I read 32 books in 2018, 14 of which were published in that year. Rating books always makes me self conscious, especially when I read two of the New York Times’ picks for top 10 books published this year (Educated and The Perfect Nanny) and didn’t love them—and even more so that I read Exit West this year, a favorite of Obama, Joanna Goddard, and my mom, and it didn’t make my top 10 either. So much of my reaction to what I read is dependent on context—Did I read it on vacation? On my commute, for 30 minutes a day over two weeks? Who recommended it to me? Because of context, this list could be totally different were I to read the same 32 books next year. (OK, a couple might change, but I also don’t want to diminish how much I loved and devoured certain books on the list!) All that to say, here were my favorite books I read in 2018, more or less in order (* to indicate the book was published in 2018):
I kind of pride myself on having a solid pulse on books. Even if I haven’t read a certain author or novel, I’ll usually have some knowledge of why it’s important, which of my friends loved it, etc. Which is why I was shocked when one of my coworkers brought this to a book exchange, I’d never heard of it before, and half the room agreed it was one of their all-time favorite books! Needless to say, I had to learn more, so I made it my July goal to get through all 936 pages. And I’m so glad I did. I can understand why this book is polarizing—the main character is either a lying narcissist or a lovable antihero—but I really, really loved it. Shantaram chronicles a Kiwi prison escapee as he finds himself in India, where he makes a home, falls in love, and starts a medical practice in the slum where he lives. The way my coworker describes it is still spot on: “If anyone were able to tell just one of this guy’s stories, they would have lived a pretty crazy life.” It’s insightful, tender, funny, adventurous, and a perfect armchair travel book, whether you’re dreaming of a trip to India or a life far wilder than your urban 9-5.
27-year-old author Sally Rooney is not someone I’d want to be friends with. I’d fear the power of her simple, yet astute and critical observations, which remind me of Hemingway—but instead of writing with internalized misogyny, she exposes it. She writes about all the simple words we say and mundane actions we take and weaves them into storylines which are incredibly relatable threads of social commentary. This book is the perfect combination of thought-provoking and page-turning.
I could not put this book down. It’s the true story of the rise and fall of Theranos, the blood testing company founded by Elizabeth Holmes who, at the time of its founding, was a 22-year-old Stanford dropout whose ambition would stop at nothing. It took me a while to pick up this book, because I was afraid it would be too in the weeds about the technology, but it’s more a dramatic expose of all the worst parts of Silicon Valley: blind trust, endless capital, and the startups that convince themselves and everyone around them that they are going to be The Company that changes the world.
Everything I Know About Love*
I became a loyal listener of The High Low podcast after my friend Laura convinced me I would love it: They’re journalists so it’s well-paced! They don’t waste tons of time with fluff! But there’s still witty banter! She was right, and I became a near-instant fan girl of Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. In Dolly’s debut memoir, she chronicles everything from her most outrageous college stories, to bad dates in London, to her best friend’s younger sister’s battle with cancer. I don’t think you have to be a Dolly fan or even know who she is to enjoy this all too relatable account of modern dating and, more importantly, a loving and beautiful tribute to one of the deepest loves there is, which is very rarely painted with the gravitas it deserves—our relationships with our closest girlfriends.
Conversations With Friends
Also by Sally Rooney, her debut novel (released in 2017) which similarly examines modern relationships, this time with best friends who used to be lovers and an affair with a married man.
A “what if” story of love, relationships, and the many ways we never grow out of either with certain people, The Mothers is a good story by an exceptional writer.
The Rules do Not Apply
Ariel Levy is a journalist whose life is truly turned upside down—death, divorce, a big move, etc. I read this honest memoir in a day and recommend it for a dose of wit, motivation, and girl power.
An American Marriage
A careful look at race relations in America through a marriage and an unjust incarceration, this story makes you feel very aware (and like shit) of our horrendous history with racism without shoving it down your throat in an obvious, lazy way.
Set in the early 20th century between Korea and Japan, Pachinko is an intergenerational story of a family that exposes the cruel treatment of the Koreans by the Japanese during this time (which, honestly, I didn’t know anything about). A story of betrayal, sacrifice, and unconditional love.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
One of my favorite reading “hacks” is how to smarten up your vacation reads (not that you need to justify reading whatever you want!). Sometimes I just want a lighthearted book I can devour in 2-3 days, but I find I enjoy these reads even more when I’m still learning. In choosing “easy” fiction that takes place in an unfamiliar setting, I’m still able to pick up on little cultural details, language, customs, slang, etc. This book ticked all these boxes—it takes place in a Punjabi community in London, and was a light, lovely (at times, yes, erotic!) read.
And a bonus…
Places I Stopped on the Way Home
I’m adding this as a bonus because this isn’t an objective recommendation; I’m friends with Meg Fee and she worked with me last summer at Cora. BUT I truly loved Meg’s collection of personal essays and vignettes illustrating her time in New York. It’s painfully relatable to many of my experiences with dating and relationships throughout my early- and mid-twenties, prioritizing love and relationships with men who were nowhere near ready to commit, while cycling in and out of self acceptance. It’s both a love-letter-to and warning-against Manhattan, which I think is very fair for broke, single twenty-somethings.
What did you read and love in 2018? What’s on your list for 2019? I’d love to hear.