An English Teacher’s Reading Life: 2018 Top Picks

Note to self: think of a more creative title for next year

2018 was a year of great reading. My goal was 52 books, a goal set and shared by me and a couple of friends in my mastermind group, and I ended up finishing 56 books as of December 29th. People always ask how I read so much, and without going into depth (because I have done that here), I am able to read a lot because I don’t watch television, I am a fast reader, and I have several weeks off during the year.

Since I read so many quality books this year, I wanted to put the top 18 in one post. All of these books received 5 stars in my Goodreads review. This list does not contain any professional books even though I read some excellent books in this category as well; I will make a separate list for those in the next few days.

So here’s my top 18 for 2018 in the order that I read them:

Salvage the Bones (Ward, 20011, fiction) ★★★★★

National Book Award for Fiction Winner

I liked this book a lot – beautifully written! The last half reads quicker than the first half, and the ending is unclear yet fulfilling. Having been in LA seven days after Katrina, I could totally relate to the scenes of damage and destruction at the end; the story makes it so much more personal. Love the symbolism and allusions – so well done!

Shadow of the Wind  (Zafon, 2014, gothic mystery, book from translation) ★★★★★

If you are looking for mystery, romance, secrets, foreign places, coming of age, or generational stories, this gothic novel will not disappoint. The story centers on a boy and a book but unravels like a string on a sweater into a complex web of lives and circumstances unpredictable to the reader. This is translation from Spanish which makes the audiobook even better because of the pronunciation of Spanish names and places. This book is a must read; I can’t believe it took me so long to get to it.

The Great Alone (Hannah, 2018, Fiction) ★★★★★

I listened to the book on Audible mainly while I was at the gym; any book that makes me stay longer at the gym definitely gets a five star rating. I loved Lennie and her resilience and loyalty to her mother, Matthew, and Alaska. The audible version is great. Kristin Hannah never disappoints; move this to the top of your TBR list.

Speak (Anderson, 1999, Young Adult) ★★★★★

National Book Award Finalist

After hearing Anderson speak at NCTE last fall, I immediately moved Speak to the top on my TBR list, and when one of my reluctant readers decided to read it, I started it also. I absolutely loved this story of  high school girl who is judged by her friends while she is carrying a dark secret. This is classic YA and a great book to open discussions about relationships, abuse, and isolation during teen years. This book will be a staple in my 9th grade classes

March (Lewis,Aydin, Powell, 2013, Graphic Novel)  ★★★★★

I read this in the midst of students from Florida speaking out against gun control and school safety. The timing could not have been more perfect. This beautifully written and just as beautifully illustrated graphic novel is one that I have already placed in the hands of students. And it’s not just for students. The story of John Lewis from a sharecropper family in Alabama to a Civil Rights activist will inspire all readers.

When Breath Becomes Air (Kalanthi, 2016, Biography) ★★★★★

Pulitzer Prize Nominee

When I tell people that I am reading this book, the common response I get is “I don’t want to read a book about death; that’s just too heavy.” That’s exactly why I wanted to read this book: to ponder death causes me to ponder life – something I don’t do often enough. I cried while reading this, and I’m not a crier (unless Bama football is involved). Not only does this book offer so much to think on in terms of mortality, faith, and purpose in life, it also provides a unique perspective to considering death – through the eyes of a neurosurgeon. And it’s beautifully written. This is a must read.

“What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.”

Little Bee ★★★★★ (Cleave, 2009, contemporary fiction)

This book, people! How did I make it so long in life without having read this story? It’s beautiful, thought-provoking, and tragic in all of the right ways. This story will stay with me for a long time, and I pray one day that we will be able to fight off all of the baddies and truly achieve globalization. I was telling my class about this book today and have two students starting it tomorrow – what a great choice for independent reading.

It’s all over but the Shouting★★★★★ (Bragg, 1998, memoir)

I really cannot believe I have made it this far in life without reading Bragg’s flagstone book. I have been a huge fan of his always flipping to the last page in Southern Living first like so many others and taking a trip down memory lane through his words. I grew up about 50 miles east of Bragg and am just a few years younger, so many of these stories, details, and expositions on southern culture and thinking are deeply embedded in me. I laughed, and I cried. Mostly, however, I respected his mother. What an amazing tribute to her. This was my book club’s book for April because Rick Bragg came to the Carter Center at the end of the month to speak. Hearing him is always a thrill for me, and he serves as one of my biggest influences in writing.

The Poet X  ★★★★★ (Acevedo, 2018, novel in verse, young adult)

YES to this free verse book where love wins through poetry. This book is beautifully written and brings to reality the growing up and becoming your own person. I LOVE this book and am excited about adding it to my classroom library because so many of my students are going to relate to the story Xiomora’s struggles through her teen years.

