Sometimes I feel bad about how little I make time for reading. I love books, I always have. I love getting lost in a novel, reading about people’s adventures and memoirs, I love travel books of all kinds, I love biographies of politicians and mildly famous people (but especially biographies of random people that I’ve never heard of). I even like the odd how-to business or writing books.
Before I moved to Mexico two and a half years ago, I used to attempt those book challenges. I pushed myself to read a book a week, although I often failed at these, it still felt like I was reading a lot.
Then I started my blog and I wanted to spend more time writing, more time crafting my own words and reading became something I did on airplanes and beaches.
But as I go through my Kindle and my bookshelf this afternoon, I can’t help but be incredibly surprised at how many books I’ve read this year. I’ve read 24 (and am currently working my way through #25). That’s two books a month – WAY more than I would have guessed.
I’m also really happy that I’ve discovered some incredible new-to-me authors. I’ve read a hugely varied selection of books and genres this year, which I think has been one of the main reasons I’ve been able to read so much. I’ve hardly been bored with anything I’ve read (bar a few slow short stories).
I’ve listed only the best books I’ve read this year. Some have been out for decades and others are newly published. I hope they help you start a fun year of reading in 2019.
Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull
I thought this book was hilarious. I’ve said it a million times before, but I’m a huge cliche. I love Paris. I love visiting Paris, I love reading about Paris, I love looking at photos of Paris. This is the story of a woman who moves to France to be with a French man. She is learning French, but more importantly, she’s learning how to be French. It’s super relatable to anyone who has ever been an expat, whether in France or elsewhere. I couldn’t put it down.
Grab a copy of Almost French on Amazon here.
Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming one of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself by Rich Roll
I’ve been listening to the Rich Roll Podcast for just over a year now. I think I discovered him through the Tim Ferriss Show and I was instantly hooked by his ability to have open and deep conversations with the people that he talks to on his podcast. His book uses that same vulnerability and openness that I love about his podcast, but this time it’s all about him and his past. Rich has led a fascinating life if not often heartbreaking, but his book made me feel really motivated. It’s not just a book for those that love running, his story is about so much more than ultra running.
Grab a copy of Finding Ultra on Amazon here.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
I cried and I got anxiety and I stayed up way past my bedtime whilst reading this book. I picked it up at a book swap while I was in Puerto Escondido. I thought it would be a light beach read. A light beach read it is not, but a gripping, uncomfortable and beautifully written book about being a teenager and about belonging and about love and family it is. I cannot recommend this book enough. I can’t wait to read more of Backman’s books in 2019.
Grab a copy of Beartown on Amazon here.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
This was the beach read that I was looking for in Puerto Escondido. Light-hearted, but still a fantastic story about mother-daughter relationships and growing up as a young woman in a world where you don’t quite fit in. It’s a little bit silly, but while you’re wrapped up in the book it doesn’t seem silly at all. I read this in a few days and really enjoyed the storyline.
Grab a copy of Where’d You Go, Bernadette on Amazon here.
My Struggle: Some Rain Must Fall by Karl Ove Knausgaard
I have long been obsessed with this autobiographical series of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s life. It is dramatic and yet completely human. It is so beautifully written. He is able to talk at each age the way that we all remember being at that age. This is book 5 in his 6 book series (the 6th was only recently released in English). He’s moved to Bergen to study and to get a job and be with his brother. It’s a wonderful exploration of sibling relationships, especially at such a malleable age (19). I think this may have been my favorite so far in the series.
Grab a copy of Some Rain Must fall on Amazon here.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
As someone who wants to get much (much) better at creative non-fiction writing, I knew Joan Didion was someone I needed to read more of. A few years ago I read The Year of Magical Thinking and it remains one of the most tragic and wonderful books I’ve ever read. Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a collection of essays that she wrote throughout her career for different publications. They are perfect snapshots of places and people and I couldn’t put it down. My favorite is the article that the book itself was named after. It’s a fascinating peek into San Francisco’s darker side (during the 60s at least).
Grab a copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion on Amazon here.
What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
Anyone who has spent any amount of time traveling has probably heard many of the same things as Kristin. House! Marriage! Kids! Settle Down! It’s a memoir of Kristin’s experiences traveling whenever she is between jobs. She meets men, she falls in love, she gets broken hearted and falls out of love and she continues to seek adventure while everyone back home wonders when she’s just going to get this out of her system. It sounds like a classic tale, but Newman’s is unique. It’s funny and sad and also really relatable. I really loved Kristin’s storytelling. I think I read the book in about a day or two. It’s an easy, but entertaining read.
Grab a copy of What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding on Amazon here.
All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft by Geraldine DeRuiter
This book is definitely in the top three books I’ve read this year. Another travel memoir, but one that is completely unlike any that I’ve read before. Geraldine is absolutely hilarious. I’ve been a lover of her blog, the Everywherist for a fair few years now, so when her book came out last year, I knew I wanted to read it. She is scared of everything and travel wasn’t even really something she liked to do. That’s part of what makes her story so great. She references her Italian family, her loving husband, and her misadventures in such detail. I loved this book so much, I re-read it later on in the year.
Grab a copy of All Over the Place on Amazon here.
