I’ll be blunt. I really didn’t enjoy reading in 2018.
I’ll be blunter. 2018 reading was a chore. Drudgery. Laborious. A straight-up drag.
I’ve done a blunt little root cause analysis of the whole blunt mess, and I can reasonably admit that the whole frustrating year was completely my fault. After all, I was the source of all my book decisions, and I was making (mostly) very bad ones. The first couple of months of the year, when every book seemed to be a struggle and I found myself out of my accustomed reading groove, I wasn’t really worried. It’s not like I mindlessly enjoy every book I pick up-some just aren’t my thing. “Hey, it’s not like you mindlessly enjoy every book you pick up”, I said to myself encouragingly. “Some books just aren’t your thing.” But as the year went on, and my reading activity went from bad, to worse, to baffled confusion, I found myself avoiding my reading pile like it was a bathroom scale at a monthly weigh-in. I just didn’t want to know how bad it could get.
It’s easy to fall into a rut, but in 2018 my reading funk was beyond a simple rut. I was in a canyon. Of despair. An actual despair canyon full of sadness and…um, despair. My usual effortless reading life deserted me – just up and vamoosed, and it didn’t even leave a note. My hobby, my favorite way to spend my time, my go-to in my hours of boredom, did not deliver. With a few notable exceptions, 2018 sucked bookmarks.
If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself – or in the case of my 2018 curated reading list, if you want something done wrong you have to do that yourself too. I crowded my 2018 stack with titles that I thought I should read, but nothing I really wanted to read. I had all the wrong motivations about what I thought would make me look smart, or what would make me look like an accomplished reader. I chose books based on literary snobbishness and walked away from books I truly thought I would enjoy. Because…why? Because enjoying things is wrong?!? Because I wanted to get an A?!? Because I wanted to punish myself for…liking to do a thing?!? It was all so stupid. By the time December rolled around, I was ready to blow up my self-actualized bookshaming cycle like so many New Year’s Roman candles.
I decided to throw myself a kickoff party, a grand gesture to celebrate my return in the universal place of things. It worked for Jay Gatsby! My first order of business was to go all scorched earth on my reading list. I took everything to the beach, piled all my dead weight books into a canoe that I’d put aside for just such an occasion, set it on fire, and pushed it out into the water. The flames illuminated my triumphant face as the canoe carried the books off to their afterlife.
Ok, whatever. I just deleted some stuff from my Kindle and donated the hard copies I didn’t want to the library. But I did all that VERY dramatically. Then, on January 1, I sat down and cracked open a book that I’d been eyeing for months, a book that really understands the value of over-the-top dramatic gestures: China Rich Girlfriend, the second book in Kevin Kwan’s fizzy and fantastic Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.
China Rich Girlfriend expands the wealthy world introduced in Crazy Rich Asians when NYU professor Rachel Chu marries Nick Young, of the uber-wealthy Singapore Youngs. Nick’s kajillionaire family has influence and connections far beyond Singapore, and China Rich Girlfriend finds Rachel and Nick on and off private jets as they travel Asia meeting friends, helping Nick’s family, and getting to know Rachel’s extended family. Rachel’s outsider status provides readers with the perfect guide into the hyper-consumptive world of the wildly rich. Lush with designer details, Kevin Kwan creates a rarefied atmosphere that beautifully frames relatable characters engaged in universal struggles. It’s a really fun read and it’s got me making travel plans for what feels like every country in Asia. Thanks to China Rich Girlfriend, my mojo is back. It’s such a relief. I feel like myself again, or at least like a lesser cousin to some crazy rich Asians.
I liked China Rich Girlfriend so much that the minute I finished it I downloaded Rich People Problems…so know I guess you know how I spent January 2.
In case you were wondering what those notable exceptions to the “Everything Is Bad in 2018” rule are?
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Circe by Madeline Miller
Educated by Tara Westover
Honorable mention: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Twitter feed