Though we've named our Best Books of 2018, we all have our personal favorites, and not all of them are from 2018. These are the best books we read this year.

The Merry Spinster by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

Daniel Mallory Ortberg's The Merry Spinster is a breathtaking collection of horror stories based on fairy tales and children's literature. I don't reread books often, but I know I'll be returning to these for the sensation of reality being turned upside down and inside out. In Ortberg's telling, everyone—human, animal, or children's toy—has the potential to be truly, viciously evil. I hope the sting of immersing in these portrayals of psychological abuse can inoculate readers a little bit against their real-life counterparts: if someone treats you the way Toad's "friends" treat him or the Velveteen Rabbit treats his boy, run, run away. I'm generally fond of optimistic stories, but sometimes I need a book that acknowledges the terrible things in the world, and this is that book, written with exquisite craft and insight. ­–Rose Fox, senior reviews editor

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

One of the joys of having grown up reading mostly adult books is the ability to discover what I'll call "all ages literature" later in life. I was a fantasy fan growing up but I never, for instance, read A Wizard of Earthsea by the late Ursula K. LeGuin. I had already read The Lord of the Rings and The Crystal Cave by the time I'd heard of it, and felt like a book billed as "YA fantasy" was beneath me. I was, of course, an idiot, and I became less of one this year after reading this timeless fantastical bildungsroman and meditation on power and arrogance. (The irony!) I realized that, even when purportedly writing for a younger audience, LeGuin's prose gleams: "Soon the people of Ten Alders saw smoke darken the eastern sky, and that night those who climbed the High Fall looked down on the Vale all hazed and red streaked with fires where fields ready for harvest had been set ablaze, and orchards burned, the fruit roasting on the blazing boughs, and barns and farmhouses smoldered in ruin." For a minute, I thought I had turned the page and ended up in Blood Meridian. What a novel. –John Maher, associate news and digital editor

The Illuminae series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

It might be a bit cheating to name the entire Illuminae series instead of just one, but when I looked at my Goodreads ratings for the year, I saw that I had given books 1 & 3 five stars, with book 2 following with a 4.5. With scores like that, I couldn't not highlight them all. The plot of these SF YA books is fantastic: a surprise attack from a rival mining company leaves a mining colony with multitudes dead and others fleeing for their lives, including our main characters. This attack kicks off a sprawling conspiracy that is incredibly satisfying as more and more people become caught in its ripples. I haven’t even mentioned the best part! Kaufman and Kristoff have managed to tell this tense, hard-to-catch-your-breath series through things like emails, video transcripts, instant messages, maps, and some really spectacular, inventive layouts. All the books are out now so I don’t feel bad about recommending this series. *sigh* After writing this staff pick, I now want to read them again. –Drucilla Shultz, bookroom editor

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction by Inio Asano

Asano has created a stark and unusual alien invasion: a huge flying saucer has been suspended over Tokyo for three years and one or more aliens are roaming the city in human form. Asano uses this extraordinary scenario to examine the fears, quirky expectations and rites of passage—as well as deeper questions on Japanese society and geopolitical crisis—experienced and expressed by two vividly rendered Japanese high school girl-buddies in this beautifully illustrated and wildly imaginative sci-fi manga. –Calvin Reid, senior news editor

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Perhaps it’s the lack of sleep in my own home that I share with a toddler and a newborn, but I found this story of a small California town overtaken by a virus that puts its victims into a deep, unwakeable sleep to be endlessly compelling. Told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, the drama in The Dreamers unfolded for the town as a whole as well as for the individual victims and those close to them in ways both devastating and beautiful. It was one of those books where it was the only thing I wanted to talk about to anyone in proximity to me, except for the moments where I needed to be alone to ponder my thoughts and cry (usually while on the train). –Seth Dellon, director of strategic development

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty won the Man Booker Prize in 2004, and soon after a friend gave me the book as a gift. I'm embarrassed to say that it took me until this year to read it, but it was certainly the best book I read this year. In deceptively beautiful, James-ian prose, Hollinghurst follows the social climb of a young, gay post-grad in mid-1980s London who soon finds himself struggling to keep his bearings. There are plenty of Eighties hallmarks, including sex, drugs and Margaret Thatcher, but what Hollinghurst really captured for me was the taste-of-fear-in-your-mouth terror of the early days of AIDS. 14 years after its release, it's still an amazing book. –Carl Pritzkat, v-p, business development

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, trans. from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori

Keiko, the 36-year-old misfit narrator, has spent half her life, and found her humanity, working in a Tokyo convenience store. Family and longtime acquaintances needle her about her lack of professional ambition and encourage her to find a husband; Keiko, well aware that her offbeat worldview keeps her irretrievably out of step with the rest of society, revels in the order and predictability of store culture, greeting customers with a full-throated “Irasshaimasé!” and masterfully organizing rows of onigiri and ramen noodles for optimal consumer appeal. The novel’s charm lies in the deadpan humor of Keiko’s voice, at once detached and keenly observant, and in Murata’s depiction of a person who, rather than trying to fit in, has carved out a fluorescent-hued space that’s all her own. —Carolyn Juris, features editor

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

By turns hysterical and tragic, invigorating and exhausting, Gravity's Rainbow was the first book I finished in 2018, but it left me in a state of wonder. Ostensibly the tale of a hapless American soldier bumming around Europe near the end of World War II, the novel veers between slapstick absurdity and the savage realities of life during wartime, all the while traveling through a great many tangents and digressions, each built into the other with such deftness you'll hardly notice when a femme fatale's brutal backstory morphs into a heartfelt portrait of the last dodo hunter. While not an easy read--I won't lie and say some sections didn't outright bore or frustrate me--the prose is nothing short of alchemical in its magic and its beauty. This must be one of the best novels ever written by an American author. It also features a light bulb. His name is Byron. –Josh Lemay, bookroom intern

The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age by Tim Wu

I know, I know—say the word “antitrust” and people’s eyes immediately glaze over. Which makes Tim Wu’s latest book even more remarkable: he’s written a persuasive, compelling, and, yes, entertaining, book on antitrust that at 154 small trim pages can be read in one sitting. Wu could easily have written a 1000-page doorstopper—a Columbia Law professor who did stints at the FTC as well as in the Obama White House, he certainly knows his stuff. But in The Curse of Bigness, he resists showing off his considerable policy and legal chops in favor of a broader, more urgent thesis: the connection between our deteriorating politics and the lack of antitrust enforcement over the last few decades. “Nations that failed to control private power and attend to the needs of their citizens faced the rise of strongmen who promised a more immediate deliverance from economic woes,” he warns. Ring any bells? –Andrew Albanese, senior writer

An Evening with Claire by Gaito Gazdanov

This year I read every Gaito Gazdanov book available in English; there are six, and if there were 20 others I would have read those too. Gazdanov was a Russian who fought with Wrangel and the Whites during the Russian Civil War and afterward emigrated to Paris, where he wrote most of his great novels in the ’30s and ’40s (The Spectre of Alexander Wolf, Buddha’s Return). Several have been translated recently by Bryan Karetnyk for Pushkin Press, but Gazdanov’s first novel, An Evening with Claire, published in 1930, was released by Ardis in the late ’80s in an excellent translation and left the strongest impression on me (it’s since been reissued by Overlook). Gazdanov is often compared to Proust, but he’s a sort of shabby émigré Proust who spent his evenings driving taxis around Pigalle rather than attending parties in the Faubourg St.-Germain. The narrator of Claire reunites with his Gilberte in the book’s opening pages, then lies awake in her bed and recollects his entire life until then, which strongly resembles Gazdanov’s own and is recorded as a series of intense and shifting inner states. But for him, time can never be regained, since between past and present stand revolution, war, burning cities, and a hostile government. Gazdanov may have been, as the narrator of Claire at one point says disparagingly of his teacher, “one of those irreconcilable Russians who see the meaning of life in the search for truth even if they become convinced that truth, in the sense in which they understand it, does not and cannot exist.” —Daniel Berchenko, managing editor

Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

The books I’ve been loving most in the last couple of years—meaning the ones I keep thinking and thinking about, the ones that blossom in my chest over and over, lifting my days a little—are those I’ve been reading at night with my two children. Most recently, E.B. White’s classic The Trumpet of the Swan had my family laughing and tearing up as we nestled together for our bedtime reading.  It’s the story of Louis (who I can’t help but think is named after Mr. Armstrong, one of the 20th Century’s great purveyors of pure joy) the trumpeter swan, who is born unable to utter a sound (in White’s world, cygnets—newborn swans—say, adorably, “beep” and grownups say “Ko-ho!”), who, through a series of incredible adventures, finds his voice as a virtuoso trumpet player. Why…how, is White so good?  Every sentence is pitch perfect—and with White, it’s all about tone, the delicate veil between hilarity and the soft melancholy of the precious stream of losses that make up a life. This is a story of love, determination, family, and, above all, friendship (between Louis and his devoted human amanuensis Sam Beaver, who actually teaches Louis to write). Not having read this book until a couple of weeks ago was one of the luckiest things in my life: it meant I got to read it for the first time and to add it permanently to my heart’s collection of treasures. –Craig Teicher, director of special editorial projects

The Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne and Veronica Fish

I’ve wanted to read The Wendy Project for a while and when I finally got my hands on it, I couldn’t stop marveling at how gorgeous the illustrations were. It’s a twist on the tale of Peter Pan where instead of Wendy and her brothers following Peter to Neverland, Wendy accidentally kills her younger brother in a car accident. The whole story is about Wendy dealing with her survivor’s trauma and her grief over losing her brother amid the pressures of needing to grow up too fast for the sake of her surviving brother and the cruel rumors of her classmates. The watercolor illustrations give it another layer. Intending to be both colorfully whimsical but also aiding in Wendy’s blurring of reality by bleeding into what Wendy thinks is real, leaving the reader to question what really went on the night of the car accident. Was there really a boy that came to take her brother away? Or is she just as crazy as everyone claims she is? A wild ride from start to finish. –Gilcy Aquino, bookroom intern

The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel

As a fan of popular books about mathematics, I’d long been aware of this biography of Srinivasa Ramanujan, an untutored mathematical genius born in India in 1887. The rather drab-looking used paperback that I picked up with its dense type suggested it was a reissue of a decades-old book. On closer inspection, I saw that it was published in 1991 and had won numerous prestigious awards. I was sold. Kanigel movingly chronicles the often fraught relationship between Ramanujan, a devout Hindu, and British mathematician G.H. Hardy, an austere atheist. Hardy brought Ramanujan in 1914 to Cambridge University, where the two collaborated for nearly five years before ill health took Ramanujan back home to India. There he died at age 32 in 1920. Happily, Kanigel isn’t shy of giving examples of problems his subject tackled, reproducing formulas that those like myself who know enough math can appreciate. I was particularly interested to learn of Ramanujan’s work in number theory involving highly composite numbers. Next on my list: viewing the 2014 biopic. —Peter Cannon, senior editor

Comemadre by Roque Larraquy, trans. from the Spanish by Heather Cleary

A book to look out for in 2019: The Alarming Palsy of James Orr, a small gem of escalating unease in which the comforts of one man's life twist into uncanny apparitions. I loved it.

But in 2018, the book I thought about most often was Comemadre by Roque Larraquy, translated by Heather Cleary. It begins in a sanatorium outside Buenos Aires in 1907 in which doctors conduct an...unconventional experiment: decapitate patients without damaging their vocal cords and, in the few seconds while the severed head maintains life, ask it what it sees (one head says “I’d like some water”; another “screams for nine seconds straight”). The exhilaration of the novel comes from the vividness of the world that Larraquy creates (the book’s title refers to a plant that produces flesh-eating larvae) and from all the weird havoc that inevitably ensues. It’s kind of like if Dario Argento adapted The Magic Mountain. Larraquy's novel is a delightfully wicked blend of B-movie horror and exceedingly dark comedy. –Gabe Habash, deputy reviews editor

Eye Level by Jenny Xie

How does travel change us? Xie's debut collection offers an atmospheric and sensual journey through Vietnam and elsewhere, the layers of the self peeling back on foreign soil to reveal a nourishing self-estrangement. These lyrical poems meditate on the experience of seeing and of being seen, the excess of either by turns testing something less visible within us. Xie masterfully articulates the most brief, illusory aspects of perception, and the ambiguities that accompany them. –Maya Popa, poetry reviews editor

Hark by Sam Lipsyte

When Fraz meets Hark, he thinks he has found his messiah. Hark is a wellness and mindfulness guru who has figured it all out; the key is to “focus on focus.” Fraz becomes obsessed. He will do anything for Hark. And as Hark gains followers (and corporate clients) his mindfulness craze sweeps the nation. What emerges is Lipstye’s brilliantly clever lampooning of salad bowl spirituality and the Americanization of “mindfulness.”  Remember: focus on focus. —Seth Satterlee, reviews editor