2018 Reading Challenge: Book Recommendations

It seems like everywhere I look, people are starting reading challenges for the new year. Some are aiming to read 18 books, some 80… I set my own 2018 reading challenge at 55 books. The way I see it, that’s roughly a book per week, which I think is a reasonable, realistic goal. Some weeks I’ll go through three books for research, while one lovely, long book might take me a couple of weeks. It should balance out all right.

Setting a reading goal helps me to be thoughtful about what is important to me (reading books) and to be deliberate about managing my time to prioritize that.

I thought I would share some of my favorite reads from the past year and a half or so (this isn’t all of them, but a fairly good bunch). These books are all different from each other. I’m a big believer in reading all kinds of books, and not comparing them to each other. I love both a good piece of cake and nicely roasted vegetables, but I can’t really compare them to each other or rank them. I need them both in my life!


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • Genre: Biography, Social Justice, Race
  • I feel like everyone knows this book as it was everywhere when it came out. It won the National Book Award in 2015 and is a must-read for all Americans.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

  • Genre: Science, Nature
  • This shares surprising facts about trees that will make you think twice about what “humanity” means and your place in the world (for example: they mourn when a tree in their group dies, they communicate with each other) from a German forest manager.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

  • Genre: History, True Crime
  • An incredible true story of what it took to set up the 1893 Chicago World Fair. You really get a sense of what the world was like then, the long-lasting impact of the fair, and how people could disappear for so long without any questions asked…

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

  • Genre: Essays
  • With humor and sharp observations, this Canadian author writes about immigration and being a woman today.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

  • Genre: Science, Memoir
  • A wonderful exploration of the intelligence and consciousness of this mysterious sea creature


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

  • Genre: Thriller, Suspense
  • One of my favorite quotes comes from this book:

“Because what if instead of a story told in consecutive order, life is a cacophony of moments we never leave?” ― Noah Hawley

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

  • Genre: Young Adult
  • One of the most popular books of recent times. So beautifully written, every sentence makes you stop, and yet you can’t stop reading at the same time.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

  • Genre: Contemporary, Adult
  • This book stands out as perhaps a top two of the past year. Its beautiful writing and story will challenge you in unexpected ways.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • One of my favorite books is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and this epistolary novel set during World War II has a similar feel. I spent a very enjoyable entire Sunday with this book.

How many books do you hope to read in 2018? And are there any books you really enjoyed reading during the past year or so that you recommend?

Q&A With Academy of Motion Pictures Librarian Louise Hilton

Louise Hilton

When I met Louise Hilton at an Emily Giffin book signing at Barnes and Noble, The Grove a few weeks ago, I learned about one of the coolest jobs I’d ever heard of: Librarian at the research library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

Louise moved to Los Angeles from Louisiana last fall for her job as a Research Specialist at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. I met with her last week at Joan’s on Third to hear her take on work-life balance:

  • How did you identify your passions and follow your dreams?

I grew up in a bookish family. My dad’s a retired history professor and my mom works in a library and has for years. I’ve always been interested in that.

I actually majored in French. I’ve always loved French–since I was 5 years old–and I lived in France for 3 years. I was always convinced that I was going to be a French professor.

Then I heard about the degree in Library and Information Sciences (MLIS), and I thought it would be a practical degree to have. I went back to school for it.

So it did take a turn.

I’ve always loved the movies, and I was the first intern at the Margaret Herrick Library 6 summers ago when I was in grad school at LSU. I loved it and loved the work they do there. I was determined to find my way back

And lo and behold, last spring there was a Reference Librarian post listed, and I applied and got it.

We’re the research library at the Academy. We have personal papers of people who have worked in the industry. So we have big name stars like Gregory Peck, Katherine Hepburn, Alfred hitchock: their letters, scrapbooks… We have everything related to the history of cinema. It’s kind of the holy grail of cinema studies. We also have a  graphic arts departments, poster collections, everything.

I love it.

It’s exciting that my email address is @oscars.org. And we’re fortunate that the whole staff gets to go to the Academy Awards every year. I call it my pinch-me job.

I wake up, and I’m happy to go to work. Whereas before, I was tired and not really enthused anymore, and just ready for something new.

And there are people who have been there 30 years and made their entire career there, which really speaks highly of the place; that you would want to spend your entire life’s work there.

  • What does the term “work-life balance” mean to you? 

Just not being a martyr, I feel, is important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your work to the point where you’re always checking your work email and your phone, and you go to bed with your device. It’s easy to get sucked into the 24/7 mode. Which there isn’t anything wrong with, if that’s what you feel you need to do.

And in this day and age, we’re expected to always be checking in. But at the same time, I don’t think anyone on their deathbed says, “Oh, I wish I spent more time at the office.”

It’s so important to find something that fulfills you outside of work, whether it’s a hobby, or a relationship, or whatever it might. It’s important to make it separate.

But I also would say, I feel you’re really in the lucky few if you love your job. I’m in that position now, and I feel really grateful. So I think there’s something to be said for not being afraid to work. Without being a traitor to my generation, I feel like us younger folks sometimes are hungry without wanting to do the work. I think it’s important to put in the time and do the work, and then just leave it at the office.

It’s easier said than done.

  • Do you think “work-life balance” is possible?

I think it’s possible. I’m talking like I’ve achieved this great balance, and I haven’t. It’s been a hectic year for me since I moved across the country, and it’s not easy to change everything about your life. I was 32 when I moved out here. You’re trying to acclimate to a new city, make friends, maybe find someone to date, and get used to work…

And I still have my hobbies. I do adult coloring. I joined a book club, and I’m trying to find people with similar interests and finding friendships. So I’m still working on achieving that work-life balance. But I do think it’s possible; and I think since I’m fulfilled professionally now, the rest will fall into place. So halfway there [laughs].

  • What do you wish you do differently in how you manage your day and time? 

I am big proponent of lists [laughs]. But at the same time, if at the end of the day your list is just sitting there, it can stress you out. So I think it is important to have a weekly task list. Plan it out on Monday, and then check in on Wednesday to see how you are doing, and then check it on Friday.

Sometimes, if you bite off more than you can chew, you let the ball drop. I feel like I’m always pretty confident in my skills and my workload, but then sometimes you realize, “I’ve taken on too much…” And you feel like you let others and yourself down. So I feel like that’s always been a struggle, prioritizing. I always get stuff done, but sometimes it’s at the very last minute.

  • What do you feel you don’t have enough time for, or wish you could tackle better?

I’ve enjoyed exploring the city, since I’m still getting used it. But something always comes up. I feel like I should plan more time dedicated to picking another spot or neighborhood I’ve never been to and go explore it.

  • Do you have advice for someone starting a new endeavor and grappling with issues of following her passions, doing meaningful work and making a difference, while managing her time to find some “balance?”

I mean I feel like all those clichés are true for a reason. Remind yourself that the sun will come out tomorrow.

When I was thinking about moving out here, and the stress and expense and everything, I told myself, “Why not?” At the end of the day, you’re going to be 50 or 60, and regret is a sad thing. It’s not an excuse to run amok, but if you think you’re talking yourself out of something, keep going.

Take a break, and then go out for a walk, or dinner with friends, and then keep going.

My mom always used to tell me that there’s always a fresh start in a new day. Even if you’ve had the worst possible day, you go to sleep, and you wake up, and it’s a fresh start.

If I’m stressed out, I call my mom and she says, “Go read a book and go to bed, and you start over tomorrow, no matter how bad it might be.”