LitzyDitz’s 2018 Book List

Originally published January 1, 2019

Like I say every year, “I wish I read more.”

Really, this was a year in which I fell off the wagon a bit in favor of way too much TV. (By the way, “Ozark” is fantastic! And, if you need someone for Trivia Night that can name all the MSNBC commentators, I’m your girl.) With two kids gearing up to return home from college (Pit stop? Permanently? Who knows!) and a third headed out the door on her higher education adventure, I know this year is going to be just as challenging when it comes to committing to reading more and watching less. Nonetheless, I promise to make the effort. Why? Because I love to read. LOVE it. It’s escapism for me and a welcome relief from every day stress.

This then, is my favorite post of the year — the one in which I summarize everything I read in 2018. 29 books for the year. And overall, it was one the better years in recent memory. I had a tremendously hard time choosing just a few as “best” for the year, when so many were superb. In looking at the tally below, I still need to work on mixing it up a bit more, but am glad I am almost 50/50 on the gender split:

Authors seen and/or interviewed and/or met in person: 4 (Sedaris, Heiny, Saunders, Towles)

Female authors: 13

Repeat authors: 7

Authors of color: A woeful 4 (Depends on your definition, I suppose — I am including Mirza in this group) … I really need to work on this.

So, here it is, my 2018 Book List — enjoy! And comment back with your favorites. My TBR list is long, but I can always find room for more!

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Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

I downloaded “Fire and Fury”  at midnight the night of its release — that’s how much I wanted to read campy, awful gossip about a campy, awful president. Given the year we’ve had since its release, the revelations between these pages seem almost folksy. Jeebus.

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It’s Even Worse Than You Think by David Cay Johnston

Between this and “The Fifth Risk” (see below) I am left both mortified at our current state of affairs and grateful for writers willing to do the research to bring us these stories. The combined arrogance and ignorance of this administration is simply infuriating.

*Great book club pick

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

This was one of those books that had me mumbling, “Oh, everyone says it is phenomenal but I just don’t know. It’s historical fiction.” Which, is ridiculous because every time I read a piece of historical fiction, I enjoy it. So, sure — the idea of reading about a guy sentenced to spend the rest of his days inside a Russian hotel my not sound engrossing, and the first 100 pages or so are a bit of a long haul, but the payoff is fantastic.

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So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

This was not an easy book, and I didn’t expect it to be one. Oluo’s take on talking about race is, I feel, a necessary read — especially for those that already feel enlightened. We all have work to do. A lot of work.

*Great book club pick

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

I am 99.9 percent sure I do not want to know when I am going to die. I already have enough anxiety. I do not need a death date hanging over my head. (Although, honestly, if I could coordinate my housecleaning around that date so as to avoid spending my last full day with a Swiffer, that would be nice.) Still, the notion of understanding exactly how much time you have … would it impact how you live today? It should be enough just knowing that someday you will die, but that doesn’t seem to light a fire like an actual date does. Excellent storytelling.

*Great book club pick

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The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

Ah, one of my favorite themes, familial dysfunction. What would you do if your husband or father was brought up on sex charges? Would you steadfastly support him? Question the motives of the accuser(s)? Or retreat into yourself to re-examine each and every moment from as many years back as you can remember, looking for signs this was coming?

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The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

I was a little insure, even skeptical at first, thinking this was going to be a “Gone Girl/Girl on the Train” rip-off, but color me surprised when the author successfully pulled off a twist in the tale I should have suspected but never saw coming.

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Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

If I had made my “best of” list just a single book longer, this would have been on it. I forgot how much I loved Heiny’s highly entertaining take on modern-day family, marriage and mid-life crises in NYC. Audra, for all her audacity, remains my literary spirit animal. And she’s not even the protagonist.

*Great book club pick

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The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Bohajlian is one of my go-to authors and I am almost never disappointed when I pick up one of his books. I enjoyed “The Flight Attendant” even if I occasionally became confounded at some of the twists and turns, and am jazzed at the upcoming television adaptation.

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

On many “Best of” lists, Jones’ honest portrayal of love and the expectations that go along with that emotion are thought-provoking at a minimum and I’m sure prompted more than a few loud debates at book clubs from one coast to another. It’s not a fairy tale, it’s fiction. Yet it feels very, very real.

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The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

I’ve since cooled a bit to this book since I first read it — the story of a female protagonist trying to find herself by going to work for what she thought was her aspirational mentor. Perhaps because there was so much more I read this year that I liked more. I struggled with the ending, as I am sure more than a few people did.

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12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

So it turns out, after I read this, I found out this guy is pretty skeevy. I almost left it off the list, but didn’t want to hide it, either. “12 Rules” was not a favorite read this year — far too heavy on the theology front. But I do think there is something you can take from just about any book, and a few of his rules do have a place in the sphere of common sense, sooo …. yeah.

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My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley

Whereas I think I expected more reading “The Female Persuasion,” I went into “My Ex-Life” with little more than standard rom-com on my mind, and was pleasantly surprised about how much I loved the story of a divorced mom trying to figure out her next move and calling upon an old and dear friend to make it happen. This makes for a great vacation read if you need one.

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Chuckerman Makes a Movie by Francie Arenson Dickman

A little local flavor on the list this year! Francie Arenson Dickman is a Chicago-area resident and “Chuckerman” is her fictional debut — and a great one at that. I am always in awe of author friends that make it look so easy when I know writing is really hard work.

