Reading in the New Year
You reading this right now. You are special. Not in any derisive or derogatory way, but really and truly, part of the minority, special. “How?” you ask. It’s simple. Just by picking up this magazine and taking the time to ingest the words, thoughts, and ideas present on its pages makes you one of the small percentage of people who actually read for pleasure. You may not think this is a big deal, but it is.
Without getting too technical on you, just understand that according to the most recent American Time Use Survey, the number of people who read for pleasure has dropped more than 30% since 2004. Which means that back then, on average, 28.3 percent of the population over the age of 15 read for fun (slightly more if you’re female, less if you’re male). In 2017, though, that number dropped to a mere 19 percent average. That’s a whopping total of slightly fewer than 1 out of 5 people sitting down to enjoy some quality reading time at least once per day. Even then, the average time spent reading per day is only 17 minutes. And that is a shame.
Thing is, reading is good for you. Even for those plus or minus 20 minutes a day. And it’s something you can start now, even when all of those other resolutions you made while enjoying your December 31st revelry have slipped away into distant memories, it’s easy to pick up a magazine or, better yet, a book, and start to flip through the pages. You even probably already have the time set aside in your schedule to do it. See, the average American (in 2017) spent about 165 minutes a day watching TV, which is almost 10x the amount spent reading. So, all you have to do is cut out one sitcom a day, or one drama every two days, and you’ve got your reading time all sewn up. Here’s a little secret, too, it doesn’t matter if you read an actual, honest-to-goodness paper book or if you read on the computer or your phone or some dedicated device like a Kindle, to receive most of the benefits.
There are probably two questions you’re asking yourself right now: The first is how is it good for me? And the second, if I decide to do this, what should I read?
First things first, then. The benefits of reading are, surprisingly, numerous. Sure, the easy and obvious answers are it makes you more knowledgeable, expands your vocabulary, and can improve your writing skills. Of course, reading will teach you things. By the time you finish this article you’ll know more about how reading teaches you things than you did before, thus proving the point in an Inception-like interplay. As for improving how you use words, that also makes sense. You learn about a thing by seeing it in action. And of course, encouraging kids to read (or reading to small ones who can’t do it for themselves) has been shown to translate into better school performance and more success in careers and life in later years.
So what else? Reading can promote good mental health and relieves stress. Yup. The activity happening in your brain when you read is the same sort as when you play a mentally challenging game (looking at you, Words with Friends players) or solve riddles and logic puzzles. The stress relief comes from the escapism aspect of sending yourself to a new place, allowing yourself to forget about your own problems for a little while (and think about those of someone else, probably someone not even real).
Speaking of that, reading can also help you build up empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself into the shoes of another and reading about people who are not like you can cause a serious shift in your personal paradigm. If you’re straight and you read about gay characters or white and explore the lives of Africans or Asians, or even male and reading about women, it just might let you see something in a way you’d never have been able to by simply living your life.
Meanwhile, the imagination required to “see” the pictures the words are painting for you (even simple phrases like “the blue, velvety curtains”) will light up the centers of the brain which promote learning and memory. Not to mention the cognitive skills involved, especially with literary fiction, of reading between the lines and understanding the subtext (If you want an example, track down a copy of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”).
Also, if you make use of your public library or check out Project Gutenberg (https://www.gutenberg.org), then this hour a day’s worth of entertainment and self-improvement is completely free. Can’t beat that!
With all that in mind…the next big question is what should you read? Got you covered there as well. Over the next few pages you’ll see some of the most anticipated books coming out this year, as well as a few you might have missed from last year. All sorts of genres, topics, and reading levels are represented. Go on. Give yourself a present. You deserve it.
After all, you’re special.
Coming in 2019
While one can never predict what will be good or bad before it comes out, there are a few books which are gathering interest and early notice.
Probably the most anticipated book of 2019 is The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to her 1985 award winner The Handmaid’s Tale. Following hot on the heels of the hit (and terrifying) TV series, the new book, coming in September, is set 15 years after the events of the first. Feel free to read The Handmaid’s Tale first.
