As part of my Year In Review, I kept track of how many books I was able to read. Compared to last year, I finished fewer books (21 books versus 26 last year). But although less of my time in 2018 was spent reading, I chose to delve into a few subjects that took more effort to get through.
The 21 books I finished were in these categories:
- 7 fiction (4 novels by John Grisham, 1 by Madeleine L’Engle, 1 by Robert Ludlum, and 1 by Paula Hawkins)
- 14 non-fiction (6 memoirs and current events, 4 self-help, 2 entertainment, 1 business, and 1 travel)
As a visual learner, I found several of these to be really useful… and others really poorly written or under-whelming.
Here they are, in the order I read them (from January 2018 till December):
1 . The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson (2001).
A hilarious and very entertaining story of Bill’s travels through many small towns in the Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast US. I laughed out loud many times while reading it.
2 . The United States of Europe by T.R. Reid (2004).
This was a slightly dated but fascinating analysis of the changes that are taking place due to the formation of the European Union. It was interesting to understand the mindset and priorities of European young adults, and the changes that continue to affect the economic and social changes happening there.
3 . No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD (2016).
I read this at the suggestion of a childhood mental health counselor, and it provided a wealth of practical support. I highly recommend it to all parents and anyone who wants to understand children better.
4 . The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle (2012).
After watching several movies about the Tour de France’s doping scandal including Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story, The Armstrong Lie, and Icarus, I finally got my hands on this book and learned a lot about what it’s like to be a top athlete while trying to cheat the system. Tyler is a brave and soft-spoken guy, and this book is a great read. Unfortunately, the book ended abruptly, and I wish Tyler had included an objective analysis of the cycling industry and his prediction for the future.
5 . A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engle (1962).
My preteen daughter wanted to watch this blockbuster movie, so she and I decided to read the book together. When I was 9, I tried to read it the first time and couldn’t get past chapter 2. This time around, the same problem happened. It took me 2 weeks to finally get to the end. Sci-fi stories are definitely not my cup of tea, but if you enjoy it then you’ll probably like this classic book.
6 . The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: Travels Through my Childhood by Bill Bryson (2007).
Bill is a hilarious writer with whom I became familiar when my boyfriend (now husband) recommended that I read A Walk In the Woods. In this novel, Bill made me laugh out loud over and over. I really enjoyed his description of a long-gone era in small-town America because it brought back memories of my own growing-up years. It was very entertaining.
7 . DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to France (1999).
Despite its contents being 20 years old, I really enjoyed this book. It caught my eye at garage sale and interested me because I had been watching TV shows about Versailles. This book provided additional facts about the many regions of a beautiful country, many of which I hope to visit someday.
8 . The Runaway Jury by John Grisham (1996).
A classic political thriller by an award-winning author. John’s books help me take a break from over-thinking. As you might imagine, the novel has a much different feel than the 2003 blockbuster movie of the same name (starring John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Gene Hackman, and Dustin Hoffman). I really enjoyed it.
9 . Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive by Daniel J. Siegel, MD and Mary Hartzell, M.Ed. (2004).
This was another excellent resource recommended by a mental health professional. It took me 2 long months to read, because the material forces you to consider parenting mistakes that were made in your past. An emotionally taxing but very helpful resource.
10 . The Partner by John Grisham (1998).
This was, surprisingly, a quite disturbing book. The main character experiences a gruesome kidnapping and torture experience. Although I did enjoy John’s ability to weave plot lines in and out with some shocking twists, unfortunately the ending was a cliffhanger with several loose ends. It’s the only John Grisham books I did not enjoy.
11 . The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (2013).
I can’t speak highly enough about this book. Right after getting hired in my first full-time job, I heard about the collapse of this giant and the impact it would have on the United States financially. My boss predicted that more companies would start to collapse, and his prediction came true. This extensively researched book provides an incredible look at the root causes of why it happened.
12 . Film in Five Seconds: Over 150 Great Movie Moments – in Moments! by Matteo Civaschi and Gianmarco Milesi (2013).
As a visual-spatial learner, I found this book really fascinating. Each page is comprised of a single image that represents a popular movie. There are no words whatsoever. The authors are Italian, and their sense of humor is hilarious (and sometimes inappropriate but that’s kinda the point of this book).
13 . The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (1980).
I’m a huge fan of the “Bourne” movies starring Matt Damon which include The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), The Bourne Legacy (2012), and Jason Bourne (2016). Having seen them all several times (the final movie being by far the most over-the-top), I was curious about what the original story is like.
