2018 Reading Recap

Reading Recap.png

I’ve mentioned this in several of my posts from this year, but 2018 has been a year of branching out reading-wise. Not one of the fourteen books I read this year has been a classic (at least, not ones from before the 19th century)! That’s a huge deviation from my usual choices. But 2018 has also been a year of discovering some great stories that I never would have found if I hadn’t decided to branch out. So, I thought it would be fun to do a recap of all my 2018 books as my last blog post of the year, complete with my Goodreads ratings and a small description of my thoughts. You might even find a book you want to read in 2019!

 

 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Rating: ★★★★

This book is absolutely gorgeous and moving. Doerr’s prose is some of the best I’ve found from a modern author, the short chapters work very well with the shift if point-of-view between the two protagonists, and there are so many thematic meanings woven into the character arcs as they move toward overlapping at the climax of the novel. The reason it’s not 5 stars is because parts of the ending fell flat to me or were unnecessary content-wise. I highly recommend this one, though. It was a great way to start 2018.

 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Rating: ★★★★

This was the first memoir I think I’ve ever picked up on my own accord, and I’m quite glad it was. Westover tells her story with honesty and frankness but retains a level of kindness that makes you root for her and hope for her success. Seeing a close-up account of a survivalist homestead nestled away in the mountains made me grateful I didn’t grow up similarly, while also provoking in-depth thought about types of abuse, the purpose of education, and how to manage family relationships when they’re unhealthy. For those who can deal with those subjects, I recommend this book.

 

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Rating: ★★★★

On the heels of finishing Educated, I picked this memoir and was equally impressed by the quality of storytelling—though between the two, The Glass Castle was far harder to read. Jeanette’s journey from viewing her tumultuous childhood as normal to slowly realizing the dysfunction of her family and lifestyle was gripping, sometimes horrifying, and also raised important questions about familial relationships and mental health. I recommend this one as well, but only for those who are ready for what Walls has to say.

 

The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers

Rating: ★★★★

My third nonfiction book of the year took a different tone. After watching the movie based upon Phiona Mutesi’s story, I wanted to read the book and learn more about her incredible journey to becoming an international chess champion. The story did not disappoint, although the writing style wasn’t as compelling or fluid as other books, which deterred me from enjoying the content as much as the other memoirs I had just finished. I still gave if four stars, though—Phiona’s story is just that compelling.

 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Rating: ★★★★★

I picked up my second fictional read of the year because I kept seeing the pretty cover at my local library and decided to give it a try. I had no idea I would enjoy a modern story so much—but oh how I enjoyed it! The dazzling world of the Count’s life on house-arrest in the Metropol Hotel felt as if I was watching a wonderful historical drama; the prose was lovely, as if speaking to an old friend, and I particularly enjoyed the large span of time the plot covered. I enjoyed it so much that I choose it for my first book review on this blog. Although imperfect, it was an easy five stars for me.

 

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

Rating: ★★★

I read a wonderful middle-grade fiction book in 2017, so I wanted to give another middle-grade story a chance. With such a delightful cover, how could I refuse? I did end up enjoying The Peculiar Incident. But the storyline was predictable as an adult reader: a girl moves to a new town, isn’t happy about it and misses her old home, but makes new friends as they work to solve a mystery. For the target audience, I’m sure this would read a lot more suspenseful, spooky, and enjoyable than my three stars.

 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Rating: ★★★★

I admit that I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up if a friend hadn’t suggested it to me, but, I’m glad I did. This story creeped me out and impressed me far more than I expected. Merricat’s psychological issues are apparent from the first chapter and her past sins are easily guessed, but Jackson still managed to keep readers guessing by writing the story from Merricat’s perspective, giving life to the strange world inside her head. Fans of Gothic tales would surely enjoy this one like I did.

 

The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics by John Pollack

Rating: ★★★

I had such hope for this book! What could be more fun than to learn the history of puns (well, lots of things, but I had an interest in the subject)? And there was a lot about it that I enjoyed—most notably how the author wove puns into nearly every section and sometimes even every paragraph. Sadly, the overall style of the book was dry, and it took my months to trudge through it. I can only give it three stars, but if you like puns as much as I do, it may be worth it to give the book a try.

