The Best Books We Read In 2018
If you had a kid anywhere in the last five years, it is perfectly acceptable to still have a Target receipt marking the progress you have made through Gone Girl. No judgement! "Read any good books lately?" "NOT MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION, THAT'S FOR SURE," you might reply. It's fine. Everyone's book lists are longer and fancier, but you know what's good about becoming a mom? You don't have time for daft books, silly books, books that speak in fancy tones about basic suburbia. When your free time is snipped to pieces by a tiny, oddly dextrous toddler, you learn a lot about the kinds of books you truly enjoy. That in mind, we the frazzled staff of Romper give you our best books of 2018.
This list will not do you wrong, though it is missing some of the excellent books we read this year, like Body Full Of Stars by Molly Caro May, or All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, or End Of The Rope by Jan Redford, or Strong As A Mother by Kate Rope (they're all very wonderful and our reasons for admiring them have been well explored!). So: onward!
'What If This Were Enough?' by Heather Havrilesky
This book is impossible for me to sum up other than to say: it’s incredible. Heather Havrilesky doles out life-altering advice in her Ask Polly column for The Cut, and What If This Were Enough (Doubleday) is a like taking a luxuriously long vacation with the wisest person you know, but also a really fun person who also happens to have the magical and somewhat psychedelic ability to actually open up your mind a little bit and peel back the nonsense of the world so you can see. She’s funny and wry, painfully honest, lovely and touching.
This is a book I stopped reading with two pages to go because I didn’t want it to end. — April Daniels Hussar, managing editor
'Circe' by Madeline Miller
A #1 New York Times bestseller
Madeline Miller’s Circe (Little, Brown and Company) is a true epic, full of gods, heroes, and mythical creatures, searing with passion and poignance. The story follows its titular character from her immortal birth to her fateful encounter with Odysseus, the craftiest of the Greeks, deftly showing Circe’s transformation from low goddess to powerful witch. Miller’s mastery of both ancient myth and storytelling are evident from the opening line of the book — “when I was born, the name for what I was did not exist” — but the true genius of the text lies in Miller’s choice to let her readers go with Circe on her journey to discover exactly what she’s capable of, a journey that is fraught with familiar faces to any mythology lover, including Athena, Hermes, Daedalus, and the infamous Minotaur.
But at its core, Circe is a story of motherhood and the lengths to which parents will go for their children, burning with maternal power and love on every page. — Samantha Grindell, editorial intern
'The Silence Of The Girls' by Pat Barker
Winner of the Booker Prize
Is it any coincidence that in 2018, year of a thousand fires, we were all reading stories about the Achaeans dashing Trojan cities to pieces as demigods wrestled with their own egos? I leave the answer to you.
Between Circe andThe Silence Of The Girls (Doubleday), though, Homer really had a moment, once again, this year. The latter follows Briseis from the moment her city falls and is sacked, knowing all the men will be killed, and the women distributed among the triumphant soldiers. Briseis believes herself lucky to be without a child when the massacre begins, and is given to Achilles to be his concubine. Through her eyes, and those of the other women in the camp, we see the true effects of war — a picture as damning as I think I've ever read, for all the Wiki entries on the red lines of military strategy. Why do we have babies at all, if it is only to risk their annihilation; why build anything if it will all be smashed to bits? What is a good life worth that ends in horror?
I can't remember the answers, though I recall for a moment thinking I might. — Janet Manley, senior features editor
'Becoming' by Michelle Obama
Full disclosure, I literally just got Becoming (Crown Publishing Group) and am approximately 20 pages in, but wow. It's kind of everything I want it the book and the experience of reading the book to be — two very different things. Her life story is obviously interesting to me (I am a fan, after all), so unless it were a total snoozer I'd likely enjoy it no matter what. When it comes to how I'm reading it, it's different from what I'm used to. First, I'm reading a print version that my husband got for me as an early Christmas gift — a real treat for me, since I've really only been doing the whole audiobook thing lately.
