Books I read (or listened to) this year, in order of completion. This list includes both fiction and nonfiction books and audiobooks of any genre; it does not include unfinished books, magazines, or lectures.
1. Mistborn: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
– The third book in the Mistborn series, this book represents the finale of the events built up in the first two books and a conclusion to the mysteries created therein. A fantastic story with interesting and likeable characters, cool plot twists, and political and philosophical themes amidst a crumbling fantasy world.
2. A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
– The fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and probably my third favorite of the five (after A Storm of Swords and A Game of Thrones). It follows a number of characters and how the events in their lives and the decisions they make affect the politics (and in some cases, the nature) of the world as a whole.
3. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
– Sanderson’s first novel, a fantasy about a city that was once considered a paradise but which suddenly became a ruin ten years previously. The story follows three characters with different motives who become directly involved with the goings-on of this city and its relationship to their kingdom.
4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
– A beautiful and romantic fantasy story about a magical circus and the colorful people who bring it to life. Really, really gorgeous imagery, and magic described in a way that rivals some of the most eloquent illustrations.
5. The Black Book of Secrets by F. E. Higgins
– A young adult novel which takes place in a fictional place and which has fantastical elements but which I would call magical realism rather than fantasy. It follows a boy who becomes assistant to a pawnbroker who buys people’s secrets, and their relationship with the residents of the town in which they set up shop.
6. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (again)
– I had read this before of course, but it was on the bookshelf in my cabin in Bulgaria so I reread it because it’s great. For anyone who doesn’t know… this is a fantasy book about a creature called a hobbit (similar to a man, but smaller and more gnome-like) who goes on a treasure-seeking quest with a group of dwarves and has many adventures along the way. This was actually really cool to read in Bulgaria since the landscape in the mountains very much resembles the terrain described in the book (similar to when I read The Two Towers as I approached California via the Rockies).
7. The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins
– A fantastic nonfiction book which explains, scientifically but in a way that is easy to understand, the evidence for evolution, and argues against the creationist view and its criticisms of this evidence.
8. The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins
– Another Dawkins book which addresses various myths about concepts and phenomena as experienced by humans and then explains the science behind such phenomena. It does so in an easy-to-understand way that is at times funny or poetic, as is characteristic of Dawkins. Although he is a hardcore atheist (I am not), I still agree with a lot of his reasoning for his atheistic views and share the awe and wonder with which he describes the universe and life on Earth (akin to Einstein and Sagan).
9. The Humanure Handbook, 2nd Edition by Joseph Jenkins
– A detailed and comprehensive book about the myriad benefits of composting humanure (human excrement) and the many negatives of more conventional “waste” disposal methods. It also mentions some safe and sustainable methods of recycling graywater (water used for household washing). It provides in depth and technical explanations about various systems, describes how to construct a thermophilic compost system, and has lots of charts, illustrations, and photographs for evidence and assistance.
10. How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books and Get Them Published by Celia Berridge, Mary Hoffman, Vicki Lee, Gabrielle Maunder, Treld Pelkey Bicknell, Catherine Storr, Felicity Trotman, and Dorothy Wood
– The title is pretty self-explanatory. It was published in 1988, so it is a bit outdated from a publishing standpoint, but the tips about writing and illustrating, as well as the examples from classic children’s literature, were helpful and inspiring.
11. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
– A thrilling novel about a Harvard professor who gets involved in a murder mystery which raises questions about the conflict between a scientific research organization and a powerful religious organization as well as theories about the compatibility of science and religion. Although riddled with factual inaccuracies, the story itself is intelligent, suspenseful, action-packed, and fun.
12. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
– A dark and whimsical fantasy about… it’s actually kind of hard to say what this book is about. There’s a young man who befriends a magical girl in danger; there’s an alternate world below London with rats who talk to people and people who talk to rats; two creepy violent villains; angels and monsters; challenges of physics and the mind. Reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland but with a bit more direction… sort of.
13. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
– This novel is about two teenage sisters who grow up in the early 1800’s. It details their various experiences with love and friendship along with the joys and woes which these relationships induce. Though the language and cultural norms presented in the book are a bit old-fashioned, the general story and the emotions evoked amongst young women of that age and class are pretty timeless.
14. Chant and Be Happy: The Power of Mantra Meditation based on the teachings of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda
– A short collection of writings about the benefits of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, and its popularization within the United States and Britain in the 60’s and 70’s. The book includes interviews with Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon as well as spiritual teachers of the Hare Krishna movement.
15. Dracula by Bram Stoker
– A gothic horror novel about a group of men and women who seek to destroy a vampire who is cursing people by feeding on their blood in attempt to perpetuate his vampirism. I don’t know what else to say about this book except I loved it.
16. The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
– This is apparently the second Discworld novel, but I hadn’t read the first (at the time – I have since) so it took me a while to figure out who was who and what was what. So it’s about this failed wizard who gets a spell stuck in his head, and these other wizards go after him to get it back because the spell book it came from has to be read in its entirety in order for the world not to end.
17. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
– Yet another Dawkins book in which he explains the Selfish Gene Theory. The basic idea is that evolution is based on information being passed along, via replicators, to subsequent generations. Organisms are seen as vehicles for replicators – genes. There are many examples of how this manifests, some of which he talks about in depth to illustrate the theory, as well as other possible theories and how they fit, or don’t fit, with this one.
18. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons From the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
– A mortician recounts her experiences as a crematory operator and the effect that death has had on her life. In morbidly humorous anecdotes and lessons from history, she dissects the death industry and shares her opinions about how it could be improved for our cultural, environmental, and personal benefit.
19. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
– A beautifully written, though somewhat bizarre story that follows the lineage of a Colombian family from its founding of a mountain city, through several generations of interesting characters. It illustrates their relationships to one another and other people, the changing political, social, and ecological environments, and the materialization of mysterious prophecies.
20. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
– A sci-fi adventure thriller about a park developed on an island in Central America that features dinosaurs, having been brought to life through cloning. In addition to all the action and suspense, it also includes philosophical discussions about science and the unpredictability of biological systems.
21. Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb
– A guide on how to transform your life into a video game in order to make life more exciting and reach your desired goals. This book also features anecdotes by the author and stories of the people his work has helped, as well as plenty of fun references to superheroes, spies, and other fictional (and real-life) role models.
22. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle (again)
– Sequel to “A Wrinkle in Time”, this young adult fantasy follows the Murry family on an adventure into space, into the cells, and into nothingness. When the youngest gets sick, the eldest must team up with some magical characters in order to heal him, which is the only way to save the universe.
23. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
– An unconventional romance about a 26/27-year-old woman who gets a job as a caregiver for a quadriplegic man. They develop a friendship that changes both their lives as well as how they view the world. Considering I am the same age as the main character, and was jobless at the time I read it, it definitely resonated with me at least in some way.
24. Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris
– This book discusses the compatibilities and incompatibilities of science, religion, and spirituality from a psychological and experiential framework. It discusses the existence of the self and details examples for how spirituality can be understood in human (rather than supernatural) terms.
25. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
– Day one of a three-day storytelling session in which the narrator relays to a scribe the early part of his life. He tells of his childhood in the traveling musical theater troupe and the beginning of his time at university. Throughout this time he makes friends and enemies, has many adventures, and learns some of the secrets of magic. This book was recommended to me by multiple people (and was the inspiration for one of my favorite songs by my favorite band), and I’m so glad! It is absolutely wonderful – an instant favorite.
26. Carrie by Stephen King
– A horrific tragedy about a girl whose religious fanatic mother and bullying classmates drive her to insanity. She seeks retribution with help from her telekinetic powers.
27. It by Stephen King
– As a child, my impression was that “It” was about a scary clown that terrorizes a few kids, and that it was unclear whether or not it was just their imagination. That was just a tiny piece of the epic journey into the depths of the sewers and the mind – many minds – that this book goes. It brings up issues of sexism, racism, homophobia, bullying, molestation, coming of age, and so much more. There isn’t just one villain, but several, and several heroes as well. It’s not just a horror, it’s a fantasy psych-thriller. It gets gritty and it gets cosmic. It is incredibly long and pretty vulgar and gruesome at times, so you have to be invested and strong of mind (and stomach).
28. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle
– A beautiful fourth edition to the Time Quartet, in which two siblings travel to different eras through a psychic link, with the help of a unicorn, in order to save the world from war and destruction. I loved the play on names and the different interlacing stories within this book, and of course revisiting the beloved characters of the series.
29. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
– Sequel to The Name of the Wind, this fantasy continues the story of young Kvothe as he takes time off from University and has adventures in another region of the four corners, trying to get along with nobility and country folk and even fairies, and learning much about the world (and his own abilities) along the way.
30. The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel J. Boorstin
– A brief history of discovery and invention, this books sails through a variety of explorers, philosophers, inventors, and scientists as they search for new lands and a larger understanding of the world.
31. Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar
– Thirty short, silly stories about the kids and teachers at a school that was built sideways. It features pigtails, apples, dead rats, kickball, and more.
32. Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan
– A scientific and poetic description of the universe that includes facts and educated speculations about the cosmos and life within it. This book was so beautifully written, almost like a spiritual text, and covered topics ranging from astrophysics and biology to mythology and human psychology. It wonderfully portrayed how everything is connected.
33. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
– A biological, anthropological, and historical look at the evolution of humanity and society. It begins with pre-humans, passes through hunter-gatherer societies and various world-changing revolutions, examines the present situation, and speculates about what the future may hold. This book is filled with factual information whilst also presenting interesting perspectives about various causes and effects that even many academics may not have considered.
34. Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar
– Another thirty short, silly stories about the students on the top floor of Wayside School. It features socks, mistaken identities, mushroom surprise, pencils, backwards stories, and more.
35. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (again)
– I read this first book in the Time Quartet over a decade ago, so I was definitely due for a review. It tells the story of Meg Murry, her younger brother Charles Wallace, and her new friend Calvin as they journey across the universe to save Meg’s long lost father. This book is an interesting blend of sci-fi, fantasy, and religious symbolism. As a young adult novel written in 1962, it’s pretty dark and strange, but it is readable for a variety of ages and has proven to be timeless 😉
36. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (again)
– The year comes full circle as I finish it off with the first book in the original Mistborn series, which I read for the first time last year and loved. It introduces a decrepit world under the strict rule of a cruel, seemingly immortal god-man. A group of skaa (slaves) team up to resist and hopefully overthrow the ruler, among them a teenage girl who discovers she is one of very few people with extraordinary powers.
There you have it! I exceeded my goal of 30 books. I don’t know if I’ll make it through quite as many in 2018, but I’ll definitely keep reading.