2018: My Year in Books

Total Books: 180

Not since 2013 have I read so few books in a year; however, with quite a bit going on behind the scenes with my own writing and in my personal life, this year I decided to prioritize quality over quantity.

Total Pages: 48,817

The longest book I read this year was Stephen King’s The Stand, tipping the scales at 1,153 pages. I regret nearly every one of them. Yes, he’s a genius writer, but his particular brand of genius isn’t for me.

Breakdown by Category

Please enjoy some highlights from my year in books. I’ve arranged the categories in descending order according to how much time I spent in each.

Christian Theology/Spirituality

One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization by Jackson Wu. This is a wonderful introduction to biblical contextualization, especially for Christians trained exclusively within a Westernized theological framework. I particularly love how Wu demonstrates that the gospel is both firm and flexible.

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin. I had the privilege of leading a group of women through this study early in 2018, and the experience proved much more enriching than when I read/studied the book on my own last year.

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, Lesslie Newbigin. A wonderful resource for Western Christians who’ve given little (or no) attention to how their culture inherently influences their basic understanding of Christian faith. An extremely helpful and timely read for me.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah. A guided exposition of the book of Lamentations underscoring American Christianity’s poverty of biblical lament and pointing out both the causes for this poverty and its effect. The style’s skewed a bit toward the academy, but if you put forth the work, you will find your efforts rewarded.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone. Cone and I operate under different biblical hermeneutics, but he brings fresh (and painful) perspective to the Christian experience that should not be missed. Despite not being fully on board with Cone on every theological point, I was still edified, convicted, and challenged by this book.

Honorable Mentions:

Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms by Jayson Georges

Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts by Trillia Newbell

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss.

Middle Grade Fiction

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Nobody’s more surprised than I am to see this book on this list, considering the fact that last year I started it twice without finishing it. Then on my third attempt (after many recommendations from trusted reading friends), I fell completely into the story. This book broke my heart and then put it back together. While the storytelling format has never been a favorite of mine (multiple storylines/narrators), it’s worth it all to get to that last chapter.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I straight-up and unironically love this book. I found it engaging, readable, and super touching. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Honorable Mention:

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

General Adult Fiction

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This is easily the most absorbing novel I read this year, consumed in two fevered sittings. The protagonist’s descent into Alzheimer’s feels horrifyingly real. I’m going to be thinking about this one for a long time.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’ve heard other readers comment on a slow start, but this book hooked me right away, and it hooked me hard. Start to finish, I was totally invested in the story–in all the stories, really. Every single character is the protagonist of his/her own arc, and each thread feels vital and fully fleshed out, yet all the threads weave together perfectly into a unifying narrative. Sure, the characters are not very sympathetic, but they seem very real. I’m not one for book clubs, but I recognize the possibilities for rich, fruitful discussions that could spring from reading this with a group.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim. Love and heartbreak set against the backdrop of the Korean War. Cover to cover, I was totally engrossed. Though not exactly likable, each character is real to the core, and their problems compelling. [Note for gentle readers: this book has just a touch more sexual content than I normally read, though none is explicit or gratuitous.]

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman. When I picked this novel up, I was unprepared for how deeply I’d sink into the narrative, or how large the characters would loom in my imagination. The story carries great emotional resonance.

Honorable Mention:

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

Biography/Autobiography/Memoir

Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. A powerful and moving memoir written by a Haitian-American woman and centering on her complicated relationships with her father and uncle. Danticat’s style is flawless, the story heartfelt and sad. Find this book and read it!

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Worth the read for many reasons, one of which is the Appendix, in which Douglass breaks down the “Christianity” of the slaveholders and contrasts it with the true Christianity of Christ.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston.  I’ve not read a book quite like this one before. In effect an oral history collected by Hurston between 1927-1931, this is a powerful firsthand recounting of one man’s experience as the subject of America’s African slave trade.

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry. I’ve seen this book shelved all over the map, everywhere from “Christian Living” to “Social Issues.” When it comes to substance, though, I’d classify this as more of a memoir than anything else, though a memoir that takes full advantage of teachable moments. I can see Perry’s writing style as one people are either going to love or hate, and I land firmly on the “love it” side. Fans of inventive imagery will find a banquet.

Honorable Mentions:

He Included Me: The Autobiography of Sarah Rice as transcribed by Louise Westling.

