SARAH’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2018:
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson (Graywolf Press)
Everything Under completely blew me away. Daisy Johnson is a genius. Everything Under is a gender fluid retelling of the Oedipus myth, set in the watery world of river canals with unseen monsters (both real and imagined) lurking in the shadows. It’s about memory, fate, gender, and identity, and it has some of the best writing I’ve encountered in recent memory. It’s atmospheric and murky and gorgeous, and it’s one of the most memorial books I’ve read in a long time. This book is magic.
Still Lives by Maria Hummel (Counterpoint)
This novel is completely captivating and brilliant. Set against the glamorous backdrop of LA’s avant-garde art scene, this is a fast-paced thriller featuring references to actual famous murders (like the Black Dahlia among others). At its core, though, Still Lives offers crucial commentary on the way our society fetishizes violence against women and how often victims are objectified. It’s haunting, relevant, empathetic, and entertaining.
Virgin by Analicia Sotelo (Milkweed Editions)
This poetry collection offers striking portraits of women navigating their sexuality, personhood, and all kinds of relationships. Fiery, precise, unapologetic, and wise, Virgin is a beautiful collection of poetry that I keep returning to. And each time I do, I find another gem to hold close.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (Catapult)
I absolutely love this memoir. Nicole Chung writes with generosity and vulnerability about her experience being adopted. She is so insightful and compassionate in her exploration of what it means to belong to a family, what it means to be a mother, and what it means to be a daughter. All You Can Ever Know a superb memoir.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (Harper)
One of the best pieces of true crime journalism I’ve read. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a chilling account of the Golden State Killer, the serial rapist and murderer who terrorized California in the ‘70s and ‘80s and eluded detectives for decades. It’s a portrait of a criminal mastermind, but it’s also a portrait of McNamara’s obsession and her unstoppable pursuit of the truth. Tragically, Michelle passed away in 2016 before the Golden State Killer was brought to justice (he was caught just weeks after the publication of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark), but her legacy lives on with this enthralling, meticulous, and beautifully written book. Michelle’s letter to the killer at the end of the book will absolutely give you chills.
Severance by Ling Ma (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
This book is so good. It’s a millennial office post-apocalyptic novel (this will make sense once you’ve read it), and it’s totally original and wonderful. Ling Ma blends social satire, dystopian fiction, and a coming-of-age story to create a novel that’s darkly funny and smart. Even if you don’t like apocalyptic and dystopian novels, give this one a try. Severance gorgeous and human and absolutely wonderful.
Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin (Penguin Books)
One of the best short story collections I’ve read. Ever. The stories are unexpected, empathetic, and propulsive, filled with girls and women that want: their own voice, their body, their place in the world . . . Lazarin is an honest and precise writer, and the way she captures the experience of being a person with a life filled with both small and large moments is incredible. These stories will stay with you long after you finish.
Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller (Tin House)
Bitter Orange slowly creeps up on you like a good, spooky gothic story should. A middle-aged woman moves into the attic of a mansion in the English countryside to research the architecture of the mansion’s gardens, and in the attic she discovers a peephole in the floor that allows her to spy on the young couple below (who are also there to take stock of the mansion). The lives of the three people slowly become intertwined as the hot summer progresses, and it becomes clear that not everyone is telling the truth about their past. They spin out of control in the mansion, living a life of out of control opulence, until a shocking crime rips their world apart. It’s a creepy and ominous novel about obsession, voyeurism, and loneliness, and the twists and turns literally made me gasp while reading.
Idiophone by Amy Fusselman (Coffee House Press)
Part of the joy of reading Idiophone is not knowing where Fusselman will take you next. It’s a remarkable mediation on life, art, dance, and motherhood, but it’s so much more than that. It’s unlike any book I’ve read in a long time, and it’s not to be missed.
Riddance by Shelley Jackson (Black Balloon Publishing)
Riddance is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and it’s hard to distill how it feels to read this massive book into just a paragraph. It’s a sprawling story that’s part ghost story, part fictionalized scientific research, and history, with many other thrilling facets in-between. Jackson’s writing is precise and inventive, and she stretches and tests the limitations of written language in a brilliant way. It’s an amazing work.