Snotty Literati Gives You Its Best (and Worst): 2018!

This is our year-in-reading, so it includes non-2018 books too.

 Let’s start with some stats, shall we?

  Jennifer Lara
Number of books read: 53 37
Number of female authors: 24 23
Number of authors of color: 15 12
Number of audio books: 19 26
Number of YA books: 7 1
Number of abandoned books: 5 5

Jennifer: I’m estimating on some of this. 

What was the VERY BEST BOOK read in 2018?

Lara: Normally, I can jump right in with my answer, but this year I can’t. I am torn between There There by Tommy Orange and A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. They both deal with family, identity, and loss, but that’s where the comparisons stop. Both elicited audible gasps from me. That stood out. They both elicited a lot of feeling in me. I think that’s a mark of a really good book. What about you?

Jennifer: Well, there’s bad news here. It’s two-fold. I don’t think I hit on as many stunning books as I would’ve liked to have hit upon, and I liked the nonfiction I read better than the fiction. Out of the 2018 offerings (strictly focusing on what was published this year), I loved American Audacity by William Giraldi, The Recovering by Leslie Jamison, and Educated by Tara Westover. All three of these books had profound impact on me—intellectually, personally, and spiritually. I admired the brazenness of Giraldi, the candor and comprehensiveness of Jamison, and Westover has a crazy, touching story to tell. But, yeah, all nonfiction.

Did a book totally disappoint you?

Jennifer: I think I got super picky this year. I was pretty disappointed by my own ho-hum approach to about a billion books: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (so beautiful, so dull), Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 (nope), even both of Amor Towles’ books . . . I read Rules of Civility and A Gentlemen in Moscow — I liked them both. I’ll read more by him. And yet I was a tad disappointed by all the hype.

Lara: I loved The Rules of Civility when my book club read it a few years ago. I was super excited to crack open A Gentleman In Moscow this year, and was bored out of my mind. I feel awful. I think it probably is very good. It may have had to do with it being a busy time in my life, but I found it hard to pick up and return to. I think I am only one of five people in the world that feel this way.

I also have to throw in Gabriel Tallent’s debut, Absolute Darling. It’s super high-brow, super pompous, and it’s another man writing about the perspective of a young female victim of incest. It was one of the first books that we read this year and the further away I get from it, the angrier I get. We do need these stories. We don’t need them told from a position of white male privilege. #EndRant

Jennifer: I liked that book. Here’s our review.

What book(s) surprised you the most?

Lara: I am a member of a community book club held at an awesome independent bookstore (Changing Hands in Phoenix!). This year, one of the selections was Gun Love by Jennifer Clement. When I read the first few lines, I was entranced. It was written in a way that, I think, many other times would put me off. A bit too dreamy, cotton candy, chiffon. But I couldn’t put it down. It captured me much the way a roadside accident pulls you away from keeping your eye on the road.

Jennifer: I think I might say two. Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential had whip-smart, vibrant prose. And Emil Ferris’s graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, was beautiful. I found the former to be magnetic, and the latter is a true work of complex art.

 Audiobooks: Any favorites?

Jennifer: I loved Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy. Listening to her narrate was perfect. She’s a poet, and it shows. I found Jeanette Walls’ narration of her own book, The Glass Castle, enthralling. I loved it. Both of those books, published in earlier years, were among my favorites.

Lara: So, I actually had to stop listening to Priestdaddy. I might pick it up again, but it will be in book form. The narration sounded, uhm, pretentious. Ugh. I feel terrible saying that. Maybe that’s just how she sounds.

You know that dystopian is not my jam, but Naomi Alderman’s The Power, narrated by Adjoa Andoh, blew me away. Andoh needs whatever the Academy Award is for book narration. Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, narrated by Bahni Turpin, was also in the top-tier. And, one more, which I will talk about when I answer a later question.

Jennifer: Yes, Adjoa Andoh was very good. The book was meh.

Were there any books you just devoured?

Lara: YES! So, there were three books I did via audio that I swallowed whole: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney (crazytown thriller); The Last Mrs. Parrish (psycho-crazytown thriller); and The One by John Marrs (crazy-compelling). For the last one, I broke my rule of only listening during my commute and sat on my ass for six hours to finish it.

Jennifer: Oh, it’s so problematic! I read Sherman Alexie’s Blasphemy—and I knew it would be the most personal, the most touching, the truest thing I would read in 2018. I might be exaggerating. I devoured it.

Books You Shamelessly Abandoned (or was there shame?):

Lara: Well, I already admitted to Priestdaddy. I also tried to read The Sister’s Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, and it didn’t grab me. Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin and America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo left me feeling meh and had me putting them down well before they ended.

Jennifer: I’m sad to hear about Castillo. It’s on my TBR pile. Ugh. Yeah, I abandoned Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. Both involved shame. So much shame.

What books made you laugh?

Jennifer: I did absolutely adore David Sedaris’s Calypso. I also read When You’re Engulfed In Flames. Both were great. Calypso is definitely in my Top Ten for 2018. I found Calypso to be surprisingly mature—and I enjoy seeing Sedaris’s work over time, how he’s morphed while still being so funny. Plus, he narrates his own books—and that’s great.

