You hear that? It’s the collective sigh of parents everywhere, relieved that we have survived the madness of Christmas and can now turn our attention to the business of wrapping up this year.
I kid. I love Christmas and am always sad to see it end. But I also love end-of-year wrap-ups and best-of lists, and I have a hard time holding space for Christmas and annual reflections at the same time. Now that the holiday hullaballoo is past us, I can focus my energies on ending this year well. For me, that means multiple blog posts recapping and reflecting on 2018—and what better place to start, but with books?
My book nerdiness is on full display in this post as I indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: analyzing my reading life. Be sure to read through to the end of the post, where I’m highlighting some of my favorite books of the year! (For more killer book recommendations, you can check out my wrap-ups from previous years: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.)
2018 was an epic year for my reading life. For the first—and almost definitely the last—time ever, I managed to read or listen to over 200 books in a single year. That’s up 52% from last year’s total of 135! A few things contributed to this huge increase: the biggest is that I began using Hoopla for my audiobooks, which meant that I had unlimited access to far more audiobook selections than were available to me through Overdrive/Libby (previously my only audiobook source). I also started supplementing my Kindle reading with physical books, which was harder for me to do when Charleston was younger; I hadn’t realized how much I missed real books, and this small change definitely upped my excitement about reading. Finally—and this is significant—I read quite a few short books this year, and when they were audiobooks, I listened to them at 1.5 speed. I recognize that many would consider this cheating, but these hacks were crucial in helping me reach my 200-book goal.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this was a ridiculous amount of reading, and not really something I’d recommend. While I’m so thankful for the experience, I feel that in focusing on quantity over quality of my reading experiences, I did a disservice to the books themselves. Reading more meant that I was less likely to recall what I read, and I’ve earmarked several of this year’s books to reread in the future, when I’ll dedicate more time and mental energy to them.
In the chart below, you can see a breakdown of this year’s books by format (audiobook or ebook/print) and type (fiction or nonfiction). For those of you who also track your reading at this level, you’ll understand my giddiness over this data: not only do I find it fascinating to see my personal reading trends, but it helps me make informed decisions about my reading life in the future.
Over the last several years, my ratio of fiction to nonfiction has gotten progressively closer to 50% which is something I’ve been very happy about. Before I began blogging about books, I read very little nonfiction. Today, I can’t imagine my life without nonfiction titles! As you’ll see below, I had more nonfiction favorites than fiction ones this year.
Another glaring point highlighted by the chart above is that audiobooks have continued to make up a huge part of my reading life. I know from years of tracking my reading that the books I read with my eyes have a bigger impact on me than those I read with my ears, and that I tend to enjoy them more. (It’s telling that, while a majority of my books this year were consumed in audio form, only four of my twenty favorite books this year were audiobooks.) Next year I’d like to get the percentage of audiobooks to total books a little closer to 50%—even if that means significantly cutting back on how many books I am able to consume.
To summarize: based on this year’s experience, in 2019 I plan to read fewer books, with an emphasis on print and ebooks over audiobooks. I would also like to read more long books (which should become more appealing with a reduced reading goal) and take more time and attention with the books that I do choose to read. For the record, I made very similar goals at the end of last year and you see how well that went. . . .
While there were certainly aspects to my reading life that I didn’t love this year, there was also a lot of good—most notably, that I read a slew of really great books. Thanks to heavy reliance on Goodreads reviews when making my book selections, I had amazing success with reading books that were truly worth my time. As you can see in the chart below, more than 60% of the books I read received 4 or more stars from me and a full fifty books received 4.5 or 5 stars! There was only one book that received less than 2 stars (if you’re curious, it was this—and I have no qualms about calling it out because it has received plenty of [undeserved] positive attention from other reviewers).
With so many wonderful books to choose from, you can imagine my difficulty in picking favorites. However, after much contemplation and wringing of hands (I’m not even kidding, it was brutal), I’ve managed to narrow down this year’s books to twenty favorites. I made the decision-making a little easier by omitting rereads, and trying to keep redundant titles (similar genres or books from the same author) to a minimum.
Below are my eight favorite fiction and twelve favorite nonfiction reads of the year, divided further into subcategories. I easily could have chosen twice as many favorites for each category, and couldn’t help but list a few of my runners up. The favorites on this list aren’t necessarily the titles I rated most highly at the time of reading; rather, these are the books that stuck with me long after reading them, which to me is the sign of a remarkable book. Because I used the memorability factor in compiling my favorites, some my 5-star books from 2018 didn’t make this list, while a few 4-star books did.
Next to each title, I’ve included a link to the post where you can find my full review. Just a head’s up: most of those are Quick Lit posts, so you’ll need to do a little scrolling to find the specific reviews.
This category was the hardest for me to narrow down, because I read so many excellent mysteries and thrillers this year. The two books I’m highlighting rose to the top because they feature strong writing and an element of ingenuity, in addition to a compelling story.
Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz ~ This is a brilliant homage to the classic whodunit, with a riveting novel-within-a-novel format. This makes my list of Top Five mysteries EVER, it’s that good. (Review)
The Perfect Mother, by Aimee Molloy ~ An edge-of-your-seat thriller that also explores the turbulent emotions and adjustments of early motherhood. (Review)
Runners Up: Sunburn (Review) // Lie to Me (Review)
I read a handful of novels this year that opened my eyes to new perspectives and challenged my views on important issues. These two books greatly informed my ideas about what it means to be Black in America—one of the most important and of-the-moment issues I spent time reading about in 2018.
