all of my 2018 book recommendations

All year long, I’ve made a weekly book recommendation when kicking off the weekend open thread. These aren’t work-related books; they’re just books I love and think everyone else should read. Sometimes they’re books that I’m in the middle of reading, and other times they’re just long-standing favorites.

Here’s the complete list of what I’ve recommended this year (maybe in time for holiday gift-shopping!). I’ve bolded my favorites of the favorites.


Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, by me. 

99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown. I love  a good malcontent, and she was that. This book is gossipy and fascinating (for example: she made even close friends call her “ma’am,” and her husband once left a note in her desk headed “24 reasons I hate you”).

And if you’re looking for more, here are my lists of book recommendations from 2017 and from 2016 and from 2015.

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{ 91 comments… read them below }

  1. Bigintodogs*

    I enjoyed My Ex-Life! I liked Family Trust too, expect I did NOT like Fred. He complained all. the. freaking. time.

      1. Ariadni*

        I really liked it too. 9 perfect strangers is sappy. I bookmarked this page although I have tons of unread books.
        The best books I read this year were Circe and The song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

  2. Mockingjay*

    I tried The Immortalists earlier this year and couldn’t finish it. I just couldn’t relate to any of the characters. The book itself is vividly written.

    On the other hand, I have already checked out several others on this list via my library’s e-service. I enjoy Alison’s annual list and look forward to it each year. One of her 2015 recommendations, Station Eleven, has become a favorite.

    1. Alienor*

      I finished it, but was disappointed. It had such an intriguing premise and I loved the characters as kids, and then they ended up mostly being dull, whiny adults. I remember feeling the same way about The Goldfinch when I read that a few years ago.

      1. hayling*

        I loved The Immortalists! I can see how people wouldn’t like it. When my book club read The Goldfinch, we were very divided too! I also loved The Goldfinch. I think they’re both books where I got really invested in the characters.

        1. Lcsa99*

          Glad I am not the only one that loved the immortalists! I thought the characters were so well drawn out, and I loved the question of how much of what happened to all of them was driven by that knowledge.

          1. JustAllison*

            I also loved the immortalists, it was very interesting premise and I thought it was meant to be sad and difficult to get through, show a more complex life then what we usually see in books.

  3. Mimi Me*

    Might I recommend one for you to read next year: Educated. It’s the memoir of a woman raised in a survivalist family who had never stepped foot in a classroom until she was 17 – yet she goes to college and on to get her PhD. It’s really a great read.

    1. Earthwalker*

      Education is haunting. It’s about education, yes, but it’s even more about family relationships and how the author struggles when the world she experiences does not match the reality that all of her family agrees upon.

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      Educated was incredible. I’ve since listened to some interviews with the author and she’s such an interesting, thoughtful person.

    3. paralegal beagle*

      Yes, it’s amazing! She was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, which is kind of appropriate given the Leap Year Birthday discussion earlier this week. Granted, Tara Westover’s parents are a bit more extreme, but it’s fascinating. I thought I only enjoyed it so much because I was JW for so many years/decades and many of her experiences and lasting mental issues from those really hit home.

      1. Lady Jay*

        Mormon, actually. Note the role of the bishops and the LDS church in her family. In fact, her brothers, including Tyler, remain Mormon.

        1. Lady Jay*

          That said, I was raised evangelical Christian and homeschooled, and though her family experience was significantly more extreme than mine (I had math, science, history, etc.) there was a lot there to identify with. It’s not surprising to me that readers who’ve experienced, and (like me and probably you?) a narrow, religiously-grounded upbringing, find this book fascinating.

          1. paralegal beagle*

            Oh, you’re right! I just realized I was blending Educated with I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed (written by an exJW), probably since I read them back-to-back.

            Home-schooled here, too, from eighth grade on…can’t have worldly people influencing young minds (sigh). I literally, physically cringe when I recall my proudly-delivered 3rd-grade report on why evolution was positively a hoax. I absolutely agree that those of us who have experienced abnormally high parental control are prone to react more strongly to it. I would like everyone to read it so they can understand how very different our backgrounds can be.

    4. Lady Jay*

      I read Educated a month ago & I cannot stop thinking about it. I loved it, though I agree with those who call it “haunting;” it’s a wrenching story. Even the part of the books that are not strictly about education are a meditation on what it means to be educated: the move from unfreedom to freedom, and what that move may cost.

  4. limenotapple*

    This is How it Always Is is so beautiful, so wonderful. I hope that anyone who doesn’t understand trans folks would read it. It really shows the excruciating pain felt by trans kids, and it might help people see how this is not a choice. The mother in this book rocks-she is fierce (and the author speaks from personal experience). Just wonderful all around.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      I started that one, but didn’t get very far because the writing style didn’t sit well with me. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But I’m going to try again since I’ve heard such good things.

