The Best Books I Read in 2018

As with all my annual reading lists, this one comprises books I read in 2018, regardless of when they were published.

In past years I’ve limited my list to 15 books, broken down into the best (10) and honorable mention (5). This year I found it particularly hard to distinguish between those two divisions. I was tempted to present just a single list of 15 items, but, because of that hobgoblin of little minds—consistency—I did subdivide it. However, I won’t mind if you think of this presentation as a single list of 15 items.

Listed alphabetically by author’s last name:

The Best

  • Connelly,Michael. Dark Sacred Night
  • Ferrante, Elena. My Brilliant Friend
  • Galbraith,Robert. Lethal White
  • Grann, David. Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven
  • Marra, Anthony. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
  • Ng, Celeste. Little Fires Everywhere
  • Piercy, Marge. Gone to Soldiers
  • Stein, Garth. The Art of Racing in the Rain
  • Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give

Honorable Mention

  • Benjamin,Chloe. The immortalists
  • Follett, Ken. A Column of Fire
  • Ford, Jamie. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
  • French, Tana. The Witch Elm
  • Harper, Jane. Force of Nature

How about you?

Did you read any of the same books I did in 2018? If yes, what did you think of them?

And what’s on your list of the best books you read in 2018?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Best Books of 2018: More Lists

Related Post:

The Best of the Bunch: Bookish’s Favorite Books from 2018

THE 2018 OSCARS, BUT FOR BOOKS

The Oscars (but less white and for books) is in its second year here at Book Riot, and we’re honoring the best of the best 2018 releases in Hollywood fashion!

Fiction Faves: Novels and Stories to Read Over the Holidays

From Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN, USA.

The Best Books of the Year

This list from Barnes & Noble includes these categories:

  • fiction
  • young adult
  • young reader
  • thrillers & suspense
  • best books (apparently an inclusive category that contains both fiction and nonfiction)

World Literature Today’s 75 Notable Translations of 2018

Best books of 2018: Young Adult

From BookPage:

The year’s best young adult books aren’t just for teen readers. Read on for our favorite immersive historicals, sweeping fantasies, stories that tackle some of today’s most headline-grabbing social issues and more.

Best Books of 2018: Children’s Books

Also from BookPage:

Although the year has been a challenging one, the effervescent world of children’s literature has been filled with diverse voices, messages of hope and plenty of silliness. Here are our editors’ picks for the 30 best children’s books of 2018.

The Best Historical Fiction Books of 2018

From BookBub

BOOK RIOT’S BEST OF THE BACKLIST 2018

Most “best books of the year” lists prepared by the publishing profession include only books published during the year in question. But this list uses the same approach I use every year for my own list of “best books read”: It includes the best books people read during the year, no matter when the books were published.

And this list earns bonus points for including one of my Top 5 Novels of All Time.

The Best Backlist Books We Read in 2018

Here’s another list like the one above.

Readers’ Regrets: The Books We Wish We Read in 2018

It’s comforting to know that even professional reviewers can’t keep up with the staggering number of new books published every year.

Four Books That Deserved More Attention in 2018

Here’s another variant on the “best books of the year” round-up.

Editors’ Picks: Highlights From a Year in Reading

Cal Flyn—writer, journalist and the deputy editor of _Five Books_—lists the 10 best books she read this year.

Goodreads Staffers’ Top Three Books of the Year

We’ve already looked at the Goodreads Readers’ Choice Awards. Here, several Goodreads staff members each share the top three books they read this year.

The Best Science Books Of 2018

From the folks at Science Friday.

The Best Food Books of 2018

From The New Yorker.

Marilyn Stasio Plays Bad Santa in This Holiday Crime Column

Because I like mystery/thriller/crime novels, I can’t resist offering you this list by Marilyn Stasio, mystery reviewer for The New York Times:

Ho-Ho-Ho, kiddies. Here comes Bad Santa with another gift sack filled with mysteries, crime stories and body parts. Ugh, what’s that gooey red stuff dripping out of Santa’s bag? Not to worry, just some melted candy canes. Now, on to this year’s rundown of the best Good Books for Bad Grown-Ups.

See who wins her awards in categories like “most original murder method” and “most unprintable dialogue.”

