The year in books: Everything you need to know 2018's biggest titles
Call us a little biased, but we believe that 2018 was the year of the book. Sure, it was a great 12 months for television. The movie industry opened its doors — despite what the Golden Globes’ Best Director field may show — for new voices and stories of all kinds. The music world has “thank u, next.” But, dare we say, we’re at Peak Book.
The fiction industry in particular has long been dominated by a very narrow view of what an author looks like (white, male), with the point of view to match. But that homogeneity has come to pass, and both best-of and best-seller lists are rife with the experiences of America as a whole. In EW’s own top 10 books list, our venerable critics nearly found themselves looking for the token male for once.
Because no single person can keep up with all this exciting change — and the dizzying number of big releases, debuts, and smash hits — we’ve compiled all the most important book moments of 2018 into one place. First up…
The best of the best
10. The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
9. Heavy, by Kiese Laymon
8. Circe, by Madeline Miller
7. There There, by Tommy Orange
6. Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk
5. Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan
4. The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner
3. The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai
2. The Recovering, by Leslie Jamison
1. My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh
(Read more about our favorite books of the year.)
The worst books
Before we get to the best of the rest, we have to deal with the icky stuff. Because, despite all the beautiful prose in 2018, there were still some titles that were irresponsible, problematic, or just plain tacky. In the former camp, we have Girl, Wash Your Face, a self-help book that serves only to make readers feel even worse about themselves than they did when they started, thanks to troubling missives about dieting and a boatload of white privilege.
Fox News talking head Tucker Carlson chimed in to warn readers of the perils of today’s political environs in Ship of Fools, but did so with reporting that doesn’t measure up to typical journalistic standards. James Frey, author of famously controversial A Million Little Pieces, earns his spot on this list for his unspeakably bad sex scenes in Katerina, which warrant an apology to all womankind. And in the less problematic but just plain disappointing camp is the cringingly sappy novel The Next Person You Meet in Heaven.
While 2018 brought new work by literary heavyweights (Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, Rachel Kushner, etc.), it was also marked by dozens of first-time novels and memoirs that gave us faith that the system is working. They brought us tales exploring the queer scene in 1980s Harlem and the life of a Nigerian immigrant, a brutally honest musing on motherhood, and more.
Cherry, by Nico Walker
There There, by Tommy Orange
The Incendiaries, by R.O. Kwon
The Golden State, by Lydia Kiesling
Everything Under, by Daisy Johnson
Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday
Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi
The House of Impossible Beauties, by Joseph Cassara
Brass, by Xhenet Aliu
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
(Read more about our favorite debut novels of 2018.)
YA good Enough for everyone
Young-adult fiction doesn’t always get its proper due. In years past it’s often been thought of as lesser than — offering useful stories for teens but nothing for the rest of us. But 2018’s slate of books for the younger set proves that grown-ups have every reason to pick up these tomes. (And with Angie Thomas’ much-anticipated second novel, On the Come Up, due in February, 2019 is looking just as bright.)
Our favorite YA titles were socially relevant and progressive. Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, an empowering amplification of the Latinx experience, follows protagonist Xiomara, a teenager living in Harlem who’s struggling to understand her place in the world and begins expressing herself through poetry. What If It’s Us is an irresistible romantic comedy about two boys who meet-cute in New York City but don’t know where to go from there.
Taherah Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea is about Shirin, a 16-year-old Muslim girl just trying to live day-to-day in post-9/11 America. And Bridge of Clay, from The Book Thief author Markus Zusak, is a time-jumping, dreamlike exploration of family — and proof that the “YA” label doesn’t exclude complex, demanding literature.
(Read more about our favorite YA books of the year.)
Lastly, 2018 was a year of political memoirs. The Trump presidency begat all sorts of tell-alls — stories we asked for and stories we definitely did not. In the former category comes Michelle Obama’s Becoming, a breath of fresh air that lives up to all the hype and alleviates some of our collective pain and longing from the very first sentence. It stands as a shining beacon of what a political memoir should be, and a stark contrast to some of the other tomes in this category. Read the rest if you dare; we can’t promise you’ll come out unscathed.