My Top Rated Books of 2018

I know I’m way late on this, but better late than never, right?

In this post I want to share my top rated books of 2018. I love reading these lists when I’m on the hunt for something, or just to see what people are talking about. I hope you can find something in here you like too.

I’ll break my top picks into four categories:

Craft, Nonfiction, Fiction, and Short Story Collections.


This category details books that are meant to help writers (including myself) on their writing journey. Anything from writing a short story, to cultivating better habits as a writer, to how to structure scenes.


This category explains itself. It’s real stuff happening in real places (but wait, isn’t this just a dream?) I don’t read nonfiction as much as I read fiction but this is changing.


By far and probably always will be my favorite. Give me all of the sci fi and fantasy and basically anything that will bring me out of my present world or blow my mind. I love that sci-fi and fantasy have the ability to make people think differently by using subtle and non-preachy methods (if done right).

Short Story Collections

Great for bedtime, naptime, hammock time or train time. I didn’t really understand short stories or see their appeal until these past few years and now I can’t get enough. I love how they take me in and out of an entire world in less than ten minutes. They’re like time warps, black holes, transcendence…

So let’s get transcending—here are my top rated books of 2018.

Top Rated Books on Craft

Writing and Selling Short Stories and Personal Essays by Windy Lynn Harris

My Top Rated Books of 2018
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published

I read this one as I started to slowly wade into the short story world. I wanted to learn as much as I could about pitching stories to magazines and this book did not disappoint. Although I find it a little sparse in explanation at some points, I think it was by design, and Harris urges the reader to fill in the blanks.

For anyone just starting out writing and/or selling short stories and personal essays this is a great foray into the topic. She offers short excerpts of stories and essays published in reputable publications, and the book is structured well, taking the reader from idea formation to what to do once the stories have been pitched… that is, keep writing! I like the idea of having a steady flow of stories in the pipeline. When a story gets rejected you are sending it off to the next place, and so on until you get an acceptance. And you’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t, hopefully starting to get some personalized rejections, fixing what needs it, and all the while working on new stories too.

This was an economical and easy read that I recommend to any writers who write short stories and/or personal essays.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

My Top Rated Books of 2018
Some Instructions on Writing and Life

A lot of people (including me) often say this book or that book changed their life, but when I say Bird by Bird did it, I truly mean it.

As a writer, I grew and learned about voice and how to access it through hard work and various writing exercises. As a human, I accessed parts of myself that I was not completely aware of. I think Lamott’s suggestion to go back to the beginning and start writing all of your memories, from kindergarten to family vacations to who your friends and teachers were and what clothes everyone was wearing is absolutely life-changing. It is something everyone should do.

Take out a journal and start writing. Every. Day.

I could finally see the pieces of my life that would eventually fit into a more full picture. It connected past parts of myself with my present self. I saw my mistakes and why I did things and why I was precisely where I was at that very moment, and why that was okay.

I learned more about myself and how to cultivate better habits to become a better writer from Bird by Bird more than any other book (as of the time of this writing).

Her quote about perfectionism changed my lens on the world and myself.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

The Scene Book by Sandra Scofield

My Top Rated Books of 2018
A primer for the fiction writer

An oldie but a goodie. This book is great for any writer or artist who wants to know how to break down scenes into their quintessential elements. Scofield offers scene breakdowns to show how to build scenes into a larger framework.

There are so many books out there written about scenes and not all of them take with me. I firmly believe that sometimes you just need to be taught or learn something in a specific way—a way that is right for you. I didn’t really understand show versus tell (I did, just didn’t have all the nuances down) until a few years ago and it was because I finally attached to someone’s specific learning style. They spoke it in my language. If you’re a writer or even if you’re not, I suggest finding the people who speak to you, and learning from them if you’re struggling with a concept.

Top Rated Books in Nonfiction

If the Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasl

My Top Rated Books of 2018
A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path

This book was therapy for me. In the often noisy and confusing world of dating, especially as a gay man in Los Angeles, I try to stay positive and avoid becoming jaded by my experiences. I’ve had great ones… and some bad ones too. Like everyone else. What “If the Buddha Dated” taught me about acceptance and letting things go.

