Tag Archives: 2018

Book Postscript 2018 Tag

One last look back at 2018 before we get too far into new, exciting reads! I was tagged by Rachel for these out-of-the-ordinary superlatives.

1. The longest book you read this year, and the book that took you the longest to finish:

Interestingly, Stephen King fits both of these answers. It was the longest book I read in 2018 with a grand total of 1,156 pages. I buddy read this book over the course of a month, but it didn’t really take me that long to read. I focused on it for two or three days each week for four weeks, and it flew by. I loved it, even while I read other books on the side.

For the book that took me the longest to finish I could go several ways, but I’m choosing not to name any of the books that I paused and returned to months later- instead I’m naming the book that I consistently tried and failed to finish: the third novella in The Bachman Books (only about 200 pages, titled Roadwork) was my sole reading focus for over two weeks and I just could not get through it. This collection of 4 novellas took me a whole month to finish though it was nearly 500 pages shorter than It and I wasn’t reading anything else in the meantime. The Bachman Books slumped me.

2. A book you read in 2018 that was outside of your comfort zone:

askingforit

I did a lot of branching out this past year, but the title I want to talk about here is a YA contemporary that I did not expect to find especially challenging: Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It. I read several books (YA and adult) in 2018 that dealt with rape culture, but this one was absolutely brutal to read. The fact that it felt so plausible and relevant really got under my skin. This book made it to my favorites list for the year, despite the unlikable main character and downright disturbing turn of events, but I still can’t think about it without cringing- it’s that powerful.

3. How many books did you reread in 2018?

I haven’t been rereading much in recent years, but I would like to change that. In 2018 I reread four books, and took quite a journey through examining my changed opinions. This is not the first year I’ve reread Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’s Hawksong, a favorite from my middle school days, and I still enjoy that one with all its nostalgia, though its sequel (Snakecharm) didn’t impress me this time around.

But I’ve also been undertaking a bigger project, rereading Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga one chapter per day in order to make a study of how my reading tastes have changed over the years. I finished both New Moon and Eclipse in 2018, and came up with some interesting reflection posts for both (linked through the titles). Though I don’t enjoy the series anymore, pushing through one chapter per day and asking myself what I liked about the books originally and why I dislike those same things now was a very interesting and educational exercise. I do intend to finish the reread with Breaking Dawn in 2019, but I’m also hoping to pick up some rereads that I actually expect to enjoy!

4. Favorite reread of 2018:

Probably Hawksong by default because it was the only really good rereading experience I had in 2018. It’s been one of my all-time favorites since I was eleven or twelve, and even though I’m not longer obsessed with it I do still find YA fantasy elements that I appreciate in the short and sweet reread.

But my Eclipse reread generated one of my favorite posts of the year as well, so I guess I’m glad I suffered through that one also.

5. A book you read for the first time in 2018 that you look forward to rereading in the future:

I could list so many! But to name a few, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin is an epic fantasy/family saga with a brilliant ending that will definitely change the way I see the rest of the book the next time I pick it up. I also loved Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Anna Burns’s Man Booker-winning Milkmanboth of which I look forward to enjoying all over again in the future.

6. Favorite single short story or novella that you read in 2018:

thebachmanbooks

I didn’t read very many short stories last year, and I didn’t like many of the few that I did read. So we’re back to Stephen King’s The Bachman Books for my favorite novella: The Long Walk. It’s a creepy story about 99 teenage boys who walk until they die– and one who outlasts them all. I liked it enough to finish it in one day during my busiest time of year, and bought my own copy of the single story after returning the collection to the library.

7.  Mass appeal- a book you liked and would recommend to a wide variety of readers:

I’m taking a surprising break from fiction here to recommend an essay and an essay collection. Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. should be required reading; it’s a short, historical, and still impactful examination of human rights, and I’m so glad I finally read it in full. If you need more incentive, it now comes in this cute tiny bindup from the Penguin Modern collection.

Additionally, Not That Bad, edited by Roxane Gay, is a collection of essays in a variety of forms from men and women who have something to say about rape culture. This is the book you never knew you needed until you started reading it. It sounds straightforward, but each of the thirty essays shows a different angle to a problem we’ve all seen and experienced in some form or another.

8. Specialized appeal- a book you liked but would be hesitant to recommend to just anyone:

thepisces

Melissa Broder’s The Pisces is a fantastic novel about a student struggling more than she can admit to finish her thesis, and the merman she falls in love with in the meantime. I picked this up in the midst of the mermaid-book-fever this summer and can honestly say it’s one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read. Also one of the most compelling. But the main character is rather unlikable and the merman romance is rather graphic, and I honestly don’t know who I would recommend it to who would embrace the abrasive details to appreciate the unique voice that drives this novel. It’s seriously good, but also seriously weird.

9. Reflect on your year as a bookish content creator (goals met, good/bad memories, favorite videos blog posts you made, etc):

I don’t really set blogging goals for myself, other than just not to quit. Talking about books is what I do for fun, so I like to just keep it fun and not make a chore of it for myself. But I did manage to complete every post that I meant to in 2018, and I am glad I kept coming back to the blog despite some disruptions in my real life schedule. I know I tend to post way more reviews here than anything else, but that’s what I like to write most so I don’t mind? I hope you don’t mind either.

One post I’m particularly happy with this year, and that I think I’ll keep up in the future, was my 2018 Almost-Favorites. Maybe every year I won’t have so many, but in 2018 I had so many runners-up favorites that I didn’t want to be left out of my end-of-the-year lists, and Thanksgiving seemed like the perfect time to talk about those second-best books that I appreciated throughout the year.

10. Tag some fellow bookish content creators

I fell a bit behind between Christmas and New Year’s this year, so I’m not entirely sure who’s already posted what for wrap-ups. And so as I continue to catch up with viewing those, I tag anyone who feels up to answering these questions! Please link back so I can check out your answers, as I do love wrap-ups, and I think these are great questions!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

2018 Reading Wrap-Up

It’s time for my favorite post of the year! So. Many. Bookish. Stats. Ready?

Here’s the requisite info from Goodreads, to start:

2019-01-03 (2)2018 was a pretty mixed reading year for me with a lot of variety. I read short books, like Sea Prayer and several 50-60 page Penguin Moderns (like Food), but I also read some very long books, like ItIlluminae, and The Overstory. My average rating of 3.7 is pretty standard. My Goodreads goal for the year was 90 books, and my previous top record (that I know of) was 112, so I surpassed both of those with my 118 books!

I’ve already posted my 2018 favorites, my almost-favorites, and my greatest disappointments for the year, if you want to check out those posts.

This year I continued my membership with Book of the Month Club, and even though I’ve been less thrilled with their selections in 2018 (they seemed to be leaning more toward commercial favorites and run-of-the-mill thrillers and away from hidden literary gems) I have still been committing to a box of at least one book every month. Here are my 2018 BOTM selections:
botm2018

I bought/received on credit 19 BOTM titles this year, and I read 14 of those within the year, as well as 4 extra titles from 2017’s selections. My BOTM goal for 2019 (if I decide to stick with it all year) is to avoid the thrillers, as I was disappointed by every single 2018 BOTM thriller and I don’t want a repeat of that!

And while we’re on the subject of new books, here is a photographic recap of my 2018 book hauls in all their purple glory:

2018bookhaulspt2
2018bookhaulspt1

I hauled 146 books in 2018, which is way more than my goal of 3 or less per month should have allowed! I stuck to that goal only twice in twelve months, which is horrendous and has inspired my new TBR system for 2019: to read all of my new books by the end of the following month. I’m hoping this will help lower my buying rate as well as stopping the increase of my owned-unread TBR.

Of those 146 new-to-me books, I read 63 by the end of 2018, which is slightly less than half. 12 of those 63 were books I had read at some point before buying, some within 2018 but not all. I hope to do much better in 2019, but hey look at all the shiny new books!

Let’s get back to what I actually read in 2018. Here’s how it all breaks down:

Of my total 118 books read, I rated 24 books at 5 stars * 41 books at 4 stars * 40 books at 3 stars * ten books 2 stars * and 3 books were rereads that I left unrated due to changed opinions.

