2018 Reading Year in Review

2018: a total mixed bag when it comes to my reading life. Here’s the year-end review…

The bad

So I didn’t meet my Goodreads goal of reading 75 books this year.

And am I feeling comfortable with that? No, I am not.

But… life goes on. And in other (more important ways), my reading year was quite fruitful.

The good

  • I met my goal that 20% of the books I read would be by diverse authors. Hooray! And great reading!
  • I read 19,089 pages. (I’m actually not sure whether this is impressive, but it’s the first year I’ve calculated the number, so I’m happy with it.)
  • In spite of a year filled with some unexpected challenges, I read 65 books.

The ugly

Good people, I created some charts in Google Sheets to visually represent my year of reading. These charts are not beautiful. Here they are…

So, if you had to predict what I read this year, you’d say, “Nonfiction book by a female author.” And actually, many of my favorites this year were exactly that.

The year ahead

Reading goals:

Other than that, I’m keeping it free and easy. No other goals… just some reading bliss.

What are your reading goals for 2019? Or do you just read & enjoy?

18 for 2018: done!

Early in the year, I set up 18 goals — some big, some small — for 2018.

And then I started pickin’ ’em off…  

And I kept at it, sort of.  

And then completing the list wasn’t looking likely during the Fall Update, but I pulled it off in the end. 

Here’s the account of the final 3 items on the list…

Buy typewriter key jewelry

Way earlier in the year, when I was trapped someplace with only my phone at hand, I scouted out some sources for typewriter key jewelry. And then I sat on it for months, because busy. So in mid-December, I re-did the search cuz the clock was ticking. And while I’d love to be able to wear a bracelet of typewriter keys, I just can’t do bracelets. (They get in my way!) So I went for the necklace. This one.


Memorize five quotes

Done! (I’d share them, but they’re for myself alone*)  

Invite friends for dinner

I’m a nervous chef who performs best without pressure.

And dinner guests = pressure.

Plus, lots of us are tricky to feed (special diets, specialized palate, restrictions, all that stuff).

So I’m calling this good: we invited the Dear Man’s Dear Sister and Dear Brother-in-Law (who definitely are our friends), and we ordered a pizza from a local place that makes deep dish pizzas that one cooks at home. So:

Friends    CHECK

Applying heat to dinner  CHECK

Serving said dinner to said friends CHECK

Stick a fork in it: it’s done!

Here’s the full (completed!) list of my 18 for 2018…

  • Call old friends on a regular basis
  • Buy typewriter key jewelry    
  • Go on southern vacation with the Dear Man and Younger Sister
  • Go on northern vacation with the Dear Man and Older Sister
  • Roast vegetables once a month
  • Burn a candle when writing
  • Buy fresh flowers & watch a YouTube video to figure out how to arrange them
  • Invite friends for dinner
  • Begin meditating
  • Memorize 5 quotes    
  • Visit 3 history geek places
  • Replace long wool coat
  • Bake 2 family recipes
  • Buy warm winter coat & boots
  • Remind myself to slow down once per day
  • Complete 2 of the 3: Book Bingo, Read Harder, and Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenges
  • Zipline
  • Do a deep decluttering of my house

And now it’s on to planning my 19 for 2019…

What’re your favorite accomplishments of the year?

*Not true: The Dear Man knows what they are

Best Books of 2018: my top 10 favorites

Narrowing down my books to my Top 10 of 2018… not too difficult.

But narrowing down my favorite memoir? Impossible. So I went with the 3-way tie that felt right to me.

And there’s a 2-way tie for literary fiction, too. Because I just can’t decide.

