Best (Nonfiction) Books of 2018

FYI: I often post about what I’m reading on Instagram, and always give the highs and lows in the monthly Secret Post emails. You can browse my favorite books of all time

First, the stats. I read 72 books total in 2018. This is up quite a bit from my yearly average of 52 - 55. I generally get through about one book a week, give or take. When I travel, I squeeze in a few more than that, and I read several epic novels a year that take me longer than a week, so it all averages out. 2018 was a personal roller coaster of a year, and I tend to escape in my books, so that explains the few extras. Another difference in 2018 was adding audiobooks into my reading repertoire. I only listened to 7 audiobooks this year (they’re still not my favorite, and I can only do non-fiction), but it definitely bumped out my reading log. 

In all, I read:

36 Novels/Fiction

36 Non-Fiction 

(This exact symmetry was not purposeful.)

 

Of the Non-Fiction:

14 Memoir

15 Self-Help/Business

7 Political/Other

(Some of these non-fiction categories overlap)

You can listen to a longer discussion about some of my favorite books of 2018 on Episode #38 of the podcast Smartest Person in the Room

But if you’re a list person (and I am a list person), here are my 10 Favorite Fiction Reads of 2018:

(Click on any cover or title to take you directly to the book.)

#1. Educated by Tara Westover

I knew while I was reading this one that it would end up on this list. It’s one of the few books this year that I texted to reader friends immediately. This memoir about growing up with religious fundamentalists parents (also highly suspicious of the government, with a slice of doomsday prep) in Idaho, without a proper education and surrounded by abuse and delusion on every level, ranks among the most interesting stories I’ve ever read. Westover eventually educates herself (along with help from a brother) enough to get into college, only to realize how much basic knowledge she lacks about history and the world and even how to be in relationship with other people. Educated has be likened to The Glass Castle, which makes sense, but I think it comes closer to one of my other favorites The Sound of Gravel. In some ways it’s a cross between the two, and I soaked it up. I’m still thinking about that book nearly a year later, and I know it will be one to stay with me.


#2. So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo  

In the last several years I’ve been seeking out books like this one in an effort to learn more about the racial divide in America. So You Want To Talk About Race does the best job of speaking to the many issues around this topic, and it reinforced many of the conversations I’ve been having publicly with my friend Yasmin on the BIAS series of the Smartest Person in the Room podcast. This book is blunt and powerful, and I learned a lot from it. If you want to further your own self-education on race, I really recommend this one. 

#3. Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

I picked this one up after recording the eating disorder episode in the Mind/Body series of Smartest Person in the Room. As I’ve gotten more into understanding the mind/body connection, my thoughts about food have obviously changed. I felt like the women who wrote Intuitive Eating were speaking directly to me when they outline the many contrasting and complicated ways we feel about eating and food. They cover everything from comfort eating to a scarcity mindset and I found myself nodding along and occasionally tearing up. Eating intuitively is harder than it sounds, but I really do think their strategies around making food choices has impacted me and my health this year. This is a book I will be recommending over and over.

#4. This Will Only Hurt A Little by Busy Phillips

All told, I actually read less memoir this year than usual. It’s my favorite genre, but somehow it got lost in the stacks in 2018. This Will Only Hurt A Little was an exception and I was absolutely surprised by Busy’s candor and story telling. This is a good book, equal parts personal story and Hollywood insider. It’s not all unicorns and fairy tales, Busy writes emotionally about a teenage rape and her abortion. She tells some stories that generally don’t get published, like a script that was stolen and then produced by her longtime boyfriend. As well as the rejection and elation familiar to actors. I don’t read a ton of celebrity memoir (Rob Lowe is another exception, his books are great), but I thought This Will Only Hurt A Little was really well done.

#5. You Are A Badass At Making Money by Jen Sincero

I was a big fan of the original You Are A Badass (so much so that I bought a big box of copies and shipped them to a girls retreat weekend), but now I think You Are A Badass At Making Money is even better. Sincero delves into everyone’s emotional issues surrounding money (if you think you don’t have money issues…you’re wrong), and how to reverse your thinking about success and finances. Like the original Badass book, this one involves a lot of the woo-woo, like using affirmation and manifesting good things for yourself. So if you’re looking for an investment book, this is not that. This is about changing your emotional ties and your money making mindset. I loved it. 