  5. RabbitRabbit*

    Home Comforts is amaaaaazing. It’s such a fantastic guide to how to deal with a home/apartment.

    If you’re in the mood for a ‘sassy’ take on cleaning, Jolie Kerr’s “My Boyfriend Barfed in my Handbag, and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha” is fantastic. Her “Ask a Clean Person” podcast is great and frequently NSFW because she addresses cleaning up after all kinds of stuff.

  6. Lalaith*

    I read the words “Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose” just as I was about to take a sip out of my water bottle, and I’m just really glad for that split-second delay.

  7. AnyaT*

    Totally agree about The Power by Naomi Alderman! I read it earlier this year and think about it a lot.
    Getting my BF Calypso by David Sedaris for Christmas, I hope he enjoys it as much as you did.

    1. willow*

      I listened to several of David Sedaris’s books, read by the author, so you’re absolutely getting the mood of what he wrote, they are wonderful.

      1. The Original K.*

        I loved Calypso – but I’m a Sedaris fan, I like everything he writes. Sometimes his sister Amy chimes in with voices on his audiobooks, which is a delight.

    2. Double A*

      I… did not care for The Power? It came so highly recommended from a bunch of sources but I just thought it was kind of a mess and its timeline was totally unrealistic. The framing device was weird, the artifacts throughout were weird, and I just don’t believe (mild spoiler alert) that gender relations would unravel like that in 10 years. And then the frame is 5000 years later? What? I think about that book a lot too but mostly to try to answer its central question more satisfyingly for myself. Such an interesting premise, such a disappointing execution.

      1. The Original K.*

        I find myself thinking about the premise a lot too, particularly now (I read it this past summer) when I feel less safe than ever, as a woman of color. Like “if I had the power, how far would I go?” Would I just want to be able to walk the streets without fear, or would “absolute power corrupt absolutely?”

      2. kelly white*

        I agree- I so wanted to love it and I found it pretty disappointing. The premise is great- but there was just something about it that I found difficult.

    3. SansaStark*

      I was searching for a book to pick for my book club next month and I think this will be it because I think the premise will give us a lot to discuss.

    4. Bluebell*

      I loved The Power, and recently finished Vox, which is quite compelling. While I was reading Vic I thought back to The Power quite a bit. I thought the interspersed anthropology bits were interesting but the story absolutely could have held up on its own too.

  8. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I just finished listening to The Woman in Cabin Ten which I could have sworn was one of your recs.

  9. Kate R*

    I won your Cringeworthy giveaway, and it was SO interesting. I was like one part memoir, one part intro psych. I found it fascinating from the science perspective, but her personal anecdotes also made it fun to read. It also inspired me to try things outside of my comfort zone more often, but not like, “cuddling with a stranger” outside.

  10. Double A*

    Have you recommended “This Could Hurt” by Jillian Medoff? It’s about an HR department in a Manhattan firm in 2010 dealing with post-recession realities. It’s got wonderfully drawn characters and a huge amount of Grace and kindness. I think it’s be best book I’ve read this year, definitely the best contemporary book. It seems like such an obvious recommendation for AAM! So maybe I missed it.

    1. De Minimis*

      That was one of my favorites this year too.

      Of Alison’s list, I really enjoyed The Mars Room and Goodbye Vitamin

      I also really enjoyed Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart.

  11. Tedious Cat*

    I read Room in one sitting a few years ago and it is an amazing work of literature. I read an interview in which Donoghue said her goal was to make the perpetrator as uninteresting as possible as a statement on society’s fascination with the men that do these horrible things, and I think she totally succeeded. I didn’t know why he did what he did and I don’t care; this is the story of an amazingly strong woman and her son.

    That said, I don’t think I will ever watch the movie, and I immediately advised a friend who was breastfeeding not to read it.

    1. Mimi Me*

      Room had been strongly recommended by a friend. Her exact words were: I often wonder how they’re getting on out there after the story ended. I was excited to read it. It was a fast read but I hated every second of it. I didn’t like the little boy. (I know, I know… how could I? He was an innocent. etc, etc.) I just thought he was a bit creepy and I wanted to know more about the mom and less about the kid. I think the mom was a strong, amazing character. Although… I think about the scene with the fuzzy bumblebee every spring and how it must be to have never seen such a creature before, so the book did leave an impression on me. :)

  12. Sparkly Librarian*

    I read (or started to read) 5 of these based on Alison’s recommendations, and I’d already discovered a 6th. Didn’t always agree (or finish), but I enjoyed being introduced to new things! I have a few more on my to-be-read list, too.

    (Gotta jump on new titles before the end of December… I’m way behind this year on my Hundred Book Challenge.)

