I’ve written about reading challenges before, and how they are so great for kids but also for adults, too. The GoodReads app has a fun little thing where you can set a reading goal for yourself and then track your books as you read them. I set my goal at 50 for the year. That’s more books than I’ve ever read in a year, so I thought it was reasonable. Well, it’s almost the end of June, and I just finished my 50th book this week! And GoodReads rewarded me with a cute little congratulations screen and confetti. Fun, right? Next year, I guess I’ll make a more challenging goal. And I have a feeling I’ll meet it because I have a great new place to read.
I thought I’d take a minute and share my favorites from the past six months, books I think are important and inspiring and thought-provoking. Some of them were almost a little painful to read, because they required me to examine things in myself or they challenged ideas I had about the world. But aren’t those the best kind of books anyway? Here’s a breakdown of my 2018 faves so far:
Contemporary Fiction: These books made my list not only because of the beautiful writing and the lovable characters, but because they brought to life issues like mental health (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman), domestic violence (The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah), and gender identity (This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel). Among many other themes and plot lines, these books personalized the issues, gave them a face and a name. They were works of fiction, but knowing what I do about writing, I find it hard to believe that the authors weren’t writing from some kind of personal experience. They just wrote them too well.
Historical Fiction: My two picks for this category are wildly different, yet both contain strong female characters and follow different timelines throughout the book. Not only did I learn a lot about history, but I learned a lot about how times change and how the things in our past and our family’s past affect us. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read, following two different families through eight (yes, 8!) generations: one woman who stayed in Africa as the wife of a white colonial official, the other who was taken from Africa and sold into slavery in the U.S. And The Alice Network by Kate Quinn tells the story of two women, one a spy in WWI and the other a society girl searching for her lost cousin after WWII. Their stories intertwine beautifully.
Middle Grade: Since the genre I’m writing my own book in is middle grade, I did quite a bit of middle grade reading. For those who don’t know, middle grade is a fairly new genre and describes books written for and about children ages 9-12. The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is actually a sequel to The War That Saved My Life, about a young girl with a physical deformity who escapes London during WWII with her little brother. I grew to love the characters so much, and her story is one of triumph. Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper tells the story of an African American girl who witnesses the KKK lighting a cross on fire in the woods behind her North Carolina home in the 1930s. It is the story of her family and her small town as they deal with hatred and racism. It is so well-written. Both of these books are important for children and adults alike to read and they are written with such heart.
Memoir: By far, my favorite memoir was Educated by Tara Westover. She describes her childhood growing up in a fundamentalist household with a father who did not allow his children to go to school. Instead, they worked in a junkyard and she did apprentice midwifery with her mother. She writes of some pretty detailed abuse and neglect and of how she finally escaped her situation to become the person she is today. It is fascinating and heartbreaking, but also hopeful.
Non-fiction: I’ll be real honest, before this year, nonfiction was not a genre I loved or looked for very often. But, I’m a new person! I have read so much nonfiction this year and learned a lot. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott inspired me to come into my own as a writer and to work through the hard times. If you’ve ever written anything, you know there are hard times when everything feels like it sucks and you can’t go on. This book will stick with me for a long time. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown was just amazing. So many good things about parenting and vulnerability and shame and sharing stories and courage and connection. I can’t say enough good things about it. Essentialism by Greg McKeown taught me to figure out what is most important to me and to focus on those things while letting go of the rest. What I took away from him is that we all have gifts and interests for a reason, and we need to put them to good use to make the world a better place. I think this book would be good for anybody to read, from doctors and lawyers to artists and engineers and stay-at-home moms.
These are my favorites so far. I’m going to try to get through 50 more by the end of the year and will have an update on my personal reading challenge at the end of the year. What’s next on my list? Just a few titles I have in my stack: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (to fulfill my banned book category) and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (to fulfill my classic I haven’t read yet category). Plus more memoirs like I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. And of course more WWII fiction, like We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter and The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth Church. Can’t wait!
What have you loved so far this year? What should I add to my stack?
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.