CRIME FICTION SUPERLATIVES: THE BEST AND MOST OF 2018

Here’s another list similar to Marilyn Stasio’s. The categories here also vary widely: “best title,” “most studious,” “best conspiracy,” “best use of new media,” “Rotary Club Award for new small business owners.”

Favorite Books of 2018

A beautiful list from the inimitable Maria Popova of Brain Pickings.

Best Thrillers and Crime Fiction 2018: The Critics’ Picks

Again, because I like crime fiction, here’s a list from Books in the Media:

Our team have collated the best of the year selections from the following publications: The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times, Evening Standard, The Spectator, Daily Mail, Financial Times and Slate.

There are some titles here that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

The Best Thrillers Of 2018, According To One Of The Best Crime Writers

The Real Lolita author Sarah Weinman on the crime writing that burrowed deep into her psyche and stayed there for a long, long time

THE BEST NOIR FICTION OF 2018

From CrimeReads:

Trends in this year’s noir releases include a revival of PI stories and classic hard-boiled tales of the “starts bad, gets worse” type; rural noir continued to make a strong showing, while procedurals featured a wide variety of protagonists, arrayed along a vast scale of crooked to incorruptible. Noir tends to be the crime world’s voice of conscience, fully on display in many of the works below, and the prominent presence of 1970s settings harkens back to the last great era of conspiracy fiction. To make our selection process more reader-friendly, we divided our selections into three categories: Private Eyes, Police / Procedural, and that most ineffable, expansive, and existential of labels: straight-up Noir.

Criminal Element’s Best Books of 2018

The staff of Criminal Element choose their favorites.

THE BEST PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS OF 2018

It was a banner year for psychological thrillers, with Trump-induced anxieties and #metoo stories entering into prominence in a genre already concerned with dangers at home. It’s no surprise that two years after the election, a mess of crime novels newly focused on the psychology of betrayal and the effects of toxic masculinity, but it did come as a bit of a surprise to see several novels that fit in perfectly with the #metoo era, and we’re sure to see many more over the coming years. As has been the trend for the past few years, psychological thrillers have shifted towards exploring relationships between women as much, if not more, than the domestic interactions that were once the subgenre’s bread and butter (so much so that for a few years, the crime world was inundated by the aptly named sub-sub-genre of domestic suspense).

Editors’ Picks: Favourite Nonfiction of 2018

There are many interesting entries on this list by journalist and Five Books editor Sophie Roell.

More Books We Loved in 2018

More from The New Yorker.

The Best Books of 2018 (So Far)

From  Town & Country magazine.

Readers’ Choice: The Top 25 Most Shelved Books of the Year!

Off the Shelf is a web site that allows users to set up their own shelves on which to place books they want to read. This list includes the books that readers most often placed on their shelves.

Crime fiction: The best mysteries and thrillers of 2018, part 1

Adam Woog, crime and mystery fiction reviewer for The Seattle Times, lists some of his favorites of 2018. He promises part 2 of his list in his first column of 2019, which should show up on the second Sunday of January.

From me, Woog gets bonus points for describing Tana French, author of the recent hit The Witch Elm, as “ a ridiculously talented Irish writer.” That she is.

10 Poets On Their Favorite Poetry Collections Of 2018

From BuzzFeed News.

Year in review: The best books of 2018

This extensive list from John McMurtrie, book editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, contains both fiction and nonfiction.

The Best of 2018: The Top 10 Book Lists of the Year

To feed the need for a meta fix, Off the Shelf lists its lists from 2018 that drew the most reader responses.

34 of This Year’s Highest Rated Books on BookBub

To mark the end of the year, we’re looking back at the books that BookBub members enjoyed the most in 2018. With an average of over 4.5 stars each, these books are tried and true reader favorites across all genres.

26 of the Best Debut Novels of 2018

I was a bit surprised to see that a lot of these debut novels are also on a lot of “best of 2018” lists.

The Observer: Best books of 2018

Includes graphic novels, music, politics & history, art, poetry, fiction, society, cookbooks, tech, theatre, architecture, thrillers, photography, and science.

BEST EPIGRAPHS OF 2018

OK, this is not a list of the year’s best books, but it may lead you to some new books from this year. Epigraphs are those little quotations from earlier writers that are often featured on one of the opening pages of a newer work. Epigraphs are easy to overlook, but they often lead to new insights about the work. And they’re often more meaningful if we look back at them after we’ve finished the book. Imagine the possibilities.

