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My Favorite 100 Books Read in 2018

One thing I focused on doing last year was reading. Or more specifically listening and reading. Anyone who’s encountered me in person for too long has no doubt seen me with AirPods in deep in a story.  In 2018 I was able to listen to even more books than in the past – somehow reaching 100 books! I trace this back to a few changes since I moved to Utah:

  • Taking public transportation to work most days (1 hour 30 minutes)
  • Walking my dog every day (30 minutes)
  • Going for long hikes (2-6 hours)
  • Listening to fewer podcasts
  • Becoming faster at listening (turning the speed up as high as 3x depending on the book and narrator)
books from 2018
books from 2018

Add to that the rise of Libby, which allows for free library rentals of audiobooks and I was able to keep my queue well stocked all year long!

I also buy books from Audible by snagging 24 credits at a time and spending them over the year. I’ll supplement that with the occasional Audible 2-for-1 deal where you can get 2 books for 1 credit. Whenever one of these deals goes live I jump on it and see if there’s anything I want that’s not available on Libby. /r/audiobooks on Reddit usually posts about these deals if you want to stay in the know.

In 2018 I also switched to Apple AirPods as my primary headphones for listening. These have been AMAZING. The batteries never seem to run out. Even if one does, you can go down to 1-ear for a while while the other charges then alternate from there.

I originally set a goal of 75 books for 2018, but due to some life changes, I had a bit more time on my hands. When I realized I might hit 100 books in December (an arbitrary but downright cool milestone), I decided to get there on a technicality and add a few comic trades I read, a few short stories and wrap up a few books I was in the middle of.

Related Articles:
How to Listen to 100 Audiobooks a Year
My Favorite 66 Books Read in 2017

This post is a look back at everything I read in 2018 – including a bit of analysis, recommendations on some of my favorites and a few things that worked for me this year.

Before getting into my overall favorites, let me touch on a bit of what I personally like to read. I tend to lean towards a few specific genres: science fiction, fantasy, self-improvement, biographies and various other non-fiction that catch my eye. I’ll pick up the occasional mystery or suspense fiction if it gets great reviews, but I don’t seek them out in the same way.

I use Hardcover to track what I’m reading and some custom programming to pull down the data and sort it into a spreadsheet.

Numbers by Category

Ok, time for some numbers! If you know me by now, you know I love diving into data and seeing what happens. For me, it helps me understand where I’ve been and improve in the future. Breaking these down in this way helps me understand what kinds of books are really making me happy and expanding my horizons.

Books by Type

I tend to favor full-length books for the most part. The short stories I read this past year were mostly follow-ups that happened in the same world as the full-length books I was reading. For example Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson, Dresden Files short stories or ones by Ann Lecke in the Imperial Radch series. 

FormatCount
Book85
Short Story10
Comic5

I only read two comics this year – Attack on Titan (technically a manga) and The Walking Dead. I’m caught up on both and looking for the next series to get into. I’m almost caught up on Saga, so that’ll be next. Any recommendations after that?

Books by Gender

A few years ago I realized almost every book I read was written by a man. For 2017 I read 14 books by women, and 52 by men (21% women). Compared to 15 women/60 men in 2016 (20%) when I began making an effort to widen my horizons. In 2015 the number was single digits, so I’m at least headed in the right direction.

GenderCount
Men73
Women27

At 27% of total books, that’s still not a great diversity of thought, but it’s an improvement! If you look at only the 85 books and leave off short stories and comics, then the numbers change a bit to 26 books by women, and 59 by men (30%).

Books by Genre

I mentioned before that I tend to focus on nonfiction, science fiction, fantasy and biographies as my primary genres.

When it comes to biographies, I love growth stories – ones focused around someone’s journey towards a specific goal, or with some set change. That includes books like Wild, which is a biography intertwined with hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or Cork Dork, which is a biography told through one woman’s journey to becoming a sommelier.

Here’s a look at the distribution of genres for the year. 

GenreCount
Nonfiction47
— Business11
— Self Improvement8
— History8
— Science7
— Spiritual4
— Lifestyle4
— Food1
— Technical2
— Crime1
Fantasy26
Science Fiction15
Biography9
Fiction3

I have a feeling the “business” section will be going down for 2019 as I shift my focus away from strategy, OKRs and team development.

I was surprised to see so many more in fantasy than in science fiction this year. There were only a few sci-fi books I loved this past year, but overall I didn’t find as many hits as I hope.

