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My best books of 2018 include some that are new this year, some that are older, and mostly fiction and one nonfiction book.
The halfway point of the year is a good time to look back and decide on the best books you’ve read so far in the year. I like looking back on my favorites at this time for a few reasons:
I can check in on my reading goals and decide if I’m on track or need to adjust for the rest of the year. I don’t set number goals for my reading, but I have two general goals I’m working toward: reading the books on my shelf, and working through my reading bucket list.
While I don’t expect to finish either this year, I can already see that, after a few months of reading newer books from the library, it’s time to return to my own shelf for a bit.
Creating End-of-Year Lists
Mid-year lists are useful in creating the end-of-year “best of” lists–and always interesting to see what stays on the list and what is bumped for something read later in the year.
Reading other people’s lists helps me prioritize some of my reading for the rest of the year. Both Sarah’s and Susie’s lists have some great books (and overlap some with mine). Based on their strong recommendations, I know I want to read both The Great Believers and Us Against You before the end of the year.
The Best Books of 2018 (So Far)
I try to read a good mix of backlist books and new releases, so not all of the books on my list are new in 2018. Here are the best books I’ve read this year–so far:
Cyril Avery was born to an unwed mother in Ireland in the 1940s--an unthinkable and shameful thing, at that time. Cyril is adopted by Charles and Maude Avery, who are indifferent and self-centered, but not neglectful.
From an early age, Cyril knows he's different: not a "real Avery," as Charles is quick to remind him, and realizing that he is not attracted to girls like his friends are--something that's even more shameful at that time in Ireland. In fact, Cyril harbors a deep love for his womanizing friend and eventual school roommate, Julian Woodbead.
The book follows Cyril through his life, from his youth and twenties spent in hiding and public denial in a repressive Dublin to a more open life in middle age in Amsterdam and New York. Cyril's search for identity, belonging, acceptance, and family is by turns funny, frustrating, and sad.
Some of the characters feel a bit like caricatures, but they serve to highlight some of the extreme attitudes Cyril, his mother, and so many others faced in those decades in Ireland. I loved this book, and though Cyril could be frustrating, I wanted to see him find happiness and contentment with himself.More info →
Kindred is famous for being the first science fiction novel written by a black woman. That's significant, but the science fiction part of this story--the time travel--isn't what makes it so compelling.
In the 1970s, a 26-year-old black woman is suddenly pulled back through time to save the life of a young boy who grows to be a slave owner in 1800s Maryland. Yanked without warning between present and past and back again, she returns multiple times throughout his life (as only minutes or hours pass in her own), and she realizes that she must keep him alive so he can father her great-grandmother. But through this, she also must live the life of a slave and face all the indignities, hardships, and heartbreaks that come with it.
This is an illuminating look at the lives of slaves, cognizant of our modern ideas that the people who were slaves must have been tougher than people now, somehow superhuman in their ability to endure. But the wounds from the whips and chains and inhuman disregard for their lives and families were real, and Butler sensitively examines the ways in which the people were beaten and worn into submission.
Light on the sci-fi aspects (sudden unexplained time travel is the only element) and a fast, worthwhile but difficult read (due to the subject matter). Highly recommended.More info →
Eleanor has her routine down to a science: work, weekly phone calls with her mother, and weekends with vodka (and nothing or no one else). She's fine, and she's even ready to pursue a relationship with a musician who seems perfect for her (though she hasn't actually met him).
Never mind that she has no social life, no friends, and she tends to say brutally honest, awkward, and somewhat inappropriate things. She starts working out a self-improvement plan in anticipation of her future relationship with the musician, despite her mother's cruel discouragement.
Meanwhile, she finds herself in an unexpected friendship with her coworker, Raymond, when they help an elderly gentleman after a fall. Slowly, the friendship helps draw Eleanor out of her isolation, but also pushes her toward difficult truths about herself, her past, and her future.
Eleanor is endearing for her mix of self-awareness and oblivious social awkwardness, and Raymond is an unexpected hero. This book manages to be funny, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at once.More info →
Ada has never seen the world beyond the dirty London street that she sees outside of her window. She's never seen grass or trees, and she's not exactly sure how old she is (she guesses nine). Her abusive mother has kept Ada locked inside her entire life, ashamed of her club foot.
When her brother Jamie is to be evacuated to the countryside to avoid the anticipated bombings of World War II, Ada steels herself and sneaks away from her mother. They find themselves in Kent, placed with Susan Smith, a woman who lives alone and does not want children.
Despite her unwillingness and her grief over her deceased partner (hinted at in the book, but not discussed in detail), Susan cares for the children, seeing to both their health and education.
