Top 10 Books of 2018

The Crimson Arts Board presents its book favorites of the year, from "Feel Free" to "Well-Read Black Girl."
By Courtesy of Random House
By The Crimson Arts Staff

10. “Heads of the Colored People” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
As she makes clear in her debut collection of short stories, Nafissa Thompson-Spires does not care to write herself into labels or categorization. The stories in “Heads of the Colored People” are satirical and devastatingly relevant, engaging and vulnerable, broadening the often erased but infinite spectrum of blackness. From a black professor at a small college to the only black girl in a yoga class, Thompson-Spires depicts not just how lonely it is fighting a stereotype, but also how much lonelier it is being an anti-stereotype. —Mila Gauvin II

9. “Well-Read Black Girl” by Glory Edim
Have you ever connected with a fictional character on every level? For black women, these characters are few and far between. “Well-Read Black Girl” works to combat that perceived absence by bringing to the fore black women writers and the stories that gave them characters who look like and inspire them. Glory Edim makes her online book club for black girls tangible in this essay collection, featuring writers Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, and Gabourey Sibide. From their inspiration — ranging from Toni Morrison to mythology — emerges an anthology that will rouse the next generation of young black girls. —Mila Gauvin II

By Courtesy of Catapult Press

8. “All You Can Ever Know” by Nicole Chung
“All You Can Ever Know” is Nicole Chung’s memoir and first book. Chung, who is Catapult Magazine’s editor-in-chief and has previously served as managing editor of The Toast, was born to Korean parents and adopted by white parents a few months later. Chung narrates the story alternately between her point of view and that of her biological sister, Cindy, with whom she reunites later in life. The Washington Post named the novel one of the “Best Books of Fall” and TIME named it a “Best Nonfiction Book of the Year.” —Lucy Wang

We reviewed “All You Can Ever Know” earlier this year. Find out what we thought here.

7. “Killing Commendatore” by Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami, who’s been name-dropped by The New Yorker as a potential Nobel candidate, has been churning out books since 1979. Nearly 40 years later, his newest book, “Killing Commendatore,” traces familiar ground for a Murakami fan: It follows an unnamed narrator on the run through the forests of Japan, trying to escape both the spirit world and his own complicated emotions. The novel includes a famous artist, a Nazi assassination attempt, and the physical manifestation of an Idea. Many reviewers have dubbed it a fitting homage to “The Great Gatsby” — although others have suggested that “Killing Commendatore” does not live up to Murakami’s best work. —Iris M. Lewis

We had mixed feelings about “Killing Commendatore,” giving it 3.5 stars. Find out why here.

6. “Useful Phrases for Immigrants” by May-Lee Chai
Winner of the Bakwin Award, May-Lee Chai’s 166-page short story collection, “Useful Phrases for Immigrants,” stunned readers by packing a serious amount of weight into a very small book. (The New York Times called it “capacious.”) In the very first page, what starts off as a polite standoff between Guilin and a store clerk quickly spirals into tangents fraught with class and assimilation, a testament to Chai’s elegant — and efficient — world- and character-building abilities. Chai’s eight stories are both private and global, zeroing in on individual family histories while traversing the continents of the Chinese diaspora. —Grace Z. Li

5. “Convenience Store Woman” by Sayaka Murata
If Keiko Furukura could work in a convenience store her whole life, she would. But that’s not what the world around her wants, as her friends, family, and co-workers make increasingly frustrating judgments about Keiko’s age, single status, and never-ending relationship with her job. Author Sayaka Murata asks us if the things long considered to be normal — society’s obsession with conformity and gendered values — really are so in this marvelously bizarre and always charming novella. “Convenience Store Woman” is a love story of an unlikely match between our fearless narrator and a 24-hour, perpetually lit convenience store. —Grace Z. Li

We reviewed “Convenience Store Woman” and gave it 4 stars. Read why here.

4. “Fruit of the Drunken Tree” by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Colombian author Ingrid Rojas Contreras debuted her first novel, “Fruit of the Drunken Tree,” to great critical acclaim this year, making the New York Times editor’s choice list. The story, which Contreras said was partially inspired by her own upbringing has, follows the parallel stories of seven-year-old Chula, her older sister Cassandra, and their live-in housemaid Petrona, during the height of drug lord Pablo Escobar’s power. Chula and Cassandra only hear of stories of the violence happening just beyond their gate, a sharp contrast to Petrona’s mysterious guerilla background. —Lucy Wang

3. “Feel Free” by Zadie Smith
Critically acclaimed British author Zadie Smith’s latest work, “Feel Free,” is a collection of essays that explore topics ranging from Jay-Z to “Get Out” to Brexit. Smith has a strong grasp on both politics and popular culture, which she deconstructs expertly with her keen eye and lucid writing style. Balanced between Smith’s own personal experiences and her thoughts on the world, this collection is chock full of Smith’s nuanced and brilliant insights. —Caroline E. Tew

We gave “Feel Free” 4 stars. Read about it here.

2. “The Third Hotel” by Laura van den Berg
Laura van den Berg, a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer for Harvard’s Creative Writing Program, impressed critics with her latest novel “The Third Hotel.” In a witty and surreal manner, van den Berg describes the exploits of Clare, a newly widowed woman who keeps seeing her late husband on a trip to a film festival in Havana, Cuba. This novel is a thoughtful meditation on marriage, grief, and horror films that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, the mundane and the extraordinary. —Caroline E. Tew

1. “There There” by Tommy Orange
“There There” takes its title from Gertrude Stein, who, as one of the book’s characters discovers, “found that she was talking about how the place where she’d grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore.” Situating his debut novel in Oakland, California, Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange writes of the relationship between Native Americans and the city through a cast of interwoven perspectives, all the while rooting their experiences in the history that began long before settlers arrived and took over their continent. —Kaylee S. Kim

We reviewed “There There” and gave it 5 stars. Read more here.