Reading List: Powell’s Books staff’s best books of 2018

Powell’s just released their Staff Top 5 Picks of 2018! As I did last year (and in 2016, and 2015), I’ve crunched the numbers* in order to calculate which books were most mentioned and determine a “consensus” top ten list.

Presented in order of most to least total points, the top ten highest rated books of 2018 according to the staff at Powell’s Books (in Portland, Oregon) are:

(Links below take you to Powell’s, because that seemed appropriate.)

  1. The Alehouse at the End of the World by Stevan Allred (fantasy) — This was the clear winner with 18 total points and was mentioned by five of the staff in their lists, but somehow I never heard of it before I saw it here. I immediately clicked over to my library to reserve a copy, but they don’t have it. I have library cards at three different libraries, and none of them had it (or at least not on digital). So, I requested they go buy it, and I moved on to the next on the list.
  2. Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (memoir) — I don’t usually read memoirs. But, when I read the description and saw that it was about a woman growing up on Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest, I read the glowing reviews and saw it was a really short book. So, I looked it up and found out that my local library had this one available for digital loan. Then I borrowed it. It’s now on my Kindle.
  3. Educated by Tara Westover (memoir) — This wasn’t only a popular staff pick, but it was also included on their “picks of the season” gift buying list. Again, this is a memoir, so not my usual jam. But…the description intrigued me. A woman who was born in rural Idaho with no birth certificate but then later left that life. I was interested enough to go add this to my holds list as well.
  4. There There by Tommy Orange (lit fic) — This is a novel written by a Native man and takes place in Oakland. The sheer amount of glowing reviews, blurbs, and best of lists that are mentioned on the page for this book make it hard to find the book description. Apparently, it’s really good. So, I decided I’d better check it out (from the library) and added it to my hold list.
  5. Circe by Madeline Miller (fantasy) — Finally! One that was already on my “to-read” list. I haven’t read her Achilles book. I’ve heard enough good stuff about this book that I decided I’m just going to read this first. Since I already had my library Overdrive open, I clicked over and added this to my hold list as well.
  6. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (spec fic) — This is a near-future speculative fiction book that sounds like it would be a big hit with fans of Margaret Atwood, especially the ones who enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale. That includes me, so I figured I should probably add it to my hold list as well. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t heard of this book, but I think it may be due to the fact that, assuming I saw it at my local bookstore, the cover and title gave no clue about what this book is about. Marketing fail.
  7. Heavy by Kiese Laymon (memoir) — It seems that the staff at Powells like memoirs. I thought I’d finally found one that maybe I wasn’t interested in reading. But, this is one of those books written by and about a life and experience very unlike my own. So of course I had to add it to my holds list.
  8. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (true crime) — This is one of those serial killer true crime books that should never ever end up on my to-read list. Even the reviews say it’s super scary. But, by this point in the list, I’d committed myself to reading all of them. So, now it’s on my Kindle (there wasn’t a wait list for the hold at my library). I’m going to need to read this alongside something a lot fluffier. And in daylight, surrounded by other people.
  9. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (lit fic) — The description of this book sounded almost like a cross between The Signature of All Things and Homegoing. I really enjoyed both of those books, so this got added to my holds list as well.
  10. The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg (lit fic) — This one’s a novel with an interesting premise. Grieving widow goes to Havana after her husband dies in a car accident, then she sees him at a museum. See? Interesting, right? By the time I’d got to this book, I’d already maxed out the available holds at my local library. So I had to put this one on hold at a different library.

When I started crunching the numbers for this post, I definitely did not think I was going to walk away with ten new books on my library hold list. The only thing I can attribute this to is the fact that I haven’t been reading much “lit fic” or non-fiction, lately. I think maybe my brain is searching for new material to chew on. Whatever it is, I’m going to go with it and see where it leads.

I try to avoid trash talking the publishing industry, but I have to say that nothing about the covers (or titles) for any of these books would have made me pick them up in a bookstore. I wander through my local bookstore almost weekly, and I’ve probably walked past most, if not all, of these books *many* times. Maybe I’ve spent too long immersed in the romance and sci-fi / fantasy genres where everyone is all about the covers and the titles. But, it seems like the non-fiction and lit fic folks have never heard of #bookstagram.

Seriously, if these books are really as good as the staff at Powells thinks they are, then I think maybe the non-fiction and literary fiction arms of the publishing houses may need to up their marketing game. I have Goodreads friends (and IRL friends) who read these sorts of books more than I do and only half (five) of these books had been added to any of their shelves. And only two of those books (Educated and Circe) had actually been read by any of my Goodreads friends. That’s really unfortunate for these authors.

If you want to add these books to your TBR (and maybe read some along with me), I’ve added them to a Goodreads shelf called PowellsBestof2018. If you do add any to your TBR, let me know in the comments which you plan to read. Alternatively, if you have already read any of these, let me know what you think/recommend in the comments, and maybe add me as a Goodreads friend. 🙂


* In case you’re interested, here’s how I came up with the total points… I did some good old “copying and pasting” of all the lists into a spreadsheet. Then I assigned points to each mention of each book based on where it appeared in each list (5 points for first place, 4 points for second place, etc.). Then I made a pivot table and sorted the results by total number of points in descending order. There was an obvious cut-off after the first ten books. So I capped the list at ten books.

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