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Ranking My 2019 Reads – Part 2

At the end of last year, I decided to take a look back at all of the books I’d read in 2018 and provide some ranking to them. This was partly because I like lists, but also partly because I wanted to provide some objectivity to how I felt about the various books I’d read for the first time. I’ve decided to repeat this exercise in 2019, albeit with a much larger list, as you can see below. As was the case last year, if there was a book you read that’s on my list below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I read a ton of good books this year, so there’s some books I loved and would have been top five in last year’s list — such as 10:04 by Ben Lerner — that are relatively low on this list. This is largely driven by the fact that there were several good books recommended to me. For the most part, these recommendations did not disappoint.

This post is part two of two in this series. For part one, click here.

I have a few books I’ve chosen not to rank for various reasons. Those books, along with why I’ve chosen not to rank them, are listed in alphabetical order below.

  • Computer Machinery and Intelligence by Alan Turing – I read this solely as research for my work in progress and nothing more. It’s a super interesting read, but it’s way too short to be considered a book.
  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Translated by John Minford) – Considering this translation is 85% analysis by people other than the actual writer, I didn’t feel it fair to judge Lao Tzu’s work based off of this specific copy. Plus it’s a religious text and people get antsy when you do that.

Also, spoilers ahead for many of these books. If you care about that sort of thing.

16. 10:04 by Ben Lerner

aka: What the fuck did I just read?

I covered 10:04 in greater detail in a review I wrote earlier this year, however, I’ll summarize it as a great book for writers to read and a hit-or-miss book for everyone else. The way that this book dives into the psyche of a writer working through writing a novel is exquisite, especially as the book’s narrator shifts between the various writing ideas he has throughout the book. With that said, most of the characters in the story aside from the narrator and the main female character are hard to develop any sort of attachment towards. Combine that with the fact that the narrator is pretentious at various points throughout the book1And a straight up terrible guy at a couple of points. and it’s hard to get invested in his personal story. Which wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t the one telling you the story. But he is, which keeps 10:04 from climbing higher on this list in spite of its interesting parts. On the plus side, this book taught me I really like metafiction.

15. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

aka: Let’s talk about sex…kind of.

Initially upon finishing this book, I debated writing a full on review for it like I did for 10:04. Then I came to my senses, realizing that doing so would be a minefield from which only bad things would come. The book itself was an interesting read, giving some insight into female sexuality that is often lacking from mainstream books. That said, the book focused too much on sexuality in the context of affairs (be that from the woman in question or if the woman was with someone having an affair) for my liking. Hell, even the primary conflict in the only healthy sexual relationship portrayed in the book — that of an open-ish relationship/marriage — hinges on conflict that comes out of the married couple causing a married man to have an affair with them. I get that keeping affairs out of this book wasn’t part of these stories, but it was disappointing to run into in every single story.

14. Otherworld by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

aka: If you die in Canada, you die in real life

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post that talked (in part) about whether or not you could like a book despite knowing it was problematic. I wrote that post before reading Otherworld, yet felt it was a great example of what I was talking about in said post. Otherworld is a book that checked a lot of boxes to being a book that typically isn’t good. It has a damsel in distress who should be able to fend for herself, yet is being saved by a weak male character. It has corporate conspiracy themes out the wazoo. It screams being a weird bastardization between Ready Player One and Sword Art Online2The technology for the former, the danger and creep factor for the latter.. There were impossibly inflated stakes for the two main characters that made it clear nothing serious was going to happen to them, even when they were in danger. Yet, despite all that, it was a really entertaining read. Also, I didn’t realize that this book was co-authored by THAT Jason Segel until I recognized his voice as the audiobook reader.

13. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

aka: I’ll do you one better. Why is the scientific secrets of perfect timing?

I am an unabashed fan of Daniel Pink’s work. His book, Drive, is arguably the single most impactful book I’ve ever read in regards to how I think about my career, both as a writer and as a professional. It’s one of only two books I will actively recommend a business professional read, regardless of their industry, role, or responsibilities. When is not Drive, but it is still a good book. As always, Pink is a writer who can capture you in anecdotal stories to make a point about scientific evidence. That said, it’s one of the few books on this list I felt like didn’t dive deep enough into what was being discussed. I finished the book in less than two days. Though Pink does offer some options for additional reading at the end of the book, I read his work because I enjoy the stories he tells — not because I want to read someone else’s work about the same topic.

12. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

aka: How to write a non-linear comedy book and look good doing it

This book is everything I wanted Scrappy Little Nobody to be when I read that last year. Granted, Scrappy Little Nobody was a good book, but Yes Please was a GREAT book3That statement is more or less true from every book this point on the list or higher.. It was funny and witty, while still being a great look into Poehler’s life. My only question — who the fuck has a high school that lets you get home at 1:45pm?

11. Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

aka: Still a better love story than Twilight

I went into reading this book expecting to learn a lot more about the NSA abuses of power revealed by Snowden in 2013. And while there was some of that, most of what was covered in the book was, unsurprisingly, much of what was already publicly known (and well-known at that) knowledge. I came away from this book instead thinking about how Snowden’s story only reinforced the need for increased protection for whistleblowers — not that there’s been any high-profile whistleblowing in the past few months or anything — as well as thinking about how Snowden’s personal love story was his now-wife is better than most romantic stories on this list.

10. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

aka: Busy, busy, busy.

One of Vonnegut’s other books, Slaughterhouse-Five, was a book I called out when I wrote my Ten Favorite Books of All Time post a few years back4Note to self: I really need to write an updated version of that post. I can think of at least three books I’ve read in the four years since I wrote that list that would displace some of the lower books on the list., so I was excited to read Cat’s Cradle. While I don’t think it’s Vonnegut’s best book, it was an interesting philosophical exercise to read. The amount of world building (and later world destroying) Vonnegut does in Cat’s Cradle is nothing short of impressive — and yet he does so all while contrasting the world of San Lorenzo with the world in real life. This is probably one of the deeper books on the list, kept as low as it is by its extremely choppy pacing5I get that it’s intentional, but it’s still jarring..

9. Every Tool’s a Hammer by Adam Savage

aka: A book about being creative wrapped in a machinist’s body

I went into Every Tool’s a Hammer expecting to be disappointed by another autobiography from a famous person I liked. Considering the only one that hadn’t disappointed me to this point belonged to Michelle Freaking Obama, I had somewhat low expectations despite my love for Adam Savage. That said, this book was oddly inspirational for me as a writer, as Savage really went into the philosophy and psychology of what it means to be a maker. Regardless of your medium and your tools, creating is an amazing thing. Savage really managed to drive that home in ways I hadn’t thought about before. I was impressed with this book — enough to give it a second read after finishing the first time.

8. Becoming by Michelle Obama

aka: Needed perspective in a perspective lacking world

This is by far the longest I was in a hold queue for a book at my library, outside of Where the Crawdads Sing. Becoming is exactly what I expected it to be — a well-written autobiographical account of the former First Lady’s life both before and in the White House, told from a perspective of someone that overcame a lot to get everywhere they had been in life. I knew Michelle Obama was a good writer, though the book did manage to exceed my expectations in that regard. It ends the year as the second highest non-fiction book on the list, both because of its importance, as well as how good the book itself was. My lone criticism is that the book had a hell of a downer of an ending. Who writes a book where the bad guy wins in the end6The irony to this is that I love writing fiction where this is the case. That’s the thing though. Fiction.?

7. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

aka: Don’t read (or listen) to this book if you’re in a bad state of mind

I adore John Green. His work on Vlogbrothers, Dear Hank and John, Crash Course, and other places has been a huge inspiration to me in so many ways. Despite all of this, I’d never read one of his books. Turtles All the Way Down was a good book that I struggled to fully appreciate because of how long it took me to get invested with the main character’s story. For the first half of the book, I felt myself caring more about the quirky side character, Daisy, than I did about the book’s struggling protagonist, Aza. The story itself was good and the focus on mental health in the book was great. But I didn’t connect with the book the way I did with others further down the list. Turtles All the Way Down is objectively a better book than some books I’ve ranked ahead of it — it just wasn’t one that I adored.

6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

aka: Blade Runner didn’t do this book justice

I made an effort to read this book early in the year to help give me some perspective on how other writers have handled writing androids in fiction. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? does a great job of debating what it means to be human, as well as to what extent humanity is or is not truly human, all while focusing on the possible humanity of artificial intelligence. This book taught me a lot about how I want the villains in my book to view AI, but also brought up great questions for the protagonists to consider as well. After reading this book, I’m disappointed in my previous viewings of Blade Runner, particularly with where they chose to stay true to the book versus where they didn’t.

5. Dear Martin by Nic Stone

aka: This is America.

