It’s the end of 2018. Literally. Today is the last day of the year and I’m still cramming trying to write new content before the year ends. It’s like I’m back in high school. Except that I didn’t really cram study in high school so much as I just didn’t study. At all. Not developing study habits came back to bite me in grad school.
Wait…what was I talking about? Cramming.
So in 2018, like in 2017, I had a goal to read 12 books before the end of the year. 2018 was a borderline maniacal year for me — to the point where I’m hoping 2019 just consists of a nap for me. I miss having energy to do things. Now all my energy goes to my life, my job, or (if I’m very lucky) my writing. It’s a tiring thing. It’s why I’ve largely resorted to audiobooks over the course of this year. It’s also why I read 10 of the 12 books I read in 2018 in October or later.
I decided it made sense to do a small review post of the books I read over the course of the year. It’s been a while since I did I true book review post (if you want some of those, go check out Megan’s blog…she’s even done a full review on one of the books I read this year), and though I’m not in a position to do any of those in the near future3, I did have some thoughts on the books I read. Most of them anyway. I’ve decided to rank 10 of the 12 books I read this year.
In addition to the books below, I also read “Candy Apple Butterscotch” by Rebecca MacCeile and “2666” by Roberto Bolano. I’ve chosen not to make these books part of this list. In the case of the former, I was involved heavily in the formatting process, so I don’t feel I could review it objectively in comparison to other books I read. In the case of the latter, the book was unlike anything I’ve read…to the point where I’m still not sure how I feel about it after the fact. I may come back and add it in as an edit to the post in the future, but as of writing this at the end of December 2018, it will not be mentioned.
10. The Red Inn by Honore de Balzac
The first book I read of 2018 was also the worst by a decent margin4. For a book that’s considered to be a classic novel, it was just boring. The Red Inn made The Iliad readable. It made Moby Dick seem entertaining. It was that bad. On the plus side, it was short, taking me only three days to read in spite of it putting me to sleep every night. I cannot recommend it enough if you have insomnia.
9. Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
I’m generally a pretty big fan of books written by comedians, however this is one of the rare exceptions to that rule. You can always tell when someone is trying too hard to be funny, as it sounds forced and painful more than it does actually funny. Eighty percent of Dad is Fat falls into the forced and painful realm. There are a couple of entertaining moments in the book, but they’re few and far between. Having this as an audiobook made it better, as at least Gaffigan’s delivery was really good. That said, it’s one of the few books this year I actively had to put down out of frustration of reading it.
8. Hurricane Season: What Katrina Taught America by Susan Zakin
Not going to lie. I completely forgot I had read this book until near the end of the year. Huh. That’s not a good thing for a book. It was…unremarkable? Which is still better than the two entries below it on this list. But here it sits.
7. Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart by Lisa Rogak
I had extremely high expectations of this book and came away completely disappointed. As someone who is a huge fan of Jon Stewart, I was hoping to come away learning something new about a man who I had idolized through much of my young adult life. That said, the book came across more like a long Wikipedia article than it did a narrative story or biography. The audiobook featured the worst narrator of an audiobook I came across this year, but even when ignoring that fact, the book was still not great. There was so much potential here, but nearly no execution that couldn’t be done as part of a research writing class.
6. Earth (The Book) by Jon Stewart
I’ve always wanted to read this book, in spite of the fact that people have given me mixed reviews. It’s a gimmicky book — written as a letter of sorts to the alien race that inevitably finds the remains of crumbled society — and fills that niche about how you would expect it would. It was funny at times, though not to the point where I found myself in constant laughter or in deep thought like I often was with The Daily Show itself when Stewart was at the helm. It’s worth the read if you like the premise of the gimmick behind the book, but not a required read if you don’t.
5. Monkey: A Journey to the West translated by David Kheridan
I completely blame Overly Sarcastic Productions for me wanting to read this book. After all, this is a thing.
The book itself was a great morning read during the time off I had from work early in the year and does tell an interesting story. As OSP shows, Journey to the West is a folktale that provided tropes that we see constantly in modern literature. If you have a child of a certain age5, it’s a great bedtime story to span over a few months.
4. The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
We come to the point of the list where I started actively being invested in the books that I read. The Black Prism is a very good story with an amazing magic system. That much is for certain. It’s also a fantasy novel wrapped up in all of the trappings of the typical fantasy novel, including cringeworthy gore and murder, as well as an unshakeable male gaze that makes most women in the story objects or plot devices first and characters second. There are two exceptions to the previous statement in Karis and Liv, however even they can’t avoid occasionally being nothing more than objects of desire6. There’s three more books in this series, and I’m torn on whether or not I want to read them at this point. The main story is great. The flaws are enough that I don’t know that I care about continuing reading the series.
3. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
This was surprisingly good — though not for the reasons I expected when I started reading it. Anna Kendrick often come off as this super-relatable, funny celebrity. Scrappy Little Nobody showed that the funny is definitely still true, though I’m less sure now that I’d use relatable to describe her. That said, she tells a damn good story, which was something I didn’t know she was as good at as she clearly is. This was another one of my audiobook reads for the year, and of all of the narrators I listened to in 2018, she was by far the most engaging. Which is nothing to scoff at since Wil Fucking Wheaton is her competition.
2. What If? by Randall Munroe
Speaking of Wheaton, he was the narrator for XKCD creator Randall Munroe’s deep dive into the batshit craziest questions about science you could ever imagine. As someone who adores science and math, this was a joy to listen to, causing me to stay up far later than I had meant to more than once. Munroe’s explorations into the weird space questions he would receive were the most entertaining responses in the book, however the entire book was engaging.
1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
The single best book I’ve read since high school…possibly ever7
I’m not exaggerating. Go read this book. It was that good. I read this entire book in one day, then re-read it again over the course of about a week. I was swept away by the book itself, losing myself in the beauty of its story (something that has only happened one other time in recent memory). There are several relatable, compelling characters in the book. Its messages about fame and the social internet are inescapable truths. Even if the dialogue feels strange at times8, the brilliance of the story makes any concerns forgivable.