Books by Consumption Method

I mentioned that I primarily listen to books rather than read. Turns out it’s somewhere between a 9:1 ratio and a 20:1 ratio. I’m not the fastest reader so audiobooks tend to go much faster and tend to hold my attention more.

MediumCount
Read11
Listened89

If you limit this to only full-length books, then the numbers shift even further toward audiobooks.

Books by MediumCount
Read5
Listened80

I have never had a great habit of reading, and it shows in these numbers. Now that I have a bunch more free time, I’ve been starting to read in bed every morning which has been amazing! I’ve always struggled to concentrate while reading, but I’ve found that if I turn on some white noise I can concentrate for much longer. I expect this number of read books to increase in 2019.

Side note: If you have an Alexa, try using “Alexa, play rain sounds”. We started going to sleep with that white noise and now we’re completely addicted to it. Even when we’ve traveled recently we put those same sounds on through our phones. It reminds me of being back in Florida on a rainy day.

Books by Rating

I rate books on a scale of 1-5, which is the same as on Goodreads.

RatingCount
1 – Everyone Should Avoid2
2 – A Bad Book9
3 – Ok, but not great25
4 – A Good One28
5 – An Amazingly Great Book36

I had a good year in terms of what I picked. A full 36% of books were Amazingly Great! I’d break it down into 1-3 being “eh”, 4 being entertaining and then 5 being the ones I really loved for the year. 

Books by Year

One of my life goals is to read the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books ever written. 2018 wasn’t a year where I made significant progress on that goal – leaving me another 55 books still to read. Some of those 55 are entire series too.

This year’s books tended towards the recent side. 98 books I read were written since 2000. In 2017 I read a bunch of older sci-fi and wanted a change to something more recent. I have a feeling I’ll be digging more into the classics again in 2019.

By YearCount
201832
201718
20167
20155
20144
20135
20125
20114
20103
20092
20081
20071
20062
20052
20043
20031
20022
20011
19961
19901

Favorite Books of 2018

OK, that’s enough numbers. Time to get into my favorites from the year! Last year I had one mega-list from top to bottom with my favorites. This year I’ve decided to try something different and organize them into a few categories. This is mostly because I really don’t want to try sorting 100 books from best to worst and writing a review for each of them. It’s a lot easier, and arguably more useful, to sort them into specific genres or groups and pick my favorite in those.

At the bottom, I’ve also included every book I read for the year with its rating from 1-5.

My Overall Top 10 Favorite Books of 2018

Here’s the overall list across all genres of my favorites. There’s not a single fantasy book in the top 10 this year, but after The Kingkiller Chronicle was #1 last year there was a high bar to live up to.

5 out of my top 10 books this year are written by women. 3 are sci-fi, 3 are biographies and 4 are non-fiction. To my surprise, 4 of the books on this list I read in January – a strong start to the year! 

1) Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Sci-fi)

children_of_time

This was the first book I read in January 2018 and it ended up becoming my bar for the entire year. 

The premise is this: Earth is in the process of terraforming a new planet to make it habitable. The plan is to contaminate this new world with a genetic virus that will cause the monkeys there to become more sentient in the far future. Something goes wrong (we’re still in chapter 1 here) and instead a planet of insects is grown.

The most impressive part of this entire story is the focus on insect chemistry and what it would look like for a planet of intelligent spiders to rise. This may sound like a horror story, but it’s not that at all. Spider society faces many of the same issues we do in our society today – gender rights (although the main issue is to allow males to NOT be eaten after mating), societal structures, trust, communication, and math. The approach to solving these issues is entirely insect-based, and some of them blew my mind.

2) Educated by Tara Westover (Biography)

educated

I didn’t know anything about Educated when I started it – other than that it was a memoir.

It’s much more than that though. It’s a memoir from a rarely seen segment of society: Mormon fundamentalist. In this case, it’s not the multiple wives kind, but the homesteader/government controls everything/everyone who’s not us is the evil side.

Educated follows Westover’s journey growing up in a fundamentalist household where it wasn’t essential to teaching her anything, to a bright future that I wouldn’t even have anticipated at the beginning of her journey.

Having just moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, reading this book that focuses so much on Mormon culture (even the fringe side) was immensely interesting. It led me to read Under the Banner of Heaven soon after – a further look into Mormon Fundamentalism and as one-way religion is used to control and oppress.

3) Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty (Sci-fi)

six wakes

Every year when the Hugo nominations come out I scour the lists for interesting science fiction books I otherwise missed. While this has been hit or miss, I have found some gems from those lists – including Six Wakes.

The premise of Six Wakes is simple: in a distant future, a ship is en route to colonize a new world. All of the passengers are in deep sleep except a six-person crew. The trip is set to take multiple generations, but these six crew members continuously have their memories saved digitally and then re-imaged with new clones of themselves when they die.

The problem comes when all six crew members wake up (after dying) at the same time – with significant memories missing. This makes for a whodunnit-style novel, in a sci-fi setting where even the perpetrator doesn’t remember doing it.

I remember listening to this book on a hike. I ended up going a few extra miles just because I didn’t want it to end!

4) Grit by Angela Duckworth (Nonfiction / Self Improvement)

grit

When it comes to getting things done, there are many takes on where to put your focus. There are systems to help plan your time (12 Week Year, Miracle Morning). There are ways to help organize your routine (Atomic Habits, Focus). There are systems to help you think differently (Kaizen, Beginners Mind). But if you want to get something done it always comes down to one thing: you have to actually do it.

Grit, perseverance, and follow-through – whatever you want to call it – is THE most important thing to getting things done. People who have it are the ones that toil without reward to complete what they see a vision in. They have a passion and are dead-set on turning it into a reality.

I think Grit is one of the most under-appreciated qualities in a person. All of the biggest successes in my life I can relate back to some obstacle that I needed to overcome and make it through.

At different times in my life I’ve felt like I had more grit than others. At times, I’ve felt long hours meant I had grit, or if I overcame some hard problem. Those are a few examples of grit, but this book dives much deeper than that. It has a focus on growing grit. In the same way you may want to grow a habit, or increase your focus, growing your grit helps so many parts of your life. It’s only possible by being uncomfortable, and being OK with that. 

There aren’t many books that I have lined up to read in 2019, but re-reading this one is on the list for when I want to really start working hard on something.

5) Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler (Nonfiction / History)

blitzed

I wasn’t expecting a book about drugs in Nazi Germany to be so fascinating! I can’t think of another history book that has elaborated and added so much information to something I thought I knew about than Blitzed.

Blitzed focuses on something left out of high school and college textbooks – the prevalence of drugs throughout Germany during World War 2. This went all the way to the top with Hitler’s personal doctor prescribing and administering drugs (via injection) nearly every day.

While I’ve never considered myself a WW2 buff, this look at the war added another dimension I wasn’t aware of. By understanding the drugs used and their side effects, it makes it easier to understand the motivations for much of what was happening at Germany’s highest levels – namely how they became increasingly paranoid and isolated as the war went on.

6) The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod (Nonfiction / Self Improvement)

miracle_morning

The full title for this one is: “The Miracle Morninmiravlg: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8 AM)”.

For much of 2018, I woke up at 5:40 AM. Before reading Miracle Morning, I never woke up before 7:30 AM. I think that tells you most of what you need to know about this one.

This is an area I’ve been curious about for a long time. For some of my most productive years, I woke up promptly in the morning and went to the gym for an hour. That morning workout gave me a lot of strength for the rest of the day – more self-control, more optimism, and more sense of accomplishment to start the day.

I’d always presumed that was specific to what I was doing (working out). After reading this book, I believe I was off on that presumption. Instead, doing anything productive to start the day can lead to these benefits. This limiting belief – that I’m a night person and that I can’t do it – was quickly shut down, and now I’m hoping to give this early riser thing a try.

7) Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1) by Sylvain Neuvel (Sci-fi)

sleeping giants

While most books on my top 10 list are serious – this one is just old fashion fun. Here’s a quick description from Amazon:

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

So what is this huge metal hand? Where’s the rest of the body? Why is it here? Who put it here? What can it do? All of these questions and so much more are explored in The Themis Files trilogy of books.

You can probably guess by now (and by the title) that there are some giants involved (I’ll leave it vague on what a “Giant” is). One side I appreciated from this book was that it goes into the global politics of the situation – moving this from a straight sci-fi novel to a political sci-fi story spread out over decades. Add to that a sense of comedy sprinkled in and you have a memorable world.

8) Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker (Biography)

cork_dork

The full name for this one is: “Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste”.

Ever since I watched Somm on Netflix, I’ve been fascinated by sommeliers. The amount of work and dedication needed to become a Master is nothing short of crazy. While the movie Somm focuses mostly on the test for those already experienced, Cork Dork follows a path from pure curiosity to a career.

