This year, I joined the 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge by pledging to read 40 books. Sadly, I didn’t reach my goal (not even close — I’m a terribly slow reader), but I did read more than I ever have in a year and I read some pretty fine fiction, including many books that have sat on my To-Be-Read list for years. For a complete rundown of my reading year, you can check out the list on my Current Reads page. But for now, here are my top five favorites of 2018.
1. 1984 // George Orwell
This one will probably stick with me for a long time. Admittedly, I am partial to dystopian settings and tend to gobble up anything placed in a troubled future. But while I love the fast-paced, easy-reading of YA fiction, it tends to lack the polish and sophistication that Orwell’s classic brings to the table. The way he convinces the reader of the plot’s trajectory, only to twist it at the end into something else entirely is masterfully executed, and while the ending is unexpected, it is deeply satisfying and poignantly chilling. Fans of piercing, unflinching fiction need to grab this one.
2. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft // Stephen King
I know I’ve about quoted this one to death on this site, but for any person serious about becoming a writer, this book is an immediate must-read. King’s lessons, accompanied by (or in the form of) stories from his own experiences as a blossoming writer, are as close to a rule-book for writing as it comes. Every instruction, every action, every habit he advises is so practical, and he makes becoming a working writer seem so possible it’s hard not to be immediately inspired after reading the first chapter.
Even if you aren’t a writer, this book is a pleasure and an easy read. For anyone who has ever wanted to accomplish anything, this book is a heartening story about a man’s desire to live his dream and the steps he took to make it happen.
3. All the Pretty Horses // Cormac McCarthy
My boy Cormac will probably make every reading list I ever write, but this year I had to make a choice between two of his greatest titles: All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing. As the first and second installments of his Border Trilogy (I plan to read the third in 2019), the books were similar in some ways — in setting, in characters, roughly in plot. Yet ultimately, All the Pretty Horses gets the nod from me.
Overall, I found the characters more compelling, the emotions more gripping, and the plot more climactic and conclusive. I felt a stronger sense of driving story with All the Pretty Horses, while The Crossing‘s plot and themes seemed more nuanced and buried. And while nuance is hardly a bad thing in writing, I’ll put it this way: All the Pretty Horses seems like a book that can (and does) stand alone; The Crossing feels like just that — a bridge to fill in the gaps.
4. Let the Great World Spin // Colum McCann
I’ll admit, I didn’t expect much from this book when I picked it up to read all the way back in February. I’d bough it years ago because I liked the cover, but when I finally read the story blurb, I found plot didn’t interest me in the slightest, and for some less than savory reviews about the shifting POVs on Goodreads, my mission was to get through it as fast as possible and be done with it.
But I was pleasantly surprised. Though I usually struggle with rapidly changing POVs, McCann elegantly uses the many character’s parts of this woven story to create drama and suspense in his telling of Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. It is a whimsical tale with tangible, touchable characters, and though it will break your heart, it serves a punchy, feel-good ending to make it a light and easy read.
5. East of Eden // John Steinbeck
The sheer scope of this novel, Steinbeck’s mangum opus, is in itself incredible, but for a book of this size to contain so many multi-dimensional characters and careful storylines, all packaged in beautiful, tender prose is a feat most writers only dream of.
While it is a sprawling novel, you feel as you read it deeply invested in the here-and-now, rather than rushed along to get to the next action point, to find out what happens next. Each page is covered in rich imagery and insightful commentary on individual freedoms and the yearning for justice, all of it woven into a retelling of the Bible’s oldest stories and based on Steinbeck’s family history. For slow readers, East of Eden is quite a time investment, but it is well worth your patience as each chapter offers much more than it takes.
NOW TELL ME // What were your favorite reads of 2018? Have you started making reading plans for next year? Let me know in a comment!
photo by: Fabiola Peñalba