I wanted something scary to get into the Halloween mood. This was a tense and graphically violent read unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
39. Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier, Tania Li
40. Conservation is our Government Now, Paige West
41. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson - this is the spooky book I should have read to get into the Halloween spirit.
42. A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mizra*************** - Read this book. This one drove me to social media more than anything else I read this year. I received it randomly; a friend handed it to me after she finished it at Logan airport. “Did you grow up with much religion?” The dust jacket wasn’t on it, so I didn’t really know what it was about. Y’all. I cried at least four times reading this book and then two more times after I finished it, thinking about it. It is about siblings and parents and husbands and wives and first love and death and religion, and it struck some very deep chords.
43. Insectopedia, Hugh Raffles
What books did you enjoy this year? Did anything make you cry? Send your recommendations my way, and happy 2019 reading!