Year in review: best books of 2018

I’m doing this a little differently than last year. My 2018 reading year was one of five standouts, a handful of good reads and a string of books that, for of the most part, lolled about, neither good nor bad but certainly indifferent to taking a shot at greatness.

I had to do something to add a little year-end spice to the list because the same mentions for everything just isn’t all that fun, is it? I scrapped the 5-4-3-2-1 format of 2017 as well as my separate review of authors. Neither was going to work for the 2018 year-end recap.

Apart from the two disappointments of the year (obv), take each category below as a recommendation. Teaser? 2018 gave me a new all-time favorite novel.

So here goes: what was tops  in 2018?

Top FIVE books overall

Before we break it down, which books did I enjoy the most?

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

The Makioka Sisters by Junichirō Tanizaki

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann




TWO books everyone needs to read

…and I don’t say this lightly

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

I’ve not read a more perfect novel since Anna Karenina.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

I’ve read this a few times, but it hit me this year just how much of a masterpiece this short work is. Live an honest life; we all die.




Best in originality

The two rebels of 2018

Comemadre by Roque Larraquy

Like reading a canvas, like writing a sculpture, and all the while thinking about that tiniest moment when life becomes death.

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

The best description is the one on the back cover: Woodpecker is a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes.



The TWO that disappointed

They can’t all be winners.

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

Just LOL that anyone could say it’s a thriller. False advertising and a writer’s good talent poorly invested.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I admit that I was drawn in by a pretty cover and a prologue of pretty writing. Essex Serpent was another one that wasn’t what it purported to be, but Perry’s writing style is one that has piqued my interest, so I won’t write her off just yet. She also had some good parts to her story once I got past that it wasn’t the novel I purchased. (Okay, I’m still a little salty over it).



THREE books that will surprise you

(one for its prose, one for its story, the other for its century-old modernity)

The Long Valley by John Steinbeck

If all you know of Steinbeck is the turtle in the road and the old guy sucking a boob or whatever else you picked up from The Grapes of Wrath (which, jesting aside, is also good), then pick up these early stories. In The Long Valley, Steinbeck gives you the breadth of his writing. For one thing, he can be quite funny. For another, he can hypnotize and then whip you with a good twist – all in the space of a few pages.

The three Theban plays of Sophocles

Good ol’ Oedipus isn’t just a man who kills his dad and fucks his mom. You’ll be as surprised as I was to find the best of mankind in him.

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald wrote Paradise in 1920, but you’ll be thrown by just how relevant it is. A lot can happen in a century but this guy knew the timelessness of youth.



A book that hurts

(because it makes you feel)

Tanizaki, Makioka Sisters

The Makioka Sisters by Junichirō Tanizaki

If it’s any good, a novel will prompt emotion, but it’s a rare few that find their way under the skin (The Garden of Eden also comes to mind). In The Makioka Sisters we watch a family slowly go to pieces. It hurts so much because it’s of their own doing and yet they can’t stop it when blinded by the familial love they have for each other. Remarkable in characterization, in flow of writing and in Tanizaki’s ability to convey emotion that seeps and expands as the novel progresses.



Four books for the four seasons

January to December, all the year ’round— I got ch’you.

Cozy in winter: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Fresh and cathartic in the spring: Kokoro by Natsume Soseki

Action-packed and fun for hot-hot summer: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Dense and heady in autumn: The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann



Three books for when you feel lost

Of 25 books in 2018, three of them were about growing up. Each of them is worth your while.

If you’re on the cusp of adolescence, turn to Lois Lowry and The Giver.

If you’re about to graduate college, pick up Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise.

And if you’re hitting the first (or any of the recurring) depressions of adulthood, look no further than Dostoevsky and The Adolescent.



The new kid in town

Who had me cheating on Tolstoy? Because I have a new favorite book.

Mann, the Magic Mountain

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

That’s right. 2018 brought me that always-sought-after and oh-so-rare thing: a book you begin to call you’re favorite of all time (okay, co-favorite, because War and Peace still has my heart, too, but even a co-favorite is a cherished thing).



Find the full reviews in the Masthead’s archive

…and then tell me, from your own 2018—

what’s worth reading?

3 thoughts on “Year in review: best books of 2018

    • It’s a recommendation from a recommendation haha a good friend told me how much he enjoyed it and how….full….yeah, no other word for it – full – it is. It’s one that has so much room for ambiguity; the kind of book that doesn’t let your head take in everything at once. You can piece it up in different ways (if that makes sense…haha)

      Liked by 1 person

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