Of my 118, I read 54 books that I bought/received in 2018, I read 15 books that were unread on my shelf from previous years (2017 or earlier), and I borrowed 49 books from a mix of friends, family, my public library, and Kindle Unlimited.

I read 27 contemporary/literary fiction novels (23% of my 2018 reading) * 20 horror/thriller/mystery/suspense novels (17%) * 12 memoirs/nonfiction books (11%) * 12 classic/modern classic fiction books (11%) * 11 adult sci-fi/fantasy books (9%) * 9 YA sci-fi/fantasy books (8%) * 6 YA contemporary novels (5%) * 6 historical fiction novels (5%) * 4 NA/romance novels (3%) * 4 books of poetry (3%) * 4 graphic novels/comics (3%) * 3 short story collections/novellas (2%).

I read 67 books by female authors (57% of my 2018 reading), 41 books by male authors (35%), and 10 books by other authors (mostly meaning multiple authors, 8% of my 2018 reading).

I read 61 2018 releases. That’s 52% of my 2018 reading.

I read 4 ebooks. Less than 3% of my reading. I listened to one book. The rest were physical copies.

I completed 6 rereads. 5% of my 2018 reading.

I read the entire Man Booker longlist for 2018, consisting of 13 books (11% of my 2018 reading). I did not finish the longlist before the shortlist was announced, and I did not finish the shortlist before the winner was announced, but I did read them all before the end of the year.

I participated in 4 buddy reads, all for Stephen King books. I read 7 Stephen King books (6% of my 2018 reading).

I failed my 2018 reading challenge, but challenged myself anyway, and set some 2019 goals. Among them is my Goodreads challenge goal of 100 books.

And I’m excited to see what bookish adventures this new year will bring! 🙂

I would say 2018 was a 4-star reading year for me. What about you?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant.

 

2018 Reading Challenge: Final Update

The year is over, so it’s time to look at how my reading challenge wrapped up! Spoiler: it was a fail in all but spirit.

Bold means I’ve completed the task. None of this indicates that I’ve particularly liked or disliked these books, just that I read them. Check out my 2018 favorites or disappointments lists if your looking for something more than a checklist.

Here is the first set of challenges: individual books.

  1. A book you didn’t get around to in 2017 = Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  2. A book with a blue cover = Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
  3. A Stephen King book = Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
  4. An illustrated Harry Potter book = did not read. I wanted to, but I hardly ever reread and did not leave myself much time for that in 2018. I’m still planning to read all of the illustrated editions at some point.
  5. A book you’ve loved in the past = Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
  6. A book at least 1000 pages long = It by Stephen King
  7. The last book in a series = The Last Letter Home by Vilhelm Moberg
  8. A book recommended by a friend = Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  9. A prize-winning book = Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  10. A non-fiction book = Night by Elie Weisel
  11. A book picked up on a whim from the library = Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard T. Chizmar
  12. A book at the bottom of your to-read list = did not read. I meant to read the very bottom book, the oldest added to my Goodreads TBR, Sense and Sensibility. I didn’t get around to it, and I’m not counting anything else that came close because I’m stubborn.
  13. A book with a strong female lead = The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  14. A book from the staff recommendations display at a bookstore = did not read. Several books that I read this year have turned up on these displays, but I did not discover a new recommended book and read it for that reason the way I meant to for this challenge, so I’m not counting it. Again, I’m stubborn.
  15. A book in which a beloved character dies = The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
  16. A Shakespeare play = did not read. I bought two this year to fit this challenge, but did not pick them up. I do still intend to read them.
  17. A book that takes place in space = Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  18. A book by a new-to-you author = The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
  19. A new book by an author you already love = Providence by Caroline Kepnes
  20. A book of short stories = You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
  21. A memoir = The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  22. A true-crime book = In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  23. A book with a five-word title = A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
  24. A book set in another country = The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  25. A book of poetry = The Long Take by Robin Robertson

Reaction: 21 out of 25 is not bad. I didn’t quite make it, and was hoping I could catch up on those last 4 books in December, but I decided to pursue other goals instead.

Now the second set: the big categories. I’m allowing myself to count books in multiple slots across sets, so you’ll start seeing a few repeats here.

  1. Twelve classics
    1. Emma by Jane Austen
    2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    3. 6 Penguin Moderns by Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Camus, Shirley Jackson, Italo Calvino, Jack Kerouac, and Betty Friedan (these books are very short so I’ve been buying and reading them in sets of 6 rather than counting them each individually)
    4. 6 Penguin Moderns by Daphne du Maurier, George Orwell, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, and Wendell Berry
    5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
    6. The Iliad by Homer
    7. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
    8. The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg
    9. Unto a Good Land by Vilhelm Moberg
    10. The Settlers by Vilhelm Moberg
    11. The Last Letter Home by Vilhelm Moberg
    12. Night by Elie Weisel
    13. It by Stephen King
  2. Twelve books within a month of their US publication dates
    1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
    2. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
    3. The Philospher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    4. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    5. Red Rising Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, and Eli Powell
    6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
    7. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    8. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    9. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
    10. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    11. The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey
    12. The Line That Held Us by David Joy
    13. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
    14. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
    15. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
    16. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
    17. November Road by Lou Berney
    18. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
    19. Elevation by Stephen King
    20. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
    21. Milkman by Anna Burns
    22. Normal People by Sally Rooney
    23. In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
  3. The rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series
    1. did not read. I’ve been partway through A Storm of Swords for over a year now (I had to put it down during a month when my life got very busy at the end of 2017), and I massively regret not picking it back up. At this point, I will probably want to start the book over so I don’t miss anything I might have forgotten. I still intend to finish the series.
  4. All of my unread Book of the Month Club books
    1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    2. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    3. Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King
    4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    5. As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
    6. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    7. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    8. The Oracle Year by Charles Soule
    9. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    10. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    11. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    12. The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey
    13. The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
    14. The Line That Held Us by David Joy
    15. The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
    16. Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough
    17. The Lies We Told by Camilla Way
    18. A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
    19. There are currently twelve unread BOTM books on my shelves that I did not read this year, so even though I read 18 BOTM books in 2018 I have to count this challenge as a fail. I believe I started the year with 11 unread BOTM titles, and I did read 4 from that list, but I’ve picked up a couple of extras throughout 2018 that I haven’t read yet, and I haven’t gotten to my December selections at all yet either. I will eventually.
  5. Nine books by Victoria/V. E. Schwab
    1. I did not read any. I still plan to, although without this challenge I’ll be more inclined to see how they go and decide which ones most interest me rather than just blindly pushing through all of them. All I know so far is that I like Schwab’s writing; I read one of her short stories in 2017 and need to check out her novels. When the time is right.

Reaction: I’m 2 for 5 from these categories. I honestly did not expect that I would meet the cut-off on classics, but even though I didn’t read the twelve books I had picked out at the beginning of the year, I discovered that some of the books I read throughout 2018 are considered classics that I wouldn’t have thought about if I hadn’t gone looking for them. But I almost doubled the new releases goal without even trying, so that one I’m proud of. I tend to read way more backlisted books than recent releases, so it’s a pleasant surprise to start breaking that habit. I’m very happy with the ratio of new and old releases I read in 2018. But I’m disappointed by my complete failure with both George R. R. Martin and V. E. Schwab. They’re both authors that I expect to love novels from, so I don’t know why I’ve resisted picking them up this year? Fail. Also a fail with BOTM, although I think I could be a lot worse off- even though I didn’t meet the goal of reading all of my unread BOTM books (which admittedly was always going to be difficult as the number grew each month), I did read 19 selections this year, which is more than one book per month, and more than the 12 selections I read in 2017. Other than December, I did read my main selection every month this year, and this challenge helped me stick to fewer add-ons in my monthly boxes. So a fail, but I’m okay with where I’m at. 2 for 5 is… not great, but generally better than I expected.

And now the final set: some specific titles I wanted to read in 2018.

