The Best Books I Read in 2018

The Best Books I Read in 2018

2018 is the year I completed chemo. That’s why I started off listening to most of my books via Audible (try it with my link and get 2 free books) and then switched to print or Kindle the more distance I put between me and that final dose of Gleostine.

I had a Goodreads goal of reading 20 books this year, and got all the way to 25 books before completely crapping out at the end. Some books were better than others, so I want to highlight my faves first. Then, if I’m not completely exhausted, I will list the rest of the books at the end.

The Best Thing I Read This Year

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

If you haven’t yet? READ. THIS. Just read it.

“Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more.”

My Top 8 Reads of 2018

Coming Clean
by Kimberly Rae Miller 

This is the really touching memoir of the daughter of a hoarder. I was emotionally wrapped up from the beginning, and I feel like reading this book made me a better, more understanding person. What you see of the lives of families on the show Hoarders, for example, is just the tip of the iceberg.

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L’Engle

Believe it or not, I hadn’t heard of this delightful book until it became a movie. (I know, I know.) So to keep my Book Nerd card, I decided that I must read it before seeing it. I loved it. Then I heard from friends that the movie was disappointing, and I decided not to watch the movie at all. Did any of you see the movie?

Artemis
by Andy Weir

This book is by the same guy who wrote The Martian, which I also loved. Space books make me feel dreamy and happy, and Artemis involves a heist that takes place on the moon. Super fun!

Beautiful Exiles
by Meg Waite Clayton

I loved this book based on the real-life affair between Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway. (OMG, he was such a jerk.) Anyway, I’m always fascinated by people who (in my estiation) make destructive decisions, and these two definitely did. Whooooeee.

The Paper Magician
by Charlie N. Holmberg

This is some fun YA fantasy right here. (It’s part of a series–as you’ll see, I read three other books by Holmberg back to back to back to back.) Ceony Twill, our protagonist, is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic and crushes on her mentor. (It’s not gross though.) And they have to fight bad magic with good magic.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
by Hank Green

(Full disclosure, in the mid-aughts I worked for Hank’s brother, John.) I liked this book, and then I got really irritated by some things, and then I liked it again, and then I was like, “HOW DO I FEEL ABOUT THIS BOOK?” It’s like this: a bunch of robots show up on earth mysteriously, and then the main character accidentally gets YouTube famous because of it. And then fame makes her kind of horrible.

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose
by Joe Biden

This memoir was good, but it ran me through the wringer emotionally because: brain tumor. I love Uncle Joe, and I really admire his ability to hold on to his HUMANITY, even as a politician. If you have a brain tumor or love somebody with a brain tumor, you should be prepared to feel your feels.

The Art of Memoir
by Mary Karr

You know I’m writing a memoir, right? That’s why I picked this book up at the Champaign Barnes & Noble toward the end of the summer. It’s got some great advice for writing memoir but also wonderful suggestions for us as we read memoir. I scribbled several notes in the margins of its pages as I contemplated how I wanted to write and organize my own book.

Everything Else

So, that’s my list. What books did you read this year that really stick out for you?

Good Reads 2018: January – March

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Artemis | Andy Weir

This book was written by the guy who wrote The Martian and performed by Rosario Dawson. (I love her.) It’s about a heist that takes place on the moon. It’s witty and science-y.

Promise Me, Dad | Joe Biden

This was a hard read for me, seeing how the book was equal parts family story and political memoir. If you don’t already know, Joe’s son died of a brain tumor. That made this book a bit of a traumatic read for me. But it was also comforting. I’m a bigger fan of Joe Biden having read this book, and I already thought pretty highly of him.

Artemis Fowl | Eoin Colfer

Just a coincidence that Artemis appears in the title of this too. It’s what I’d call YA Fantasy and it was a fun distraction. I listened to this (and other titles) on Audible during chemo week and during my two-hour visits to Expanded Care for my IV fluids. The guy reading this book was fantastic, a true voice actor.

Coming Clean | Kimberly Rae Miller

This is the memoir of a woman whose parents are hoarders. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry. And you’ll be reminded that the people on that TLC show are real people and, I believe, understand them just a little bit better. I loved this book, and I think Kimberly Rae Miller is a gem.

A Wrinkle in Time | Madeleine L’Engle

Somehow I had managed to never hear of this book until I was 38 and it was being released as a Disney movie. It was decent, but I think I would have enjoyed it immensely more if I was 12.

