Our Best and Worst of 2018

2018 was filled with ups and downs—as life usually is, but we had an incredible year of reading here at Lit Lens. Here are our top ten favorites from this year and our least favorites.

Pete’s year in review

I had a few goals going into 2018, and I managed to pull them off. I realized at some point that there was a huge imbalance in the number of male to female authors I read, and this bothered me (I was reading mostly male authros). In 2018, I read a few more books by women than by men—and as you’ll see from my top 5 books, this led to some of my best reads of the year. I hope to always maintain a ratio close to this, and in future years I may look closely at other ratios like the number of books by non-Americans or non-English writers. I also had a goal of matching my previous reading record of 60 books, and I just finished number 61 yesterday!

Pete’s Best Reads of 2018

1. A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I was pretty hyped to read this book after hearing so many great things about it from friends, and it far surpassed my high expectations. Cozy, heartwarming, and genuine, this was the most emotional read of 2018 for me.

2. News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Westerns aren’t usually my thing, but this little story brought me to tears and sent me on great adventures. I will be reading this book every few years for the rest of my life.

3. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

This book fits into a certain spooky and mysterious genre that I can’t quite place—The Keep by Jennifer Egan has the same feeling. I loved the characters and the deep family mysteries. The story comes close to magical realism without fully taking the step into the fantastic but coming very close.

4. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Another book that I’ve heard a lot about, but in this case I was warned that it’s dense, slow,  and difficult to follow. None of these things were true in my experience—Erikson immediately drew me in with his complex and empathetic characters and intriguing world.

5. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Once again, I was warned of this book’s slow pace, weak characters, and bad writing. Instead, I found it to be immediately captivating, and its characters are among my favorite Sanderson characters.

Pete’s Worst Reads of 2018

1. Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbury

I couldn’t even bring myself to review this one I hated it so much. I read this shortly after learning of Bradbury’s racist opinions. He’s one of my favorite authors, so learning this was disheartening. This strange little memoir felt self-serving and was full of strange ramblings and a boring look at Irish culture (spoiler: it’s drinking).

2. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Review to come on this one, but I can tell you that I was not a fan of its proselytizing, victim-blaming, and criticism of people who want their homes to be comfortable.

3. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I find no enjoyment in reading a book about terrible characters being terrible to each other. The plot was pure gossip, and the author over-explained the only interesting parts of the story, taking away my satisfaction in piecing things together.

4. The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

When a 200-page book feels repetitive, it ends up feeling like it lacks substance. The only redeeming quality of this book for me was the twist ending.

5. Saga Volume 8

I don’t like it when character deaths are used as a story’s big reveals, and when they seem to be the only thing pushing the story forward, the world just ends up feeling empty and sad.

Indiana’s year in review

Entering into 2018, I wanted to read more of a variety of classics and nonfiction, as well as children’s literature. I managed to find a variety of nonfiction books that really challenged me—mostly because they were on subjects I’d never really studied before like architecture—and maybe me read in a way I haven’t since college. It felt like a great brain exercise. I hope to continue this in 2019, maybe reading more historical books, as well as sociology/psychology books. I welcome any recommendations!

Indiana’s Best Reads of 2018   

1. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I read this one on a beach in Alaska during a perfectly sunny day in May and I felt like the book itself was truly a gift from the sea, and from my grandmother, who loved this book and was always encouraging me to read it. I stayed on that beach for quite awhile and saw only one person in the distance and it was the perfect experience. As Lindbergh wrote “Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.”

2. Villette by Charlotte Bronte

This one was such a lovely surprise. I thought that because Jane Eyre was the only really popular Charlotte Bronte book that must be her best and I was afraid that Villette might ruin my opinion of her. Instead, I was blown away by it. Lucy Snowe is just as intricate and interesting a character as Jane and the book is just as well plotted. I would highly recommend it to any Jane Eyre fans.

3. Less by Sean Sean Greer

This was another surprise for me. I expected a rather simple “American abroad” comedy and it definitely was that at its core, but it was also darkly funny about love and aging.

4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A book hasn’t managed to make me cry since I was a child—and even then I can only remember crying over one. But I was sobbing at the end of this one, sobbing as though everything in the book had actually happened to me. Fantastic book, but be careful to read it when you have the emotional energy for it.

5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Whenever I picked it up, I was just immediately immersed into this cozy world. I loved following the lives of the March sisters, especially because my mom is named after the best one, Jo.

Indiana’s Worst Reads of 2018

1. More Than This by Patrick Ness

Reading this book felt like wandering through a maze that didn’t really have a destination at the end; no prize and no point, no reason to finish. I kept thinking that there was going to be one, so I kept going. But I was just left at the end regretting that I’d kept going.

2. The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Perhaps it’s because I had high expectations for this book, but it didn’t hit the mark for me. It felt like Wolitzer was trying to convey the zeitgeist of 2018 rather than just tell a good story.

3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

It was all tell and no show. I liked the premise and the idea of the world, but that was about it.

4. The Idiot by Elif Batuman

There’s no doubt that the author is funny, possibly hilarious. But that was the only positive aspect of this book that I can remember. The plot and the characters were dull and the humor running throughout didn’t save it for me.

5. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I didn’t enjoy reading about the lives of these characters who were either terrible to one another or were just bitter beyond belief.

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