Olivia's Year in Books: 2018
As 2018 comes to an end, we consider the reading that defined each of our years. First up, Editor-in-Chief and Literature Editor, Olivia.
What kind of reading defined your year?
For me, this year was about reclaiming my love of literature. It’s been a project I’ve had underway for the past two years, but as I’ve taken very active steps to recover from intellectual burnout, reading for fun became a priority. I’m very happy that it did because it has greatly contributed to my recovery. I’ve loved so many of the books I’ve read this year, and they’ve all helped to spark my passion for all kinds of writing.
How many books are left in your to-be-read pile?
So many. My TBR pile is several piles stacked high on what is supposedly my husband’s dresser and constantly at risk of toppling over. A couple of Persephone Books editions are at the top though, and I look forward to getting to those once I’ve submitted my thesis. Other standouts from the pile are Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow, and Ali Smith’s Hotel World.
What are your top five books of the year?
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, French Exit, Social Creature, Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X, and The Year of Magical Thinking.
What – personally – is the most important book you read this year?
So many of the books I read mattered to me this year, but I think the one that maybe had the biggest impact was the Madame X/John Singer Sargent biography because it made me realize that I can get really excited about non-fiction and it helped re-spark my passion in the Gilded Age and the study of the time period… which now has me wanting to read so so so much more on it all!
And in terms of public reach – politics, current events, topics, etc.?
Most of the books I read were relevant in some way, but I appreciated that Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It covered so much as a short story collection. There was a little bit of everything.
Did anything you read inspire you aesthetically?
I know Social Creature wasn’t supposed to be inspirational, considering the plot, but it was! You can embrace the extra without going morally overboard…
Did anything keep you up reading until the early hours of the morning?
I actually stayed up until 3am last night because of a book possibly for the first time this year, finishing Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman on the Vanderbilt family. What an enthralling read!! It’s more of a biographical novel on Alva Vanderbilt than a piece of non-fiction, but it’s given me so, so much to think about as I want to delve further into the topic.
How many books did you finish?
For once, I don’t actually know! About halfway through the year, I stopped keeping track. I was at fifteen books at that point, and I know I’ve at least doubled that. Not counting has been liberating for me and has contributed to how much I’ve enjoyed reading again, as I used to religiously track my reads in the past. I probably read half as many books as I would have in a past year (I used to average around 70 books in undergrad!), but I truly loved or appreciated almost every single book I read this year, and that is far more valuable to me at this stage in my life.
Were there any books that you abandoned? If so, why?
I abandoned/ paused Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God. It was too relevant for our social climate, with babies being taken away from their mothers, and with my anxiety flying through the roof, I stopped. It was a very valuable book though that gave me a lot to think about, so I do hope to get back to it in 2019! I also accidentally paused Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend right before my wedding. I was really enjoying it, but then I put it aside and then forgot to pick it back up. I should probably make that my next read.
Did you reread any old favorites?
I sound like a broken record, but I’m constantly rereading The House of Mirth. I’ve been working on my thesis for two years now and I feel like I’ve absorbed the novel at this point.
Did you read anything outside of your preferred genre?
I’ve happily broken into non-fiction, so that counts for me! My husband is a historian, and he almost exclusively reads non-fiction when it comes to reading for leisure, so he’s thrilled that I’ve finally made the jump, after years of refusing to do so.
If you’re in the academic world, did you make time for leisure reading?
It’s almost all I did, and I’m so glad!
Did you read any books released in 2018? If not, are there any you want to read?
Several of the ones I’ve mentioned so far are from 2018. It’s been a fantastic year for books. Other favorites of the year have been Aja Gabel’s The Ensemble, Lauren Groff’s Florida, Daniel Ortberg’s The Merry Spinster, Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under, Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Olivia Laing’s Crudo, and Zadie Smith’s Feel Free. Reading more contemporary fiction over the past few years has also done so much to reignite my love for reading. I spent so long reading all the classics, both for fun as a teenager, and as part of my extensive literary studies through my twenties, that reading contemporary literature brings me back to my old, carefree reading habits.
What book do you most want to recommend to people?
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, hands down. It was definitely my number one of the year and the one I’ve recommended the most. I almost can’t believe that I haven’t written about it yet, but it was just one of those books that impacted me so much that I didn’t feel like I could write about it. Maybe in 2019…
We have provided links to the books mentioned above through our affiliate, Wordery – an independent, online bookseller – and we may earn a small commission through any purchases made through them.