And finally, let’s look forward:

The 10 Most Anticipated Books Of 2019, According To Independent Bookstores

Including Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

LIT HUB’S MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2019

here are Literary Hub’s most anticipated books of 2019 (so far)—look out for another installment this summer. NB: All dates listed subject to change at the whims of the publishers in question.

Books 2019: Which top fiction picks will you choose?

8 brilliant book series to start your 2019 off right

The titles here aren’t newly published books, but rather first-in-a-series books to get you started reading in 2019.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Best Books of 2018

The Best Books of 2018

Amazon got us started off back in early November with its many best books lists. This page is the portal on which you’ll find links to lists of best books in many different categories.

Best Books of 2018

This is The Washington Post ’s portal into its lists of books in the following categories:

  • the top 10 outstanding books
  • The 10 best thrillers and mysteries of 2018
  • The 5 best romance novels of 2018
  • The 5 best science fiction and fantasy novels of 2018
  • 50 notable works of nonfiction in 2018
  • 50 notable works of fiction in 2018
  • The biggest book news of the year
  • The 10 best book adaptations to hit screens in 2018
  • The 10 best graphic novels of 2018
  • The best children’s books of 2018
  • The 5 best audiobooks of 2018
  • The 5 best poetry collections of 2018

PW’s Best Books 2018

This is the portal into Publishers Weekly’s list of the year’s best books in lots of categories.

Sally Rooney’s Normal People named Waterstones book of the year

NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide To 2018’s Great Reads

This page presents a whole lot of book covers with a sidebar in which you can choose to filter (e.g., “for art lovers,” “historical fiction”) what type of books you want to see. If you hover your mouse over a particular cover, a pop-up box will appear with a link to more information about the book.

If you find this approach overwhelming, as I did, you can check out BookBub’s report on the NPR choices here.

THE BEST AUDIOBOOKS OF 2018

From BookRiot, a list generated by its followers.

LIT HUB’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2018

59 BOOKS THAT YOU SHOULD PROBABLY READ SOME TIME IN 2019

The Best Books of 2018

After complaining of being woefully behind on her reading, The New Yorker staff writer Katy Walkman offers a list of nine best books of 2018:

To me, each of the titles below represents an energizing alternative to the ripped-apart illogic of our contemporary reality. Even the most disorienting novel is a reminder that you are more than a frayed nerve ending flailing across the Internet—that you, a somewhat coherent person, exist. Each one of these books does what Alexander Pope said wit can do: it “gives us back the image of our mind.”

21 Books Recommended by Librarians in 2018

Suggestions by librarians from all across the United States.

Goodreads Choice Awards 2018

What distinguishes these awards from most others is that they are voted on by readers, not critics. This is the portal into the listings of winners in several categories:

  • fiction
  • mystery & thriller
  • historical fiction
  • fantasy
  • best of the best
  • romance
  • science fiction
  • horror
  • humor
  • nonfiction
  • memoir & autobiography
  • history & biography
  • science & technology
  • food & cookbooks
  • graphic novels & comics
  • poetry
  • debut author
  • young adult fiction
  • young adult fantasy
  • middle grade & children’s
  • picture books

OUR FAVORITE CRIME BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The 62 Books That Won Our Hearts and Minds in 2018

From CrimeReads.

The Best Reviewed Books of 2018: Mystery, Crime, and Thriller

Literary Hub generated this list by aggregating data from the major reviews of this year’s crime and thriller releases.

The Most Inspiring Books of All Time, According to BookBub Readers

This isn’t your typical end-of-the-year best books list, but not including it here would seem like a sin. “There are times in life when we need a spark of inspiration, hope, or encouragement,” and these books provide just that, according to BookBub readers.

In Fiction, It Was the Year of the Woman

And here’s another not-so-straightforward list of some of the year’s best books, this one with a cultural emphasis:

there has been a grassroots pushback against hot-take nonfiction — one led, of course, by women. They didn’t launch any franchises — no “girl”-titled blockbusters and probably no future Jennifer Lawrence vehicles — but collectively, they dominated a shrunken literary ecosystem.

The 10 Best Books of 2018

Reinvented auto-fiction, gripping essays, and last stories from a renegade master.

