Thirteen of the best books read in 2018, including historical fiction, lighthearted fiction, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction nonfiction, Christian living, and more.
It's that time of the year again when I get to share the best books that I read the previous year. These really are one of my favorite articles to write - now that I'm a reader again, sharing about books is one of my favorite things! (If you wonder what I'm talking about, this article on my 2015 goals explains it.)
So, want to know something I'm still amazed about? I actually read 86 books in 2018, which is the most I've ever read! I know - can you believe it? I've come a long way from zero!
Book Reading Tips
If you wonder how I find the time to read all these, here are the tips that have helped me become the reader I've always wanted to be:
- Always have a book ready to read. I have books waiting on my bedside, in my Kindle, on my library app, and in my Audible account. There's never an excuse not to read.
- Embrace audio books. More than half the books I finished were audio books, which I love listening to when I'm walking, gardening, cooking, and doing DIY projects. This is the #1 thing that has allowed me to read more. (Oh, and audiobooks are not "cheating" - our minds process them about the same either way. Some lend themselves better to audio - fiction - and some don't - heavy nonfiction you want to mull over and re-read passages.) Oh, and Brian and I have started to listen to books in the car while making our 20-minute trips to town as well as longer trips - great use of time!
- Have a goal. Since making that first goal back in 2015 to read one book a month I have read more because I've thought about it - I want to reach or beat my goal. So if the choice is a mindless TV program or reading? I pick reading every time.
- Keep track of the books you've read. I use the Notes app on my phone, but adding them to the Lists section of my Flexible Planner is my next step. However you keep track, it's wonderful to see what you've accomplished - as well as remember what you've read, ha!
I should probably mention the types of books you'll find on this best books read in 2018 list (as well as my other Best Books Lists). My favorite genre is probably historical - both fiction and nonfiction. I'm just fascinated with history and think we could learn a lot from it if we just remembered it. Then I like sweet fiction stories with happy endings, as well as what I call "light" sci-fi - the science fiction that makes you think and has a good story, but doesn't scare you.
What you won't find? Anything dark or scary - really, if it's at all listed as a "thriller" I stay far away. I'm just SO not into reading about people getting kidnapped, murdered, raped, etc. And while I've had a few current popular books on my best lists in the past, none of the ones I read this year made the list. I'm usually disappointed in the story, the language, or the relentless twists and turns books all seem to think they need to have now. (Curious? The Jane Austin Project was one, and Big Little Lies was another.) I did read The Selection series, which I enjoyed (really clean and fun, probably because it's YA) - but it's pure fluff and would hardly make a best-of list!
Okay, hopefully I've convinced you that you can become more of a reader if you're not already. Let's get to the best of the 86 books I read last year. I chose 13 - a baker's dozen - based on if they still resonated with me and if I still think about them in one way or another.
Note: this best books read in 2018 list is simply listed in order of when I read them - not from least-to-most or whatever. I couldn't really choose them in that way - these are all just really good books and if you like the subject, I think you will like them, too!
13 Best Books Read in 2018
Hannah Coulter, Wendell Barry. I had read about Wendell Barry's Port William books and decided to start with Hannah Coulter, which I just loved, so I decided to read through them all. While I enjoyed the other books (except for Nathan Coulter - I really didn't care for that one - you can read why here), Hannah remains the best for me. Hannah simply tells the story of her life (simple, quiet, and well-lived) looking back as an old woman, and you see Port William and it’s inhabitants through her eyes as well.
I enjoyed the Port William books for the simple, easy way the author writes of the people in this fictional town. It evokes so many wonderful feelings - joy, nostalgia, heartache, and the pleasures of family and friends.
The Great Train Robbery, Michael Crichton. This is one of those stranger-than-fiction true stories that tells the story of an incredible event: the first robbery of a moving train 1850’s London. The amount of planning (I think they refer to this as a "long con") involved took years and was so detailed - down to romancing the daughter of a man who worked for the railroad - that I just couldn't believe it. I just love stories that seem like fiction but are true – makes it that much more amazing.
Red Rising, Pierce Brown (and the next two in the original trilogy, though this one is the best I think). Brian and I listened to this book together and loved it! It was an exciting and thrilling Sci-Fi story and still had an incredible amount of emotion and depth. While the protagonist, Darrow, is just 16 in the book, it is not listed as a YA (young adult) title – he’s married and those in his caste don’t live long, so it seemed like it used to be when you did hard labor all day long – life was just shorter.
The book is set in the future on an inhabited Mars. The society is split in to color castes and the reds are at the bottom, basically slave labor. They are told they are preparing for the future of a planet where everyone can live. Then Darrow finds they are being lied to and what happens after that makes for a great story. It’s a bit Hunger Games and a bit of the Iliad, if that makes any sense.
The Saturday Evening Girls Club, Jane Healy. Oh this was such a sweet surprise of a book! It’s the story of a group of four friends who are daughters of immigrants in early twentieth century Boston. They meet at a girls club and have stayed friends until we meet them as young women. It’s just their story which is quiet and thoughtful, while being interesting and life-affirming. It was fun to learn after reading that it’s based on a true girls club and some of the characters were actual people. The only downside was I felt the end kind of left us hanging about the girl's future and I read that the author doesn’t plan a sequel.
