For the second year in a row, my reading trended down. In fact, this year marks the fewest books I’ve read since 2012! There are several reasons for that, I suppose. Partly, my brain felt pretty overloaded and distracted much of the year for various reasons and I found it harder to enjoy what I was reading.
I took a look and I started and put down 13 books this year. I don’t keep track of that, but it’s gotta be close to a record. My guess is that if I were to pick up those books sometime in the future, when I’ve got my mojo back a bit, I’d likely enjoy most of them.
I also got behind on writing reviews, again. I’m gonna cut myself a little slack there, but I’m still aimin to do a better job of it this year.
As always, there were some stand-outs.
For fiction, I loved The Winter of the Witch, Katherine Arden’s conclusion to her fantastic Winternight Trilogy. I’ll miss that world—those books have been some of my absolute favorites in recent years. I could also pick all of the Fredrik Backman books I read this year, but I’ll choose just one: And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. It’s a beautiful little novella and with every book of his I read, he further cements himself as my favorite author currently writing. Rounding out my top three fiction books would be The Book of M by Peng Shepherd. Like And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, The Book of M revolves a lot around memories, but in more of a science-fiction way.
For non-fiction, Switch, Mismatch and Range stand out from the rest of the group. It wasn’t a particularly strong year for me in non-fiction reads, and I tended to lean on fiction as the year progressed because, again, I was having a hard time getting into many of the books I was picking up.
Not all of the books below have reviews written, which I feel bad for. But the ones that do are linked up.
- Head on by John Scalzi
I wrote a full review for Head On.
- Educated by Tara Westover
I wrote a full review for Educated.
- The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
I wrote a full review for The Winter of the Witch.
- Mismatch by Kat Holmes
I wrote a full review for Mismatch.
- The Business of Expertise by David C. Baker
I wrote a full review for The Business of Expertise.
- And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
- The Fall of Io by Wesley Chu
- Good to Go by Christie Aschwanden
I wrote a full review for Good to Go.
- Switch by Chip and Dan Heath
I saw Lara Hogan recommend this to someone, so I grabbed a copy. It didn’t disappoint. Chip and Dan have a very engaging writing style, and I’ve taken a lot of the stuff I read here and incorporated it into the work I do.
- Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
This is a sequel to the exceptionally good Beartown. I think I still like Beartown a bit more, but it was interesting to follow-up with the characters and town as they continued to struggle with the aftermath of the events of the first book. There’s a lot more focus on Benji this time around as well, and once again Backman tells a story that is deep, meaningful, emotional and raw.
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
I’ll be honest. When I finished reading this, I wrote “4 stars” down in my notebook, but in retrospect, I can’t remember much about this book. I went back and looked and I see I have plenty of highlights, but I don’t know that anything in there is necessarily revolutionary. It is, however, well put. I suspect this was a case of a familar topic resonating with me because of the way it was presented.
- The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford
This book has been recommended to me so many times. The authors do a good job of detailing not just why trust is a foundational aspect of being a good advisor/consultant (which, you know, of course it is) but also providing actionable insight into how little behaviors of ours (typically fostered by some level of fear) can make that trust harder to come by.
- True Grit by Charles Portis
I’ll be honest: after how much I loved Lonesome Dove, I was hoping another western classic would provide the same level of enjoyment. But while True Grit never got me hooked the same way, it was still an enjoyable (and short) story.
- The Real Town Murders by Adam Roberts
There was a lot I wanted to like about this book, but it never really clicked. The storytelling just seemed…disjointed. I never really felt like I connected with any of the characters and it felt like a narrative thread would start only to be dropped unceremoniously pages later. That, and the fact that Roberts reminded us of Alma’s bed-ridden friend’s “enormous” size so many times without any sort of rationale for why that mattered to us in any way.
- Quit Like a Millionaire by Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung
As with any “money” related book, I can’t say I enjoyed a ton of it. Actually, most of my favorite parts of this book came from hearing about Kristy’s background and upbringing and how that influenced how she approached her money.
- My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell you She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
More Backman brilliance. This one has some definite similarities to A Man Called Ove, from the grandmother’s character through to the story being used as a way to explore a small community of people. But telling the story from the perspective of a seven year old child provides a fresh point of view, and allows for some hints of magic realism that help to elevate the story.
- Recursion by Blake Crouch
Crouch’s novels don’t push a ton of new ground, but he’s pretty good at spinning an fun tale. They’re popcorn-movie novels, which is not meant to be an insult in anyway. Personally, sometimes I need a good popcorn novel: a story that is light, entertaining and fast-paced. If you have enjoyed Crouch’s other books, you’ll like this too. If you haven’t, you probably won’t.
- In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire
I don’t know what it is about this Wayward Children series, but each of these little books has been a lot of fun to read. The first book, Every Heart a Doorway, felt like a fairly self-contained story. You met a lot of characters, all kids who have been to various different “worlds” and come back, but the story lived well enough on its own. In reality, it was a jumping point for so many other interesting little fairy tales. Each subsequent book has taken characters from that original story and provided us with their own stories, with their own unique worlds. It’s been a great series and I hope McGuire never runs out of stories to tell here.
- Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
With as much as I loved her Winternight Trilogy there was no way I was going to pass on reading anything else Arden has written. This is a much simpler tale, and it’s labeled as a book for “middle graders”. Though as many a wise author has said, there’s no such thing as stories for kids or adults—there are just stories and they are either good stories or they’re not. This is a good story. It’s eerie and spooky, but it’s not just an empty ghost-story. The main characters all have good depth, and they each have things they’re struggling with. This is apparently the start of a series and while I won’t be dropping everything to read them like I did with the Winternight Trilogy, I’ll definitely be picking up the next one.
- Circe by Madeline Miller
This was a fun re-telling of the story of Circe, from her perspective. It repaints many of the events and assumptions from these myths in a totally different light. I can’t say I loved it quite as much as the friends who recommended it, but I still thought it was great storytelling.
- Summer Frost by Blake Crouch
Similar to my review of Recursion, this was fun without really presenting any sort of mind-blowingly new ideas. Being a shorter read (75 pages) it didn’t have as much time to pull me in as his other books.
- Ark by Veronica Roth
This, like Summer Frost, is a short story from the Forward Series. It’s a bit on the nose perhaps, but it was still an enjoyable short read.
- Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
This fable is written to feel like someone telling you a story, and it does that for better or worse. I’ve read that style before and enjoyed it, but it’s tricky to pull off. You have to feel in some way connected to the narrator, but they also have to disappear enough for you to focus on the main tale. This time, it just didn’t quite work for me. The story was fine and interesting enough, but it felt like it dragged on a bit too long.
- Range by David Epstein
- The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
Gosh I loved the way Peng played with memories in this story! The pace is just right: fast enough to keep things moving, slow enough for you to get settled in with the characters and world. People are losing their shadows (for reasons we never learn entirely, but appear to be more magical than scientific) and as they lose their shadows, they start to lose their memories. As they forget things, they end up changing the reality and world around them. I really wish I could dive into how much I love the ending, and how it almost seems to invert some of the core arguments around memory earlier the story, but that would give too much away. Great stuff!
- Fast 5K by Pete Magill