What She Knew | Gilly MacMillan

I also listened to this book on Audible. For a book about a high-profile kidnapping, it was a long slog. I finished listening more out of duty than enjoyment. In fact, I ended up changing the playback speed to 2x real time just to get it over with. Perhaps it would have been more enjoyable as a read instead of a listen.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House | Michael Wolf

I. Had. To. If you don’t know, I’m a political junkie and I think Trump’s a nincompoop.

The Good Samaritan | John Marrs

Read this one on my Kindle before my headaches got to be a little too frequent, and it was good. It’s about a woman who works at a suicide hotline looking for candidates to encourage to commit suicide. I’d give it four stars and a trigger warning.

Post contains Amazon affiliate links.

 

Turtles All the Way Down: A 100% Spoiler Free Review

Turtles All the Way Down: A 100% Spoiler Free Review

I used to work for John Green.

I blurt that periodically. Like, every time he publishes a new book. Maybe because I’m an ordinary person with no claim to fame of my own, I dunno. I do know that at one point he was my boss. The last time I put that tidbit on a resume, one of my interviewers was like “no way!” and I was like “way.”

I got that job, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the only reason why. Pretty sure.

Anyway, if you’ve never been here before or you just haven’t had the chance to keep up with my blog for the last eight months, you should know I have a brain tumor. I promise it’s relevant to my review of Green’s Turtles All the Way Down, but it’s going to look like it’s not for just a minute or two.

***

Last night I asked Twitter what those tiny purplish dots on the pads of my fingers might be. When I first noticed them, I thought they were ink. (From what, exactly, I didn’t know; I hadn’t picked up a writing utensil in several weeks.) So I tried to wash them off without any luck.

However, with the help of the wonderful @mumsintheattic, I settled on them being chemo-induced thrombocytopenia.

Basically my blood quality sucks because of chemotherapy, and—voila!—microbruises. Turns out they’re kind of painful. The pain sensation is something akin to the prick you feel having your blood sugar tested. Only it’s hundreds of tiny locations, on all my fingers, and the pain lingers for hours instead of seconds.

I got thrombocytopenia from reading Turtles All the Way Down, because the weight of the hardcover on my hands was too much for my clot-challenged blood. So my finger tips bruised.

Suddenly Natasha Bedingfield just seems kind of, well, whiny. Am I right?

***

February 9, 2017 was the day Dr. Beaumont cut my head open. And though I’m certain he didn’t mean to, his knife work tweaked some already overzealous muscles in my head, neck, and shoulders. (The muscles seem to be terribly afraid that if they don’t wrench and clench twenty-four-seven, my head might actually fall off my body.)

Said muscles are so constantly worked up that they pinch a nerve, and the nerve invariably sends a signal back to the constricted muscles: WRENCH AND CLENCH HARDER. If there’s such a thing as neck sciatica, I have it.

This pain is exacerbated when I hold things like my cell phone or, say, a hardcover copy of Turtles All the Way Down. So at the end of every chapter (God bless authors who write short chapters) I’d put the book down and take a couple of deep breaths. Then I’d pick it back up despite myself and wince.

***

This is where the 100% spoiler free review comes in.

The fact that I read this book in less than 24 hours while causing myself more pain (more as in more than chronic pain) is a testament to how great it is. I particularly recommend it to my Spoonie friends. (Have a tissue when you get to page 89.)

If you’re thinking about buying it, do. You can use my Amazon affiliate link, and I’ll make a few cents. Which I will probably use to buy more books that cause me pain.

Turtles All the Way Down

Emily’s Recommended Resources for Activists

Emily’s Recommended Resources for Activists

This list could be longer, but I’ve had a rough day with work and the stupid fibro. I’ve tried to hit on resources from different areas to serve as your launchpad. Please contact me or comment with resources you’d like me to consider adding to the list!

rules for radicals.png
Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

This is one of the first books on activism I read. (Yikes! It’s been about a decade ago now that I’m doing the math.) Part of the joy of reading it for me was knowing how much this Saul Alinsky guy was and is hated by people you might collectively call The Man.

Tiptoe through the one-star Amazon reviews, and you’ll get a taste of what I mean:

“The book is chilling as it describes how to undermine government and take it over for the benefit of a splinter group. Read it for understanding, but don’t take it as good advice.”

I suppose it is “chilling” if you’re comfortable with the status quo and terrified that the powerless might become the slightest bit empowered. It’s downright terrifying if you believe equal rights for all means fewer rights for you.

True story: I was once told that Alinsky was a “horrible communist tool of Satan.”

“Oh”? I said to the fifty-something white guy at Borders, “You’ve read it then?”

“Of course not,” he spat.

This book has been around a while. So if you’re looking for a step-by-step, it’s probably a little outdated. However, it’ll get your brain working in creative ways and show you how disruption gets attention.

