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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Best of 2018

The “Best of Books” lists for 2018 are out! I like reading the lists because it helps me see if I have missed books that our library needs. I also just like knowing what books are good. Confidentially, none of the books I read are ever going to be on these lists, but it is still good to know which books I should be reading, in case I ever decide to read “up.”

“Best of” lists are also frustrating because the tastes of the editors vary widely. It is shocking that some editors’ lists don’t include major books that every other list contains.

One place I like to go to get lists is “Largehearted Boy” which aggregates a huge number of “Best of” lists. You can visit by going to the library’s reading suggestion page at

I have taken the lists of major book review sources and compiled the books that are on the most lists. The lists I used include those from New York Times, Amazon Editors, Wall Street Journal, Time, Washington Post, Powell’s Books, NPR, People and Washington Post. It looks like the books from 2018 that we may consider needing to read include the following, with descriptions from our catalog.

“There There” by Tommy Orange (6 of 9 lists) – “There There” is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss (Goodreads).

“Educated” by Tara Westover (5 of 9 lists) - Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag." The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent. As a way out, Tara began to educate herself, learning enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University. Her quest for knowledge would transform her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge.

“Asymmetry” by Lisa Halliday (4 of 9 lists) - The first section, “Folly,” tells the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. A tender and exquisite account of an unexpected romance that takes place in New York during the early years of the Iraq War, “Folly” also suggests an aspiring novelist’s coming-of-age. By contrast, “Madness” is narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. These two seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with yet new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda.

“Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan (4 of 9 lists) - Washington Black is an eleven-year-old field slave who knows no other life than the Barbados sugar plantation where he was born. When his master's eccentric brother chooses him to be his manservant, Wash is terrified of the cruelties he is certain await him. But Christopher Wilde, or "Titch," is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor, and abolitionist. He initiates Wash into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky; where two people, separated by an impossible divide, might begin to see each other as human; and where a boy born in chains can embrace a life of dignity and meaning. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Titch abandons everything to save him. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic, where Wash, left on his own, must invent another new life.

“Circe” by Madeline Miller (4 of 9 lists) - In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child -- not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power -- the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

“Frederick Douglass: prophet of freedom” by David W. Blight (4 of 9 lists) - The definitive, dramatic biography of the most important African-American of the nineteenth century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era. In this remarkable biography, David Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historian have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass's newspapers. Blight tells the fascinating story of Douglass's two marriages and his complex extended family. Douglass was not only an astonishing man of words, but a thinker steeped in Biblical story and theology. There has not been a major biography of Douglass in a quarter century. David Blight's Frederick Douglass affords this important American the distinguished biography he deserves.

The library has all of these titles, most in multiple formats. Contact the Help Desk for assistance in getting them.

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