I set out to read 40 books this year, and I ended up reading 51.
My presidential biography project got sidelined a bit this year, which is probably why I read more. I tend to either take comfort from the fact that we’ve been arguing about the same national issues since the beginning or I get irritated about it, and I found myself getting irritated more than comforted this year.
I still read a lot of nonfiction this year, though, and some of those titles were my favorites of the year. In no particular order, here are my Top Seven Reads of 2018:
“Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)” by Jeff Tweedy. I probably would’ve enjoyed this regardless because I love Wilco, but this is so well written, funny and moving that I think it would be enjoyable even to non-Wilco fans.
“The Broken Earth” series by NK Jemisin. OK, so this is technically three books. But it’s a wonderful and different sci-fi/fantasy series and I think you should read it.
“No Turning Back: Life, Love and Hope in Wartime Syria” by Rania Abouzeid. This is not a light breezy read, but it will give you a new perspective on the Middle East.
“Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches” by John Hodgman. This made me laugh out loud, and I read a lot of passages to Rockford. It’s terrific.
Thanks as always to Goodreads for helping me keep track of all of this!
Coley Tyler grew up in Western North Carolina and decided at a very young age to pursue a career in the military. He writes about that in his new book “Ghosts of Fallujah” — but I already knew that part.
I grew up with Coley, and while I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up, we all know what Coley would be doing: He was going to go to West Point, and he was going to serve his country. We knew it just like we knew that picking the stop-sign pizza in the cafeteria was a pretty good idea, that getting on Mr. Shields’ bad side was a very bad idea and that the cross country team was probably going to win state every year. It was just part of our collective local knowledge. It was known.
The part of the book that was news to me was just what he was doing after West Point. And let me tell you: He’s done a lot.
Coley served with the Second Battalion, Seventh Cavalry, in the Second Battle of Fallujah, which was the largest engagement of the Iraq War. His recounting of the battle itself and the days leading up to it give the reader a clear understanding of what a complex undertaking a U.S. military operation is and what the personal cost of it can be.
Coley’s respect for the military at large and for his battalion, commanders and fellow soldiers specifically is obvious throughout the book. I would recommend “Ghosts of Fallujah” to anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of modern military history.
“Flat Broke with Two Goats” by Jennifer McGaha
I stumbled on this one via the Big Library Read. “Flat Broke with Two Goats” was purported to be a charming memoir about a life in Appalachia that doesn’t go as planned. The author is surprised to learn that they owe a large amount of back taxes to the government, so McGaha and her husband let their house go into foreclosure and wind up living in a “rustic” three-story cabin at the base of a waterfall, where they proceed to make a series of even more questionable financial decisions. I didn’t find the story all that charming.
“The Paradise Snare” by AC Crispin
I don’t think I’ve read a paperback sci-fi yarn since high school, when I found out that Rockford liked “Dune” so I decided to read it so I’d have something to talk to him about (and then before I knew it I’d read the whole series and was looking for all the sci-fi to consume). But then awhile ago someone on Twitter was talking about AC Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy, and it sounded intriguing. I requested a copy of “The Paradise Snare” from a library in a galaxy far, far away, and once it finally got here I read it in just a couple of days. I love Han Solo, and I enjoyed this origin story enough to read the next one. “The Hutt Gambit” should be arriving any day now. I’ll be curious to see whether “Solo” takes any cues from Crispin’s stories.
“I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death” by Maggie O’Farrell
I think I originally read about “I Am, I Am, I Am” in the New York Times Book Review. I was expecting to be moved, to cry and to emerge with a greater appreciation for life and all its frailty. But the essays really just left me a little more paranoid than usual about life and all its frailty. This shouldn’t have surprised me, knowing me as I do.
If you’re interested in seeing everything I’ve read this year — and why wouldn’t you be? — you can check out my 2018 Reading Challenge at Goodreads.