2018 was a solid reading year for me, and today I’m sharing the best-of-the-best: the handful of truly exceptional titles that earned a spot at the top of my list.
I track my titles in my reading journal, and put a simple little star by especially noteworthy titles. Despite my best efforts at record-keeping, I’m probably forgetting a favorite here, because I always do. I tried to keep my list short, or I could have included thirty titles.
I adored Mirza’s slow-burning debut about an Indian-American Muslim family, which skillfully probes themes of identity, culture, family, and generational change. The story opens with the oldest daughter’s wedding: the bride scans the crowd for her beloved yet rebellious brother, hoping he'll appear despite being estranged from the family for years. Through a series of flashbacks, and in rotating points of view, Mirza examines the series of small betrayals that splintered the family, skillfully imbuing quotidian events—a chance meeting at a party, a dinner conversation about a spelling test—with deep significance, showing how despite their smallness, they irrevocably alter the course of the family’s life. The last section is a stunner, but grab the tissues first. More info →
Have you ever read a book that made the world around you feeI just a little bit magical? I first raved about this latest from Jon Cohen to the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club, and we're reading it together in January. This story features an unlikely friendship, a book-within-a-book, a battle to save the local library, and a mysterious good Samaritan, all set amidst the beautiful Pennsylvania forest. More info →
I loved this emotionally resonant debut about class, culture, regret, and the road not taken; it deserves more attention than it's gotten. After twenty years abroad, the Zhens return to their native China to take up residence among Shanghai’s nouveau riche. But deep unease lies behind the façade of their pampered lifestyle, and the reappearance of a long-lost brother stirs up a host of long-buried emotions, and forces the family to revisit complicated (and secret) past choices. The backdrop of contemporary Shanghai and a national festival highlights how the family embodies China’s current conflicts and complexities: rich vs poor, urban vs rural, old vs new values (and I loved talking with Cindy Brandt about the realities of these divides in episode 140 of What Should I Read Next). More info →
In her new standalone novel (and a minimalist summer reading guide pick), Marisa de los Santos returns to the characters she introduced in Love Walked In. The day before her wedding, Clare, now a grown-up, has cold feet. Enter Edith, an elderly stranger Clare connects with instantly, who nudges Clare to cancel her wedding to a man who scares her. Not long after, Clare receives notice that Edith has died, and bequeathed her a strange gift—her house. Clare seeks refuge there after her nonwedding, and soon learns hints of the past role the house—and Edith—played in a "relocation system" that served women fleeing domestic violence in the 1950s. Easy to read while covering serious emotional territory, packed with literary references that will warm book lovers' hearts. More info →
This book took my by surprise. In this quiet and timely pageturner, a man recounts the tumultuous events of his 12th year, back in his small hometown of Bentrock, Montana. The story begins with the death of his beloved Sioux housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier; even as a 12-year-old he can see her death is suspicious, and he fears the blame lies at his family's door. I wasn't initially inclined to pick this up, but my husband urged me to read it. I'm glad he did. (Listen to me recommend this to Chelsey and Curtis as a couples read on episode 164 of What Should I Read Next.) More info →
Adebayo's debut is a powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide’s mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband’s second wife, that she didn’t know he’d married. More info →
I loved Walker's 2012 debut The Age of Miracles and have been impatiently waiting for a follow-up. It's finally (almost here): this one doesn't come out till 2019, but its release date is right around the corner. The story begins with a college student crawling into bed and falling asleep. Her roommate thinks she has the flu ... but she doesn't wake up. She's patient zero of a strange illness that plunges its victims into deep sleeps some never wake up from. The community is quarantined, but as the illness nevertheless spreads, so does the sense of panic. I flew through this unusual book: equal parts mystery, fantasy, and dystopian novel, all overlaid with a dream-like quality. More info →
Plenty of people get tons done but still feel frustrated with how they’re spending their time. In her latest time-management book, Vanderkam examines highly productive people who—despite their commitments, obligations, and successful enterprises—feel like they have all the time in the world, and she investigates what exactly they’re doing that causes them to feel that way. The seven mindset shifts presented here are full of stories about real people, which makes this both helpful and fun to read. More info →
Walkable City was one of my favorite nonfiction books of years gone by—it's a book I can't stop talking about. So of course I couldn't wait to get my hands on Jeff Speck's latest, devoted to "everything that people tend to get wrong these days when designing pieces of cities." I was pleased to see it's not a retread of Walkable City, and contains overwhelmingly new content. More info →
I'm cheating a little, because this book doesn't come out until 2019. But I'm sliding it in because it comes out just 15 days into the New Year, and I loved it so much. This is Shapiro's story about how she very recently discovered a life-changing, identity-threatening secret about her family, and what happened next. If you've enjoyed Shapiro's work in the past, like her most recent memoir Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, I recommend you avoid the spoiler-laden reviews (that specify what that family secret is) and dive right in. More info →
You know it's a good sign when you want to read a book out loud to anyone close enough to listen, and that was me with this new Anne Lamott book (which, as a bonus, is completely gorgeous). The guiding principle here, as she expresses in her "Humans 101" chapter, is: "Almost everything is screwed up, broken, clingy, scared, and yet designed for joy." I laughed, I cried—sometimes on the same page. This was a no-brainer for my favorites list because I've referenced this book and it's central idea so much in conversation since I first read it. More info →
This is the story of an unlikely but successful marriage between a floundering American professor and a British film star who hated the limelight so much she faked her own death and disappeared ... until an unexpected bit of news, twenty years old but newly discovered, threatens to unravel everything they've built together. Family stories are commonplace in fiction, but I love this one for its intricate plotting, nuanced characters, true-to-life feel, and ultimate hopefulness.
My favorite Kelly Corrigan memoir by a long shot. I adored this book, I wish I could download it into my brain, I want everyone I know to read it, and we’ll never exhaust the discussion topics it presents. More info →