Favorite Books of 2018

Favorite Books of 2018

Book Cover of Monsoon MansionMonsoon Mansion: A Memoir by Cinelle Barnes

memoir · abuse

I did not have wings, so I made myself shrink.

I was absolutely enraptured from the beginning to the end of this horrifying, fantastical memoir about a girl doing whatever she can to survive when her whole life crumbles around her.


Book Cover: Inside the Dream PalaceInside the Dream Palace by Sherill Tippins

non-fiction · biography

The result was a strange collective abdication of moral responsibility, a belief that Americans could do whatever they liked—invade nations, discriminate against others, fill their homes with useless goods—without consequences.

I knew very little about the Hotel Chelsea before reading this. It's bizarre to think that so many different minds lived under one roof over decades. I especially liked the curmudgeony bits with Arthur Miller.


Book Cover: CirceCirce by Madeline Miller

fiction · myth re-telling

You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.

Following behind Margaret Atwood's retelling of the Odyssey from the point of view of Penelope in Penelopiad, here is the same retold from the perspective of Circe. A strong woman forced into a solitary life, always held apart from her family and the world. If you like this, you'll also like her other two books, Song of Achilles and Galatea


Book Cover: Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral EconomicsMisbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard Thaler

non-fiction · economics · human behavior

What makes the bias particularly pernicious is that we all recognize this bias in others but not in ourselves.

I learned so much about behavioral economics from this book that it sent me down a rabbit hole reading other ones. I love that it is written as if a friend is telling you stories to explain complex behaviors.


Book Cover: Children of the New WorldChildren of the New World by Alexander Weinstein

science fiction · short story collection

The city overwhelmed me. Every day I’d walk by hundreds of strangers, compete for space in crowded coffee shops, and stand shoulder to shoulder on packed subway cars. I’d scan profiles, learning that the woman waiting for the N enjoyed thrash-hop, and the barista at my local coffee shop loved salted caramel. I’d had a couple fleeting relationships, but mostly I’d spend weekends going to bars and sleeping with people who knew little more than my username. It all made me want to turn off my layers, go back to the old days, and stay disconnected. But you do that and you become another old guy buried in an e-reader, complaining about how no one sends emails anymore.

I don't have enough good things to say about this science fiction short story collection. As someone who prefers social sci-fi to hard sci-fi, this was a perfect anthology. I particularly enjoyed how the author humanizes our relationship to technology - how it becomes a part of our emotional well-being.


Book Cover: Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought ThemGet Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright

non-fiction · epidemiology · history

When we are electing government officials, it is not stupid to ask yourself, “If a plague broke out, do I think this person could navigate the country through those times, on a spiritual level, but also on a pragmatic one? Would they be able to calmly solve one problem, and then another one, and then the next one? Or would bodies pile up in the streets?

Honestly there is very little that is more in my wheelhouse than a book about historical epidemics written by a funny woman.


Book Cover: Salt to SeaSalt to Sea by Ruta Sepetys

historical fiction

She held her breath in one hand and her suitcase in the other.

Last year I went through a WWII phase where I read a ton of history and fiction set specifically in/following characters other than those from UK, France, or Germany. This book follows a Lithuanian girl fleeing the Soviets into Germany at the end of the war. The characters are individually so compelling that I'd love to read books following each of them separately. This year I also read Between Shades of Gray, which is also amazing.


Book Cover: All Systems Red: The Murderbot DiariesAll Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

science fiction

So, I’m awkward with actual humans. It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me. I know I’m a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes both of us nervous, which makes me even more nervous. Also, if I’m not in the armor then it’s because I’m wounded and one of my organic parts may fall off and plop on the floor at any moment and no one wants to see that.

This is the first book in a 4 book series. I've read the first two and I'm eager to read the next two. The story is told from the point of view of a SecUnit - a human/robot construct created as hired security - who calls itself Murderbot. Murderbot is bored of humans and just wants to be left alone to watch its favorite shows on the internet.


Book Cover: I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerI'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

non-fiction · true crime

I’m envious, for example, of people obsessed with the Civil War, which brims with details but is contained. In my case, the monsters recede but never vanish. They are long dead and being born as I write.

I picked this up thanks in large part to the podcast My Favorite Murder, who broke the news of the capture of the Golden State Killer earlier this year. As a survivor of violence, I am very particular about the true crime that I read, listen to, and watch. This is written humanely toward the victims with the intent on identifying and capturing a man who raped and murdered far too many people.


Book Cover: The ExpatriatesThe Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee


You go through the motions of life until, slowly, they start to resemble a life.

This novel follows an expat family living in Hong Kong after the abduction of their child and how their community and those that are trapped in their world are affected. I enjoyed learning more about Hong Kong's history and continue to be mortified by white people.


Book Cover: Her Body and Other PartiesHer Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado


There are true things in this world observed only by a single set of eyes.

This may be my favorite book of the year. The stories are so varied and unique - they're funny, heart-wrenching, thought provoking, and just plain bizarre.


Book Cover: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) BodyHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay


As a woman, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to take up space. And yet, as a feminist, I am encouraged to believe I can take up space. I live in a contradictory space where I should try to take up space but not too much of it, and not in the wrong way, where the wrong way is any way where my body is concerned.

Over the past few years, I've become more more accepting and loving toward my fat body. Roxane Gay puts to words so many struggles and triumphs I've had as a fat woman, as a fat feminist.


Book Cover: Erotic Stories for Punjabi WidowsErotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal


People are sympathetic at first but when the illness drags on, they start avoiding you, like your bad luck is contagious.

This novel follows a young woman living in London who inadvertantly ends up teaching an erotic writing class to a group of older women at a Sikh gurdwara. It's funny and sweet, erotic and anger-making.


Book Cover: Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there was something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.

I couldn't put this book down. Reading it was like watching a movie that I couldn't predict the ending of.