I wanted to do a round up of the best books I read last year, but choosing my five favorites was predictably difficult. I decided to set myself a few parameters: No books I reviewed, no books that are part of a series I started in previous years, no Star Wars, and no more than one book in each category (fiction, YA, comics, etc.).
Still, picking these felt like pulling teeth, or like choosing which pet is your favorite (all of them, obviously!). These are listed in alphabetical order of the categories, not by favorite. Please don’t ask me to pick a top favorite. That would just be cruel.
Favorite Comic/Graphic Novel: Fables 150 by Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham
Yep. I broke my own rule here. I started reading Fables more than a decade ago. When it finally ended, I may have cried a little and waited three years to read the final volume. Because if there’s one volume I haven’t read yet, it’s not really over, right?
The truth is I was terrified of what was going to happen, but I think the ending we got was a fitting tribute to these characters that I’ve grown to love over the years. I definitely cried when I shut the book, but they were happy, grateful tears, not sad tears (okay, maybe a little sad, too). I can’t reveal my favorite moment without spoilers, but… it was good. So good. And now that I’ve read the final volume, I think it’s time for a total series re-read, right? Right.
I wish I could tell you to go pick up Fables at the comic shop I first discovered it, but sadly, they went out of business years ago. Instead, please head over to Phantom of the Attic, which has the BEST customer service of any comic shop in the entire universe.
Favorite Nonfiction Book: First We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson
Over the past few years, I’ve been really struggling with anxiety. It’s unclear to me if it’s a side effect of my migraine medication, my nature, my stressful life, or a combination of all three (likely). Either way, it’s been a slog. While Sarah Wilson’s anxiety is significantly worse than mine has been so far, reading this book gave me a burst of clarity and some great coping mechanisms.
This isn’t a self-help book by any stretch—it falls squarely in the memoir category. Wilson got her start in magazines, so she has a clear, sharp writing style that doesn’t get bogged down in flowery language. Her descriptions of the experience of anxiety, both mental and physical, helped me learn how to better ground myself. In addition to sharing her own journey, she talks about the treatments (professional and nontraditional) that have helped her, as well as what she does to break out of an “anxiety spiral.”
If you deal with anxiety, or have an anxious person in your life, this book will help you understand it better.
Favorite Novel or Short Story Collection: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
I read a ton of great novels in 2018. Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, and Thomas Sweterlitsch’s The Gone World, but Chloe Benjamin’s debut won my heart with its heart-wrenching meditation on life, death, and family, and its beautiful four-part structure (I’m a sucker for fiction with interesting forms and structures).
The book follows four siblings, who are each told the date of their deaths when they’re young. After a time skip, the narrative picks up with Simon—the youngest and the one with the closest predicted date of death. When the fortune teller’s prediction comes true and Simon dies young, the narrative picks up with the next sibling.
Time always moves forward, so we only spend time with the siblings between the previous sibling’s death and the current sibling’s death. Benjamin uses some flashbacks and maybe a few flash forwards, but most of the novel stays in the present, which I absolutely loved. Benjamin raises a lot of questions that don’t have easy answers, and explores them with grace, beauty, and compassion.
Favorite Poetry Collection: blud by Rachel McKibbons
I’m not a huge poetry person (though I do try to read at least a few collections each year), so I only discovered Rachel McKibbons’s work because of the Ailey O’Toole plagiarism scandal that broke in December. (Vulture has a great run-down of what happened.)
Ailey O’Toole might be a plagiarist extraordinaire, but I’m grateful to her at least for bringing my attention to Rachel McKibbons and her astonishing work. McKibbons grew up in an abusive household with a schizophrenic mother, and later had to deal with one of her children being severely schizophrenic.
Her poems work through this trauma and meditate on mental illness, family, and love. Her words are raw but precise, sharp-toothed and full of tenderness. I can’t imagine what writing these poems cost, or what not writing them may have cost. I’m just grateful that I was able to share them.
Favorite YA Book: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
If you like dark fairy tales, Angela Carter, and/or Margaret Atwood, you will speed read the heck out of this YA fantasy adventure. When Alice’s grandmother dies, she and her mother think they can finally escape the “bad luck” they’ve been running from Alice’s whole life. The grandmother wrote a very rare and expensive collection of fairy tales that Alice has been forbidden from ever reading, though her mother never explains why.
When they move back to New York and settle into their new lives, the bad luck finds them once again, and it turns out to be intrinsically related to the grandmother’s fairy tales. Some very scary people kidnap Alice’s mother, and Alice undertakes a harrowing journey to get her mother back and free herself from the stories that have unknowingly held her captive her whole life.
Plus, just LOOK AT THAT COVER IT IS GORGEOUS!
PSA: Rather than buying any of these titles from Amazon, please patronize your local indie bookstore! If they don’t have the title you want in stock, they can probably order it for you. ;p