  1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  2. I did not read the other 9 books that were originally on this list. This set was built in a beat-the-backlist way, and actually I did very poorly this year about picking up older titles from my TBR shelves. Which isn’t to say I didn’t read backlist books, just not the ones that I already owned. The one title from this list that I read was the one title that was released in 2018, that I had pre-ordered at the time I compiled this list.

So here’s where I stand:

  • I filled 76 slots throughout this challenge. 20 of those slots are repeated books, two books are used 3 times for different sets. Which means I read 54 different books in 2018 that counted for this challenge.
  • There are 37 slots left open at the end of the year and the end of the challenge. The slots left are so specific that I don’t think I would have been able to repeat any more books– I would have needed to actually read 37 more books, specific books, to complete the entire challenge.

Full reaction: I don’t mind at all that I didn’t complete this challenge from top to bottom. The completionist in me regrets it a little, but the purposes of the sets were mostly met: for the first set, I was meant to pick up books outside of my comfort zone, or books that would just push me a little in some new direction, whether it be a reread (Harry Potter) or something I just hadn’t gotten around to yet (Sense and Sensibility) or a genre I’ve overlooked in the past (In Cold Blood, for true crime). Though I didn’t meet each specific task, I definitely pushed myself outside of my reading comfort zone this year. I tried so many new things, and found some surprising favorites. I read some classics, which I usually love but struggle to reach for, and I almost stayed even with BOTM, which I didn’t even come close to doing in 2017. I read tons of new releases, breaking old habits to do so. So I didn’t read some specific books that I thought I really wanted to read at this time last year, but I definitely challenged myself in 2018, and I’m really happy with the reading year I had. It wasn’t my top reading year ever, but it ranks. 2018 was a solid reading year for me, and in part I can thank this homemade challenge for that. Which is why I started this post by saying that I completely failed it… but not in spirit. And I think spirit is the most important element of any challenge.

Based on these results, I’ve decided not to assign myself a specific reading challenge for 2019. (You can check out my 2019 bookish goals here if you’re curious about what did make the list.) I feel like I’ve learned to read a good variety and take chances, and I want to be able to do that without holding myself to such specifics. I do have some other reading goals that will influence what I read in 2019, but I want to do a lot of impulse reading instead of following a list. If it doesn’t work, maybe I’ll come back to a structured challenge. We’ll see!

And with the reading challenge wrapped up… I think I’m ready to post my year wrap-up for 2018 next!

(Thanks for sticking with me this far, by the way. This has been a long post.)

Do you like following strict challenge lists? Do you prefer to challenge yourself without a list? What works to push you outside of your reading comfort zone? Let me know below!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Favorite Reads of 2018

Okay, I guess it’s time to call it. I probably won’t read any more favorites at this 11th hour of 2018, so here’s the final roll call on my best books of the year!

Disclaimer: these are listed in the order that I read them, I would never be able to rank in order of favoritism.

P.S. Please don’t mind my poor photography skills, I just wanted to show you the editions I read.

  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. theglasscastleI haven’t read many memoirs, but I should pick up more if this one is anything to judge by– I absolutely loved it. I loved the specific writing aspect of Walls’s story, but I also loved how transferable the theme of chasing your dreams and fighting for them to become realities is. (Please slap me if I keep using the word “love” this frequently, it’s going to get sickening fast!)
  • It by Stephen King. it2Stephen King’s novels have been on my favorites lists for years, though I don’t enjoy all of his books equally. This one is deliciously creepy but it also showcases one of the best childhood group-friendships I’ve ever seen. How did I grow up without a Losers Club? I was also captivated by the deterioration of Derry, a popular King novel setting familiar from others of his works.
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. theblindassassinI’ve been a fan of Atwood’s writing since the first of her novels that I picked up (The Heart Goes Last), and none of her titles I’ve read since have let me down, though they’ve all been very different. This one is a brilliant balance of tragic family saga and imaginative fantasy, and it’s a book I’m appreciating more the longer it rattles around in my mind.
  • Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. letterfrombirminghamjailI don’t read much nonfiction, and I had read parts of this short work previously, but I was impressed anew this year how well King’s messages still apply even beyond his own historic moment. This is a truly inspiring little book that I believe every person should read. The additional works in this volume are more religion-focused, but I would highly recommend reading at least the famed letter.
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. rebeccaI should read more classics. So often I find favorites when I do pick them up, including this one. This was my first du Maurier novel, but it will not be my last. I loved the psychology, the mystery, the Gothic elements, the characterization… Plus it’s got the big creepy house that doesn’t feel like home without throwing in any cheesy haunting cliches. This book is dark perfection.
  • Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. freshwaterHere’s a book that really challenged the way I view the world this year. This one is about a piece of African culture, the Ogbanje, and the way these bad spirits compare to a more Western idea of fractured self. Ultimately, this is a book about identity and choice that changed the way I see the world, and the way that I made unknowing assumptions about experiences I couldn’t even imagine before reading this book.
  • Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture ed. by Roxane Gay. img_2017This is the last (but certainly not least) of the nonfiction on this list. Here is a collection of 30 writers, most but not all women, who talk about their experiences with rape culture. I have loved Gay’s writing more for its content than its prose in the past, so her influence in the structure of this book with 30 other writers at the forefront was the perfect combination for me. There is so much here that many people– mostly but not exclusively women– will relate to, even if you think you’ve never had any experience with rape. It’s a powerful book.
  • When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy. whenihityouThis is the book that I thought should have won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for 2018. It’s hard-hitting and feminist and reminded me so much of The Bell Jar, another of my all-time favorites. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about abuse before that felt so heartbreakingly honest, and it was one of those books that I felt like I just got, even though I had nothing in common with the characters. I felt like I learned a lot while reading this one, which features Indian culture.
  • Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. askingforitThis is the only YA book that made the list this year– I’ve been reading increasingly less YA, but I think now that I’ve properly outgrown the age range I just need to find a YA niche that works better for me because some stories are ageless. This one was a hard choice to add to the list because it was so upsetting to read that it hardly seemed like YA material, though I do think young readers should know about rape as much (or more) as older readers. Enter this one with caution, and beware the unlikable (though sympathetic) MC.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. homegoingA friend lent me this book with high recommendation, but I didn’t really know what to expect going in. I don’t like historical fiction as much as I used to, but this is a multi-generational narrative that speaks more about African and African American culture than any individual or specific event, a technique I adored. I thought it all came together so well, but each piece was also completely captivating on its own. An all-around win.
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. homefireThis is the book that actually won the Women’s Prize for the year, and even though When I Hit You stole my heart before I picked this one up, I could absolutely see why it won. This book is full of betrayal and misfortune that’s both revelatory and highly addicting. Different characters lead each section of the book, which disappointed me at first but came together so well in the overall narrative that I was completely sold by the end. This is also a modern retelling of Antigone, which made it all the more interesting.
  • Everything Under by Daisy Johnson. everythingunderI read the entire Man Booker longlist this year, and though Everything Under did not win the prize it did become one of my favorite ever magical realism books. So often the magical element of magical realism seems nonsensical and overdone to me, but I thought it fit perfectly in this story that is also full of social commentary, another Greek play retelling, and a focus on words. The main character is a writer of dictionary definitions, which I found fascinating. I just loved everything about this book, including its cover.
  • The Pisces by Melissa Broder. thepiscesThere was a definite trend toward mermaids this year, so I picked up one with a particularly attractive cover and more Greek ties to check out the buzz– and ended up finding this completely bizarre but incredible favorite. This one is definitely not going to be for every reader, but if it is for you it’s really for you. The narrator has such a distinct voice that it doesn’t even matter that she’s kind of awful. This book is a disaster in the best possible way.
  • Milkman by Anna Burns. milkmanAnd here we have the winner of the Man Booker prize for 2018. A nice cap to the list. The prose of this book is so unique that it is admittedly difficult to read, but once I came around to it I was hooked. I loved the use of titles rather than names, the circular way of introducing new elements, and each eccentric character. I will be thinking about this one for a long time, and I will certainly be rereading.