Bluebird, Bluebird, by Attica Lore ~ A compelling look at race-related crime from the perspective of a black officer, featuring intriguing characters and a well-plotted mystery. (Review)
Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult ~ Compulsively readable, this is the story of a black nurse and what happens when she attempts to save the life of a white supremacist’s son. This would be my top recommendation of the year for a discussion-worthy Book Club selection. (Review)
Runner Up: Stay With Me (Review)
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik Backman ~ I can’t even think about this book without tearing up; it’s a tearjerker, but also so profound and relatable to anyone who has lost someone they love. Fredrik Backman is one of the greatest authors of our time, and this might be his best piece. (Review)
I’m not a big romance reader, but do love a good love story with some substance.
Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay ~ I read all five of Reay’s books this year, and this sweet epistolary novel was my favorite (with Lizzy & Jane a close second). The romantic storyline is a small component of the book, but a lovely one. (Review)
Runner Up: Last Christmas in Paris (Review)
Best Family Sagas:
Family stories can make for excellent novels that allow us to view the events of a story through a broad lens. These books tend to require more time, but are incredibly rewarding.
A Place for Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza ~ I am so glad I took a risk with this debut novel about a Muslim family. Beautifully written, and amazingly relatable. (Review)
This Must Be the Place, by Maggie O’Farrell ~ This is THE BEST novel I read all year. Vivid characters, evocative themes, unique narrative structure. It is humorous and heartbreaking, and literary, but with an irresistible love story at its center. Few books truly have it all, and this one does. (Review)
Runner Up: Peace Like a River (Review)
Best Parenting Books:
I read a number of parenting books this year. Almost all of them offered helpful takeaways, but these are the books I will return to again and again.
Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, by Jodie Berndt ~ The most actionable parenting book I’ve read, ever. I’ve already gifted this to a number of my mom friends. (Review)
Grace-Based Parenting, by Tim Kimmel ~ A wonderful and practical look at how to use grace-based discipline to teach our children about Jesus. This book showed me how my word for the year could relate to my parenting. (Review)
Runner Up: Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict Into Cooperation (Review)
Best Soul-Searching Books:
Some may call these self-help books, but these books go beyond that realm to tackle self-improvement at the soul level. These books were incredibly challenging, but worth the effort.
The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, by Christopher Hueretz ~ After years of studying the Enneagram, I had no idea how much there was still to learn about the model until I read this book. Perfect for those who want to incorporate Enneagram principles into their personal spiritual practices. (Review)
Soul Rest: Reclaim Your Life, Return to Sabbath, by Curtis Zackery ~ God brought this book into my life when I needed it the most. No other book on this list had a more profound impact on my emotions, faith, or the health of my soul. This is my most heavily highlighted book of the year. (Review)
Runner Up: The Happiness Dare (Review)
Best Christian Living Books:
I read so many incredible books within this genre this year. I love that God is using books to speak to me—but goodness, it was hard to narrow down my favorites!
Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan ~ This book singlehandedly flipped my views of the modern church model upside down. I can’t stop talking about this with all of my Christian friends. (Review)
She’s Still There: Rescuing the Girl Within, by Chrystal Evans Hurst ~ A Christian take on themes addressed in Rachel Hollis’s Girl Wash Your Face (which I liked, but not nearly as much as this book). The correlating video study is also excellent. I loved getting the chance to meet Chrystal this year and tell her how much this book meant to me. (Review)
Runners Up: Kind is the New Classy: The Power of Living Graciously (Review) // Learning to Speak God from Scratch (Review)
Remember God, by Annie F. Downes ~ Heartfelt and intimate, I was blown away by this honest piece from one of my favorite Christian teachers. Meeting Annie in person the same week I read this made my reading experience even more special. (Review)
Runners Up: Hourglass (Review) // Gay Girl, Good God (Review)
Best Essay Collections:
This format seems to have become more popular in recent years. When done well, this is my favorite style of memoir.
Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, by Bob Goff ~ Few people have inspired my Christian walk more than Bob Goff. This book was just as good as his first one! (Review)
Church of the Small Things: The Million Little Pieces That Make Up a Life, by Melanie Shankle ~ Melanie was one of my very favorite authors this year. I read four of her books, and this was the funniest and also the most insightful. (Review)
Runner Up: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death (Review)
Best Dog Book:
We needed all the help we could get with Arlo this year, and read quite a few dog books, but only one that I would recommend to other dog owners.
How to Raise the Perfect Dog Through Puppyhood and Beyond, by Cesar Milan ~ While not all of the advice in this book worked for us, this was an excellent guide when bringing Arlo home and continues to be helpful now that he’s beyond the puppy years. (Review)
Best Books About Books:
A book list containing books all about reading. Doesn’t get much more meta than that, and this bibliophile is here for it!
I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, by Anne Bogel: I have Anne’s blog and podcast to thank for introducing me to quite a few titles on this list, and I am delighted to include a title from the Book Whisperer herself! I related to nearly every one of the bookish essays in this collection. (Review)
The Read-Aloud Family, by Sarah Mackenzie ~ Sarah solidified my views on the importance of shared reading. This is a fantastic guide for every family—those who love to read, and those who will once they learn how after reading this book! (Review)
Miscellaneous Nonfiction Runners Up:
Cozy Minimalist: More Style, Less Stuff (Review) // The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (Review) // Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (Review)
And there you have it, all you ever wanted to know—and more—about my reading life in 2018! I’m eager to see what bookish delights 2019 holds!
What were some highlights of you reading life this year? Did you meet all of your reading goals? What were your favorite books? I’d love to hear all about it!
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