30 OF THE BEST BOOK SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES IN 2018

here are 30 of the best book subscription services that are available as of the end of 2018.

After Reading Hundreds of Titles, These Are Our 15 Favorite Books of 2018

From the staff of O, the Oprah magazine:

Our favorite books draw on politics and the news, whether via wrongful incarceration, #MeToo, or the divide between generations. But they also totally captivate us with gorgeously-crafted sentences, their singular take on modern stories, and their insouciance.

Guardian best books of 2018: across fiction, politics, food and more

This list from the UK’s The Guardian naturally focuses on British literature. This link is the portal page for further listings in the following categories:

  • fiction
  • crime & thrillers
  • graphic novels
  • children & teenagers
  • science fiction & fantasy
  • poetry
  • showbusiness
  • memoir & biography
  • music
  • food & drink
  • sport
  • stocking fillers
  • politics
  • ideas & science
  • nature

Best Books of 2018

From Book Riot.

And finally … it seems only appropriate to end this list of best books of 2019 (although there will probably be one more such list) with a look forward to next year:

The Books We Can’t Wait To Read In 2019

A list by Olivia Ovenden for Esquire.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month With These Books by Latinx and Hispanic Authors | Bookish

Source: Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month With These Books by Latinx and Hispanic Authors | Bookish

National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated between September 15 and October 15 each year, and honors the many contributions of Americans with roots in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Spain, and Mexico. To mark the occasion, we’ve gathered some of our favorite recent books from Hispanic and Latinx authors. These books come from a range of genres, and speak to a wide variety of heritages, cultural traditions, and experiences.

Sept. 23:  Bi Visibility Day and the start of #BiWeek

Source: 4 Books About Bisexuality that Made Me Feel Seen

Septembr 23 is Bi Visibility Day and the start of #BiWeek. Here, one reader discusses four books about bisexuality that made her feel valid and understood.

I welcome you and ask that you join me on the journey of understanding bisexuality. It isn’t another “kind of gay.” It’s its own orientation. It’s real, it’s not a phase, it doesn’t mean I’m confused, it doesn’t mean I’m straight if I’m dating a man or a lesbian if I’m dating a woman. I’m bi. Bi people are just as varied as any other group, but we’re real and we often go unseen. Here are four books about bisexuality helped me understand it and claim it for myself.

Also see 17 BISEXUAL WOMEN BOOKS TO READ ON BI VISIBILITY DAY (OR ANY DAY!).

Last Week’s Links

What I’ve been reading around the web recently.

Can Reading Make You Happier?

Claude Monet, painted by Renoir (1872)
Claude Monet, painted by Renoir (1872)

An interesting history of bibliotherapy, or the use of reading to help “people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence.”

For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.

A Summer Reading List of Contemporary Books by Women

If reading more books by women is one of your 2018 reading challenges, this list is meant for you. It contains both fiction and nonfiction titles.

The Odd Literary Paraphernalia of the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection

A lock of Walt Whitman’s hair, Jack Kerouac’s boots, and Virginia Woolf’s cane are just a few of the items available to inspect at the eclectic Berg Collection—if you have an appointment.

In Order to Understand Sociopaths, I Got Inside One’s Head

Carola Lovering’s potent debut novel, Tell Me Lies, tells the story of the complicated relationship between college freshman Lucy Albright and charming sociopath Stephen DeMarco. While alternating Stephen and Lucy’s points of view, Lovering depicts how Lucy’s depression drives her codependency. Stephen’s sections show his remorseless Machiavellian sensibilities: unable to genuinely feel affection, he studies people in order to learn how to act normal and get what he wants. Lovering discusses the capability of inhabiting another person’s mind in fiction.

Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2018 Book Preview

The Millions shares news about new books being released in the second half of 2018, July-December.

We’ve got new novels by Kate Atkinson, Dale Peck, Pat Barker, Haruki Murakami, Bernice McFadden, and Barbara Kingsolver. We’ve got a stunning array of debut novels, including one by our very own editor, Lydia Kiesling—not to mention R.O. Kwon, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Crystal Hana Kim, Lucy Tan, Vanessa Hua, Wayétu Moore, and Olivia Laing. We’ve got long-awaited memoirs by Kiese Laymon and Nicole Chung. Works of nonfiction by Michiko Kakutani and Jonathan Franzen. The year has been bad, but the books will be good.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

100 Books to Read Before You Die

When you find yourself not knowing what book to pick up next, here’s a list that contains “a mix of modern fiction, true stories, and timeless classics.”

