There is nothing better than reading a book that you can really sink your teeth into, that makes you think or laugh or swoon. And on the flip side of that, there’s nothing worse than a book that you want to like but is just so disappointing, or a book that you struggle through from page one but make yourself finish anyway. I had both of these reading experiences many times over in 2018, so I decided to compile a list of my favorites and… least favorites.
It’s a little bit of a longer post, so this will be a two part series. Let’s start with the bad news, shall we?
Please note: these are not all books published in 2018. I read them in 2018.
My Least Favorite Books of 2018
#5. The Witch Elm– Tana French
It pains me to put this book on the list. Really, it does. I think Tana French is an amazingly talented writer. She’s an “automatic buy” author, which is among the highest compliments I can give. But her most recent novel, a departure from her Dublin Murder Squad Series, just didn’t work for me. I could maybe have lived with the fact that the murder mystery wasn’t front and center on this one, but I just did not care for the protagonist. Toby lacked the depth I’ve come to expect from French’s narrators. I suffered through the nearly 500 pages of this one, but it was really disappointing.
#4. The Tatooist of Auschwitz– Heather Morris
This was our October book club pick. It’s marketed as a novel but it doesn’t feel like a novel when you’re reading it. The prose is really sparse, and for such a charged topic, seriously lacks emotion. We debated this point at book club; some of my friends thought that the relative emotionlessness of the book was intentional to show how Lale needed to compartmentalize in order to survive. I can see this as argument, but in my opinion, it didn’t work. Maybe Morris didn’t want to embellish anything and detract from Lale’s story as he told it to her. Either way, it’s not often I emerge from a book on the Holocaust completely unmoved.
#3. Manhattan Beach-Jennifer Eagan
Our book club pick from February, on my suggestion. I’m ambivalent about Jennifer Eagan’s work as a whole. I read A Visit from the Goon Squad in graduate school and loved it. But I read another of her novels later and I didn’t like it. In fact, I can’t even remember the title. The premise of Manhattan Beach was promising; I thought we were in for a mysterious, 1940’s noir kind of read, so I suggested it. No dice. Mostly, we read a lot about underwater diving in order to fix submarines, which wasn’t all that interesting. I found the plot very hard to follow, and I wasn’t invested in the characters. We did, however, have a spirited discussion at book club about all the things that annoyed us about this book, so that was fun.
#2. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend- Katarina Bivald
My best friend tried to warn me off this one, but I thought maybe it was just that we have different tastes in books. So, during our February book club meeting, after discussing Manhattan Beach to death, and drinking a fair amount of wine, we couldn’t come up with a good idea for our next book. I had The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend on my “eventually read,” shelf and it seemed like a harmless enough pick. And it was harmless…it was just also kind of lifeless. I didn’t find the characters or story very compelling, even for a light read. It could be that something was lost in the translation. But we universally decided that this was our least favorite book club pick of 2018.
#1. Neon in Daylight– Hermione Hoby
There was no contest for my least favorite book spot. I don’t even remember where I saw this book, but I thought it would be edgy and cool, but it was just not. I only finished this because my friend Betsy was already reading it with me. I almost always finish a book once I’ve started, but I should have put this one down early. The prose was completely overdone and too flowery for a novel. A short story, maybe, could have worked with this writing style. But for me, it was way too much. The characters were simply not likeable. There was no discernable plot. To me, this book felt like something that came out of an MFA program, and would only appeal to a very small subset of readers. I was not one of those readers.
What do you think about this list? Do you disagree with me about any of these? What is on your least favorite list from 2018?
Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear your thoughts!