Growing up, a lot of books I loved were voice-driven, smart, cynical, funny and … male. These writers have influenced me to this day—gotta love Nick Hornby and Chuck Klosterman, after all. (I even interviewed Chuck Klosterman once and he was thoughtful and self-aware.) But I would have killed for some of the lady-written books of 2018 when I was a teenager. Writers like Alexandra Kleeman and Melissa Broder captured the angst and cultural swirl I grew up with in incredible prose, developing protagonists who don’t care one bit about being likable. I can’t say this list is comprehensive—I obviously didn’t read every acclaimed book that came out this year. With that caveat in place, these were a few of my favorites books of 2018.
Imagine if Michel Gondry took on eating disorders. That is the best way I can possibly describe this odd, intricate, imaginative and funny book. It features two roommates who start to resemble one another a little too much, both driven by hunger and self-denial. In the background, cults abound, men disappear and a commercial cat weaves a uniquely female dystopia. I NEED this book to become a movie. It was far and away my favorite this year.
You may know Melissa Broder from her popular nihilistic Twitter feed, So Sad Today, but she can write an incredible novel, too. This book tells the story of a Sappho scholar who decides to house-sit for her sister, only to fall in love with a merman. The pathos conjured in this book is magnetic, and the sex scenes are much more gripping and emotional than anything that happens in 50 Shades of Grey. It’s a must-read for anyone who is just a bit exhausted by the modern world.
Snack-sized Convenience Store Woman focuses on people who live just outside of conventional society, who look to corporate training manuals for cues on how to fit in. Protagonist Keiko Furukara finds poetry in the small rituals of keeping her convenience store running, all while hiding a misfit former employee in her bathtub. It’s an interesting take on modern society, personality profiling and personal definitions of happiness.
An ode to a dismantled country, Miss Ex-Yugoslavia starts and ends with a beauty pageant, but covers off on war, cancer and The Baby-Sitter’s Club in between. Stefanovic has a compelling writing voice anchored in blunt honesty, vulnerability and nostalgia. I felt like one of her close friends as I read this compelling portrait of her war-torn life.
If vocal fry were a novel, it would be My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Steeped in abject cynicism and emotional distance, it takes a tendency to avoid modern life to a surreal extreme. As our unnamed protagonist pops liver-crushing amounts of sleeping pills, she avoids her best friend Reva, who may be the only person left on the planet who truly cares about her. Meanwhile, September 11th looms on the horizon. It’s a weird, compelling novel driven by a unique voice, which seems to be what this year in books is all about. Just don’t take it as a recommendation for how to fall asleep at night. 😉
The only thing that makes this meticulously crafted work of investigative journalism even sweeter is that all the insanity detailed within actually happened. Bad Blood is not in fact about Taylor Swift, but is about Elizabeth Holmes, the mastermind behind Theranos, a company that defrauded investors to the point of being worth 9 billion dollars. Carreyrou’s reporting is fantastic, but what makes this book so wonderful is his talent for character development. After reading a book many compare to it, Billion Dollar Whale, I had a new appreciation for how incredible Bad Blood is. Billion Dollar Whale is terribly written. But that’s a subject for another post. Read Bad Blood not just because it’s becoming a movie soon, but to remind yourself just how important doubt and reporting are in our easily corruptible society.
David and Julie were happily married, until David realized he was gay. They became estranged, but then found themselves coming together again as friends after Julie’s mid-life divorce. This novel is tender, hilarious and an interesting portrait of an Airbnb-driven world. Stephen McCauley is one of those writers who you want to follow for life because he has such a talent for capturing the humor in class-driven social awkwardness.
Phoebe Robinson of 2 Dope Queens perfectly captures what makes modern life so terrible, and just how media plays a key role in making it survivable. Her unique writing voice made me laugh out loud constantly, especially when she stops mid-rant to end a sentence with lol.nasa.gov/isaplutaplanetorwhat? (I’m not putting that in quotes because I read the audiobook and don’t have the actual excerpt—sorry!) Not only does she critique topics like modern feminism, but she manages to do it while referencing Tyra Banks and Homeland in insanely precise, hilarious ways. She is a brilliant mind.
This novel weaves together a whole ensemble of characters who are all preparing for a pow wow in Oakland. The characters explore what their identity means in a world driven by technology and violence. The writing is vibrant, experimental and truly unlike anything else.
I read this surreal zombie novel during October, which was the ideal time to read it. Centering on a horror festival in Havana, our protagonist Clare struggles with the loss of her late husband. But is he really gone? This book transcends genre fiction as it asks philosophical questions and paints vivid portraits of its own emotional planes.
This odd, poetic and funny little novel requires that anyone who opens its pages suspend all disbelief or expectation. Once you lean into its lack of rules, you are gifted with charming vignettes of disenfranchised artists in Slovakia and love gone sour. If you love surreal authors like Clarice Lispector, this book is for you.
Anyone reeling from the death of Harris Wittels (Parks and Rec, Comedy Bang Bang, Master of None) should consider reading his sister Stephanie’s memoir. She digs deep into their childhood, her memories of Harris and her frustration with his unfair loss. She reads some of his in-dev jokes from his Notes app, and then later wonders if seeing a white bird means he’s watching down on her. *Cries.*
Anyhoo, hope I have pointed you toward some good books this year! Cheers to 2019 being a little better than 2018.