Lara: I really intended to get to Calypso, but you know, life. There’s only two that had me laughing: Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success (often a cringy laugh, sometimes a full out chuckle) and, of course, The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6’ 4”, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand Up Comedian. Both are definitely worth reading, the latter should be via audiobook.

Did any books make you cry?

Lara: It takes a lot for a book to make me cry and I came damn close with A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, the first book out of Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint at Hograth. It’s heartbreaking and so very good.

Jennifer: No. But I was, um, moved by a few: The Recovering by Leslie Jamison and Sonata by Andrea Avery. See our memoir roundtable for more on memoir. I felt like many of those memoirs hit hard. I’m still thinking about a lot of them. For me, it really was a memoir-centric year.

What books did you miss this year?

Jennifer: Go see this blog post. I missed a ton. I’m looking forward to a lot too—especially new Colson Whitehead and the Atwood sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Lara: I missed most books this year. The ones I am sad about missing include:

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama (but am reading for a book club in 2019)
  • The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (but am reading for a book club in 2019)
  • Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Female Friendship by Kayleen Schafer
  • You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (but am reading it for a book club in 2019)
  • Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start Up by John Carreyrou
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean (but am reading it for a book club in 2019)
  • Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailot
  • Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
  • Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

Teeny-Tiny Book Reviews For Books Not Yet Mentioned That You Read in 2018


  1. R. O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries is getting major critical buzz and love. I am here to say it’s good. Not amazing. You’ve been warned.
  2. I love a good memoir and re-read one of my favorites, this time via audiobook, and it was just as good. Check out The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride.
  3. This year I read my first Steven King and survived! Will Patton is a master audiobook narrator for King’s latest The Outsider was creepy good.
  4. I am not a fan of mythology or fantasy, so what say you that I really liked Circe by Madeline Miller? We’ll call it a fluke.
  5. I might have to tear up my “I Love YA” card. I only read ONE YOUNG ADULT book this year. Who am I? I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was the sole teenybopper book I read in 2018.
  6. My guiltiest pleasure was The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. A fictional Hollywood icon of the silver screen is only willing to share her final story with a rookie journalist. Something gives and it’s hella juicy!
  7. I think it’s official that I will read anything by Fredrik Backman. Beartown did not disappoint and now I just need to pick up his follow up, Us Against You.


  1. For some whacky, I’m-a-plebian reason, I read zombie books—though I possibly have reached my zombie-limit with Max Brooks’ World War Z AND Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. Ireland was creative but very YA-ish, and Brooks was so-so.
  2. Joseph Cassara wrote The House of Impossible Beauties—and it was very much out of my comfort zone, but I think it broke my heart in a good way. A debut and a New York book, I’d consider it among the best of the year.
  3. Chris Cleave’s Little Bee was great fiction, and I read it in a couple intense and happy sittings. Everyone who spoke to me of it was demonstratively adoring—and I can see why. It’s just good.
  4. I read Elena Ferrante’s nonfiction book, Frantumaglia, and she convinced me that anonymity is ethical and best for artistic integrity. Even though I’m not anonymous. Though I sorta am. I wrote this on Ferrante. You gotta scroll down a little.
  5. I taught a book on YA, so I did hit upon some good stuff (and bad stuff). I finally read S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and it’s awesome. I loved Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I re-read Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian—still fabulous. For younger readers, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare was worth getting to.
  6. I did read quite a few political memoirs because the scene is so looney right now. Here’s the skinny: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff was the most fun. It’s probably already outdated. Fear by Bob Woodward was the most thorough. And legit. It was a little dull. James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty seemed to be the story of a decent man. And I’m about halfway through Michelle Obama’s Becoming—which might warrant its own section.

Jennifer’s Note on Michelle Obama’s Book Which Will Show Up On A Million “Best Books” Lists:

I’ll finish Becoming before the end of the year. I bet my thoughts will surprise my friends. You know that I took my kids out of school to see her and I think she’s beautiful and amazing, yeah? As I’m listening on audio, though, I’m thinking a few things. First, she is supremely polished, flawlessly articulate, utterly appropriate. She’s a smack in the face to all that is Trump, no doubt. However, I find that it’s mildly inauthentic. I listened to Hillary’s memoir when it came out. And I found her a bit more “real.” Hillary struck me, actually, as a mess of a woman–an idealist, not gorgeous, equipped with a philandering husband with a goofy grin. Sometimes she says bad things.

Not Michelle. I don’t dislike her at all. Nor do I question why she is so freaking polished. What choice does a working class black girl from Chicago have if she’s going to make it? (I do think her parents must’ve been amazing because they really took care of their kids.) Michelle Obama is seriously the ideal and beautiful secular humanist. Without question.

You know how I love David Sedaris? It’s because he’s so upfront about his shittiness.

Also, something else comes out in this book (which is worth reading): Barack Obama was the special one, the political dynamo, idealist, book reader, brilliant, from a weird upbringing—so weird, and SO SUPREMELY AMERICAN. That’s the irony of all the talk about his birth. You can’t get more American! Immigrants, Bohemians, Kansas, Hawaii, Chicago, raised by whities to be a black man. It’s astonishing, really.

Next Up!

We are moving to a new format in 2019 – Quarterly Columns! We will be back in March, discussing one book together and chatting about the other books we read on our own. Happy New Year, Snotties… but most of all, happy reading!


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