The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kendzior
One of my good friends and a fellow book lover recommended this collection of essays to me. It’s packed with essays about life in the midwest, in the forgotten cities and towns of the US. It’s about unemployment and politics and food. It’s about the racial divide in America and why we feel so uncomfortable talking about it. It’s a book that pushes boundaries and attempts to show us how the US has unfolded into the country that it is right now with a focus on the states that are often forgotten.
Grab a copy of The View from Flyover Country on Amazon here.
Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman
This is definitely the most creative book on the list. It’s a very obvious look at the effects of colonialism with a heavy focus on the indigenous people of Australia. It’s a fictional novel though, so there are plenty of creative liberties taken. There’s a huge twist that you won’t see coming and I think it really made for a great read. It’s certainly not a short book, but I kept coming back to it every night because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I finished it and ended up spending a lot of time reflecting on its lessons.
Grab a copy of Terra Nullius on Amazon here.
Lifelines: New Writings from Bangladesh by Farah Ghuznavi
Another collection of short stories, Lifelines was a fascinating look into life in Bangladesh, especially for women. All of the stories are written by women and each is heartbreaking and beautiful and so well written. I have been gravitating more and more towards books and stories that are written by women in countries that I know little about (thanks in most part to Northern Lauren’s book challenge). I think it’s so important to hear other people’s voices and stories from around the world.
Grab a copy of Lifelines on Amazon here.
To Shake the Sleeping Self: A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret by Jedidiah Jenkins
I’d go ahead and say this is one of my favorite books, ever. I’d never heard of Jedidiah Jenkins before I picked up his book, but apparently, he has a pretty decent Instagram following thanks to his journey. In the book, he rides his bicycle from the coast of Oregon all the way to the mountains of Patagonia in Argentina. It’s about so much more – it’s about battling with his inner demons, the guilt he feels from his family, his relationship with his mother and siblings and God. It not only had me thinking a lot about my own life, but it also sounded like such an amazing adventure that it had me checking flights to Argentina.
Grab a cop of To Shake the Sleeping Self from Amazon here.
A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa
The true story of Masaji Ishikawa’s life as a Japanese-born boy with a Korean father. After the Korean War, his father decides he wants to go back to his home country (which was actually South Korea), but Japan broker a deal with North Korea and thousands of Japanese-born Koreans are “returned to their homes” in North Korea. The story doesn’t get happier from here. It’s an eye-opening account of the destitution that is still happening in this country and one man’s attempts to save himself and his family.
Grab a copy of A River in Darkness on Amazon here.
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts
More of a guide than a selection of stories, but I love the way Potts intertwines his experience with his advice. He’s traveled far and wide in many different ways, but this book focuses mostly on backpacking-style travel. It’s the kind that I experienced in New Zealand and Australia and as I traversed South East Asia. It reminded me of so many good times and it got me thinking about my next long-term adventure.
Grab a copy of Vagabonding on Amazon here.
How to Be a Writer (Writer’s Toolkit) by David Quantick
One of the last books that I read in 2018 was a book that I bought much earlier in the year. I am constantly buying books whenever I read a good review and then I sort of forget about them. I stumbled upon this book in December when I was looking through my Kindle for something with a little bit of motivation. This book is a collection of interviews with successful writers of all kinds – novelists, crime writers, journalists, columnists, memoir writers, screenplay writers, and even agents. As a base, it’s about the day in the life of different types of writers, but I really loved how it gave a deeper look into the writer’s minds. It talks about their habits, their workspace, their thoughts on writer’s block and how they make money as writers. It’s a really great and quick read that I know I’ll be coming back to again and again.
Grab a copy of How to Be a Writer on Amazon here.
Books On My List for 2019
This year, I’m going to focus on reading books that challenge me, books that open me up to new cultures and ideas and that perhaps I don’t agree with because that’s how you grow and that’s also how you figure out your true opinion on a topic. Here’s what I’ve got on my Amazon wishlist for next year.
There There by Tommy Orange
This is the story of a Native American family and the troubles they have faced over several generations. After reading Terra Nullius this year, I realized how little I know about native people, especially those from my own country. I also recently watched John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons on Netflix and while he intertwined plenty of humor, he also addresses a lot of problems that native people still face.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
This book has been recommended to me so many times this year. The true story of a girl who was kept out of school by her parents who are “survivalists.” She first steps foot in a classroom at age 17. I think I often take my education for granted. I judge the school system for all its flaws, but to read the account of someone who simply wants to go to school and how it transforms her life in so many ways really intrigues me.
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jae Ziegelman
The history of food in New York (and the US in general) and how it has changed over the years. I love these sort of historical books about food and cities that I love. It also includes some recipes which should be a fun addition.
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Fransisco Cantú
As someone who lives south of the border, I heard the odd story about friends of friends. I’ve met people who have been deported. I’m really interested in reading more on the topic from another perspective.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
The title itself sells it for me. I am so distracted – by my emails, by Instagram, text messages, whatsapp, and the list goes on. I want to get better at focusing my time both for work and for play better in 2019. This will probably be one of the first books I read in the New Year.
Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World by Nell Stevens
I read a few books about writing and about writers this year, but I’d really like to read a bit more this year. It gives me such motivation to learn about other people’s stories as writers. I have big hopes for 2019 and a few more big writing projects in the works so I can use all the motivation I can get!
What books do you want to read in 2019? I’d love some of your recommendations!
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Keith Van Sickle
Tuesday 11th of December 2018
So many books, so little time!