Purple Hibiscus ★★★★★ (Adiche, 2010, fiction)

I was pulled into this story immediately and could not put this book down. This book in many ways reminds me of The Poisonwood Bible but is much more accessible. I love the parallels between the family and Nigeria and the kids and their quest and struggle for freedom. If you are looking for a book to expand your worldview with characters you’ll both love and hate, this book is for you. I read all of Adichie’s books this year, and this one was my favorite. 

Image result for between shades of grayBetween Shades of Gray ★★★★★ (Sepetys, 2011, young adult, historical fiction)

Why did I wait so long to read this book – especially after reading and loving Salt to the Sea? The story of Lina and her journey toward to the Arctic Circle during WW2 is so moving and beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time. I would strongly recommend this YA book to any of my adult reading friends who like historical fiction. I am excited about adding this to my classroom library and will definitely be recommending to my students who love historical YA lit. This would pair nicely with Night.

Educated ★★★★★ (Westover, 2018, Memoir)

This book is an absolutely fascinating memoir, and I highly recommend it. I listened to it on a road trip through Audible, and the narration was fantastic. Westover’s story is one of personal growth, finding oneself, and even survival. Even though it’s a memoir, the story reads like a novel. You will laugh, cry, and be amazed at the Westover’s story. Read or listen to this book!

Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity ★★★★★ (Hatmaker, 2014, Nonfiction)

This book hit me right where I am in life. I stumbled upon this book at Goodwill and thought it would be a good book for me because 1 – it’s Jen Hatmaker, 2 – this job change for me is a complete step of faith, and 3 – I thought it might give us some good things to think through as we look for a new church in the city. I was not disappointed. Hatmaker chronicles the transition from her suburban Christian life (nothing wrong with that at all unless it’s not what God has for you as seems to be the case for both her and me) to moving into the city and starting an inner city church. The whole time I was reading this I just kept thinking “Yep, that’s me; that’s me.”

Southernmost ★★★★★ (House, 2017, fiction)

This book has everything that I love in novels – complex characters, thematic depth, short chapters, and it’s SOUTHERN. I’m not sure I would have discovered this on my own but thanks to an online book club that I’m a part of I found it and fell in love. This is a story of beliefs and relationships and the struggle between being right or being loving. While it not be for all of my followers, I loved this novel!

The Power of Moments ★★★★★ (Chip and Dan Heath, Nonfiction, 2017)

I love these type of books to begin with so when a friend suggested this, I immediately downloaded it on audible. So much of life is the jeans we’re dealt and out of our control. But there is also so much that can create and control and fail to do so. This book offered specific suggestion of areas to create powerful moments and is applicable to both personal and professional life. Love, love, love this book.

Behold the Dreamers ★★★★★ (Mbue, Contemporary Fiction, 2016, Oprah’s Book Club)

This book has been on my TBR list for a while and it did not disappoint. Stories have the ability to connect readers to issues in a way that news just cannot. And while it’s easy for some people (or all of us to a certain extent) say “I believe this or that” without considering how it plays out for real people, books like this should be paired with the news in order to have a full picture of policy. This book (fiction) paired with Tell Me How It Ends (nonfiction) and Citizen Illegal (poetry) could be the bones for a great unit on immigration; I would love to see students to a multi genre study with these texts. Oh – to the basis of the book review (as opposed to the teacher review) – I love the contrasts between hope and reality, dreaming and working, and America and Cameroon. This story will pull you in with its believable characters, reality-driven plot, and short chapters. Highly recommend!

Becoming ★★★★★ (Obama, 2018, Memoir)

YES!! This book is so great and listening to Michelle read it made it even better. I was so captivated by her story, her insights into life, and her impressions of others. No matter where your political affiliations lie, this is a must-read book. Love, love, love.

The Nix ★★★★★ (Hill, 2017, Fiction)

My last official book of the year recommended by my nephew who read it in his contemporary lit class in college. I LOVED this book (my nephew knows me well). It’s lengthy (700+) but reads quickly. I love books that weave stories and characters from different time periods together and found myself being caught up in all of the stories (except for possibly the Elfscape substory). Not too heavy, not too light, and shockingly plausible and current. 


As always, I’d love to know what you’re reading and recommendations you have for 2019 as I am in the middle of planning and building my TBR list. Finally, here are links to all of the books I read during the year. Happy reading!

Fall 2018 Books

Summer 2018 Books

Spring 2018 Books

Winter 2018 Books

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