To compile our best books of 2018, we asked the Girlboss staff for the titles they devoured, the reads that taught them something new, or the stories or big ideas that lingered long after the last page.
The result was a mix of genre: contemporary literature, journalism, heartfelt memoirs, critical essays, and a few self-help books too. As difficult as it was to whittle down our list, here are the truly standout reads that we couldn’t stop thinking about this year.
What does feminism mean in 2018? How do we define a term that, while arguably mass-marketed, is still so largely misunderstood—and rejected? In the aftermath of the Women’s March in Washington and the #metoo movement, calls for solidarity among women have intensified. But, so too, has the call for a more inclusive movement, one that rejects “white feminism.” Confused? In Can We All Be Feminists?: New Writing from Brit Bennett, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and 15 Others on Intersectionality, Identity, and the Way Forward for Feminism, edited by June Eric-Udorie, 16 writers offer some much-needed answers.
In a similar vein, Clementine Ford’s Fight Like A Girl, tackles the issue of current-day misogyny and how prevalent it is in our culture. Using an approach that’s equal parts sarcasm and straightforward no-nonsense, Ford defines misogyny and then illustrates how it manifests in subtle and overt ways.
When Sharmila Sen emigrated to the United States from India with her family at the age of 12, she faced a question she’d never given much thought to: What race was she? Not Quite Not White is part memoir and part manifesto. In early 1980s America, Sen found herself trying to adjust—to assimilate—into the dominant white culture that was America. Today, upon deeper reflection, Sen offers an alternative: embrace being not white.
Anand Giridharadas, a former New York Times columnist, explores the ways that a new generation of upper-crust, ultra-wealthy philanthropists is trying to better the world—so long as it doesn’t threaten their position at the top. In Winners Take All, Giridharadas isn’t afraid to question our reliance on the super-wealthy to fix democracy and public institutions.
By now, the idea of Silicon Valley being a bro’s club is widely accepted (and ridiculed/called out). But, how exactly did we get here? And how can we fix it? Journalist Emily Chang looks at this and more in this deep dive at the culture of Silicon Valley in Brotopia.
It’s safe to say that Tara Westover’s upbringing wasn’t typical. Raised in an isolationist family in the mountains of Idaho, Westover didn’t set foot in a classroom until the age of 17. In Educated: A Memoir, she recounts now just her peculiar childhood, but how she went on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University.
Just a few years ago, Theranos was a company on the fast-track to stardom. The face of the company, Elizabeth Holmes, was largely seen as one of the rare “unicorns” to spring from Silicon Valley. Her company’s promise, that it could conduct blood testing simpler and faster—was based on a lie. In Bad Blood, the Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou dives into the captivating saga of a would-be revolutionary company and its CEO.
For starters, this isn’t a novel propelled forward by action and plot development. No, rather, it is a meditation on the virtue and necessity of relaxation. Ottessa Moshfegh, one of this generation’s leading new voices, gives us a darkly funny novel about a pretty young Columbia graduate set on recovering from the alienation of the world. As in, she spends a year under the influence thanks to a horrible psychiatrist. Sound bizarre? That hasn’t stopped My Year of Rest and Relaxation from making many a “best of” lists this year.
Michelle Obama’s long-awaited memoir, Becoming, hasn’t disappointed. Why? Because the former first lady did something utterly rare for an alum of Washington politics. She was honest about her experience. Read it for a dose of inspiration from a first lady unlike any before her.
In The Book of Essie, we meet a teenage protagonist whose family and personal life are regularly broadcast to a television audience. That is, Essie and her family are the stars of Six for Hicks, a family known for its “fire-and-brimstone brand of faith.” When her family discovers Essie is pregnant, everyone around her tries to problem-solve. Do they sneak her out of the country? Schedule a wedding? Amid the chaos, Essie has to reckon with how she truly feels about it all.
Anna Yen’s novel, Sophia of Silicon Valley, centers on a young protagonist who finds herself working alongside an eccentric CEO. She soon finds herself working as a “nerd whisperer” in Silicon Valley and it’s here, amid the chaos of start-up life, that she shines. But when a new opportunity knocks on the door, she must answer: Is it worth the cost?
In Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, Jo Piazza explores what it takes for a woman to work in politics in America. The novel’s protagonist, Charlotte, is an ambitious Senate candidate intent on having it all. But at what cost?
Rebecca Solnit has been called the “voice of the resistance,” by the New York Times, and for good reason. Her essays and commentary on feminism, violence and more have helped shift attention and provide perspective. In Call Them by Their True Names, Solnit explores “battles over meaning, place, language, and belonging at the heart of the defining crises of our time.”
In Against Memoir, Michelle Tea blurs the line between journalism and memoir, as she recounts the histories of people who’ve lived on the fringes. Filled with a dark humor and raw honesty, Tea offers an intimate portrait of the 90s.
If you’re looking for some mystery, a little bit of romance and a lot about wine, consider The Lost Vintage by Anna Mah. The tale centers on Kate, who is bent on becoming one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world. When she travels to Burgundy to prepare for her final exam, she finds herself drawn into an old family mystery.
Aja Gabel’s debut novel, The Ensemble, explores the tender—and cutthroat—relationship musicians form as they face failure and success. The “ensemble,” in question is composed of four young classical musicians whose ambitions and passions collide and intertwine.
Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is unlike other true crime books out there. Like many before and after her, McNamara, a journalist by trade, became enthralled with the story of “the Golden State Killer.” She did a deep-dive into police records, interviewed survivors and connected with true crime followers online. I’ll Be Gone in the Darkis the investigation she was writing at the time of her sudden death.
Looking perhaps for a little dose of inspiration before ringing in 2019? In Your Art Will Save Your Life, Beth Pickens provides a survival guide for those of us who love the arts and want help navigating the “art world” as a professional.
If it were the end of the world, how would you react? Would you freak out? Live your life as you always wished it? In Severance: A Novel, Ling Ma presents an alternative: do nothing. In this satiric novel, Cadence Chen lives her life according to routine and, thus, barely notices when a plague wipes out most of New York City.
Tommy Orange’s There There is already being called a modern-day classic, for the way it fuses energy onto the page while telling a story so rarely told in America: that of Urban Native Americans. In There There, we meet 12 characters on their way to a local Powwow and their myriad reasons for attending.
If you’re in the mood for a twisting, page-turner of a mystery, look no further than The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. The book is so highly-anticipated that it’s already being translated into 36 languages and a movie adaption is in the works. The story takes the perspective of Anna Fox, an agoraphobic woman who lives alone and likes spying on her neighbors. Things take a turn for the worse when she witnesses something across the street she shouldn’t have.
Aside from figuring out what to do with our lives, we often spend time figuring out when to do certain tasks. When is the optimal time for a career move? For embarking on a change at home? In When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel H. Pink combs through the science to show that perfect timing isn’t intuition or luck. Rather, he argues, it’s a matter of logic and biology. Read it for tips on how to maximize your day in the new year.