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad.

Young Adult Fiction

Scythe/Thunderhead (Arc of a Sythe, Books 1-2) by Neal Shusterman. I had a bit of trouble getting oriented in this world; but once I did, the story completely took me over. Totally engrossing read, with engaging and sympathetic characters I found myself really rooting for (which doesn’t always happen for me in dystopians). My only regret is that I blasted through the first two books before Book 3 was within shouting distance. Fingers crossed that the story’s conclusion will be as gripping as the first two installments!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The author brought more nuance to the table than I was expecting! This is an absorbing read: the characters are well developed, the dialogue snappy, and the pacing moves at a good clip. Given the timeliness of the subject matter and the skill the author exhibits, I’m not surprised this book has won awards.

History

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Robust, dynamic, and sympathetic–this is one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. I purposefully went slowly to savor in the style and soak in the history. Although encompassing a large-scale, decades-long historical event, Wilkerson’s zoom lens on the personal really drives the message home. Strongly recommended.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This book hits hard. Wonderfully researched and written, and terrible in its implications. This is a near-flawless recounting of a chilling conspiracy of murder and greed. If you’re an American seeking to take in the full scope of our country’s history, this is a good place to start.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. Of all the books I read this year, this will likely have the longest and deepest impact on me. To quote the author, “no one who reads this book can wonder at the origins, depth, and visceral foundation of so many African Americans’ fundamental mistrust of our judicial processes.” It’s a long book, a heavy topic, and dense prose; but it’s worth the investment.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist.  The author’s stated goal is to establish a concrete relationship between African-American suffering and the American nation’s fledgling economic growth. I’d say he succeeded. I found the style tough to wade through, but the information is worth the effort. The book just came out in 2014. It’s to be hoped that, moving forward, this sort of scholarship can pave the way for more balanced an nuanced history textbooks than ones my generation grew up with.

Honorable Mention:

The Blood of Emmet Till by Timothy B. Tyson

Self-Help/Psychology/Misc. Non-Fiction

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk. I understood more about how trauma affects people physiologically than I did about the various treatments discussed. I’m glad I read this because it’s helped me develop a fuller understanding of the lifetime effects of trauma and how I can understand and show more sympathy for traumatized people.

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge. Brains are amazing. Among other realizations I had while reading this book, I finally understand why it’s so hard for older people to adjust to new ideas or adapt to change. It’s not just because they’re “set in their ways.” Some of their seeming stubbornness and rigidity is a natural outflow of diminished neural plasticity.

Narrative Non-Fiction

Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King. This was a super engaging read, and I felt extra invested since the events took place in my backyard (Florida). Though the narrative is frustrating due to the actual events (criminal conspiracy), the writing’s fantastic.

Essays

Becoming American: Personal Essays By First Generation Immigrant Women edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah. Each essay was so unique and different while circling similar questions of identity and belonging.

Literary Criticism/Writing/Craft

Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood. Even if you don’t have a fascination with O’Connor, her beliefs, and their intersection with the culture of the South, this book would be worth reading simply to enjoy Wood’s clean lines of reasoning and delicious vocabulary. This is more of a theological and academic treatment than most casual readers would enjoy; that being said, anyone who’s read a great deal of O’Connor could likely handle this.

Mystery

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. None of the new-to-me mysteries I read this year stood out as much as my re-read of Strong Poison. Whether that says something about my book choices this year or simply the nature of Sayers’s powers as a novelist, you be the judge.

Fantasy/SciFi/Steampunk/Dystopia

The Circle by Dave Eggers. I found this book super gripping and its implications feel-it-in-my-bones scary. The parallels with 1984 are undeniable, and I don’t mean that as a detraction (especially given that I found the writing style more palatable than Orwell’s). It’s not a perfect read, but it’s an intense one.

True Crime

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. While the quality of this read was a bit patchy, that’s understandable given its origins (the author died before completing the manuscript, and the parts she’d left unfinished were completed by a team of friends and editors working from her notes). Reading this, I can’t help but wish she’d lived not only to complete writing it herself but also to see the arrest of the alleged East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer (Joseph James DeAngelo).

Books By Friends

Wildfell by London Clarke. English Gothic escapism with a modern twist. Come for the atmosphere and stay to enjoy the wide variety of men Anne Fleming meets along the way.

