Favorite books of 2018

“What does that mean? Whatever you want it to mean. Are these movies “the best”? Are they our favorites? Are they “movies we got to see before the deadline”? In my case, it’s some combination of all three — but I’m really quite happy with the aggregate results.” — Jim Emerson

This year’s end of year piece is bigger than previous ones I’ve written. 2018 was my biggest reading year in a long time. My job duties changed and I am spending more time driving, so I decided to make the most of it and started listening to audiobooks. By far, my greatest consumption was audiobooks. Because of the higher number I decided that I would err on the side of robustness for my end of year round up.

The form I eventually settled was: Book of the Year (on because there was one), top reads of the year (not limited by release year), and finally a longer list of notable reads (2018 releases, re-reads, older releases, graphic novels, and non-fiction).

Book of the year: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese – On the surface, Indian Horse is about hockey and the Indian Residential School system in Canada, but it encompasses so much more: trauma, loss of culture, loss of identity, growing, and the long hard path to righting your ship when so many forces were hell-bent on sinking it. It’s told in an intimate, confessional way that draws you into the narrative, deeply investing the reader into the story of Saul Indian Horse.

Top 10 read of 2018

Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello – This fantastic essay collection uses the form of a bestiary and well known animals as a starting point to explore various topics. It is witty, insightful, and entertaining as hell. If you ever have  chance to hear/see the author perform the final essay, do so (Koko the gorilla using her limited vocabulary to tell the infamous joke, The Aristocrats).

Brother Anhia Ahlborn – Brother is sharply told, has characters that will evoke strong feelings, some you will support, some you will loathe. By the time you suspect where the story is heading it is too late, you are strapped in for the ride. And as bad as you think it will get, it winds up being worse.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay – Potent mix of home invasion story and end of the world story. Probably the tensest book I read all year.

Cockblock by CV Hunt – Cockblock is a fresh take on the zombie story, one for the Me Too era. It also acts as a critique on the pervasiveness of technology and how quickly information can spread. The world created here is a patriarchal system cranked up to 11 with women leading the larger resistance that must take place to stop the President. It veers from the horrific to the humorous while maintaining a relentless drive forward.

The Fifth Season by NK Jemison – NK Jemison won the Hugo award in 2018 for The Stone Sky, the third book in the Broken Earth series. Her consecutive wins  courted some backlash from those against a more inclusive genre. This seemed to be the perfect time to read one of her books, so I went to the library and grabbed a copy of The Fifth Season. The Fifth is a sophisticated book that demands the readers attention. You start off in the deep end of a of a new world and Jemison masterfully doles out information and developments as needed to control how the world expands and opens up and succeeds in keeping the reader hooked.

The Last Cowboys by John Branch – An insightful book about a multi-generational ranching family increasingly relying on a multi-generational dominance in the sport of rodeo. This is a fascinating peek into a world that is shrinking with time.

Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima – The most original piece of fiction I read all year. There is an astounding amount of imagination on display here.

Spy of the First Person by Sam Shepard – A fractured narrative about a dying man, written by a dying man, each fracture is a crystalline moment that provides yet another fleeting glimpse of the themes that Sam Shepard grappled with. No conclusions are reached at the end of a life examined. We wouldn’t have Sam Shepard’s final book any other way.

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley – I was a big fan of Hurley’s God’s War from a few years ago and I look forward to each new book she writes. This one is from last year.

There There by Tommy Orange – Tommy Orange takes a braided approach to give the reader a cross section of modern Native American life in America, specifically in Oakland California. And it ain’t always pretty. Sometimes it is messy and sometimes it is raw. But it will always be real.

Notable Books by Category

Notable 2018 ReleasesThe Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy, Space Opera by Catherynne Valente, Green Sun by Kent Anderson, Sunburn by Laura Lippman, The Line That Held Us by David Joy, Where the Bullets Fly by Terrance McCauley, Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias, Lost Films anthology, Pull & Pray by Angel Luis Colon

Notable re-readsSadie When She Died by Ed McBain, The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain, Shane by Jack Schaefer, Lew Griffin series by James Sallis, Fat City by Leonard Gardner, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, Warlock by Oakley Hall, A River Runs Through It by Norman McLean

Notable older releasesThe Dead Mountaineer’s Inn by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, The Rider by Tim Krabbe, Death Wish by Brian Garfield, The Day the Cowboys Quit by Elmer Kelton, Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia, My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Notable Graphic NovelsTetris by Box Brown, Paper Girls by Brian Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, Saga by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples, The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling by Aubrey Sitterson and Chris Moreno, Cousin Joseph by Jules Feiffer

Notable Non-fictionKillers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, Lady Killers by Tori Telfer