Southern Poverty Law Center

Bookmark this website.

Since this post is written in the context of Trump’s looming presidency, I want to call specific attention to the SPLCs invaluable efforts to track hate incidents and report on hate-related activity through their Hatewatch initiative.

Report your experiences and encourage others to do the same.

capture

On a related note, much of mainstream media is being criticized for their reporting right now. Take Stephen Bannon, Trump’s pick for chief strategist and senior counselor as a prime example. CBS News described him as a “former Goldman Sachs executive.”

The SPLC reported the actual news in this story with their article “White Nationalists Rejoice at Trump’s Appointment of Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon.”

In addition to hate and extremism, the SPLC also fights for immigrants’ rights, criminal justice reform, children’s rights, economic justice, and LGBT rights.

Activist Hashtags on Twitter

Earlier this year, the Washington Post wrote about how hashtags have the power to change the way we talk about social issues. From #Ferguson to #BringBackOurGirls, social media has proven it’s a powerful resource for keeping the public informed and organizing rallies, protests, and other events. (It’s also a powerful tool for harassment and trolling, but I’m trying to stay positive.)

If you use Social Media to keep in touch, you can also use it to be engaged. (Of course, this advice comes with a couple of caveats: 1.) trolls are out there; retreat as often as necessary and 2.) be wary of false information that spreads like wildfire.)

Here are a few current hashtags you might want to keep your eye on right now:

#NotMyPresident
#Normalization

and if you can stomach it:

#Trump
#AltRight

I believe it’s important to be informed, so I include the latter two hashtags as possible ones to watch. If it’s too much, though, stay away. I don’t check them regularly, and I NEVER engage the obviously hateful accounts. I manage to stay relatively informed without being triggered. Your mileage may vary.

And of course, as news breaks, keep your eye on Twitter’s trending list. I invite you to follow me, your state and local representatives, and activist organizations you’re aware of. Through retweets and hashtags, you’ll be exposed to more ways you can get involved and you’ll also find reassurance that you are not the only one who wants to fight for justice.

I Do (and Read) What I Want

So, remember how in my last post I was all, “I’ve got ideas for this blog” and “contributors” and “news forthcoming.”

Yeeeah, no.

After further reflection, I’ve decided the last thing I want to do right now is give myself another writing project. The day job and my freelancing work provide the perfect number of deadlines for the time being.

Besides, I’m enjoying coming home from work with energy left to exercise my brain, so I’ve been letting myself indulge in books. Since moving to Champaign, I’ve read:

  • Redshirts
  • Losing It
  • Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang
  • In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  • Drift
  • The Night Circus

That might not seem like a lot for the hardcore book nerds out there, but eight books since September trumps my January through August average by, like, I dunno…a lot. I attribute my newfound energy and desire to read again to two things: going back to Central Time and having access to natural daylight at the new day job.

Anyway, of the eight titles listed, I’d have to say that In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin was my favorite. Despite the horrible title, it was a fascinating read. It’s by Erik Larson, the guy who wrote Devil in the White City, and it follows the lives of the reluctant American ambassador to Germany and his family at the time Hitler was coming to power

A fair number of people on Goodreads complained about how much attention Larson gave to the ambassador’s daughter’s scandalous love life. I think those people are idiots. First of all, her diary provided a first-person account of a historically significant period. Second of all, that a member of the Nazi party tried to set her up with Hitler, that she fell in love with a guy in the Russian military, that she slept with whomever she pleased in 19-freaking-33, that her escapades complicated life for her dad—those things are damn relevant to a story about the ambassador and his family.

My one caution: Because Larson quotes primary sources where he can, the prose can get a little clunky. This one reads closer to the non-fiction it is, where Devil in the White City reads a little more novel-like. Prepare yourself for grammatical structures that are a little more complicated than “See Dick run.”

 

From Writer to Writer: Meryl Evans

Meet Meryl Evans

I write and edit content for businesses and publications. I also help businesses build and maintain relationships with clients and prospects through content including email newsletters, emails, websites, landing pages, blogs, articles and more. I started blogging on June 1, 2000 — around the same time I started my freelance business.

Rejection Isn’t Personal

Some of the world’s most famous authors have been rejected many times. Here are a few that I found around the web and the number of times rejected in ().

  • Diary of Anne Frank (15)
  • Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling (9)
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach (18)
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (140!!!!) And how many books do they have now?
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (26)

Search for “rejected books” or something similar, and you’ll find many more.

It’s not you. It’s not your writing. It’s them.

No, this isn’t an analysis of a bad date. Publishers and editors have a perspective that we don’t know about. We don’t know what they have in hand. We don’t know what they want. We don’t know their plans.

Yes, even if you submit a fantasy novel to a publisher known for fantasy books. You’re on the right track submitting to the publisher, but the publisher may have specific things in mind that have nothing to do with the author or the book.

You don’t have teachers grading your papers — telling you what you need to fix. If you get an feedback of any kind, listen to it. Be thankful the publisher or editor took the time to provide it. Use it to help you grow.

You’re human, so you can’t help but take it personally despite knowing that it’s not personal. Take a moment. Take a deep breath. Talk to someone. Exercise. And then come back to it ready to do what writers all do — try again.

Connect With Meryl

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

5 Ways Reading Bad Books Can Improve Your Writing

When I was a pre-teen, I read Jane Eyre. At the time, I was visiting family in Freeport, Illinois for the holidays. On this particular trip, I had been assigned to sleep in the attic bedroom at grandma’s—absolutely the best place in the whole world to stay up late and read. Sometimes I would read until I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, waking up to find I had been drooling on page 118 for several hours.

What? Go ahead, pretend like that stuff doesn’t happen to you.

Anyway, I’m going somewhere with this. Oh yes! I loved Jane Eyre, as I loved all books back then. It wasn’t until I was 31 (that’s how old I am now, in case you were wondering) that I had my first experience with a bad book.

Let me explain to you what I mean by “bad book” though. You see, even as a child I read books I didn’t like and books I didn’t agree with and books I considered boring. However, I couldn’t really blame the book. It was just the old “it’s not you, it’s me” deal. Despite how I behave on this blog, I am reasonable enough to concede that a book doesn’t have to make my list of favorites to have merit.

That said, in the last few months I’ve had the misfortune of reading some truly bad books. Not just sort of bad, but miserably bad books.

Read through the handful of reviews I’ve posted here on Suess’s Pieces, and you’ll get some idea of what I mean. A couple of those books were good, a couple were fair, and a couple were so bad I felt like the author had personally insulted my intelligence. As I read them, bewildered, I would think to myself, So that’s why he had to pay someone to print this.

But I’m not here to rehash that whole vanity press thing. I said my piece. I am here to tell you that—surprise!—hastily written, poorly edited self-published works do have value for writers. I’ve learned so much, in fact, from my experiences with bad books that I’m ready to write my high school English teacher and beg her to make bad books part of next year’s curriculum.

5 Reasons You Should Read a Bad Book

Bad books teach humility. Publishing a book is exciting, and in your haste to see your work in print, you, too, might somehow convince yourself that all those traditional publishers have been rejecting your work simply because they don’t like your socks or your middle name. (By the way? If you believe that, there is a good chance you’re delusional.) Think “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Bad books are like miniature, one-way workshops. Read the whole book cover to cover and take notes. Every time you say to yourself, “Wha-what?” or “Who is this character again?” think about how one might go about fixing that problem through revision. Learning through critique is its own reward, but the bonus here is that you can be absolutely brutal with the notes you make in the margins–the author will never know. So, no tears. Yay!

Bad books are good for the writer’s ego. No, not the author’s ego–yours. How many times have you read your favorite book and then trashed all or most of your WIP before you ever got to that whole revision part? I’m pretty sure you won’t go to hell for finding some small speck of confidence in someone else’s failure. You probably shouldn’t mention how the author helped you in your acknowledgments though. Just sayin’.

Bad books make great coasters. Also, my dog Taubensee likes to chew on my books occasionally when the separation anxiety kicks in. Now, instead of him eating my autographed treasures, I can just leave a few bad books out for him. Yeah, I know that sounds mean. Someone out there is going to say, “But, Emily, those authors poured their whole hearts into those books, laboring for eons to get it just right.” Um, yeah. Seriously doubt it. And if it is true, someone’s got to tell these people they need to try the tuba or something.

Bad books jolt you back into reader mode. Finally, reading a bad book reminds you what it’s like to be a reader again. It’s like someone grabbing your shoulders and shaking you while shouting, “See how annoying all those mistakes are? And you were going to self-publish without editing. You asshole!” Now tell me. Who doesn’t benefit from a little perspective?

Interesting side note: I remember hearing Bobby Knight give a speech some time ago. (Or maybe I dreamed it, I can’t seem to find any reference to it now.) He said that his grandmother once told him, “Bobby, everyone has a purpose in life. Yours is to teach others how not to be.” I’ve always loved that little quip, but it doesn’t only apply to a chair-throwing Bobby Knight. It also applies to any author who has the passion to write but lacks the patience to ensure she does it well.

Anyway, that’s all.  If you’d like me to recommend some horrible books, get in touch.

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