My top books of 2018

books 2018 shorter

I read or listened to 104 books this year. Here are some that I really liked.

Over the last few years, I’ve enjoyed reading a lot of fiction by writers from African countries. This was a great year in that regard:
  • What It Means When A Man Falls from the Sky, by Lesley Nneka Arimah. This short story collection by Arimah — from Nigeria — has gorgeous prose and deep feeling. I’d read a novel based on any of these stories. My favorite work of fiction of the year.
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Korede, the nurse, is always cleaning up after her sister… That is, her sister’s murder scenes! It’s a fast-paced, wild ride. Really enjoyed it.
  • Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue. Cameroonian immigrants struggle in NY. Fascinating, heart-reading interpersonal dynamics set against the backdrop of the 2007 recession.
  • Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi. A girl is inhabited by various gods, which translates into multiple personalities including a fluid sexual identity. A fresh, original voice.
  • She Would Be King, by Wayetu Moore. A magical realist tale of the founding of Liberia with three superheroes. It takes a while to get moving, but then it’s unstoppable.
There was even some good fiction by writers outside of Africa:
  • Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. This captivating epic follows a Korean family over decades during the Japanese occupation of Korea, migrating to Japan early in the novel. My favorite novel of the year.
  • Nutshell, by Ian McEwan. Amazing prose and a tight thriller to boot, all narrated from inside the womb. Think Hamlet… Oh, never mind, just read it.
  • Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. Brief, beautiful, and tragic. The elusive quest for the American dream, or any dream of a better life.
  • The Power, by Naomi Alderman. What if women suddenly became physically dominant? Power corrupts, no matter the gender. Delightful exploration of shifting power dynamics.
  • Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid. Gorgeously written story of a refugee couple.
  • MacBeth, by Jo Nesbø (translated by Don Bartlett). Nesbø updates Shakespeare’s play as a 1970s crime thriller. Equal part thrilling in plot and fascinating to see how he adapts the old play. Maybe a little long, but it didn’t really lag. I’m just impatient.
  • Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart. A satirical look at the future, where social media is even more dominant than it is today. Think Dave Eggers’ The Circle but farcical.
  • Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. Groff captures fabulously the loneliness of the person obsessed with the praise of others. Oh, and his wife has secrets. (Think a much more literary Gone Girl.)
  • Archaeopteryx, by Dan Darling. A magical realist thriller novel about society’s misfits, corporations tampering with nature, and immigration — all set in beautiful New Mexico.
  • An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. When an African-American man is unjustly imprisoned, what’s the impact on a marriage? Heartbreaking. Good writing. Maybe a tiny bit long.
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward. Beautiful, difficult novel about a low-income African American family. with ghosts.
  • Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn. Solid thriller. Very dark. Surprised me even when I thought I was done being surprised. (Not as good as her Gone Girl but better than her Dark Places.)
  • Push, by Sapphire. A harrowing account of a deeply abused young woman and how learning to read and write offer a path to healing.
  • Son, by Lois Lowry. This finale in Lowry’s “The Giver” quartet is a great finale, a good meditation on wants and needs, and it makes the third book – Messenger – more satisfying.
  • Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. Excellent, entertaining retelling of Norse myths. Gaiman narrates the audiobook. A pleasure to listen to.
  • Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor. Binti leaves earth to attend a university with 5 percent humans. Suddenly she’s in the middle of a war. Oh, and she LOVES math. I particularly loved the mathematical meditation.
I read great books on economics, psychology, and political science:
Here are great memoirs:
and memoirs or biographies (and one how-to guide) written as comics:
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir, by Thi Bui. A Vietnamese-American explores her family history and what it means for her identity. Beautiful and powerful. Some Vietnamese history mixed in.
  • You & a Bike & a Road, by Eleanor Davis. Travel memoir of biking across the country. Lots of honest emotion. Quick and interesting.
  • The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea: A Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery, by Vannak Anan Prum. A Cambodian man is enslaved on a fishing boat. After his escape, his documents his story through the images in this book. Powerful and heartbreaking.
  • Hostage, by Guy Delisle (translated by Helge Dascher). Delisle uses a graphic novel to tell the true story of a humanitarian worker who was kidnapped in the Caucases. It is excruciating in the best way, as we follow the hostage’s thoughts and efforts to escape. (I also liked Delisle’s book Pyongyang, about his year working in North Korea.)
  • Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York, by Roz Chast. “This book is a sort-of guide and also a thank-you letter and a love letter to my hometown and New Yorkers everywhere.” Fun book. I laughed aloud many times.
and graphic novels or short stories:
  • My Favorite Things Is Monsters – Volume 1, by Emil Ferris. My favorite graphic novel of the year (lots of other people agree with me). Compelling, gorgeous, very dark mystery and bildungsroman set in 1960s Chicago.
  • Three Shadows, by Cyril Pedrosa (tr. from French by Edward Gauvin). How far will a parent go to save their child from death? This is an urgent little fable. “In this our springtime there is no better, there is no worse. Blossoming branches burgeon as they must. Some are long, some are short.”
  • Boundless, by Jillian Tamaki. Wonderfully weird collection of short stories in comic format. Ends mid-word.
a couple of essay collections:
one wonderful poetry collection:
and a fun book of literary criticism:
and even some kids’ books:
  • The Moomins and the Great Flood, by Tove Jansson (translated by David McDuff). Delightful, sweet, with beautiful illustration. My favorite Moomin book so far. If you don’t know the Moomins, this is a great place to start. Think Winnie the Pooh but wonderfully weirder.
  • Le Petit Prince, by Antoine Saint-Exupery. Poignant, and troubling as I grow older and increasingly identify with the businessman and the lamplighter. I listened in French, so I didn’t catch everything.
  • Brave, by Svetlana Chmakova. This is the second in Chmakova’s deeply affecting middle school graphic novel trilogy. This one explores bullying and left me in tears.
  • Hilo Book 4: Waking the Monsters, by Judd Winick. A girl’s mom wants her to be a cheerleader; she wants to be a ninja wizard instead. Robots! Aliens! So much awesomeness!
I enjoyed many others that I read, and you can read about more of them here.

3 thoughts on “My top books of 2018”

  1. Impressive and fun to see. I just started to catalogue my post GPE reading list but with 4 months of sabbatical clocked only 32 books. We overlap on African literature and Sci fi (I love Binti). My suggestions to you for 2019: Washington Black; Homegoing. On education – Reader Come Home; and for general fiction: The american war; the underground railroad; and Tell the machine (sci fi).

    1. Thanks, Karen! I loved Homegoing, but I haven’t read any of the others. I’m looking forward to checking them out!

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