As someone with OCD tendencies and the need to want to control my environment and the outcome of things around me, this book was invaluable. I had been on a similar path through my reading and research of the chakra system, so this reinforced a lot of what I had learned, but put it in the light of dating, a realm not always so easy to navigate.

I like that it stressed that our experiences are shared and everyone goes through the same things (very Buddha). Another line or two that struck me from the book is that we should go into situations open-hearted and hopeful, but to not be attached to any outcome. Phrasing it this way was not new per se, but definitely helpful. You have to be your own light, to be happy with who and what you are. Romance happens when someone else out there matches your frequency, when you let go and don’t try to control.

If the Buddha Dated is an easy and short read and one that I’m happy to suggest to any friend going through dating troubles (I even gave it to some friends already in relationships so that they could read about healthy behaviors, and if theirs matched up!). There are other similar titles like: If the Buddha Married, If the Buddha Got Stuck, If the Buddha Came to Dinner (different authors), and If the Buddha Had Kids.

Top Rated Books in Fiction

The Integral Trees by Larry Niven

My Top Rated Books of 2018
Trees, that are integral

I had to check out Larry Niven and his unique otherworldly planets surrounding neutron stars. The beginning of the book describes a dwindling civilization that basically lives in and on a giant tree extending from the sky. By making use of the tree’s massive and supportive ecosystem the population is able to get everything they need in order to live and survive.

As a writer who explores other planets and worlds, this was an integral read for me. I’m always searching for these books (if you know any, holler!) so it was helpful to see how he dealt with things like gravity, relationship to Earth and other offworlds, technology, and interpersonal relationships and society in general.

I won’t give any spoilers but this classic science fiction novel did not disappoint, and has plenty of its own twists and turns throughout. Based on where the novel began, I could not have guessed that it would go in the direction that it did!

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

My Top Rated Books of 2018

Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. This woman. What a revolutionary. A prophet. Le Guin is a name you’re going to hear in the literary world and outside too as one of the most prolific writers of her time. She was the queen of sci fi and fantasy with her Seagate series, and many others. I’d heard so much buzz and decided it was finally time to sit down and read her.

Her book is about an off-planet consul instructed to go to Winter, an alien planet plunged in ice in order to bring them into the hegemony so that all the planets can co-exist peacefully, share data and knowledge, etc. but when this foreigner comes, who doesn’t look much different from them, they don’t know if, how, or why they should believe him. He claims the implications will be worse but does not use violence or aggression to convince anyone. And the existing powers on planet are wrapped in their own power struggles. One of these men is kicked from his post, becomes a wanted outcast and is the key to bringing peace and harmony to his home planet, but only with the help of the foreigner.

They fall in love. But the homelander is not a man at all (this is not a spoiler.) He is part of their androgynous species that can change shape at will according to their needs at the time. They essentially go into a highly sexualized state and are able to morph into one gender or the other so that the duo can procreate or provide release to themselves.

The story is sad, joyous at times, heartfelt, very real, a visionary idea that love does not need to be placed into any box, it just is.

The fact that this book was written in 1969 with so much foresight and confidence, outside of what is happening in the world now, is highly impressive. What a fantastic and imaginative thinker. I will be reading more by her. Ursula Le Guin, everything they say about you is true and I love you.

Top Rated Short Story Collections

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver

My Top Rated Books of 2018
I said please

This one came highly recommended in my search for quality short story collections, and man oh man. This one blew my mind with its writing. Apparently, it’s not even Carver’s most acclaimed. I hadn’t read too many short story collections that were considered “literary fiction” up to that point, but the writing was absolutely mesmerizing. I love science fiction and fantasy because they take me away from the ordinary. They weave intricate webs and make the promise of what if, showing us a world we’ve never seen before. Carver wrote about the most mundane, unexciting moments of life, moments I tend not to seek out… and made them more jaw-dropping, heart-wrenching, and awe-inspiring than the final light saber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

Holy cow, can that man tell a story. He has a command over the English language that I could only dream to have one day. His tear-jerking, knee-slapping, cringe-worthy, nail-biting tales about the daily and often life-changing experiences that ordinary characters go through in a day or week or life, are wrapped neatly into crisp and thin slices of life, with not an ounce of fat and with the plastic torn off.

