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In putting together my best books of 2018, I had a difficult time deciding how to select the books.
My inclination is almost always toward literary and contemporary fiction–those are the books I like to read and that tend to get the the highest ratings.
But I also wanted to acknowledge the books in other categories that I read, and books that weren’t only published in 2018.
My read my shelf challenge had me reading a lot of backlist books, and despite excitement over new books, they remain worth reading.
So this year, I came up with a few different categories for my “best books of 2018” list and chose three books for each.
I could have had more categories, and narrowing down to three in some cases was not easy.
Interestingly, when I scrolled back through my Goodreads ratings, not all of these were five-star books at the time I rated them.
The ones that made my list may not be perfect, but they are the ones that stuck with me the most–and to me, that is the mark of a great book.
Best Fiction Published in 2018
This category was the biggie for me this year. I probably could have filled this entire list with excellent 2018 books and left it at that.
It’s a great problem to have, because it means the reading was stellar! These are the three that ultimately rose to the top of my list:
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
If I had to choose a favorite of the year, it would be this book about a group of friends in the Chicago gay community who are affected by the AIDs crisis. The book alternates between the 1980s and 2015, placing the crisis alongside so many tragedies and losses that have occurred since. My review | Buy on Amazon
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
Though this book didn’t get a perfect 5 stars from me when I first rated it, when I looked back at the books I read over the year, this followup to Beartown stuck out as the kind of sweeping story that I love. Backman’s intricate portrait of a small hockey town, its residents, and the myriad tensions driving them is truly masterful. My review | Buy on Amazon
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I wasn’t sure a book set in a southern swamp would be for me, but this story of a young girl abandoned by her family and fending for herself was just lovely. The murder Kya gets tangled with is almost beside the point; her independence, unfolding relationships, and self-directed education make her one of my most rooted-for characters of the year. My review | Buy on Amazon
Also see: 13 Books Like Where the Crawdads Sing
Best Fiction Published in 2017
Since I sometimes find myself still excited about the books I missed that were released in the previous year, I thought I’d include a category for 2017.
These are still new enough to interest readers who like to read the latest fiction–and the three I’ve chosen are not to be missed.
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
Quite possibly one of my favorite World War II books ever, We Were the Lucky Ones is a fictionalized account of the author’s family during the war. Hunter managed to weave together the complicated, far-flung stories of two parents and their five grown children and their families in a way that was heartbreaking, illuminating, and that kept me on the edge of my seat. My review | Buy on Amazon
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
One of my first reads of the year, this held its place among the best. How could it not? With its Dublin setting, its misfit main character, and story told across decades, it was pretty much a shoe-in before I ever read it. My review | Buy on Amazon
This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
The perfect imperfection of the family in this book, struggling with how best to pave the way for young Claude who wants more than anything to be Poppy, placed this book firmly on my best of 2018 list. It doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of Poppy’s life, even with the unconditional support of family, nor does it neglect the impact of their decisions on the rest of the family. My review | Buy on Amazon
Best Backlist Fiction/Modern Classics
There are always classics on my TBR list, and the ones in this category are more “modern classics”–which is probably why I enjoyed them so much.
I hope to read more books that fall into this category and spend less time slogging through older classics that don’t interest me as much.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
This book is best known as the first science fiction novel by a black woman, but it’s pretty light on the sci-fi (unexplained time travel is really the only element) and most effective for its look at life as a slave, through the lens of a modern woman. The unique perspective makes the horror of slavery and the people who endured it all the more real. My review | Buy on Amazon
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The castle setting and the flighty family that occupies it share center stage in this tale of their efforts to lift themselves out of poverty and back into their previous genteel lives. By turns funny, perplexing, and charming, this is a classic for anyone who loves the whimsy of Anne Shirley but wants a more grown-up story. My review | Buy on Amazon
Best Young Adult Fiction
While young adult novels are not my usual fare, I do like to read them now and then. My aim is to find books that both appeal to adult readers and feel authentic in their portrayal of teens.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
A modern teen classic that retains its relevance in the age of #MeToo, Speak highlights the isolation that can follow assault, with surprising humor. Relatable and insightful, too many women will identify with this story. My review | Buy on Amazon
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
One of the lightest books I’ve read all year, this book and the two that follow are almost impossibly cute. Lara Jean is charming in her earnest innocence, and her relationship with her sisters is enviable. The Netflix movie is the rare adaptation that might be even better than the book. My review | Buy on Amazon
Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this YA audiobook. This story of a teen grieving her mother while adapting to a new family and school life was easy to follow but also thoughtful and driven by a light mystery. My review | Buy on Amazon
I don’t read enough nonfiction to break it down by year, so it all gets lumped in one category for me. It seems memoirs are really my thing when it comes to nonfiction lately, so I’ll have to be on the lookout for more good ones.
Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover’s journey from a sheltered child of survivalist extremists to Cambridge PhD was colored by abuse, mental illness, and a devotion to her family and upbringing that kept bringing her back. It’s a difficult story to understand, but Westover articulates both her connections and her need to break them with hard-won insight and thoughtful reflection. My review | Buy on Amazon
Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett
Just about anything by Ann Patchett is usually a winner for me, and I was pleased to discover that this memoir was the same. Her friendship with the poet Lucy Grealy was both consuming and life-defining, and it was fascinating to learn about their shared journey to writing success, as well as their personal struggles. My review | Buy on Amazon
Sue Klebold’s relentless examination of her life with Eric Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters, is heartbreaking. Having both lost her own son and faced the horror of what he had done, Klebold lays bare every fact of their lives, both before and after the shooting. She never excuses Eric’s actions, but she does try to understand, and her findings about teen mental health are important. My review | Buy on Amazon
What were your best books of 2018?
I’ll be taking next week off to spend time with family over Christmas, but I’ll be back in the new year. Merry Christmas to all!
You might also like: The 12 Best Books of 2017