A year in books: 2018


My year in books was something I did for the first time at the start of 2018, for the books I had read in 2017. I wanted to share what I read for the year past because I was able to learn so much from those books and wanted to share that with others; plus, I get asked all the time what books I’d recommend! For the end of 2018, I wanted to do something a bit different and share in more depth about my picks.

It’s taken me some time to develop a consistent habit of reading, but I’m so glad I did. Whether you’re able to read only a few each year or more than I can, I can’t recommend enough the value of spending time reading each day or week. It keeps your mind sharp, improves your writing abilities, and so many other personal benefits. And renting instead of buying is even better; you’re supporting your local library/community resources, reducing waste, and saving money 😊

And now, here's my books of 2018! (Plus, some quotes I’ve saved from a few of the books)




The Upstarts by Brad Stone

Themes: entrepreneurship, business, leadership

Early in the year, I was really obsessed with learning more about the great startups, hence these picks. The Upstarts covers 3 startup journeys (Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and even some others), which offers a good compare/contrast that you can’t find in other books. Plus, I really enjoy Brad Stone’s writing (he also wrote The Everything Store, which is on my to-read list).

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Themes: entrepreneurship, business, leadership; biography

A well-written biography of Elon Musk's life and career, from childhood to Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX. Elon Musk’s trajectory, even today, never seems to stop zig-zagging — it seems like he’s always in the news about something he’s done that’s different from everyone else. This book gives you more context as to his personal philosophy, work ethic, and even how those close to him view him (from the book, quoted below).

“Either you’re trying to make something spectacular with no compromises or you’re not. And if you’re not, Musk considers you a failure.”

Ashlee Vance

Reset by Ellen Pao

Themes: entrepreneurship, sexism, startup culture; autobiography

Ellen Pao covers the dark side of Silicon Valley and startup culture. Even though most of this book made me angry, upset, disappointed — I appreciated learning about Ellen Pao's experiences. It's only through learning others' firsthand life experiences that we can change the way we act and think, for the better.


So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Themes: race, identity

This was a pretty light read but a good introduction into social justice, intersectionality, and race. I'd recommend for anyone who hasn't had much exposure to these topics (but for where I am, it only scratched the surface).

Stuffed & Starved by Raj Patel

Themes: social justice, food justice, the world food system

This book was one of UC Davis' Campus Community Book Project (i.e. a book highlighted for the entire campus, for the year) but hadn't picked it up right away. At the time, food issues and food insecurity was too far off my radar of understanding -- I remember thinking that the concept of the "world food system" seemed too big to relate to myself as an individual. But I'm so glad I finally decided to read it (and at times, slough through it, because of how dense it is); this book changed the way I think about the every day things: grocery stores, fresh vs. processed, soy milk -- and more abstractedly: colonialism, capitalism, the agriculture industry, environmental justice. I really consider this a piece of my own canon of personal education on social justice.

“The honey trap of ethical consumerism is to think that the only means of communication we have with producers is through the market, and that the only way we can take collective action is to persuade everyone else to shop like us. It alters our relationship to the possibility of social change. It makes us think we are consumers in the great halls of democracy, which we can pluck off the shelves in the shops. But we are not consumers of democracy. We are its proprietors.”

“Eating food that has been locally grown makes it easier to nurture a social connection with the producer, to know how and where and why things are grown the way they are. It’s a kind of eating that is transparent and socially embedded in a way that industrially-produced food can’t be.”

Raj Patel

Understanding Mass Incarceration by James Kilgore

Themes: social justice, race, community building

For anyone who does any type of community work -- social services, public service, government, education, etc -- this is a helpful book to read if you don't have much pre-existing knowledge about things like the prison-industrial complex and school-to-prison pipeline. It's intended for folks who are new to understanding these issues, and so I really enjoyed this book because it covers all these different aspects and many more issues surrounding that, summed up by the quote:

“Understanding mass incarceration means getting at the root of it, focusing on the fundamental reasons why many states spend more on corrections than on higher education, why nearly 6 million people are denied the right to vote because of their criminal record, why law enforcement cracks down on petty crime in impoverished African American and Latino communities while letting those who loot the economy and commit war crimes go free, and why billions are spent on bailing out Bank of America and General Motors while poor people remain in jail because they can't raise $500 to bail themselves out.”