  13. Snack Management*

    I love book lists!! And Little Fires Everywhere was amazing – one of my favorite books I read last year that I recommend to several people. The book I keep recommending this year that I read is Eight Flavors by Sarah Lohman, nonfiction food history about 8 flavors that define America.

    1. Mimi Me*

      I read Celeste Ng’s book “Everything I never told you” and it was fantastic!!! I’ll have to read this one as well.

      1. hayling*

        My book club read “Everything I Never Told You” earlier this year and I loved it so much! We have “Little Fires Everywhere” on deck for 2019 and I can’t wait!

  14. Snowberry Kitten Foster, Inc.*

    My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Gross…that’s a good word to describe this book. I read it through to the end as well, but not sure I would recommend it to anyone. Little Fires Everywhere….GREAT book!!!

    1. The Librarian (not the type from TNT)*

      Same opinion here. I just read it and didn’t even realize it was one of Alison’s recommendations until I saw it here now.

    1. Lcsa99*

      Ooh thank you for reminding me. I bought this one and have it on my to read shelves but forgot about it. Know what I am gonna read next!

  15. Regina Phalange*

    Man, I really need to learn to read faster. I also loved Less and Conversations with Friends!

  16. Greengirl*

    It’s Ask a Manager’s book recommendation list. Awww yiss. I look forward to this list all year! Going to add The Book of Essie to my library holds list!

  17. JLCBL*

    Ah yes, the cringeful joy of Hey Ladies! I loved it. RIP Toast.
    If anyone doesn’t know, Daniel Mallory Ortberg is now happily engaged!

    1. NeonFireworks*

      Oh gosh! I thought I was in the loop, but that’s news to me and it just really made me smile! Thanks for sharing. Congratulations to Daniel and his very lucky other half.

  18. SigneL*

    “A Drink of One’s Own: Cocktails for Literary Ladies” by Laura Becherer and Cameo Marlatt – Fifty cocktails inspired by famous women writers from around the world, from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, Germany and others. Includes cocktail recipes and information about the writers. For example, there’s a cocktail inspired by Jane Austen. It’s a lovely book. Spoiler: Laura Becherer is a FB friend. Yes, I bought the book because she’s a friend, but I enjoyed it immensely.

    1. paralegal beagle*

      Oh, that sounds fun! I may start with that one because I’ve been reading heavier stuff lately.

    2. Partly Cloudy*

      Yes! I came here to post about this book. Laura is my friend too. Perhaps you and I know each other? :)

  19. 30 Years in the Biz*

    Thank you so much Alison! I appreciate this great holiday gift of recommendations! All the best to you this season and into 2019!!

  20. pomme de terre*

    Will definitely check out My Ex-Life. I could use a good read about people whose lives are a mess. I’m going through a rough patch — grief, depression, all-but-certain layoff in the new year — and I need some help/comfort/something.

    1. Bluebell*

      Have you read other Stephen McCauley? His most famous is “the Object of my Affection ” which I absolutely loved. This one is a much more subdued kind of funny. I’m glad I read it but I’m not sure I’d call it comforting. One book I would recommend for a great “chin up ” attitude is “Dear Mrs Bird” –takes place during world war 2 in London during the blitz. The heroine is plucky but not annoying.

      1. shellyns*

        Stephen was my thesis advisor in college – I did a double-take to see it on his name on this list! I actually liked “Dear Mrs Bird” much more than “Object of My Affection,” but I’m looking forward to checking out “My Ex-Life.”

  21. paralegal beagle*

    Thank you, Alison! Although my house will now be filthy and some work may suffer until I work my way through this list.

  22. Sapphire*

    As I said before, I loved An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and could not put it down the moment I had some free time to read. I’m really glad that Hank Green is writing for an adult audience

  23. JulieCanCan*

    Yay! Just saved this whole thing to my iphone Notes so it will never be far from me. Can’t wait to dig in!

    Not sure how you find the time read so much, but that’s one of the wonders of my world, the Fantastical and Mysterious Life of Alison Green.

    Thank you!!!’

    : )

  24. Iain C*

    How on Earth do you findtime for all these? Even if all you did was AAM, it’d be hard. But podcasting, consulting, cat herding… yikes!

      1. Iain C*

        Yes, sleep should definitely be added to the list… unless you’re a sparkly vampire? That would explain a lot!

  25. Artemesia*

    I love this list. I am always looking for new reads and book club recs. I just bought Less and hope it is great.

    I did smile at Wrinkle in Time. I have never read it and I know it is beloved and so I watched the recent movie when it came on Netflicks or whatever and thought it was one of the worst movies I have ever watched. For those who read it and loved it — did you also like this movie or did the movie just destroy the book?

    I always asked kids what they are reading and a 4th grader at a Christmas event told me she was reading Children of Blood and Bone which is apparently a magic involving saga. I bought it for my granddaughter and hope it is good.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      I’m a huge fan of A Wrinkle in Time – the book – and its sequels. I did not like the movie at all. Some of it came down to the fact that the director’s vision is different from mine, and some if it is the normal process of translating a book to a movie. That kind of thing, I can forgive. But there were several characters that were so completely changed from the book to the movie, that they’re almost unrecognizable – Charles Wallace and Mrs Whatsit especially.

      (Minor spoiler here – Mrs Whatsit in the book is charming and quirky and has a warm and caring relationship with the human characters; in the movie they just leaned heavily on “quirky” to the point of making her self-centred and obnoxious IMO. This is the part I really can’t forgive!)

      The director also made some strange choices that don’t necessarily impact this movie, but they will be problematic if she does the sequels. The Mr Jenkins character in the movie will not work as the Mr Jenkins from A Wind in the Door, and the family living in LA will not work for A Swiftly Tilting Planet, where the New England landscape is a key part of the plot.

      TL;DR – I’m a bit of a fangirl, obviously, and I feel strongly about this! But truly, don’t judge the book by the movie, if you haven’t read it – the book is a thousand times better than what came out on the screen.

      1. do the other things*

        I was so excited to see the movie because I love the book and having Ava DuVernay direct the movie seemed perfect, but I was SO underwhelmed/disappointed. I couldn’t figure out what I didn’t like- I was trying to separate out my own expectations and recognize that it’s hard to translate a novel to the screen, but I think you explain some of the problems well. I was annoyed by how they wrote the Happy Medium, too (and the twins weren’t in the movie!).

        Artemesia- definitely read the book! It’s so charming.

  26. Lulu*

    I see some of my favorites on your lists. I am definitely going to have to refer back for reading ideas, since your taste is so similar to mine. And you are a David Rakoff fan. Yes!!!

  27. Sunshine's Eschatology*

    Just loaded up with kindle with library books for upcoming travels and put about a dozen more books on hold. And to think I was worried about having reading material for the flights! Thanks for sharing, this are just what I needed! It’s especially nice to have recs outside my usual sf/f go-tos, so yay!

  28. Tavie*

    I always look forward to this as you have reading tastes that are close to my own! Thanks for this, Alison, and have a wonderful New Year.

  29. Phrunicus*

    I’ve read Live From New York! a couple times now, including the original hardback edition, the first paperback update, and I still need to re-read the Kindle edition with the latest(?) updates I bought a few months ago. Good stuff, and I like the format. (Also has a few killer quotes in there, too.)

    If you do like the format, and are interested in ESPN, the same two authors also wrote These Guys Have All The Fun about the history of the network.

  30. Alfonzo Mango*

    I felt the same way about The Idiot. I really liked parts of it- there were moments were I felt so connected to the main character. But nothing happened, and what did happen was nothing you’d encourage your friend to do it. It’s interesting.

  31. rSaurusRex*

    I love your book recommendations! I wanted to give back, as it were, by recommending a book that reminded me of Pachinko in many ways: superbly well-written, multi-generational saga. It’s called “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi.

    1. rSaurusRex*

      Also forgot to add, a great contemporary US-based novel I read recently was “Oh! You Pretty Things” by Shanna Mahin. The characters were so real I could see them in my mind’s eye and I could know them on the street.

  32. Aurélie*

    This is my favourite post of the year, I wait to read it till I have time to spend time reserving books from the library…
    Thank you so much for all your recommendations Alison! I discovered Eleanor Oliphant through last year’s list and I loved it so much that it’s become my go-to gift for all readers around me.

  33. Lurk Til I Can’t Help Myself*

    I saw this list and chose The Immortalists and The Book Of Essie to start. I’m home sick, and I read them both today.

    The Immortalists…I almost have no words, just great, gulping sobs. It was unbelievably good. Without revealing anything, towards the end, when Vayna got to meet someone important to one of her brothers? Book went down, more sobbing. 10/10

    The Book Of Essie was also a great read, but immediately compared to The Immortalists, nothing could be as intense. It was a fascinating “behind the scenes” look at a big, religious, reality TV family and how things aren’t what they seem.

    I had read Room previously and was stunned by it. The perspective of the little boy was such a riveting narrative.

    I read everything David Sedaris writes. I love the wee curmudgeon! My best friend and I went to a reading and book signing he did, and it was so much fun to hear straight from him. When we went to the signing, my bf said he wanted his book dedicated to his current boyfriend. I made a face, which Mr Sedaris noticed, because, although the man’s name was Garland, the inscription read, “F*ck you, Tinsel, love from David Sedaris”.

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