My Best Reads of 2018

2018 has lasted approximately 3 million years, so despite the fact that I almost never have time to read, I’ve read a lot of things this year. I wanted to take some time to highlight the incredibly good reads I had this year, whether they were journalism, short fiction, or books.

Journalism

I read a lot–I do mean a lot–of journalism this year, and a lot of it was incredible. “Death in the Village” by Anthony Oliveira was an incredible piece from early this year about a serial killer who targeted queer men in Toronto, written by a member of that queer community. The way he intertwines members of the community reacting to the news of the serial killer alongside the complex relationship the community has with police, with people of color, with homelessness–all of it paints an intimate portrait of a world full of people simply struggling to survive.

“Seven Days of Heroin” won a Pulitzer prize, and, shockingly, is very good. This look at how heroin wreaks havoc on even the smallest parts of your life is incredible and deeply interesting. This is also a great example of use of pictures.

“I Would Have Followed You: Masculine Love and Devotion in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings” was a refreshingly earnest piece of media criticism in a year that had a lot of jaded “hot takes” on just about everything. Even though “in this essay I will…” became a self-parodic meme this year, the reality is that I really want more people to write wonderful, accessible essays about how media makes them feel, how they connect to it and how they interpret it.

In other light-heartening news, “For Valentino Dixon, A Wrong Righted” was one of the more wonderful things to read about this year. This year we saw a lot of evidence of how powerful journalism is; the fact that a golf magazine freed someone from prison is perhaps a perfect distillation of that power.

“The Rebel Puppeteers of Sudan” was one of my favorite pieces of video journalism; sure, I didn’t read it, but come on, it’s from the New York Times. (Lindsay Ellis also did an incredible job this year.)

Some honorable mentions: “The Girdle-Inspired History of the Very First Spacesuits,” “World Cup Preview,” “Puerto Rico’s Empty Shoes,” “How Jenni Helms Survived Tragedy To Stay Ferrari’s No-Comeback Kid,” “The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul,” “Bewitched’s Eight Seasons of Fashion Magic,” “Lifetime Ban Lifted 17 Years after Seagulls Trash Hotel Room Over Suitcase of Pepperoni,”    and this Wikipedia page for an Australian Transformer named Outback. Special special mention should be given to “Armpit Pads, Petticoats, and Porcelain: How Stylish Dolls Taught Girls to be Victorian Women,” because it literally inspired me to start planning a trip to Philadelphia, which it looks like I’ll be taking soon.

Short Fiction

I haven’t read nearly enough short fiction this year, but there are two pieces that would be the standout hits either way:

“STET” by Sarah Gailey needs to be read on a computer, not on mobile; trust me. An innovative use of format, this incredible piece uses academia to tell a story. According to the author, she wrote it because a man told her she couldn’t do it.

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”  by Alix E. Harrow is just incredibly good, and hit at a very special place in my heart. Admittedly, as a Southern public library worker, this one hits close to home, but since it does I can tell you that this is an incredible, intimate look at a fantastical version of something very, incredibly real.

Books

As you probably know, I did reread Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books this year, and I was surprised at how they hit me on the reread. As an adult I’ve started to come to appreciate how incredibly efficient stories for juveniles and adults can be in conveying information with a smaller page count; these books, like many others aimed at a tween-to-teen audience, create such in-depth worlds. Things that seemed pivotal to the books to me were one and a half page exchanges; details I treasured were offhand or implied. I guess it’s a reminder of something Neil Gaiman often says, which is that, if anything, he works harder at writing for kids, because they are paying better attention to every word.

In that vein, my favorite piece of new reading this year was probably Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy 2 Furious by Shannon Hale. Not only are the Squirrel Girl books a great adaptation of the character for tweens, there were literally parts where I had to put the book down because I was crying laughing over Squirrel Girl’s exchanges with Iron Man.

In the adult fiction world, this year was the year I discovered Mary Robinette Kowal, whose books are precisely my jam. Her novel Ghost Talkers, about mediums using their ability to aid the war effort in World War I Britain, was an incredibly interesting alternate history wrapped around an incredibly intimate portrait of grief and loss. Much of her other writings are similar; incredibly character-driven tales written in immaculate, incredibly interesting alternate histories. Her Shades of Milk and Honey series and Lady Astronaut series are both incredible reads.

It’s kind of weird to look at this list and feel like I actually haven’t read nearly enough. This isn’t everything I read, but it still feels insufficient. I know many other people feel this way; I think all bookworms remember their voracious childhoods, when they didn’t have a job to get in the way of good reading, and sort of sigh longingly. But, to be fair, I also have a husband, dogs, friends, and chores, and as I’ve grown up, I’m less willing to put those things aside in favor of a book. I’ve also started to learn to sew. And if anything, the times when I felt guilty over not reading actively kept me from reading; it’s so much less pleasant to read because you feel obligated to be a reader, as opposed to reading a book simply because it’s an enjoyable activity. As 2019 grows older, I want to focus on kindness towards myself and acting on my words, because too often, it feels like my words are empty. So I will also be fighting against that guilt, which doesn’t achieve any sort of useful purpose, in the end.

Here’s to 2019, and the hope that it will bring better for all of us.

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