Second, I've been reading this book at an unusually slow pace. I usually zip through chapters because a) I'm just a fast reader and b) I want to get to the 'good stuff', but for whatever reason, I hear Michelle's voice at Barack's speed. (If you've never heard Michelle do her hilarious Barack impression, you must). You really can't help but get the sense that she's sitting right next to you telling you her life story, and feel so lucky to get to soak it all in. — Anne Vorrasi, senior lifestyle editor
'Red Clocks' by Leni Zumas
A national bestseller
Hypnotizing and haunting, Leni Zumas's Red Clocks (Little, Brown and Company) imagines an America in which every embryo has been given the rights to life, liberty, and property after a conservative congress passes the Personhood Amendment. In-vitro fertilization has been banned and abortion is illegal in all fifty states, but women still try to find ways to regain autonomy over their own bodies. Some visit herbal doctors, some attempt to cross the "Pink Border" to Canada, and others die trying to control their own bodies. Zumas weaves five different narratives, each a story of a woman trying desperately to understand how she can survive and retain any sense of her own identity in this world that has taken control over her body, drawing readers in with intoxicating language and methodical detail.
With echoes of The Handmaid's Tale and a future that feels all too realistic, Red Clocks is a must-read for women everywhere. — Samantha Grindell, editorial intern
'The Museum Of Modern Love' by Heather Ross
Winner of the 2017 Stella Prize
The Museum Of Modern Love (Algonquin Books) came out in Australia last year, and so I'm cheating a little bit by including it here, but it only just became available in the U.S. without having to go to the Oz blackmarket, and it is so full of ideas that everyone deserves to crack into it.
In the story, characters drawn to Marina Abramović's performance at MoMA, "The Artist Is Present," from 2010, find space, and find each other — Abramović is a catalyst, and I recall feeling that I was suddenly capable of all manner of artistic thought while reading it, that everything was art, and so on. It was nice to steal Heather Ross's mindset for a time. — Janet Manley, senior features editor
'A Spark of Light' by Jodi Picoult
A #1 New York Times bestseller
Picoult's familiar mix of drama, emotion, and moral dilemma spring to life in one of her most controversial and relevant novels to date, A Spark of Light (Ballantine Books). Chronicling a hostage situation in the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, the story unfolds in reverse, beginning with a showdown between shooter and hostage negotiator and then going backwards throughout the day hour by hour, slowly letting the reader puzzle out how the women in the clinic are all connected and how the shooter became desperate enough to open fire. The most riveting tension of the tale comes when it is revealed the hostage negotiator's daughter is inside the clinic, and the drama only increases as we try to figure out how she got there and why her father didn't know.
Told from varying perspectives across the entire spectrum of the debate on when life begins, Picoult faces the grey areas and fault lines on both sides of the aisle when it comes to the issue of abortion, pushing her characters and her readers to ask themselves the lengths they would go to for life. — Samantha Grindell, editorial intern
'The Mars Room: A Novel' by Rachel Kushner
This book wrecked me. It’s at once a gorgeous portrait of a young mother’s visceral love for her little boy and a devastating look at our country’s painfully fucked up criminal justice system and the absolute trap that is being born poor. The Mars Room (Scribner) is maddening and so beautifully written that it’s nearly unbearable — the kind of art that makes you sick but somehow still manages to remind you of the devastating beauty within; the kind of writing that could make change. — April Daniels Hussar, managing editor
'There There' by Tommy Orange
Although I've spent many days and nights out in the national parks of America, it never occurred to me to wonder where the original residents of the Yosemite Valley, and other beautiful spots, went. I guess I assumed they lived downstream and only hiked into those places on a whim. So where did they go? This is a question that Tommy Orange tries to answer in his debut, There There (Knopf), which follows a smattering of characters in the diaspora as they prepare to converge on a powwow in Oakland, California.
Each grapples with the erasure of their native identity, the names they were given by white colonizers (Red, Blue, Orange), of their cultural inheritance in cities far from the land their ancestors lived on. Picture a young man dressed in full regalia, riding the BART, and you get a sense of the complicated and moving world they inhabit. — Janet Manley, senior features editor
Honorary Mention From 2017
because it's that good...
'Conversations with Friends: A Novel' by Sally Rooney
I found it quite intolerable that Rooney wrote this brilliant gem of a book at the age of 26. Rude! Conversations With Friends (Hogarth) is witty, sharp, and thoroughly entertaining, but also a tender and true to live portrayal of what it's like to be a young woman. It's a true love story, in more ways than one. I devoured it in a day and can’t wait to get my hands on her next one, coming to the States in April 2019. — April Daniels Hussar, managing editor