And I get to write the rules around here  : )  so here we go…  

Best Short Stories

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity authors, well-evoked characters, short stories from a variety of viewpoints, typewriters

Best Self-Improvement

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

Give this book a whirl if you like… exploring everyday life through new eyes, thinking about timing, considering factors that surprisingly affect outcomes, Freakonomics

Best Memoirs (3-way tie)

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of an unusual childhood, reading about life during and after apartheid, outsider narratives

Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of city dwellers moving to the country, middle-aged love stories, a light touch of humor, compulsively readable writing

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

Give this book a whirl if you like… tiny snippets of story, memoir in bite-sized pieces, poetic and perfect writing, humor

Best Young Adult Fiction

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Give this book a whirl if you like… a realistic teen viewpoint, reading fiction inspired by current events, contemplating Black Lives Matter, exploring complex issues in a nuanced way, powerfully emotional novels

Best Biography

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

Give this book a whirl if you like… discovering the real person behind the stories, learning about a literary legend, learning about the author of children’s classics, American history through the life of one pioneer, overcoming hard times

Best Women’s Fiction

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

Give this book a whirl if you like… dual narratives, seaside settings, second chances, finding love, life after a breakup, heroic characters quietly saving lives

Best Literary Fiction (2-way tie)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Give this book a whirl if you like… lovely writing, creative use of language, Black Lives Matter, Fates and Furies, he said/she said narrative style, considering social issues through fiction

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Give this book a whirl if you like… big stories, books about complex families, stories about people’s lives falling apart, stories about houses, dual connected timelines, the life of a scientist, individual evolution and evolution of species

So, my fellow readers… what’re your favorites of the year?

Currently: holiday cozy

We’re approaching year-end, and things are busy and pretty darn good. Here’s what’s been happening at the Unruly household…

Reading | The last few months, the reading’s been splendid. I whizzed through The Library Book by Susan Orlean and kept reading passages aloud to the Dear Man because Orlean so perfectly captured aspects of library life and the dedication of librarians to their work.

And I’ve been devouring books about food and cooking. Current obsession: My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl.

Listening | On my 3-minute commute and occasional trip to the grocery store, I inched my way through the audiobook Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willick and Leif Babin (which they read themselves, and dude, they sound scary.) And just started listening to Transcription by Kate Atkinson, which is making me happy to be driving.

Watching | The Dear Man and I are completely hooked on Samuel and Audrey’s travel and food YouTube videos. YSam’s even a Cubs fan, and if we ever encounter them on a sidewalk in Prague, they’re gonna be freaked out because we’ll be acting like we know them.

Learning | We’re doing seasonal decorating here at the new old house, and it seriously takes two to do this kind of thing. I’ve got no decorating game whatsoever, so my tactic is to look up stuff on Instagram and Pinterest, then show pictures of stuff I like to the Dear Man, who has an artist’s/designer’s eye and can make suggestions about our space. Then we wander through the flea market and boutiques and craft stores and we figure out which pieces will work. It’s all a little bit bumbling, but it’s fun to work on it together and learn what we can do.

Island Christmas

Organizing |  After several false starts, we finished organizing the closet, which is such a relief and delight. We had to buy shelves, which had to be custom cut, and then right in the middle of the project, the store discontinued the shelves we were using. But: we got it done!

Yes. It is a thing of beauty, this closet. 

Eating | It’s the holiday season, and we’re surrounded by treats!

Definition of a happy holiday: My friend made this bowl. 
My man filled it with treats for us.

Loving | Our new house. I love our new house.

Anticipating | We’ll be spending time with both sides of the family this holiday season, and that means laughing. Can’t wait!

This one says, “Happy holidays.”

What’re you looking forward to this season?

Announcing Book Bingo 2019

Welcome to Book Bingo 2019!

It’s our fifth annual Book Bingo event, and we’re so glad you’re here.

Once again, my collaborators and I have pondered categories and themes for the annual bingo card, and we realized we have several categories relating to fire and rebirth… so we’ve got a fiery theme and a hidden Phoenix this year.

Big thanks to the two people who make this possible:

My dear friend, who conspires with me all year long to develop this list of categories. So much fun.

The Dear Man, who goes into his office and then says, “Do you have a minute?” and shows me the most gorgeous design that captures every aspect we wanted (and then a little bit more). I love this.

How to Play

  • Read a book that fits the category. Each book can qualify for only one category.
  • Complete just one row or column, or go for blackout by reading a book in every category.
  • All books must be finished in 2019. Books started in 2018 but finished in 2019 count.
  • We’ve provided some definitions, but you can free-style it if you like—as long as you can make a case that the book fits the category.
  • All categories can be fiction or nonfiction (your choice), unless otherwise specified.

About the Categories

Edgar Award: First Novel – A mystery that was nominated for — or won — the Edgar Allan Poe Award for First Novel

Heroine –Strong female voice: author, character, or subject

Palate cleanser – A book that refreshes and balances out what you’ve read lately     

Genre-bending – A book that plays with genre — it might break the rules or be categorized in more than one genre

Gen X author – A book written by an author born between 1961 and 1981

Odd couple – A book about an unusual pairing

Classic I’ve never read –A book that’s stood the test of time

Pushing boundaries  –A book that challenges your worldview or awareness. Or a book whose pioneering character or author breaks new ground.

Explore  – A book that takes you or the character to a new place

Place Name – A book with a place name in its title (examples: Looking for Alaska. Or Alaska by Michener)

Life hack –A book with a shortcut that makes makes your life (or a character’s life) easier

Unbelievable – Nonfiction that’s stranger than fiction, or a novel whose premise you’re not buying

Green – A book with a green cover, or a book about nature, money, envy, or any other green thing

Fire –Literal fire, passion, or something burning within

Birth– The beginning or a fresh start

Romantic –Idealistic or passionate

Language –A book with a distinctive voice or a book in translation

LGBTQ –A book by or about someone who identifies as LGBTQ

Novelty Book –A book structured in an unorthodox way

South Pacific – A book set in, or written by, an author from the South Pacific

Folktale –A story incorporating elements of a myth, legend, or fable

Map –A book about a journey, a guide to self-discovery, or simply a book with a map in it

Deep Dive – An investigative, immersive reading experience

Unruly Woman –A book about a woman who breaks out of the mold

Lost & Found – A story of rebirth or redefining a sense of self

To Sign Up…

Add your blog name & URL in the Comments. Easy as that.

Questions? Answers!

If you have any questions about any of the categories, ask your question in the Comments, and I promise to respond.


Printable bingo card

First Lady memoir

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Becoming by Michelle Obama

3 words: engaging, personal, positive

I love books by accomplished women, and I love memoirs of life in politics. So I was really excited when a copy of Michelle Obama’s memoir showed up in my mailbox.

And while I knew I’d find the book fascinating, I was surprised by how quickly I was drawn in to the narrative — and how engaged I remained throughout the entire book.

The first thing that attracted me was that Obama’s narrative voice is very real; it’s like she’s telling you her story out loud. (I’ve heard the audiobook, which she reads herself, is pretty amazing.) Even on the page, her voice is natural and smart and funny and real.

And she begins the book with a scene from her life today — a scene so normal and insignificant that most of us have been there and thought nothing of it. She’s alone at home, and she’s making toast. And she’s reveling in the quiet and the freedom she feels in that small act — because for years, she’d been in a world where making toast while home alone was unimaginable. And her pleasure in that moment made me feel connected to her on a human level.

And I think that’s one of her key gifts — empathy (along with her brain and drive and desire to make a positive difference in the world).

So spending time with her on these pages was a pleasure.

The other aspect I found delightful is the way she describes her educational journey — from elementary through law school. And when she talks about not feeling good enough — again, that resonated. She’s honest about the struggles and the way she overcame the tough parts —  and the loving support she received from her family, friends, and mentors.

And I always love reading memoirs that give insight into the relationships within a First Family. On these pages, Barack Obama is very human but also super impressive (largely because he’s so human).

And there were moments that made me laugh, such as her commentary on an event that occurred when they were dating. She describes him driving a bright yellow Datsun that shuddered to life and had a rusted out hole in the floor. “Life with Barack would never be dull. I knew it even then. It would be some version of banana yellow and slightly hair-raising.” (p. 122)

That’s good, right?

And reading about the emphasis she placed on raising her daughters… it made me like their family all the more.

So if you like reading about the life experiences of strong, smart women who’ve made a difference — or if you like reading about First Families — this is a wonderfully engaging narrative about the unusual experience of ending up in the White House.

