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The Best Books of 2018 So Far

The Best Books of 2018 So Far

Now that we’ve officially reached the midpoint of 2018, it’s time to celebrate the best books we’ve read so far — i.e., our favorite fiction, nonfiction, and poetry published between January 1 and June 30 this year. To put things into perspective, more than 150,000 books were published in the United States over the past six months, and we’ve narrowed it down to the top 0.02%.



I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean
By Shayla Lawson
Saturnalia Books

Read our interview with Lawson.

The Affrilachian poet’s third collection is “a companion to Frank Ocean’s musical catalog” and a stunning, playful success from an exciting new talent.


The Undressing
By Li-Young Lee
WW Norton

Read our interview with Lee.

Li-Young Lee’s first book in more than a decade was worth the wait: a heart-rending collection of poems that tackle love and violence with equal curiosity.


Black Girl Magic
The BreakBeat Poets Vol 2
Edited by Mahogany L. Browne, Idrissa Simmonds, and Jamila Woods

Read Adam Morgan’s group profile in Chicago magazine.

The second BreakBeat Poets anthology — which celebrates black women within the tradition, balancing Chicago talent alongside Morgan Parker, Angel Nafis, and Safia Elhillo — will be read in classrooms for decades to come.


By Tommy Pico
Tin House Books

The third installment in Pico’s trilogy (after IRL and Nature Poem) is a single, book-length poem about a breakup that cements his status as a god-bard.


By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Copper Canyon Press

Nezhukumatathil’s fourth collection is some of the best nature poetry I’ve ever read — a wildly inventive take on humankind’s relationship with the environment.


Not Here
By Hieu Minh Nguyen
Coffee House Press

Hieu Minh Nguyen’s debut doesn’t just feature one of 2018’s best book covers, it’s also a powerful, goosefleshing collection that explores family and trauma with uncanny precision.


House of McQueen
By Valerie Wallace
Four Way Books

Read our interview with Wallace, as well as an excerpt published in Arcturus.

Wallace’s poetic exploration of the late Alexander McQueen’s life and work is truly fascinating, a gorgeous translation of reality into something mythical and timeless.


By JoAnna Novak
Inside the Castle

Read our interview with Novak.

Noirmania is a book-length poem, with a dark, noirish tone, and featuring line art that experiments with 3-D illusions . . . Novak’s writing, across genres, is vital to our generation, exploring sexuality, body image, and our relationship to language.” —Sara Blake



By Madeline Miller
Little, Brown and Company

“Probably the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read that wasn’t marketed as a fantasy. Absolutely brilliant. Rarely has a novel inspired me to do so much auxiliary reading of primary sources.” —Adam Morgan


Welcome to Lagos
By Chibundu Onuzo

A funny, insightful celebration of contemporary Nigeria that masterfully answers Adichie’s call to rid the world of “single stories.”


Berlin Alexanderplatz
By Alfred Döblin
NYRB Classics

Read our review.

“The sheer brio of Döblin’s prose, together with the unstoppable forward momentum of his narrative, makes all this squalor not only bearable but riveting.” —Jeff Thompkins


Whiskey & Ribbons
By Leesa Cross-Smith
Hub City Press

Set in contemporary Louisville, Cross-Smith’s thrilling debut is a vital addition to the canon of New Southern literature.


The Life List of Adrian Mandrick
By Chris White

Read our review.

“Stunningly honest . . . And yet, with White’s engaging and compassionate storytelling, the book remains hopeful.” —Meredith Boe


Compulsory Games
By Robert Aickman
NYRB Classics

Read our review.

“Truly original, [these] stories both delight and haunt; they are unforgettable . . . Aickman pulls back the curtain just long enough to give us a glimpse into that lively and shimmering dark.” —Sarah Huener


The Largesse of the Sea-Maiden
By Denis Johnson
Random House

Read our review.

