Joy and knowledge

2018: A year of reading

2018 saw the completion of my library at home and a commitment to more reading. Being an English teacher had lead to far less reading than I had naively anticipated at the start of my career and I looked forward to having more free time to enjoy escaping to far away lands with characters I was soon to meet.

Establishing the habit was not easy but I soon got back into it with some good reads early in the year. The quickest way was to exchange habits that were merely giving the impression of switching off such as scrolling through social media, watching Netflix and doing extra work…on the sofa.

So how did I choose what to read?

I read books I’d had on my shelves for years, books that had been recommended to me by friends, family and colleagues, books that were cheap on Kindle and books from my local library. A mix of fiction and non-fiction has meant I could figure out what I enjoy. It’s been so long since I’ve read for enjoyment outside of a holiday read that I think I’ll still be learning each time I read something new.

I enjoy what I enjoy and pay no attention to whether it’s on a list of classics or what more discerning readers are saying about the way it’s written. If it offers something to my soul and leaves a trace of something behind then it’s on my list of good reads.

At the end of a year of reading, I’ve discovered a range of things I love, other things I enjoy and those more forgettable reads that still allow me to switch off. As I look to the year’s reading ahead, I have a few bucket list reads on the list as well as new releases. Some of the reads from Emma Watson’s book club, ‘Our Shared Shelf‘ have made their way onto my list and I also discovered Gnod. You type in the names of up to 4 authors you like and the tool releases a series of recommendations for you to consider. My resulting list seems promising and I look forward to seeing how they work out this year.

My 52 book challenge for the year was surpassed with 57 reads and here they are:

Fabulous Fiction

  • A History of Bees – Maja Lunde (how human actions write the future of the planet. Bees. They’re really important)
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (I’m not sure I’d ever read this in full and it didn’t disappoint – a utopia is never really a utopia)
  • Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (a secret society and a code to be cracked in a 24 hour bookstore)
  • The Chrysalids – John Wyndham (a tale with messages about how we live and treat those different to ourselves)
  • The Midnight Palace – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (one of my favourite writers. I won’t have a bad word said about him. Shadow of the Wind is hard to beat but but I thoroughly enjoyed this one)
  • The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (a heart-warming tale about a man who saves writing from destruction)
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy (A colleague recommended this years ago and I resisted but really shouldn’t have. It made me realise how much I love post-apocalyptic and fiction and the scenes depicted will stay with me forever)
  • Vox – Christina Dalcher (a dystopian fiction where women are limited to 100 words a day… the kind of terrifying fiction that feels completely possible if certain present conditions escalated. Ending disappointing but then I was unfairly comparing it to the likes of the Handmaid’s Tale)

Work- related reads

  • Community Building on the Web – Amy Jo Kim (I’m creating an online community at work so this made for essential reading that’s helped to form the strategy)
  • Design for How People Learn – Julie Dirksen (combining cognitive science and online learning – a great combination for my role!)
  • Educational Research: Taking the Plunge – Phil Wood and Joan Smith (writing online courses on educational research meant this read was entirely helpful)
  • Understanding How We Learn – Yana Weinstein, Megan Sumeracki and Oliver Caviglioli (writing an online course on the effective use of technology incorporates cognitive science approaches and this was accessible, practised what it preached by using the principles to explain difficult concepts, and has left me with further areas to learn about)


Notable Non-Fiction

  • Dear Ijeawele – Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie (the first non-fiction I’d read from this author. Advice for feminists everywhere, whether you have a daughter or not)
  • Do Breathe – Michael Townsend Williams (advice about a life with space to breathe that I’ll return to again and again)
  • Forgotten Women: The Leaders – Zing Tsjeng (inspirational stories of women from history you’ve never, unbelievably, heard of before)
  • Hidden Figures – Margot Lee Shetterley (an inspiring hidden true story… there’s a theme emerging with incredible women from history)
  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life – Cheryl Strayed (writing for your soul)
  • The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell (especially memorable because I red it whilst running a bookshop in the town where it was written so I met Shaun and many of the characters he mentions)
  • Thrive – Arianna Huffington (shaped my year; full of advice for life and work)
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge (this affected my perspective on race greatly, led to me swapping books with colleagues at work and hearing from her in person made her words even more important)


Perfectly Good fiction

  • Black Eyed Susans – Julia Haeberlin
  • Bridget and Joan’s Diary – Bridget Golightly and Joan Hardcastle
  • Force of Nature – Jane Harper
  • Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  • How to Stop Time – Matt Haig
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
  • The Book of Hidden Things – Francesco Dimitri
  • The Boston Girl – Anita Diamant
  • The Cows – Dawn O’Porter
  • The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan
  • The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Summer of Impossible Things – Rowan Coleman
  • The Taliban Cricket Club – Timeri N Murari
  • The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon


Non-Fiction with a little something

  • Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind – Jennifer Shannon
  • Help – Simon Amstell
  • The Little Big Things – Henry Fraser
  • The Little Book of Ikigai – Ken Mogi
  • The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry
  • The One Thing – Gary Keller


Enjoyable at the time with a busy brain

  • Can you Keep a Secret? – Karen Perry
  • Daisy in Chains – Sharon Botton
  • Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land
  • Her Every Fear – Peter Swanson
  • Into the Water – Paula Hawkins
  • Moonlight over Manhattan – Sarah Morgan
  • Paper Aeroplanes – Dawn O’Porter
  • Since We Fell – Dennis Lehaine
  • Thanks for the Memories – Cecilia Ahern
  • The Alice Network, Kate Quinn
  • The Girl Before – J P Delaney
  • The Girl you Left Behind – JoJo Moyes
  • The Growing Pains of Jennifer Ebert – David Barnett
  • The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
  • The Man I think I Know – Mike Gayle
  • The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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