I’d have to say, this has been the best year of reading in my entire life. I paid closer attention to what I was reading, and tried to make my reading count, not just for growth, but for delight.
Each month, I intentionally read one of each of the following four categories:
- A classic (something written at least forty years ago)
- A diverse read (something written by a person of color or about a race other than my own)
- A new, minty, buzzy book (I love to read what everyone else is reading for the community and the camaraderie. Reading is relational!)
- Something from my unread shelf
Often, these categories blurred and I double or triple dipped (“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” is a diverse, classic book from my unread shelf), but I tried to tick those boxes each month. I read so many gems this year, it was agonizing to choose just twelve. (You’re like, “yeah, it’s supposed to be ten, not twelve.”) Surprisingly, only four are brand new, 2018 releases. Four are classics, and two are diverse reads (no surprise there). Which means two of my best of 2018 books were reads that sat on my shelf, in some cases for years (I’m looking at you, Bernadette and Alice!). Just goes to show, sometimes you can shop your own bookshelves for something superlative.
If any of these books sound juicy/plummy/irresistible to you, please do comment! Each comment will be entered in a drawing to win the book of your choice from this list.
I wasn’t sure at first about “Marilla” by Sarah McCoy. The main characters in Anne of Green Gables are sacred, and they somehow belong to me—to each one of us– in a deeply personal way. But I was willing to give it a whirl; after all, I loved the prequel “Before Green Gables” by Budge Wilson, and I harbor a growing fascination with Marilla. I’m so glad I did. McCoy lavished this imagining of a young Marilla with devotion and meticulous research into nineteenth-century Prince Edward Island. By the time I finished it, I was bonded with Marilla in a new way, Matthew, too, and the stage had been perfectly set for Anne’s arrival. Requisite reading for all true kindred spirits. (2018, Rated G-PG)
It’s hard to believe I had lived this long calling myself The Bookseller’s Daughter and I had never read “84, Charring Cross Road.” When I did, in November of this year, I fell headlong into bookish love with this short but oh-so-sweet ode to great booksellers. This collection of letters between wisecracking New Yorker Helene Hanff (my new literary godmother, joining Maud, Jane and Nora) and the charming booksellers at a used bookstore in London is delightful. Listen to Helene wax on about the pleasures of used books: “I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned and reading passages someone long
“He wants to know exactly how you feel. The Prayer Coin will help you express your deepest emotions to God and have confidence in His will for your life. You’ll explore Jesus’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane and see His ultimate example of intimacy with the Father. Learn how to trust God the same way Jesus did when He said, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).” I delved into several devotionals this year, but this little book on prayer influenced me the most and the best. 2018
Despite the glib, trendy title, Rosie Walsh’s novel is beautifully written, with expert plotting and dynamic characters. But it’s the premise that will keep the pages turning until—Ooops!—it’s 4 a.m. Sarah and Eddie are melded at first sight, so it feels all wrong when Eddie disappears after a perfect week together, in air thick with questions. The reason why he vanished will make your head explode in a good way. Twisty! 2018, PG-13
Inspired by my friend Jenny (aka Carrot Top Paper Shop), who introduced a sumptuous line of bookmarks and prints featuring ROTHMC’s Cassie, I decided to read this 1977 Newberry Medal winner for the first time. Considered one of the greatest children’s novels of all time, this novel is for everyone from 8-100. So much of what I learned in a multi-day anti-racism workshop is distilled in Mildred Taylor’s breathtaking prose and the quiet dignity of heroine Cassie. If you haven’t already, open your heart to Cassie and her family. You’ll never be the same. (1977)
So I’m on an airplane coming home from Guatemala, and I’m bored and tired and my eyes are gritty. But then I crack open a book that has sat on my shelf for a while, wedged in my tote bag “just in case,” and I am sucked in as if by a giant vacuum cleaner. “Peanuts or pretzels?” The flight attendant asks me in a bored voice. Surprise me, I think. I don’t care if you give me matzo cracker crumbs. I will lick the crumbs off the tray AFTER I find out if Alice ever regains her memory. Addictive, and also surprisingly affecting. (2014, PG-13)
If a book makes me chortle, choke up, and ponder the human experience, well, then TAKE MY MONEY. Like “Alice” above, this Book of the Month Club pick grabbed me quickly and did not let go. “A heartbreak of a novel that celebrates resilience and strength,” said Jill Santopolo, bestselling author of The Light We Lost. I concur. I will never forget the message at this book’s warm and wise heart: there is strength in the struggle! 2018, PG-13
Can you believe I had never read this book before? Obviously, my life was elevated by the reading. This is the basis for one of my favorite movies (Emma Thompson is a QUEEN!), but reading it was long overdue. I found myself admiring Elinor, wanting to beat Fanny with a broom, and relating a little too much to Mrs. Jennings and her penchant for becoming overinvolved in the love lives of others!
Here’s another egregious literary oversight on my part: I had never read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s last book until this year! It was worth the wait. Written in 1937 and set partly in Toronto, “Jane” doesn’t even feel very Maud-ish until the action moves to PEI. (Of course, had I just read the dedication, to Maud’s cat-—
This book swallowed me whole. An epic in the best sense of the word, Pachinko follows the mesmerizing Sunja from her impoverished beginnings in Korea to her death in another century. I’ve read that Min Jin Lee, prayed each day before writing. I believe it. Oh, you won’t find sanitized, Sunday school-ish, baby food here. My 82-year-old Mennonite mother would probably grow pale and dizzy reading some of this. But you will find some profoundly Christian characters in a complicated, violent, sexual world. As Sarah Clarkson told me in a recent interview for Christianity Today, a Christian book “needs to be evaluated on what it communicates about frailty and fallenness, about choices, grace, and redemption. Is it honest about the consequences of our choices and how life really is? Is humanity reflected truthfully?” As for Pachinko, the answers are yes, yes, and OH MY yes. Challenge yourself with this beguiling, radiant read. 2017, Rated R
I decided to add this to my list after just finishing it in time for the New Year. I know this came out several years ago, but it was on my unread shelf, and people kept saying I would love it. At first, I was like, eh, it’s good but a little sharpish and jarring after “A Christmas Carol,” like espresso after lots of tea! But as I kept turning the pages, I was enchanted with endearing, oddball Bernadette and her daughter Bee, with the Antarctica semi-setting (I just pitched a travel story involving Antarctica!), and the wildly fresh storytelling and punchy dialogue. And then to find out, mid-read– there will be a movie with Cate Blanchett as Bernadette, come March! I must have Manjula book me good seats now. (2012, PG-13)
All of these books in my top 12 list are listed in no particular order. Except for Eleanor. She’s TOPS, as my dad used to say. Tops! The worst thing I can say about Eleanor is that I read her so early in the year other books just couldn’t compete. Laugh out loud funny, heartbreaking, page-turning … Scottish Eleanor warmed my heart and got under my skin. On the surface, it’s the story of a social misfit whose life changes after a random encounter with a stranger, but is truly a tale for the awkward crank in us all.
Which of my 2018 Best Of Books floats your boat, bookish friends? Comment below for a chance to WIN! After all, Courtney won “I Capture the Castle” in my last #Bookcrush blog!