Fourteen favorites this year, which I think is a record number for me. It’s been a couple of months since I read the last one, so I was a bit surprised to find that there were so many I had to include for 2018.

Tell me a favorite of yours for 2018! Have you read any of these?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

 

2018 Bookish Disappointments

Last month I created a post of my 2018 almost-favorite books, and before I get into my true faves this year I wanted to look at the other end of that spectrum: my greatest reading disappointments of 2018. These are not exactly least favorites, or even my lowest rated books of the year– those categories are too depressing to dwell on. Instead, I’m going to list the books that for one reason or another I expected more from than the book had to offer.

Without further ado, my Top 2018 Bookish Disappointments (listed in the order that I read them, with titles linked to my full reviews):

asbrightasheavenAs Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner. 

Expectation – This was my first Book of the Month Club selection of 2018, and after a wonderful year with BOTM in 2017 I had high hopes for the new year. I chose this historical fiction about the Spanish Flu in America in the early 1920’s in an attempt to read something outside of my normal range. I was looking for hard-hitting tragedy, and hoping to learn something about that epidemic.

Reality – I didn’t learn much. The story is overly sentimental for my taste, with the focus on one family whose tale encompasses so much more than the difficult months of the influenza crisis. The flu actually seemed like such a small part of this narrative, which mainly left me feeling like I was reading a different book than the one I’d signed on for.

thepowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman.

Expectation – A bizarre (supernatural) feminist story that impressed a lot of readers before I got around to picking it up. This one had been getting so much buzz and the premise sounded perfect for me: women develop the ability to channel electricity through their hands, which changes the world order of power.

Reality – The book is not much more than its premise. It sounded so good, but the execution fell flat for me. Not only did many of the characters seem unlikely and somewhat uninteresting, but the scope of the story tries to go a bit too far with a major war and upheaval that becomes much more political than character-driven. Furthermore, Alderman seems to be making a point of showing that a world ruled by women would be no better than a world ruled by men, which is… beside the point.

originOrigin by Dan Brown.

Expectation – A fast-paced thrill full of art and history and a bit of science. I’ve read the entire Robert Langdon series through the years, and have always enjoyed them in the past. I had no reason to think this newest addition to the series (book 5) would be any different.

Reality – I just couldn’t engage with this one. I had a good time looking up images of the art that’s mentioned, but the artificial intelligence aspect of the story did not seem innovative and much of the chase seemed surprisingly low stakes compared to earlier Robert Langdon novels. It’s likely my reading tastes have changed in the four years or so since I read Inferno (book 4).

thedeathofmrs.westawayThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware.

Expectation – This is another case of judging an author by her earlier work. I’ve loved a couple of Ruth Ware’s previous thrillers, though admittedly I don’t think I would like them as much if I were reading them for the first time this year as I did when I actually read them. Still, Ware writes such great atmosphere.

Reality – The atmosphere was definitely there, but not much else. I found the plot predictable and unnecessarily convoluted. I saw through the red herrings easily and never felt that the potential killer would get away with murder even if it could be brought about. The creepy old house and the insights into tarot readings were the only aspects I enjoyed, and my faith has definitely been shaken in Ware. One more dud will probably turn me away from her books in the future.

snapSnap by Belinda Bauer.

Expectation – This thriller was nominated for the 2018 Man Booker prize, and the combination of anticipated thrills and a fresh literary list had me reaching for this book as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. I hadn’t quite decided to read the entire longlist at the time I read Snap, but I was excited about many of the titles and thought this would be an easy and exciting start to the list.

Reality – This story is so riddled with plot holes I’m surprised it holds together at all. There are a few characters and concepts that I found intriguing, but I mourned them appearing in such an unpolished book. I was left a lot more uncertain about reading the Man Booker longlist after this rough experience.

youthinkiti'llsayitYou Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Expectation – I read Sittenfeld’s Eligible last year and had a uproariously good time with it. I found it so light and funny, and yet all the pieces fit so well together that Sittenfeld’s skill was absolutely apparent. I wanted to get back into reading some short stories in the latter half of 2018, and this was my first collection of that attempt.

Reality – I was turned off of wanting to read more short stories in the immediate future. I tried to deny it by acquiring a few other collections, but I haven’t actually mustered the will to try those others yet. In theory, there’s a great idea (discouraging assumptions about other people) behind this set of stories, but that’s established early on and once I figured that out all the stories seemed basically the same with different characters. I was profoundly bored.

crossherheartCross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough. 

Expectation – I’d been having a bad year with thrillers by this point, but Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes so impressed me with its twist so far out in left field last year that I thought this one might be weird enough to give me the change I needed in that genre.

Reality – This was such a run-of-the-mill thriller. The characters were a bit bland, the stakes too low, the format tired. This is not a mystery one could solve along with the characters because the clues aren’t provided sufficiently throughout the lead-up to the big show-down. My biggest disappointment though was simply that this was nothing like Behind Her Eyes. Apparently a common theme for me this year was leaning too heavily on authors that had impressed me in the past.

elevationElevation by Stephen King.

Expectation – Here we have yet another (and the final) case of hoping to see the same level of work from an author I’ve loved in the past. Actually I still love King’s writing, but I’m on a long quest through his oeuvre now that’s definitely challenging my earlier assumptions. In any case, I picked up this book looking for horror and compelling characters, the two things King is most known for.

Reality – I have no idea why this book is marketed as horror. The underlying concept is maybe a bit horrifying to contemplate, but it is not presented in any sort of terrifying way. Furthermore, the characters lack any subtlety or nuance, and the whole (short) book seemed rather confused about its target age range. Maybe if King hadn’t attempted an unimaginative “accept the lesbians” commentary here he might have teased out a more interesting story. But it wasn’t a total loss for me; I’m continuing through King’s works with a fresh eye for flaws, and I think I’m getting a more accurate impression by exploring the ups and the downs instead of just the ups.

joshandhazel'sguidetonotdatingJosh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren.

Expectation – I read romance novels pretty rarely, but I’ve had good luck with the titles I’ve chosen this year. Christina Lauren was a new-to-me author duo, but they seem to be popular lately and have high ratings. I was just looking for some feels and a predictably good time.

Reality – There is no tension in this story whatsoever. Putting aside the cringe-worthy blind double-dating game, there are simply no obstacles to Josh and Hazel ending up together. I appreciated the diversity and acceptance of all kinds of minorities that’s promoted through the writing, but I didn’t find any emotion or noteworthy commentary.

eclipseEclipse by Stephenie Meyer.

Expectation – I mean, my expectations were low for this one to begin with. I’ve been doing a slow reread of the Twilight saga for over a year now in the interest of some reflection on how my reading tastes have changed, and though the first two books were not exactly funEclipse had once been my favorite of the series and I expected at least the same level of nostalgic enjoyment and self-enlightenment (from the reflection, obviously, not the content).

Reality – This is now my least favorite book in the series. I did take some quality reflection away from the experience (linked through title if you want to check out my opinions on subjectivity and books), but this was the longest and worst reread yet. I was never a fan of the Jacob-Bella romance, but it’s absolutely abhorrent in this volume. I’m not sure how my teenaged self overlooked that, but it was definitely torturous this time around. The bar was already low when I started reading, but the actual reread was worse. Much worse.

And that’s a wrap.

Fortunately, it was harder to put this list together than it was to assemble potential favorites, but there are always some disappointments and 2018 was no exception. This is not to say that any of the books on this list are “terrible” or that it’s bad to like them– again, they’re just titles that left me unhappy with my reading experience.

What was your greatest reading disappointment this year? Why was it so disappointing?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

 

 

2018 Reading Challenge: Update 2

Halfway through the year means time for another challenge check-in. I don’t think I’ve been paying enough attention to crossing things off this list, so as I’m starting this off I have no idea where I currently stand. Let’s find out.

Strikethrough font means I’ve completed the task, (parentheses) means I’ve designated a book for the slot but haven’t finished reading it yet.