#6. The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks

I listened to The Big Leap on a long airplane ride and have been referencing it ever since. Hendricks explains why and how we so often sabotage our own success - inadvertently, it seems on the outside, but maybe there’s more to it - just before we are able to advance to the next level. Like we hit the ceiling and instead of breaking through it (taking a big leap), we….get diverted, break our ankle, make a major mistake. So many of the patterns he points out resonated with me. 

#7. Calypso by David Sedaris

I enjoy Sedaris’s writing and recollections, his humor and thoughtfulness. This book had all of those moments, and he handles some difficult family situations with care and tenderness. As always, my favorite stories are those about his sisters and extended family and I read Calypso on a lazy weekend Saturday and it was just what I wanted. 

#8. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made For Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

This is a book I picked up after seeing it all over instagram, and I’m so glad I did. Maybe of Brown’s stories stem from a church and faith perspective, which I was very interested to read more books about race and realized this element was often missing. Austin Channing Brown writes clearly and boldly about her experience as a person of color in a very white evangelical world. 

#9. Loving What Is by Byron Katie

This is as self-help as a book can get, and I loved it. I ordered this one after a friend told me how much Katie’s process had helped her through some difficult years. Reading through the deceptively simply process and the chapters with examples and transcripts of Katie working with others was really illuminating about the stories we tell in our head versus what actually IS. 

#10. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

This medical memoir is several years old and I bought it on kindle sale ages ago. I finally got to it this summer and my mouth hung open almost the entire time I was reading. Susannah survived something truly terrifying and lived to write (well) about it. The brain trauma she endured was interesting, but it’s the medical pieces that stayed with me the most. If Cahalan hadn’t pushed for her own answers and wellness, she might very well have become just an unusual statistic. It made me think about all the cases throughout history where people are simply written off as crazy or brain damaged, when there might have been an explanation and a treatment available. 


That’s it! My favorite NONFICTION books of 2018.

Read my choices for Best FICTION Books of 2018 here

Best (Fiction) Books of 2018

Best Fiction 2018.jpg

FYI: I often post about what I’m reading on Instagram, and always give the highs and lows in the monthly Secret Post emails. You can browse my favorite books of all time

First, the stats. I read 72 books total in 2018. This is up quite a bit from my yearly average of 52 - 55. I generally get through about one book a week, give or take. When I travel, I squeeze in a few more than that, and I read several epic novels a year that take me longer than a week, so it all averages out. 2018 was a personal roller coaster of a year, and I tend to escape in my books, so that explains the few extras. Another difference in 2018 was adding audiobooks into my reading repertoire. I only listened to 7 audiobooks this year (they’re still not my favorite, and I can only do non-fiction), but it definitely bumped out my reading log. 

In all, I read:

36 Novels/Fiction

36 Non-Fiction 

(This exact symmetry was not purposeful.)

 

Of the Non-Fiction:

14 Memoir

15 Self-Help/Business

7 Political/Other

(Some of these non-fiction categories overlap)

You can listen to a longer discussion about some of my favorite books of 2018 on Episode #38 of the podcast Smartest Person in the Room

But if you’re a list person (and I am a list person), here are my 10 Favorite Fiction Reads of 2018:

(Click on any cover or title to take you directly to the book.)

#1. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

This ended up being my very favorite novel of the year. Most of the story takes place within a group of friends in Chicago during the 1980’s AIDS crisis. We follow their love and friendship as these men slowly begin to die, or learn that they would soon die. I fell in love with the main character Yale and his job at an art gallery attempting to procure some very valuable pieces from an older woman who had held on to their secrets for decades. This book made me weep for the generation of men lost to this disease, men who have not been rightfully mourned and memorialized. I didn’t know how much we needed these stories to understand the crisis. It’s a beautiful, devastating novel. 