The deep roots of writing

Was writing invented for accounting and administration or did it evolve from religious movements, sorcery and dreams?

Writers to Watch Fall 2018: Anticipated Debuts

This fall’s collection of promising debuts features problem children, supernatural freedom fighters, captive mermaids, mad scientists, righteous vigilantes, and, last but not least, a narrating dog.

I used to stay away from narrating dogs, but a recent reading of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein may have changed my mind—or at least opened it a bit.

Attention, Please: Anne Tyler Has Something to Say

A look at the life of one of my favorite authors.

“Every time I begin a book I think this one is going to be completely different, and then it isn’t,” Tyler said. “I would like to have something new and different, but have never had the ambition to completely change myself. If I try to think of some common thread, I really think I’m deeply interested in endurance. I don’t think living is easy, even for those of us who aren’t scrounging. It’s hard to get through every day and say there’s a good reason to get up tomorrow. It just amazes me that people do it, and so cheerfully. The clearest way that you can show endurance is by sticking with a family. It’s easy to dump a friend, but you can’t so easily dump a brother. How did they stick together, and what goes on when they do? — all those things just fascinate me.”

STRONG WOMEN ARE TAKING OVER THE THRILLER

Novelist Cristina Alger offers a list of novels that present the kind of modern heroine she’s looking for:

I find the collective lack of strong, tough, reliable heroines depressing. Are unreliable women the only women we want to read about? And why do so many female authors choose to focus on them? I’m not asking for female protagonists to be perfect. But I would like to see more fictional women who have a true sense of agency, intelligence and guts—women with the same characteristics we’ve come to expect from the male heroes of traditional thrillers.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

The 15 Best Books I Read in 2017

Since I’m choosy about what I read and mostly read only books I’m interested in, it’s often difficult to choose the titles that belong on my year-end “best books I read this year” list.

And this year the task was particularly difficult. After much adding and subtracting, I’ve finally hit on this list of the 10 best plus 5 honorable mention.

The Best

Backman, Fredrik. A Man Called Ove
Connelly, Michael. Two Kinds Of Truth
Crouch, Blake. Dark Matter
Harper, Jane. The Dry
Honeyman, Gail. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Jenkins, Reid Taylor. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Macdonald, Helen. H Is for Hawk
Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You
Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Sternbergh, Adam. The Blinds

Honorable Mention

Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
Dolan-Leach, Caite. Dead Letters
du Maurier, Daphne. My Cousin Rachel
Eskens, Allen. The Life We Bury
Fuller, Claire. Swimming Lessons

How About You?

What books made your list this year?

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

My Top 5 Novels of All Time

Every December 31st I sit down with the list of books I read that year and choose the best ones. I usually end up with 10 bests plus 5 honorable mentions. I include this many because I’m fortunate enough to be in the time of life when I can choose to read whatever I want, so I usually like every book I read. Sometimes whittling the list down is hard work.

Recently I saw a meme in an online book group: What are your top 5 novels of all time?

If choosing 10 or even 15 from a year of reading is hard, how difficult could it be to pick my top five books of all time? I decided to give this challenge a try.

To my surprise, the top four came quite easily. Although I’ve read a lot of books in my time, these four novels have stuck with me because they hit that sweet spot of my encountering them at a time when I needed what they have to offer.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

Cover: To Kill a MockingbirdI remember this book being on the reading curriculum in eighth grade. I did the math, and 1960 was the year I finished eighth grade, so my memory may be correct. However, it’s possible that my memory is distorted. I distinctly remember feeling outraged when, three or four years after I was in eighth grade, the mother of a then eighth grader filed a complaint over having her daughter read a book about rape. Maybe I did read it in eighth grade, or maybe it didn’t land on the curriculum until later and I read it on my own.

Whichever is the case, this is the book that has stuck with me the longest and that I have reread the most often. Whenever I get to feeling down on my fellow man, I reread this book to restore my faith in humanity. (In fact, I’m due for another reread soon.)

