2018 in Books

· Read in about 16 min · (3377 words) ·

Intro

My New Year’s resolution in 2018 was to keep track of everything I read. Context is important when trying to recall how you felt about books, not just the content of the words. Due to different life circumstances, the same book can be incredibly illuminating or insufferable. My goal in keeping track of all of this would be to be able to look back on the year and see how I’ve grown and what I’ve learned from all of my reading.

Year In Review

My year was rather introspective. I started off the year confident and tried to get back into dating. Pretty quickly though, I realized something was wrong. The amount of fear and self-loathing that these seemingly innocuous dates brought up could not be healthy or normal. How could I ever be expected to say or do anything when the anticipation that it would be perceived incorrectly petrified me?

So I started seeing a therapist. And it’s really helped. I’m getting better about forgiving myself for mistakes and not being as afraid to make them. But it’s been a long slow process and I still catch my thought processes stuck in a rut making me miserable.

Important Books/Authors

Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse

The reason I mention how my life went this year is because some of the books I read helped shaped how I learned and grew this year. Steppenwolf was incredible for that.

The main character of the book is a loner who feels like he is torn between two aspects of his being - a thoughtful man and a primal beast. This dichotomy is familiar to me, and is similar to something my Greek Mythology professor mentioned in college - the contrast in worship styles for Apollo and Dionysus. The main character laments how it seems like he is never happy with what he is doing. If he goes out to drink and party, his thoughtful Apollonian self rejects this idea of fun for fun’s sake, and insists that unless he is spending his time improving himself, he is wasting his time. In contrast, whenever he does spend a night in with his books and his studies, his Dionysian beastly self howls that focusing on yourself is not really living life, and that he needs to get out and enjoy himself. This split in priorities really spoke right to my core, because I struggle with the same problem. I’m never really happy with anything I decide to do because one of the two sides will reject what I’m doing. This tendency has led to many wasted nights torturing myself because I can’t find a thing to do that will make me completely happy. And to a perfectionist like myself, that thought was torture. Having these character traits laid out in words in front of me helped me to confront that. It also really helps that Steppenwolf was written almost 100 years ago. It helped me confront my feelings when I knew that they were not unique, and in fact part of a shared human experience. If the problem is unsolvable, noticing it at least gets me away from the trap of blaming myself for the unhappiness.

There’s so much more about this book that was good. I could probably write a whole essay on it by itself. Maybe I’ll do that next time I reread it.

Important Quotes

“His life oscillates, as everyone’s does, not merely between two poles, such as the body and the spirit, the saint and the sinner, but between thousands and thousands.”

This quote is hard to internalize, but so so important. The Western notion that we are one single coherent being is false and harmful to our emotional health. Harry Haller tries to make sense of his misfortune by depicting it as two separate beings battling for control over him. But in actuality, we may be composed of many different personae, that all take turns and come and go in waves. Learning to recognize these separate moods and masks that we wear is important in shaping ourselves into people that we want to be.

“Most men will not swim before they are able to.” Is that not witty? Naturally, they won’t swim! They are born for the solid earth, not for the water. And naturally they wont think. They are made for life, not for thought. Yes, and he who thinks, what’s more, he who makes thought his business, he may go far in it, but he has bartered the solid earth for the water all the same, and one day he will drown.”

“I do want more. I am not content with being happy. I was not made for it. It is not my destiny. My destiny is the opposite.”

Here Hesse echoes thoughts that I’ve had myself many times. It seems to be a common theme in the culture that has influenced me that being a thoughtful person just leads to misery. I don’t know if I believe that this is true, but I do find myself falling into these thought processes often.

The Sound and The Fury - William Faulkner

This book was important because it dealt a real blow to my overinflated pride. I consider myself fairly intelligent, and often have trouble admitting that I’m struggling with something. But damn, this book was tough. I needed to break out the Spark Notes in order to understand most of the first and second chapters. I’m often hesitant to do so because I don’t want other people’s opinions and summaries influencing what I get out of the book. However, this case needed it and I’m glad I did. It helped me get over my bias against Spark Notes and I’ve since consulted them on books I don’t have trouble with, just to see different interpretations and often to see if there’s details that slipped past me.

Another reason I think this book is important is because of the 2nd chapter. It is so well-written. It’s stream-of-consciousness style, which means there are a lot of ideas and markers flowing past very fast with very little explanation. As I was reading it, I felt a connection with the character, because his mind was racing in exactly the same way that my mind races some days. Faulkner captured the ruminations and racing thoughts of an anxiety-addled mind perfectly. And right after I realized that I recognized the feelings the character was having… I had an ‘Oh no’ moment as I realized what was going to happen to him. I recognized those feelings. I knew where they led. The dread rose as I read on and it became clearer and clearer that Quentin was going to kill himself. That second chapter is so powerful.

Haruki Murakami

Hey, let’s stop talking about my depression and anxiety for a bit and instead focus on something more fun! I read a lot of books that I find difficult and draining. I’ve found that it is very helpful for me to have some ‘safe’ authors that give me a break in between the hard books. Terry Pratchett has been my go-to in this category for a long time (and will continue to be - he wrote so many books), but I read a Haruki Murakami book for the first time this year and I loved it. I’ve since read a total of 4 of his books, and have 2 more sitting on my shelf, just waiting.

I have trouble explaining why I like Murakami, because I can’t even explain it to myself. It’s like it just touches a place in my soul and makes me feel happy reading it. Maybe it’s the style of the prose? I don’t know, I just love it. I will definitely be reading a lot more of him in the future.

Sophie’s World - Jostein Gaarder

Alright, back to the introspective stuff. This is a book meant to teach young adults about philosophy and the development of the discipline throughout the ages. It goes through and explains who many of the important philosophers are and gives summaries of their theories and ideas. I’ve never had an education in philosophy, so even though this book was meant for young adults, I thought it was a great learning tool! I was able to go through the book and pick up on several philosophers that I’m interested in and should read more of/about, such as Sartre and Marx. It also helped me shake my STEM stigma against philosophy that I had built up in college. I had regarded it as a pointless subject, when in fact it can be very important. A lot of my anxieties and depressive moods can be attributed to a search for meaning in my life, and look, there’s an entire branch of study of people theorizing about meaning and purpose! I look forward to diving more in depth to philosophy in the upcoming years.

Oscar Wilde

I had never read any Oscar Wilde before this year. After I read one story, I proceeded to tear through everything he had ever written and loved it all. His wit is incredible. Enough said.

The Catcher In The Rye - J.D. Sallinger

We were forced to read this in high school and I did not appreciate it. In fact, I hated it. But one of my friends loved it and kept bringing it up, and bringing it up. I thought that I had to be missing something because I didn’t understand why so many people loved this book. So I reread it, and oh boy did I figure it out.

To appreciate the book, I had to know from the beginning that I wasn’t going to like Holden Caufield. The first time through I didn’t know that. I was used to characters that were likeable, that were charismatic. Holden is neither. Holden is argumentative, annoying, attention-seeking, and just plain unlikeable. But… he’s supposed to be. He’s suffering from depression, and I found him so much more sympathetic this time. He’s suffering, constantly miserable, and he’s not sure how to reach out and connect with someone else. He knows he craves comfort from human interaction, but he’s so used to being let down that he doesn’t know how to pull down his barriers and pushes people away. I couldn’t appreciate the book when I was younger, but now that I’ve had some bad years like Holden, I really sympathize with him. And I applaud Sallinger for writing such an accurate depiction of depression.

Other Books I Liked But That Don’t Get A Full Paragraph:

  • A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemmingway
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms - George R.R. Martin
  • American Pastoral - Philip Roth
  • In Dubious Battle - John Steinbeck
  • Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
  • Maskerade - Terry Pratchett
  • Nightwatch - Terry Pratchett
  • Slapstick - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Fall - Albert Camus
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - Raymond Carver

Other Assorted Quotes

“But we’ll do it diplomatic like. We don’t want people thinkin’ we’re pokin’ our noses in.”

- Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

Witches are curious by definition and inquisitive by nature. She moved in. “Let me through. I’m a nosy person,” she said, employing both elbows. It worked, as this sort of approach generally does.

- Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

“Mrs . . . .?”

“Ogg.”

“Please just go away.”

- Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

These three quotes above show exactly why the Witches of the Ramtop Mountains are my favorite Pratchett characters.

“The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself; my first homelands have been books, and to a lesser degree schools.”

- Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian

Their refusal to buy the book was based not on my treatment of the theme but on the theme itself, for there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned. The two others are: a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106.

- Vladimir Nabokov, Afterword for Lolita

“I have a vague, general fear that if somebody like Coughlin gets in, there’ll be hell to pay. Either this group could put over a real dictatorship or they could have it taken away from them by a hard-boiled group of reactionaries who to save themselves and their families would overthrow the whole government and substitute their own brand of Fascism.”

- Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

“People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.”

- Albert Camus, The Fall

“We’re going forward, but nothing changes.”

- Albert Camus, The Fall

“We are all exceptional cases. We all want to appeal against something! Each of us insists on being innocent at all cost, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself.”

- Albert Camus, The Fall

“Just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilogrammes! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute. So I raise this question, although there is nobody around to answer it: Can it be doubted that three-kilogramme brains were once nearly fatal defects in the evolution of the human race?”

- Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos

“Why so many of us knocked us major chunks of our brains with alcohol from time to time remains an interesting mystery. It may be that we were tring to give evolution a shove in the right direction - in the direction of smaller brains.”

- Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos

“Know thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be thyself’ shall be written.”

- Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Just tell me why; why the fucking why?” To which the universe would hollowly respond, “My ways cannot be known, oh man.” Which is to say, “My ways do not make sense, nor do the ways of those who dwell in me.”

- Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“It is amazing that when someone else spouts the nonsense you yourself believe you can readily perceive it as nonsense”

- Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“Each of us assumes everyone else knows what HE is doing. They all assume we know what WE are doing. We don’t…Nothing is going on and nobody knows what it is. Nobody is concealing anything except the fact that he does not understand anything anymore and wishes he could go home.”

- Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

- Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”

- Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

“What happens when people open their hearts?”

“They get better.”

- Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

“Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?”

- Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

“You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that – well, lucky you.”

- Philip Roth, American Pastoral

“Besides, isn’t it confoundedly easy to think you’re a great man if you aren’t burdened with the slightest idea that Rembrandt, Beethoven, Dante or Napoleon ever lived?”

- Stefan Zweig, Chess Story

“We are happy when people/things conform and unhappy when they don’t. People and events don’t disappoint us, our models of reality do. It is my model of reality that determines my happiness or disappointments.”

- Stefan Zweig, Chess Story

The Full List

Here’s everything I read this year:

Title Author Start Date End Date Notes
What the Dormouse Said John Markoff 12/27/2017 1/15/2018
Valis Philip K Dick 1/16/2018 1/27/2018
Seconds Bryan Lee O’Malley 1/27/2018 1/27/2018 graphic novel
A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway 1/28/2018 2/5/2018 I cried at the end
Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami 2/6/2018 2/18/2018
various short stories Ernest Hemingway 2/19/2018 3/6/2018
Nightwatch Terry Pratchett 3/7/2018 3/11/2018
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms George R.R. Martin 3/12/2018 3/19/2018
The Fall Albert Camus 3/20/2018 3/25/2018
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Mark Twain 3/26/2018 4/14/2018
Medea and Other Plays Euripedes 4/15/2018 4/21/2018 Medea, Hecabe, Electra, Heracles
Steppenwolf Hermann Hesse 4/23/2018 4/27/2018 Incredible book. Will need to reread in a few years
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner 4/29/2018 05/08/2018
Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami 05/08/2018 05/13/2018
American Pastoral Philip Roth 5/15/2018 06/06/2018
Memoirs of Hadrian Marguerite Yourcenar 06/07/2018 07/06/2018 good but I felt like it dragged. maybe it was just the translation
Coraline Neil Gaiman 06/10/2018 06/10/2018
Taming of the Shrew William Shakespeare 06/16/2018 06/16/2018
Metro 2034 Dmitry Glukhovsky 06/17/2018 07/03/2018 kind of boring. I’ve heard Metro 2035 is better though
1Q84 Haruki Murakami 07/04/2018 07/15/2018
Chess Stefan Zweig 07/16/2018 07/16/2018
Slapstick Kurt Vonnegut 07/17/2018 07/17/2018 Vonnegut himself said this book was trash but he was wrong.
For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway 07/18/2018 08/08/2018
Hyperion Dan Simmons 08/09/2018 08/25/2018
Fall of Hyperion Dan Simmons 08/25/2018 Abandoned to focus on non scifi books
The Happy Prince and Other Stories Oscar Wilde 08/26/2018 08/26/2018
The Ballad of Reading Gaol Oscar Wilde 08/26/2018 08/26/2018
The Picture of Dorain Gray Oscar Wilde 08/26/2018 09/03/2018
The Importance of Being Earnest Oscar Wilde 09/04/2018 09/05/2018
Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories Oscar Wilde 09/06/2018 09/09/2018
The Soul of Man Under Socialism Oscar Wilde 09/09/2018 09/10/2018
A House of Pomegranates Oscar Wilde 09/10/2018 09/10/2018
Galapagos Kurt Vonnegut 09/11/2018 09/11/2018
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Sallinger 09/13/2018 09/14/2018 Reread because I hated it in high school. Loved it this time
The Stranger Albert Camus 09/16/2018 09/16/2018 reread
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov 09/16/2018 09/24/2018
The Journey to the East Hermann Hesse 09/24/2018 09/25/2018
Sophie’s World Jostein Gaarder 09/26/2018 10/9/2018
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami 10/10/2018 10/26/2018
The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov 10/27/2018 11/06/2018
In Dubious Battle John Steinbeck 11/06/2018 11/12/2018
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Raymond Carver 11/12/2018 11/13/2018
Exile and The Kingdom Albert Camus 11/14/2018 11/19/2018
It Can’t Happen Here Sinclair Lewis 11/21/2018 11/28/2018
Roadside Picnic Arkady and Boris Strugatsky 11/30/2018 12/2/2018
As I Lay Dying William Faulkner 12/3/2018 12/15/2018
Maskerade Terry Pratchett 12/17/2018 12/19/2018
The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake Breece D’J Pancake 12/20/2018 12/26/2018
Journey Into The Past Stefan Zweig 12/28/2018 12/28/2018
Thousand Cranes Yasunari Kawabata 12/29/2018 12/29/2018