‘Tis the season for best of book lists. Earlier this month, we raved about the incredible 2018 releases that we read this year. But we also wanted to give a shout to books published before 2018 that had an equally important impact on our reading year. Here’s a look at the best backlist books we read in 2018.
Crazy Rich Asians was wonderful, heartwarming, and dramatic. Rachel Chu agrees to travel to Singapore for the summer with her boyfriend to attend his best friend’s wedding. Little does she know he is basically royalty. Fun, crazy family drama, and excessive wealth and luxury make this story a delight to read. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second two in the trilogy! —Kirsten
The Hate U Give is a masterpiece. Angie Thomas’ writing swept me away from the very first page and left me breathless until the very last. The book follows teenager Starr Carter in the aftermath of her childhood friend’s murder by a police officer. Over the course of the novel, Starr finds her voice and begins to stand up for herself, her friend, and her community. Thomas skillfully balances the book’s exploration of systematic racism and police brutality with moments of happiness as Starr spends time with her family and boyfriend. As a reader, you feel Starr’s emotions as strongly as if they were your own. Reading this book was a deeply emotional experience: I laughed as often as I cried, I was overcome with anger as often as I was filled with joy. This is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, and one I’ll never forget. —Kelly
We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson
This year around Halloween, I worked on a piece for Bookish that Jimmy Cajoleas wrote about why everyone should read Shirley Jackson’s creepy classic novel. I found Cajoleas’ article so convincing that I followed his advice, and I am so glad that I did. The world of this book was so vivid, eerie, and captivating that weeks later, I still find myself thinking about the characters as though they are real people. —Elizabeth
A dear friend lent me Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times by carla berman and Nick Montgomery and I think it reorganized my brain chemistry. Joyful Militancy examines why, in radical organizing spaces, we often find ourselves to be at our most anxious, our most combative, our most suspicious, and can end up replicating all of the same oppressive behaviors we want to build a world without. The authors call this rigid radicalism. Joyful Militancy has given me a framework to better understand how movement spaces (“spaces in which critiques of colonization, capitalism, and Empire already exist”) function and how I interact with those spaces. It has made me reflect on my own gut responses, and has given me a way to feel more open and compassionate, but without losing any analytic edge. Additionally, bergman and Montgomery’s approach to collaboration, quoting, and interviewing is one of the most radical parts about this book. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. —Nina
Monstress: Volume 1 by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda
This year I made it my mission to read more graphic novels, and my absolute favorite was Monstress. I don’t think I have ever read a comic or graphic novel more beautiful than this one. The art is complex and intricate, and Marjorie Liu combines various styles in designing her characters. The cuter chibi side characters add a needed humor and sweetness to this very gritty, bloody, and altogether dark story. Monstress is intense and suspenseful while building a unique world and magic system. The art and the storytelling kept me intrigued from start to finish. There is so much depth to the characters and world, and every page drags you further into the mystery of this monster-filled story. I immediately bought the second volume after finishing it! —Dana
This story of a proposal gone wrong, leading to a break and the attempt to find what our two main characters truly want in life really spoke to me. Lindsey Kelk’s character Liv jumped right out of the pages of this book. I have to admit that I am quite the Anglophile, so the British slang and references got me right on the first page. Liv’s sass and passion for finding her own way, in a life that almost seemed predetermined, was inspirational. This was such a fun read; I couldn’t put it down. —Kirsten
This is a stunning young adult novel about growing up, falling in love, and learning to forge your own path. It centers on Tanner Scott, who hides his bisexuality after moving from California to a conservative Mormon town in Utah. His family loves and accepts him, so keeping this secret from his friends has never bothered him until he begins to fall in love with Sebastian Brother, the bishop’s son. Lauren deftly handles each boy’s journey, from Tanner’s experiences with first love to Sebastian’s struggle to verbalize his sexuality and find comfort in his own skin.
Do you know that Buzzfeed video where they give a drunk girl puppies and she starts crying because she “can’t protect them”? That was me reading this book. Sebastian and Tanner took residence in my heart, and I wanted so badly to be their shield against a cruel world. But this book goes to show that while we can’t always be there to shield the ones we love, we can be a safe place they know they’re always welcome to retreat to. I won’t spoil the ending, except to say it was satisfying in every way. This is a nuanced and heartfelt story that I cannot recommend highly enough. —Kelly
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
I was inspired to pick up Anthony Bourdain’s beloved book after his death earlier this year. I found it completely fascinating, and picked up some great cooking advice. Among my favorite tidbits is this gem: “Garlic is divine… Misuse of garlic is a crime. Old garlic, burnt garlic, garlic cut too long ago, garlic that has been tragically smashed through one of those abominations, the garlic press, are all disgusting. Please treat your garlic with respect… Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.” —Elizabeth
I don’t think I have ever cried as much reading a book as I did read while reading the last few chapters of Clockwork Princess. This summer, I was determined to get caught up on Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter world starting with a reread of the The Mortal Instruments books and moving onto the Infernal Devices, in the order that Clare recommends. The Infernal Devices series is much slower, but that allowed for much more character growth and development of relationships. Everything about this series was a slow burn, which made the culmination so much more impactful. I don’t think I have ever read a love triangle where I genuinely wanted the character to end up with each love interest. The ending was a perfect mix of devastating grief and hopeful sweetness. The end of Clockwork Princess perfect wove the two stories back together. Gah, I could passionately gush or cry about this book all day! —Dana