Best of lists… why do we look back on the past year and make lists? It is sort of a strange tradition, as if categorizing, numbering and ranking will help us make sense of the world. Oh wait, it does! But I’m not talking scientific assessment like taxonomic ranking (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.) No, the types of lists cropping up at the end of the year, the best of lists, are hardly changing our understanding of the world.
So why do we do it?
I really have no idea. I just know I can’t help myself. I feel compelled, drawn by a mysterious desire to look back on the past year and make a list. When it comes to the best of book lists, I like to a) see if I’ve read any of the books (it gives me a happy bookish connection to another person) and b) find more great books I need to read.
With that said, here is my contribution to the year in review book list-making world for 2018. Note: these books didn’t all come out in 2018, but these were my favorites that I read last year. My criteria for “favorite” are as follows:
The book made me think/re-evaluate life.
The book made me feel something more than a normal book (happiness or sadness or just uncomfortable-ness.)
I still think about the book all the time.
Based on those criteria, here are my top 10 favorite books I read this year. (Narrowing it down to 10 was very, very hard!)
1. Less by Andrew Sean Greer
My review: My love of this book knows no bounds. It deserves more than a brief review. It deserves flowers and candy… OK, I’m not courting the book. But if I was… From the writing to the characters to the story, it’s nearly perfect and completely deserving of its Pulitzer. The story is simple. A writer with mediocre success travels the globe to avoid attending his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. This just proves a story doesn’t need to be complicated to be great. I cried at the end (and not because it was sad). I cried because it was a seriously f%&*ing beautiful ending to a seriously f%&*ing beautiful book. (It’s also deserving of that curse word for emphasis.) Have I mentioned how much I loved this book (and apparently the word ‘deserving’)?
2. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
(Note: I love all the Shadowhunter books, and I think I read the majority of three major Shadownhunters series in 2018, but this one was my favorite.)
My review: After an exhaustive and slightly harrowed search through an airport to get a copy of this book, I was hoping it would live up to my very high expectations. (I’d recently finished the Mortal Instruments 6-book series and fell in love with the Shadowhunter world.) It did. In the first book of a 3-part series, Tessa Gray, who has unusual powers, becomes ensconced in a mystery linked to the Shadowhunter world. It has the sort of supernatural Jane Austen sense and sensibility to it. 😉 It’s fast-paced, well written and just a fun read. Not everything needs to win a Pulitzer to be a great book. (No offense Less I still love you!)
3. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
My review: This book makes my top 2018 list because I can’t stop thinking about it. A Booker Man Prize Award Winner has never let me down and this book is no exception. It’s described as Kafka-esque and I can understand why. The book is terrifying and repulsive, while also a compelling look at the human psyche and how the projection our own selfish needs and desires on others can lead to harm and destruction. It is not a book for the faint of heart. But it’s a book that will stay in your heart.
4. Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay
My review: This was my first foray into Gay’s work and, wow. Her stories and writings slam their fists into your heart and squeeze until it might burst. The topics, often about the treatment and betrayal of girls and women, can be hard to read. Although the stories are fiction, they flay open the reality of the world for women and expose it – the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. I’m probably not making a great case for why this is such a wonderful book. “Hey read this collection of short stories that will make bile rise in your stomach with disgust and anger!” 🙂 No, even in the darkest, most disturbing tales, Gay finds hope and goodness, whether its the love between sisters or a found love of self. My favorite of the stories is the one captured on the cover about a woman made of glass. The metaphor is just so perfectly executed by Gay I can barely stand it.
5. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
My review: Having grown up with a close friend who was Persian, I found this graphic novel fascinating. It breaks down stereotypes and builds up an understanding of world culture. The story follows Satrapi as a girl in Iran during the revolution that brings strict Islamic rule to the country. Her world and the rules of her life change so rapidly. Its a reminder of never to be complacent and also that understanding of other people and cultures requires more than just listening to talking heads on the news. The graphic novel approach to memoir storytelling creates this unusual experience of it feeling very real (it is a true story) but with a sort of whimsical touch to the very heavy material.
6. Solo by Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess
My review: I will not, once again, delve into my love of Kwame Alexander. (He’s incredible and kind and I love him and everyone should buy his books and follow him on social media. OK. I’m done.) In all seriousness, he is well-known for the Newbery-winning The Crossover, which is a wonderful book, but there is something about Solo, the first book I read of his, that will always be my favorite. Solo, which is co-written with Mary Rand Hess, is a wonderful exploration of life and love (or rather heartbreak and then love) under the backdrop of music and family drama. Even if you’re not “into poetry” I promise you’ll love this book. It’s poetry. It’s a story. It’s poetry. I can’t decide. It doesn’t matter. It’s wonderful. A literal poetic story about finding the music inside. It will change the way you view poetry and make you love Kwame Alexander as much as I do!
7. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
My review: This story is about so much more than a man who lives in the woods. It’s a story about relationships, nature, society, freedom… The book refuses to fall prey to stereotypes or give explanations for something that only one person on earth could truly understand. It’s a book that makes you think about life and how we judge people. This journalist’s tale of trying to unearth the mystery of a legendary hermit is both fascinating and philosophical. It may just make you rethink your view of the world. It sure did for me, thus why it made my list.
8. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by
My review: Here’s the thing, The Big Bang Theory TV show makes us all think we’re suddenly experts in string theory and all things astrophysics. We’re not. Unless you’re a super genius or physics is your field of study, chances are you are clueless. But we shouldn’t be and we don’t have to be. This book takes all those mind-boggling ideas and breaks them down the lay people. Think: Astrophysics for Dummies. Except
9. Yes Please! by Amy Poehler
My review: Leslie Knope, I mean Amy Poehler, is the best! I actually listened to this as an audiobook, something I don’t do very often. Given it’s a memoir and Poehler is a seasoned actress and comedian, I think listening made the experience better. (To be fair, I don’t have a scientific way to prove this, I just know.) It was like being in a room with her while she told stories about her life, a life that is shockingly relatable even though she’s super famous. There were so many times, especially when she talked about her childhood, I said to myself, “wow she’s so much like me.” (See! Stars, they are just like us!) This book made me actually laugh out loud and also spill tears down my face. (Sometimes at the same time! That’s not easy.) It’s one of my favorite books I read not just in 2018, but maybe ever.
10. The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace
My review: A book of poetry about how life (and people) can knock you down and treat you terribly, but there is still poetry in the world. This is a great book for any woman who doesn’t need a man to save her. It’s inspiring and lovely. While this type of poetry received criticism lately as being sophomoric or amateurish, I disagree. The theme of learning to love yourself not let other people determine your self-worth is why this is on my favorite list of the year.
Anyone read these books and have some thoughts? Would you put them on your favorites lists?