My ten favorite books I read in 2018; interestingly, only one of them is fiction.
10. Gary Shteyngart, “Lake Success”
Shteyngart’s fourth novel is his best since his first, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook; if it feels like the product of an entirely different world, it is. Using the 2016 election as a timeline, he crafts (what is eventually) a redemption tale graced by his trademark satire and self-deprecating humor.
9. Sloane Crosley, “Look Alive Out There”
As much as I liked The Clasp, her stab at a novel, Crosley is first and foremost one of the best humorous essayists this side of the writer who wrote my favorite book of the year (see below). Detailing such hyperspecific concerns as an obnoxious teenaged neighbor or her porn star uncle, her perspective always remains both relatable and uniquely her own.
8. Parker Posey, “You’re On An Airplane”
Exactly the type of quirky and scattered memoir you’d expect and hope iconic actress Posey to write—like spending an afternoon with her in her Manhattan apartment, she’s your guide and confidante, occasionally irritating but so genuine and insightful you’ll follow her wherever she takes you.
7. Nell Scovell, “Just the Funny Parts”
Veteran TV writer Scovell’s book is part memoir, part industry tell-all and part manual for aspirants; it’s also a frank, funny read along a career path where Scovell points out how her profession has changed and all the regrettable ways in which it hasn’t, without seeming bitter or, on the other hand, sentimental.
6. Jon Ronson, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”
Starts out as Schadenfreude: The Book!, develops into something far more unsettling and labyrinthine. Years from now, we’ll probably see a ton of tomes on the psychology and consequences of the golden age of social media and cyberbullying, and they’ll owe a debt to Ronson’s in-the-thick-of-it examination, published almost four years ago already.
5. Tamara Shopsin, “Arbitrary Stupid Goal”
Retaining the short paragraph/stream-of-consciousness structure of her earlier memoir Mumbai New York Scranton, Shopsin centers on her beloved father Kenny, an irascible, magnificent chef whose namesake restaurant was a Greenwich Village institution for decades; I read this six months before his passing, and in retrospect, it’s an elegy fit for a genuine New Yorker.
4. Michael Powell, “A Life In Movies”
Long out-of-print, I finally procured a copy of this British filmmaker’s first memoir, which covers his life until 1948 when he made his greatest hit, The Red Shoes. For someone who lived through so many cultural changes, partially defining them with his enviable run of 1940s classics co-directed with Emeric Pressburger, his conversational style and amiable wit are always welcome.
3. Hanif Abdurraqib, “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us”
Maybe the most original music critic I’ve read in years—often from his home base in Columbus, Ohio, Abdurraqib defies categorization, an omnivore writing passionately and eloquently on Future and Nina Simone, but also Fall Out Boy and Carly Rae Jepsen. Using both a Marvin Gaye tale and a trip to Ferguson, Missouri as framing devices, he cements his status as a chronicler of the here and now.
2. Joe Hagan, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine”
Perhaps this is really Schadenfreude: The Book, only with the comeuppance forever hanging in the air like a dangling, loosened noose. Those who already despise boomer narcissism will only feel further incensed by this portrait of Wenner, whom Hagan early on accurately describes as the Trump of the Left; still, his often jaw-dropping exploits make for such blisteringly funny copy that if you’re at all a fan of late 20thCentury pop culture, you will be no less than entertained.
1. David Sedaris, “Calypso”
When a writer so initially focused on his own obscurity and shortcomings like Sedaris becomes so immensely popular, it threatens to derail the very essence of his humor and sensibility (you can parse it in the books immediately following Me Talk Pretty One Day). Fortunately, his latest suggests he’s grown into this new skin by, of all things, challenging the notion of what readers want from his essays. That’s a roundabout way of saying Calypso is darker and more melancholy than anything he’s previously done, with the suicide of his youngest sister and his 92-year-old father’s mortality both primary threads running through the entire set. Rest assured, he’s still funny and sharp and acutely observational, but with a newfound depth suggesting his best work may be yet to come.
Also, even though it didn’t make my top ten, I have to mention Infinite Jest, which I spent a little over three months slowly combing my way through. To say I loved or hated it doesn’t seem like enough—at the end, I felt as if I endured it more than anything. It is like nothing else I’ve read, for sure, and I’m glad I consumed it, footnotes and all. Be forewarned, though: it requires patience, determination and openness.
Here’s my complete 2018 Booklist, with titles in chronological order of when I finished reading them (starred entries are books I’ve re-read–only four this year!):
- Joe Hagan, “Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine”
- Tom Spanbauer, “Faraway Places”*
- Steve Toltz, “Quicksand”
- James Mackay (ed.), “Derek Jarman Super 8”
- Jenny Lawson, “Furiously Happy”
- Julia Phillips, “You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again”
- Patty Yumi, “Sorry To Disrupt The Peace”
- Tamara Shopsin, “Arbitrary Stupid Goal”
- Tom Perrotta, “Mrs. Fletcher”
- Douglas Coupland, “Bit Rot”
- Joy Press, “Stealing The Show”
- Jon Ronson, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”
- Dale Peck, “The Law of Enclosures”*
- Penny Marshall, “My Mother Was Nuts”
- Jomny Sun, “Everyone’s An Aliebn When You’re An Aliebn Too”
- Sam Wasson, “Improv Nation”
- Hanif Abdurraqib, “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us”
- Samantha Irby, “Meaty”
- David Foster Wallace, “Infinite Jest”
- Steven Hyden, “Twilight of the Gods”
- David Sedaris, “Calypso”
- Jennifer Egan, “Manhattan Beach”
- Charles Taylor, “Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You”
- Ruth Reichl, “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life”
- Chuck Klosterman, “Chuck Klosterman X”
- Jim Meehan, “Meehan’s Bartender Manual”
- Margaret Atwood, “Alias Grace”
- Chuck Eddy, “Terminated For Reasons of Taste”
- Caitlin Moran, “How To Be Famous”
- Geoff Dyer, “White Sands”
- Richard Brautigan, “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966”
- Tig Notaro, “I’m Just A Person”
- Nell Scovell, “Just the Funny Parts”
- Parker Posey, “You’re On An Airplane”
- Dale Peck, “Night Soil”
- Kurt Vonnegut, “Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons”*
- Rob Sheffield, “On Bowie”
- Ezra Furman, “Transformer (33 1/3 series)”
- Kevin Allison (ed.), “Risk!”
- A.M. Homes, “Things You Should Know”
- Gary Shteyngart, “Lake Success”
- Richard Russo, “The Destiny Thief”
- Karl Ove Knausgard, “My Struggle, Book Five”
- Celeste Ng, “Everything I Never Told You”
- Sloane Crosley, “Look Alive Out There”
- Amy Gentry, “Boys For Pele (33 1/3 series)”
- Michael Powell, “A Life In Movies”
- Tim Kreider, “I Wrote This Book Because I Love You”
- Jean Shepherd, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”*
- John Darnielle, “Universal Harvester”