MacArthur (Genius) Grant winner Colson Whitehead, who last appeared in literary circles with his Pulitzer Prize winning (and official Oprah selection, but don’t hold that against him) book The Underground Railroad, has a new novel coming in July. The Nickel Boys is based on real-world events which took place during the story’s 1960s Florida setting.
Hallie Rubenhold, a social historian and former curator at the National Portrait Gallery, turns her authoritative eye on a specific group of women who have been castigated by history in The Five: The Untold Story of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. In April, the story of these women, known primarily as victims, will be put into historical and cultural contexts and their lives given their proper due.
Also in April, Therese Oneill, whose last book, the 2016 NY Times bestseller Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, revisits the topic with what happens next in Ungovernable: The Victorian Parent’s Guide to Raising Flawless Children. With as much trouble as kids are today, it might help to know there were always issues. And with Oneill’s writing, you’ll know the subject matter will be not only informative, but funny as well.
Another funny book, coming in March from celebrated short-story writer Nathan Englander, is Kaddish.com, a look at the modern-day responsibility of an atheist son in a family of Orthodox Jews. Englander, who was a Pulitzer finalist for his book What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, picks up the Jewish fiction mantle left behind by writers like Philip Roth.
The Best from 2018
With 2018 in the rear-view mirror, it’s much easier to see what’s hit and what’s missed. Here’s an assortment of books in all manner of popular genres, which are well worth missing a few TV shows for.
Mystery & Thriller
Stephen King, the perennial favorite, topped most mystery lists last year with The Outsider. This is King at the top of his game with a story that isn’t (but could be) ripped from the headlines. If you’ve already read this King but are looking for others along the same lines, here’s a few to try out:
- The Outsider by Stephen King
- The Witch Elm by Tana French
- The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
- Leverage in Death by J.D. Robb
- Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
With the state of the world as divided as it is, it’s nice to read a book focusing on the positives and inclusiveness we can achieve if we try. The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King is one such book. Of course, there are other stories of people and events to be told, not all as empowering but certainly worth a read.
- The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
- Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O’Brien
- Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man by Lynn Vincent
- Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson
- Robin by Dave Itzkoff
Science and Technology
One of the great things about learning new things is discovering how much there is left to learn. Case in point is Stephen Brusatte’s fascinating new work, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World. Brusatte, a paleontologist himself, mixes state of the field information about big lizards with his own stories of gathering the information. Remarkable read. Naturally, if dinos aren’t your thing, there were a lot of other books explaining cool stuff.
- The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World by Stephen Brusatte
- The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth by Michio Kaku
- How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
- The Sawbones Book: The Hilarious, Horrifying Road to Modern Medicine by Justin McElroy & Dr. Sydnee McElroy
- Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang
Sometimes a good fictional scare is what you need to get you past the real life scares we face every day. Here again, Stephen King shines through with his short novel Elevation. Treading some of the same ground as his 80s hit Thinner, Elevation might have a softer landing, but the ride there is just as harrowing. Other horror titles will give you everything from supernatural demons to that terrifying thing lurking around the corner.
- Elevation by Stephen King
- The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
- The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg
- Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
- The Devil and the Deep edited by Ellen Datlow
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Combining science fiction and fantasy in this list is risky, since they are different categories, but if you want some great fantastical fiction, look no further than Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik or Vox by Christina Dalcher. While set in wildly different locales, one in the past and one, the future, both show what a young woman will do in order to protect themselves and their families.
- Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
- Vox by Christina Dalcher
- Bloody Rose (The Band, #2) by Nicholas Eames
- Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant, #1) by Ilona Andrews
- Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
- The Night Masquerade (Binti, #3) by Nnedi Okorafor
Non-fiction covers a lot of territory, but one of the most interesting pieces was Michelle McNamara’s posthumously published (and ridiculously well-researched) I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, which is credited with finally leading to an arrest of the killer from the 70s and 80s. If catching serial killers isn’t how you want to spend your free time, check out these other, informative reads.
- I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
- Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean
- Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis