Clinton Dreisbach Dad, programmer, game designer.

2018 in books

I exceeded my goal this year of reading 52 books. I read 57 in total, the great majority of those being fiction.

Fiction

  • Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm
  • The Boy on the Bridge, M.R. Carey
  • Freeware, Rudy Rucker
  • Red Clocks, Leni Zumas
  • The Wanderers, Meg Howrey
  • The Christians, Lucas Hnath (stageplay)
  • Barbary Station, R.E. Stearns
  • After the Flare, Deji Bryce Olukotun
  • The Power, Naomi Alderman
  • How to Stop Time, Matt Haig
  • Senlin Ascends, Josiah Bancroft
  • Arm of the Sphinx, Josiah Bancroft
  • Compulsory Games, Robert Aickman
  • Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  • Home, Marilynne Robinson
  • Lila, Marilynne Robinson
  • The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States, Jeffrey Lewis
  • The Wolf Road, Beth Lewis
  • The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Phillip Pullman
  • Pretend I’m Dead, Jen Beagin
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • The Only Child, Andrew Pyper
  • Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel
  • Waking Gods, Sylvain Neuvel
  • Only Human, Sylvain Neuvel
  • The Empty Throne, Bernard Cornwell
  • The Half-Drowned King, Linnea Hartsuyker
  • Warriors of the Storm, Bernard Cornwell
  • The Sea Queen, Linnea Hartsuyker
  • The Fifth Child, Doris Lessing (re-read)
  • Transcription, Kate Atkinson
  • The Kingdom, Emmanuel Carrère

The first half of the year in fiction was just ok, but the second half was amazing. I discovered some of my new favorite books and authors this year. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead trilogy are some of the best novels I’ve ever read. Her use of language is masterful and I expect these will be classics. I’m looking forward to re-reading them soon.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was a surprising delight. I expected it to be powerful, and it was, but I didn’t anticipate how much dark humor Solzhenitsyn put in it. It is a magic piece of writing. It starkly describes the brutality of a Soviet labor camp but never lets you look away because of its compelling, humorous narrator. I read it in one sitting.

If you love historical fiction, read Linnea Hartsuyker. Her books are so riveting. I’ve read almost everything Bernard Cornwell has written and love his work, but the last novel of his I read rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t expect historical fiction to ignore the way women were treated in history, but the disdain for some of the women characters in Warriors of the Storm was too much for me. Hartsuyker is realistic while managing to show the agency and depth of her female characters.

Lastly, The Kingdom is amazing. I put it on here even though I’m not finished – I will be before the New Year. I’m putting several of Carrère’s books on my reading list for next year.

Kids’ Fiction

  • Catwings, Ursula K. Le Guin- Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (Great Illustrated Classics version)
  • The Letter for the King, Tonke Dragt
  • Abel’s Island, William Steig
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin (re-read)
  • The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis
  • The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander (re-read)
  • The Dark Crystal, Lloyd Alexander
  • The Castle of Llyr, Lloyd Alexander
  • Taran Wanderer, Lloyd Alexander
  • Catwings Return, Ursula K. LeGuin

My older son (7) and I read before bed each night, and we made it through a lot of books this year. The Letter for the King was the longest book we’ve read, at over 500 pages, and we both loved it. It’s “the best Dutch youth book of the latter half of the twentieth century” and was translated into English a few years ago. The stakes of the story are extremely low, the scenes are very detailed and slow, and people talk for pages and pages, and yet somehow it works.

A friend of mine with a Ph.D. in literature, and whose opinion I respect, told me Abel’s Island was her favorite book of all time. I had to pick it up – the idea that a children’s book was her favorite was super intriguing. I get it now. It’s a fun survival story and a meditation on loneliness.

We’ve almost finished the last book in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain pentalogy and they have gotten way better with time.

Religious

  • Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans
  • Vintage Saints and Sinners, Karen Wright Marsh
  • The Gospel According to Jesus, Stephen Mitchell
  • Reconstructing the Gospel, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
  • Wearing God, Lauren Winner
  • The Way of Jesus: Living a Spiritual and Ethical Life, Jay Parini
  • Inspired, Rachel Held Evans
  • A Flexible Faith, Bonnie Kristian

After having a religious conversion and a fire in my soul in 2017, I had a real comedown in 2018. My head has been filled with doubts and I’ve lost the ability to touch that electric spark of belief. The Kingdom (fiction) has been a helpful companion through this time, even though it’s the story of a man losing his faith. It reminds me that “the drought of the soul is a sign of progress.”

All of that is to say that I read a lot less religious literature this year. What I did read was great for the most part. Jay Parini’s The Way of Jesus: Living a Spiritual and Ethical Life was the highlight of my religious reading. Parini’s a novelist, poet, and academic, and approaches his faith with an open mind, a sense of realism, and a heart full of love.

Memoir

  • Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres
  • Educated, Tara Westover
  • Lose Well, Chris Gethard

Jesus Land and Educated were both heart-wrenching, although I’d recommend Educated as the far better. Chris Gethard has a heart of gold and Lose Well is a great read for all weirdos.

Other books

  • Alt-Right: From 4chan to the White House, Mike Wendling
  • Chasing Hillary, Amy Chozick
  • Lean Out: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Tech and Start-Up Culture, Elissa Shevinsky
  • Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Sarah Vowell
  • A Mind for Numbers, Barbara Oakley

I don’t have much to say about these except I don’t get the common online hate for Amy Chozick. She’s great and so was her book.