That was my cumulative reading total for 2018.
In recent years, I’ve set a goal of reading 100 books per year. Goodreads kindly keeps track of my progress, and I periodically check in to see how i’m doing. I’m not obsessive about it. I reached the goal in 2016, but fell short in 2017.
When I hit 100 books on December 5 this past year, I decided to try for 110, and almost made it.
Looking back on the standouts from 2018, there was a lot of literary fiction, even more historical fiction, a little memoir, and a few mysteries. I rarely write written reviews on Goodreads (doing more of that is another goal I have for this year) but I always rate them using the built in Goodreads star system, and I’m stingy with five star ratings. The book has to engage me completely - you know, one of those you eagerly anticipate picking up again. It has to have complex, well defined characters and thoughtful, pertinent themes. The author’s use of language and description must be sophisticated without being obscure, and detailed without being pedantic.
One of the things I found myself hungry for in 2018 were more novels by mature writers. I came of age reading the work of authors like Anne Tyler, Gail Godwin, Madeleine L’Engle, Anna Quindlen, Margaret Drabble, Anita Brookner. Like John Updike, Richard Russo, Wallace Stegner. Writers of the 1970’s and 1980’s. They speak my language, both literally and emotionally.
So I was excited to get my hands on a copy of Unsheltered, a new novel by Barbara Kingsolver. It did not disappoint. There was a depth of thought and expression that felt comforting to me, a certain language structure that fit well in my inner reading ear. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, few of the new fiction writers offer me that. I guess it’s like having conversations with friends who are in your peer group versus with those where a generation younger. While it may be interesting and fun to hear new viewpoints, it’s also a relief to fall back on the patterns and ideas you grew up with.
One young novelist I was particularly impressed with during 2018 was Fatima Farheen Mirza. Her debut novel, A Place for Us, traces the lives of a modern day Muslim family in America as they navigate the intricate dance between retaining their cultural and religious integrity while acclimating to the Western lifestyle. It’s through this lens that we watch a family drama unfold, one that illuminates both the differences and similarities between families of every culture and caste. A Place for Us definitely earned a rare five-star rating from this reader.
One of the first things I did in 2019 was put a month’s worth of books on hold at the library. I’ve got three in my stack right now, and am midway through book number 1 (Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty). With at least 99 more to go, I’m grateful for my hometown library and the ability to request books from anywhere in our tri-county area and have them delivered to the branch library of my choice. (Update: I’m well into book number 2 today, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, and so far I’m in love.)
Recent reports indicate that reading - even for just six minutes a day! - can lower stress levels by up to 68%. In fact, reading proved to be better at reducing stress than all the other activities tested, including taking a walk, having a cup of tea, or listening to music. Since I read an average of two hours a day, I should be completely stress free, right?? (Excuse me while i have a good laugh at that one!)
Whatever the outcome, I will be reading through this year just like I’ve read my way through every year since I was four years old.
With excitement, enthusiasm, and love for the printed word.
So tell me…what are you excited to read this year??