My Top 10 Books of 2018


What a wonderful year for literature it has been! I’ve been lucky to read some incredible books (I’ve also spent a small fortune on said books, but that’s beside the point), visit new bookstores, and fall in love with things that are outside of my normal scope of reading.

I started out with a private goal of reading fifty-two books and a public goal of reading every day. I’ve never catalogued my reading before this year so I didn’t know if that would be a good place to start. While I actually didn’t manage to read every day of the year, I did manage to hit & surpass my total goal and I should be up to fifty-four by years’ end.

People always ask me how I read so much, and I promise I’m not just blessed with tons of free time. As with any habit or hobby, it has to take priority over other things to become a regular part of your life. My biggest advice is always keeping a book handy! Whether you’re waiting at the doctor or sitting on the bus, you’d be surprised at the progress you can make when you swap your phone for a book during this downtime. I also don’t watch a ton of television, and use the time I would spend on that to read instead. Both of these things are immensely easier when you’re reading something you’re excited about, too!

To keep track of what I’ve read this year, I kept a numbered list on my phone that I updated each time I completed a book. If it left me with that incredible just-finished-an-amazing-piece feeling, I put an asterisk by it. Pretty simple, but I started to look so forward to adding to my list! I also wanted to push myself this year to read things I normally wouldn’t, and some of those ended up being my favorite ones. Also, these are in the order I read them in, not in the order of preference!

  • Rules of Civility - Amor Towles. An early love for Fitzgerald has me doomed to be enamored with anything set in the golden years of New York City, but even without my internal bias this book can hold its own. This was the first book I read of 2018 and it started the year on a great note. Is it anything complicated or overtly intellectual? No. Is it a well-written and thought provoking glimpse at the gilded haunts of old Manhattan? Yes. It may be a basic plot, but the prose will stop you from putting it down. Full disclosure, I did not like this author’s later work, A Gentleman in Moscow, but this one I thoroughly enjoyed.

  • This is the Story of a Happy Marriage - Ann Patchett. I’m obsessed with Ann Patchett. I love Ann Patchett. Ann Patchett is one of my heroes, and this essay collection is what made me feel this way. This is the book that inspired me to write, inspired me to live, and reminded me that we’re not alone despite life’s weird and crazy circumstances. Patchett has an otherworldly gift for communication via prose, and this book will make you feel like you’re having a cup of coffee with her. If you’re looking for gift ideas, essay collections are perfect for the casual reader because you can come back to them whenever you have a small snippet of time.

  • This is How it Always Is - Laurie Frankel. This book stirred up so many feelings in the best way possible. Instead of alternating perspectives, it’s written in a way that gives you a small glimpse into a family’s life. As they learn, grow, & struggle together, you’re transported right along with them. It’s incredibly well-done and a lovely way to learn about an issue many of us have likely not had experience with firsthand.

  • Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) - Kate Bowler. Tiny in size but packed with inspiration, this book is a memoir piece of a woman diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She shares her open struggles with religion, fate, & the meaning of life with gripping prose that will have you feeling it all right alongside her.

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman. This book is so many things — heartbreaking, heartwarming, and hilarious to name a few. This is a novel to read when you want to be reminded of the joy a good book can bring. It’s rare that I read books so shortly after they’re released (only because I’m cheap and they will eventually go down in price), but this one is now sitting just under the $10 mark, making it perfect for a last minute gift.

  • Abandon Me - Melissa Febos. This is the book that all my hip literature friends were talking about this year, and for good reason. Writing a memoir at a young age might seem a bit strange, but with a life like Febos’ it’s well warranted. Not only is the subject matter interesting on its own, but her gift for structuring sentences carries what could be a dry essay collection to a new level of flowing prose.

  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies - John Boyne. I ordered this early in the year and put off reading it for awhile because it is THICK. Oftentimes, I find that large novels tend to be less about a story that takes up a necessary amount of space and more about the author not having a great editor but this one is an exception. It spans the protagonist’s entire life which allows for full character development while layering multiple stories into the overall work. Once I got through the first section I could not put it down and read it just as quickly as I’ve read books that are a fraction of the size.

  • The Incendiaries - R.O. Kwon. I have trouble officially declaring a No. 1 Read of the Year, but if I had to it would be this one. It’s short but beautiful, and one of the best debut pieces I’ve seen. The story is fascinating if you’re into religious theory (I am) but what sets the novel apart is the pacing and dialogue that carries the story. As the novel builds up to its crescendo so does the prose carry you faster towards a resolution. I read this way too fast because I was so immersed, and the ending left me stunned by its beauty. It’s a book that will stick with you — every time I see the bright colors on my shelf, I’m reminded of the haunting characters the binding contains, and that’s exactly how a novel should make you feel.

  • Self Help - Lorrie Moore. Oh, Lorrie Moore, how I am obsessed with your work…and this short story collection is no different. Collections are great because you don’t have to love every story, but this one is special because I do love every story. My personal favorite is “How To Be Another Woman” followed closely by “How To Be A Writer.” In every piece she picks and prods at the definition of what short fiction means and comes out with something entirely her own. Not only is this a beautiful book, but it also inspires me to write more, better, and with more focus so I can get into Vanderbilt and have her teach me everything she knows.

  • Circe - Madeline Miller. This novel is right in the middle of its momentum, but I got lucky because my local bookstore had a used copy for a very decent price. It’s not the type of book I’d normally reach for but I am so glad I did; it was incredible, and this is from someone who loathed Odyssey. If you’re looking for something fresh and different, this is the novel for you.

Amanda McDowellComment