Right out of the gate, I’d like to say that I couldn’t relate to at least 90 percent of Dear Martin. That’s exactly why I read it. Yes, Dear Martin tells a good story. It’s a well-written book with characters you develop emotional connection toward, be that positive or negative. But it’s also important to read books outside of our experience. I don’t know it’s like being an African-American teen in a country where that group is systemically profiled by a group that should protect them. Yet it’s important to understand that experience. The fact that Dear Martin was written in such an engaging way is just a bonus.

4. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

aka: What a psychological thriller should read like

Holy. Fuck. For a book that starts out as slow as this one7This is the first time I’ve ever found myself calling a book that starts out with a murder in the first three pages slow, but it really was a slow starting book., once it gets going it’s damn near impossible to put down. Unweaving the tangled web that Turton creates in this book is challenging enough, but trying to figure out who kills Evelyn Hardcastle throughout the story is a shockingly difficult exercise for a reader to partake in. The ending of the book was a let down to me, though I get why it ended the way it did for character growth purposes. On the plus side, this book did give one of the best narrator characters I’ve seen in a book this year, in the form of Constable Jim Rashton. The only down side is that he’s only a narrator for a short time in the book — but it’s an engrossing few chapters.

3. Educated by Tara Westover

aka: This is America, too.

Of all of the books on this list, Educated was the hardest for me to read. This isn’t because it was a bad book — far from it actually. While I can’t claim to have experienced anything like the horrors Tara Westover experienced in her childhood and young adult years, reading this book only served to remind me how many similarities certain people in my family share with those that could be better described as religious fundamentalists, conspiracy theorists, or just backwards in terms of what we consider to be modern society. There were a few lines in particular Westover mentioned in her book that I recall hearing nearly word for word as a child — how women who weren’t modest were whores, how doctors existed to poison you instead of help you, and how public school was a government conspiracy to brainwash you. It makes me feel a little bit better that I wasn’t the only one who experienced those things, as well as a ton better that I only experienced such a minimal amount in comparison to what Westover had to go through. Make no mistake, what Westover describes in her book is still going on now. It’s not just happening in rural areas or the Mormon community. It’s a terrifying realization.

2. Crazy is My Superpower by A.J. Mendez Brooks

aka: Bipolar disorder is the villain in this story

Every once in a while, there’s a book that just catches you emotionally when you aren’t expecting it. That’s this book for me. A.J. Mendez Brooks — under her wrestling name of AJ Lee — was at the height of her career when I was at the peak of my watching wrestling. I watched her story of clawing her way up the WWE roster play out in real-time. Knowing the back story behind her life, as well as all the horrors she went through at various points, really resonated with me. It’s a beautifully written, quirky, and funny book that pulls no punches. After reading several bad or underwhelming books by celebrities this year, Crazy is My Superpower was perhaps the most pleasant surprise read of the year for me. If you want to hear my thoughts on this book more in detail, it was one of my three in-depth reviews this year.

1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

aka: Thought provoking and beautifully-written literature can infuriate you

Alright. Let’s hit the only two negatives of this book immediately.

  1. The ending focusing on Mrs. Richardson and Izzy seemed out of place, particularly when Mia and Pearl were clearly the focus characters for much of the book.
  2. This first half of this book was an orgy of evidence that it took place in Cleveland in the 1990s. To the point where it was actively distracting.

That out of the way — I’ve never read a book that shifts between perspectives as fluidly and beautifully at this one does. Little Fires Everywhere does a great job of telling little stories everywhere — blending these asides and peripheral tales into the larger narrative of the book. The book did a great job of creating believable teenage characters without making them cringey. Even the adult characters where well-written, despite being less focused on (aside from Mia and Mrs. Richardson). The story very much downplays the theme of child abduction — which I hit on hating in one of the other reviews in this list — but manages to do so in a way that makes sense. That said, Little Fires Everywhere did frustrate me as the book was wrapping up, but only because I wanted to know what happened with the story faster than the book was telling it. I’ve only felt that way with two other books since becoming an adult. One was the book that topped last year’s list, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. The other was The Shadows. This book makes three books on that list. It’s the highest compliment I can give to a book that really did tell an entrancing story.

Ranking My 2019 Reads – Part 1

At the end of last year, I decided to take a look back at all of the books I’d read in 2018 and provide some ranking to them. This was partly because I like lists, but also partly because I wanted to provide some objectivity to how I felt about the various books I’d read for the first time. I’ve decided to repeat this exercise in 2019, albeit with a much larger list, as you can see below. As was the case last year, if there was a book you read that’s on my list below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I read a ton of good books this year, so there’s some books I loved and would have been top five in last year’s list — such as 10:04 by Ben Lerner — that are relatively low on this list. This is largely driven by the fact that there were several good books recommended to me. For the most part, these recommendations did not disappoint.