Here is the first set of challenges: individual books.

  1. A book you didn’t get around to in 2017 = Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  2. A book with a blue cover = Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
  3. A Stephen King book = (The Outsider)
  4. An illustrated Harry Potter book = (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling)
  5. A book you’ve loved in the past = Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
  6. A book at least 1000 pages long = It by Stephen King
  7. The last book in a series = (Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)
  8. A book recommended by a friend = (Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi- currently reading)
  9. A prize-winning book = Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  10. A non-fiction book = Night by Elie Weisel
  11. A book picked up on a whim from the library = Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard T. Chizmar
  12. A book at the bottom of your to-read list = (Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen)
  13. A book with a strong female lead = The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
  14. A book from the staff recommendations display at a bookstore = (Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan)
  15. A book in which a beloved character dies
  16. A Shakespeare play = (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  17. A book that takes place in space = (The Martian by Andy Weir)
  18. A book by a new-to-you author = The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
  19. A new book by an author you already love = Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  20. A book of short stories
  21. A memoir = The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  22. A true-crime book = In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  23. A book with a five-word title = (Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor)
  24. A book set in another country = The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  25. A book of poetry = (Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur)

And for the second set: the big categories. Books that count for this part of the challenge can also be counted for a category in the set above or below.

  1. Twelve classics
    1. Emma by Jane Austen
    2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    3. (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide by Robert Louis Stevenson)
    4. (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
    5. (The Odyssey by Homer)
    6. (The Waves by Virginia Woolf)
    7. (The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    8. (The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas)
    9. (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle)
    10. (Dracula by Bram Stoker)
    11. (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen)
    12. (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  2. Twelve books within a month of their publication dates
    1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
    2. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
    3. The Philospher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    4. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    5. Red Rising Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, and Eli Powell
    6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
    7. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    8. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    9. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
    10. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
    11. (The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager)
    12. (Dark Age by Pierce Brown)
  3. The rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series
    1. (A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin- currently reading)
    2. (A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin)
    3. (A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin)
  4. All of my unread Book of the Month Club books
    1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    2. (Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich)
    3. (Artemis by Andy Weir)
    4. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    5. (Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King)
    6. (Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng)
    7. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    8. (Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane)
    9. (One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul)
    10. (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood)
    11. (Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller)
    12. As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
    13. (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne)
    14. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    15. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    16. The Oracle Year by Charles Soule
    17. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
    18. (The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya)
    19. Still Lives by Maria Hummel
    20. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
  5. Nine books by Victoria/V. E. Schwab
    1. (The Archived)
    2. (The Unbound)
    3. (This Savage Song)
    4. (This Dark Duet)
    5. (Vicious)
    6. (Vengeful)
    7. (A Darker Shade of Magic)
    8. (A Gathering of Shadows)
    9. (A Conjuring of Light)

Final set: some specific titles I definitely want to read in 2018. These can also count in the sets above.

  1. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  2. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  5. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  6. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  7. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  8. The Martian by Andy Weir
  9. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  10. Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman

Finis. So here’s where I stand:

  • I’ve read 38 books that count for this challenge.
  • I would need to read at least 92 books to fill every slot in this challenge.
  • That’s about 41% completion at this point.
  • I’ve read 61 books so far this year, which means
  • I’ve read 23 books that don’t count for this challenge.
  • I need to read at least 54 more books to fill every slot left.

I can work with that. Looking at these numbers, it would technically be possible to complete this challenge still by the end of the year. But I know I’m going to be reading more books that don’t count here.

And honestly, I’m okay with the fact that I might not read all of these books within the year. I chose the books I did to push myself to pick up unread titles from my shelves, and I have been. But I’ve also been focusing on reading quality over quantity this year, which means reading books that inspire me and teach me about the world instead of just reading a ton of titles that are easy to cross off a list. Overall, I’ve been really happy with the change in my reading this year as far as quality goes. I’ve been taking chances on trying new things, and I’ve been finding some phenomenal titles that I didn’t necessarily know to look for when I first constructed this challenge. I dont want to change the way my reading has been going this year just to finish this challenge, because in the end enjoying what I’m reading and learning from what I’m reading is more important to me than crossing titles off a list.

With that in mind, there are some categories here I’m sure I’ll finish before the end of the year, and some I probably won’t. The first set, with 25 individual books, should be fairly easy. Even if I don’t stick to the titles I’ve been plannnig, I’ve been having fun matching what I’m reading to the categories of that set, and I’m over halfway through that bunch.

The second set, the groups of books, I’m not so sure about. I’m way behind on classics, but I’ve been reading a lot of modern classics from the Penguin Modern collection; at some point I’ll decide how many of those short volumes equal one classic, and I think I’ll end up close to my 12-book goal.

I’ll definitely read more than 12 books within a month of publication; I’m not going to stop reading new publications when I reach that goal.

I don’t mind extending my Song of Ice and Fire read into next year, as long as I make some progress this year.

I would really like to catch up on my BOTM selections; that list is going to keep growing as I acquire more of their books throughout the year, but I think at some point (maybe this fall) I want to do a BOTM marathon to try to finish off that list.

And then we have Victoria Schwab. 9 of her books now seems a bit excessive, when really I just wanted to push myself to get started on reading them. I read one Schwab short story last year and I think I’m really going to like her books, but as long as I try a couple I really don’t mind not reading all of the Schwab books I’m interested in within 2018.

And finally, the last set, the specific books. I really wanted to be able to cross these ten off my TBR this year, but I just keep not reaching for them. My priorities have changed in the last 6 months, and I have no idea if I’ll be able to get to all of these or not. Some of them are more tempting than others at this point.

But whether I can complete the challenge or not, I think it’s accomplishing what it was meant to: I’m reading unread books from my shelves, and I’m reaching for books I think I’ll really enjoy instead of books that I can finish quickly. I’ll update again in three months, and your guess is as good as mine as to where I’ll stand at that point. But so far, I’m having a great reading year, and I’m not going to let any lists bog me down.

Are you working through a reading challenge this year? How’s it going? Have your interests changed throughout the year?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

2018 Reading Challenge: Update 1

A quarter of the year is gone (what?! where?), and it’s time to check in. In case you missed it, I assembled my own personal reading challenge for 2018 full of goals and titles that fit my tastes and my reading aspirations for the year. I haven’t been very systematic about tackling the challenges yet, so I’ll be as surprised as you about where I stand and what my plans will be moving forward. Let’s take a look – – – >

Strikethrough font means I’ve completed the task, (parentheses) means I’ve designated a book for the task but not completed it yet.

Here is the first set of challenges: individual books.

  1. A book you didn’t get around to in 2017 = Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
  2. A book with a blue cover = Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover
  3. A Stephen King book
  4. An illustrated Harry Potter book = (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling)
  5. A book you’ve loved in the past = Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
  6. A book at least 1000 pages long = It by Stephen King
  7. The last book in a series = (Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff)
  8. A book recommended by a friend = (Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi)
  9. A prize-winning book
  10. A non-fiction book = Night by Elie Weisel
  11. A book picked up on a whim from the library = Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard T. Chizmar
  12. A book at the bottom of your to-read list = (Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen)
  13. A book with a strong female lead
  14. A book from the staff recommendations display at a bookstore = (Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan)
  15. A book in which a beloved character dies
  16. A Shakespeare play = (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  17. A book that takes place in space = (The Martian by Andy Weir)
  18. A book by a new-to-you author = (Vicious by V. E. Schwab)
  19. A new book by an author you already love = Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  20. A book of short stories
  21. A memoir = The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  22. A true-crime book = (In Cold Blood by Truman Capote)
  23. A book with a five-word title = (Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor)
  24. A book set in another country = The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  25. A book of poetry = (Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur)

And for the second set: the big categories. Books that count for this part of the challenge can also be counted for a category in the sets above or below.

  1. Twelve classics
    1. Emma by Jane Austen
    2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    3. (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide by Robert Louis Stevenson)
    4. (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
    5. (The Odyssey by Homer)
    6. (The Waves by Virginia Woolf)
    7. (The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    8. (The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas)
    9. (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle)
    10. (Dracula by Bram Stoker)
    11. (Mansfield Park by Jane Austen)
    12. (King Lear by Shakespeare)
  2. Twelve books within a month of their publication dates
    1. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
    2. As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner
    3. The Philospher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    4. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    5. Red Rising Sons of Ares by Pierce Brown, Rik Hoskin, and Eli Powell
    6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  3. The rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series
    1. (A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin)
    2. (A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin)
    3. (A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin)
  4. All of my unread Book of the Month books
    1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
    2. (Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich)
    3. (Artemis by Andy Weir)
    4. (The Power by Naomi Alderman)
    5. (Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King)
    6. (Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng)
    7. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    8. (Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane)
    9. (One Day We’ll All Be Dead And None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul)
    10. (All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood)
    11. (Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller)
    12. As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
    13. (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne)
    14. The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
    15. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
    16. (The Oracle Year by Charles Soule)
    17. (Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall)
    18. (The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya)
  5. Nine books by Victoria/V. E. Schwab
    1. (The Archived)
    2. (The Unbound)
    3. (This Savage Song)
    4. (This Dark Duet)
    5. (Vicious)
    6. (Vengeful)
    7. (A Darker Shade of Magic)
    8. (A Gathering of Shadows)
    9. (A Conjuring of Light)

Final set: some specific titles I definitely want to read in 2018. These can also count in the sets above.

  1. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  2. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  5. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  6. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  7. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  8. The Martian by Andy Weir
  9. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown
  10. Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amy Kaufman

And that’s that. So far I have completed 23 challenge tasks, and I have at least 72 challenge tasks left. When I set this challenge for myself, I made it large because I really wanted to push myself this year, but I had no idea if I would actually be able to complete it within a year. Some of the tasks are designed to make me read more than one book, but being able to count some books more than once across the three sets might help even that out. Right now, it looks like if I keep going at the same rate I should have a chance at finishing. I haven’t been trying very hard yet to meet any of these challenges– I did well when I set these tasks because they are fitting pretty well with what I’m reaching for naturally, and even the bigger tasks (like reading all of my BOTM books) are things I want to work toward just because I feel I should, which means I’m not feeling bogged down by the restrictions of the challenge. At least not yet. I’m happy with where I’m at, I’m hopeful about my chances of completion, and I’m excited to watch my progress as the year progresses.

Are you taking part in any reading challenges this year, and if so how’s it going? Are there any tasks or specific titles on my list that you’ve read lately or are excited for me to get to?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Top 25 Favorite Books, 2018 edition

This is a list I update every year, and every year the first question I have to answer is what I want this list to be. When I started it back in 2008 the answer to that question was closer to “my favorite books from the last year or so,” but over the years, the list has changed. If you’re looking for recent favorites, let me direct you instead to my best books of the year lists for 2017 and 2016.

For this list, I looked back at every book I can remember ever reading, and I compiled my favorites. From there, I narrowed it down to 25 books that were not only enjoyable to read, but somehow influential to me and my reading life. I have more than 25 favorites, of course, but this year, these are the books that I’m feeling the most grateful to have had in my life.

Side note: I’m not going to give 25 synopses. Instead, I’m going to talk a little about why each book is important to me, which will probably include a brief snapshot of what each book is, in a nutshell.

Also, I started trying to order these by favoritism, but I have loved these books for such different reasons and at such different times of my life that I couldn’t find a way to rank them adequately. So I’ve organized them by date read, from earliest to most recent. This list will take you on a tour of some highlights in my reading life.

  1. The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis. This is the first book (chronologically) in Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, which is the first fantasy series I read. This book introduced me to alternative realities. Ordinary children discover something extraordinary– a doorway to other worlds that most people aren’t aware of, don’t believe in, or maybe can’t even imagine. This book taught me about the power of perspective, and the vast possibilities in storytelling… at the ripe age of 8.
  2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling. I didn’t start reading Harry Potter until I was 10 or 11, after the 5th book had been published. I could say so much about the merits of this series, but I’ll just focus on the reason this one stood out: Hermione’s Time Turner. This is the book that introduced me to the concept that time didn’t have to be a fixed constraint in literature, and that opened doors for me. Books can have their own worlds, their own rules, and as long as they follow their own code, anything is valid.
  3. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. Sarah Dessen’s novels reminded me as a teenager that it’s okay to be whoever you are. This one in particular made me feel better about something that’s always plagued me: perfectionism. I recently reread this book, and even as an adult it made me laugh, it made me feel, it made me appreciate that made-up stories can carry real messages that can help real people.
  4. Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. When I first read this book, I loved it for it’s romance, the fantasy love story that’s more about friendship and trust and just appreciating another person for being themselves than about all-consuming love. But as the years pass, I still reread and adore this book for that and so much more: it’s emphasis on the importance of peace and acceptance, the characters’ willingness to sacrifice and fight for the greater good that they believe in… It’s a powerful book, all the more inspiring for being written by a teenager.
  5. Atonement by Ian McEwan. This was the first adult book that I read (other than Stephen King who’ll be making a later appearance) and I remember being afraid that I would find it boring. I didn’t, which opened up new literary avenues for me to explore. Furthermore, what I liked most about this one is that it tells a story that didn’t happen, even within its fictional bounds. It tells a what if, in my first brush with metafiction, which I loved for the same reason as Hermione’s Time Turner.
  6. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. A friend recently told me she excluded this one from her favorites list and discourages people from reading the book because watching the movie provides basically the same experience. I think it’s not the fault of the book if the film makers did a good job, and I also think that the book gives more nuance to the characters. But primarily, this one makes the cut for me because it was the first classic that I read (as a high school freshman), and loving it enabled me to take more literary chances.
  7. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I’m not one of those people who hated all of their mandatory reading assignments in high school, but I was surprised to appreciate this one as much as I did. This is fiction that acknowledges it’s fictional nature in a fascinating way. It highlights the horrors of war even while outright admitting to the lie in its narration. That blend of a real issue told through creative fiction is something that has fascinated me ever since, and the classroom discussion about this book is one of the few group talks I actually enjoyed in school.
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Here’s another school assignment book from the same year (high school sophomore) and the same class. This is a book that reminded me 1) that it can be fun to read about children even when I didn’t feel like one anymore (haha), 2) that there are very readable classics out there, and 3) that some books carry transferable messages despite how very different the characters’ lives may be from the reader’s own. This was the book that cemented my interest in those deeper themes and topics behind the main plot; after this book, I rarely wanted to read a book for entertainment alone.
  9. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I read this book for a college project for which I was able to choose my book; I thought it would be too zombie-like and I would need that extra push. It turned out to be much more about morality. The commentary about correcting/accepting the choices one has made, especially choices that affect other people, is a widely applicable narrative. Feeling pity for Frankenstein’s monster changed the way that I live and read, making me more aware of other peoples’ perspectives and motives outside of my own experiences.
  10. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I generally think that I don’t like politics, but I think my problem is that in the real world I feel too insignificant in that realm. A Game of Thrones helped me see that even at the level of power that operates on words and laws, it all boils down to individual motivations. What I love most about this series is that the reader can choose sides, and all sides are valid– Martin doesn’t use any stock characters, they’re all unique, morally gray, and undeniably human.
  11. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. I read and enjoyed quite a few mandatory books for various college classes, but this one has stuck with me the longest. It affected the way I think about money– how important it is, what’s worth doing to keep it, how it can drastically change a life if one has too much or not enough. It’s scary how much money can alter a person and their choices, and I want to be self-aware enough not to take anything I have for granted, no matter what changes I encounter in my life.
  12. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This is a fictional novel that reflects a bit of the author’s real struggle with mental illness. It is the book that made me aware of how powerful a story can be, when it comes from an author who has experience in that area (“Own voices” was not a familiar term back in 2013). By this point I had read surprisingly few books about real issues that I could apply directly to my own life, but I found a sort of kinship in this narrator that made me feel less ashamed about being occasionally depressed or morbid or just generally feeling outside of humanity.  I think I just have a normal level of weird thoughts, but this is the book that sparked my interest in reading about psychological elements.
  13. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. If I had known this was nonfiction when I picked it up, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Fiction is my art form of choice. But this one covers several topics that intrigue me: the turn of the 20th century, architecture, invention, and true crime, and once it grabbed my attention it reminded me that it’s important to step outside of my reading comfort zone now and then, to take the time to give new things a chance. It also piqued my interest for learning about lesser-known moments in history.
  14. You by Caroline Kepnes. Sometimes it seems like it’s hard to find really unique stories anymore with all the books that are already out there. But then I find someone like Caroline Kepnes. Her books are weird, yes, and I don’t love everything about them, but I will say that I never know where they’re going next and I’ve never read anything like them. If you want to talk about most-anticipated sequels, I have been dying for the third book in this series for over a year and there’s still no word on when it will be released. Some cliff-hangers are truly cruel.
  15. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I thought that knowing the ending of the story would make the journey less interesting, but that was before I read this one. I used to get so anxious about book endings that I would let myself read the last page before I got there, but I haven’t allowed myself to do that in years. I’ve really turned against any sort of spoilers. But this is the sort of narrative that emphasizes the importance of the journey, and while it does that it also examines the psyche of a killer, who seems shockingly sympathetic.
  16. Golden Son by Pierce Brown. You may have noticed we’ve gone past the books that inspired the most personal growth and change in me now. By the time I read Golden Son I was more actively on the hunt for surprising books because my personality was pretty set by this point and I had read so many books that I was occasionally falling into ruts where everything seemed repetitive. There is nothing repetitive about Golden Son. I wouldn’t say generally that I’m a big sci-fi or dystopian reader, but I will read anything Pierce Brown writes at this point. Books like this remind me never to discount an entire genre– the right author can make anything worth reading.
  17. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. This is the book that cemented my interest in adaptations. I’ve always been drawn to book-to-film adaptations, but more recently I’ve been interested in retellings, in old stories told in a new way. I didn’t particularly like Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but this book redeemed the original for me in a big way. It’s fascinating to see which elements carry over in adaptations, which parts from the original seem the most important to another artist. It’s a whole other way to have a conversation about art.
  18. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I’m back to talking about stepping outside of my genre comfort zone. I didn’t think I was particularly interest in sci-fi, so I was a bit skeptical picking up this sci-fi thriller. And it constantly surprised me. I have never met such a twisted book, and with this one, the subject matter is real enough that it also inspired an interest to learn more about the topic.
  19. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. There’s been surprisingly little YA literature on this list, and the reason for that, sadly, is that YA just doesn’t surprise and impress me much anymore. But this one is an exception. It covers tough topics (rape, abuse, alcohol) in realistic, unromanticized ways. There are some admirably strong friendships in this book, a fast and intriguing plot, and so many important messages about strong women, fighting for justice, and the importance of teen voices. I wish this one had been around when I was younger.
  20. Persuasion by Jane Austen. I do love a good classic. I have not yet read all of Austen’s novels, but this is my favorite so far from her list. I appreciate the message of making one’s own choices. There’s nothing wrong with taking input, but in the end you are the one who has to live with your decisions, and they should at least be your own.
  21. A Million Junes by Emily Henry. As with The Female of the Species, it came as a relief to discover that there are still YA books that I can appreciate. This one also deals with real topics (grief, disillusionment of one’s parents, loyalty) in unique and helpful ways. It’s also one of the only magical realism books that I’ve enjoyed, which again goes to show that even one’s least favorite genres contain some gems, when they’re approached by the right authors. This is a book that reminds me not to believe everything I hear– but that even the most outrageous stories can contain a kernel of truth.
  22. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I have many favorites from King’s oeuvre, but the absolute top of that list is this nonfiction volume, which reveals a bit of King’s own life and is also highly encouraging for wannabe authors. I think there are some valuable lessons in here for anyone who wants to create, but as an aspiring writer this book felt particularly tailored to my life. King is an absolute inspiration, not just as a writer but as a person who achieved his dream because he just kept chasing, even when it would’ve been so much easier to give up.
  23. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Have you noticed that almost all fantasy stories are in some way advocating equality? There’s just something uniquely compelling about seeing that fight in imaginary worlds, with imaginary species and castes, even though the basic lesson is one we can (read: should) apply to our own world. I have a feeling book 2 is going to usurp this one for me, but in the meantime I love these characters and their unique backgrounds, and I love that they’re trying to do what we’re all trying to do: level the playing field without getting lost along the way.
  24. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. There is a quickly growing number of great books about racism (and misogyny) out in the world now, but this is the one that has most impressed me. It’s full of shocking grit and resilient spirit, and it felt encouraging to me on so many levels. It acknowledges where society has gone wrong (albeit southern US 1930’s society rather than modern days), but instead of lecturing from there it empowers.
  25. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but this is the kind I like to read: a whimsical, yet heartrending story that also encourages readers to reach for their dreams, no matter what their background. This is such a unique story, but it’s one that’s also widely applicable. I like real stories that are shocking but also uplifting. I want to be enabled. And as much as I like picking out the little nuggets of truth and wisdom from fiction, sometimes a higher dose is necessary.

top25

If you’ve made it this far, thank you, and I’m impressed by your list-reading stamina. (Skimming is all right too, that’s why I made the titles bold.) Every year this list fluctuates because I’m not always looking for the same things from my reading life. Nevertheless, a few titles have been steady in my favorites list for several years now, and someday I might actually know what to say when people ask what my favorite book is. 🙂

What are your favorite books? Which of these books have you read?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

TBR 1.9.18

*Announcer’s Voice:* Welcome to Literary Elephant’s new and improved TBR system for 2018! Monthly TBRs are a thing of the past, because all year I’m going to be trying something new: the five book TBR.

Why?

It’s hard to predict how much a person will actually read in a month. And what’s a month when it comes to reading? No more than an arbitrary number of days. By the end of my first year of using monthly TBRs (which I reached in mid-2017) I found myself routinely facing one of two problems: 1) either putting too few books on my monthly TBR so that I could succeed at crossing everything off the list, which left me picking up random books at the end of the month that didn’t help me work toward my reading goals, or 2) putting too many books on my monthly TBR so that everything I read was pre-selected, but I didn’t get to feel good about finishing my list by the end of the month. For me, it just seems impossible to pre-select the actual number and titles of books I will be reading in the span of a month. It made me feel bad about my reading, which shouldn’t ever happen. Reading is always good.

So what am I doing about it?

I’m implementing a new TBR system for myself in 2018. Instead of creating a new TBR every month, I’m going to be setting five-book TBRs, to be created every time I finish the previous five books. No deadlines. I’m not even going to try for a no-straying-from-the-TBR rule. If I want to pick up a new book I’ve never heard about before in the middle of my five TBR books, that’s totally acceptable. I’ll just wait to set a new TBR until I finish those original five books. This way, I get to finish my TBR list every time, in the amount of time that works best for me and my current schedule.

Since this is an all-new system for me, I’ll probably be experimenting with it for a while to see how I might want to subdivide it. In my 2018 reading goals, I have a couple of challenges that involve reading 12 books of a certain type throughout the year, which might not fit as easily in this five-book system. I don’t know yet how many of my five books should be reading challenge books on each TBR, or if I’ll want to intentionally set a mix of genres, or make my choices some other way. We’ll see. All I know is that it’s going to be a whole new adventure for me this year.

I’ve already decided I won’t put every book I read in 2018 on these lists. My five-book TBRs are not for books I pick up on a whim, books I’m not as serious about finishing, books I’ve already started and have vague hopes for finishing within the time of the list. My TBRs are goal lists, the highest priorities and most important books of the moment. For example, right now I’m buddy reading Stephen King’s It (1,153 pages) with a friend, but you won’t see that on this list. I don’t know when exactly we’ll be finishing It, I’m reading other books at the same time, and I don’t need that extra push to make sure I’m picking It up this month, so I’m saving my TBR spaces for other things I do want an extra push for. (But I will still review just about everything I read, regardless of whether it was on a TBR, including It.)

