Best Books of 2018, According To ME

I picked up a bag the other day in Foyle’s that says Will Work For Books on one side. That’s a fine description of how I view my life. The whole point of writing is to get paid so I can buy books and food, in that order.

Before I account for my favorite reads of the year, indulge me in a little math. In the first half of the year I read, on average, 40 pages a day. In the second half of the year, the mean was closer to 50. By December 31st I will have read at least 36 books (37 or 38 is not out of reach). That’s 3 books a month. But: I also read 16 graphic novels in 2018. If you counted graphic novels in with the other books, it would come to a total of 52+, or a book a week. I’m not sure we can count them in with the others, though.

However you count ’em, I read a whole bunch, and not nearly as much as I’d like. One of my goals for 2019 is to read at least 48 books and 24 graphic novels. Too tall an order? I’m going to throw my best at it. I’ll let you know how I do.

I’ve divided the following top ten into three groups. There’s a single graphic novel; four admirable works of non-fiction; and my five favorite novels of 2018. Entries are listed in alphabetical order (by author name) within their categories, although I’ve placed an asterisk next to my absolute favorite read of the year. It doesn’t matter when a book was released. If I read it this year, it was eligible, whether it was published in 2018 or 1820. Only books by family members were rejected out of hand for this list, for obvious reasons — I understand I can’t be considered an unbiased judge.

Let’s get to the good stuff:

Favorite Graphic Novel:

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank (2017)

writer: Matthew Rosenberg • artist: Tyler Boss

I read some great comics this year, but this was something special. It’s a funny, sweet, violent, sometimes shocking throwback in the way of Stranger Things, but Rosenberg and Boss also use the form brilliantly, doing stuff that can only be done in comics. 4 Kids also compares nicely to a very good, largely unknown Kevin Bacon thriller from a few years ago, Cop Car. It’s a similar story of childhood optimism and innocence running headlong into bad dudes with bad ideas.

Non-Fiction Favorites:

The Lost City of Z (2009)

by David Grann
Buckle up for some early 20th century lost-in-the jungle nastiness: maggots squirming in infected wounds, flies that drink tears, and eels that yearn to nest in errrrr very uncomfortable private places. Lost City of Z is some Grade-A Adventure writing, about a bare-knuckled British naturalist who sets out into the Amazon rainforest to find a fabled El Dorado-like city or die trying. He absolutely 100% achieves either one or the other, but you’ll have to read the book to find out which… and if you want to know what horrors befell author David Grann when he tried to recreate Colonel Fawcett’s dirty, dangerous quest in the modern era.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011)

by Yuval Noah Harari

Personally I think this book ought to be required reading for every high school sophomore in the country. Although I suspect a lot of parents would be infuriated by Harari’s calm, dispassionate, almost forensic examination of religion. Still, it seems to me that Sapiens is the ideal starting point for any serious conversation about human history, sociology, or civics; it’s an antidote for ignorance. Hey, it helped cure me of some of mine!

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003)

by Walter Isaacson

A thorough, carefully paced exploration of everyone’s favorite founding father, the bespectacled stud-muffin who caught lightning and invented America (okay, he had some help). No matter how nasty the modern political situation sometimes looks, Isaacson’s biography is a good reminder that the business of democracy is never easy, and that freedom is something that has to be won almost daily.

“Mr. Franklin, do we have a republic?” a woman once asked the good doctor.
“Yes,” he replied, “If you can keep it.”

Educated (2018)

by Tara Westover

Tara Westover was raised off the grid, without a birth certificate, by a survivalist who refused to let his kids attend schools or see doctors. The story of how she made it out of her father’s scrapyard and away to Cambridge, England, where she attained her PhD, is as inspiring as it is improbable. You’ll spot Educated on a lot of year end lists and for good reason. It rightly was a 2018 Goodreads Choice Award winner as well.