“The Johnson we know and love from Jesus’ Son is just as brilliant here as he was 25 years ago. The stories in this collection tackle old age, mortality, and ghosts from the past.” —Sara Cutaia


What Should Be Wild
By Julia Fine

Read our interview with Fine.

“Julia Fine’s debut novel has all the ingredients of a Gothic fairy tale, but expounds upon them in fantastic and modern ways. It’s gorgeous and exhilarating.” —Sara Cutaia


A Lucky Man
By Jamel Brinkley
Graywolf Press

Read our review.

“The stories in this collection follow men and boys who have been pressurized by violence, whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class. Luminous, exceptional, necessary.” —Sara Cutaia


The Great Believers
By Rebecca Makkai

Read our interview with Makkai.

“Makkai weaves 1980s Chicago with contemporary Paris in a tender, compelling novel about loss, friendship, tragedy, and redemption. It’s a stunning tale that is harrowing yet funny, devastating yet hopeful.” —Rachel León


Monster Portraits
By Del Samatar and Sofia Samater
Rose Metal Press

Read our review.

“The marriage between artwork and prose in Monster Portraits results in a beautiful book and a moving, subtle, timely meditation on otherness.” —Rachel León


The Overstory
By Richard Powers
WW Norton

Read our interview with Powers.

“This is the National Book Award-winning author’s twelfth novel, and it might be his finest . . . This beautiful book, for all its literary merit, is also an ode to activism.” —Amy Brady


The Comedown
By Rebekah Frumkin
Henry Holt

Read our interview with Frumkin.

A stunning, insightful story of two Cleveland families connected by a single evening in 1973, when one patriarch witnesses the murder of the other.


See Also

Empty Set
By Verónica Gerber Bicecci
Translated by Christina MacSweeney
Coffee House Press

Read our review.

“You can read it in one sitting, and finish with the feeling of a caffeine high.” —Adam Morgan at Literary Hub


Sweet & Low
By Nick White
Blue Rider Press

Read our review.

“Nick White’s gorgeous story collection is wonderfully woven from threads of identity, sexuality, family, and heartbreak.” —Aaron Coats


There There
By Tommy Orange

“Powerful and brutal, the twelve characters in this novel struggle to identify how or why they’re Natives, and what that means to them. The intensity never lets up. If you only have time to read one novel this year, I’d vouch for this one.” —Sara Cutaia


Call Me Zebra
By Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Read our interview with Azareen.

One of the most exciting, enthralling novels I’ve read in a long time. It brought me back to a childlike sense of joy and awe.” —Adam Morgan



Tonight I’m Someone Else
By Chelsea Hodson
Henry Holt

No one writes like Chelsea Hodson. These essays are a welcome battering ram to the chest.


True Love in and Out of the Kitchen
By Hannah Howard
Little A

Read Howard’s essay.

A moving celebration of food, love, and human potential — full of pain, but also full of joy.


Feel Free
By Zadie Smith
Penguin Press

Read our review.

Smith may be best-known for her fiction, but this essential collection of essays firmly establishes her as one of our great cultural critics.


Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing
By Ben Austen

With this book, Austen joins Natalie Y. Moore, Eve Ewing, and Alex Kotlowitz as one of Chicago’s great chroniclers of the devastating effects of bad public policy. This book — like The South Side, Ghosts in the Schoolyard, and There Are No Children Here — should be required reading.


How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
By Alexander Chee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

An absolute gift of a book for writers everywhere. Every single essay is a pearl.


Dispatches from the New American Shore
By Elizabeth Rush
Milkweed Editions

Read our interview with Rush.

“A thoughtful, fascinating, and often deeply moving look at some of the country’s most vulnerable populations, and one of my favorite books of the year.” —Amy Brady


The Line Becomes a River
Dispatches from the Border
By Francisco Cantú

Read our interview with Cantú.

“This book gives you a look at the border with both emotional depth and empathy, and also deliberate facts and history to give context to the complexity of the issue we’ve had at our border for decades.” —Sara Cutaia


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