Earlier this month I listed and ranked the nonfiction books I read in 2018. Today I’m doing the same for the fiction & poetry I read. I’m not making any reading plans for 2019 other than keeping better track of what I do read. There were a few non-fiction books that didn’t make it on to that non-fiction post that I’ve since come across. I have a feeling I may have missed a novel or two for this list as well. Goodreads and spreadsheets just aren’t working for me. I’m going back to keeping an old-fashioned, hand-written list.
First, poetry. The Book Cougars’ celebrated National Poetry Month by asking friends to make a video of themselves reading a favorite poem. This experience really motivated me to read more poetry. Click here to watch and hear those 31 excellent poems being read by people who love them.
What I read:
- Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg 1916
- The Voice That is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century ed. by Hayden Carruth 1981 (I read this in college and read around in it during National Poetry Month this year)
- Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil 2018 (Currently reading)
I’ve done a fair bit of re-reading this year, primarily for the Willa Cather Book Club that meets quarterly at the Book Club Bookstore & More in South Windsor, CT. I also re-read Little Women for the Book Cougar’s Summer of Little Women. I’m ending the year with The Odyssey (which should technically be in the poetry section, I suppose). I tried to do a slow read of this one earlier in the year, but that didn’t work out. It’s my current Classics Club spin book.
Re-reads for the Willa Cather Book Club:
- My Antonia by Willa Cather 1918
- The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather 1915
- One of Ours by Willa Cather 1922
- Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather 1927
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 1868
- The Odyssey by Homer translated by Emily Wilson (currently reading)
Novels read in 2018
I read over 40 novels this year, which is a lot for me. I’m finishing the year reading The Hunger by Alma Katsu and listening to Girls on the Line by Aimie K. Runyan.
A-List (A = Amazing)
For my non-fiction list, I called out two books that were my favorites. The same goes here with fiction. The following two novels were the best I read this year. Actually, they’re the best I’ve read in a while. They were amazing both in terms of storytelling and craft.
- Kindred by Octavia Butler 1979. An African-American woman in contemporary days is suddenly transported to antebellum Maryland. She doesn’t know where she is at first. With each subsequent time-travel, she learns more about where she is and how to get back to her real life. This is a horrifying, yet fascinating lens through which to see slavery, history, culture, and the ties that bind.
- Hum If You Don’t Know The Words by Bianca Marais 2017. This novel seriously blew me away, as in I couldn’t read anything else for several days. Set in 1976 Johannesburg, this is the story of an almost 10-year-old white girl and an almost 50-year-old black women and what it is like for both to live under apartheid. It is painful and heartwarming. I hope if you add just one book from this post to your to be read list that it is this novel.
The Book Cougars had the good fortune of having a conversation with Bianca Marais that you can listen to here.
B-List (B = the Best of a brilliant reading year)
These novels were really good and I recommend them without reservation. They’re books I can imagine re-reading and/or I’ve put the series or author on my watch list. In the case of Louisa May Alcott and Louise Penny, they’re writers I’ve enjoyed for a long time. The books are listed in random order, which is odd for me because I’m usually obsessed with chronological order. Old dogs, new tricks.
- Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller 2018. A bit creepy. Three misfit people come together in an abandoned estate in the English countryside.
- Solemn Graves (Billy Boyle #13) by James Benn 2018. WWII mystery, strong in historical details and plot, interesting characters.
- Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg 1992. Mystery-thriller set in Copenhagen, Greenland, and aboard ship. A delight for snow lovers.
- The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis 2018. Set in Grand Central Terminal in the late 1920s and 1970s. A satisfying meld of love, art, architecture.
- Tangerine by Christine Mangan 2018. 1950s Tangiers is the setting for this dark and twisted crime story.
- The Echo Killing by Christi Daugherty 2018. A reporter in Savanah, Georgia investigates a crime that echoes one of fifteen years ago.
- From the Wreck by Jane Rawson 2017. Australian history, folktale, and nautical lore are splendidly woven into a unique story that’s part historical fiction and part literary ghost story.
- Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2) by Jane Harper 2017. No sophomore slump for Australian mystery writer Harper. Start reading her now.
- Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer 2018. Barrack Obama and Joe Biden solve a mystery together. Silly and serious, a fun read.
- Sworn to Silence (Kate Burkholder #1) by Linda Castillo 2009. Raised Amish, Burkholder returns to her hometown as Chief of Police.
- District VIII by Adam LeBor 2017. Ripped from the headlines. Budapest, 2015. Balthazar Kovacs is a cop from a Gypsy family.
- Transcendental Wild Oats by Louisa May Alcott 1873. Alcott’s satire about her father’s failed utopic community, Fruit Lands.
- Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan 2013. Read it before the movie came out after several Asian friends gave it thumbs up. RomCom with so much FOOD.
- Kingdom of the Blind (Armond Gamache #14) by Louise Penny 2018. Another great entry for the series. New directions hinted at for many of the characters.
- Fledgling by Octavia Butler 2007. Gothic vampire meets SciFi. Amazingly strong beginning tappered off towards the end for me or this would have been an A-List book for sure.
- The Broken Girls by Simone St. James 2018. Vermont. A school for girls nobody wanted now stands abandoned and may be haunted. Why is someone now interested in restoring the place?
C-List (Solid reads you might want to Check out)
- Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict 2018 (audio). No one really knows why Andrew Carnegie turned from making money to giving it away. This novel offers an answer.
- Kindred Graphic Novel by Damian Duffy 2017. I saw this on display at the library shortly after reading the novel.
- Tornado Weather by Elaine Deborah Kennedy 2017. Nominated for an Edgar Award. A literary crime novel set in Indiana.
- Dark Chapter by Winnie M. Li 2017. Also nominated for an Edgar Award. Taiwanese-American woman living in England is raped while on business in Ireland. An intense novel about rape and its aftermath.
- The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer 2017 (audio). A neurosurgeon finds herself transported to medieval Siena shortly before the coming of the plague. It was great to hear the Italian pronounced correctly.
- The Widows by Jess Montgomery forthcoming, Jan 2019. A historical mystery inspired by the first women sheriff in Ohio, 1924.
- Mistletoe Murder by Leslie Meier 1991. A Christmas cozy set in Maine.
- Bimini Twist (Jane Bunker #4) by Linda Greenlaw 2018. A stronger entry than the last one in the Jane Bunker series set in Maine. Boats!
- The Paris Spy (Maggie Hope #7) by Susan Elia MacNeal 2017. The first Maggie Hope novel I read. Made me want to start at the beginning.
- The Prisoner in the Castle (Maggie Hope #8) 2018. A classic “locked room” style mystery, expect its secret agents on a secret island.
- The Outliers (Outliers #1) by Kimberly McCreight 2016. Wylie’s BF runs away with a secret group that might have ties to her father’s psychological research.
- The Scattering (Outliers #2) by Kimberly McCreight 2017. This was my favorite novel of the trilogy.
- The Collide (Outliers #3) by Kimberly McCreight 2018. Strong beginning, a bit of a lag, and then the story was over. Poof.
- Maurice by E.M. Forster 1971. Published after Forester’s death, this is a biographical novel about the love that dare not speak its name. Painful to read, but provides important historical context for what gay men have experienced…and sadly still often endure.
D-List (D as in, “Damn, I can’t believe I finished it!”)
These books were all on the painful side to read. I am happy to have finally read Mrs. Dalloway, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. The third is a modern classic that I have ethical qualms with. The forth is a story that needed a lot more development. Still, I wanted to see where the story went.
- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 1921. A brilliant novel. I wrote a blog post about it (click to read).
- March by Geraldine Brooks 2004. I read this for the Book Cougars’ Summer of Little Women. First, let me say I’m no fan of Branson Alcott. I have complex feelings about this novelization of a fictional character who is based on a real person.
- The Vampire’s Heart by C.M. Blackwood 2018. I was looking for something fun to read and this lesbian vampire romance for mature audiences sounded good. It was, unfortunately, just the barest outline of what could have been a juicy story.
DNF (Did Not Finish)
These are books I didn’t bother finishing because they were boring or poorly executed.
In the case of Manhattan Beach, I’m still scratching my head over how anyone could take WWII, the naval shipyards, a woman diver, and a gangster as their subject matter and write a novel that’s boring as hell. The Swarm is a behemoth, over 800+ pages long. I read at least 250 pages before I couldn’t take it anymore. As for the last two novels, to be fair, I read advance reader copies and perhaps they will receive helpful edits prior to publication.
- Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan 2017. Yawn.
- The Swarm by Frank Schätzing 2004. Repetitious with wooden characters. Was it the translation?
- Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs (Willa Pennington #2) by Aimee Hix, forthcoming Jan 2019. Unbelievable, annoying protagonist.
- Alumni Association by Michael Rudolph, forthcoming Feb 2019. Too much telling, not enough action, didn’t care about the characters.
Sorry to leave you with the DNFs. What a buzz-kill.
Overall, I’m happy to say 2018 was an excellent reading year for me. Even the D-List books were fun/intriguing in their own ways. And DNFs happen.
How about you? Have you read any of these books? What were your favorite novels or poetry collections this year? Feel free to post a link if you’ve written a recap post.
Awesome wrap up!! Have a very happy New Years!
I did read Tangerine at your recommendation and enjoyed it. I have Hum If You Don’t Know The Words on hold, but I think it is a couple of months away. 🙁
Again, I enjoyed your categorisation. I haven’t read many of your books at all, but you might be intrigued to know that here, downunder, and I think in England, Smilla’s sense of snow was published as Miss Smilla’s feeling for snow. I’m always fascinated by how these title differences occur – who makes the decision and why. (In this case they are both translated titles – a bit like Camus’ The stranger versus The outsider.)
I read Maurice yonks ago when I had my EM Forster stage. I sometimes think about re-reading it these decades later.
I did like March quite a lot when I read it, but I don’t have huge qualms about fictionalising real people. I really like Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books.
I really really really want to read From the wreck.
My main issue with March is that it took the fictionalized father from Little Women and then further fictionalized that character in ways that are both like and unlike the real Bronson Alcott. It was all just too much for my brain. Plus, like I said, I’m no fan of the real Mr. Alcott so there’s that. LOL.
It is curious why and how some titles get changed when they are translated/published in other countries. I love snow and loved the book. This might be a bit cynical and a long-shot but I think it could be that Americans prefer sense, as in understanding, over “feeling” because it has the implication of vulnerability. We can’t have any of that.
Speaking of re-reading, I’m thinking about re-reading From the Wreck again this year. It’s one of those novels that I’m hoping will be just as rich the second time around because you can perhaps appreciate more how the author put things together since you know the story. I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you get to it.
Re March, I rather love that sort of “game-playing” in fiction – but readers do have to keep clear that it’s all fiction. I know some readers – though this may not be you – hate the fact that some people will extrapolate, wrongly, reality from the fiction they are reading in these sorts of cases, and make assumptions that are not only inaccurate but may be hurtful. I get this, but try to take the intellectual analytical stance rather than the emotional one.
Changing titles is curious but fun for us to ponder the reasons behind. Your reason here made me laugh. I’ll have to ask my wonderful Californian friend what she thinks!
Finally, that’s really great that you’d like to re-read From the wreck, though it makes me feel even worse about not having read it yet.
Maurice has been on my list for a long time, I’ll get there one day and March was interesting to me, but I know so little about the Alcott’s I didn’t realize the connection you mentioned above so wasn’t tainted by that. And I really enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, mostly because of the movie, but I can’t wait to read the next two in the trilogy.
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year, Geoff! I want to read the next two in the Crazy Rich Asians series, too! I actually started reading book two in the bookstore the other day and had to put it down and step away because I’m trying to read through some of the books already on my shelves for the first couple months of the year. I know you know what I’m talking about. 😉
I know! It’s the worst and why I’m waiting for a copy from the library and some indeterminate point in the future.
[…] of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I LOVED the first two books I read by Butler, Kindred and Fledgling, so was a bit surprised I couldn’t get into this one. The writing is excellent. […]