Favorite Fiction:

Lethal White (2018)

Robert Galbraith
I can’t help it — I just love Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott and every page I get to spend in their company makes me happy. Galbraith has a matchless gift for story and an ear for the way people really talk. The mysteries are grotesque and baffling and altogether satisfying. But the real mystery is: will they or won’t they? I have my own ideas, which might best be summarised as: the road to love never did run smooth.

Moriarty (2014)

Anthony Horowitz

I read this book to Mrs. Hill in the summer, while she assembled a 1,000 piece puzzle. At one point, I read something so stunning, she jerked her head up and glared at me and said, “I don’t fucking believe you. SHOW ME.” She absolutely refused to believe I wasn’t teasing until I gave her the book so she could read the scene for herself. Horowitz, a consummate craftsman of shock, has fashioned the best story in the Sherlock universe to come along since Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven Percent Solution.

The Song of Achilles (2011)

Madeline Miller
This book contains one of the most exquisite descriptions of being in love I’ve ever read. In her retelling of The Illiad, Miller has fashioned a masterful work of fantasy which is about nothing less than the birth of modern compassion.

Big Little Lies (2014)
Llane Moriarty

Oh I thought this book was fun. Helicopter parents go at one another like fleets of attack choppers and a season of catty social warfare leads to real casualties. Moriarty gleefully trashes the shibboleths of modern parenting, while also drilling down into the quiet sadness carried by so many mothers, women doing a hard job that rarely gets the recognition it deserves.

The Casual Vacancy (2012) *

J.K. Rowling

The Galbraith books are more unapologetically fun, and the Harry Potter novels put a dent in the universe, but it’s possible The Casual Vacancy is Rowling’s best novel. A good man — a good coach, a good citizen, and a good father — drops dead at a tragically young age, producing an open seat on the town council in scenic Pagford. In the run-up to the election that follows, a flood of humiliating secrets are exposed, and a dozen lives are destroyed in a series of little, sometimes hilarious, often wrenching social cataclysms. As a document of life in England as it’s lived now, this is right there with Ali Smith’s recent novels, Autumn and Winter (both of which I loved, and which have been widely celebrated — off the top of my head it seems like Autumn was my favorite book last year). I also think it’s an unparalleled look at how a single decent person can make so much of a difference in so many lives… and that the absence of that person can be shattering. What a privilege it was to read this book.

As I said earlier, works by family members were ineligible for this list. So I couldn’t includeSleeping Beauties (which my brother Owen wrote with our father) or The Outsider (which my dad wrote alone) which is too bad, because both of them rocked my world. I recommend each of them without reservation.

I was married in Boston this May and have been sort of stunned by happiness all year long. A part of me feels it’s almost a crime to be happy at this particular moment in time, what with the awfulness of our politics, and the domino chain of natural disasters that appear to be the direct result of a polluted environment. Another part of me thinks it’s a greater crime not to grab at happiness with both hands when you have a shot at it, because the world is always awful. I grabbed at it. I don’t regret it.

(I also don’t think it’s an accident that no less than 6 of the 10 books on this list were books my wife and I read to each other. One of us reads while the other does chores and both of us are as satisfied as can be. A book shared with someone you love just has more power than a book experienced alone, that’s all. Wanna do something romantic? Read to each other before bed. Most of us never grow out of a desire to have a little bit of a story before bedtime, and why should we? It’s a good thing to do.)

I wrote some new short stories and some new screenplays. I also wrote the script for the first issue of a brand new comic book series. Artist Martin Simmonds is not allowed to tell you anything about it.

My three teenagers are funny, fiercely intelligent, opinionated, and big-hearted, and I’m lucky to have them. Every single day I’m married to Mrs. Hill makes me feel like the most fortunate guy on the planet. 2018, you were awfully good to me.

I hope you had some happy times yourself. And if you didn’t — if it was bad — hang in there. Find your way to the stuff you love and hold onto it. Let’s go whup 2019 together.