Justice by Emily Conrad. I wasn’t sure about this one going in. First, the cover raised a lot of questions, and say what you want about not judging a book by its cover, but I totally do it, and this isn’t a cover that says “Ruth’s Type of Book.” I read the blurb, though, and–most importantly–was privy to some pretty deep discussion regarding the plot via an online forum. After I read what some readers were saying, I decided to give the book a shot. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed it way more than I expected, given that I generally avoid romancy, “book club” type books (which is what the cover suggested to me). The issues raised in the book are handled with nuance, and I can imagine certain story elements sparking robust discussion.

Hello, Goodbye, We Meet Again by Brooke Anderson. This is a sweet little snack of a book. I recommend that you read it in one sitting if you possibly can.

Mistletoe Melody by Stacey Weeks. A heartwarming and sweet holiday novel that acknowledges pain and weakness.

Turtles in the Road by Rhonda Rhea and Kaley Rhea. Sometimes books billed as “funny” overly depend on quirky characters or outlandish situations to try to leverage humor, but I’m delighted to report that this book is actually funny. Sure, there are quirky characters and a few outlandish situations, but what really drives the humor home is the dialogue. This was a super quick and super cute read that kept me engaged the whole way through. Kent Peeper forever!

Face to Face: Discover How Mentoring Can Change Your Life by Jayme Lee Hull. This is a practical, helpful, and engaging read. Both prospective mentors and mentees will find plenty to chew on here. Personally, I found the first half of the book especially helpful.

A Love Restored by Kelly J. Goshorn. Historical romance isn’t a genre I typically read, mostly because although I do love history, I’m not very romancy. I like that the protagonist is outside the norm for the genre (in that she has a robust figure and isn’t considered attractive by the majority of the other characters). It creates such relatable inner tension, because how many of us haven’t doubted ourselves because of some unrealistic and arbitrary beauty standard? The dialogue is pleasantly snappy, something I don’t always find in inspirational fiction, and I chuckled out loud a few times. If historical Christian romance is your thing, this has what you’re looking for.

Her Good Girl by Elaine Stock. The strength of this book was definitely its unique plot. Not only was the story itself a bit out-of-the-norm, but the characters also threw me a few curves. Although the emotional changes did feel a bit abrupt at times, they make sense in light of certain story developments.

The Revolutionary (The Rogues #2) by Kristen Hogrefe.  I read this book really quickly. It helped that I’d been looking forward to seeing what happened to these characters, and I’m pleased to report that I’m happy with some of the growth arcs and story trajectories. Looking forward to reading Book 3 early in 2019!

The Tremblers (Blackburn Chronicles #1) by Raquel Byrnes. Byrnes successfully infuses steampunk with Christian worldview elements while staying true to the tropes of the genre.

Lamp Unto Her Feet by Paula Mowery. As the title indicates, the strength of this book is in showing how someone might seek to apply scriptures to daily life. I also appreciate that the story moves along at a good clip. Romances aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but if you’re looking for a clean, light read that can be swallowed whole (or in a few gulps), this would be one to consider.

Providence: Hannah’s Journey by Barbara M. Britton. Because of my background and training, whenever I read biblical fiction, I turn off the fact-checking part of my brain so that I’m not distracted by minutiae and hung up on what’s factually historical and what’s artistic/creative license. That’s precisely what I did with this book; and once I did, I found a quick-paced narrative with unexpected splashes of humor and cheek. Probably what I most appreciated was that the author didn’t sugar coat the extremely vulnerable position of a captive slave, forcing readers to grapple with the overt sexual component.


On the lookout for your next good read?

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4 thoughts on “2018: My Year in Books

  1. Wow, what an honor to be included in such a thoughtful list! Thank you, Ruth! I love hearing about what you’re reading. Even in a slow year, apparently, you cover a lot more ground than I do, but I’ve been increasing how much I read, and I hope to continue to do so into 2019. Thanks for all these great recommendations!

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  2. Do pleased my recommendation of Still Alice was a highlight! We need to Skype to have a discussion about it soon. I’ve not managed to finish the hurricane book but promise I will…happy new year!

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    1. Barbara! Thank you so much for recommending Still Alice. As you can see, it was a highlight of the year. I can’t wait to read her other books. Any recommendations from you will get moved to the front of the queue.

      Like

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