Initially, I did not have sky-high expectations for my reading life this year. While I still set a fairly high Goodreads challenge goal to finish 50 titles, I had no intention–not in the beginning, anyway–of trying to surpass last year’s impressive (for me, anyway) total of 65 books read. After all, I knew that pregnancy and then adjusting to life with a newborn and toddler might throw a serious wrench in my reading life, so I didn’t want to disappoint myself by setting my expectations too high.
Well, after our son was born in June and I was on track to finish 50 titles by August, I figured it was safe to raise the bar a bit, so I set my sights on beating last year’s total by at least one book, which would mean reading at least 66 titles. And you know what?
I DID IT!
Even though my reading pace slowed down DRASTICALLY the last few months of the year, I still managed to surpass last year’s record of 65 books by reading 68 titles this year.
For a fun little breakdown (because I’m a bit of an analysis nerd), here are a few quick stats:
Number of Fiction Books Read: 33
Number of Nonfiction Books Read: 35 (I don’t usually try too hard to have a 50/50 split of fiction and nonfiction, but in recent years, that’s been pretty typical!)
Number of Re-Reads: 4
Number of Fiction Books That Received a 5-Star Rating: 6
Number of Nonfiction Books That Received a 5-Star Rating: 10
Year-end “best of” book round-ups are funny things–sometimes, when I’m coming off the high of finishing a new book, it’s sometimes easy to be too generous or too critical (depending on how much I liked the ending of something) with my rating of the text, but when I’m coming up at the end of a reading year and look back on what I’ve read to pick out the best of the best, it’s almost ALWAYS clear which books had more staying power (and there are always a few surprises in there!). Not all of the books below received the coveted 5-star rating, but all of these books have proved that they have true staying power, either because of unforgettable characters, a delightfully surprising plot line, or even life-changing paradigm shifts. While I knew the titles below were GOOD when I finished them, I had no idea of which ones would remain fresh and vibrant and fascinating to me even now, all these months later.
So for today, we throw the ratings aside (although I will say that none of these received less than a 4-star rating), and I reveal the books that have floated to the top, no matter how many books I finished after them.
This book came highly recommended by some favorite readers with great taste, and honestly, it would probably have to make my top five favorite fiction reads of all time (which is saying something). This slower-moving novel with a very quiet plot won’t be for everyone, but I found it to be the most poignant account of adult friendships that I’ve ever read. (It also helped that I was underlining passages from this left and right, as the insights were so profound and the writing so stunning.) I’m tempted to reread this one every year, and that basically has NEVER happened with any fictional book other than Harry Potter. This one is just goooooood.
I picked this as the October selection for my book club without having read it myself first, and boy was I relieved when it ended up being one of my favorite reads all year (and that most everyone else seemed to like it a lot, too)! I don’t do truly scary books, but this slightly creepy, mysterious book about a young woman who marries a recently widowed older man (and who discovers that everyone in his household is seemingly still obsessed with his first wife, Rebecca) was a delight to disappear into, and it had me guessing all the way up until the very end. If you’re expecting a true thriller, this isn’t quite it, but it has *just* enough creepiness in it to give you the fun kind of spooky goosebumps.
I started this right after having given birth, which definitely was better than starting it right BEFORE, as the pivotal event that sets off all the other events in the book happens to be a birth gone terribly, terribly wrong (complete with lots and LOTS of highly specific medical details). While I knocked this one down to 4 stars because I wasn’t super motivated to ever read it again (due to the vast amount of medical detail in it, which just got intense and a bit cumbersome after awhile), I was surprised to see how much this one really STAYED with me. Now, looking back, I can see that this had a lot more staying power than even some of my five-star rated books, and I’ve even found myself wanting to reread the ending, just to “feel all the feels” again, as the saying goes. This book is long, but it didn’t read like it was long, if that makes sense.
Another four-star read that has stayed with me a long time. This genre-defying novel is about a childless older couple who decide to move to the Alaskan frontier to try and find as much contentment as they can despite their shattered dreams. On one spontaneous night, they build a snow child…and the next morning, a real child appears. This novel *almost* borders on the magical/fairy tale side, but it manages to maintain *just* enough reality to still make you believe in it all. This novel has gorgeous writing and a memorable story, and I still remember much of it several months later, which is always a good sign.
These books all received five stars from me (so you KNOW they’re good), but for whatever reason, they didn’t pop into my mind as much when I thought of the best titles I’d read this year (though I would gladly read any one of them again, so like I said, they ARE fantastic reads!).
- The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
- The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I read a lot of fabulous nonfiction this year, and as one of the things that helps make a book 5-star worthy is to be life-changing, there were a lot of titles I could have put on here. However, as I noted above, it’s been interesting to look back and see which books have made a more lasting impact (not all of which were five star reads, and not all of the five-star reads made this list, which is interesting).
Basically, the way I chose my “Best Of” list for 2018 was to think of the titles that I really enjoyed not only WHILE reading, but also those that I’ve thought about for a long time afterward. And these ones are it!
Here’s the perfect example of a 4-star read that ended up staying in my head loooong after I finished it (back in February). This book follows the author through a dozen homes she’s had in her married life, each of which she learned to love and beautify while she lived there. It’s hard to nail down what genre this book is, exactly, but for me, I felt like it was a permission slip for me to feel free to make mistakes while I was decorating our first home and to just have fun with the process of trying to beautify our living space. (I also loved the fact that this included sooooo many pictures!)
Occasionally, a book will come along that forever shifts my perspective in a positive, life-changing way, and this book was just such a one for me. In fact, I wrote a whole post that was inspired by it. And one great thing about this read? At its short length (just under 150 pages), you could easily read it in under a week.
This was one of those rare reads that I wanted to start over at page one the second I’d finished it (and that almost never happens for me). In fact, I loved this book so much that I asked Matt to buy it for me for Christmas (and if you’ve read my post on my fairly strict new book-buying rules, you’ll know that fact alone says worlds about this book!). This book is a compilation of 12 essays on different “powers” or “attributes” of motherhood (like patience, fun, and order), each of which is written by a different writer. Not all of the essays were equally powerful for me, but as a whole, this book has been like balm to my mother heart this year. I just NEEDED this one.
This is one that I shortly wish to own, especially as I think the appendix of book lists at the back alone makes it worth the price. Although I’ve long been converted to the camp of the importance of reading aloud to your children, this book gave lots of practical suggestions and book recommendations for every age, and it’s one I’ve seriously thought about gifting at every future baby shower I attend (along with some of our favorite board books, of course).
This one took me awhile to get through, but I have constantly found myself thinking back to what I learned from it. Although many of the ideas weren’t brand new to me, this book was a potent reminder of the power that lies in pursuing deep, focused, undistracted work on a regular basis.
- I’m a bit surprised by how much of an impact this made on me, as it’s one I perhaps never would have picked up had I known what it was about (it’s a true account of a young mother who gets a stage IV cancer diagnosis). The book is equal parts brutally honest and laugh out loud funny, and it definitely made an impact on how I’ll speak to/react to people in my life who are struggling with life-threatening illnesses.
- Perhaps I’m putting this on here because it’s a 5-star read I just finished (so it hasn’t had a chance to prove itself against the test of time), but I already know that this book has made a big impact on how I will parent from now on. Before, while I always knew that playing outdoors was a great thing (and something I tried to encourage in general), I didn’t quite realize the positive impact it could have until I read this. Ever since I finished, I have made a much greater effort to make sure my toddler gets ample play time outside as much as possible (no matter the weather).