• Your Favorite 2018 Reading Experience

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 34 comments


    Discussion question: What was your favorite reading experience of 2018? When the combination of the book and your setting and/or circumstances was just right? Tell me about it in the comments.


    Last week on my podcast, Yak Babies, me and my pals talked about our favorite new books from 2018. Not necessarily published in 2018; just books we read for the first time and enjoyed thoroughly.

    I chose George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, a book that knocked me flat when I read it on a beach in Mexico, at which point I turned back to Page 1 and immediately reread it.

    It wasn’t my favorite 2018 book, but it was my favorite, and definitely most vivid and lasting, 2018 reading experience.

    Like I’ve written about in such posts as “Books Become Bookmarks” and “Forget the book; remember the experience,” the experience (and ensuing memory) of reading a book — the circumstances, the setting, placed against whatever might have been going on in my personal life — has become as important to me as the quality of the book itself. Maybe even more so.

    For example, when I read Bardo — which is about a group of ghosts trapped, limbo-like, in the D.C. cemetery they were buried in, and whose world is upended when Abe Lincoln arrives to bury his son — I was wrestling with a recent major death in the family.

    And our apartment’s bedroom ceiling had just caved in from the third in a series of four major snow- and windstorms. We needed to get out of town, so we flew down to an island off of Cancun for a beach weekend.

    The hotel was a clown show, but the beach was exactly what we needed it to be, and the weather held up. It felt like the first time we’d seen the sun in weeks.

    And I had my Bardo, a book that was like a punch to the stomach from the inside. It really tapped something in me that needed tapping, and I don’t have that experience very often. When I think back to that book, or even see it on the shelf, I’m immediately, and vividly, transported back to that beach.

    I guess what I’m saying is, that book was my favorite and most meaningful reading experience of 2018. My favorite reading experiences don’t necessarily happen with my favorite books.

    So what was your favorite reading experience of 2018? What was the book, where did you read it, and what made the experience so valuable?

    Let me know in the comments.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Best book, This Is How It Begins by Joan Dempsey; an apropo book to be reading now during Holocaust Memorial time.

    I’ve read other meaningful books but I’ve never kept a record of what I’ve read. when I’m not reading for pure pleasure, I read books on writing,


    Thanks,David. These days I need all the info I can sock away to reference how to do stuff. This may help with recording what I’ve shared too ?


    I only share with my writers club members , so all is well.

    david william lemke

    It’s rare I get a book back, even though I often put one of those little return address stickers in them. My library is large,3000 or so and unorganized so when I’m looking for and can’t find a book, I have to wonder, did I loan it out?

    Barbara Mealer

    Considering most of my reading was research or for reviews for an online zine, My favorite was James Patterson’s Invisible. One of the best thrillers I’ve read in a long time. It was a medical, crime with an ending you won’t forget.

    Barbara Mealer

    Yes, I did take his class back in 2016. It was a good class with a lot of good hints and practical advice, but this book was one which caught my eye when it was on sale. I’m glad I got it as it held my attention from start to finish. I was so mad that I didn’t see the twists coming they were so expertly done with all the clues to point you in the right direction. The other really good book I read was Hail Storm, a techo-thriller which was somewhat predictable yet had enough twists to keep… Read more »

    Paul Tardie

    It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. It was published in 1935 and displays truths about American politics which parallel the modern climate to a degree that is haunting. We haven’t reached the pinnacle of fascism described in this novel but several events and attitudes described in those pages have come to fruition or remained staples in American identity. Sinclair’s cynical portrayal of political affiliation is one that every person should experience. It will make you question yourself, as good art should.

    Elissa Malcohn

    Wikipedia includes external links for downloading the text. It’s on my TBR list.

    Paul Tardie

    It’s never too late pick it up, unless they start burning books again.

