2018 was a whirlwind year of reading for me. I tried to look at my shelves and figure out my favorite books of the year and picked out a few, but thought I’d check my list of what I read in 2018 to be sure I didn’t miss anything. And holy smokes! Books I thought I must have read a year or two ago were on that list. Some books had that timeless feel, like I knew them in a past life and they’ve been on my mind for so long- even if I only read them a month or two ago.
I read 90 books and liked the majority of them. According to Goodreads, I had a generous 4 star average, possible because I decided I would stop reading books I didn’t love. No more obligatory book club reads, no more finishing a book I started but dreaded continuing. That meant a lot more time for books I loved.
I had many 5 star reads, but I narrowed my 2018 favorites down to the ones that I still think about, underlined much of, recommended to anyone and everyone, influenced my writing, changed the way I looked at the world, blew me away with their writing, or made me feel deeply. So here they are!
A Selfie As Big As The Ritz: Stories by Lara Williams
Such a clever, clever book. Every time I picked it up, I put it down feeling inspired to write. Williams writes with wit and subtle humor and isn’t afraid to push boundaries with her style.
Back Talk: Stories by Danielle Lazarin
I rave endlessly about this book and have recommended it often. This collection beautifully depicts everyday women, from teens to mothers and in between. Many of them harbor a quiet fury and I’m amazed at the way Lazarin can illustrate relatable but complicated feelings. She gave me quite the annotating workout.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I now see why everyone kept recommending I read this book. Lamott filled me with so much joy and gratitude that I get the opportunity to write, but also reminded me not to let my ego get the best of me. I appreciated her wisdom on everything from writer’s block to writing as vengeance. This book was the perfect kick in the butt for my writing.
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book more delightfully clever or sharp-witted as this book. Underneath its hilarious characters and plot lies more serious and relatable themes of dysfunctional families, how we cope with our pasts, and how on earth we develop healthy relationships in the future. I had to take this one slow to savor each and every sentence.
Not That Bad: Essays edited by Roxane Gay
Probably the roughest read of the year. This collection of essays details personal histories and thoughts on sexual abuse of all shapes and sizes, written by women and men of all different backgrounds. The writing is incredible. I intended to take it slow, but once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. It’s not a happy book, but it’s a book everyone needs to read in order to see the problem and do something about it.
How To Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee
The perfect book to finish 2018 with. Chee’s essays on writing gave me a bit of an existential crisis, making me wonder why on earth I think I can be a writer (I’ll never be as good as him), but also built me up and encouraged me. All of his essays are powerful and wise and poetic. He’s definitely a writer to learn from.
Self-Help: Stories by Lorrie Moore
I found a new queen this year and know I’ll be reading a lot more of Moore this year. What a killer short story writer. All hail the queen of second person.
Kiss Me Someone: Stories by Karen Shepherd
Danielle Lazarin recommended this collection to me and now I’ll read anything Lazarin recommends. Most of the pages are covered in underlines. These are the kinds of stories I wish I could write, and boy have I tried since then. I recommended most of these stories at some point in my writing group and still think of them and return to them often.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
If you’re looking for a delightfully happy novel that is still full of depth and emotion and writing that will blow you away, here’s the book for you. In my post-read obsession with this book, I found an interview with Greer where he says he challenged himself to write something so rare: a book about happiness. He pulled it off beautifully.
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
I think I can say this was my favorite book of the year. I couldn’t wait for it to release and when it did, I devoured it and every interview, article, review, and essay about it. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a personal, profound experience reading a novel before. So much resonated with me and I practically journalled all over this book.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews
I think I found the formula for a book I’ll love. Women writer + women characters + religious themes + unique form. Toews tells the story of a group of abused women in a Mennonite colony as they struggle to decide whether to fight, flee, or do nothing, leading to discussions about their place and power in their community as mothers, daughters, and sisters. An amazing powerful book, perfect for the times.
Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
Once again, another book about women and religion with writing that inspired me. I also loved Quatro’s collection of short stories which led me to this book which I adored. It gave me so much to think about.
You Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld
I tore through this collection, laughing and underlining across each page, and by the time I put it down Sittenfeld had become a new favorite writer. She’s so clever and funny, yet manages to write relatable and incredibly real characters that I felt certain I’d met somewhere.
The Ensemble by Aja Gabel
This is one book this year that made me want to write a novel. Gabel is a wonderful storyteller who knows how to create characters that come to life and sit with you for a long time. She also revived my love for classical music and gave me a kick in the pants to start playing piano regularly again.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
This was the first book I read in 2018 and set the bar high for the rest of the year. I often find myself thinking about this book and it’s premise: how do you live when you know when you’ll die? I fell in love with each of these characters and Benjamin set my emotions on high.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Speaking of books that made me emotional, I can’t think of a book that made me cry more. Not even Harry Potter got me as attached to it’s characters or more emotionally invested in their lives. This book taught me a lot, not only about the AIDS crisis, but about writing and creating characters you want to follow through to the end. It also didn’t hurt that much of the book takes place in Paris; we had just returned from our trip and I was already itching to go back.
I’m not much for setting specific goals, but I would like to slow down my reading this year- take my time to study and annotate. I’d also like to read more as research for my own writing, but also want to make sure I read plenty of women of color and non-binary authors. Oh and have fun, I can’t forget that!