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Books I Read in 2018

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

It took about three months to read  Why Buddhism is True,  and we went to Harper’s Ferry during one of those months

It took about three months to read Why Buddhism is True, and we went to Harper’s Ferry during one of those months

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**

Picked lots of berries in early July between books 21 & 22.

Picked lots of berries in early July between books 21 & 22.

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**

While reading about Edward Lee’s food adventures, I saw my first glacier.

While reading about Edward Lee’s food adventures, I saw my first glacier.

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

In early August, I finished  Kitchen Confidential  and caught a laughable amount of blue crab in Norfolk.

In early August, I finished Kitchen Confidential and caught a laughable amount of blue crab in Norfolk.

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!

Books I Read in 2016

Happy 2017! 

2016 was generally a rough year, and the 27 books I read this year are unimpressive compared to last year’s 48. I only reached 27 thanks to four comic books. Then again, I took two graduate classes and had a job the whole year, versus 2015’s five months of fellowship and four months of employment. So in between pleasure reading, there were hours of chapters on archival document management and capitalism. I’ve applied to a graduate program, and if that goes well, there will be many more hours of reading capitalism in 2017.

Looking back at last year’s post, I did accomplish my goals of reading The Education of Henry Adams and SulaThere was a stark lack of LBJ in 2016, so my only reading goal for next year is to finish book three in the Years of Lyndon Johnson series, Master of the Senate. I’ve also got both Persepolis books on my night stand and an ever-growing list of books to read on Goodreads.

What were some of your favorite books this year? What’s on your list for 2017? 

Here are the 27 books I read in 2016, with stars for the ones I really loved and recommend: 

  1. White Teeth, Zadie Smith**
  2. The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams - this one is interesting for the history. I started reading it in 2015 for Jamaica Kincaid's Autobiography and Memoir class. She pointed out that Adams writes his life story without once mentioning his wife, Marian "Clover" Hooper Adams, who committed suicide by drinking photo chemicals. He makes one allusion to her death when he mentions going to the Washington cemetery "known as Rock Creek, to see the bronze figure which St. Gaudens had made for him in his absence." One reference in 505 pages. 
  3. The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
  4. Kehinde Wiley: New Republic, various authors
  5. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Sarah Vowell ** - I recommend this so much I wrote a blog post about it. It pairs especially well with lots of Hamilton soundtrack. 
  6. On My Own, Diane Rehm** - definitely recommended for Diane Rehm fans. Maybe not recommended if you’ve lost someone recently and might cry on the bus on your way to work as you read it. Or perhaps it’s just what you  need? 
  7. Growing Up Brown: Memoirs of a Filipino American, Peter Jamero
  8. Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage, Michael R. Veach
  9. Sula, Toni Morrison**
  10. H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald** - there were times I had to stop reading this because it was so heartbreakingly sad.
  11. Au revoir, les enfants, Louis Malle - read to get ready for France! 
  12. My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Ruth Reichl 
  13. Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay**
  14. The Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee
  15. The Abundance, Annie Dillard** - this, like H is for Hawk, made me think, “I will never write this well.” Beautiful. 
  16. Driving Hungry, Layne Mosler
  17. East Along the Equator, Helen Winternitz
  18. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
  19. Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
  20. Black Panther, Ta-Nehesi Coates
  21. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie** - I loved this book. It might be my favorite of the ones I read last year. 
  22. The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, Andrea Wulf**  
  23. The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72, Molly Peacock**
  24. Lumberjanes vol 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen
  25. Lumberjanes vol 2: Friendship to the Max, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen
  26. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: 16 Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, ed Meghan Daum
  27. French Milk, Lucy Knisley

Books I Read in 2015

Happy New Year! 

At 48 books, 2015 was a good reading year. Then again, seven of those were Harry Potter books, three were the His Dark Materials series, and one was a comic book. Thanks to the Nieman Fellowship in the first half of the year, I had time to read and take a class on Autobiography and Memoir, which meant more reading, roughly a book a week (still haven’t finished The Education of Henry Adams, though. There’s always next year).  

Here’s the list with stars for recommendations.  

1. The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois** 
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
4. Untamed: The Wildest Woman in America & the Fight for Cumberland Island, Will Harlan** 
5. Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father, Alysia Abbott** - Abbott was a Nieman affiliate (the people the Fellows bring with them) and spoke to us at the beginning of the fellowship. Fairyland is her story of growing up in 70s and 80s San Francisco with a gay father. It is a beautiful book.  
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
7. Yes Please, Amy Poehler
8. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire
9. The Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson
10. Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass
11. Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, Clarence King** - early mountaineers were madmen. Also, Clarence King led a double life, which you wouldn't know from reading this book, because he wrote it before the double life began. He married Ada Copeland, an African American woman, who knew him as a James Todd. He told her he was a Pullman porter (and of African descent). He was actually white, a geologist, and the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s interesting reading this book with this knowledge and looking for clues about his future.  
12. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman** - this was my first Neil Gaiman book, and it won’t be my last.  
13. Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, Elizabeth Keckley** - Fascinating. Read this.  
14. Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
15. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, Mary Seacole
16. Tiger, Tiger, Margaux Fragoso
17. Aké, Wole Soyinka
18. How I Became Hettie Jones, Hettie Jones
19. Family, Ian Frazier
20. The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
21. Against Football - One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto, Steve Almond**  
22. Swiss Life: 30 Things I Wish I'd Known, Chantal Panozzo
23. The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
24. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
26. Rock Creek Park, Gail Spilsbury
27. Tenth of December, George Saunders
28. Forest Hills (Images of America), Margery L. Elfin
29. Micrographica, Renee French  
30. On the Map, Simon Garfield
31. The Might Have Been, Joe Schuster
32. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward FitzGerald
33. A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal As A Path to Place, Hannah Hinchman
34. Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past, William Zinsser
35. Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury** - I wrote a separate post about how great this book is and why you should read it. 
36. Loitering, Charles D’Ambrosia
37. Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever** - This was suggested reading at the end of a negotiation workshop. While it isn’t a page-turner, I recognized lots of truth in it and have been recommending it to all my lady friends, co-workers, and my boss.  
38. Cosmicomics, Italo Calvino
39. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehesi Coates**  
40. Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
41. Une Si Longue Lettre, Mariama Ba
42. At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien  - This was certainly the strangest book I read all year.  
43. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent, Robert Caro** - I gave the first book in this series to both my brother and my dad this year. I wish I could have a Caro biography or a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical about every part of history. Caro's description of former Texas governor Coke Stevenson’s work ethic and reading so inspired me that I woke up early to read for at least five of the ten days it took me to finish this book.  
44. The Taste of Country Cooking, Edna Lewis 45.    Northern Lights, Philip Pullman** - I plowed through all three of these books in less than a week and loved them, but wow, the third book is way too long.  
46. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
47. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
48. Beautiful Swimmers, William Warner - If you are at all interested in the blue crab, this book is required reading. I am very interested in the blue crab and hope to inspect some closely this summer.  

What was the best book you read in 2015? What’s on your list for this year? I’d like to get through at least the next two LBJ books and have been instructed to read Toni Morrison’s Sula. I keep an ever-growing and generally ignored To-Read list on Goodreads. What do you recommend?  

Wishing you all a year full of excellent reading.