Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Yes, it's February 2019, but better late than never!
2018 was an uneven reading year for me. I enjoyed many of the 41 books I read over the course of the year, but few if any will stand out as all-time favorites.
That being said, here are my top three reads from 2018, with one honorable mention thrown in for good measure:
Honorable Mention - Evil Has a Name by Paul Holes and Jim Clemente
I make this one an honorable mention primarily because I'm not sure it really qualifies as a book at all. Technically it's an audiobook created exclusively for Audible, but the format mirrors that of a podcast, with interviews of a wide number of individuals edited in throughout.
The audiobook/ book recounts the harrowing story of the "Golden State Killer," who terrorized California across three distinct crime sprees through the 70s and 80s, and follows the story of the investigator who spent much of his career hunting down the killer up until his capture in 2018. Apparently there is a lot of similar ground covered between this audiobook and the late Michelle Mcnamara's book, I'll Be Gone in the Dark; however, since I wasn't familiar with that book, I found Evil Has a Name to be absolutely riveting, and my wife and I listened to it in one go as we drove down to Virginia over the holidays.
If you're a fan of audiobooks (or podcasts for that matter), this is a can't miss listen.
3. IT by Stephen King
In 2017 I tackled much of Stephen King's Dark Tower Series, which ended up being my favorite read from that year. In 2018, I tackled one of King's other landmark achievements, the 1987 horror doorstop, IT.
Going in I had some basic familiarity with the plot of the book, having vaguely remembered the TV miniseries that aired in 1990. Basically, there's a small town in Maine where kids are disappearing/ being murdered by a demonic figure that often takes the form of clown called Pennywise. A group of early teenagers band together to stop the killings. They succeed to some degree, but nearly thirty years later need to band back together when the killings start up again.
As I recalled, the miniseries was broken up into two distinct parts, the first dealing with the protagonists' teenage years and the second depicting them as adults. The rebooted movies seemed to follow a similar format, and so I was expecting the book to be roughly split up into two distinct halves. Instead, I was delighted to find the book much more structurally complex with the two time periods interwoven as the adult protagonists try to fight through a strange fog of amnesia that prevents them from fully remembering the trauma of their childhood ordeals.
The other big surprise for me with this book was where its strength lay. As a horror book, it's a lot of fun, but as a book about growing up and friendship and those period of years when children begin developing an adult consciousness, it's a masterpiece.
2. Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
I picked this book up on a lark from the staff recommendations at the Malaprop's Bookstore during a long-weekend trip down to Asheville, North Carolina. The book probably qualifies as a novella and is the story of a housewife who strikes up a romantic relationship with a sea monster who's escaped from the Institute of Oceanographic Research. At its face, I couldn't help but think that this book must have been an influence for The Shape of Water. As with all great novels however, the strength of the book was not solely in its premise; Mrs. Caliban deftly handles a number of important themes and its prose is simultaneously beautiful and straightforward (for some reason, I was reminded of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar).
A quick, but rewarding read.
1. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
They saying you shouldn't judge a book by its cover is so common as to be trite. Still, when you pick up a paperback copy of Eowyn Ivey's second novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, you can't help but be impressed by the package the book comes in. Yes, the illustrated cover is beautiful (and atypical for this kind of literary novel); additionally though, the book feels good in your hand. The texture of the paper is lovely to the touch and, probably on account of that paper (which was likely selected due to the full-color images scattered throughout), the book has a kind of heft that signals that you're about to read something great, important.
Of course, all would be for naught if the book itself wasn't good. Fortunately, it is good. Very good.
The book is the fictionalized account of an exploratory expedition of the Alaskan wilderness led by Colonel Allen Forrester in the late 19th Century. Meanwhile, Allen's wife Sophie, left at home and awaiting her husband's return, discovers she's pregnant. To the Bright Edge of the World is an epistolary novel and, for the most part alternates between Allen and Sophie's letters to each other, but introduces further interest and depth to the reader in how Allen and Sophie's letters are themselves being discovered more than a century later by two individuals who (as you'd expect) correspond via letter.
Ivey's depictions of the landscape of Alaska are awe (and vacation-planning) inspiring and the the book subtly weaves in hints of the fantastic to give the story an added sense of wonder. A beautiful novel.