This post is part one of two in this series. For part two, click here. Once it’s posted on December 30th, that is.

I have a few books I’ve chosen not to rank for various reasons. Those books, along with why I’ve chosen not to rank them, are listed in alphabetical order below.

  • Computer Machinery and Intelligence by Alan Turing – I read this solely as research for my work in progress and nothing more. It’s a super interesting read, but it’s way too short to be considered a book.
  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Translated by John Minford) – Considering this translation is 85% analysis by people other than the actual writer, I didn’t feel it fair to judge Lao Tzu’s work based off of this specific copy. Plus it’s a religious text and people get antsy when you do that.

Also, spoilers ahead for many of these books. If you care about that sort of thing.

31. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

aka: Just because a book is famous doesn’t mean it’s good.

No. Just no. This might make my list of worst books of all time. I generally love philosophy books, but this was cringeworthy. If I wanted to read a book rebuking education, I’d read Ayn Rand again. At least that’s transparent about being horrible philosophy.

30. Sunburn by Laura Lippman

aka: How many unlikeable characters can you cram into a single book?

Never judge a book by its cover — or its back cover blurb. After I finished a book that appears much later on this list, I realized that I wanted to read another psychological thriller immediately after because of how engrossed I got in that book. So I picked up Sunburn, drawn in by its well-designed cover and the synopsis that the back of the book gave me, only to be majorly disappointed in how flat the book fell. It’s almost as if the author tried to see if they could write an entire book solely with characters who have no redeeming qualities. Which was super confusing, as I’ve really only heard good things about Laura Lippman as a writer. I finished the book so that I didn’t give up early on another book I didn’t like1Waves at Jim Gaffigan., but Sunburn felt like a waste of a week and a half of my commute more than anything. The final 10% of the book in particular was infuriating. Sure, lots of bad people got what was coming to them in the end, but the least likeable character in the book gets the happy ending. Why? At least the audiobook reader was good?

29. The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson

aka: The old baha’i and switch

I genuinely went into this book assuming I’d get a biography of Rainn Wilson. My hope was that there’d be a decent amount of focus on his time on The Office, however, I knew that he had done other work, so I assumed we’d get into that. Instead, the book was just as much an exploration of Wilson’s spiritual journey and relationship with drugs in his youth as it was anything else. Wilson is funny — I laughed harder at certain parts of this book than I did at many books higher on this list — but I spent more of the book wondering why I was reading this than genuinely being interested. Its highs are very high, but the lows are frequent and extended.

28. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

aka: Everyone’s a little bit racist…and lying

Here we have a great premise of a book and a story style I love — the murder mystery — ruined by rampant stereotyping and a final sixth of the book that falls flat. Most of the characters in the book spend time talking about how Brits are stuck up and reserved or how Americans are pragmatic jerks or how Italians just love to stab people. I get that it’s not a long enough book to develop a cast of nearly 20 characters all deeply, but nearly everyone was a walking stereotype (mostly driven by how others spoke of them). Even if you want to go with the defense that the book is just “a product of its time”2Don’t. That’s a terrible defense for a book written just before the outbreak of World War II., the first 80% of the book is spent setting up an entire plot line, only for it to be thrown out for the final 20%. Then, after the final 20% of the book builds up a second narrative about the book’s true killer, the final page of the book decides to say fuck it and none of it matters. I was left wondering why I’d even read it.

27. The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data by Michael P. Lynch

aka: My biggest Twitter pet peeve, now formatted as a book

Have you ever followed someone on Twitter — let’s call them Account A — because one of your friends follows them? You realized from your friend’s retweets that Account A is interesting, insightful, funny, or whatever quality you’re really looking for in a good Twitter follow. Beyond that, Account A shares many, though not necessarily all, of the world views you have, reinforcing them from a source of credibility. But then, once you begin following Account A, you realize that they’re often talking to their followers like they’re kindergartners — treating the broader consumer of their content as having no knowledge of particularly prevalent concepts. Account A also retweets themselves constantly, not to mention retweeting people who talk about how awesome and insightful Account A is3There are two accounts in particular I follow on Twitter like this. I like following them because they’ll tweet super informative things that I don’t see anywhere else. That said, 95% of their tweets are either self-congratulating bullshit or are tweets marketing their own products thinly-disguised as actual content. Is that all you need to do to become a verified account? Because I can do that. ? That’s pretty much The Internet of Us. Amazingly informative book. But I felt like I was in a college class led by a professor who was only teaching the class because they were forced to (because they were super knowledgeable in that field), and were sleepwalking through it as a result.

