Top Ten Books I Read in 2018

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I’ve been meaning to write this post since January. Even though I have delayed posting it until now, I am going to still backdate it until then.

The following titles are the top ten books I read in 2018 (hence the title). I want to stress that none of these books are directly related to education, i.e. professional resources. One belief I hold is it’s important we read widely; otherwise we can get trapped in our edu-bubbles and we start to lose an important connection to the world.

The following books are in the order on which I read them. The title links take you to the book’s page on Goodreads.

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
    A book unlike any I have ever read. Barack Obama listed it as one of his favorite reads of 2017, and I would concur. When women discover how to project electricity from a muscle on their collarbone, institutions and practices around the world change, but not necessarily for the better. 

    How The Power is bookended (a conversation between two writers exploring the history of "the cataclysm") as well as the visual discoveries as asides give the story context. My understanding is Alderman counts Margaret Atwood as a major influence (see The Handsmaid Tale). I can see the influence, but like I stated, The Power stands on its own.

  • Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein

    This is a book that, I think, could sneak under one's radar. A journalist provides a close up of a few families and key individuals reeling from the closure of an automobile manufacturing plant in Janesville, WI. The stories interweave between people both struggling and holding from 2008-2013. 

    The reason I feel this writing could go unnoticed is that we might not appreciate how close Goldstein got with subjects of her story. The author took a significant leave of absence from The Washington Post to investigate this subject. She literally spent years living in Janesville with the only purpose of learning how innovation and globalization affect real people in our country. I can attest from experience that a reason a person attends to a subject is that they care deeply about it.

  • Sourdough by Robin Sloan

    Great follow up to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. A computer programmer starts to question her work as she discovers a love for baking bread (with a mysterious sourdough starter). Sloan addresses a similar theme as his previous book - the integration of technology in an analog society - only this time through food. Both funny and critical of both camps. An excellent choice for a summer read.

  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

    If you like crime fiction, and maybe even if you do not, check out this series. J.K. Rowling has successfully resettled into a new genre with The Cuckoo's Calling. She's a fantastic writer for all ages. I am tempted to pick up the next in this series immediately, which is focused on a war veteran turned private detective in England, Cormoran Strike. He and his assistant Robin are complex characters who complement each other well in this call back to the classic mystery/crime fiction novel.

  • Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

    A brief text filled with many ideas and sketches for sharing your work and your creative process with others. I felt it was too short which is really a backhanded compliment. One of my favorite quotes:

    The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others. Find a scenious (group of creative individuals), pay attention to what others are sharing, and then start taking note of what they are not sharing. Be on the lookout for voids that you can fill with you own efforts, no matter how bad they are at first.

    Also check out Kleon’s excellent weekly newsletter: https://austinkleon.com/newsletter/

  • Educated by Tara Westover

    Wow, what a powerful memoir. The author describes her life growing up at the foothills of the Idaho mountains. Her parents are survivalists: trying to live away from society out of fear of the government. Mental illness and religion play a role in Westover’s story, but through her writing she was able to mine down to a deeper understanding of her upbringing isolated from the world.

  • Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process by Joe Fassler (editor)

    I really enjoyed reading about different writers' creative processes, which starts with a favorite text. It's interesting how each writer would expand on their work after explaining what the text mean to them. There are themes that came up for me as I read: how writing is hard work; how important it is to read as a writer; how what is written is almost never what is happening in our mind and our imagination; how our lives and perspectives influence our writing.

  • A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

    A modern take on the exorcism/horror stories from the past. Tremblay tips his hat to his predecessors while offering original ideas to this genre.

  • Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean

    Essential reading for anyone who wants to (and should) understand the political motivations of today's conservative leaders. We come to understand the connection between an academic (Jim Buchanan) and a billionaire (Charles Koch) and how their loose partnership developed the language of libertarianism today. 

    MacLean lays out the facts about this movement while expertly weaving an engrossing narrative about what happened regarding the conservative movement right under our noses. Read this book and you will see and hear today's politicians with a new lens. The most frightening part about this study is that the movement to deconstruct our democracy is still happening.

  • Upstream by Mary Oliver

    I listened to Mary Oliver’s interview with Krista Tippett for the On Being podcast. This poet struck me as a unique voice. This is the first book I have read by her, a serious of poems. Oliver offers caring and candid thoughts on lives we lead, generalizing her experiences on the East Coast so that anyone could relate.

If I had to pick a favorite or two from this list, The Power and Janesville: An American Story stand out for me.

In The Power, the physical discovery serves as a literary catalyst for Alderman to explore how power corrupts regardless of gender or status. The main characters represent mass media, religion, government, and organized crime: four notoriously corruptible institutions. What are the parallels between this novel and current events? That I continue to think about The Power long after I’ve read it speaks to the capacity of well-written fiction to inform and enrich our lives as well as to entertain.

Janesville: An American Story takes place a little more than an hour from where I live. It was a personal read as I currently live in a “Rust Belt” state. What I most appreciate about Goldstein’s account is how she objectively describes the challenges that blue collar families must endure. There is little politicizing or trying to find some angle to sell more copies: the author tells the story of a city struggling to adapt to the 21st century. It’s respectful and honest reporting, much needed in our connected world.