The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester. This is another book Brian and I listened to together. We just both found it SO interesting – this is a little-known snippet of history and the tale of making of the first comprehensive English dictionary. Which doesn't really sound interesting at all, but the author does such a great job of pulling out details that bring the story to life. It also made us want to find other Simon Winchester books to read – he really does a great job of finding seemingly insignificant historical details that end up being crucial to the story - and our history.
My Dear Hamilton, Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie. I was so excited to see this available in my library Hoopla App (which is the BEST library app, hands-down – check if your library is a part of it, it’s WAY better than Overdrive-Libby - there is NO waiting for books!) since I loved the authors previous book. And because…Hamilton. It did not disappoint!
This is a novelization of the events we know of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton’s life and it’s a pretty amazing life. Like the last book, I appreciated the authors note at the end discussing how they came up with the story, what they kept and changed from history, what they inferred, and so on. I seriously cried at points in this book as she had to deal with death and heartache on huge levels. One day I’ll probably read it again, it was that good.
The Four Loves, CS Lewis. I made a goal to listen to all of C.S. Lewis's books that were available in my library app in the mornings and while they're all good with gems in each, this was my favorite. Lewis examines four varieties of human love: affection, the most basic form; friendship, the rarest and perhaps most insightful; Eros, passionate love; charity, the greatest and least selfish. I especially liked learning about friendship and it's importance in our lives: "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival." Which is why you'll find a friendship goal in my goals for 2019!
Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, George Sayer. After listening to all of C.S. Lewis's works, I wanted to learn more about him and his life. This biography is the one recommended by his stepson, Douglas Gresham, as the one most true to Jack's life. The author was a friend of Jack’s and so there are many first hand experiences. He also used the many letters in the Lewis family trust to fill in the early years.
After listening to Surprised By Joy and being shocked how Jack described his years at boarding school, this biography puts a gentler light on it, and explains how Jack probably exaggerated it. It also sheds light on his relationship with Mrs. Moore and that she seemed to fill the mother roll with Jack. If you are interested in his life at all, I do recommend this biography, too.
Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank. Yet another book that Brian and I listened to together (it's interesting how three of these made my top list!). This book was written in the late 1950s at the height of the cold war and the premise is that Russia sends nuclear warheads to the US, destroying much of the country. Through a small Florida town spared we see the build-up, during, and what it’s like for the town in the year after the bombs.
Imagine all the bigger cities gone, the government in disarray, and no water, power, or food after your stores run out. What happens? What do people do? Who do they become? How do they adapt? Or not? This was a really good listen and I'm still thinking about it all these months later.
Middlemarch, George Eliot. This is a book I’d never read - I remember my college English class choosing the Eliot penned Silas Mariner instead (I can’t even remember what I thought of it – is that telling?). This book is considered Eliot’s masterpiece and is high up on lists of the best novels of all time. And it is looooong. I listened to this while working outside, cleaning, and cooking and it took more than 35 hours!
It’s a very interesting look into the lives of early 19th century families living in a small town in the English countryside. It specifically looks into the loves and marriages of a few different couples, how social pressure and gossip shaped (and ruined) lives, and even a bit of politics and social changes of the time. I laughed in places – and gasped in places. This book holds up well 150+ years later and I now want to find the old PBS series to watch.
Carnegie's Maid, Marie Benedict. After reading about this book on a couple blogs, I picked it up on sale at Audible and started listening to it while getting the farmhouse ready for the wedding. I really wasn't expecting much, but I was quickly caught up in this fictionalized story of an Irish farmer's daughter who is mistaken for a lady's maid and placed with the mother of Andrew Carnegie.
Like really good historical fiction, there are a lot of real places and events that form the framework of the story. There was just enough realness to the maid's story to make this totally believable - all the way to the ending that wasn't as happy as I had hoped it would be (but of course couldn't be to stay in line with history). It attempts to answer the question - why would Carnegie work so much of his life to acquire wealth and then proceed to give it all away?
To Sir With Love, Rick Braithwaite. Are you surprised to see this 1960's book on the list? Me, too! This popped up in my library app and I remember liking the film years ago, so I decided to listen to see what the real story was. And this is a true story according the Mr. Braithwaite. It is one of those totally inspirational and feel-good stories that you are just so glad you read.
The author is a first year teacher (having no experience and no specific degree - just a college degree) who gets a job in a rough part of London where the school has trouble keeping teachers. I think about the issues and the author's novel approach to his students in this book still. And of course now I want to watch the movie again!
The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard. This is a deep and insightful Christian classic that I had never read, though I had heard a lot about it. I listened to this as part of my morning devotion and I can say that listening isn't enough - I need to go back and read this. Probably slowly, savoring the insights the author gives regarding not only the Bible and Jesus, but also our country and culture. While written in the 1990's, the things he talks about (Christian consumerism, our fast-paced lives, etc.) have only gotten worse. This book challenged me to live like Jesus said we should in today's context.
One of my favorite quotes that I've been pondering is:
"Who teaches you? Whose disciple are you? Honestly. One thing is sure: You are somebody's disciple. You learned how to live from somebody else. There are no exceptions to this rule, for human beings are just the kind of creatures that have to learn and keep learning from others how to live."
So that's my top reads from 2018 - and I'm already well on my way into my 2019 book list! I've made a goal of 75 books (I'm not sure if 86 was a fluke or not....) and I've already got two on my read list and am halfway through a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder that my daughter got me for Christmas that is surprisingly enthralling.
What about you? What were the best books you read in 2018?