#2. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

For most of the year, An American Marriage held the #1 spot for me. We read this one for book club, and it sparked fascinating conversation about a situation all too common. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy take a trip to Louisiana to visit Roy’s family where he is accused and then imprisoned for a crime he absolutely didn’t commit. We follow Roy as his time in jail changes him, and Celestial and she has to make the difficult decision to stand by her wrongly incarcerated man or attempt to move forward with a life on the outside. Their love story unfolds in letters and in beautifully written narrative on what their separation feels like, what injustice really looks like. An American Marriage is so well-written and so well-told. While there’s no gray area to Roy’s fate, you could see both sides to Celestial’s choices. 

#3. The Line That Held Us By David Joy

I wax on at length about how good this book is in Episode 38 of Smartest Person in the Room, but I was blown away by this novel I selected from the Book of the Month club. Without any spoilers, a man is hunting alone in rural North Carolina when he accidentally shoots and kills another man from his community. The victim’s brother is known for violence, and he set out on revenge on those who took his brother’s life. The Line That Held Us is terrifying from beginning to end, and I could not put it down. It’s full of tension, and I think I held my breath for the last quarter of the book. The story flips the script in the way of looking at what happens with the good guy does the bad thing, and the bad guy is justified in his vengeance. 

#4. Circe by Madeline Miller

So I clearly wasn’t the only one who loved this retelling of Greek mythology. It was all over social media for months and won the Goodreads Readers Choice award for Best Fantasy. I actually started this one without too much excitement and ended it nearly jumping up and down with how much I loved it. Circe reignited something in me, I had forgotten how much I loved mythology in school. These stories are the basis for all stories, and Miller writes about Circe and everyone that comes into her path so beautifully. I’ve heard that her first book Song of Achilles is even better, and I have that one waiting on my kindle. 

#5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I was a few years late to this one, even though I remember when everyone was raving about it back in 2016. I finally got to this one and understand all the hype. This novel follows two timelines, 18th century Ghana and later centuries in America, and the descendants of two sisters born and separated in Africa. There is a LOT to take in with this novel, from the history to the characters, almost overwhelmingly so. But it deserves all the accolades it has received for writing and structure. 

#6. The Nix by Nathan Hill

Another book from 2016 that I’d been meaning to get to, I finally read The Nix this summer while at the lake.  What a ride! Failed writer Samuel Andersen-Anderson was abandoned by his mother as a child, but one day she does something remarkable that ends up all over the national news and suddenly the idea of writing about her is the obvious next step. As he seeks the truth about the mom he never had, he also struggles with a video game addiction and unrequited love. This book is hard to sum up in one paragraph (it’s also really long), but it’s really interesting and layered, and I was surprised at the turn of events at the end. 


#7. You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

Gosh, I just enjoy Sittenfeld’s writing. I still think about Prep and American Wife and it’s been years since I read those novels. You Think It, I’ll Say It is a collection of short stories, which usually isn’t my first choice for a book. But I enjoyed these little vignettes so much, especially the title story. These stories are about women - mostly middle-aged - and I related even to their most unlikable qualities. Sittenfeld, as always, is funny and observant and these stories made me laugh and cringe and nod, all with empathy.

#8. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout has been my most favorite author discovery in the last few years. I absolutely loved My Name Is Lucy Barton and Anything Is Possible, but was hesitant to pick up the Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge for some reason. I was wrong about that, and I’m glad I finally got to it. Olive herself is a character I will not soon forget as she goes about her life in small town Maine. Strout is so excellent at making you feel like you’re living the story right there inside her books, and I felt like I knew these townspeople and their problems and quirks. This is an excellent but sad novel. Strout’s stories make me feel more alive, and I can’t think of higher praise for a writer. 

#9. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

THUG was actually the very first book I read in 2018 and it kicked off a great reading year. I wanted to read it because of all the buzz it was receiving, even though I have finally admitted out loud that I just don’t usually enjoy Young Adult books. But THUG is one of those exceptions, telling a hard story for a younger audience without condescending. Starr Carter is a witness to the police shooting that killed her childhood best friend and she must take a stand between the various voices in her life. This story is obviously relevant to national headlines, smart in its delivery, and compelling in its characters and writing. 