26. Ulysses by James Joyce

aka: A rambling Irish odyssey.

Truth be told, this book was long, boring, and not particularly easy to follow via the audiobook. Perhaps I would have liked it better and/or understood it more if I were reading a physical copy, but I don’t have time to read an 800 page book just laying around in my week. I did that with Anna Karenina a few years ago and while that was worth it, Ulysses wasn’t. On the plus side, the audiobook performance read by John Lee had amazing voice work — to the point where it might be the best read book on this entire list.

25. The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre

aka: Personality testing and religion have a lot more similarities than you realize

Despite largely being a biography of the authors of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory rather than a breakdown of that test  (and other personality tests as I had hoped it would be), I had three primary takeaways from this book:

  1. Holy shit Katherine Briggs was a horrible human being.
  2. Personality testing is a lot like religion/faith. Neither has much, if any, scientific validity. That said, there is a lot people can draw out of each of them. Much of it can be good and be a positive way to improve peoples’ lives. But there’s a lot of ways it can be used to manipulate and oppress people, nevermind the fact that it can be used to reinforce someone’s own bigoted tendencies (see #1).
  3. People who use personality testing and an end-all, be-all way to control their employees’ careers is frightening…and more common than you’d think.

24. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

aka: Paint the bird feathers by numbers

This was one of the books that the internet recommended to me (though I sadly can’t remember where I got this recommendation from), so I was excited to read it. And considering the five month wait I had to spend on a wait list for the book, I expected this to be a showstopping book of epic proportions. Hell, I waited longer for this book than Michelle Obama’s book. That said, I can sum up this book in one sentence. Decent story, terrible ending. It was predictable chapter by chapter, particularly after reading a couple of other books on this list. I was interested in the story, hence placing it above the books below it on the list. But more often than not, I found myself wishing the story would go somewhere other than where it did with the turn of every page. I actively said ‘oh, goddammit’ multiple times as I read the book. At least Jumpin’ and Mabel were entertaining?

23. Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker

aka: As I said in my first book, everything is your parents’ fault.

I read this book as research for my current WIP. In reading this book, I learned a ton about CPTSD, how it manifests itself, how people can cope with it, and several other topics. It was an immensely useful book roughly 75% of the time. That said, while part of the premise of this book is that CPTSD is driven by childhood trauma, there were several scenarios and ancedotes that the author blamed on childhood trauma that clearly were not caused by the child’s parents. The biggest one that jumped out to me was a story about how a sexual assault victim who was assaulted as a child also got assaulted later again in life. According to the author’s story, because the woman’s parents had done nothing to address the assault from her childhood, the woman was prone to getting assaulted again later in life. Just. No. Not even a little. Also, if you take a shot every time Walker mentions his first book, you’ll be unconscious by chapter 7.

22. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

aka: As I said in my previous books, the brain is fucking weird.

If you take a shot every time Sacks mentions something else he’s written, you’ll be unconscious before you start reading. It earns the nod to being one spot higher on this list than the previous book solely because the stories in it were much easier to listen to. Granted, part of that is subject matter, but still.

21. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

aka: I fully understand why I gave up on this book three times in the past

Of the various books on this list, this is one of two I had attempted to read before 20194The other being Musicophilia.. In fact, I had attempted to read Dorian Gray on three separate occasions since I started college at the recommendations of various folks whose book opinions I respected. I never made it past the first quarter of the book on any of those occasions. I figured picking up the audiobook ready by Stephen Fry would help — and it did, as I finally finished the book. That said, despite Fry’s great performance, the book is exactly what I remembered it to be: boring, fatalist, and tedious. The moral to the story is still good, in that your misdeeds will eventually be your undoing by hook or by crook. But the other lessons I think Wilde is trying to show in his story fall flat, particular with a character as uninteresting as Dorian Gray is.