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of iconic women, First Ladies, remarkable women in their own right, behind the scenes, memoirs of strong African American women, memoirs of life in the political sphere

Anyone else a fan of memoirs by the First Family?

Loving libraries

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

3 words: immersive, journalistic, investigative

You know how some books take you back to an earlier time in your life and they place you there so solidly, you can smell and taste and feel everything you experienced at the time?

This book did that for me. Because while this book ostensibly is about the terrible fire that devastated the Los Angeles Public Library, it’s really more of a deep dive into the life of a library, reported with affection and enthusiasm.

It put me right back in the heady days when I first worked in a public library — as an unpaid, 35-hour-per-week intern at a large-ish urban public library. That summer was magical — it felt like such a privilege to see how things worked behind the scenes and to be in the building before it opened and to spend time in each department. (It reminded me of that children’s book by P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother? Each department seemed like a serious possibility, and then I reached Reference, and done. I was home.)

I am grateful to this day for that experience, and to the library director who accepted a cold call from a college junior interested in a career in librarianship and seeking work experience in a public library. Her willingness to accept me into the fold after one phone call and one meeting — it’s one of those aspects of librarianship that makes me really love this field. The generosity of spirit is a grand and beautiful thing among library people.

And that’s what this book is all about.

I kept reading aloud to the Dear Man (often after recovering from verklemptitude), because Orlean captured the library so perfectly.

“They formed a human chain, passing the books hand over hand from one person to the next, through the smoky building and out the door. It was as if, in this urgent moment, the people of Los Angeles formed a living library. They created, for that short time, a system to protect and pass along shared knowledge, to save what we know for each other, which is what libraries do every day.” (p. 37)

(This one gets me each time I read it.)

Orlean spends time with the current library staff, learning how the library operates today. And she also delves into its past, when simply being a woman was grounds for being fired so a man could take one’s job.

And she investigates the 1986 library fire, particularly the suspected arsonist, a down-on-his-luck, would-be actor who lied compulsively. And in the end… I won’t ruin the conclusion, but truly, the fire provides a framework for the story, but the real story is about the library and its people. And it’s beautiful.

“I looked around the room at the few people scattered here and there. Some were leaning into books, and a few were just resting, having a private moment in a public place, and I felt buoyed by being here. This is why I wanted to write this book, to tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine, and how that feels marvelous and exceptional.”  (p. 310)

Give this book a whirl if you like… a deep dive into the life of an organization, learning about a major event that’s virtually unknown, celebrating libraries and the work of librarians, unsolved crimes

My fellow readers… Have you ever read a book that put you into a happy past moment? Or an adoring book about a library? If so, I so wanna hear about it.

Nonfiction November: New to My TBR

In Week 5 of Nonfiction November, our host is Katie at Doing Dewey, who asks:

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

This year’s Nonfiction November has been my richest TBR haul to date. Thank you, good bloggers!

In fact, the recommendations were flying in so fast that I developed a new way to track my TBR. Instead of simply adding the books to Goodreads as “Want to Read,” I started adding books to the Google Sheet that I use to track my reading — at the bottom of the list, where I place upcoming reads. The advantage is that it allowed me to group all the Nonfiction November suggestions and add my own notes in an easy way. I’m kinda excited about this system.

So what’s on the list? Here goes…


In response to my “Become the Expert” request for books about becoming a better human:

Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life by Jessica Nutik Zitter — recommended by Kazen at Always Doing

Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi — recommended by Kelly at Stacked

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal — recommended by Kelly at Stacked

What If This Were Enough? Essays by Heather Havrilevsky — recommended by Michael at Inexhaustible Invitations

How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life by Heather Havrilevsky — recommended by Michael at Inexhaustible Invitations

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman — recommended by Michael at Inexhaustible Invitations


The other books that grabbed my eye…

Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi — recommended by Kelly at Stacked

Kitchen Yarns by Ann Hood — recommended by Rennie of What’s Nonfiction

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein — recommended by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness and Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves and Tina at Tina Says

knitting books by Elizabeth Zimmermann — recommended by Lory at Emerald City Book Review


I’ve already begun reading one of the Heather Havrilevsky books (loving it) and can’t wait to find all these others on the shelves.