For those who want to “break in” to the wine world, it’s no small task. It’s painted as completely unrealistic to do it on your own unless you happen to have a few million extra dollars lying around. Instead, the way to do it is to get a job at a restaurant with a notable wine list and use every chance you have to start tasting wines and learning.

The process that upcoming somms go through is far more painful than I thought. Restaurant work aside (which has its own issues), trying to do that while ALSO becoming a master in taste, service, and knowledge is something I’m good not pursuing – but hats off to people who make it their calling.

If nothing else, I got better tips on how to speak to somms as a drinker to communicate what I’m looking for. Tip: start with your price range.

9) The Year of Less by Cait Flanders (Biography)

year_of_less

The full title for this one is “The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store”.

I’ve been reading Cait’s blog for longer than I can remember. Before the finance community was something I knew about, Cait’s approach to heartfelt stories about minimalism and consumption was what drew me to read more. This book dives deeper with a narrative that winds through a difficult year.

Going much deeper into personal stories than I expected, the common thread is a story of growth – both towards having less stuff, but also for a better understanding of what leads to happiness. Editing down life to focus on what matters is no small undertaking, and many of these stories have inspired me to look at areas of my life that could use a little editing.

10) Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (Nonfiction / Fitness)

born-to-run

I’ve never considered myself a runner. I was born with asthma and spent many nights as a kid in emergency rooms, emergency clinics or at home hooked up to a nebulizer. Running, or any endurance event would spark me to wheeze painfully.

By the time I was 18, I had mostly grown out of it, but my endurance was never a focus. In my late 20s, I started taking exercise more seriously and really started trying to improve my endurance. There was one area that I always struggled with though – long-duration workouts (like those 30-minutes+). 

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen takes aim at this subject head-on. I was gripped by the different explorations of runners around the world as well as human beings’ unique ability to run long distances.

Between reading Born to Run, Grit and Shoe Dog (a memoir by Nike’s founder) I was left wanting to put my shoes on and get going. I’ve been running more in 2018 than ever before and only plan to increase my runs.

Top Lists

Those are my top 10 overall, but there were a bunch of other books that I’d still recommend for the year. Here are a few other lists of my favorites in other categories.

Top 10 Books by Women

  1. Educated
  2. Six Wakes
  3. Grit
  4. Cork Dork
  5. The Year of Less
  6. Something in the Water
  7. I Am Malala
  8. Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley
  9. Meet the Frugalwoods
  10. Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & flow

Top 10 Books by Men

  1. Children of Time (Children of Time #1)
  2. Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany
  3. The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life: Before 8AM
  4. Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)
  5. Born to Run
  6. Refactoring UI
  7. The President Is Missing
  8. Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals
  9. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
  10. The Singularity Trap

Top 7 for Personal Improvement

  1. Grit
  2. The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life: Before 8AM
  3. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
  4. One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way
  5. Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & flow
  6. The 12 Week Year
  7. Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals

Top 6 for Fantasy

  1. White Sand
  2. Edgedancer (The Stormlight Archive, #2.5)
  3. Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)
  4. A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
  5. Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)
  6. The Boy on the Bridge (The Girl With All the Gifts #2)

Overall List

Whew, that’s a lot of top lists. But wait, there’s one more! Here’s my overall list of everything read from 2018, sorted by rating. This isn’t in order from favorite to least favorite but grouped by its 1-5 score.

Adam’s books read in 2018 on Hardcover

Final Takeaways

Whew, that’s a lot. In organizing and reviewing all of these books from the year, I realized a few things:

Having the next 2-3 books lined up ensures that I’ll quickly transition from one book to the next.

Getting good earphones has helped a ton. Not being able to continue a story because of a dead battery is annoying.

I should write reviews immediately after I read a book when it’s still most fresh in my mind. Trying to do it months later is no fun.

Read more in the morning. That’s been amazing so far grounding my day.

Having some white noise helps me stay focused when reading.

Reading comics has been a ton of fun. Find one or two new series to read.

If you’re on Hardcover and want to stay up to date with what I’m reading/listening to, feel free to add me there.

How did your 2018 reading go? What are your favorites of the year? Do you have any recommendations? Are there any books on this list you’re surprised by? Let me know in the comments.

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I'm , a full-stack product developer in Salt Lake City, UT. I love enlivening experiences, visualizing data, and making playful websites.

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