It’s the best time of year, everyone! Time to take a walk down memory lane and revisit the best books that I read this year. And what a year it was: I smashed my reading goal on Goodreads, which is really encouraging after years of lowering my expectations because I’ve been so busy with work and life that reading keeps getting pushed to the side. Here’s hoping for more reading success in 2019!
Just for clarification purposes, these books did not have to be published in 2018 (although two of them were), they just had to be a book that I read during the calendar year.
And don’t worry, I’ll also be doing a post with the worst books I read this year.
The reviews are below, but if video is more your thing, here you go:
The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
Up first, my favorite read of 2018: The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai. In a story that goes back and forth between the AIDS-ravaged gay community in Chicago of the late 1980s and Paris during a terrorist attack in 2015, Makkai imparts a deeply human story of people trying to survive and really live in times of crisis. She also deftly shows how trauma and loss have ripple effects throughout our lives. And it all feels effortless. Makkai’s supreme control of her narrative belies how intricate and difficult this achievement must have been. It’s an essential novel of the human experience.
“It’s always a matter, isn’t it, of waiting for the world to come unraveled? When things hold together, it’s only temporary.”
You can find my full review here.
Pictures at a Revolution, by Mark Harris
I’ve followed Harris’ writing since his days at Entertainment Weekly, but this was the first time I read one of his books. I can’t wait to read his other book, Five Came Back, in 2019, because this one was a sheer delight. My review calls it porn for film enthusiasts, and I can’t think of a more apt way to describe it. It packs in a lot of information but never loses momentum as Harris tells you the story of the five films nominated for Best Picture at the 1968 Academy Awards: The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Doctor Dolittle, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Bonnie and Clyde. In examining these movies (why they were made, how they came to be, and their successes and failures), Harris gets at the larger shift happening in Hollywood and American culture at the time. It may be porn for film buffs, but it’s also a cracking good read for anyone interested in the sixties as a turning point in American society.
Call Me By Your Name, by André Aciman
This one is something of a gimme since I had already read it before, but the film adaptation was so good that I felt a reread was necessary. It did not disappoint. Call Me By Your Name is a gorgeous love story that feels urgent and a little crazy–as most first loves are. Even on the second go-round, it was a stunner.
You can find my full review here.
There There, by Tommy Orange
If you’ve ever read Louise Erdrich or Sherman Alexie, you probably have a very defined idea of modern Native American literature. Tommy Orange upends all that in this series of interlocked stories about Native people on a collision course with a violent robbery at a Pow Wow in Oakland. This isn’t a perfect novel–Orange’s status as a debut novelist shows in numerous places–but it’s urgency and its heartfelt look at Native life in America earns a spot here. It’s also astonishing that Orange sticks the landing in the end. It doesn’t feel manipulative or unearned in the slightest. He’s a talent to watch in the future.
My full review is here.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
This one came from my book bucket list, which continues to pay off dividends every year. Wharton is a wonderful writer. The Age of Innocence is a savagely observed social commentary disguised as a love story. While Wharton does not have the sharp wit of Jane Austen, I think she deserves the company because both writers were masters of backhanded critiques of the world they navigated. This story feels very relevant today, thanks in part to Wharton’s clever depiction of the ways in which we reject the mores of our parents and the simultaneous ways we stubbornly cling to the past. It’s wonderful.