If you’re like me and kind of can’t help yourself when new books come out, it can be difficult to wait until the end of the year to start thinking about the year’s best. Sure, when the end of December rolls around these lists can be a ton of fun to pore over. You can see if there’s anything good you might’ve missed, look at how other readers and writers are ranking your own favorites, etc. But it can also be fun to pause for a moment in the middle of the year and consider what you’ve enjoyed most so far.
For those interested, these are my top five reads of 2018 so far. And because they’re spread out over various genres, and even fiction and non-fiction, I’ll present them in no particular order.
Calypso by David Sedaris
If you’ve never read David Sedaris before, you should know that reading Calypso will likely lead you to check out his other work. He’s one one of the most refreshingly real comic writers of our time, and always seems completely genuine and, in a way, ordinary (as evidenced by his claim this summer that he considers himself no more successful than writers who have never sold books). It’s hard to describe the book in any meaningful way given that it’s a collection of essays – Sedaris’s preferred style – but I’ll simply say it’s as witty and introspective as all of the best work that has made Sedaris famous. In a strange way it almost feels like his most mature collection, though it doesn’t sacrifice any humor to this end.
The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
Rebecca Kauffman is quickly becoming one of the most exciting young names in fiction, and The Gunners – I would argue – is one of the better novels to come from a young author in years. Granted its premise is somewhat bleak – it follows a protagonist named Mikey who suffers from macular degeneration toward a reunion with childhood friends in the aftermath of one of their deaths – but the execution is deep and rich. It’s the sort of story that can make you reflect on your own life and the struggles you’ve overcome even if you don’t relate directly to the issues experienced by the characters.
Circe by Madeline Miller
It seems almost strange to say at any one point in modern history, but the ancient gods seem to be having something of a pop culture moment. The gods have become prominent subjects in gaming, first via a series of online slot games and then through a few different mobile games (not to mention bigger series like God Of War and a forthcoming Assassins’ Creed game set in ancient Greece). Following up on this trend, Madeline Miller’s Circe is an adventurous read about the daughter of a titan, at odds with the gods and interacting with everyone from Zeus to Odysseus. We seem to be continually obsessed with this era of history and mythology, and Miller brings it to life like no other (as she did previously in The Song Of Achilles).
Yes We (Still) Can by Dan Pfeiffer
I’ll confess, this is a very political book with a clear leaning toward one side (the left, in this case). But I’m not pitching politics so much as the spirit of hope and togetherness within its pages. Author Dan Pfeiffer was head of communications in the Obama White House, and while this book spends some time bashing the new administration and the party behind it, Pfeiffer also manages to communicate some of what can make government great, as well as what can make a democracy inspiring. It’s an uplifting read in turbulent political times, and Pfeiffer manages to present it with a good bit of humor as well. As a helpful note, because Pfeiffer is also involved in the Crooked Media podcast network, you can actually listen to him reading a sample as a sort of free preview, to decide if the book is for you.
The Mutual UFO Network by Lee Martin
Every now and then you stumble across a perfectly ordinary book that somehow manages to convey magic. I don’t mean magic in the sense of wand-waving, but there’s a sort of quiet wonder to Lee Martin’s collection of short stories that will captivate you. If you had to sum up The Mutual UFO Network you’d say it’s about different types of relationships, and that it’s not so overtly strange as its title would suggest. But it’s a stunningly insightful book that has a power of its own that needs no strangeness to come through.
*Disclaimer: This is a guest editorial*