    Peter E. Greulich

    So David, I will take a different tact. The best book I read that I didn’t know was one of the best books I read until an event occurred in 2018. How’s that for twisting your thought? It was A. B. Farquhar’s autobiography aptly titled, “An Autobiography of A. B. Farquahar.” It was published in 1922. I have found it also entitled “The First Million is the Hardest,” which I am sure was the new title after his 1923 agent republished the book with a more marketable title! ;) When I read books, I remember passages. At the time, I… Read more »

    Peter E. Greulich

    David, I will add “Lincoln in the Bardo” to my yellow sticky pad to read … it will be a long while though to read any fiction material as I have started the research for my next book. It will be five years give or take a year or two. I am already behind schedule. ;) If you like reading about Lincoln, I went on an Ida Tarbell reading binge and she was the most prolific researcher and writer on the life of Lincoln. I review all of her books on my web site and they are all in the… Read more »


    David, its easy. Just have a pen and notebook by you while reading. Anytime you are inspired by an idea you read,copy it. I’ve been doing this while reading books on writing . I make notes of those referenced to look up.This is how I’ve educated myself about writing craft. I was taught.not to mark a book do some now judiciously. Pardon typos. New iPhone.

    Jeanne Julian

    I like your distinction between “reading experience” and “favorite book.” I still remember reading “Bird Song” when visiting friends in England, on a mattress on their floor–there was no specific relationship between setting and book, but they’ll always be connected in my mind. Last year, I guess I had a few reading experiences that resonated. First, I read “The Grapes of Wrath” for the first time this summer. Not sure how I got through high school, college, and grad school without having read it, but, due to the current political situation, the plight of refugees and asylum-seekers in the U.S.… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I have that same problem with retention! There are books I remember absolutely loving, but I can’t for the life of me remember their characters or plot. I can’t point to the effects of aging, either; I had that same problem when I was half the age I am now. Bothers the heck out of me. I couldn’t tell you exactly which books I read on my front porch last year, but just sitting outside and melding the experience with fresh air and critter-watching is a plus. During the 16 days I was without Internet this past August into September,… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    Huh. I had a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon in my hand this morning, but I wasn’t looking for books so I set it
    down without a second glance. Maybe I should go back and get it.

    Jerry Schwartz

    I’m pretty shallow, so I usually don’t want a meaningful reading experience. I want my fiction to be fun to read; if I need a thought-provoking experience, all I need to do is look around me.

    The book that gave me the most bang for my buck in 2018 was a memoir: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I don’t remember too many passages, but it was so funny that I laugh at the memory of how hard it made me laugh.

    For me, it can’t get better than that.

    david william lemke

    My biggest reading experience for the year was not a book, but a website; GoodReads. I tried to list all the books I’ve red, in the thousands, and failed miserably, but I took their reading challenge and dug up about 50 books I had started but never finished and started finishing them. For some, there were reasons I put them down, but others…well, I forgot how good they were. Since it was late November when I set up the challenge, I fell short of my goal, but I did enjoy a lot of reading. also, y wife turned me onto… Read more »

    Karen Rothgery

    What a timely and fun discussion. Yesterday, my husband, Mark and I spent the afternoon visiting his sister, Karyn. She and I talked books and books and more books. She and I have a Book Relationship. We share book stories. “Oh, sister dear, I will read that book.” “Tell me the story line and I will tell you what the title is and what book, written by the author, is next in the series. I will loan it to you.” And on goes the endless discussion. When book discussions erupt, I have to remind myself about my on going issues… Read more »


    I added a new book to my list of absolute favorites which previously was only one book long so it was a big deal (I read a lot but I’m picky about my list). It is “It Ends with Us” by Colleen Hoover. I finished reading it on a plane during a work trip which I remember because I was trying not to cry in public. The book stuck with me because it does such a good job weaving together all of the characters and making them real. I know that’s vague but I don’t want to give any spoilers.… Read more »


    It’s A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson. I re-read it every year because they do such a good job with the subtle character details. It is a historical romance so you already now how it’s going to end before you even pick it up.

    That’s why I’m always afraid to re-read book. Also, there are so many books I haven’t read (and am spoiled with really nice public libraries)

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x