In 2018, I read 105 books. For me, this number is less about the books themselves and more about the hours resting they signal.
Two years ago, I set a rule for myself to read two books a week as a means of combatting my tendency to overwork every day of the week. After entreaties from virtually everyone in my life to “do nothing,” I started to think about what that meant.
I don’t actually believe that doing nothing is possible until you die. Thinking, breathing, loafing, and streaming, for example, are all technically activities. We just happen to be less mindful about them.
Instead, it occurred to me that what others were encouraging was a commitment to relaxation. So of course, I looked up the definition for relaxation, and I found it to mean, “the state of being free from tension and anxiety.”
I reflected on instances when I truly felt free from tension and anxiety. Sleep often felt tense, as did streaming content or scrolling through social media on my phone. The only time I felt fully relaxed consistently was while reading. However, I often prioritized other tasks on my to-do list over reading. So, I made reading part of my to-do list with my two books rule.
Since I started this practice, I’ve been asked to share what I read on Goodreads or email out my annual reading list. I like to keep my reading fairly analog; I only read physical books, and I record extensive notes and reflections on them in my research journal. Finally, I thought I’d just publish the list itself so people could pick and choose the titles that interested them.
After reading my friend Mike Shannon’s post on his 2018 reading list, though, I decided to highlight the books that most impacted me, while also still publishing the list. That’s what I’ve featured here.
My Favorite Books from 2018
I’ve written extensively about why The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle is my favorite business book, not just from 2018, but period. In short, Coyle writes a narratively compelling story that illustrates how to build one of the trickiest, slipperiest, and most intangible elements of a business: culture. The examples are unique, illustrative, and applicable. The psychological research is evidence-based and well-considered. The profile on Danny Meyer and Union Square Café was enough to make be pick up Meyer’s own worthy book, Setting the Table.
Never in my life have I enjoyed biographies. I like the subjectivity that comes with memoir. Plus I often myself mired in details featured in biographies that don’t matter to me in while searching for the ones I do care about (likely salacious and highly questionable ones).
However, after reading the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay, I was curious enough to pick up Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford. I read this 500-page tome in two days. Milford reconstructs a complex world where Millay was both a feminist icon and fierce critic of women personally, an empowered artist and an addict consumed by her dependencies, and a free spirit incapable of romantic commitment who nevertheless married a man she deeply relied on for emotional and psychological support. It’s sympathetic and indicting all at once, and it’s written with stark historical accuracy.
It’s almost impossible to name a winner in this category given the incredible contemporary fiction that has surged in the last two years. I could easily name Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, or Less by Andrew Sean Greer.
However, no work of fiction seemed to push experimental limits, so aptly depict layers of devastation, and represent so many voices often never rendered fully in fiction more than Tommy Orange’s There There. Whether you’ve wondered what it’s like for Native Americans who’ve urbanized today and how their experiences have differed across generations or not, it’s a gripping story that cycles to an equal parts tragic and hopeful crisis point.
I’m ending on memoir because Educated by Tara Westover wasn’t just my favorite in this category, but the best book I read in all of 2018. Westover takes her childhood — one filled with brutal and shocking anecdotes from a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho who rejected doctors, stocked bunkers, subjected one another to tremendous physical abuse, and denied the Holocaust — and frames it in terms of her journey in education.
She never presents an unbalanced picture of either. Just as her family shows moments of tenderness, warmth, and togetherness, the education that offers her a path out of a very bad life situation and awakens her to self-knowledge demands she gives up much of what matters most to her.
My 2018 Reading List
1. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
2. The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
3. Give and Take by Adam Grant
4. Recruit Rockstars by Jeff Hyman
5. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
6. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
7. Untranslatable Words by The School of Life
8. Principles by Ray Dalio
9. LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp by Mike Piper, CPA
10. Saint Joan by Bernard Shaw
11. The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Edna St. Vincent Millay & Nancy Millford
12. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
13. A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
14. Real Love by Sharon Salzberg
15. The Story of a Soul by St. Thérése of Lisieux
16. Collective Genius by Linda Annette Hill, Emily Truelove, Greg Brandeau, Kent Lineback
17. Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford
18. The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins
19. Coaching Questions by Tony Stoltzfus
20. The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke
21. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
22. Quiet by Susan Cain
23. The Royal Tenenbaums by Wes Anderson*
24. Brootopia by Emily Chang
25. Island by Aldous Huxley
26. Start Here by Eric Langshur and Nate Klemp
27. Failing Up by Leslie Odom Jr.
28. Zelda by Nancy Millford
29. The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
30. The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle
31. A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Clare Sweeney
32. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
33. When by Daniel Pink
34. Lagom by Linnea Dunne
35. Not Fade Away by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton
36. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht
37. Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele*
38. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
39. Blue Horses by Mary Oliver
40. Cave in the Snow by Vicki McKenzie
41. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry
42. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
43. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden
44. The Art of Burning Man by NK Guy
45. Buddhism with an Attitude by B. Allan Wallace
46. The Wisest One in the Room by Lee Ross and Thomas Gilovich
47. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
48. The Red Wheelbarow and Other Poems by William Carlos Williams
49. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
50. Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
51. Four-Legged Girl by Diane Seuss
52. Calypso by David Sedaris
53. Legends of Vancouver by E. Pauline Johnson
54. The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
55. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
56. Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter*
57. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 2 by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
58. Draft №4 by John McPhee
59. Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner
60. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
61. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
62. Boudicca by Neal Romanek and Johan Sward
63. the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur
64. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
65. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
66. Your Brain at Work by David Rock
67. The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson with Sharon Begley
68. Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
69. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante
70. How to Meditate by Pema Chodron
71. Blindspot by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthiny G. Greenwald
72. The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green
73. St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
74. Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson
75. The Worst Business Model in the World by Danny Schuman
76. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
77. The Idiot by Elif Batuman
78. Less by Andrew Sean Greer
79. The Last Day of Suffering by Jinny Tavee, M.D.
80. Write the Perfect Book Proposal by Jeff Herman and Deborah Levine Herman
81. Surfing Photographs from the Seventies Taken by Jeff Divine by Scott Hulet and
82. Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing
83. From Here to Eternity by Catlin Doughty
84. Oranges by John McPhee
85. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle
86. Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh
87. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semplye
88. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
89. How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery
90. Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders
91. There There by Tommy Orange
92. An Everyone Culture by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey
93. Community by Peter Block
94. Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet
95. Purple Hibiscus by Chimanda Ngozi Adiche
96. American Buffalo by David Mamet
97. Setting the Table by Danny Meyer
98. I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson
99. Moonlight by Harold Pinter
100. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack
101. Educated by Tara Westover
102. The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
103. The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte*
104. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
105. The Empath Experience by Sydney Campos
*Indicates a re-read of a previously read book.