This year my reading, like a lot of areas of my life, shifted from my reading what I thought I should read to reading what I wanted to read. It was great.
When it comes to grad school, reading is essentially my full time job, but that somehow hasn’t affected the amount I read for fun. I read over sixty books this year, counting what I read for school and in my free time. I listened to a lot of audiobooks, didn’t finish a lot of books that I started, and found myself reading more Young Adult than anything else. Reading has been a place, like Netflix or naps, for me to shut my brain down and rest from the grind of work or school. I stopped expecting myself to read all the best, most widely praised books and read whatever I felt like it. My friend Liz said something about how “sometimes our brain just needs a cupcake” and this year, my brain has needed a lot of cupcakes. But, there are few cupcakes on this list.
These books, the best books I read this year, were written by a group of diverse, incredible authors. If I’ve learned anything from my reading this year, it’s that life is too short to put pressure on what you read, and if you’re only reading authors that look like you, you’re missing out. (Really if you’re doing anything with/from/by people that only look like you, you’re missing out, but that’s a topic for another time.)
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
This was the first book I read in 2018 and I’ve wanted to read it again since. This is a story of love and fear with a creative storyline and unpredictable plot. Matt Haig is an amazing storyteller and I’d read anything with him name on it. (He’s also my favorite person on Twitter. Just sayin.)
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s a long, patient read but once you’re swept into the story, you won’t be able to put it down.
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
All American Boys falls in the same vein of The Hate U Give, but takes a unique approach on the issue of police violence. The book is brilliant, really, and it’s something we can learn from, not just because of the book’s content, but because of the way the authors went about writing it. (YA authors are woke, okay)
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (series) by Jenny Han
Woah woah woah, this series is just as delightful as the movie that came out of it. This could qualify as a cupcake read, yes, but it’s so fun and enjoyable and lighthearted I think everyone deserves a read like this.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I read Speak to see if I wanted to use it for my master’s thesis, and I loved it, and yes, I’m using it in my thesis. I had the chance to meet Laurie Halse Anderson at a conference and she was brilliant and wonderful and warm and fierce, which is exactly what I expected of the author of a book like Speak. This novel is twenty years old this year, but it’s still so incredibly relevant and needed.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Poet X is unlike anything I’ve ever read. The entire novel is written in poetic form, which allows you to get to know the narrator in such a unique way. As a writer, I envy and celebrate Elizabeth Acevedo for what she was able to do with this novel.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
I was anxious, and slightly nervous, to see what Angie Thomas would do as her follow up to The Hate U Give, and this novel did not disappoint. On the Come Up is a wonderful and relevant coming of age story that will inspire and challenge readers. It deals with social issues and is riddled with pop culture references. It’s wonderful. (Releases February 5, 2019)
Playing With Matches by Hannah Orenstein
This is one of the cupcakes, and the only one that’s ended up on the list. I loved Playing with Matches partially because Hannah Orenstein has a delightful social media presence and partly because it’s a modern, unique take on the classic romcom, and the writing is actually good (unlike a lot of novels like it). It was an easy, fun read.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I honestly don’t know what to say about Americanah because it’s so uniquely wonderful. I’ve been a fan of Adichie for a long time, but after reading her fiction work I have a whole new appreciation for her. She is a born storyteller who crafted such a beautiful and strong novel in Americanah. It’s a tour de force, and I’m so thankful for the perspective it offers. (If you only read one book on this list, I’d recommend this one.)
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Barak was right to call this his favorite book of the year. Michelle Obama is a lot of wonderful things, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that she’s a wonderful writer, too. I expected Becoming to fall in the same vein as any big name memoir, but it is so much more than that, because Michelle Obama is so much more than just a big name. Politics aside, she is amazing, and Becoming is eye-opening and inspiring. It made me feel just about every emotion possible, and I’m so glad I took the time to read it.
Reading goals for 2019: Continue to read what I want and what feels good, but to also read what challenges me and what offers me a perspective outside of my white, straight, female, middle class world. Come the second half of 2019 I’ll be out of school for the first time since 1999, and I expect to get some serious reading done.
The Complete List:
How to Stop Time, Matt Haig || Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen* || Persuasion, Jane Austen* || Mansfield Park, Jane Austen* || Emma, Jane Austen* || What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver || Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout* || Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, ZZ Packer* || Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge || A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle || All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr || Me Before You, JoJo Moyes || Me After You, JoJo Moyes || Still Me, JoJo Moyes || The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer || On My Worst Day, John Lynch || Frankenstein, Mary Shelley* || Matilda, Mary Shelley* || Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance || Not That I Could Tell, Jessica Strawser || The Perfect Mother, Aimee Malloy || The 57 Bus, Dashka Slater || The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole* || The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory || To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee || The Hating Game, Sally Thorne || Playing With Matches, Hannah Orenstein || Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwon || The Monk, Matthew Lewis* || The Italian, Ann Radcliffe* || China Rich Girlfriend, Kevin Kwon || Tell Me Three Things, Julie Buxbaum || Holding Up the Universe, Jennifer Niven || All American Boys, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely || To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han || PS I Still Love You, Jenny Han || Always and Forever, Lara Jean, Jenny Han || Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen* || Emergency Contact, Mary HK Choi || I’m Still Here, Austin Channing Brown || Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie || Beloved, Toni Morrison* || Maria, Or the Wrongs of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft* || My Oxford Year, Julia Whelan || We Are Okay, Nina LaCour || Gay Girl, Good God, Jackie Hill Perry || Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson* || His Favorites, Kate Walbert* || Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys* || Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds || The Bookshop on the Corner, Jenny Colgan || Love + Gelato, Jenna Evans Welch || Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins || One of Us is Lying, Karen M. McManus || One Day in December, Josie Silver || The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo || By the Book, Julia Sonneborn || On the Come Up, Angie Thomas || The Royal Treatment, Melanie Summers || An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green
*Books I read for school, not including the dozen+ books I read for research