2018 Reads: Exceptional Books

Hi, Nerdies! And Happy New Year!

Before I say anything, there is one thing that you should know about me. It is that I am a complete control freak, thus I categorize, categorize and categorize. Categorizing is basically what I do for living. So beware of highly incessant categorizing ahead! #lol

I read 39 books last year, 12 of them were exceptional, 10 of them were less exceptional, and the rest of them (17, to be precise) were downright fun. And for obvious reasons, I wanted to blog about the 12 exceptional books first.

For the fun reads you can go here: (Still from) 2018 Reads: Fun Reads

And one more thing,  please pardon me for this interminable commentary.

I divided my recommendation into three sections: Must-read which is pretty much self-explanatory; Recommended books which are the books that I think will provide meaningful reads; and Personal Favorites which are my own favorites from 2018 reads.

I intentionally added Classics as the fourth category only because I had this one classic book that I think absolutely deserved a shout out to the world. Which one, you say? Keep on reading and you’ll find out. #winkwink

In lieu of me rambling on and on, let’s just jump right in!

Must Read

These are the books which either have changed the trajectory of my life completely, or the books that hold invaluable information – the kind of books that are so important they might as well be textbooks (in my opinion). 

I’m afraid I would be doing a disservice to these books if I were to disclose too much of my opinion regarding them, thus I only provided a glimpse of what the books are about. Therefore you can decide whether you want to read them or not based on the topic. But I say you should read them, because!, these are must read books after all!

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

This book is about general history of Homo Sapiens, or if you prefer the generic word, Humankind. Looking back to history, human as a species should have been merely one of various animals existing on the earth. But rather, we currently hold overwhelming power on the earth and its inhabitants, the power that we should not have had let alone used. In short, Harari brilliantly summarizes how human race gets from the middle of the food chain to the very top of it.

Grit by Angela Duckworth

In her book, Duckworth asserts that Grit is the one thing that successful people have in common.  Ensuring the accountability of the conclusion, her argument is built on a basis of endless psychological researches.

A little tip: This is my life-changing book.  Now I know that Grit is not merely hard work. It is hard work and MUCH MORE. 

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

This one is a memoir of a young man from Appalachian Mountain area. He is a part of so called hillbilly society. If you already decided that memoirs bore you, all I can say is if you give this one a chance, you’re not going to regret it. This book is such an exemplary memoir.   


Muhammad: The Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong

I highly suggest everyone who loathe or outright hate Islam in any way to read this book. As we all know, all this hate-for-Islam runs from the tragedy of 9/11 in 2001 as the outset to the fact that now we all are jumbled in the danger of ISIS threats wherever we live. Armstrong however, never ceased to refute some of the most distorted opinion about Islam.

Even the term for a criminal suspect in a court is defendant. And it’s requisite that a defendant is accompanied by a defendant attorney during a litigation process. Because all people including the bad ones deserve to defend for themselves.

There is a little bit of truth in every lie, and there is a little bit of lie in every truth.

So I entreat you to hear out the side of Islam written by a person who genuinely intends to defend for Islam’s unfairly judged disposition. Cause you know, you can always go on and hold your opinion of hating it after reading the book. Eventually, it’s entirely your decision to hate or love anything in the world.

And for what it’s worth, Armstrong herself is not a Muslim.

Recommended Books

Three recommendations: two memoirs broaching the subject of inequity and one worthwhile self-help book.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.

said by every black person in USA

This very sentiment is affirmed that it is (still) real and deeply instilled in black society vulnerable daily lives through such a poetic memoir written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

In Order To Live by Yeon-Mi Park

A North Korean girl telling her story of how she managed to escape the renowned tyrannical North Korea passing its impervious borders and to elude extremely suffocating poverty In Order To Live.

Btw, the way the title perfectly sums up the gist of the book in one sentence is simply impressive.


The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

I think all people might have read this book as of today because this one is such a popular book. But if you haven’t, better read it asap.


This section will come across as highly biased because it’ll totally look like I dedicate this section to Michael Meyer.

Michael Meyer is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh who spent his young adulthood in China volunteering with the Peace Corps. He spent time teaching there, and he recorded some of what he perceived as China’s condition after Mao’s government in his books.