Yet, as much as I’d like to think that I love this book for its themes of justice and human compassion, I’m pretty sure the novel stuck with me because my father died in 1960, two months before I turned 12, after a long and painful separation from my mother and me. The portrayal of Atticus Finch, the wise and caring father, probably impressed me just as much as the story of Atticus Finch, the brave lawyer who defended Tom Robinson. If it’s true that we can live vicariously through literature (and I believe it is), then this book probably comforted me through my fatherless adolescence.

2. All the King’s Men (1946) by Robert Penn Warren

Again, I’m not sure when I first read this remarkable novel. My memory places it in eighth or ninth grade.

This is the novel with which I discovered how powerful a fine work of fiction can be. For the first time, all the pieces of the literary criticism puzzle fell into place: the use of the first-person narrator, the metaphor of the narrator’s last name (Burden), the powerful (for both the narrator and the reader) epiphany, the quality of the prose.

I don’t remember why I first read this book. It’s possible that it was on a reading list for school (in which case, I would probably have come across it in ninth grade). I can’t imagine how else I would have found it. Nobody in my household was a reader, and we didn’t have many books around. But no matter how I came upon it, I always think of this novel as my initiation into adult reading. I have reread it a couple of times in my adulthood, and it holds up very well.

3. Disturbances in the Field (1983) by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

This story features a group of people who have known each other since their college days, when they used to get together and discuss philosophical ideas. In the book’s present time, these people are entering middle age.

I read this book when I was about the age of those characters and was beginning to realize that life is much more complicated than school prepares us for. In late adolescence and early adulthood, when we are beginning to be able to reason abstractly, we tend to think in dichotomies: it’s right to do this and wrong to do that, you either believe what I believe or you’re on the other side.

But life is very seldom so simple. Approaching middle age, I had had enough life experience to realize that what sounds convincing in theory often isn’t directly applicable in reality, that actual situations are usually not black or white but one of many—way more than 50—shades of gray between the two extremes. Like the characters in this novel, I had to learn by experience how to navigate life’s big events such as love, marriage, parenthood, death, and grief.

4. A Little Life (2015) by Hanya Yanagihara

This recent novel is a lot like To Kill a Mockingbird in the sense that it’s one of the most moving, poignant books I’ve ever read.

This big novel covers the lives of four men who met as college roommates. The story opens just after they have graduated from college in Massachusetts and have all moved to New York City to undertake their careers as an actor, a lawyer, an architect, and an artist. In 814 pages, the book unfolds their intertwined lives in magnificent detail.

The story of how four people come together to form a surrogate family moved me because, like all four of them, I grew up in a dysfunctional, non-nurturing household and went off to college to start a new life.. One of the four characters, who becomes the focal point of the book, suffered a horrific childhood that he’s unwilling to talk about. The other three all intuit that he needs their protection and support, and the novel probes both the high and low points of their shifting constellation of interpersonal relationships. As someone who has been fortunate enough to meet a crucial person whom I needed at each significant point in my life, I found this novel both poignant and ultimately uplifting.

Although these four books came easily, number five was a tough decision. Only one more spot on the list remained, yet several books came to mind:

  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

When I looked at the first four, I realized that they give a chronology of my life, from childhood to early adulthood to middle age and then to older age. This suggested that the last spot on the list should also go to a book about my current point on life’s continuum, older adulthood. The Blind Assassin, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, and Our Souls at Night all fit that category. On the other hand, Plainsong is about the most effectively written novel I’ve read.

But after a lot of dithering I have decided to go with the following choice:

5. The Help (2009) by Kathryn Stockett

When I was 57, I felt driven to go back to school because of a nagging feeling that there was more I needed to learn through formal schooling, not just life experience. I started a doctoral program in psychology during which several pieces fell together seemingly by magic. I wrote my dissertation on life stories and received my doctorate on my 63rd birthday.

One of those pieces that fell magically into place was this novel. Set in 1962, it’s the story of a young, white southern woman who dares to write down the life stories of the African American women who work as maids in her community. This book strongly asserts the belief that everyone has a life story and that everyone’s life story deserves to be heard.

In my late-life doctoral study I realized that it’s especially important for us to seek out and learn from the life stories of marginalized people and of people different from ourselves if society is to evolve and persevere. For that reason, this novel won the final spot on my list of the Top 5 Novels of All Time.

How about you?

What titles are on your list of the Top 5 Novels of All Time?

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown