I’ve never kept a diary. At least not since I was eight, when my father bought two blank journals and suggested that he and I spend time together every evening writing in our diaries. For several weeks we did just that, sitting side by side on the living room couch and recording the events of the day. One day I came home from school and found my diary in the wrong place on the bookshelf. When I inquired about this, my dad said, “I have to admit something to you. I was so curious about what you’ve been writing that I couldn’t help myself, so I went in your room and read it.”

This was November 1986. Over the last few weeks the tall hickory and oaks in our yard had dumped a blanket of brown leaves. I went outside and raked them down the hill into a tall heap for my father to burn. I don’t think he noticed me tossing my diary into the raging fire. Since then I’ve never felt the slightest impulse to keep another diary. What I do keep is a list of the books I read, divided up by year. Reading back through the year’s list, it’s uncanny how the events of the year play out again at rapid speed, as if the books are a cataloguing system for the library of memory.

Below I’m sharing the 2018 list to date. Reading between the lines you can see how I’ve moved from fad to fad as clearly as you might discern from my nonexistent diary. There’s the Whole30 month of food obsession; the streak of books on ultrarunning; the stretch of cold weather in February when all I wanted to read were memoirs of near-death in the polar ice. For months I never read a novel; then for months I read almost nothing but novels. Why? I can’t tell you.

I’ve put asterisks by the books that gripped or moved me more than the others. My favorite of the year may be the novel I finished only last night: The Overstory by Richard Powers. This book will change your life.

*Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari

Landscape with Invisible Hand, MT Anderson

The City, Frans Masereel

Scenes from an Impending Marriage, Adrian Tomine

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda, JP Stassen

Robot Dreams, Sara Varon

Exit Wounds, Rutu Modan

Before the Fall, Noah Hawley

*The Evolution of Beauty, Richard O. Prum

*Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

*Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado

*The Far Away Brothers, Lauren Markham

The Whole 30, Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig

The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road, Finn Murphy

Find Me Unafraid, Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner

Meb for Mortals, Meb Keflezighi

Hal Korner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning, Hal Koerner

It Starts with Food, Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig

Natural Born Heroes, Christopher McDougall

Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith

*American Wolf, Nate Blakeslee

*Endurance, Alfred Lansing

Alone on the Ice, David Roberts

*The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, Denis Johnson

The River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks

In the Land of the White Death, Valerian Albanov

Slow Jogging, Kiroaki Tanaka

*The Barracks Thief, Tobias Wolff

Celine, Peter Heller

Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough

Jefferson’s Daughters, Catherine Kerrison

Fire Sermon, Jamie Quatro

Fluent in Three Months, Benny Lewis

Women and Power, Mary Beard

*The Monster of Florence, Douglas Preston

*The Sarah Book, Scott McClanahan

Eat the Apple, Matt Young

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, Michael Pollan

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Michael Pollan

The Monk of Mokha, Dave Eggers

Winter, Karl Ove Knausgaard

In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan

*The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan

*The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan

Extra Lives, Tom Bissell

Food Politics, Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim

The Playwright’s Guidebook, Stuart Spencer

North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail, Scott Jurek

Stuffed and Starved, Raj Patel

Trick, Domenico Starnone

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, Barbara Lipska

Natural Causes, Barbara Ehrenreich

Fluent Forever, Gabriel Wyner

A Colony in a Nation, Chris Hayes

The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis

Tribe of Mentors, Timothy Ferriss

*How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan

10% Happier, Dan Harris

Air Traffic, Gregory Pardlo

Heretic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

*On Grand Strategy, John Lewis Gaddis

Two Sisters, Asne Seierstad

Motherhood, Sheila Heti

The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley

*Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

Mr. Burns, Anne Washburn

Notes for a War Story, Gipi

*Sick, Porochista Khakpour

*Kudos, Rachel Cusk

*The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai

The Power, Naomi Alderman

The Sparsholt Affair, Alan Hollinghurst

The End of Eddy, Edouard Louis

The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

*Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

*The North Water, Ian McGuire

*Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan

*The Unpunished Vice, Edmund White

Harvard Square, Andre Aciman

Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan

Commencement, J. Courtney Sullivan

A Moonless Starless Sky, Alexis Okeowo

Dopesick, Beth Macy

*My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh

First Person, Richard Flanagan

Pigtown, Anthony Roberts

*The Overstory, Richard Powers

 

Diary of Books
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John McManus is the author of four books of fiction: Stop Breakin Down, Born on a Train, Bitter Milk, and his latest story collection, Fox Tooth Heart, forthcoming from Sarabande Books in October 2015. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, McSweeney’s, American Short Fiction, The Oxford American, and Electric Literature, among other journals and anthologies. He is the recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award, a Creative Capital Literature grant, a Fulbright Scholar grant, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers’ New Writing Award. He grew up in Blount County, Tennessee, and now lives in Virginia. McManus is a professor of creative writing at Old Dominion University in Virginia, and he also teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Goddard College. He is contributing editor for Fiddleblack, a literary journal dedicated to creative writing with a strong sense of place.

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