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The Best Books I Read in 2018!

Thanks to a somewhat ambitious New Year’s Resolution, I read 56 books in 2018. Here, in no particular order, are my favorites.

Conversations With Friends

By Sally Rooney

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She removed the towel from her head and shook her hair like a dog, until a shower of droplets hit my bare skin and I swore. You deserved it, she said. She sat down then and opened up her book, her body still swaddled in the big towel, which had a picture of Super Mario on it.

On the way down to the water everyone was talking about you, she said.

What?

Yeah, there was a little group conversation about you. Apparently you’re very impressive. It’s news to me, obviously.

Who says so? I said.

A few facts: Sally Rooney is an incredible writer. Just an incredible, brilliant writer. She writes really smart characters, but the way her characters deploy their intelligence is not to launch rockets or save the world but to survive the everyday challenges of young adult life. They try to get laid and deal with mysterious health problems and shit like that. They send emails and talk over messenger. And it’s all fucking fascinating.

Much smarter people have written loads of things about Sally Rooney and her work (see this piece posted on the New Yorker website the very day I’m writing this, for instance). I don’t have much to add except that I found Conversations With Friends inspiring for my own stuff. I want to write characters like this, who talk and act like this, because they remind me of the most interesting people I know, and the way those people talk and act.

Homesick for Another World

By Ottessa Moshfegh

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“Nothing made me happy. I went out to the pool, skimmed the surface of the blue water with my hand, praying for one of us, my boyfriend or me, to die.” (The Weirdos)

I’m convinced Ottessa Moshfegh is one of the best writers alive. She writes deadbeat protagonists that you can’t help but hate and love all at once. The stories in this collection are hilarious and sad and impossible to forget. I love Moshfegh’s novels — this year I also read Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation — but this collection is my favorite thing from her. It’s cutting and incisive. It whips left and right, barraging the reader with unexpected information. I very much look forward to whatever she comes up with next.

The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance)

By Jeff VanderMeer

The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy opened a door into a world of weird literature that I expect to be exploring for years to come. The trilogy unfolds as a gradual descent into inhuman madness, but somehow I felt lighter, unburdened, when I finished it. VanderMeer is a master of ambiguity and suggesting the indescribable. If you like weird, speculative fiction, this is a must-read.

I feel increasingly that our generation’s great task may be grappling with the human-induced death of the planet. There is a very real possibility that political forces will prevent us from taking action against climate change until it is far too late. If we pass the point of no return, all that will be left will be making peace with the consequences. Because VanderMeer’s work navigates futures where humanity is sidelined or erased, it is particularly relevant right now.

One last note: you may have watched the movie Annihilation, based on the first novel in this series. I think the book is much better. Whereas the film concerns itself with answering questions posed by its setting, the book seems more interested in the questions themselves.

From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction

By Robert Olen Butler

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Please get out of the habit of saying that you’ve got an idea for a short story. Art does not come from ideas. Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where you dream. Art comes from your unconscious; it comes from the white-hot center of you.

Have you ever read something that, even as it surprised you again and again, rang true with deep currents within yourself? That was my experience reading From Where You Dream, by Robert Olen Butler. In this book, Butler puts forth an approach to fiction that emphasizes exploration over conscious construction. He basically suggests that the key to writing literature is getting your brain out of the way in order to engage the deep, unknowable parts of yourself.

I’ve read many books about writing, some of which were very good. None of them changed the way I thought about writing like From Where You Dream. I’ve been trying to reassemble my brain ever since. The results have been less polished, perhaps, than the things I wrote before — but there is now life where before there was only a machine.

After reading this book, I wholeheartedly believe that commercial fiction and literature are different things. If you disagree with that statement, I suggest you check this sucker out.


Other Books I Read This Year And Loved

 
The Lonesome Bodybuilder  - Yukiko Motoya - Sharp, strange short stories

The Lonesome Bodybuilder - Yukiko Motoya - Sharp, strange short stories

Transit  - Rachel Cusk is a master of stripped-down literary fiction

Transit - Rachel Cusk is a master of stripped-down literary fiction

Ancillary Justice series  - Ann Leckie’s fantastic sci-fi series explores identity and linguistics amid galactic intrigue

Ancillary Justice series - Ann Leckie’s fantastic sci-fi series explores identity and linguistics amid galactic intrigue

Forty Stories  - Donald Barthelme - Surreal short stories

Forty Stories - Donald Barthelme - Surreal short stories

 

And even more:

  • The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead

  • A Terrible Country - Keith Gessen

  • Borne - Jeff VanderMeer

  • Chemistry - Weike Wang

  • When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanthi

  • The Intuitionist - Colson Whitehead

  • A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Word Freak - Stefan Fatsis

  • Widow - Michelle Latiolais

  • Sex and Rage - Eve Babitz

Books are great. Let’s all read more books in 2019!

BooksJustin Groot