 

A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo

Rating: ★★★★

I should call 2018 the year of memoirs—A Rumor of War was my third one this year, and I was surprised by how good this one was and how quickly I finished reading it. Caputo speaks of his time in Vietnam—both the good and bad—with frankness but finesse. For me, it opened my eyes to all the struggles the soldiers on all sides faced with the nature of the Vietnam War, and I came away with a lot more knowledge and compassion than before I read it. It’s high on content (obviously), but worth reading.

 

The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 by Edmund S. Morgan

Rating: ★★★★

This delightful little book (it really is a short one) gives a quick overview of the history leading up to, during, and right after the Revolutionary War in America. I had studied the time period before, but I learned a lot—the logical connections between events became more apparent, all while Morgan added in little bits of humor and wordplay that made the reading process that much more enjoyable. It’s not detailed by any means but great for a comprehensive understanding of early U.S. history.

 

America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975 by George C. Herring

Rating: ★★

This book was the worst one I read all year. The content wasn’t bad at all. America’s Longest War gives a detailed yet comprehensive overview not just of the Vietnam War but of the social, political, and domestic situations in all involved countries that influenced decisions throughout the time period. But Herring’s writing style was horrible to follow—one minute, a paragraph would be discussing the specifics of a new war policy, then the last sentence of the paragraph would give an overview of the policy maker’s fate years later, then the new paragraph would go back to discussing the policy. Word choices were odd and often awkward, though I got used to them the more I read, and the author inserted his opinion too much for my liking. It’s a shame that the writing was so hard to follow, because I could have learned a lot more from reading this book.

 

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

Rating: ★★★★★

The Romanov Sisters was the most compelling and delightful nonfiction book that I read this year. Although about real historical facts, Rappaport wrote in such a way that the quotes of primary sources melded together with her summaries and interpretations, creating a narrative that sounded nearly like fiction and created suspense despite the ending being well-known. By the end, I felt as if I knew the Romanov family—I felt for their sufferings, hoped for their well-being, and felt grief for their deaths. I’m planning on reading more about the family in 2019, since one book cannot give you a proper perspective on them, but nevertheless, this was a delightful introduction, full of solid primary sources like letters, journals, and interviews, and full of solid writing.

 

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

Rating: ★★★★

I’m a huge fan of Lewis’s writings, and although this one didn’t strike me quite as much as some of his other books, I’m still glad I read it (not simply because it helped me with research for my WIP!). The insurmountable question of God’s love, justice, and omnipotence in relation to human and earthly suffering is tackled in several thematic chapters. Although I personally didn’t agree with some of his assumptions and interpretations of Christian doctrine, those disagreements didn’t cloud the many poignant points he makes about the nature, origin, and purpose of pain. It gave me a lot of food for thought, which is why I give it 4 stars.

 

Letters to the Church by Francis Chan

Rating: ★★★★★

I ended my reading year with the genre of book that I’ve never been compelled to pick up: modern Christian nonfiction. Surprise surprise—that’s my theme this year, I think—I not only enjoyed this book but found Chan’s observations about the American church to be thoughtful, compelling, and convicting. I appreciate his humility in addressing such a weighty subject, his simple approach and lack of religious jargon, and his clear passion for the subject and his faith. It deserves a re-read to fully process it, which I plan to do soon, but for now I’d give it five stars.

 

 

Although this list is plenty long enough, I didn’t meet all my reading goals for 2018. I wanted to read 15 books, originally—I managed to squeeze in 14 at the last minute. I planned to tackle some long-awaited classics, but ended up not reading a single one of them. But, I think I accomplished a lot more than I anticipated back in January. I grew my interests, found new books that I loved, and fed other parts of my mental and spiritual life that were sorely lacking in 2017. I always liked nonfiction, but I learned I liked it a lot more than I previously thought. I have a new interest in Russian history and Russian literature. I finally understand what caused the Vietnam War. I’ve learned that modern fiction can be compelling and worthwhile to read. I’m happy with my 2018 reading list.

For 2019, though, I think it’s time to return to my classics, at least partially. I’m current reading The Brothers Karamazov, and after I finish that (which will take a while), I want to finally read some of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, read more Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, and maybe even finish out Jane Austen’s collection by finishing Emma and Mansfield Park. There are also lots of the Bronte sister’s lesser-known works that I want to finish. On top of that, I have a wealth of nonfiction I’d like to read: more Russian history, more Church history, more linguistics history, more biographies, more memoirs. Whether I’ll have the time to reach those goals is up in the air, but, even if I only get to another 14 books next year, that’ll still be great.

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