20. Failure is an Option by H. Jon Benjamin

aka: Sometimes diarrhea in a rental car ends better than expected

First off, I swear to god the aka line makes sense once you read the book. Second, for a book that I picked up because all of my other to-read books were on hold — and even then only because I’m a fan of Archer — this was a surprisingly entertaining listen5As I got the audiobook for this one.. Benjamin is relatable in many of his failures and some of the stories are fun. As a web series or movie, I feel like Failure is an Option would be hysterical. As a book, it fell flat at times, but was still enjoyable. The book wasn’t a failure, even though Benjamin spent a lot of time self-deprecating its quality. If anything, it was probably the most average book on this list, dividing the good (or better) books above it from the bad books below it.

19. Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Dozen by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

aka: Characters, not plot depth, can make stories

Despite my love for the various Sherlock Holmes television series and movies that have come out over time, I’ve never actually read any of the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I decided to rectify that by reading a compilation of the stories. And yes, the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are great characters and their adventures are entertaining. The biggest thing that jumped out to me is that arguably the most common flaw that people pointed out in my book — that the short stories don’t build up backstory and skip over potentially relevant details for sake of moving the plot along — is the EXACT thing that happens in every single Sherlock Holmes story. Granted, I’m not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In fact, I’m far from it. But seeing this did make me feel slightly better about my writing.

18. When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

aka: A book of dualities on every level you could imagine

I reviewed When the Lights Go Out earlier this year, so for sake of not rehashing that all over again, I’ll keep this short. The Jessie Sloane arc of the book is genuinely one of the best slow burn character descents into madness I’ve ever read. Full stop. The Eden Sloane arc of the book was bad. It was on par with Sunburn, only with a character you’re actively rooting against because you can see the impact this woman has on her daughter. I want more of this book and to never read it again all at the same time.

17. Me of Little Faith by Lewis Black

aka: This book isn’t too ba…what the fuck just happened?

The first 85% of this book is exactly what I expected from Lewis Black having been a fan of his standup and watching him on The Daily Show. Witty, sarcastic commentary with disregard for the absurdities of pretty much anyone and everyone. It was a good book, but not an amazing one. Then the last 15% of the book happened. He wrote a multi-character play with multiple flashbacks inside of it. And this was already inside of him telling a story within a book. That’s like 16 walls. Me of Little Faith gets bumped up a few spots just because of how weird, unexpected, and oddly effective this was.

Ranking My 2018 Reads

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 future1In terms of time spent per word written, book reviews take the most time of any post that isn’t creative fiction that I write., 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 margin2It was a MUCH larger margin until I read the #9 entry on this list.. 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 age3I’m thinking in the 8-10 range…I don’t know how old kids are when they stop getting bedtime stories read to them. I don’t remember ever getting one. And now I’ve made myself sad., 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 desire4At least in the case of Karis, it’s somewhat justified, as two men feuding over their love for her was debatably the spark that caused an entire war. That said, she’s also a badass bodyguard who STILL has pages devoted to how she looks when dressed up by a creepy kidnapper.. 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 ever5My ten favorite books list from 2015 needs updated at this point.

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 times6Though that’s admittedly because I am not a female young adult, I think., the brilliance of the story makes any concerns forgivable.

2017 Book Charity Drive

Hi all.

From today, November 12th through Saturday, November 18th1Which also so happens to be my 30th birthday., all profits from my book, An Epilogue to Innocence, will go to benefit UNICEF.

Buy it hereAmazon (Paper Copy) | Amazon (Kindle Copy) | CreateSpace | Barnes & Noble | Books A Million | IndieBound

For those not aware, UNICEF is a charity that does a ton of work around the world to improve the lives of children. Their goal is to provide every child with safe shelter, nutrition, protection from disaster and conflicts, and equality. I also realize that last sentence comes directly from their site…that said, it’s difficult to put into words the profound impact that UNICEF has across the world.

Last year’s charity drive for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention did okay. It didn’t raise much, but even the $50 gift the charity drive was able to reach helps. I’d like to match, if not exceed that goal this year. To do so, around 25 Kindle copies of the book would need to be sold…or around 22 physical copies2There’s different royalty rates depending on book type and sales source. See the IAQ section for more info.. If you can buy a copy and help out, awesome. If you can’t, but want to share this post to help out, that’s great too. If you just want to donate to UNICEF because it’s a great cause but don’t care about my book, wonderful3Though I, admittedly, do like when people buy things I worked hard on..

That’s the main point of this post. I’ll publish results sometime early next week. I’ve also listed some IAQs below, for those who care…or wish to read my rambling more.


IAQs

Q: Why not donate to the AFSP again this year?
A: I likely will personally. That said, I wanted to use my book to raise money for a different group this year.

