The world is full of lists of good books, but we thought it needed one more. If you vowed to read more in 2018 but aren’t sure where to start — and really don’t want to waste time on duds — we’re here to help. We paired some of our tried-and-true favorites with the months of the year, so you can read just the right thing all year long.
January: The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
Skip the self-help books and focus on getting woke for the new year. Nothing shakes out the old like The Awakening. Set in New Orleans at the end of the 19th century, the book features a heroine who struggles with social norms of the American South, typical views on motherhood and women’s issues. It was feminism before feminism meant pink pussy hats.
February: A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Did you expect a romance? We’re unpredictable. This book reminds us that even the most jaded heart can be broken anew. What starts off as the usual tale of college friends making their way in the big city soon takes you into the dark night of the soul of Jude St. Francis, a brilliant and beloved man who is deeply damaged. Clear your schedule, because you won’t be able to climb out until the last page — and maybe not even then.
March: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Pretty kites blowing in the March winds? Yes. And also a powerful story of friendship, betrayal, love, and redemption set in an Afghanistan you will never forget. This one brought us to our knees when we first read it in 2003.
April: Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
We can probably all agree that there’s a dearth of civility these days. But in New York City circa 1930s, martinis were dry, clubs were filled with smoke and jazz, and love and class went strictly by the rules. Towles’s crisp observations and fast-paced plot had us jotting quotes on the backs of napkins.
May: Fate and Furies, by Lauren Groff
This he said/she said nod to Greek tragedy has all the passion, vengeance, and betrayal you could ever hope for. A story of a marriage told from both the husband’s and wife’s points of view — with plenty left unsaid — is our suggestion for whiling away a rainy May day.
June: Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
Father’s Day is in June, so you might think this one has daddy issues. It does. It’s about the deep bond between twin brothers born to a secret union between an Indian nun and a famous British surgeon. The twins come of age in Ethiopia and then are drawn to their father and medicine.
July: My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
Spend the first month of summer with the first of four books about the friendship of two girls who grew up in Naples, Italy, in the 1950s. Lila is fiery and unpredictable; Elena is bookish and unforgettable. They take different paths in life but always find themselves back together. You’ll be perched on a rocky Neapolitan beach no matter where you read it.
August: The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
We think Donna Tartt’s first novel is her best. The psychological thriller set in a posh Vermont college where a group of clever students falls under the influence of a charismatic classics professor is the perfect way to kick off the fall. You can almost feel the dry leaves swirling while reading (or re-reading) this tale of morality and murder.
September: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
We’re coordinating this month’s selection with a reminder to get your flu shot. If there is a pandemic and most of the world is wiped out, you’ll definitely want to hang out with the folks in Station Eleven. They travel around the post-apocalyptic landscape performing Shakespeare and symphonies as they strive for more than survival.
October: The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
Taking a turn into a more serious time of year: a seriously scary and strange tale. In this true story, author Erik Larson takes you behind the scenes of the architecture and events of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Entwined with the building of Chicago’s White City amusement park is the story of serial murderer H.H. Holmes. Between 30 and 200 women were killed by the monster, who used the fair to lure his victims. You’ll learn more than you expect about architecture — and serial killers.
November: I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb
Gratitude takes center stage this month, and there’s nothing like a multigenerational saga of love and forgiveness to make you thankful you’re not the only one with family issues. The 1998 tome is a hefty read at 912 pages and includes dark secrets, devastating mental illness, and the triumph of love and decency.
December: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
When Owen Meany accidentally kills his best friend’s mom with a baseball, he believes he is an instrument of God. This tale is full of Irving’s trademark twisted, dark comedy, symbolism, religiosity, and countless subplots. The holiday theme comes in when Meany plays baby Jesus in a pageant and sees his tombstone with his death date on it. It’s fun and weird — and a good way to end a year of magical reading.