I am not gonna smooth-talk you into reading his books, because I admit that his books are a bit dragging reads if you’re not so into architectural stuff. In his books, Meyer pivots his narration on historical buildings, ruins and landmarks.

But I still love Meyer anyway, because he is such a funny  writer and his writing feels very personal. He is that kind of writer which makes you feel like you’ve known him personally for a long time.

Also: I even emailed him to ask a silly question. And yes, I like him that much. #lol

And these are two of his books that I read in 2018: In Manchuria and Last Days of Old Beijing.


I finished perusing three classics last year: Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I am particularly far from thrilled to discuss any classic, because I feel like I am only going to give a distorted opinion of them. The thing is, I always think that classic stories are old as in its complexity is obviously nothing compared to contemporaries’, and the English is very very old in some of them. And to be frank, I think you need to at least have interest in linguistic history in order to completely appreciate classic materials. And as for now, I am not that kind of person. Yet. (I hope)

But I still put this section out because one classic struck me as beyond an astounding piece, and even if you are not a huge fan of classics like me, I assure you that you still will absolutely love To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

If you want to know why I deem very high of To Kill A Mockingbird, see you in my next post! h

But I need to mention this.

To Harper Lee: Thank you for writing this masterpiece.  

And to you Nerdies, Thank You for reading.

No Comments

  1. Hi Carissa, great list. Sapiens literally blew my mind. I had no idea that multiple species of humans co-existed on earth for as long as they did, or that Homo Sapiens were merely the species which “won.” Crazy stuff.

    1. Hi!! Exactly!! Have you read Homo Deus? I am reading it now, and it blows my mind even more!! Now I feel like humanity is unimaginably greedy and selfish, I cringe whenever I am on pages talking about those poor hopeless domesticated animals.

  2. I’m pleased to meet you. Thanks for visiting Under Western Skies.
    I enjoyed reading your book list. I’m NOT one who classifies my own list so obsessively as do you, probably to my discredit. I may simply not be so decisive.
    I’ll take at least a couple of your suggestions. For one, I don’t know Mr. Coates’ work as well as I should. I’m also interested in reading Mr. Meyers, because I AM a fan of architecture.
    As for the classics, welcome to my world. I’m fascinated that you consider “older” language to include books written from just before I was born. Obviously, Hawthorne was writing in a different vernacular, in an extremely different cultural context. All the more reason, I think, to read some classics, for the insight they CAN provide (not always) into how humans exactly like ourselves dealt with a very different world.
    I’m pleased you liked To Kill a Mockingbird. Published when I was 9 years old, it had a big impact on me when I read it in high school and — obviously — millions of other people.
    Happy reading in 2019.
    I’d welcome a suggestion from you: an accomplished Indonesian writer of fiction an inquiring American should know, and may be able to find in English translation? I don’t know where to begin.
    Thanks very much.

    1. Hi, Brad! You know what, as a matter of fact I do have a great suggestion of an Indonesian writer for you. His name is Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He was jailed almost for all of his adult life for writing and publishing his books. His most eminent work is the tetralogy of The Buru Quartet, it consists of This Earth of Mankind; Child of All Nations; Footsteps; and House of Glass. Those books are available in English translation.

      Thank you for stopping by, btw!!

      1. Carissa. Most excellent. I’ve just checked, and my local library has This Earth of Mankind. I look forward to reading it, discovering Mr. Toer, and will send you a note once I’ve read it. My thanks. Brad

  3. Sapiens is suchhhh a good book! Have you thought of reading’ 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.’ I only just got it for xmas, so have read a few pages, but the premise is really interesting. If you’re interested in the future of our planet, I would highly recommend.


  4. Thanks for sharing your list! I’m an obsessive book reader but never thought about categorizing books I’ve read throughout the year as you’ve done. I’ve been debating reading Grit by Angela Duckworth. I saw her TED Talk and after your review here, I’m going to pick it up and read (or listen, I love Audible). Great post!

