Best Books of 2018
January 2019

When the holiday season ends and you’re left with the prospect of two or three months of dreary, gray days, what’s to do?  Organize your closets?  Clean out your refrigerator and freezer?  Start preparing your tax materials?  Or . . . Curl up with the softest blanket you can find and a pile of good books?  It’s your choice!

But, if you’re looking for books, here are my favorites published in 2018, listed from “light but literate” to “serious but not pedantic.”

Patrick deWitt’s French Exit,“aptly billed as a ‘tragedy of manners,’ is a mother-son caper, a sparkling dark comedy that channels both Noel Coward’s wit and Wes Anderson’s loopy sensibility.” (NPR)  The main characters are terrible people, but somehow enjoyable to read about anyway.  (I also recommend deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor, another genre-blaster, this one a sort of  adult fairytale.)

In The Library BookSusan Orlean offers the same kind of immersive journalism and historical exploration as in her previous wonderful book, The Orchid Thief.  This time, Orlean celebrates the love of books and the wonders of public libraries, jumping off from the mystery of the devastating 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Central Library.  In the words of the Washington Post, “a constant pleasure to read. . .  Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book.”

Set in fin-de-siècle Scotland, France, and Russia, Love Is Blind by William Boyd is an international saga about love, music, missed opportunities, and revenge—featuring an energetic and sweet-tempered piano tuner.  I quite agree with The New Stateman:“Boyd’s career consists of an endless flow of stories in the great realist tradition, with strong plots, well-rounded characters, and written in a language that anyone can understand.”  (All 15 of his books are good, especially A Good Man in Africaand Brazzaville Beach.)

Barbara Kingsolverhas also done it again, with her latest book, Unsheltered—two intertwining narratives about two families who live in the same house, 150 years apart.  The New York Times calls it a “socially, politically and environmentally alert novel that engages with the wider world and its complications and vulnerabilities, all the while rendering the specific, smaller worlds of her characters humane and resonant.”  (All nine of her books are good, especially Poisonwood Bible.)

The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason, set in an isolated field hospital during WWI,is part mystery, part war story, and part romance,  “The beauty of Daniel Mason’s new novel . . . persists even through scenes of unspeakable agony.” (The Washington Post)  “Indeed, it is a significant accomplishment that Mason is able to bring a level of humor out in characters so immersed in the pain and suffering of war.” (New York Journal of Books)

My New Year’s wish for all of us: Let us go forth and “read as a drunkard drinks, or as a bird sings, or a cat sleeps, or a dog responds to an invitation to go walking—not from conscience or training, but because we would rather do it than anything else in the world.”  (L.A. librarian Althea Warren)