Q: You did a Twitter poll taking suggestions for who to donate to. Planned Parenthood won. Why not them?
A: I had been debating really hard between UNICEF and Planned Parenthood even before that poll went up. The low number of votes on the poll made it harder. Ultimately, I chose based on which charity had the lowest overhead — meaning the best percentage of money being donated actually going to its programs. UNICEF’s total is 87%, while Planned Parenthood is 76%.

Q: Wait. Why is this section called IAQs, not FAQs?
A: Because I highly doubt most people actually thought these questions. Or cared.

Q: How much money goes to the charity per book sold?
A: Without getting too much into the weeds about CreateSpace/Amazon merging together, it looks something like this. Profits do vary slightly for non-US sales.

  • New paper copy sold on Amazon = $2.26/copy
  • Kindle copy sold on Amazon = $2.06/copy
  • Paper copy sold on CreateSpace = $3.86/copy*
  • Paper copy sold on Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, or Books A Million = $0.66/copy

Q: What’s with the asterisk on the CreateSpace line?
A: CreateSpace is becoming part of Amazon’s KDP publishing and inheriting their profits, which are very similar to the Amazon royalties above. I don’t like that less money goes to a charity just because I’m making less money, as this change occurred November 1st, even though I wrote this charity post in mid-October. So. If you buy the book off CreateSpace, UNICEF gets the old royalty rate. Because children who need immunizations > profits.

Q: Can this section be over?
A: Sure. Here’s a link to go see a bunny.

One Year of Being a Published Author

June 27th, 2016 was a monumental day for me. It was the day that my first book, An Epilogue to Innocence, went on sale. It was available at that time via direct purchase on Kindle, as well as available for pre-order via CreateSpace and Amazon1Technically paper copies didn’t ship until July 10th, 2017, but because digital copies were available on June 27th, I’m counting that as the book’s birthday.. I’ve shared quite a bit about the publishing process, as well as the twist and turns things took both before publishing and after. If you care about reading those stories, click on the links in the previous sentence. What I’d rather do today is to have a bit of reflection on my book, on being an author, and on what I could have done well/did do well in the process.

When a fellow author found out I was going the self-publishing route, they gave me a bit of advice regarding sales. They told me not to expect to turn a profit, rather I should expect to lose money — potentially a significant amount — if I took my book to market. While their statement was technically wrong, the spirit of needing to temper my expectations for my book’s sales was correct. My book broke even last December, as sales related to a charity drive I did were just enough to edge into profit territory.

That said, even with a handful of sales this year, the amount of money I’ve pocketed is minimal. I went from first draft to published product with minimal financial cost on my end. I’ve run zero advertising campaigns anywhere that I had to pay for. Every review that’s been written for my book either falls into the category of pre-release readers who wrote reviews or people who have submitted their own reviews out of their own kindness. My costs were the cost to have the book edited, the cost to get a ISBN from CreateSpace, and the cost to have a handful of copies shipped to me that I in turn mailed out to people I had promised copies of the book to. With all that said, I think the amount of money I’ve personally made off the book is enough to buy a Chipotle burrito for my wife and I. No guac or drinks though2No guac isn’t an issue. I don’t like avocados. If people who complain about millennials are to be believed, this means I’ll be able to buy a house one day..

Speaking of that charity drive, it was definitely both the most rewarding and most disappointing part of my first year as a published author. On one hand, I got to donate a bit of money to a cause I care a lot about — the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. On the other hand, the amount of money raised through the charity drive fell short of one-quarter of my mental goal for the drive itself. Limited advertising was definitely a reason for that, however I also think that other deserving causes got far more attention than suicide prevention in the wake of the 2016 US election. Had I hitched my wagon to a different cause, I think it would have done better. But suicide prevention is a cause I care a lot about, so I have no regrets about choosing the AFSP for the donation.

As for my book itself, shortly after I published, I saw a video from someone (I think John Green?) talking about how the most stressful part of being an author is seeing people misinterpret work you’ve written, and since it’s already published, you can’t change it. That idea, combined with the fact that I re-read my book so many times as part of the publishing process and wished I had changed some things, made me go back and think about each of the short stories in the book.

