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In 2017, I read nearly a book per day. While it was binge reading at its finest, it was too many. By the end of the year there were several books that I didn't even remember reading, even when I skimmed the opening chapters in an attempt to do the write up. As it turned out, the write up took almost as long as it took me to read all those books (7 months).

For me, reading is pleasure. I read to learn, understand, and immerse myself in other people. It's part of my natural curiosity about others. I'm not naturally drawn to non-fiction, but after the fiction binge fest that was 2017, I thought that if I interleaved some non-fiction, I'd have a better chance at throttling my reading habit in 2018. 

The Plan

I planned that I would split my 2018 challenge--one month of non-fiction reading, one month fiction--alternating each month. Knowing that I needed an incentive, I decided that if I finished a non-fiction book before the month was over, I could start my fiction reading early. If I didn't finish, I'd pick it back up the next non-fiction month.

I thought this would throttle my reading reasonably well. And I set my Reading Challenge Goal at 186 books: 6 non fiction and 180 (20 books x 6 months) fiction.

As it turned out, by sticking to the plan, the grand total or 2018 was 187 (which feels a lot more reasonable than 2017's 130% and 2016's 119% of goal).

In 2018, I read a lot of great books. In fact, I'd say that I read more 3- and 4-star books than in 2017 when I read more books overall.

Even better, I finished the year with 10 days to spare and a list that was a lot easier to process.

Indeed, this post did not take me 7 months to write.

* If you want the rationale behind how I rate books, read the 2016 post.

Top Picks of 2018

Most of these books I got from other people's recommendations. In several cases, I got some great books from Story Bundle.

  1. Girl Who Dared to Think (Girl Who Dared #1), Bella Forrest. Science Fiction.
    Last year I called out her Gender Game series. This one is better and generally more accessible.
  2. Aquariums of Pyongyang, Chol-hwan Kang. Non-Fiction.
    With all the talk about North Korea the last couple of years, this book is both dated--and not. It's a memoir about life from inside NK and speaks volumes today.
  3. Panther Chronicles, T. Thorn Coyle. Alternative History/Fantasy.
    The first book is amazing. It's based on interviews and written with permission by many who were there then. The last book loses a lot of what made the first book amazing and becomes more interested in the fantasy/magic angle than the alternative history. Still a great series that I enjoyed a great deal.
  4. Behave, Robert Sapolsky. Non-Fiction.
    This book was hard to read because I don't have the science background for a lot of it. However, if you let go a bit and roll forward, it becomes more accessible. It was eye opening and a fantastic journey from the biology of the brain all the way out to social structures. If behavior interests you, this is a must read.
  5. Free Trader (9 book series), Craig Martelle. Science Fiction.
    Super fun to read. Even better if you're a fan of cats. 
  6. In a Single Garment of Destiny, Dr. Martin Luther King. Non-Fiction.
    These are the original speeches and writings of Dr. King all on the subject of community, connection, and non-violence. My decision to read the actual writings was based on my knowing about him but not having been there to experience the exact words myself. Except for some very specific details, these could have been written today.
  7. All Labor has Dignity, Dr. Martin Luther King. Non-Fiction.
    Also original speeches and writings of Dr. King, all on the topic of labor. Dr. King was very concerned about automation and what it would do to working-class people. Again, these words resonate deeply today.
  8. Sea Shenanigans (3-book series), Robyn Peterman. Paranormal/Comedy.
    These were pure fun. It is extremely rare for me to literally laugh out loud at a book, but all three of these did it. Talk like a pirate. Learn to call someone names in new and creative ways that are simply hilarious. Her Hot Damned series nearly made my 2017 list. That was a tough call, but this one was easy.
  9. IQ, Joe Ide. Suspense/Thrillers.
    This book was one of the books voted on for Jimmy Fallon's Summer Reading. I stumbled into it and was glad I did. Tough to get through, but worth every second. By the time you're half-way through, you can't put it down.
  10. Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke. Mystery/Suspense
    I got this as part of a StoryBundle. I really hope she writes a follow up. For now, I'll have to make due reading everything else she's written. The story was tight, engrossing, tough, and simply outstanding.
  11. Black Borne (Warrior Slave #1), L.L. Farmer. Science Fiction/Fantasy.
    Another book I got in same StoryBundle that gave me Attica Locke. It was hard to put this book down. Tougher still to find out that L.L. Farmer only has a few other books. When I got it, I knew it was Book #1, that's pretty common for StoryBundle; they will often give you the first book in a series so you can try out new authors. When I finished I was devastated that the second book was in progress. It's out now, and on my list for 2019.
  12. Cainsville (5-book series), Kelley Armstrong. Horror/Suspense.
    I've read other things by her but this is by far the one I enjoyed the most. It's almost more mystery and suspense with paranormal genre items tossed in. There are really 5 books to the series, even though the series page doesn't show them all. The series ended, which is always tough when you've invested your time in a well-written mystery.

The Year of the Next Series Book

2018 was also a great year for readers of authors with long-running series. Sometimes it's easy to drop back into a series. Sometimes it's not. Either way, if you enjoyed a series you're always glad when a new one comes out.

A lot of the authors I follow released a new series book this year: Charlaine Harris. Lisa Scottoline. Lisa Gardner. Kory Shrum. Laurie Spinella, JL Bryan. Darynda Jones. Terah Edun. Angela White. Becca Andre. Melissa F Olson. Annie Bellet. Kate Danely. Karen Chance. Ilona Andrews. All of them had a new book in their series. Charlotte English had new books in two of hers.

In  addition to those, one series, that have read many times over the years, came to an end in 2018: David Weber's Honor Harrington (Science Fiction).

Uncompromising Honor is book #19 and the last time that the main character, Honor Harrington, will be the main character.

The Honorverse is alive and well, and the big story arcs that began here have spoked out into series in their own rights. If you were following a plot line and want to find out what happens, it still will, just with a different set of main characters. 

I've been a long time fan of the Honor Harrington books. I read advanced reader copies from Baen for years. There were a lot of things to like, especially in the way he treated gender politics. I'm sorry to see her go, but enjoyed the ending. It ended well, which is something to appreciate because not every series does.

I also learned something this year

The benefits of stepping out of our comfort zone are widely celebrated in the business and leadership literature. On any given day, you can find a story about the importance of being a little uncomfortable to advance in our careers, improve our relationships, and grow.

As we grow and learn in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior. It’s simply a reality of the world we work in today. And without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement. (Harvard Business Review)

Stepping out of your comfort zone in what you read and watch is just as important as stepping out of our comfort zone at work. When you don't step out of your entertainment comfort zone, you miss the opportunity for growth in yourself and we all lose out on great writers, actors, books, and movies.

In 2018, I read some outstanding books. I explored people and sensitivities that expanded my own sense of the world and of my understanding. By forcing open the non-fiction door, not only did I add some fantastic books, but I read more books in more genres from a wider array of writers.

Demanding a bit of diversity in your spaces makes a huge difference overall. I loved every minute of it.

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