Favorite books of 2018: a top 10 list

According to Goodreads, in 2018 I read 49 books. The shortest book, “Owls in the family” by one of our favorite writers, Farley Mowat, was 91 pages. The longest book, at 640 pages, was “Prairie fires: the American dream” by Caroline Fraser – a book about Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved children’s book author. The average length of book was 286 pages (probably because the book group I belong to in Portland makes a practice of reading books that are less than 300 pages long). The most popular book was “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, read by 1,162,980 people on Goodreads – we read this book for the Long Island Community Library’s summer book group, led by Jean Murley. The least popular book was “Native gems for his crown” by Gary Klumpenhower, which was read by 3 people on Goodreads. Gary Klumpenhower was the pastor of the First Navajo Christian Reformed Church in Tohatchi, New Mexico, where my grandfather was pastor in the early 20th century.

Choosing my favorite 10 books out of these 49 is difficult, but these were some of the ones I enjoyed most, choosing half that are fiction, and half that are non-fiction. Most of these can be found at the Long Island Community Library.

Ross Poldark / by Winston Graham. Okay, so I did read this book picturing Aiden Turner as Poldark, and Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza. But I loved reading this first book of the series, which takes place in Cornwall, several centuries ago. My favorite Poldark season on PBS was the first one, so it was a delight to read the growing love story between the two main characters. Unlike the television show, it’s wonderful to hear (read) the characters’ thoughts along the way, adding a new dimension to a favorite story.

On living / by Kerry Egan. Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain, and these are stories about her patients, as well as her own philosophy and thoughts on living, and dying. But rather than being a depressing book, it is so uplifting. Often funny, sometimes sad, Kerry not only shares her patient’s stories, but also brings in her own traumatic story that helped to shape her professionally and personally. She shares the mistakes she made, as well as the beauty one finds at the end of life. This book is a joy to read (and at only 206 pages in a small book, it’s a quick read).

City of thieves / by David Benioff. Two unlikely friends during WWII in search of eggs – good writing and humor tempered the grimness of the background of war and starvation. I stayed up late one night to finish as I wanted to find out what happened to Lev after “the week he met my grandmother, made his best friend, and killed two Germans.” (Mostly wanted to find out which character he married, which I guessed correctly).
Ironically, when I was reading this book, Michael and I took a road trip from Maine to Vermont along country roads, and saw so many signs for “eggs for sale.” I had to remind myself that I was reading a novel, that the two characters wouldn’t need to find eggs in northern New England.

Bonjour Kale: a memoir of Paris, love, and recipes / by Kristen Beddard. Even if you aren’t a major kale eater (I prefer my kale in the Maine Squeeze’s smoothie “Kale Storm”), you will love this book, if you are a fan of great writing. Kristen ends up living in Paris when her husband gets a job there – you will suffer along with her as she struggles with the language and culture and tries to find her path, which ends up being: kale! This is also a wonderful story of falling in love – not just with her husband, but with life in France, which doesn’t come easily to this author expatriate. And yes, there are recipes, mostly featuring kale (of course).

Hitty: her first hundred years / by Rachel Field. What a wonderful book! I finally read it, after all these years of being a Maine resident, and lover of Maine literature, especially children’s literature. I was not disappointed or bored, but instead relished the adventures of Hitty, a most resilient doll, who suffered all sorts of indignities, but somehow survived, with great cheer. Who knows what tales she could continue to tell, 90 years after this book was originally published in 1929? Rachel Field (1894-1942), a Maine author, is known to us islanders for her poem, “If once you have slept on an island” (you’ll never be the same). There are lovely illustrations, too, by Dorothy P. Lathrop.

Grateful: the transformative power of giving thanks / by Diana Butler Bass. This is a timely book – just what we should all be reading in these times, when gratitude (and a little prayer) is the best way to get through. Who would have thought a whole book about gratitude would be so interesting … and uplifting? I actually went to college with Diana – she was a senior while I was a lowly freshman. I don’t think she remembers me, but I do remember her kindness to me, as a newcomer to academia.

The sisters from Hardscrabble Bay / by Beverly Jenson. Alanna Rich lent me this book, which she has a personal connection to (you’ll have to ask her about it sometime). This book about two sisters who grew up in New Brunswick and Maine during the early 20th century, is written with humor and love, as they are based on family members of the author.

A homemade life: stories and recipes from my kitchen table / by Molly Wizenberg. I picked this up at the Art & Soul booksale this summer, and brought it with me on a trip out to Washington State to visit family. It was the perfect book for traveling, especially since Molly lives in Seattle, and got married in Bellingham, where my mother lives. This book was so entertaining and fun to read, it really brought me joy.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine / by Gail Honeyman. Nancy Jordan recommended this book in her “Library suggests” and I finally took her advice. Although initially I had my doubts, as the characters seemed very unlikeable, it definitely grew on me, as Eleanor’s heart opens up to the world around her, and she overcomes her difficult past.

Skein: the heartbreaks and triumphs of a long distance knitter / by Christen Mattix. Reading this book felt much like being there with Christen, over the four year stretch of knitting her blue line to the bay (which was supposed to take three months), as it had a meditative feel to the book. I loved this book for many reasons: her spiritual aspect of life and deepness of thought, her beautiful writing, and mostly for her success at creating community, something which is abundance here on Long Island, on the other side of the country from Bellingham, Washington, where this book takes place. My sister, who lives in nearby Ferndale, gave me this book as an early Christmas gift – and presented it to me at the actual bench where Christen knit her blue line. So, now I can picture where all of this happened (in a beautiful neighborhood, where I would love to live), and as a knitter myself, I could appreciate the knitting aspect of the book, also.

I hope these books find their way to your bedside table, or at least make you think about what books you enjoyed most last year. Happy New Year, and may all your books spark joy! (or at least provoke thought)

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