Here’s a look at my first five books, which I will read in whichever order I feel like picking them up:

  1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This was my Book of the Month selection from December, and I’ve been dying to start reading it. I actually have started reading it between the time of starting to draft this post and finally publishing it, so I’m already at work on my TBR and I’m loving this first selection. Eleanor is definitely not fine, but she thinks she is. She just doesn’t know yet that life is about more than being fine. She’s a unique and compelling narrator though, and I can already tell I’m going to rate this one highly.
  2. Iron Gold by Pierce Brown. A new release. This one doesn’t come out until January 16, but I know I’ll be receiving it within the month, and I want to be reading it right away. I’ve been waiting over a year for this fourth book in the Red Rising series, so there’s no way I’m procrastinating on it now. Morning Star left off on a good note (ending what should have been a trilogy), so I’m a little wary about what will happen to this series as it continues. I trust Brown’s writing though, so I’m going to dive right in as soon as I can get my hands on it.
  3. Emma by Jane Austen. A classic from my Another Year of Classics list. I have these set up to read one per month, and I am going to try to stick to that goal even though it might not fit perfectly in my five-book TBRs. I’m not sure how many of these TBRs I’ll be posting per month– last year I averaged reading 9 books per month, so I’m thinking I’ll have 1 or 2 TBRs every month, though they won’t always appear at the same time of the month. Anyway, I received a nice copy of Emma as a Christmas gift and it’s going to be my first classic of the year. I’ve read three other Austen novels but I know absolutely nothing about this one yet, but I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy it as much as the other Austen novels I’ve read.
  4. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I like reading an Atwood book at the beginning of the year, and I’m trying to catch up on BOTM books, as I mentioned above. This was an extra BOTM book from several months ago and while I do also have a backlog problem, this is one I’ve been holding onto specifically for this time of year when I like to read one of Atwood’s novels. I just never know what to expect from them and January is a great time for exciting surprises. This one looks pleasantly chunky and mysterious, but I no longer remember the synopsis. Which is good for me, even though it means I can’t give you any hints of what it’s about before I review it.
  5. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. A YA sequel. I read four of Bardugo’s books in 2017, including this one’s predecessor, Six of Crows. I was too busy trying to catch up with my 2017 reading challenge at the end of the year to get back into the world of Ketterdam and find out what happens with Inej, but I’m so ready to return to this duology. I’m tentatively planning to read less YA in 2018, but only in that I’m going to be more selective in which titles I pick up, which I think will end up meaning I’m reading fewer YA titles but getting more enjoyment out of the ones I do pick up. Crooked Kingdom definitely makes the cut, though. No way I’m missing out on this one.

TBR 1.9.18

(Morning Star is standing in for Iron Gold, which hasn’t arrived yet. Also I’m not especially impressed with Iron Gold’s cover, but it’s the contents that count, right?)

I’ll be reviewing each of these books as I read them, and when I reach the end of the list, I’ll post a new TBR, labelled with the specific date when it’s set rather than the month (because I’m anticipating some months having multiple TBRs). This will help me track what a comfortable reading speed is for me, and push me to read the books that are most worthwhile rather than the easiest books to fit in a certain month. I’m so excited about this!

I will still post monthly wrap-ups so that I have a way of putting all of the books I’ve been reading recently in one place. My wrap-ups won’t necessarily fall at the end of a TBR anymore, but they’ll probably include more than the titles on these TBRs, which is why I want to continue them as usual. Monthly wrap-ups will also help me keep track of those bigger reading goals for the year: the twelve classics, the new releases, backlog BOTM books, etc.

What are you reading to kick off the new year?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Another Year of Classics

In my 2017 Wrap-Up I mentioned meeting my goal of reading at least 12 classics throughout that year. (Check out A Year of Classics for last year’s titles.) I want to do the same for 2018.

In 2017, I read 15 of 12 classics, although I only read 10.3 of the classics I originally designated. Nevertheless, having a classic planned for each month did help me reach that goal of 12, even if I did make some changes to it as the year progressed. So I’m here to designate another 12 classics for the months of 2018.

Here are the titles I’m hoping to read this year:

January- Emma by Jane Austen. (I read two of Austen’s books last year and loved them. Now I’m on a quest to read the rest of Austen’s novels– not too fast, because I want to savor them, but Austen is the only author with two books on this list.)

February- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. (My enjoyment of Jane Eyre last year sent me in the direction of this mysterious Gothic romance. It sounds like exactly the sort of intrigue I like to read to get me through the long tail-end of winter.)

March- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide by Robert Louis Stevenson.
(I read Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and it wasn’t my favorite, but I did enjoy the plot enough that I wanted to try another of his books. I’m hoping that I’ll like this one better.)

April- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. (A Christmas Carol was the first and only Dickens novel I’ve ever read, but even though I knew the plot going in, the writing and the characters drew me in and made it such a fun experience– especially during the holiday season. I have no excuse to put off trying another Dickens title this year.)

May- The Odyssey by Homer. (I haven’t finished The Iliad yet, so putting The Odyssey in the top half of this list is meant to encourage me to keep working at it in a timely manner. I always intended to read the two of these close enough together that The Iliad is still fresh in my mind when I read The Odyssey, so I’m aiming to wrap up the whole endeavor in 2018.)

June- The Waves by Virginia Woolf. (There are several Woolf titles on my long-term TBR, and while I’ve read lots of excerpts and shorter pieces of Woolf’s, I’ve never read any of her full-length books. If this one goes well, I’ll probably pick up more of them in the future.)

July- The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. (It’s been years since I read The Great Gatsby, and I still haven’t picked up any of Fitzgerald’s other works. My opinion of The Great Gatsby has fluctuated over the years, so I’m not sure what to expect from picking up another of Fitzgerald’s novels, but I’m ready to find out.)

August- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. (I switched this one out of my classics list last year because I was starting A Game of Thrones again that month and didn’t want to read two really long books in a row. That’s a poor excuse and “epic revenge story” still sounds pretty fantastic, so I’m more determined to actually read this one this year.)

September- Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. (My knowledge of Sherlock Holmes is vague at best. I have yet to read any of Doyle’s stories, which means I also haven’t watched any corresponding films or TV shows or read any retellings. It’s time to change that, I think. From what I’ve heard, Sherlock sounds like someone I’d be very interested in reading about, so that’s what I’m going to do.)

October- Dracula by Bram Stoker. (This is the other title I switched out of last year’s classics list, and if I’m honest, I’ve been meaning to read it for several Octobers in a row now and always procrastinated until it’s too late. I don’t know why, but here’s to giving it another go.)

November- Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. (As noted above, this is my second Austen title of the year, which will leave only one of her novels for me to read in 2019. I like the idea of spacing them out a bit, to keep the stories and characters from melding together in my mind and also because it’s so sad when there can’t be forthcoming novels by an author you appreciate– I don’t want my first experiences with Austen’s books to be over too soon.)

December- King Lear by Shakespeare. (I wanted a short classic for the end of the year, in case I’m busy trying to wrap up other reading endeavors. It should prevent me from shirking on my classics. I picked this one specifically because it was recommended to me multiple times after I posted my review for Macbeth last month. I’m still on the hunt for my favorite Shakespeare play, and I’m hoping this one will be a contender.)

classics 2018

(p.s I know it’s Macbeth in the picture instead of King Lear. I haven’t bought my copy of King Lear yet but I’m planning to do that later in the year.)

I love classics, but I know I don’t reach for them as readily as I do modern works. A challenge like this helps me to pick up books that might take a little longer to read but will (hopefully) be worth the time they take in the end. I tried to assemble a good mix of genres and authors for 2018 while also selecting books that I genuinely believe I will enjoy. I’m looking forward to reading these, and I hope I’ll have just as much success (or more) with this challenge as I did last year.

Do you read classics? Do you see any favorites on this list?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant