Stacks of books with the text my favorite 2018 book covers

My Favorite 2018 Book Covers

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I’m working on my 2018 reading recap, but first, I want to acknowledge pretty book covers. Just like with people, it’s what on the inside that counts, but book covers are important. Good ones are visually appealing and artistic. Great ones tell you something profound about the story. It’s possible I’ve bought books just because they’re beautiful. (Hello, Penguin clothbound!) Today I want to share my favorite 2018 book covers. (I only include books I’ve actually read or this post would be way too long.) I hope my fellow cover-lovers will enjoy this post as much as I did putting it together. 

The Perfect Nanny book cover

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

The image on this cover is prim and proper. It’s clean and straightforward, but the story in this book is anything but. The Perfect Nanny is the story of a disturbed woman and the children in her care. This cover is striking because of the juxtaposition between it and the darkness of the novel.

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

Morgan Jerkins writes with boldness, so this cover is a good match for her essays. The photo is beautiful, enhanced by the intense yellow color against the black and white. 

The Female Persuasion book cover

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The color scheme of this book jacket is fantastic. This is a book that looks great at all angles; I love seeing this spine on my shelf. I like how parts of the white letters are tucked behind the colorful lines. If I hadn’t read this book and saw it in a bookstore, I’d pick it up immediately just based on the cover alone. 

Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

Social Creature is a novel about young women whose lives are falling apart, even though things on the outside look good for a while. The heavy, smeared eye makeup on this cover gets your attention for sure, but it says something about the story and how being beautiful isn’t enough. 

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life
by Anne Bogel

This cover is a drawing of Bogel’s own home library. To quote the youths, this is #goals. I want a library ladder with every fiber of my being. Until I get one, I can at least look at and enjoy this beautiful book cover. 

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

I like the font choice here and the floral touch, but I love this cover even more after reading about its creation. The cover’s designer, Alison Forner, wrote an article for Lit Hub about the experience of creating this cover. Included in the article are other covers Forner came up with before deciding on this one. 


What are some of your favorite 2018 covers? Do you too like the ones I shared here?


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Several stacks of book with the words My 2019 Reading Goals

My 2019 Reading Goals

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A few years ago, I chose all kinds of reading goals for myself. I didn’t complete any of them, felt like a failure, and decided not to set any goals for the next couple of years. But even though I’m happy with my reading life, I know it can get even better, so I’m back to the goal-setting this year. There’s a caveat, though: I love reading, am a mood reader, and refuse to make it feel like work, so these goals are more like loose guidelines. I’d like to see these goals happen, but if they don’t, that’s okay too, as long as I tried. 

Goal #1: Read more books by people of color. 

Less than 10% of the books I read this year were written by a person of color. I’d like that number to be much higher for two reasons. The first is that reading helps develop empathy and understanding toward people who don’t look like me. The second reason is that people of color aren’t always provided with the same opportunities white writers are given, so it’s important to seek out and support their work. 

Goal #2: Read more books in translation.

I only read two books in translation in all of 2018. Two. That’s a shame since there is a plethora of great literature throughout the world that I’ve been ignoring. This goes along with goal #1,  but I’d like to read more about different cultures and experience new-to-me settings. If you have suggestions for this goal, I’d love to hear them. 

Goal #3: READ THE BOOKS I ALREADY OWN.

This goal is in all caps because I’m yelling at myself; it’s that important to me. I love working in libraries, but the one problem is that I’m regularly checking out new books. I read book reviews online, decide I need to read a book immediately, place a hold, and check it out so it can sit in a tote bag with 15 other new releases. This wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t have hundreds (yes, hundreds) of unread books at home. I’m immensely grateful for the books I have, and I need to follow through and acknowledge that privilege by actually reading them. I have plenty of titles by people of color and even a few in translation, so working on this goal will help me with my other goals, as well. 

Goal #4: Read 75 books.

Reading 50-60 books a year is my reading sweet spot. That’s my natural range, but I think I could read even more if I were consistently mindful of how I spend my time. I know I could read more if I scrolled Instagram less and read on my phone instead. I could read more if I remembered to put my Kindle in my purse every day. There are times when I’m tired and don’t want to think, and the mindless scrolling is perfect for those times. But I rely on it too often and know I can make better use of the hours I’m given in a day. 


Those are my four goals loose guidelines for 2019. Do you set reading goals? If so, what are some of yours? I’d love to hear them. 


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Girl holding book over her face; text reads this one's for the girls

This One’s for the Girls

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If you’ve spent much time browsing your local library or bookstore over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed how many books have “girl” in the title.  If you search Google with “girl trend in book titles,” you’ll get 143,000,000 results with front-page articles talking about why this has become such a trend. I also thought it would be interesting to search my Goodreads account to see what “girl” books I’ve read, and was surprised to know that I’ve read 28. 

Today I’m sharing some of my favorites. Let’s jump in!

Book cover for The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls by Emma Cline

Inspired by the Charles Manson cult, The Girls is centered on Evie, a young woman growing up in Northern California during the 1960s. When Evie meets Suzanne, she’s curious about the older girl’s life and is drawn to her magnetism. Suzanne introduces Evie to Russell, a cult leader, and Evie’s life is irrevocably changed. 

To be honest, I didn’t love this book when I read it. I thought it was definitely good, but I didn’t think it would be a book to which I gave much thought. I was wrong about that, however. Evie’s story is one that’s stayed with me, and that’s partially due to Emma Cline’s ability to write so well about universal urges such as acceptance and belonging. If you haven’t read this yet, it’s worth your time. 

Book cover for Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

It’s the 1960s, and Barbara Parker is a young beauty queen living in Blackpool. What she wants, however, is to be Lucille Ball. Parker decides to set out for London where she transforms into Sophie Straw and eventually gets her own BBC TV show. Funny Girl explores Sophie’s rise to fame, her time on television, and the relationships between the people she meets in her new world.  

This novel has received a lot of mixed reviews, but I found it to be charming and well done. If you’re an audiobook fan, I highly recommend listening to this book as the excellent narration added a lot to my reading experience. 

Book cover for Final Girls by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

Quincy has built a nice life for herself, but her past continues to haunt her. She’s a “Final Girl,” the only survivor of a brutal massacre that took the lives of her friends years before. There are other final girls out there, and when one of them dies, another comes looking for Quincy, convinced their lives are in danger too.  

This book was nearly impossible for me to put down thanks to the riveting suspense Riley Sager creates. Final Girls is creepy, thrilling, and twisted. The concept for this book is compelling, and Sager does an excellent job following through and delivering a satisfying story. 

Book cover for Mad Girl's Love Song

Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted
by Andrew Wilson

I didn’t know much about Sylvia Plath except for what everyone else knows: that she was a young, gifted writer who killed herself.  Curious about her life, I picked up Mad Girl’s Love Song, a biography of Plath’s early years. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Plath’s rise as a writer, what she was like as a teenager, and seeing what a strong work ethic she possessed. If you know next to nothing about Sylvia Plath (or even if you know quite a bit), this biography has a lot to offer.

Girl at the End of the World book cover

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther

As you might have guessed from my fondness for The Girls, I like stories about cults and fundamentalism. It’s no surprise, then, that I read and liked Elizabeth Esther’s memoir Girl at the End of the World. Esther grew up as part of the Assembly, a fundamentalist church her family ran. She suffered abuse, fear, and felt trapped in such a confining world. After marrying and having children with another church member, Esther and her family escaped and built a new life for themselves. Parts of this book are hard to read, but Esther’s strength, resilience, and willingness to forgive are inspiring.


What are some of your favorite books in this category? I’d love to know!


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My Top 5 Books from the Past 8 Years

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For me, December means Christmas, time with family, copious amounts of hot chocolate, and lots and lots of book lists. I like seeing what books people have read and enjoyed in a year, so “best of” lists are always exciting. As I read through the lists that interested me, I thought it would be fun to go back through my Goodreads log and see what my favorite books have been in the past, so today I’m sharing my top five books from the last eight years. An asterisk denotes a lifetime favorite. 

Book covers for Stoner by John Williams*
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer*
Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical edited by Hannah Faith Notess
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

2010:
Stoner by John Williams*
My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer*
Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical
edited by Hannah Faith Notess
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Book covers for Cathedral by Raymond Carver
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. by Edward Snow)*

2011:
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor*
Cathedral by Raymond Carver
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. by Edward Snow)*

Book covers for The Secret History by Donna Tartt*
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor*
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Glaciers by Alexis Smith*

2012:
The Secret History by Donna Tartt*
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor*
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Glaciers by Alexis Smith*

Book covers for Night Film by Marisha Pessl*
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman
Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

2013:
Night Film by Marisha Pessl*
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman
Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Book covers for The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt*
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

2014: 
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt*
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Book covers for The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides*
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett 
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson*

2015:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides*
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett 
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson*

Book covers for A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara*
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs 
by Johann Hari
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush 
by Jon Meacham 
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

2016:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara*
Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs
by Johann Hari
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush
by Jon Meacham 
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Book covers for The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

2017:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
The Nix by Nathan Hill
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


Are any of these books on your favorites list? What books have stood out to you over the past few years? I’d love to hear about them. 


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Stack of books with the text Unlikable Characters and Why I Don't Mind Them

Unlikable Characters and Why I Don’t Mind Them

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

One of my favorite podcasts is What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel. As a longtime listener of the show, something I’ve repeatedly noticed is how often guests say they dislike a book because it doesn’t have any likable characters. The reader is unable to relate to or root for the characters which prevent them from enjoying the book. I’ve noticed this in some book reviews, as well. 

Whenever I hear such a thing, I always pause and wonder why liking or relating to a character is vital for some readers. When I read, my priorities are good writing and a strong story with excellent characterization. Characters can be truly despicable people as long as they’re written compellingly and with dimension. 

Book cover for Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

One of my favorite mysteries is Gone Girl, and the two protagonists are both unlikable and untrustworthy. Gillian Flynn crafted such a well-written, suspenseful story that such a thing didn’t matter to me; in fact, it made the novel even more exciting. 

But there’s also been a case where unlikable characters have backfired. Earlier this year, I read Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton. Here’s the review I posted on Goodreads: 

I’ve had the hardest time deciding what I think about this book. One of the reasons I was drawn to it was because I’d seen it compared to Donna Tartt and Gillian Flynn, two writers whose work I love. While I understand why one would make those comparisons, Tartt and Flynn offer a subtly and complexity that I just didn’t see in this novel. I was interested enough in the story to finish reading it, but I can’t say I truly enjoyed the process due to the outlandish nature of certain characters and their rather gross behavior. One thing I did really like, though, was how this book used social media to explore how addictive likes and comments can be when you’re desperate to be seen and loved.

Social Creature didn’t work for me for a number of reasons, and one of them was because of the characters. They were unlikable for sure, but my problem with the characterization went deeper than that because their badness seemed more clichéd than real and organic to the story. 

The unlikable characters in Gone Girl (whose behavior was also outlandish) seemed ideally suited to the world Flynn created for them, whereas the unlikable characters in Social Creature seemed contrived. It was as if Flynn wrote her novel because she thought of these interesting people and wanted to explore their story and Burton wrote hers because she thought of an exciting plot. 

There’s nothing wrong or right about either method. Social Creature got some rave reviews, and I know people who despised Gone Girl. Literary likes and dislikes are subjective, and every reader has the right to read whatever she wants without judgment. 

To be honest, I’m not sure there’s much point to this post, but I just wanted to get out some of the ideas I’ve been stewing on. I always like getting feedback from readers, but I’d love it even more for this post. 

Do you like or dislike books based on unlikable characters? What are some examples of books that did or didn’t work for you? What’s the most important quality when you’re looking for a good book? Let me know in the comments below.


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Author Spotlight | Flannery O’Connor

Author photo from Gale Biography in Context

WHO: Mary Flannery O’Connor

WHAT: A Southern writer known for her short stories, novels, essays, and literary criticism. She was a devout Catholic who suffered from lupus.

WHEN: Born March 25, 1925; died of lupus on August 3, 1964

WHERE: Born in Savannah, Georgia; died in Milledgeville, Georgia

WHY SHE MATTERS: O’Connor has a fiction style that’s all her own. She blends the spiritual and the grotesque, the comic and the tragic, moments of grace and moments of violence. Her work still provokes passionate conversations and shocks with its surprising twists. Her nonfiction writing is full of humor, vulnerability, and spiritual insights. 