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The Outsider by Stephen King

A fantastic thriller, as we’ve all come to expect from Stephen King. Fans of Holly Gibney from the “Mr. Mercedes” trilogy will be overjoyed to see her team up with a new detective to solve a paranormal crime. And King remains at the top of his game when it comes to this genre. All I’d warn readers of is the initial crime that draws us in is really heinous, as it needs to be to conjure up some fairly strong emotions and reaction from the readers. Turns out, evil really can be personified.

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Calypso by David Sedaris

2018 was the year I finally got a chance to see David Sedaris speak live — “see” being the operative term in that he’s fairly soft-spoken, even behind a microphone. I’m anxiously awaiting his second book of diary entries, but this, “Calypso,” was throughly enjoyable and equal parts melancholic. One of my favorite storytellers, ever.

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Less by Andrew Sean Greer

If I was mad about anything when it came to reading this year, it was that I let this languish in my TBR pile for far too long. Another simply fantastic story, and oh so relatable, since I turned 50 this year. I’d be crazy jealous of Arthur Less’ adventure to avoid thinking about turning 50 if it wasn’t so damn funny. And sweet, indeed. It’s a love story, after all — and the ending is magical.

*Great book club pick

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The Idiot by Elif Batuman

This is one of those books that was hard to get into — and hard to find a place to land in determining whether or not I really enjoyed it. Upon finishing it, this story of a young college freshman over the course of her first year at Harvard, I was impressed with the storytelling, as erratic as it felt. Then, I cooled to it, as I found other books more enjoyable. But looking back, I find myself thinking again about how spot on it felt in its erratic nature, as that’s how college goes for some. Weren’t we all idiots at one point or another in our younger years?

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The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll

Great, campy drama for the beach — a bit back and forth at first and hard to follow, but once you get to know the ensemble of characters, it’s hard to put down until you find out who killed who and why.

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The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold

Full disclosure — I loved David Arnold’s “Mosquitoland” and it remains a favorite read — so when it comes to squeezing in some YA, he’s become a go-to author. I did not like this one as much as “Mosquitoland,” but the tale of trying to figure out which path to follow when college comes calling is definitely relatable.

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A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

I’m always blown away by the number of fantastic books that come out of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and “A Place for Us” delivers. It was especially interesting to read in light of the current dialogue on immigration, this being the story of a family from a foreign land assimilating to American culture all the while dealing with the same challenges any family does. It also delivers an interesting perspective on sibling rivalry and vying for a parent’s love. Definitely worth the time.

*Great book club pick

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Fear by Bob Woodward

A more erudite and likely better sourced version of “Fire and Fury.” While I am most definitely tiring of unnamed sources when it comes to this asshat of a president (Who the hell wants to shield this guy or is willing to stay quiet for fear of retribution? Step up and be heard, people!”, I appreciate the necessity if that’s what it takes to blow the lid off this farce.

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Ohio by Stephen Markley

Another one of my “Best of” choices for 2018 — a dark (No, I mean it. DARK) take at an unintentional reunion of several high school friends in an opioid-ravaged Ohio town. No one gets out of high school trauma and lives to really tell about it. The messed up things we do as kids. Yikes.

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The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

My God, this administration. I just can’t even. Again, so thankful for writers willing to do the hard work to expose this crap. Rather than focus another lens on the Oval, this instead delves into agency-level concerns that can have a major impact on our day-to-day lives.

*Great book club pick

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

So, the same thing with “Lincoln in the Bardo” as “A Gentleman in Moscow” —so many people talking about how amazing this was, and I am hesitating because of the word, “Lincoln.” Fair warning, this is not an easy book to follow. Its style and cadence can be confusing until you figure out the flow. But it’s so incredibly inventive and ultimately sweet that I would recommend anyone picking it up.

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Educated by Tara Westover

A tale almost too crazy and awful and inspiring to be true — I even had a friend say she was feeling shades of James Frey while reading it. Regardless, this was another really fantastic memoir and its place on any number of “Best of” lists is justified. If you ever thought you had it rough, there’s perspective to be gained reading Westover’s story.

*Great book club pick

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Elevation by Stephen King

It’s almost the antithesis to “The Outsider.” Whereas “The Outsider” is a doorstop of a book, “Elevation” is a “I can do this in a single sitting” kind of book. While The O was intensely traumatic, this instead, while still leaning supernatural, is sweet. Scott Carey’s introspection is something that maybe we can all aspire to without the catalyst of impending doom.

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The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Winner winner chicken dinner — The Great Believers was my favorite book of the year. A tale of love, friendship and loss so beautifully written that will stay on my brain for a very long time. Yale, sweet Yale!

*Great book club pick

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

It’s almost poetic to have this memoir serve as a literal and physical bookend to this year, given the first book on the list. I don’t know that anyone outside of a rarified grows up really believing themselves destined for greatness, but it’s that solid grounding Obama is surrounded with from her earliest days that makes anything seem possible. And in learning more about her background, it would not be a stretch to wonder what the world would be like with her in charge.

I blather about books. If you’d like my reviews to hit your in-box, you can sign up here. I also promise a spam-free experience —too busy reading to write and email you every day. I am also on Facebook, trolling for friends. Because we all need more friends. More, more, more.

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