When you don’t have the time (and, okay, the funds) to travel like your heart desires, how do you lean into your intense wanderlust? As nerdy as it
may sound totally is, it may spark joy to dive into new worlds in a different way than you’re used to—by reading a sh*t ton. In 2018, instead of counting countries, cities, and National Parks, I counted pages—26,733, to be exact, of the 85 books I completed. Full disclosure, 20 of these books were listened to while getting ready for work or washing dishes, but physically reading 65 books in one year is still something I’m strangely proud of, especially because it’s more than I read in the previous four years combined.
So, how’d I do it without shutting myself off to the world? (PS – My friend Katie over at Stories My Suitcase Could Tell has a full post on how to read more, but here are some that helped me specifically this year.)
- I make the most of a 45-minute commute each morning and evening that could otherwise be annoying. I shove people out of the way to get in the subway doors first, get a seat, and settle in.
- Audiobooks help if you don’t have a lot of time. Just experiment a little because sometimes the mind wanders if you’re multitasking. Nonfiction is better for me on audio because I tend to miss important plot points when I listen to fiction. (You can get these free from your library on the Overdrive app! Let me know if you need help figuring it out.)
- I have the Kindle app on my phone (as well as a regular Kindle) so that if for some reason I don’t have a physical book with me, I can read even just a few pages of something if my friends are running late or if the highway outside of my apartment shakes me awake in the middle of the night.
- I abandoned at least 10 books that I just wasn’t feeling so that I could read things I was feeling. Life is too short to be unhappy.
- I became obsessed with GoodReads, a social network where all you do is track the books you want to read and what you’ve read. It helps me choose what to read next and helps spark conversations with my friends. Connect with me here!
- I started a book club with some of my travel friends! We’ve done 5 books so far and I love the 1/2 book discussion, 1/2 life discussion pattern that all of our meetings have taken. We’re also trying this out with my family, if we can get a few minutes to discuss The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri at MM’s 99th in February.
I went back and forth on how I wanted to do this post, but, without further ado, here were my favorite books that I read in 2018, all fiction, in an attempt at some sort of organization:
Love Letters to New York
My obsession with New York City is no secret to anyone, and I wonder if I’d never lived here if these next two would still be favorites. I was so jazzed when one of the first books I picked up from Brooklyn Public Library was about an older woman walking through Manhattan on New Year’s Eve, recollecting stories from her life as she wandered the streets. Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk spoke to me in so many ways at a time when I, too, was recalling memories of my past life as I wandered the streets, though I am 50 years younger than Ms. Boxfish. “Any day you walk down a street and find nothing new but nothing missing counts as a good day in a city you love.”
A similar read I loved later in the year was Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg, about another woman whose philanthropic and complicated life we learn about through her diary entries and interviews with people who knew her. I loved the character’s independence, sass, and the way she spoke about her life, romance, and the city. “She said: Don’t you want a sweetheart? I said: The whole world’s my sweetheart.”
Topical (& Sometimes Scary, Given Current Situations)
This world has been kind of crazy lately (Ahem). There were a few books I read that would normally be considered fantasy or science fiction but felt weird because some could actually happen, if a certain VP becomes P or if we keep completely *$#&ing up the environment. And there were some I read which gave me more insight on certain issues that keep coming up time and time again. Suffice it to say, these stories all made me think a lot.
Restrictive reproductive rights took front and center in Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich and Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. The Power, a popular read about the power shift when women start developing the ability to kill men very easily and they become scared to walk the streets at night was definitely interesting as a contrast to what has gone on in the actual world for centuries.
Diseases killing off the entire population of the Earth were the basis of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and the stunning Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton.
Race issues were present in An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The Twelve Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson, and Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward (whose Sing, Unburied, Sing was my fave read of 2017.)
I don’t know how people could read The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen or The Leavers by Lisa Ko while still being anti-immigration / not accepting of refugees. (I’ve also said this about Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, which I read in 2017.)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie deals with terrorism in a way I’ve never read about before.
If you’re not a big reader but want to be, I’d recommend picking up a mystery or thriller because you’ll more likely finish something suspenseful. Some of these I sat through thinking they were pretty average and that I knew where they were going until the last 20 pages or so when I was like WTF and said “WOW” at the end out loud, but I can’t tell you which ones.
I got really into Ruth Ware this year, devouring The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark Wood, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway. She’s reminiscent of Agatha Christie, but without the early-1900s racism and words you’d have to look up because we don’t use them anymore. I read The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor in one scary night and was almost too frightened to take the dog outside for her evening walk in the middle of it. Others I enjoyed include The Broken Girls by Simone St. James, The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, and Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna.
It takes a lot for me to laugh out loud by myself, but Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman did just that, while also having way more substance than I thought when I started it. I was, dare I say, tickled, when I read Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn. It’s a super quick, super creative story about a town that prevents people from using certain letters of the alphabet over time and the author plays around with the words they use in such an interesting way.
Similar to the books in the first section of this post, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a story of a woman’s life from beginning to end, this one a Hollywood legend, a la Elizabeth Taylor, with a larger story. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is about four siblings who know the dates they are each going to die and how they live their lives until it’s their time to go.
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo is a love story that I actually liked, which is rare. I felt like I was traveling to Cuba myself in Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. I loved the way the story unfolded in Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller.
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang is a beautifully written book about a boy raised by wolves with special powers, if you feel like believing in magic for a little bit. “I wasn’t doing magic, but I was in it, surrounded on all sides by incredible, beautiful things. It made me feel like a wizard even though I wasn’t one, even though I never could be one.”
I wasn’t traveling as much this year, but I was reading, surrounded on all sides by incredible, beautiful things.
Did you read anything that I mentioned above? Talk books with me!