In some ways, worst of lists are more fun than best of lists, but for the most part I didn’t hate the books I read in 2018. There’s only one that I aggressively disliked, and one other that comes close. The rest of the list is mostly fine, but indicative of trends I would like to see go away in the future.
If you’d like to see the books I deemed my best reads of 2018, head over here. The list is below, but if videos are more your thing, here’s a video version:
Motherhood, by Sheila Heti
God, I hated this book. I also hate performative therapy in novel form, and this book is 300 pages of that. There’s nothing wrong with avant-garde approaches to writing, which seems to be Heti’s thing, but this was just awful. Motherhood may or may not be a fictionalized version of Heti’s own examination of whether or not to become a mother. I confess I didn’t care enough to really look into it, but the main character is clearly intended to be her stand-in. The ‘novel’ is essentially a series of questions the narrator asks to three coins, employing an I Ching method of flipping the three coins to get an answer, and then reacting to it and asking another question. Heti notes that the responses were the result of real coin flips. Imagine letting a Magic 8-Ball control your destiny. No thank you.
You can find my full review here.
The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe
My review of this novel is basically me debating whether or not The Bonfire of the Vanities is garbage. And if I’m still not certain that we should give it a pass because a lot of the more problematic areas are indicative of the time it was written, I think we can definitely say that it’s a big hot mess. I mean, it’s a novel about New York City’s problematic race relations in the 1980s and yet it doesn’t have a single character of color. Huh? The women in the novel don’t come across much better, even if they are somewhat given the benefit of representation. Good social commentary is timeless–just look at Jane Austen and Edith Wharton. Whatever you do, don’t look at this.
The Sparsholt Affair, by Alan Hollinghurst
Being honest, I did not finish this book, and while I hate to include something I only got a quarter of the way through, this book was maddeningly obtuse. Hollinghurst seems to have made his novel deliberately difficult to engage with, and I don’t see the point of that at all. Furthermore, each section is told in drawn-out fragments–just as it begins to get to something important, you move on to another time. It’s infuriating, and it keeps the novel from building anything as well–momentum, for one, but also empathy and engagement from the reader. In the immortal words of an internet meme, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Full review here.
The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn
To be fair, the worst thing about this book is Finn’s off-putting descriptive style, which comes across as very try-hard to me. Where this book really failed is in the fact that it’s a near-total copy of The Girl On the Train. Girl is about an unreliable narrator who is also an alcoholic woman suffering a psychological break after the dissolution of her marriage, who witnesses (or thinks she witnesses) something shocking. Woman is about an unreliable narrator who is also an alcoholic woman suffering a psychological break after a traumatic event, who witnesses (or thinks she witnesses) something shocking. I’m not stretching here to prove a point: the plots are literally that similar. So can we be more original in 2019, mystery genre? And can we do away with the trope of unreliable alcoholic female narrators once and for all (I’m looking at you, too, Ruth Ware)?
Full review here.
All the Beautiful Lies, by Peter Swanson
This one is also mostly fine, but it’s emblematic of larger trends within the mystery genre I think we should retire. I went into this one blind, hoping to allow myself to be surprised by where the plot took me. Instead, roughly a third into the book I said to myself “I bet a dude wrote this,” and turned to the cover to see if I was right. I was! How did I know? Because the chief protagonist is a bland dude with no attributes to speak of and yet every single female character seems to want to sleep with him. It’s male mystery-author wish fulfillment of the grossest variety. On top of that, I just didn’t think the plot of this book worked much at all.
Full review here.