Given the fact that I just created my list of recommended books, this post of my 2018 reading “year in review” is making my blog seem a bit book-intensive. But I published a similar post recapping my 2017 year in review, and felt I should do the same for 2018. We will return to our regularly scheduled non-book programming in January.
In 2018 I read 37 books (one of which I’m in the middle of, but will finish before the end of the year). I’ve decided to highlight a few books that I did NOT include on my “Great Books” list to avoid repeats, but these few books I’ve selected are worth your time.
Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces – Wislawa Szymborska
A collection of prose pieces written as newspaper columns by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. I enjoyed the writing and of course, poets are great at using the perfect word in the perfect place. Knowing that her writing spanned the time of Soviet control of her country makes the backdrop of many of these pieces all the more interesting.
In Praise of the Useless Life – Paul Quenon
I have spent a few short visits in monasteries, so am drawn to books by the monks who live there. Paul Quenon’s book is a glimpse into a radical way of living that is becoming more radical as times change, and yet more necessary. Those who have some familiarity with Thomas Merton will enjoy this since the author is at the same monastery – the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky – where Merton was.
West With The Night – Beryl Markham
Did you ever see the movie Out of Africa starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford? This autobiography written by an amazing woman is set during the same time in Kenya, and even Denys Finch-Hatton – the character played by Redford – is featured. Markham lived the sort of life you can barely imagine – flying rescue missions into inhospitable terrain, tracking elephants from the air, and becoming the first person to fly non-stop from Europe to America – a journey that ended in a crash in a bog in Newfoundland (she survived, of course).
How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds – Alan Jacobs
In an era of misdirection, hyper-heated opinion and tribal thinking, this book helps us be aware of what’s going on and developing our ability to be clear in our thinking.
How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer – Sarah Bakewell
The previous entry is “how to think” and now this one is “how to live” – an unintentional coincidence. This book about the life of the great Michel Eyquem de Montaigne is a fun read. He was an amazing guy who lived during a time of great conflict, and might have something to say to us about being introspective during challenging times. If interested, check out my blog post about Montaigne here.
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris – David McCullough
Since I have been an “American in Paris” during several recent business trips, this book called to me. I didn’t include it in my “Great Books” list but that’s probably an oversight. Either way, if you’re at all interested in the City of Lights and the many fascinating Americans who passed through there during historically important times, this is a great read.
Janesville: An American Story – Amy Goldstein
This is the book I referenced earlier that I’m reading now, but I can tell it belongs here even though I am only halfway finished. Janesville is a town in southern Wisconsin between Madison and the Illinois border where a massive GM plant closed, requiring the town and the thousands of affected workers to dig down deep to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. I am awed by well-researched books like this that help readers know and empathize with the challenges faced by people who might live nearby geographically but very far away in terms of life experience. This book brings you the personal stories of several people who played a role in Janesville’s response to their challenges. It also might help some better understand how the disappearance of a job someone worked at for twenty years – along with the pension they were working toward – might impact that person’s political outlook the next time an election rolls around.
I’ll end this list the same way I ended the 2017 list:
Remember the old adage: “Leaders are Readers”. In an era of constant change, taking a break from the emails and blog posts (like this one) to read a book is way to recharge your batteries, gain new perspectives, and grow.
Also published on Medium.