Borders, Bodies, & Births: 2018 Reading Recap

I read more than I expected to this year! My Goodreads reading challenge goal was 35 books and I didn’t fully anticipate I’d make it, but I actually read 39 books this year. Turns out, having an infant is more conducive to reading than I imagined it would be, with a few new tricks I’ve learned. Here are some stats, standouts, and observations:

Of the 39 books I started and finished this year, 14 were audiobooks (yes it counts as reading) and 25 were print or ebooks. That’s a significant shift; I read more in print this year than last year. I think one of the reasons is that I wasn’t commuting to work (where I listened to a lot of audiobooks in the past) for the first 8 months of the year. But another, and a good lesson I learned, is that I read more ebooks this year than I ever have before. Always having a book available on my phone or iPad meant I could snag a few minutes of reading more frequently, in smaller bits of time, which was definitely great while home with a baby.

Three of the books I read this year were re-reads, which I don’t normally count, but two were Harry Potter books and those suckers are thick and take a significant enough time. (The third was Eula Biss’ magnificent On Immunity which I re-read and reverse-outlined for the purpose of teaching it.)

The genre split: 21 fiction and 18 nonfiction. Pretty close, and a slight preference for fiction isn’t surprising. In general, I found myself much more drawn to plot-driven work this year. My brain just generally wasn’t settled enough for more meditative, reflective, or research-heavy nonfiction. In fact, I started and did not finish more books this year than is common for me (four, I think). Most of them were really good books, but I just didn’t have the brain power / concentration to really appreciate them right now. At least two (Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Sarah Menkedick’s Homing Instincts) are ones I definitely plan on returning to when I can.

I still have work to do in terms of diversifying my reading, but I’m making some progress. Out of 39 books, 15 were from non-white authors (in that category I include black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native writers). 29 were by women writers, and 10 by men. Only two of the books I read this year were by queer authors writing from queer perspectives (I stipulate this because it’s possible some of the other authors identify as LGBTQ but it’s not clear from their work).

So that’s one arena in which I need to do better: I need more queer and trans voices on my reading lists. A few of the books on my to-be-read list fall into this category, but I’d love suggestions. And I’d still like to tip the scales to at least balance white and non-white authors (though frankly the scale could tip the other direction and I’d be fine with it).

Here’s my Goodreads “read” list — everything I read with at least ratings and sometimes reviews — but below are some standouts from the year:

Fiction favorites: 

  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (these are the two best books I read this year, and among my favorite novels of the last five years and you should read them both immediately)
  • Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
  • The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
  • Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
  • House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Just noticed when making this list that all my favorite novels this year were about families in some shape or form. Whodathunk?

Nonfiction favorites:

  • Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli
  • Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush
  • The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich
  • The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

A blend of narratives and memoirs, books that reminded me of the political and social good that nonfiction can inspire.

Two excellent books about pregnancy / parenting that anyone thinking about / curious about / experiencing those phases should read: Angela Garbes’ Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy, and Nicholas Day’s Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle: A Journey Through Infancy. Setting aside the fact that you should never have two colons in a title (?!) that one is much better than it sounds — it’s really a book about how societies and cultures make observations / assumptions about infant development.

Two books that were super-entertaining and especially worked as audiobooks: Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Search for the Golden State Killer (which also has some really interesting structural pastiche in the latter part of the book, given the author’s sudden and untimely death). And Jennifer Wright’s Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them (which is genuinely funny).

One book that I’m pretty mad about even though it’s well-written: Francisco Cantu’s The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border. See my Goodreads review for more.

Also, seriously: I read a LOT — mostly — about borders, bodies, families. Births and deaths. I mean, maybe all books are about those things? But I definitely had some standout themes with my favorites this year.

And I’m learning that post-apocalyptic writing is doing some of the most interesting stuff with gender and character (see above: Erdrich, Hegland, Elison) and I’m definitely interested in recommendations for more of that.

Hopefully in the next week or so I’ll have the time to do a post of the books I’m most excited to read in the next year, but for now, I hope I’ve added a few titles to your list! Happy page-turning!


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