Best Books of the Year and Why I Read Them

Merry Christmas readers!  This month I took a look at my favorite books of the year, and I asked myself the question: why did I read each one?  Did I choose them because of ARCs, challenges (and if so, which ones), because they received an award, or because of positive reviews?  I wanted to identify which strategies resulted in reading the best books.

First, I identified 30 of my favorite books of the year.  It’s an arbitrary number but I wanted enough books to have a good cross-section:

Fourteen books were read for challenges:

  • Read Harder: 6 books (An American Marriage, Killers of the Flower Moon, American Like Me, Elizabeth is Missing, Girls Burn Brighter, A Wrinkle in Time)
  • Nonfiction: 5 books (Becoming, Just Mercy, Killers of the Flower Moon, Lafayette and the Somewhat United States, American Like Me)
  • Around the World: 4 books (What We Were Promised, Who is Vera Kelly, An Untamed State, Girls Burn Brighter)
  • TBR Pile Challenge: 3 books (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, After Atlas, An Untamed State)

I didn’t include challenges here that didn’t really influence what I read.  For example, I’m in a few science fiction/fantasy challenges but that’s because I know I’d read science fiction and fantasy anyway.  Same with classics challenges.  With the challenges listed here, I actively chose books that would meet them.

I received 9 of the 30 as ARCs: Happiness, Girls Burn Brighter, The Red Word, The Vain Conversation, Heads of the Colored People, What We Were Promised, Transcription, Empire of Sand, and Who is Vera Kelly?

I read 8 because they were award winners or longlist nominees:

  • Women’s Prize: 4 books (Sing, Unburied, Sing; Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine; Home Fire; and The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock)
  • National Book Award: 3 books (Sing, Unburied, Sing; An American Marriage; Heads of the Colored People)
  • Nebula or Hugo: 2 books (All Systems Red, Amberlough)
  • Pulitzer: Less
  • Man Booker: 1 book (Home Fire)

Fifteen of the 30 were released this year, which is higher than I expected.  Seventeen were by authors of color or LGBT authors.  A whopping 24 were by authors I’d never read before.

What does this tell me?  I can see that my best reading came from four challenges, and those were pretty even, so all four challenges are ones I plan to continue with next year.  Other challenges, like Finishing the Series and Back to the Classics, didn’t result in my best reading this year, so may not be worth continuing.

This year I took a different approach to ARCs, and I think it paid off.  For the most part, I only requested books on NetGalley that I saw on a list of most anticipated upcoming book releases.  There were a few misfires, like Gun Love, but most of the ARCs I read were ones I really liked.

It’s also interesting that many of my favorite books came from the Women’s Prize longlist and the National Book Award longlist.  I tend to read fewer of the Man Booker Prize nominees, but of the ones I have read, they are often a bit too “experimental” for me (Exit West, for example).

It would be interesting to look at my least favorite books of the year, and see how those compare.  I’ll do a deeper analysis at the end of the year of all the books I read.

What were some of your favorite books this year, and why did you read them?


9 Comments on “Best Books of the Year and Why I Read Them

  1. Well, I did not read a lot of books because of challenges this year because I hardly did any! As usual, some of the most interesting reads were from my Classics Club list – this year Invisible Man was a standout for me. And the challenge of reading a chapter a day of Les Miserables was a wonderful way to experience “slow reading” and a great novel. I’m glad you found your challenges so rewarding.

  2. A good thing about ARCs and NetGalley is that you read many more new books than I do. Every year I vow to read more new books—supporting living writers is important—but then I default to my TBR shelf and the classics.

  3. Pingback: 11 Things This Week –

  4. Pingback: 2018: My Year in Reading and Blogging | The Book Stop

  5. Love the idea of figuring out why you read each book that ended up on your favorites list, and then using the information to guide your future reading. I’m signing up for a challenge or two in 2019 for the first time in years… it will be interesting to see what effect that has on my list next year. Such an interesting post!

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked the post. It wasn’t terribly scientific, but I always get some great reads from the TBR Pile Challenge and I loved taking part in this year’s Read Harder challenge. I think for a lot of bloggers, ARCs are more of a distraction than a good reading source, so that’s always something I try to balance. I think in 2019 I’m going to try to pare down my challenges, I often sign up for too many. Happy reading in 2019!

  6. Pingback: Favorite Reads of 2018 | The Book Stop

  7. Pingback: Reading Challenges in 2020 | The Book Stop

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