The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018

At this point, I’ve read 47 books in 2018. They were mostly fiction (27), some memoir/essay (eight)) and some non-fiction (seven). (If you want to see everything I’ve read/am reading, here’s a link to my Goodreads profile.) It was really hard to pick my top ten because I never read books I don’t like. I normally know if I’ll like a book within the first couple of pages, but I have been known to quit books 20 pages in, 50 pages in, or even halfway to the end. Life is just too short to read books I don’t love.

Here are my ten favorites from this year, in no particular order.

Educated by Tara Westover

Westover’s ability to create a compelling narrative is unreal. She has this incredible ability (especially at a relatively young age) to make sense of the unbelievable events of her childhood with wisdom, clarity, kindness, and beauty. This is a story about how history shapes the present and the future. It asks questions who is authorized to create history and where that power originates. It acknowledges that truth can be hard if not impossible to pin down without discounting the value of searching for it.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  
This book was almost a mix of poetry and prose. Ward’s writing style is juicy and delicious but never overly descriptive or boring. I would love to spend a day in her head just to know what it’s like to sit down at a computer and type (or write) with that kind of language. Beside the beautiful writing, the characters are richly drawn, the plot is compelling, and despite the heart-wrenching agony it evokes on nearly every page, there’s a strong thread of hope and redemption, too.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

The writing is sharp, simple, and evocative. There is so much sensory detail but it’s never flowery or overly wordy. Just enough description to make you feel like you’re right there. Speaking of right there, it’s set in Nigeria. I knew basically nothing about Nigeria before picking up this book, so beside being completely captivated by the story, I learned something about Nigeria and its stormy politics. The book is heavy. SO HEAVY. I was up reading it in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep and it definitely did not relax me. But I loved it so much I was almost grateful for that sleepless night just to get a chance to spend 2.5 uninterrupted hours with it.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I liked this book a lot but I fell in love with it on the final page. Okay the final sentence. This is a classic heroine’s journey; Ifemelu comes up against challenge after challenge, to figure out who she is, what she wants, and where home is. Adichie is an unbelievably sharp observer of details and it’s those details plus her beautiful writing style that make this book sparkle.
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin 

I laughed. I cried. I thought about feminism, dumb things I did in my 20’s, my relationships with my grandmother, my mom, my daughters, my friends. I thought about what it means to reinvent one’s self. What else can you ask for in a book? It was delicious and quick- great vacation read.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs 
The way Brennan-Jobs describes her experiences is remarkable in the level of detail but also the plainness of her language. She relays her memories, her feelings, but she rarely lets you know how she feels about the events of the past now that she’s had some distance from them and can see them with an adult perspective, but somehow it doesn’t feel like anything is missing.
Not only is the writing clear and bright, but the story is also one of hope and resilience. Though the author never comes out and says it, as a reader, I understood that through her travails, she learned that money can never be a substitute for love and happiness, that what you think you want isn’t always what is going to actually make you happy, that there is power in knowing who you are and what you want, and that you can grow into a strong person despite a shaky foundation.

 

The Leavers by Lisa Ko 

This was heavy, at times difficult to read, beautiful, and tender. It explores culture, family, and identity while shining a much-needed light on the trauma and injustices that often characterize immigration to the US. It should be required reading for all Americans.

 

Sunburn by Laura Lippman
This was the perfect summer vacation book. It has it all: richly drawn characters, an unpredictable plot, expert storytelling, and it makes you question your assumptions about what it means to be a “good woman.” At least that’s what it did for me.

 

An American Marriage  by Tayari Jones 

This is the type of book that stayed with me for days after I closed it for the last time. Jones alternates between three different narrators: Celestial, Roy, and Andre. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds when Roy is convicted of a crime he did not commit. While Roy is in prison, the friendship Celestial and Andre have shared since childhood turns into romantic love. My heart ached for each of these richly drawn, relatable, intensely lovable characters. It reminded me of The Light Between Oceans in that you can’t help rooting for each character, even though one’s redemption will be another’s loss.

And while it was about love, loss, letting go, the nature of love, the bounds of marriage, it was also very much about race. I’m not sure what’s “okay” to write publicly about race as a white person but here goes: I do not spend any time worrying that the men in my life will be killed by the police or wrongly imprisoned. And though I am aware, on an intellectual level, that this is something Black people deal with on a daily basis, it’s still not something I consider very often or on an emotional level. Reading this book heightened my awareness of my white privilege.

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt 
Insanely gripping. The writing was gorgeous, the plot was tight, and despite making me cry my eyes out about once every chapter (at least) it left me feeling hopeful. If you liked All The Ugly Wonderful Things, you would probably like this one, too. It’s about identity, family, and coming to grips with mortality.

 

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