My Year in Reading: 2018 Edition

A look back at the pages I’ve perused these past 12 months.

My Year in Reading: 2018 Edition

I’m glancing at the collected stack of books that I finished reading over this last year and thinking that it doesn’t compare well with 2016. It seems that I slacked off rather significantly in the books-read department. (And who even knows what happened to 2017’s reading? I don’t.)

I blame the shortfall on having restarted my lapsed New Yorker subscription — and, even there, I’m fully two months behind, though there’s a certain smug satisfaction in reading about the “upcoming” midterms from the safe space of knowing the outcome — as well as on my unhealthy compulsion to scroll through the latest executive-branch outrages on Twitter.

Certainly, many readers are more voracious than I. My friend Carrie Callaghan keeps a lovely book diary to track her reading, and well she might: at her November Politics and Prose book launch for debut novel A Light of Her Own, Carrie told interviewer Tayla Burney that she was “currently reading several books.” No way I’m keeping up with that.

But skimpy as it may have been, I enjoyed what I read this year. Much of it was reading for review, or in preparation for an interview or to moderate a panel, though I managed to shoehorn in a few just for myself. About a third of what I read was nonfiction. I was able to snag a couple of the “big” releases for review, but most were on the quieter side.

Also, as I look at my physical and virtual book stack, it occurs to me: What I buy during the year and what I read during the year are rarely correlative.

Because I have an unwritten rule that I can’t go into an independent bookstore without buying something — and I don’t mean socks or a notepad — I chronically add titles to my to-be-read stack without any hope of having time to read them (or a place to put them).

With few exceptions, any new releases that I read are for review. Here’s what I reviewed in 2018, either for the Independent or for Late Last Night Books:

Debut authors continue to impress, and not just because I know many of the authors whose debuts I’ve read this year. (And just because I read them this year doesn’t mean they actually debuted this year; in several cases, I’m either behind or ahead.)

I’ll mention that I’m also looking forward to participating once again as a judge in the National Book Critics Circle annual John Leonard Prize for an author’s first book-length project; those debuts are some of the strongest works I read all year. But they’ll be on my 2019 list.

There is a place for e-books — not a big place, but a place. Like many dedicated readers, I will never get over my preference for reading a physical book, which, as I noted in my 2016 review of Keith Houston’s The Book, “is not a commodity but an experience, a full-on feast of the senses, a tactile joy. Try putting that in your iPad.”

Nonetheless, when you’re heading on a trip that demands limited luggage, that e-reader earns a little hallelujah for packing a lot of reading joy into a tiny footprint. On my Kindle this year, I read:

And the few remaining that fit in none of the other categories:

If I had to pick a personal favorite for 2018, it’s The Library Book, in no small part because of Susan Orlean’s resonant description of what must be the universal source of any person’s love of books: childhood visits to the library. (Trust me that I get the irony that I bought an e-reader version of this book.) If you missed Kitty Kelly’s incandescent review, do yourself a favor and read it, then go check out your own hard copy of Orlean’s latest at the local library.

But wait: I’m not finished reading for the year. I’ve got four weeks left! If I were a betting person, I’d bet that I will finish at least two more — these two ARCs that arrived in the mail just recently:

Perhaps one of them will become my new favorite for 2018. I’ll let you know.

Jennifer Bort Yacovissi’s debut novel, Up the Hill to Home, tells the story of four generations of a family in Washington, DC, from the Civil War to the Great Depression. Jenny is a member of PEN/America and the National Book Critics’ Circle, and writes a column and reviews regularly for the Independent. She served as chair of the 2017 and 2018 Washington Writers Conference, and for several recent years was president of the Annapolis chapter of the Maryland Writers Association.

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