all of my 2017 and 2018 book recommendations Here’s the complete list of the books I recommended in 2017 and 2018. I’ve bolded my favorites of the favorites. If you want more, here are my book recommendations from 2021, 2020, 2019, 2016, and 2015. 2018 This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel. It’s about a family who thought they had five sons but turns out to have four sons and a daughter. It’s excellent. Fraud, by David Rakoff. Smart and hilariously funny essays on places where he never seems to quite belong. The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin. I’m on an epic family saga kick, ever since Pachinko. This one starts when four siblings in 1969 New York visit a fortune teller who tells them each what day they’ll die, information that hangs over all of them as their lives unfold. Tepper Isn’t Going Out, by Calvin Trillin. You wouldn’t think a novel about parking would hold your interest, but it’s Calvin Trillin and so you would be wrong. The Power, by Naomi Alderman. This is SO GOOD. This is what happens when teenage girls everywhere suddenly discover that their bodies can produce lethal electric shocks — instantly shifting the balance of power in the world. Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests, by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. This is an exhaustive oral history of the show from the start, from its fights with censors to the fights among its stars to how the writing gets done. You’ll learn things like how different celebrity hosts treated people, and why everyone hated Chevy Chase. Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, by Melissa Dahl, which delves into when and why we feel awkward, and how we can move past it. You’ll learn about why it’s awkward to mix two groups of friends, where secondhand embarrassment comes from, and how to fight off a cringe attack — and there’s a whole chapter on awkwardness at work! I talked more about it here, and it’s awesome. Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday. It’s hard to talk about this without spoiling it, but it’s two seemingly disparate stories that may surprise you in how they’re connected. It’s beautifully done and I loved it. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. Why did it take me so long? I don’t know but it’s wonderful. It’s about family and class and art and convention and loss. Read it! Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson. This is everything you need to know about having an adult home, from how to fold a fitted sheet so that it doesn’t look like gnomes live inside it, to how to wash dishes so they’re actually clean, to where you should and shouldn’t compromise on cleanliness. This is all the stuff that possibly used to get passed down generationally but no longer does, and so many of us don’t know it, but now we will. The Newlyweds, by Nell Freudenberger. A Bangladeshi woman comes to the U.S. to marry an American man, and ends up caught between two cultures. The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler. A multi-generational saga, all stemming from a marriage that probably shouldn’t have happened. The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror, by Daniel Mallory Ortberg.Delightfully disturbing (and sometimes funny) adaptations of classic fairy tales. Very enjoyable. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. I just re-read this for a podcast I was on and I’d forgotten how good it is. Dark and funny and suspenseful and fun. Would You Rather? by Katie Heaney. A funny, honest memoir about love, relationships, and figuring out who you are. The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about friendship, mentorship, activism, and what we want from each other, with characters who are all the more compelling because of their flaws. I loved it. Then She Was Gone, by Lisa Jewell. A woman whose daughter disappeared 10 years ago ends up in a relationship with a man whose daughter looks eerily like her own, and all is not what it seems. I don’t normally read suspense because I find it so stressful, but somehow I started reading this and couldn’t put it down. (And it was stressful! But good.) Hey Ladies! by Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss. The hilarious Hey Ladies column from The Toast is now a book! One of the ladies is getting married, and there are many, many emails to be sent and plans to be made. It’s so, so funny, and you will cringe with recognition. Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, by me. It is time for you to buy it! My Ex-Life, by Stephen McCauley. Two former spouses, one gay and one straight, reconnect decades later when both of their new lives are falling apart a bit. It’s lovely. Calypso, by David Sedaris. David Sedaris’s best writing has always been about his family, and his new book focuses exclusively on them. It’s funny and sad, and I loved it and think it might be his best book of them all, and I want to start reading it all over again. The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner, about a woman serving two life sentences in prison, how she got there, and how she survives. I was riveted from the first page, and it stays with you. Tell the Machine Goodnight, by Katie Williams. It plays out around a piece of new technology that tests your DNA and tells you the three things you need to do to be happier (from “take the night bus” to “eat more fruit” to “smile at your wife”), and that concept alone would be enough to keep me interested, but the story itself is about the humans. Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. Desperate to be away when his ex-boyfriend gets married (and not thrilled about his impending 50th birthday), a novelist decides to accept every invitation to out-of-town literary events that come his way. Beautifully written, smart, and funny. My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh, about a woman who decides she’s going to quit her life and sleep for a year. It made me feel a little gross so I don’t know that I recommend it exactly, but it’s funny and getting lots of acclaim and I haven’t been able to put it down. Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory, the story of the rise and fall and rise of the Amazing Telemachus Family — a family with supernatural gifts. Someone recommended this here last week, and I’m halfway through and totally sucked in. The Book of Essie, by Meghan MacLean Weir. The teenage daughter of an evangelical preacher whose family has a hit reality show (and a mom scarier than Kris Jenner) gets pregnant and has to figure out how to take back her life from her family. Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan. I finally tried it, and it’s totally decadent and fun. French Exit, by Patrick deWitt. Reviews have called this a “tragedy of manners.” It’s dark but funny, and there is money and the loss of money and scathing comments and a cat who might not be a cat, and you end up liking characters you shouldn’t like, and it’s basically a delight. Goodbye, Vitamin, by Rachel Khong. It’s about family and memory and home, and it’s quiet and lovely. Room, by Emma Donoghue. It’s told through the eyes of a boy who has been held captive with his mother in a small room for years … and then they’re not. Obviously disturbing, but it will grab you and keep you up all night reading it. Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney. Two 20somethings befriend a slightly older couple, and things get messy but the banter is superb. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green. After alien life comes to earth, the woman who made first contact becomes famous overnight and discovers fame is as weird as aliens. All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung’s memoir of growing up Korean in a white family and later finding her biological family. It’s about race and identity and belonging and it is moving and beautifully written. Family Trust, by Kathy Wang. It’s about a patriarch who has long promised his family he’s leaving them a fortune when he goes, his two kids, his ex-wife, and his second wife — and how things unravel and come back together for all of them. It’s funny and layered and I loved it. The Idiot, by Elif Batuman. I don’t know exactly how to describe this book. It’s about early adulthood, but it’s also about language and friendship and love and Russian and trying to find your place in the world. If you want a lot of plot in your novels, this may not be for you, but I really liked it. Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, by Gretchen Anthony. A very misguided matriarch grapples with change in her family while writing cheerful Christmas letters. Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, by Tim Federle. It’s exactly what it sounds like — drink recipes inspired by literature, like the Pitcher of Dorian Grey Goose, Romeo and Julep, Orange Julius Caesar, and more. Nine Perfect Strangers, by Liane Moriarty. Well, I’m recommending the first half of this book, but then it went off the rails. In an interesting way, but still off the rails. 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”). 2017 A Woman of Independent Means, by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey. The entire life of one woman, told through her letters to other people as she grows up and raises a family. I recently re-read this for the first time since I was a teenager, and realized that I had missed much of the humor the first time around. It’s good. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer. This is a super cool guide to strange and surprising places around the world. A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. This book will wreck you, and it will be one of the best things you’ve ever read. It’s about trauma and life afterwards, and the power and limitations of friendship and love. It kept me up way too late, way too many nights, it broke my heart, and I am considering starting it all over again. Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, by Therese Oneill. This is all the stuff no one has ever told you about living in the Victorian era, including what your underwear was like (disturbing!), how bathing worked, the raw meat you will tie to your face while you sleep to fight wrinkles, and much more. The Mothers, by Brit Bennett. Mothers of all types, a love triangle, and choices that may or may not be the right ones. The Last Message Received, by Emily Trunko. It’s a collection of real-life final messages that people sent to others before break-ups, deaths, and other separations. It’s pretty heartbreaking … but it will also make you look at the messages you write differently. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, the story of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to his first wife, told through her eyes. Ultimately they both annoyed me, but it was an enjoyable journey. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. It’s a British comedy of manners, but it’s more too. (I recommended the author’s The Summer Before the War last year too, and this one is just as good.) The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. I loved this book. Emma Straub does family dysfunction well. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. A decidedly un-glamorous governess accidentally becomes the personal assistant to a nightclub singer. It’s a delight. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth. Curtis Sittenfeld (who is also excellent!) described this as “if Holden Caulfield had been a gay girl from Montana, this is the story he might have told,” and that seems right. Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world, by Yee-Lum Mak — in which you will learn words from more than a dozen languages that describe emotions and situations that are hard top capture, such as the Japanese tsundoku (buying books and not reading them; letting them pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands”) and the Swedish smultronställe (a “personal idyll free from stress or sadness,” which translates literally as “place of wild strawberries”). If you love language, you’ll love this book. The Arrangement, by Sarah Dunn. A couple gives each other six months off from monogamy, and things go differently than expected. All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai. Tom Barren is the first person to travel back in time — where he promptly messes up history, which means that when he travels back to the present time, everything is different. In fact, it’s the world as we know it today, but for Tom, who comes from a techno-utopia, it’s primitive and barbaric. This book will blow your mind a little bit. The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton, who’s the author of this realllllly good article in the New York Times, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” This book in many ways is the continuation of that article, but as a novel about a marriage. It’s amazing. The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. A woman made of clay and a man made of fire are marooned in 19th century New York. Surprising things happen. (I recommended this a couple of years ago when I first read it, but I’ve been re-reading it and it’s just as good the second time.) So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson, which looks at what happens to people after an internet mob goes after them (e.g., Justine Sacco, Jonah Lehrer, etc.). Really interesting. Shrill, by Lindy West. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I thought it might be … you know, shrill. I ended up loving it and loving Lindy. Her writing about her dad, in particular, is beautiful. Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick. She is smart and funny and a pleasure to hang out with as you read. The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois. A retired teacher is shipwrecked on Krakatoa, where he discovers a tiny, hidden, and very rich society of 20 families who spend their time on cooking and inventions, which sounds weird but it’s awesome. This is my favorite kids’ book, and I still love it to this day. The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham. The rather shallow Kitty Fane cheats on her husband, who then takes her to a cholera-infected region of China, where … things happen. Standard Deviation, by Katherine Heiny. As a middle-aged married person, I find that I increasingly love novels about middle-aged married people. Extraordinary Adventures, by Daniel Wallace. Closed-off, lonely Edsel Bronfman wins a free weekend at a beach resort for a couple, and sets out to reinvent himself. The Heirs, by Susan Rieger. A family drama with money and scandals that everyone is surprisingly chill about. One review I saw called it a modern day Edith Wharton, and that seems right. The Humans, by Matt Haig. An alien comes to earth with a mission, sure that he knows what humans are like. He is wrong. A House Among the Trees, by Julia Glass. I love everything she writes, and this is no exception. It’s about the death of a famous children’s book author (modeled to some degree on Maurice Sendak) and the emotional legacy he leaves to the people he was close to. Do Not Become Alarmed, by Maile Meloy. Four children will disappear on a cruise, and you will stay up all night to find out what happens. The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness, by Jennifer Latson. I read this after reading this fascinating write-up in NYMag about Williams syndrome, also known as “cocktail party syndrome,” which makes people incredibly outgoing, extroverted, and trusting (as well as causing intellectual disabilities, physical problems, and musical and story-telling talents). The Windfall, by Diksha Basu. If Jane Austen were writing in modern-day India, it would maybe be this. Constance Harding’s (Rather) Startling Year, by Ceri Radford. Extremely funny. The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival, by Stanley N. Alpert. A fascinating story by a federal prosecutor of what happened after he was kidnapped off the street — and later, how he went after his captors. The Misfortune of Marion Palm, by Emily Culliton. A Brooklyn mom goes on the run after embezzling from her kids’ school. Happenstance, by Carol Shields. Another one about middle-aged married people, and it’s great. It’s basically two novellas: the first one from the wife’s perspective, and the second one from the husband’s. A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle. A charming and funny account of a year spent living in rural France. Much pastis is drunk. Sourdough, by Robin Sloan. This is by the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which is also excellent. This one has a very unusual sourdough starter, robots, and culinary intrigue. Oh the Glory of It All, by Sean Wilsey, a memoir about money, excess, family, and an evil stepmother. 4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster. This is four stories in one — all starting with the birth of the same person, but they then diverge into separate narrations of the paths his life might take. All four stories are told in parallel — Chapter 1 is divided into 1.1. 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4, and so forth with each chapter. It’s a very long book, and since I hate it when a good book ends, I’m enjoying knowing that I’ll still be reading this a month from now and possibly forever. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. It starts out deeply funny and then it turns into something you didn’t expect. This is one of my favorite books this year. The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak. A 1980s coming of age story involving computer games, petty theft, and an obsession with Vanna White. Rabbit Cake, by Annie Hartnett. An 11-year-old tries to move forward after the death of her mom. It’s not as dark as it sounds; it’s often charming and funny. The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer. The wife of a famous, and philandering, novelist contemplates their marriage. Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee. The daughter of Korean immigrants tries to figure out her life in New York. It’s long and sprawling and engrossing. One review I saw called it a modern-day Middlemarch, which seems right to me. Sellevision, by Augusten Burroughs. A good book to read post-Black-Friday, it’s a send-up of a fictional home shopping network. History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund. I originally wasn’t going to read this because the title made me think it was some sort of modern Call of the Wild, but it’s actually about an isolated teenager’s relationship with a family who move in nearby and it’s quite good. Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith. This is the newest biography of Prince Charles and it’s fascinating and will make you more sympathetic to Charles than you probably were before. A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick. I don’t know how to feel about this book, but it did totally engross me and was alternately beautiful and deeply disturbing. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. It’s a four-generation saga of a Korean family living in Japan. Someone here recommended this and it’s fantastic. Mortified: Love Is a Battlefield, by David Nadelberg. I’m obsessed with the Mortified podcast (based on the Mortified stage show where people read their real-life diaries and letters from adolescence, and believe me, the name fits), and this is a book with more of the same. I’ve recommended their first book in the past as well, and their entire empire is delightful. Please note: This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. I make a commission if you use these links.