The 54 Books I Read in 2018, Charted

A few of my faves this year, even though they didn’t necessarily come out this year.

I committed to reading more books instead of periodicals in the haze following the 2016 election. It began as escapism and now, a couple years into it, I think it’s actually helped me grow as a thinker/feeler/human stumbling through life. As Matt Haig wrote, “The process of finding my best self was an endless quest. And books themselves seemed to reflect this idea.”

This year, I liked most everything I read, which included a heavy dose of contemporary fiction and more science fiction tales and genre romance than before. I continued to select non-white and/or non-male authors, which paid off. My book club kept things in balance with random nonfiction picks, like the Patagonia founder’s business book-slash-memoir, which really affected the way I think about consumption. Now I buy so much less crap!

I also got back to reading classics from giants — Philip Roth, James Baldwin, Joan Didion. I had to read them in school but appreciate them much more as a grown-up.

Here’s how this year’s book reading breaks down:

This year’s timeline shows I pretty evenly distributed my reading, though there was a big gap in which I read no non-fiction. Last year’s timeline was more interesting because I had a baby and that affected things.

I am deliberate in choosing more fiction than non-fiction, generally.

To chart “pages by month,” we used the page sum of all books finished in a month. (I don’t have a count of daily pages I’ve read, so this should really be called “Total-number-of-pages-in-a-book-by-month-finished.”) Note that June was when the Trump-Kim Singapore summit happened and my life was held together by duct tape and gum. It shows in the leisure reading completion.

These subgenres are sort of arbitrary, they are just what the Goodreads crowd classifies the books as, following the fiction or non-fiction categorization.

On Choosing Books

I still continually quiz people for recommendations but settled on a few people I really trust for recs, based on what they recommended before, or what they themselves have written. For example, last year I liked Sally Rooney’s book Conversations with Friends so much that when she wrote a positive review of An American Marriage, I made it a priority. Ditto the author Celeste Ng, who alerted me to Rich and Pretty.

My sister from another mother, Kat Chow (who is currently writing her own debut memoir), is a reliable recommender. She is behind many of my choices this year but notably Severance by Ling Ma, and poet Ocean Vuong’s novel (which comes out next summer — we are lucky to work at NPR because publishers are always happy to send us galleys).

I also trust Japan analyst Tobias Harris, who reads prolifically about subjects besides Japan. When he was in Seoul earlier this year, I asked him to tell me the best new books of 2017 he read and he chose Exit West and Pachinko, which became two of the best books I read in 2018.

Of course, NPR’s annual book concierge is an always helpful, delightful tool for choosing what to read next.

The Full List

1 Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
2 Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew Bose
3 Deception, Philip Roth
4 Chemistry, Weike Wang
5 Outline, Rachel Cusk
6 Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
7 The Boat, Nam Le
8 Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
9 Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
10 Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
11 Soul of an Octopus, Sy Montgomery
12 Sam the Cat, Matthew Klam
13 Goodbye Vitamin, Rachel Khoung
14 Hunger, Roxane Gay
15 Emergency Contact, Mary H.K. Choi
16 Fire Sermon, Jamie Quatro
17 The Female Persuasion, Meg Wolitzer
18 The Paper Menagerie (And Other Stories), Ken Liu
19 You Think It, I’ll Say It, Curtis Sittenfeld
20 The Man of My Dreams, Curtis Sittenfeld
21 Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
22 How To Write An Autobiographical Novel, Alexander Chee
23 Tin Man, Sarah Winman
24 Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed
25 Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard
26 An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
27 My Last Love Story, Falguni Kothari
28 Pachinko, Min Jun Lee
29 Three Body Problem, Cixin Lou
30 Exit West, Moshin Hamid
31 How to Fix A Broken Heart, Guy Winch
32 How Toddlers Thrive, Tovah Klein
33 The Internet of Garbage, Sarah Jeong
34 The Hike, Drew Magary
35 Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan
36 Rich and Pretty, Rumaan Alam
37 Love Poems (for Married People), John Kenney
38 The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory
39 I Want To Show You More, Jamie Quattro
40 Forget Having It All, Amy Westervelt
41 The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly
42 Asymmetry, Lisa Halliday
43 Farsighted, Steve Johnson
44 Norwegian Wood, Haruki Marukami
45 Severance, Ling Ma
46 Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin
47 The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
48 The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante
49 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
50 New People, Danzy Senna
51 Us vs Them, Ian Bremmer
52 The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang
53 Crudo, A Novel, Olivia Laing
54 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari


Friend Nicole has been doing a 52 book challenge for a few years and analyzes the data in a big wrap-up post, so these annual look-backs are inspired by her.

“This is such a nerdy post I do,” I said. “You don’t actually DO any of it,” spouse Stiles clapped back, since he does all the data clean-up/analysis/visualizing for me. (Thanks, dude.)


It turns out we can read 200 books a year in the amount of time we spend on social media, but this would require me ending my Twitter addiction and I have given up enough vices in my life, thank you very much.

Related: 2017 Book Look Back

4 thoughts on “The 54 Books I Read in 2018, Charted

  1. Correct number on books of poetry read. Zero point zero.
    I would rather read the ingredients on a tube of toothpaste.

  2. This is one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read, specifically how you broke down your “books read in 2018” by every possible category. Since your blog is one of the few that I “save” in my email until I actually get to, I wanted to leave some feedback and ask a few questions. I hope you will have time to read and, hopefully, answer a question or two:-).

    (1) You inspired me last year to document and aspire to read 52 books, of which I ended up reading 36
    (a) the first, Erica Garza’s biographical sketch of several years or her life (graphic, but I think in the name of honesty – but all in all just ‘good’)
    (b) The Longest (and in running for the best) was “Grant” by Ron Chernow
    (c) the best, “A Little Life” was unbelievably good and I have no idea how a woman (writing about the bond between 4 men and I believe in her 30s) wrote that book
    (d) the last was Anthony Bourdain’s book (which I found a paperback first edition 2 minutes from my house in the most local of bookstores in Cambridge, MA [Bryn Mawr Book Store]), “Kitchen Confidential” – I liked it but somehow the main message I got was not to order fish from a restaraunt on (my memory fails – either Monday or Tuesday – either way not going to do it).

    (1) If you counted children’s books how many would it be? Mine would be over 500 (not including repeats)
    (2) What programming language software did you use to graph the many different ways to categorize your books and what was the impetus to look at your reading that way?

    Keep Writing this!

    Happy New Year!

    1. Todd!
      I’m so happy to learn of this. It can be tricky to carve out moments of time to read but after I started reading more books I realized I am idle and/or waiting a lot, and that’s when I sneak it in. Thank you for sharing your favorites. I am particularly interested in reading the original Kitchen Confidential book. Anthony Bourdain’s writing is what drew me to his television show.

      1) Probably also in the hundreds, not sure though, I am on the road at least 30% of the year so that’s a lot of nights I get out of having to do the bedtime book reading!

      2) With the charts, they’re made using a publicly available graphics toolkit released by my employer, NPR. The rig is made in Javascript using the D3 library … You can find it on Github.

      1. Thanks for the (pleasant, surprisingly quick) response, and also more on children’s books. My daughter is 6 and the nightly readings are being not-so-gradually replaced by violin and other activities. But Eric Carle (who I hear has a fantastic museum where he lived somewhere in Western MA), Dr Seuss and Room on the Broom are all her favorites too. And Robert McCloskey (i think you were asking for suggestions). And I could relate to looking for children’s books at airports – obviously Boston has some great ones and I like the bookstore at SFO in the United Terminal (actually I like everything about the United terminal with its constantly revolving ‘museums’ I never find myself on the moving/flat escalator). Look forward to hearing what you read in 2019 (mine is starting with “Record of a Night too Brief” and is going to be weighted towards mostly young Japanese authors and an influence on all of them – Haruki Murakami’s “Killing Commandatore”). Cheers to reading in the Age of One Line Attention Grabbers.

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