Best Reads of 2018

Now that 2018 is behind us, my conscience is clear and I feel like I can list my favorite reads of 2018. These are the best books I read during 2018, not necessarily books that were published in 2018. I kept my method of selection simple: I reviewed all the books I read in a given month, and picked the one that I liked the best from that month. The result is a list of 12 books, instead of the usual “top 10.

Some reading stats for 2018:

  • I read 129 books.
  • That made for a total of 61,400 pages
  • 49 books were fiction, 80 were nonfiction
  • The longest book I read was 1,344 pages
  • The average length of a book was 475 pages
  • On average, I finished one book every 2-3/4 days; that’s about 2-1/2 books a week on average.
  • Here is the list of everything I’ve read since 1996. What I read in 2018 begins with #719 on the list.

And now, my best 12 reads of 2018, listed in the order I read them:

One Man’s Meat by E. B. White (1942)

In the late 1930s, E. B. White did what I dream of doing: he gave up life in the big city for a salt water farm in Brooklin, Maine. White became a farmer, which, according to him is 70 percent fixing things. In order to insure some income, he wrote a monthly column for Harper’s magazine about his life as a small town farmer. One Man’s Meat collects these columns. These essays are quaint, and often about seeming simple things. But with the clouds of war gathering in Europe, White also wrote about freedom and democracy. It has become one of my favorite essay collection–I enjoyed it so much I recently re-read it.

Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain (2013-15)

At 2,200 pages, and three volumes, Mark Twain’s Autobiography is no small undertaking. But I found it a fascinating read. His life overlaps with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt (who Twain did not like) and Winston Churchill. His friendship with President Ulysses S. Grant was fascinating.

Red Smith on Baseball by Red Smith (2000)

There is no sports writer today like Red Smith. I wish there was. Writers today seem to focus on the technicalities of the game, as opposed to the people who make it up. Smith’s writing had style. He made baseball sound fun, while understanding it was a business. If there were more writers like Red Smith today, I think there’d be a greater appreciation of the game.

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson (2018)

I went into this book with some trepidation. I thought I knew everything about Apollo 8, but Kurson’s book surprised me. This was a great book on an historic voyage to the moon.

The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling (1949)

I have never been a fan of boxing. Not until I read A. J. Lieblings essays on the sport. These essays appeared in the New Yorker in the 1940s, and his dismay with the changes to the sport resonated with me even though I wasn’t a fan. His writing not only made me sympathetic, it made me want to be a fan. This was perhaps the most surprising read of the year.

The Age of Faith by Will Durant (1950)

Volume 4 of the Story of Civilization series by Will (and later with his wife, Ariel) Durant. At well over a thousand pages, this is the longest book in the series and centers on the history of religion and the dark ages. It was a fascinating read, rich in detail, and marvelously written.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin (2012)

A short novel about Mary in the years after the death of Jesus. The audiobook version was narrated by Meryl Streep which added an extra dimension to the voice in the story.

Jefferson and His Times: The Sage of Monticello by Dumas Malone (1981)

The sixth and final volume of Jefferson and His Times. This volume covered Jefferson in retirement and the renewal of his friendship with John Adams. I think it was my favorite of the batch.

Long Journey with Mr. Jefferson: The Life of Dumas Malone by William C. Hyland (2013)

Dumas Malone spent forty years researching and writing the six volumes that make up Jefferson and His Times. Anyone who can do that holds a fascination for me. I searched around and found a biography of the biography and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean (2018)

I grew up in L.A. and lived there from 1983 – 2002. Somehow, I had no idea there was a fire at the Central Library in 1986. Susan Orlean’s book is a history of the L.A. Public Library told using the Central Library fire as a framework. It was a fantastic, and nostalgic read for me.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (2005)

This was my first dose of Cormac McCarthy and I was blown away by the rhythm of the language, despite the darkness of the story.

Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946 by Gary Giddins (2018)

I read the first volume of Giddin’s biography of Bing Crosby when it came out in 2001 and loved it. I had to wait 17 years for the second volume, which came out in October, I read it slowly, enjoying the rich endnotes as much as the main text. This book was as much a cultural history of the early 1940s as it is a biography of Bing Crosby.

So which is my favorite? Like I tell my kids, favorites vary with my mood. In the spring, I might say my favorite was The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling. If I was feeling nostalgic, I think my favorite would be The Library Book by Susan Orlean.


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