Aleen Mean

Best Books in 2018

For me, the bright spot of 2018 was how highly I prioritized reading.

I was one of those kids growing up: the ones who go to the library and walk out with a stack of books, sometimes heavier and taller than I could cope with. I read instead of talking to my classmates, whom I had little in common with. I read ahead in our textbooks. I read in the car. I read while watching TV. I read instead of doing my chores.1

I’ve had a harder time reading in adulthood. There were several years in my mid-to-late 20s when I didn’t read a single book because I had such difficulty concentrating.

This year, though. This was my year to be blanketed in new worlds and characters. This year, I marked 83 books as read in Goodreads (there are a few I read but didn’t track because they were re-reads and I didn’t think about it). I was secretly hoping to break 100, but I’m pretty happy with my accomplishment regardless.

I’ve had a few people ask me how I managed to read so much. I’ll share my secrets, then I’ll tell you about my favorite books of the year.

How I Read So Much

Here’s my #1 tip for reading more: make time to read more.

In April, Justin and I packed up our cats and belongings, sold our house, and moved to Seattle. We sold our car. One side effect was that we stopped listening to podcasts together, because running errands in Phoenix meant being in the car together, and being in the car together meant podcasts.2 Now, we walk or take public transportation almost everywhere we go. I use that time to read.

Additionally, we run fewer errands now. Trips to Costco are a thing of the past because we don’t have anywhere to store 300 rolls of toilet paper and two dozen boxes of Kleenex. We order bulky dry goods using services like Target Restock, Amazon, and Thrive Market (that’s a referral link for 25% off your first order with them). Less time spent on errands means more time I can have my nose in a novel.

One of the best things about our move is that Seattle’s public library system is well-funded. In Phoenix, it was pretty hard for me to get to a library branch to check out physical books and the digital system was pretty sparse. When I heard about a book I was interested in reading, I’d have to buy it and, unfortunately, my budget for buying books is not infinite. Now, I can get most of the books I want to read from the library without ever stepping foot in a branch, and I often check out audiobooks from the library by browsing the “available now” section in Libby. This has the bonus of exposing me to authors and topics I might not seek out on my own.

“But Aleen,” you’re thinking, “I can’t just up and move to Seattle. What else have you got for me?”

I haven’t watched as much TV or as many movies this year as I typically do. The last movie I saw in a cinema was Avengers: Infinity War this spring. I’m behind on a lot of the televison series I love (but you better believe I’m caught up on The Good Place and Steven Universe). More time for reading!

Audiobooks have been hugely important to my reading practice this year. Seriously, you will pry my Audible subscription from my cold, dead hands.3 I listen to audiobooks while I do chores, when I walk around the city, and while I play certain video games (mostly Splatoon 2). When I’m trying to get through something quickly for a book club episode of The Incomparable, I’ll get both the Kindle and Audible version of the book so I can easily switch between reading and listening.

I’m pretty lucky because I have the ability to stop reading or listening to a book wherever I am and then pick it up again where I left off. Since I don’t need to read until I hit a new chapter or section break, I can read for a couple of minutes here and there. I can also be in the middle of several books at once. Usually, this means that I’m reading both a digital and audio novel.

And finally, the tip I hope you never, ever fall back on: I use reading as an avoidance mechanism. I’ve been in severe physical pain since we started prepping for our move. I’ve been extremely depressed for most of 2018. I experienced my first true panic attack this summer and have had several more since. I have been mired in self-doubt and fallen deep into the hole of self-criticism. Getting lost in other people’s worlds was my solace.

So, uh, there you have it! Easy.

Okay, I can’t end it there. Here’s a tip literally anyone can use: if you hate the book you’re reading, stop. Move on. My book count for 2018 doesn’t include those I stopped reading when I was half through. If you look at my page on Goodreads, you’ll notice that I haven’t rated many books below three stars. That’s because I have no qualms about abandoning a book. This hasn’t always been the case, but a few years I go I really internalized that life is too full of tedium for me to force myself to read something I dread.

Seriously, give yourself permission to walk away from things you dislike in 2019.

My Favorite Books of 2018

So let’s talk about what I loved to read in 2018. This list isn’t in any particular order except for my first picks:4

The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal. I read The Calculating Stars the week it was released and immediately wanted more more more; fortunately, its sequel was on shelves several weeks later. A blend of science fiction and alternate history, Kowal’s Lady Astronaut Novels are beautifully written and chock full of relatable (if not always likable) characters. I read both of these books in their physical, dead tree form and also listend to the audiobook version. Both are excellent, but a bonus to the audiobooks is that Kowal narrates them and she’s just wonderful. She breathes even more life into characters I both loved and abhorred.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. This is a book I know I will revisit in 2019. Oluo’s writing is straightforward and accessable. Part memoir, part essay, part how-to manual, How You Want to Talk About Race helps address and give strategies for dismantling structural racism in the US.

The White Trash Zombie series by Diana Rowland. Zombies are just like us, except they need to eat human brains in order to stay whole and sane. There are seven books in this series to date, and I read them all as quickly as I could get them from the library. It’s not highbrow literature, but this series was a great escape for me this year. I also thought it did a decent job of addressing some aspects of abusive familial relationships and poverty, especially in the earlier books.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. I’m struggling to encapsulate what was so compelling about Shrill, but reading this book was as easy as breathing. West’s writing is conversational and she covers a borad swath of topics important to modern feminism, ranging from fatness to racism to online harassment to being a women in comedy.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Between the World and Me is an intimate letter from father to son that hammers home what it’s like to be a Black man in America. I listened to this book and wished that I was instead holding it in my hands. There were sentences that took my breath away and I wanted to go back and savor them, which isn’t easy with audiobooks.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. 16-year old Starr Carter loves sneakers and basketball. She lives in a poor neighborhood rife with gang violence, goes to a preparatory academy, and has to navigate between the two. When she witnesses the death of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer, she has to contend with her trauma and the desperate responses of her different communities.

The Fuse by Antony Johnston5 (author) and Justin Greenwod (illustrator). I like murder mysteries. I like graphic novels. I like things set in space. Here, I got all three! I read all four volumes of this series and enjoyed them all. (Thanks to James Thomson, who recommended them to me!)

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss. We know about Drs. Moreau, Frankenstine, Rappaccini, and Jekyll. What about their monsters, though? In this Victorian-era detective series, we learn more about these inventors and the child-creations they leave behind.

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire. When I was young, I loved horror stories. One of my favorites was the tale of the vanishing hitchhiker. In Sparrow Hill Road, McGuire shares the hitchhiker’s story: both her death and her afterlife. I haven’t read further in the series, but I’m planning on it.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. Radium was supposed to be a substance of health and wonder. It was put into health tonics and body lotions. Soon after its discovery, it was even used to paint dials on watches and airplane instrumentation so they could be used in the dark. Who did that painting? Women in factories, who often licked their radium-covered paintbrushes to ensure accuracy. The Radium Girls is a dive into the both hope and turmoil these women experienced. Let’s not forget them.

  1. Some things never change.

  2. If Apple ever lets us pair two sets of AirPods to one device, this will probably change.

  3. Many people have told me that listening to the audio version of a book doesn’t count as reading. You’re free to have that gatekeeping opinion and keep it to yourself.

  4. These are Amazon affiliate links 🙃

  5. Antony’s a friend, but if I didn’t like what he wrote, I just wouldn’t talk about it.