MY FAVORITE O’CONNOR BOOKS:

The Complete Stories, Mystery and Manners, The Habit of Being

WORDS TO REMEMBER: 

Flannery O'Connor quote that reads: "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul."
Flannery O'Connor quote that reads: “Faith is what someone knows to 
be true, whether they believe it or not.”
Flannery O'Connor quote that reads: “I can, with one eye squinted, 
take it all as a blessing.”

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A stack of classic books with a blank notebook next to them

5 Contemporary Books I’d Add to the Literary Canon

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Back in October, I wrote a post about classic books I didn’t finish. In today’s post, I want to talk about books I did finish, books I think are so good they should be considered classics someday.

First, it might be helpful to identify what I mean by a classic. I like the famous definition from Italo Calvino: “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” I think of a classic book as being a title that’s widely read and discussed decades after its publication. It’s a book that has endured because of a specific reason, whether that’s a timeless story, a profound message, the exploration of universal truth, an in-depth look at culture, or clever writing. The books I’m sharing today have that something special that will allow them to endure. Keep reading to see if you agree. 

Book cover for Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn ward. Living with his grandparents and sister on a Gulf Coast farm, Jojo navigates the challenges of his mother's addictions and his grandmother's cancer before the release of his father from prison prompts a road trip of danger and hope.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Published: 2017

I remember finishing this book and being stunned by it. I read it all in one day was tempted to start all over again after I read the last words. This novel explores a lot of different things, but what stands out to me is how Ward addresses addiction and sibling love. Jojo shows such tenderness and kindness toward his little sister, and it’s those moments that shine so brightly in a dark story. Leoni, Jojo’s mother, cannot provide what her daughter needs due to her addiction, so Jojo picks up the slack. I appreciate how Ward shows the different roles family members can take on when necessary and how addiction affects everyone in the addict’s orbit. 

Book cover for A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published: 2015

I can’t think of another novel that affected me quite as profoundly as A Little Life. Before I started this book, I kept seeing the word “heartbreaking” in just about every review. That’s for a good reason: it is indeed heartbreaking, and it’s not a story for everyone. If you’re a sensitive reader, this is probably not the book for you. But if you’re looking for a story about friendship and surviving trauma, there is much to appreciate here. Jude’s story is bleak and full of tragedy, yet Yanagihara shows how sometimes the smallest things can keep a person going. It took me a few days after finishing this book to get over it. Once you meet Jude, you won’t forget him. 

Book cover for Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Middlesex tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family, who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City and the race riots of 1967 before moving out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. To understand why Calliope is not like other girls, she has to uncover a guilty family secret, and the astonishing genetic history that turns Callie into Cal, one of the most audacious and wondrous narrators in contemporary fiction.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: 2003

It’s easy to see why this book won a Pulitzer prize. It’s epic in scope, beautifully written, and wholly original. I haven’t read anything else quite like Middlesex. Cal’s story and that of her family are fascinating from beginning to end. This book is over 500 pages, yet I finished it in less than a week. Not only is it a masterful story, but it’s highly readable and engaging.

Book cover for Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. In 1956, toward the end of Rev. John Ames's life, he begins a letter to his young son, an account of himself and his forebears. This is also the tale of wisdom forged during his solitary life and how history lives through generations, pervasively present even when betrayed and forgotten.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Published: 2004

When I read fiction, I don’t tend to underline passages very often. Open my copy of Gilead, though, and you’ll see page after page bearing my uneven scrawl. I mentioned this novel in my post about Christian faith in mainstream fiction, and if you read that, you’ll know part of the reason why I appreciate this book so much is because Robinson handles Ames’s faith with honesty and nuance. Readers can learn a lot from this novel, yet it’s never preachy. Rev. Ames is a character who has stayed with me, and I bet he’ll stay with you, too. 

Book cover for Columbine by Dave Cullen. What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we "know" is wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world's leading forensic psychologists, and the killers' own words and drawings. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.

Columbine by Dave Cullen
Published: 2009

I was in middle school when the Columbine tragedy occurred, and was equally horrified and fascinated. School shootings had happened before, but never at that scope. It’s easy for us to watch the news and think we know precisely why these shootings occurred, but in this book, Dave Cullen challenges every assumption and presents facts that can’t be denied. It’s hard to read, yet is an essential book if we’re hoping to understand more about what turns a kid into a killer. 


So what do you think? Do you agree with any of my additions to the canon? What books do you think should be added? 


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