So I decided to read the book that started it all. But starting with the very first paragraph, I was supremely disappointed. The writing is clunky, ridiculous, and the main character is completely unlikable.
Just for kicks, here is the first paragraph of chapter 1:
The trawler plunged into the angry swells of the dark, furious sea like an awkward animal trying desperately to break out of an impenetrable swamp. The waves rose to goliathan heights, crashing into the hull with the power of raw tonnage; the white sprays caught in the night sky cascaded downward over the deck under the force of the night wind. Everywhere there were the sounds of inanimate pain, wood straining against wood, ropes twisting, stretched to the breaking point. The
animal was dying.
I almost put this book down several times because of how totally unbelievable the storyline is, but really wanted to find out how closely the movie plot follows the original story. So I did eventually finish it.
Thank goodness screenwriters saw the potential of this story to make it to the big screen, because Mr. Ludlum’s book left a lot to be desired. And I still have his second book, The Bourne Supremacy, in my To-Read pile. Great.
14 . The Racketeer by John Grisham (2012).
Yet another Grisham novel for summer reading. This one focuses on a black lawyer who is falsely imprisoned, and uses his wits to find a way to “right the wrongs” of injustice (and solve a mystery at the same time).
Since I know that part of Virginia from having been there several times, the description of the landscape and roads were reassuringly familiar. I enjoyed the storytelling of this book, John’s descriptions of prison life, and how he took me completely by surprise at the end.
15 . Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (2017).
When I bought this at Barnes & Noble, I had really high hopes. Brené is a world-renowned speaker (watch her TED Talk “The Power of Vulnerability”), and many people have recommended her books. But this one was a real snoozer. It took me 3 months to finish because she spends a lot of time telling the same long, drawn out stories over and over. I learned way more from her talks than I did from this entire book. Not recommended.
16 . Real Answers, Real Authors by Jill Mettendorf (2013).
This could have been a fantastic book. I learned a few things, but most of it is outdated advice about how to market your first book with techniques that have gone the way of the dinosaur. Many authors’ websites are no longer working, which makes me wonder just how successful their own advice was. The one good thing was the structure and layout of the book itself, because I do think it is a good example of an e-book turned physical book.
17 . Lance Armstrong’s War: One Man’s Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France by Daniel Coyle (2010).
I found this book at a library sale and was excited to get even more in-depth info about why this famous cyclist had such a dramatic fall from grace. It is very well written and has lots of data and interviews with people involved, as well as an analysis of the cycling industry (which was missing from Tyler Hamilton’s book).
18 . The Street Lawyer by John Grisham (2010).
Yes, this is the 4th Grisham novel on my list. Don’t judge.
He is an incredible story-teller, and I believe this particular book is his best work. It describes a scenario where a highly paid lawyer in Washington DC makes a decision about helping individuals who are homeless, and his experience of truly understanding the mindset of people who have nowhere to live. Compared to his other books, this one really provided some thought-provoking content that is still helping me change my perspective about a controversial topic.
19 . The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff, MD (2018).
This is another one that was recommended by a mental health therapist, but unfortunately it leaves a lot to be desired. I was hoping to read practical tips and examples of applying some techniques.
However, most of this book was just “filler.” I thought that much of the focus was on non-scientific techniques like energy healing, rather than explaining actual hands-on tools. Maybe I’m spoiled from the fantastic writing style of Dr. Daniel Siegel (who authored No-Drama Discipline and Parenting From the Inside Out; see above). Although I did try to enjoy this, it left me feeling really unimpressed by the lack of useful next steps.
20 . The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015).
After the disappointing choice above, I went for something more lighthearted. This one was another library sale find, and the story was really interesting… until the very end, when it became completely unbelievable. I hate it when the ending ruins the whole book (like John Grisham’s The Partner… ugh).
The two redeeming qualities in this book were 1) the author’s familiarity with British life and vivid descriptions that felt like I was actually there, and 2) her excellent storytelling style that kept me guessing until the end.
21 . The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson (1990).
This was my third Bryson book of the year, and it’s actually one that I started in 2017 but kept setting aside.
It’s an intense read, because Mr. Bryson delves deep into the history, etymology, and construction of English in a really interesting way. Every page gave me something to think about, so instead of reading the whole thing in several sittings, I had to re-read several of the sections to fully absorb what he was saying. It taught me a lot about aspects of our complex language that I’d never known before… and obviously this 1990 version is missing a lot of modern nuances and linguistic shifts as English continues to morph. There is a 2001 edition of this book, but I believe it is just a repackaging of the original material.
Which books do you recommend reading? Share in the comment box below!