#10. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

You know, I almost didn’t include this novel - even though it is superb - because it is so disturbing and the content is so difficult that it makes it hard to recommend. I’m no stranger to dark reading material, and this novel was very, very hard to read. But I believe Jesmyn Ward is one of America’s greatest living writers and there’s no denying that this was one of the best things I read in 2018. (It also won the National Book Award in 2011.) This is a story of a young girl, her three brothers and her alcoholic father, living in an impoverished part of Louisiana during the weeks leading up to Hurricane Katrina. As a reader, you know what’s coming, which adds to the tension in an already harsh setting. I was stunned by this book, although I didn’t enjoy it as much as Ward’s 2017 book (my favorite book of that year) Sing, Unburied, Sing

So there they are, my 10 favorite (fiction) books of 2018! 

Click HERE to read my choices for the

Best (NONFICTION) books of 2018


10+ Books to Give as Gifts

10+ Books to Give as Gifts

Books are my love language, sharing, discussing, gifting, I love to surround myself with books and to surround other people with books. But, honestly? Books aren’t always so easy to buy for others. What resonates with you might be a flop for them. And then people feel awkward when you pass along a beloved story and they don’t connect with it. For that reason, I’ve (mostly) stopped giving away novels as gifts unless I’m pretty certain of the recipient’s taste. On the other hand, books can make for a great “neutral” present. For a friend or coworker or cousin or white elephant. You can extend a certain amount of thoughtfulness, without too much risk on either side.

And so I present to you a list of books to give this holiday season, in no particular order…

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#ONEDAYHH

#ONEDAYHH

#OneDayHH is the ONE DAY on Instagram where thousands of people share what just ONE DAY of their life looks like in this season. Hour by hour. A day-in-the-life...YOUR life!  

The idea is simple: document your day, all day. I usually post 1-2 photos an hour sharing my "day in the life." Capture the mundane details that you usually wouldn't show: routines, messy desks, the inside of your fridge. This is a true "behind-the-scenes" look at your life. It may seem silly at first, but when you look back, you'll see that you're really marking a moment. 

Sure it may flood the feed a little, but it's just ONE DAY. 

All you have to do to participate is document your day and share it using the hashtag #ONEDAYHH

Follow me on Instagram @laura.tremaine and read below for more tips & details!

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#10ThingsToTellYou Instagram challenge

#10ThingsToTellYou Instagram challenge

In September I hosted a 10 day social media challenge to share more of ourselves with the people in our feeds. The whole point of this blog is to encourage one another to share our stuff: the big and the little, the shallow and the deep. So I came up with 10 prompts, and posted and answered each one for 10 days consecutively using the hashtag #10ThingsToTellYou.

Follow me on Instagram. Follow me on Facebook.

I was secretly hopeful that a couple hundred people might jump in and participate, but by the end of the challenge there were over 5,000 posts of people responding to the prompts. It was so fun to do in real time, but lots of people have discovered the challenge after it was in full swing and so they did it at their own pace.

I don’t think it matters when or how you do it, just that you’re sharing! I would love it if you’d use the hashtag and/or tag me so I don’t miss your posts. You can screenshot any of the pink prompt images from this post to give your followers a heads up on what you’re doing.

Here are the prompts and my own answers:

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Sephora Staples & Splurges

Sephora Staples & Splurges

I’m a beauty product junkie, and Sephora is my go-to. 

A few times a year, Sephora has a Beauty Insider sale with up to 20% your entire purchase. The Beauty Insider is Sephora’s free-to-sign-up rewards program. They’ve just revamped their program (which I already thought was pretty good), but there are still three tiers dependent on the amount you spend at the store in a year. Beauty Insider, VIB, and VIB Rouge are the levels and you can sign up here if you’re not already a member.  

I wait for these sales to make some of my pricier splurges or to stock up on my favorite staples.

Here are a few of the things I swear by that definitely will feel better on your wallet with a discount:

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10 favorite episodes of the Sorta Awesome podcast

10 favorite episodes of the Sorta Awesome podcast

For 2.5 years I was a regular cohost on the popular girlfriend chat podcast Sorta Awesome. The show is created and hosted by my longtime dear friend (we’ve been close since I was a sophomore in high school) Meg Tietz and when she asked me to be one of the rotating cohosts, I couldn’t say YES fast enough, even though I had zero experience in audio or in cohosting anything. 

When Sorta Awesome launched in the spring of 2015, podcasts were just beginning to boom in a post-Serial world, but they weren’t quite to the point of explosion that they are right now. We got in at the right time, is what I’m saying. Pretty quickly Meg built up a loyal and enthusiastic community around the show, and it was trial by fire as we figured out how to make an hours worth of compelling listening each week. 

A year in, Meg and I started Smartest Person in the Room as a side project for all the topics and guests I wanted to cover that didn’t fit in the Sorta Awesome format. By the end of 2017, I realized I wanted to be writing more and juggling two podcasts was just too much. I stepped away from a regular role on Sorta Awesome, but still like to pop in from time to time when Meg will let me.

Sorta Awesome is a good mix of funny and thoughtful, and behind the mic I’ve said some supremely stupid stuff and started some conversations I remain really proud of. For posterity’s sake, I wanted to make a list of MY favorite episodes of the Sorta Awesome

Here they are, in order:

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We don't talk enough about anxiety after happiness.

We don't talk enough about anxiety after happiness.

The worst panic attack I’ve had in years came after one of the best nights of my life. It had been an evening of pure happiness, but not overly emotional. There were friends and laughter and drinks and good food. We had my favorite dessert, and a surprise musical experience. I looked around at my loving, creative family, and thoughtful, funny friends, and I was deeply grateful for being exactly right here, right now. Just a few hours later, after I’d fallen into bed pleasantly exhausted, I awoke in total panic. My heart was racing, I was sweating, and I felt absolutely terrified, like the house was a sinking ship and we were all slumbering through its destruction. 

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10 (thousand) words about choosing a personal planner

10 (thousand) words about choosing a personal planner

Every single year around this time I have a mild panic about how disorganized my life is and how all my systems are crap and how I JUST NEED TO PULL IT TOGETHER ALREADY. This coincidentally coincides with planner season. Oh, you thought as adults we structure our years based on the monthly calendar? Well some people (students, teachers, and moms) still revolve their schedules around the academic year. I am a mom, but I think my July stress really has more to do with omg-we’re-halfway-through-the-year-where-does-the-time-go-I-haven’t-met-a-single-goal-HELP type of thing. 

I asked on Instagram stories what paper planners people used and liked, and I got more responses and DMs than anything I’ve ever posted ever. People have BIG FEELINGS about planners. But although many people replied with their recommendations, just as many replied with their own planner angst. People have planner decision fatigue, people feel like they keep choosing the wrong planner, and on and on. Apparently I’m not the only who gets overwhelmed at this decision. 

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10 Favorite restaurants in Los Angeles

10 Favorite restaurants in Los Angeles

One thing about living in a city like Los Angeles, folks are always stopping through. Since I moved here nearly 17 years ago, friends, acquaintances, heck even strangers have reached out looking for recommendations on what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in L.A. Hotel recommendations are always the hardest because, um, I live here. So while I can give a thumbs up to general areas in the city, I rarely know much about the inside of local hotel rooms. 

Food, however, food is a different story. In the last few years, LA has become quite the foodie scene (after a history of coming in behind cities like New York and Chicago on this front) and I have a running list of places old and new that I’m dying to try. In my 20s I couldn’t afford the great restaurants (and there were far fewer) and then I lost a good five years of the baby stage when Jeff and I were simply too tired to make much restaurant effort. 

Also, my tastes have changed dramatically in the last five years. Without going off on total tangent, suffice it to say that I’ve had lifelong food anxieties (texture issues and such) that have waned quite a bit through my husband’s gentle prodding. I’m still not an adventurous eater, but I (sometimes) venture off the kids menu. 

I often share new places we're trying on Instagram, using the #10TTTY or #10TTTYfood hashtags.

This is the type of list that fluctuates, of course, but right now here are my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles:

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