  • Ljepota Oni Izlučivati – This story ended up being one of the few in the book that I didn’t have any strong opinion changes about even after a year after the book went to market. If I had the opportunity to do it over again, I wouldn’t have led off the book with this story, however it definitely would have stayed. A year on, no one has found the hidden storyline within this story, so I feel like it was written really well for what it was meant to be.
  • Phosphor and Fear – This was the original story that was supposed to start the book, however I was convinced not to lead the book with it when someone told me that no one’s going to want to keep reading the book if I lead off with depression art. Unnecessary mental illness jokes aside, I think this story would have benefited from being a bit longer, particularly after the story’s time skip. The fact that I’d go back and change this one to make it longer has impacted some of the work I’ve done over the last year, particularly the first two chapters of the AI Project series that I posted this spring.
  • A Delayed First Date – Meh. It was a good premise. I took a risk trying to write from a point-of-view I didn’t understand. Even with research and interviews to try to write it better, this story hasn’t aged well to me. I mean, it’s fine. It’s not boring. I still love the concept. But I don’t like this specific story as much as I used to.
  • Soma – It was my favorite story before I decided to compile the book into a published entity. It’s still one of my favorites I’ve written a year on from publishing the book (though not my favorite anymore). I really need to keep focusing on adding heavy amounts of emotion to my writing. When it works, it really works. This is one of the stories in the book that I’ve received almost unanimous positive feedback about. Nothing I’d change here.
  • Elk Ridge – I’m so confused by this story and the reader reaction to it. Both me and my editor thought this was the weakest story in the book, even after adding quite a bit of length to it. Yet most people who have given feedback thought it was one of the better stories in the book. The ending is what seems to be divisive. I personally hate the ending and would re-write it if I had the chance. The whole ghostly spirit being released from a demolished building angle is kind of cliche and the longer it’s been since I published3Spoilers. But it’s my book. So I get to spoil it if I want to. Please buy my book.[/modern_foonote], the less I like it. Readers liked it though. I have no idea what people want.
  • The Strongest Feelings Are On the Inside – The reaction to this story was by far the most surprising of any story that went into the book. I received ZERO negative feedback on this story prior to publishing. Considering it was one of the few stories that had been on the blog prior to going in the book, this was doubly confusing. People were split down the middle as to what they thought was the biggest issue with this story — either it was too long compared to the rest of the book’s stories3Probably valid in hindsight. or they were upset that the story’s main villain was bisexual. Remember what I said about stuff getting taken out of context? In context, it’s a story about a woman who loves someone of her same sex who doesn’t love her back and she doesn’t feel totally comfortable with it because of her religious background. She then tries to repress it with a deeper dive into cult-like religious practices to try to “fix” herself. Then, when her love dies, she has a mental break, using her warped religious views to exact revenge on those who hurt her beloved, going so far as to kidnap a lookalike and treat that lookalike as if she were the departed woman. Then the villain chooses to die once she finally has closure through that surrogate. That wasn’t the takeaway by some readers though. It’s a learning experience on a lot of levels.
  • Awkward? – The other story in the book that I didn’t particularly like but people loved. It was the closest thing to a light-hearted story in the book, and it was only included to serve as a change of pace following the previous story. Most people thought it was funny. I found it corny. If I did it all over again, this and A Delayed First Date would be cut in favor of making other stories longer.
  • Use As Directed – Along with Awkward First Date, this is the story I did the most research for prior to writing it. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Feedback was largely good, it had a neutral ending that I liked, and apparently I did a decent job at representing a perspective of someone with a mental illness fairly and objectively. This story makes me happy.
  • Laments of a Disillusioned Twenty Something – Oh my fucking god I was so whiny in this story. I’d re-write this story to be something more like what happens in one of the other short stories I’ve written if I had it to do again.
  • Tia – This has become my favorite story in the book over time, however as one reviewer said, they really wished it was longer. I agree. It’s a very powerful story, but I could have done so much more with it. Definitely my biggest disappointment story-wise for that reason.

As for me and how being a published author has impacted me…it really hasn’t. As I mentioned, there hasn’t been a financial impact of any kind. It’s not like my social media life has taken off[5]. Even though I still a see a copy or two of my book purchased every now and again, the book sits largely dormant now. I definitely haven’t been able to make a career change to be a full-time author…not that I’d be able to if currently proposed healthcare plans pass anyway.

I’m still writing though. I’m working on a couple of different projects as a writer, as well as trying to get some work together as a copy editor. If anything my real job prevents me from writing as much as I want or need to due to mental fatigue. That said, it’s largely been a positive experience, in spite of my gripes. I’ve learned you can’t please everyone, even if you have the best intentions. I’ve learned that I can produce quality work. And I’ve learned above all else that I love writing — even if my family still doesn’t know I’m a published author, even a year on.

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