  5. I enjoyed your book list and added your books to my already long list. I was happy that I”d already read Hillbilly Eulegy. I also like your Classics list and have read all 3. In fact, The Great Gatsby is my all time favorite book.

  6. Love Karen Armstrong and have read several of hr books. The Great Gatsby is a great read, but my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald book is Tender is the Night. Happy reading!

  7. Reblogged this on Nick DiChario and commented:
    I thoroughly enjoyed Carissa’s post about her favorite books of 2018. It’s a great list of exceptional work.

  8. Good list! I read Hillbilly Elegy last year and cannot recommend it enough. As a transplant to Appalachia, I wish that more people understood the area. Between the World and Me is up next after I finish the Henrietta Lacks book.

  9. Expansive list! I loved Between the World and Me when I read it, and I really enjoy memoirs in general. I’ll have to add In Order to Live to my list.

  10. I thought Hillbilly Elegy was terribly boring. I do like To Kill a Mockingbird. May I suggest you read a few classics by Anthony Trollope? Some of his books were made into excellent movies, by the BBC.

  11. Thank you, this is a great list – I have a category of books that I have read and that I call “Broadsided” because the books had such an unexpected and long lasting impact on me. ” How Proust Can Change Your Life” by Alain de Botton is such a one. I am going to look closely at some of your suggestions – I like Karen Armstrong and have a copy of Mahammad at home so will start with that one. Kerry

  12. Ahhhh, To Kill a Mockingbird if my favorite book! Atticus is the best person. Oh, I’ve heard of Between the World and Me! Hillbilly Elegy is on my to-be-read list. I haven’t read Grit, but I’ve listened to podcast episodes that she’s been on.

  13. Great list….of course this means yet more books to add to my already lengthy TO BE READ list. Both my wife and one of my sons have read Sapiens and pronounced it a “must read”. The Hillbilly book sounds interesting too. I’ve read a few of the Classics but still have to get to the Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird. So many good books….so little time.

  14. Wow, what a list! Thank you for sharing. Have you got a list of books you’re keen on for 2019? And btw thanks for liking my blog post on Hybrid Consonance. Have you started a digital decluttering practice?

    1. Yes I have some books in my to be read list.
      I read your post and I was surprised that I was naturally a digital minimalist. I don’t have unecessary apps on my phone or comp, I regularly delete those stuff!

  15. Thanks or the note on Karen Armstrong’s book. I’ll pick it up at the library. In case you’re interested, two other good, reasonably scholarly but very readable books on the Prophet are: “The First Muslim,” by Lesley Hazelton (2013) and “Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy” (2014).

  16. Thank you for liking my blog post today. I wonder if in the book Sapiens they discuss the Tartarians? They were a completely separate race from homo sapiens who provably existed in recent centuries and some believe are accounted for today in realms of power and are actually THE top of the food chain above even ourselves.

    1. Hi! I am not sure if I’ve ever heard of this Tartarians. Probably you should read the book to know if those two terms refer to the same species. 🙂

  17. Thanks for following me at Discover Santosha! I’m so glad that your follow brought me to your site, since I am an avid reader always looking for good reads. I tend to read a lot of fiction, so it’s great to have some nonfiction recommendations from you. My favorite book in recent months was “A Place for Us” by Fatima Farheen Mirza.

  18. Expansive and interesting list. Some will definitely go to my want-to-read list. I’m a fan of WWII Pacific Theater and I’m reading a lot of WWII books lately. I wish I have more time to read. Thanks for liking my post which brought me to yours.

  19. I read Hillbilly Elegy to try to gain some understanding on why in the world a particular section of America, a poor one at that, voted for a billionaire with absolutely no experience in politics and no apparent concern for the poor. J.D. Vance being a self proclaimed conservative I then read Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War by Joe Bageant, a liberal. Not surprisingly I found Bageant’s book more compelling.
    Not yet satisfied I looked for a more scholarly perspective in the book White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg.
    All three books are interesting although Isenberg’s book can be a bit of a slog.

  20. Thank you for this list, some of which I have considered, others are new to me and I will try them. Well done for trying some classics and I am glad you enjoyed To Kill a Mocking Bird. Here is a suggestion of you want to add another classic to your list, try The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

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