James Kilgore


Hunger by Roxane Gay

Themes: identity, body dysmorphia, food, feminism and womanhood

I was a huge fan of Roxane Gay after reading Bad Feminist, and so I knew I had to read this book of hers next since I'd heard so much about it. It definitely did not disappoint. I loved everything about this book— it was an honest, vulnerable recount of her lived experiences struggling with hunger, food, self-image, and how that impacted her life and career. 

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Themes: gender identity, transitioning; autobiograpahy

This was another Campus Community Book Project! Similar to food insecurity, I wanted to fix my non-knowledge of gender identity and the experiences of transgender folks. This book is a mix of coming-of-age and social commentary, with tons of facts mixed throughout. In contrast to Mass Incarceration, it's always fascinating to learn about these social issues through a narrative.

The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines

Themes: entrepreneurship, career, coming-of-age

I love Fixer Upper (have watched every episode, probably at least twice) — and I love it not just for entertainment, but also because I really admire Chip and Joanna’s career. They're contrary to how we see most successful businesspeople in the public eye; Chip and Joanna live in a small town, and everything they do is focused on lifting up people and small businesses within their own community. Joanna emphasizes using reclaimed materials instead of buying new; for the vast majority of her furniture and interesting finds, she gets them secondhand at flea markets or thrift stores. The very premise of their business model is on taking stuff that's old and discarded and making it into something new, usable, and livable - it doesn't get much more sustainable than that 😊

I really enjoyed this book because it shows their lives before Fixer Upper began (including how they met!), how the show has impacted their lives and careers, and their hopes for the future. I've gained so much more respect for them after reading this.


Do You Talk Funny? by David Nihill

Themes: how-to, standup comedy, public speaking

I wasn’t a huge fan of standup comedy for the longest time — I didn’t get it. But my partner is super into standup, and, as the way things are, I’m now converted into loving the medium of standup and everything about it. I’ve started to realize how for one, most people overlook the power of being funny, and two, you can’t be a good communicator without being funny.

With this knowledge in mind, I’m trying to learn to be funnier. This book was recommended as one of the best for the purpose of learning how to be funny when giving presentations, talks, or other business-ey public speaking opportunities. The author does a really great job of covering key points, tips, and strategies for doing that. Last year I read Talk like Ted, and so I also appreciated how similar it was in structure (even referenced multiple times) just with an emphasis on how to be funny. While I'm still working on incorporating the tips, I'll definitely be keeping this close by as a reference material when planning any upcoming speaking arrangements 🙂

“Practice breeds consistency, good habits, and success. The work comes prior to the big day, not on the big day.”

David Nihill



Since university, I've always thought myself "not a big fiction person" (especially when there's so much nonfiction to be read?!) -- but this year, I really wanted to incorporate more after learning about how beneficial fiction can be for you. I wasn't sure where to start, so I decided to begin with some classics.


Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Both of these were on my to-read list for the longest time, especially since I never read them in high school. I really enjoyed both of these; most notably, I found out afterwards there's a movie adaptation of Never Let Me Go (which I plan to watch!) and the backstory behind Memoirs of a Geisha is actually pretty sketchy? 

“I never seek to defeat the man I am fighting. I seek to defeat his confidence. A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory. Two men are equals — true equals — only when they both have equal confidence.”

Memoirs of a Geisha

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

I'd heard so, so much about this book and I'm trying to read more contemporary fiction, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon with this one. This is definitely the fiction book from this year I'd recommend to others; I really loved Khong's storytelling technique and style.


I hope this was helpful in motivating you to read more and providing you with some of my favorites from this year. I’m still working on compiling my 2019 list, so I’m always looking for suggestions! Leave your thoughts in the comments or message me on social media (below). Until next time!

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Nicole Garcia