Thanks to four sea days and a well-stocked library on my most recent Windstar cruise I was able to meet my reading goal for 2018. Barely. I had set my goal at 75 books and I read exactly 75 books. For most people that’s a lot, but it was a sharp drop off from my previous two years of reading – 106 and 116 books for 2016 and 2017, respectively.
I intentionally lowered my reading goal this year because I knew I would be traveling extensively, plus I wanted to focus more of my remaining time on writing. I certainly did travel, but my writing time was kind of hit or miss.
As I totaled up the genres read this year I noticed one big change – less Abraham Lincoln books. In 2017, Lincoln books made up 27% of my reading (31 books); in 2018, only 20% (15 books). While I only read half the books, there were some good ones: Lincoln’s Sense of Humor and Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power, both by Richard Carwardine; Becoming Lincoln by Richard Kigel, There I Grew Up by William Bartelt, Lincoln’s Last Trial by Dan Abrams, and Lincoln and the Irish by Niall O’Dowd.
Non-fiction still made up about 70% of my reading, spread across memoir (8), biography (8), science (7), writing (6), general non-fiction (7), and humor (1).
Memoirs included Dust in the Streets by Thomas Park Clement, a mixed-race street kid in Seoul who made it big as an inventor and entrepreneur after he was adopted in the United States. I met Thomas on my first Windstar cruise this summer and became friends with him and his wife Wonsook. I also read some of the big memoirs from recent years, including Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, and Educated by Tara Westover. Biographies included Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci and Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, my review for which should be published in the next Civil War Times magazine.
Science books included Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Spine by Juli Berwald, Robert V. Bruce’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Launching of American Science, 1846-1876, and The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum. The writing genre included books by Randy Olson (Houston, We Have a Narrative), John McPhee (On the Writing Process), and Stephen Wilbers (Mastering the Craft of Writing). General Non-fiction included Dreamland by Sam Quinones (the opiate epidemic), Our Little Monitor by Anna Gibson Holloway and Jonathan W. White (about the famous Civil War ironclad and equally famous Battle of Hampton Roads), and The Soul of America by Jon Meacham. This latter book by Meacham looks at crises in American history and was used as a basis for a discussion of our current political crisis, the discussion being led by long-time radio host Diane Rehm during the Baltic Sea Windstar cruise I took in the summer.
I also read 23 fiction books in 2018. My fall 2017 trip to New Zealand (where the movies were filmed) inspired me to reread The Hobbit and all three Lord of the Rings books. I had read them all five times back in my college days but not since then; they remain impressive. I also found myself stretching my horizons and reading fiction from more diverse backgrounds: A Thousand Splendid Sons by Khaled Hosseini (life in Afghanistan and Pakistan), My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (16th century Istanbul), and The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter (Ivy League black family and intrigue). The longest single book I read this year was Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon at 1139 pages. The book largely takes place in the Intramuros section of Manila. Soon after finishing it I found myself in those very streets. I almost felt like I knew the place.
In all I read about 27,000 pages in 2018. I keep track of my reading on Goodreads, so feel free to check out my Goodreads author page where I also have links to my own books.
You can also join my Facebook author page for updates and links to interesting articles.
So how many books do I read in 2019? I’ve again set my challenge goal at 75 books, and for largely the same reasons as last year. As I noted in my “Year in a Writer’s Life,” I have several books I’m writing and will be working harder on magazine publishing in 2019. The 75 books should give me a high enough goal to capture at least some of the hundreds of books on my reading list (and dozens more I add during the year) while still leaving me some time to travel and write.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.