My Year in Reading 2018

I’ve always been a reader, but last year, for the first time, I decided to track all the books I read, inspired by a friend’s New Year’s Resolution.

I read 66 books in 2018 (roughly 1 book every 5.5 days). Since I was tracking everything in a spreadsheet anyway, I ran some stats on author demographics and book type.

Heavy on Americans and lacking Hispanic authors… I don’t see myself fixing the first, but I’ll work on the second this year

I also rated every book on a scale from 1–5:
1 = hated
2 = would rather have read something else
3 = glad I read it
4 = strongly recommend to anyone interested in the genre
5 = can’t stop talking about it to everyone

Can’t figure out why “3” & “4” are swapped on the chart, grrrr

My 11 “Everyone should read” books were (in rough order of how much I liked them):

  1. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
    (book club pick: read it on Jan 1 and said: “That’s the best book I’ll read all year” — which was correct, but it was close)
  2. Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi
    (amazing, more people should know about this one)
  3. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
    (after watching Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, which was great, and before reading Haunting of Hill House, which was not)
  4. Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Leguin
    (embarrassed that The Dispossessed and some short stories was all I’d read of hers before she died)
  5. Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
    (book club pick: a challenging stream-of-consciousness modern novel done right, as opposed to see below)
  6. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
    (great story where the protagonist is sympathetic, but not the hero)
  7. The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula Leguin
    (up there with The Prague Cemetery for skin-crawlingly awful narrators)
  8. Less, by Andrew Scott Greer
    (book club pick: my wife hated this, but I loved it)
  9. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
    (better than her debut, which was also very good)
  10. Bloodlands, by Timothy Snyder
    (non-fiction. I generally avoid WWII books, but this was worth it)
  11. Inferno, by Dante
    (book club pick: classic and enjoyable to re-read)

I’ll also call out two of my lowest ratings — one was Stephen King’s “Outsider”, which among other sins managed to screw up basic blood type info in a detective procedural; the other was James Joyce’s Ulysses.

This was a book club pick that only I and one other member managed to finish (it got selected b/c the guy pitching it made us choose between 4 dense modernist tomes and we went for the famous one). I’d made it 100 or so pages into it about 10 years ago, realized it wasn’t getting better, and quit. This time I powered through and found 3 chapters that I genuinely liked, but overall… WOW. I generally like “challenging” books and this one was 100% not worth it. I kinda love that it exists, and that Joyce has made everyone who claims to be a great literary mind grapple with many scenes of drunk Irish guys farting, but this book is a chore.

Since I had the stats, I ran them. I blocked out an hour or two every morning and every evening for the whole month of September just to read this one book. At my pre-Ulysses pace, I was reading a book every 4.4 days. During and post-Ulysses, it was one every 7.3 days. Between the drop in reading speed and the 25 days it took to read Joyce’s masterwork itself, I calculate that I could have read 17 other books instead in 2018, any one of which I probably would have enjoyed more.

Ulysses: Just Don’t Read It.

(if you must, just follow the Twitter account that tweets out 140-character snippets — way more enjoyable.)

I’m continuing the experiment this year, of course. I read 9 books in January (Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is the only “5” so far) but I’m sure that rate will drop soon as I’ve decided to finish the Wheel of Time series for my 2019 challenge. I quit 20 years ago after the extreme tedium of Book 8, but enough people have told me it’s worth finishing, so I’m reading Wikipedia summaries of the remaining Jordan-written books and picking up where Brandon Sanderson takes over. Wish me luck!

If you’re interested in tracking your own reading this year, feel free to use my spreadsheet template (File > “Make a Copy…” or “Download As…”). Track whatever you want, and happy reading in 2019!