Ada finds solace in a pony, crutches, and a physical freedom she'd never had, all while building relationships and a new confidence. But she struggles with the trauma of her past. Is she worthy of being loved? Will she be rejected again, or forced to go back to her mother? Could her foot ever be fixed?
These uncertainties weigh, until the war comes to their doorstep and the stakes are raised. This was an amazing middle grade book, full of history and realistic, flawed characters. I was enthralled and I loved the sequel just as much.More info →
Melinda is starting high school an outcast, rejected by her friends and the rest of the school for calling the cops at a summer party. With surprising humor and insight, she navigates the halls and grows increasingly isolated, retreating into herself and speaking less and less.
She finds solace and purpose in her year-long project for art class, which helps her come to terms with what happened to her at that party. When she realizes her former friend is in danger, she must find her voice again and speak up for both herself and others.
Published in 1999 but particularly timely in this age of #MeToo, Speak is a must-read for teen girls and women still working to find their own voices, and for boys and men seeking a greater understanding of how sexual assault and harassment actually affect women.More info →
The Gunners is a story of childhood friendships revisited in adulthood. This is a common theme that often seems to be explored in more sinister books--The Chalk Man and several by Stephen King come to mind. While there are hints of underlying darkness in this book--the driver for the reunion, after all, is the suicide of one of the friends--the story is less about the sinister than about the friendships.
Mikey Callahan is the only one of six childhood friends to remain in their hometown, aside from the long-estranged Sally, who has taken her life in adulthood. The remaining friends trickle into town for the funeral, reconnect, and confess old and new secrets.
As long-held misunderstandings are remedied, the friends realize that they may not have known each other as well as they thought--but also that this unknowing is a constant in relationships, and they can endure anyway. While not everything is resolved--as it almost never is in the case of suicide--this is a lovely book about the power of friendship, forgiveness, and acceptance.More info →
The Female Persuasion was one of my most-anticipated books of 2018 and it lived up to my expectations. Meg Wolitzer perfectly captures that disorienting time in college and early adulthood that so many people experience. The time seems defined by uncertainty about so many things: identity, values and political beliefs, the role of past relationships in future lives, and the relationships and goals we'll pursue.
Greer embodies all of these uncertainties, and feels she's found a foothold after an encounter with Faith Frank, an aging activist in the women's movement. The memory of that encounter drives Greer through college toward a career working with Frank--forever placed on a pedestal and seen as a mentor.
Life is on track for both career and relationships...until suddenly it's not and things aren't working out quite as planned. Greer must reconcile her past mistakes, decide what she's willing to compromise, and move past her youthful idealism to more fully see herself and those she loves and idolizes.More info →
Rosie and Penn are raising a loud, unique family of five boys. From science to stories to knitting to costumes, the family is full of quirks that are embraced and nurtured.
So when 5-year-old Claude declares that he wants to be a girl, his parents support him. Soon Claude has become Poppy, a girl to all outside the family and accepted as one within his family. But secrets weigh heavy, time can't be slowed, and the safety of childhood and family can't shield Poppy from difficult future decisions and the outside world forever.
I loved this story of imperfect parents whose hardest lesson isn't accepting a child who is different, but accepting that facing the difficulties and fears is sometimes the best way to be supportive.More info →
As a young child, Tara Westover's upbringing seemed almost charming and old fashioned. Living on a mountain in Idaho, the family strived for self-sufficiency based in faith and closeness to one another. As Tara grew up, however, she realized that their lives were driven by paranoid survivalism, religious extremism, abuse, and possibly mental illness.
Tara's memoir traces the path from her cloistered upbringing--during which she never set foot in school--to her eventual education at BYU, Cambridge, and Harvard.
But more important than her formal educational path is her move toward awareness and a sense of self that wasn't allowed in her mountaintop life. Educated explores her attempts to reconcile this new sense of self and the boundaries she learns to set with the love and longing she feels for her family.
An incredible read both for the excellent writing and the author's thoughtful, unblinking, nuanced look at herself and her own life.More info →
Roy and Celestial are on top of the world: young, talented, newlyweds, and planning their futures and family. When a trip to Roy's hometown puts them in the wrong place at the wrong time, Roy finds himself convicted of a crime he didn't commit, and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Their dreams shattered, Roy lives in limbo and struggles to hold onto his marriage, while Celestial pursues her goals and tries to live her life without her husband present.
As years go by, the two must determine whether their marriage can survive Roy's incarceration. This book is a thoughtful look at the personal costs of racial injustice in the United States.Roy and Celestial are both flawed but sympathetic characters as they navigate lives held hostage.
There are no easy answers as the families try to salvage the wreckage wrought by racism and a system that assumes guilt.More info →
Which of these have you read? What are the best books you’ve read so far in 2018?