Thank you to all the wonderful book bloggers who make Nonfiction November such a fulfilling experience each year!


Book Bingo 2018: Completed!


It’s my 4th year hosting Book Bingo Blackout, and I continue to be surprised by the categories I find the most challenging to fulfill. They’re always the ones that seemed like low-hanging fruit.

This year my final category was Read the Movie, and I finally read a book that I knew was made into a movie only because I Googled every title on my immediate TBR to see if they’d been filmed.

As I look over the list, I’m disappointed in how few reviews I posted, but then I realized: it was an eventful year.

And I cut this girl some slack.


So… here’s the 2018 Book Bingo list of titles!


Reserved – Although you may reserve a book at the library and anticipate its arrival, a book can also be reserved in its tone and theme.
Educated by Tara Westover


#ownvoices – a book written by a member of a marginalized community that it depicts
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Epic – A generational saga or transformational journey
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid


Upgrade Your Life – Take things to the next level — mentally, physically, or spiritually
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink  


Been There, Read That – A book set in a place you’ve lived or visited
The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine F. Weiss



My People – You identify with the characters based on your roots or sense of identity
Portage: A Family, a Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life by Sue Leaf


Psychological – A book that messes with your mind or heals your mind
The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile


Fashion(able) – A book about fashion, a book about trends, or a book that is trending
Superforecasting by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner


Read the Movie – There’s a movie based on this book
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken


Judge a Book By Its Cover – You love or hate the cover
Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks


The Help – A book about those who serve others. Or a self-help book.
Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson


Timeless Classic – A book that’s stood the test of time
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke


I Bought It – A book you bought, or a book whose premise you bought into
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt


Time Travel – A character travels forward or backward in time
The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier


Cocktails – Alcohol is an ingredient in the book
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan


Glamour – A book that portrays a glamorous life
West with the Night by Beryl Markham


Wealth – A book about finance, money, or life’s riches
The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan


Urban – A book set in a city, or a book about a city
Going into Town by Roz Chast


Lost Generation – A book by or about the generation that came of age during WWI (born 1883-1900; e.g., Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Babe Ruth, Harry Truman)
White Houses by Amy Bloom


Audie Award – Listen to or read an Audie Award winner or finalist
We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union


True Crime – Nonfiction book about a crime
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann


South of the Equator – A book set south of the Equator, or written by an author from a country south of the Equator
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba


Rock – Earth, a gemstone, music — however you want to define it
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen


Outsider – The protagonist is alienated from her/his surroundings. Or, a stranger comes to town…
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah


No More Waiting – It’s been on your TBR, on your nightstand, on your mind. Read it already.
No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh by Reeve Lindbergh


If you’re doing Book Bingo this year, how’s it going? Any categories proving tricky?

Nonfiction November: Reads Like Fiction

This week’s Nonfiction November topic — Reads Like Fiction — is hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?

Nonfiction books often get praised for how they stack up to fiction. Does it matter to you whether nonfiction reads like a novel? If it does, what gives it that fiction-like feeling? Does it depend on the topic, the writing, the use of certain literary elements and techniques? What are your favorite nonfiction recommendations that read like fiction? And if your nonfiction picks could never be mistaken for novels, what do you love about the differences?


I love nearly all the nonfiction — even handbooks and manuals, if they have a sprightly tone. (Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes is one of my all-time favorite books, and I have a serious love of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.)

And most of the self-improvement books I read (and there are lots of ’em) don’t follow a storyline, but I love them all the same. If there’s an engaging tone, I’m there.

So I don’t need a narrative drive to delight my nonfiction-loving heart.

That having been said… When you offer me something along the lines of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff or anything by Robert Kurson (I’m currently still in the afterglow of Rocket Men), I’m about as happy as I can be as a reader. Narrative nonfiction might well be the highest peak on my readerly mountain range.

In the past year, here are the narrative nonfiction books that most delighted me:

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly

The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine F. Weiss

The Library Book by Susan Orlean


I can’t wait to see everyone else’s lists.

What’re the best narrative nonfiction books you’ve read this year?