First, the stats. I read 72 books total in 2018. This is up quite a bit from my yearly average of 52 - 55. I generally get through about one book a week, give or take. When I travel, I squeeze in a few more than that, and I read several epic novels a year that take me longer than a week, so it all averages out. 2018 was a personal roller coaster of a year, and I tend to escape in my books, so that explains the few extras. Another difference in 2018 was adding audiobooks into my reading repertoire. I only listened to 7 audiobooks this year (they’re still not my favorite, and I can only do non-fiction), but it definitely bumped out my reading log.
In all, I read:
(This exact symmetry was not purposeful.)
Of the Non-Fiction:
(Some of these non-fiction categories overlap)
You can listen to a longer discussion about some of my favorite books of 2018 on Episode #38 of the podcast Smartest Person in the Room.
But if you’re a list person (and I am a list person), here are my 10 Favorite Fiction Reads of 2018:
(Click on any cover or title to take you directly to the book.)
This ended up being my very favorite novel of the year. Most of the story takes place within a group of friends in Chicago during the 1980’s AIDS crisis. We follow their love and friendship as these men slowly begin to die, or learn that they would soon die. I fell in love with the main character Yale and his job at an art gallery attempting to procure some very valuable pieces from an older woman who had held on to their secrets for decades. This book made me weep for the generation of men lost to this disease, men who have not been rightfully mourned and memorialized. I didn’t know how much we needed these stories to understand the crisis. It’s a beautiful, devastating novel.
For most of the year, An American Marriage held the #1 spot for me. We read this one for book club, and it sparked fascinating conversation about a situation all too common. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy take a trip to Louisiana to visit Roy’s family where he is accused and then imprisoned for a crime he absolutely didn’t commit. We follow Roy as his time in jail changes him, and Celestial and she has to make the difficult decision to stand by her wrongly incarcerated man or attempt to move forward with a life on the outside. Their love story unfolds in letters and in beautifully written narrative on what their separation feels like, what injustice really looks like. An American Marriage is so well-written and so well-told. While there’s no gray area to Roy’s fate, you could see both sides to Celestial’s choices.
I wax on at length about how good this book is in Episode 38 of Smartest Person in the Room, but I was blown away by this novel I selected from the Book of the Month club. Without any spoilers, a man is hunting alone in rural North Carolina when he accidentally shoots and kills another man from his community. The victim’s brother is known for violence, and he set out on revenge on those who took his brother’s life. The Line That Held Us is terrifying from beginning to end, and I could not put it down. It’s full of tension, and I think I held my breath for the last quarter of the book. The story flips the script in the way of looking at what happens with the good guy does the bad thing, and the bad guy is justified in his vengeance.
So I clearly wasn’t the only one who loved this retelling of Greek mythology. It was all over social media for months and won the Goodreads Readers Choice award for Best Fantasy. I actually started this one without too much excitement and ended it nearly jumping up and down with how much I loved it. Circe reignited something in me, I had forgotten how much I loved mythology in school. These stories are the basis for all stories, and Miller writes about Circe and everyone that comes into her path so beautifully. I’ve heard that her first book Song of Achilles is even better, and I have that one waiting on my kindle.
I was a few years late to this one, even though I remember when everyone was raving about it back in 2016. I finally got to this one and understand all the hype. This novel follows two timelines, 18th century Ghana and later centuries in America, and the descendants of two sisters born and separated in Africa. There is a LOT to take in with this novel, from the history to the characters, almost overwhelmingly so. But it deserves all the accolades it has received for writing and structure.
Another book from 2016 that I’d been meaning to get to, I finally read The Nix this summer while at the lake. What a ride! Failed writer Samuel Andersen-Anderson was abandoned by his mother as a child, but one day she does something remarkable that ends up all over the national news and suddenly the idea of writing about her is the obvious next step. As he seeks the truth about the mom he never had, he also struggles with a video game addiction and unrequited love. This book is hard to sum up in one paragraph (it’s also really long), but it’s really interesting and layered, and I was surprised at the turn of events at the end.
Gosh, I just enjoy Sittenfeld’s writing. I still think about Prep and American Wife and it’s been years since I read those novels. You Think It, I’ll Say It is a collection of short stories, which usually isn’t my first choice for a book. But I enjoyed these little vignettes so much, especially the title story. These stories are about women - mostly middle-aged - and I related even to their most unlikable qualities. Sittenfeld, as always, is funny and observant and these stories made me laugh and cringe and nod, all with empathy.
Elizabeth Strout has been my most favorite author discovery in the last few years. I absolutely loved My Name Is Lucy Barton and Anything Is Possible, but was hesitant to pick up the Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge for some reason. I was wrong about that, and I’m glad I finally got to it. Olive herself is a character I will not soon forget as she goes about her life in small town Maine. Strout is so excellent at making you feel like you’re living the story right there inside her books, and I felt like I knew these townspeople and their problems and quirks. This is an excellent but sad novel. Strout’s stories make me feel more alive, and I can’t think of higher praise for a writer.
THUG was actually the very first book I read in 2018 and it kicked off a great reading year. I wanted to read it because of all the buzz it was receiving, even though I have finally admitted out loud that I just don’t usually enjoy Young Adult books. But THUG is one of those exceptions, telling a hard story for a younger audience without condescending. Starr Carter is a witness to the police shooting that killed her childhood best friend and she must take a stand between the various voices in her life. This story is obviously relevant to national headlines, smart in its delivery, and compelling in its characters and writing.
You know, I almost didn’t include this novel - even though it is superb - because it is so disturbing and the content is so difficult that it makes it hard to recommend. I’m no stranger to dark reading material, and this novel was very, very hard to read. But I believe Jesmyn Ward is one of America’s greatest living writers and there’s no denying that this was one of the best things I read in 2018. (It also won the National Book Award in 2011.) This is a story of a young girl, her three brothers and her alcoholic father, living in an impoverished part of Louisiana during the weeks leading up to Hurricane Katrina. As a reader, you know what’s coming, which adds to the tension in an already harsh setting. I was stunned by this book, although I didn’t enjoy it as much as Ward’s 2017 book (my favorite book of that year) Sing, Unburied, Sing.