Sometimes when the news is crazy and you're feeling overwhelmed, the best thing you can do for yourself is curl up with a good book and escape some other world for a little while. Maybe that's why, when we started talking about the books that meant the most to us this year, the results ran the gamut. There are well-researched nonfiction books about notable subcultures and deeply personal memoirs, kooky short story collections and engrossing novels. There were a lot of women writers, too, because we have a perspective on this time in history that the other gender just can't. But the one thing that holds these picks for the best books of 2018 together is the vividness of the worlds they paint. We'll update this list again at the end of the year, but for now, here are the editors' picks for the best books of 2018:
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This is not just one of the best books I read this year—it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I was hooked from the first page, drawn into Celestial and Roy’s world as they navigate their young marriage just when it's ripped apart by a wrongful conviction. With its richly developed characters and beautiful, devastating prose, Jones’ masterpiece serves as a powerful statement on how an injustice punishes the whole family, not just the innocent man behind bars. While it broke my heart, it’s not as grim or “homework-y” as this review might make it sound. Trust me: You need to read this book. In case you need some more convincing, both Oprah and Barack Obama have recommended the title as well. —Kayla Webley Adler, Senior Editor
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
In 2014, Forbes magazine named Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes the youngest self-made female billionaire, putting the black turtleneck-wearing Stanford dropout—who was often compared to Steve Jobs—on the cover of its annual 400 richest Americans list. At the time, it seemed the CEO of the $9 billion startup that promised to make blood testing faster and easier could do no wrong. There was just one problem: Her technology didn't work.
Behind the scenes, Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou was working on a months-long investigation into Theranos that landed like a bomb on the front page of the newspaper in 2015, and ultimately led to the company ceasing operations and to Holmes stepping down as CEO, after being indicted on nine counts of wire fraud, among other charges. In Bad Blood, Carreyrou tells the full, gripping tale of how he slayed the “unicorn” in a fascinating look at how buzz and billions can blind people to facts. —K.W.A.
Bachelor Nation by Amy Kaufman
My online writing career began by recapping The Bachelor, and I have a low-key love for what I can only consider to be the second-messiest, most glorious show on television (Vanderpump Rules being first), so this book was basically written for me. I can wax poetic about why I’m addicted to all things Bachelor Nation, but Amy Kaufman gets to the heart of it in her exploration of the show's fandom. It's required reading for anyone who not only loves The Bachelor franchise, but who loves competitive reality TV in general, with insight that explains not only the history of the series, but why we come back to show season after season. It’s horrifying and hilarious. You’ll never look at The Bachelor the same way again. —Amanda Mitchell, Editorial Fellow
Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win by Jo Piazza
Talk about timely. Piazza started writing this tale of a woman running for office before Trump was elected and spurred the greatest number of women to put their name on the ballot in American history, so maybe she's psychic? (Hey Jo, what are this week's Mega Millions numbers?) Aside from being incredibly prescient, this book is a fun, engaging, dare I say, page-turner that will surprise you right up until the very end. A portrait of marriage, politics, female friendship, and power, the characters may have many, many flaws, but this book has almost none. Read it before November 6. (Oh, and vote. Don't forget to vote.) —Danielle McNally, Features Director
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
In her latest thriller, Megan Abbott continues her knack for expertly dissecting the complex and competitive nature of female friendship. The story, set in a high-intensity research laboratory, centers on 30-something scientists Diane and Kit, former BFFs bonded by a childhood secret. When Diane unexpectedly reenters Kit’s life—and lab—that secret bleeds (quite literally) into their present-day lives. Trust me, you’ll finish this one in hours. —Colleen McKeegan, Senior Editor
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
What if you knew when you would die? Would it change how you live your life? That’s the conundrum facing four siblings after they visit a fortune teller on New York City’s Lower East Side who tells them the date they will die. Each of the siblings uses the knowledge differently, to profound and often heart-wrenching effects. Whether you’d consider such information a curse or a gift, I can guarantee this book will make you think. —K.W.A.