Carver does not hold back, and neither will I with this recommendation. I’ve heard Cathedral is another great collection of his so I’ll probably read that one next. If you’re looking for easy reads in the morning, on the train, before you go to bed, punches in the gut, every time… buy something of Carver’s.

The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

My Top Rated Books of 2018
New Fairy Tales

I had no idea books like this were out in the wide universe, but I should have known. I guess what I mean is… what did I just read? In terms of imagination, dazzling writing, and fantastical elements, this book takes the crown in all aspects. It is an anthology of fantasy short stories, or rather Classic Fairy Tales that have been retold.

The first story of the book (coming out swinging with Seanan McGuire) is the story of Little Red Riding Hood, except she’s a grown woman seeking revenge on a father that raped her. Yes, a bit grittier than the classic children’s fairy tale, but in essence, is it?

Hansel and Gretel wander far from home, but the candy they consume makes them hallucinate. Garth Nix (childhood favorite: The Abhorsen series) makes an appearance with the Girl and the Match, and there are so many others. This one really took me out of my daily life and I could not wait to get back to it each day. It’s one of those books that not only ignites imagination, but takes you back to the time you read it (for me it was summer), and you associate all the happy and nostalgic feelings with it, almost like the book enhanced your life more during that time.

One of my most prized books, lent out with caution.

Pulse by Julian Barnes

My Top Rated Books of 2018
Yes, perhaps her, and yes, perhaps him

Think Raymond Carver, but British. I mean, not exactly, but kind of. They’re both humorous but Carver veers a little darker, while Barnes leans into the comedy a little more. I love the dry sarcasm he imbues into his stories. The collection is a handful of short stories and every other story is a section of a continuing dinner party that becomes more lewd and raucous as the book goes on.

The style is unique in that the dinner party is a bunch of talking heads (no dialogue tags: he said, she said), which makes it hard to figure out who’s talking but that makes it more wild and fun, and the voices are so distinct that you eventually get it or it doesn’t matter. This is the first time I read Barnes and would definitely read more by him.  

He had one story with a quote that really stuck out to me, and just so happens to include the title of his book. It goes like this:

I used the word “complicity” a bit ago. I like the word. An unspoken understanding between two people, a kind of presence if you like. The first hint that you may be suited, before the nervous trudgery of finding out whether you “share the same interests,” or have the same metabolism, or are sexually compatible, or both want children, or however it is that we argue consciously about our unconscious decisions. Later, when we look back, we will fetishise and celebrate the first date, the first kiss, the first holiday together, but what really counts is what happened before this public story: that moment more of a pulse than of thought, which goes, Yes, perhaps her, and Yes, perhaps him.

The Best American Short Stories 2016 edited by Junot Diaz

My Top Rated Books of 2018
Only the best

Mmm. Literary Fiction at its best. These books, are great for getting all your stories in one place without having to buy or subscribe to The New Yorker, Shimmer, New England Review, etc. It’s a good way to read widely and have similar but different stories all in one place. Every publication has their own brand, voice, and style and what may be accepted by one magazine may not be accepted by another. If you’re a writer and want to submit, it’s also good to understand more of the landscape and where some of your own stories might be able to find homes.

Some standout stories include, which I recommend you read if you can get your hands on them:

The Letician Age by Yalitza Ferraras from Colorado Review

For the God of Love, for the Love of God by Lauren Groff from American Short Fiction

Cold Little Bird by Ben Marcus from The New Yorker

I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure into the literary side of things (which I read less often), and had plenty of takeaways in terms of structure, voice, and language, and just all-around good storytelling.

Have you read any of these? What are some of your favorite books of 2018?

If there’s anything you think I should read let me know what it is and why in the comments below.