How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don't by Lane Moore
Lane Moore is a musician, writer, comedian, actress, and the host of hilarious IRL comedy show Tinder Live—basically, she does it all. But where normally people that talented make me feel sort of terrible about myself (I can barely remember to water my plants!), her memoir How to Be Alone did the opposite. In funny, super relatable, and smack-you-in-the-face-with-how-thoughtful-it-is prose, Moore talks about crushes, identity, feminism, and finding self-worth when everything inside you is telling you that you kind of suck. Funny enough, How to Be Alone made me feel a lot less alone. —Cady Drell, Culture + News Editor
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
At first blush, this book is about a woman who hooks up with a sexy merman. And that should be enough! But what Broder does masterfully is turn a fantasy story into a painfully realistic exploration of sex and love addiction, depression, self-destructive tendencies, and how the expectation of happiness that we're just assumed to meet can actually crush a woman. It was pitch-black, surprisingly sexy, and ultimately illuminating. I loved it. —C.D.
One in a Million by Lindsey Kelk
I’ve been obsessed with Lindsey Kelk, a British writer who up and moved to New York in her twenties (like me! like me!), for the best part of a decade. Her fiction is dry, warm, stuffed with fully-realized female characters, and very, very funny. For me, no writer captures the in-between state of being not quite “of” one country, not quite “of” another, and not quite knowing what's going on, like Kelk does. Her latest offering is classic Kelk, by which I mean a balm on my troubled soul, because two years in Trump’s America will make you yearn for that. —Jenny Hollander, Deputy Editor
Severance by Ling Ma
You know that overzealous drone in seemingly every office who loves to bark orders, yet seems incapable of solving a problem on his own? Imagine if he was your key to salvation (or, at the very least, shelter and food) after everyone you know and loved died from a gruesome virus. Ling Ma’s debut novel tackles countless themes—immigration, work culture, family, capitalism, and the confusing aimlessness of your early 20s—with a dry wit that keeps the horrific digestible, the repetitive laughable, and the pages turning. —C.M.
Sorority by Genevieve Sly Crane
I haven’t spotted this book on any “best of” lists yet and I don’t quite know why, because it’s one of the most gripping and beautiful works of the year. It’s set in the aftermath of the abrupt death of a sorority sister—and it’s as dark as it sounds—but there’s a kind of beauty to Crane’s writing that stops it from being utterly bleak. Crane captures the tinge of desperation, that hint of the unbearable, that comes with being a college-aged woman. —J.H.
Unwifeable by Mandy Stadtmiller
I finished Unwifeable, burst into tears, and then texted all of my friends about it. This book touched me on a deeply personal level, as a young writer who moved to New York fresh out of a relationship that took a ton out of me, emotionally. It’s hard to write about your life as a Young Woman In The City without beating yourself up about how commodified that lifestyle is. Unwifeable is a searingly candid book about Stadtmiller’s time at The NY Post and xoJane, and she's unafraid to tell the whole ugly story while also inspiring women to grab their lives (and sexualities) by the horns and hold on. One woman’s journey through life believing she was "unwifeable" is another girl’s way forward. —A.M.
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
I’ve already read this twice in 2018. It’s a psychological thriller that forces us to confront our perceptions of older, single women, as well as the pretty younger 20-somethings we tend to glorify instead. There are twists—man, the twists!—and the story takes a turn halfway through that demands you just sit the hell down and finish the whole thing already. Special mention goes to the pivotal character who also happens to be a German Shepherd. —J.H.
You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Prep and American Wife author Curtis Sittenfeld’s clean, incisive prose and cutting depiction of everyday life is delicious throughout her first collection of short stories. Come for the sharp, often hilarious scenarios Sittenfeld brilliantly lays out in each chapter. Stay for the surprising twists they each take. —C.M.
You All Grow Up and Leave Me: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession by Piper Weiss
You All Grow Up and Leave Me is so many things: A hauntingly-raw memoir, a gut-wrenchingly honest coming-of-age story, and a painstakingly-researched true crime story. As a teenager, author Piper Weiss was a student of tennis coach Gary Wilensky. When Wilensky attacked another student, with whom he believed was in love, Weiss wasn't just horrified, she was...well, not jealous, exactly, but something like it. She was left wondering why she hadn't been his favorite. Weiss offers an unflinching look at how Wilensky's crime shaped her both as a teenager and, later, as a grown woman investigating the incident as a journalist. —Kayleigh Roberts, Weekend Editor