Editor’s Note: Find all of The Atlantic’s “Best of 2018” coverage here.
2018 was a year whose realities sometimes seemed to approach the dystopias and dramas of fiction, as stories of family trauma, environmental disaster, and sexual assault played out on the world stage. The books our writers and editors were drawn to this year include many that illuminate these struggles and inequities, whether in the form of visceral sonnets, lyrical history, or dizzyingly surreal detective yarns. But they also reach past political themes to the most intimate and universal of stories: a cross-continental meditation on transitory love, a warm and funny account of aging, a timeless reinvention of an ancient myth, and an absorbing deconstruction of faith, to name a few. Our list isn’t definitive or comprehensive, but guided by individual interests and tastes. Below, you’ll find essays, poetry, three striking fiction debuts, the first graphic novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and more.
Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Brittney Cooper
Eloquent Rage has sometimes been grouped, given its topic, with Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad and Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her, as one of a trio of excellent explorations of the capabilities of feminine—and feminist—anger. But Cooper’s work, as her subtitle suggests, is a more specific celebration of the power of black feminism. Eloquent Rage, in that sense, is just as aptly in league with world-shaking works such as Audre Lorde’s The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism and bell hooks’s Killing Rage: Ending Racism. Cooper, a professor at Rutgers and a co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective, is a scholar, and Eloquent Rage, accordingly, is also deeply erudite: As Cooper uses her own experience to crystallize broader ideas about politics and culture and sex and pain and anger—as she discusses Sandra Bland and Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton and so many other sources of eloquence—she also blends genres. Here are theory and history and essay and memoir, combined so seamlessly that it becomes difficult—and entirely beside the point—to tell where one ends and the others begin. It is the personal is political, rendered as literature, and it is, on top of everything else, deeply enthusiastic about its subjects, the women who live and move in the tensions Cooper lays bare. As she writes, “I have always lingered over stories of women who lead, women who know what they want out of this world, and women who demand that others respect them and recognize their magic.”
— Megan Garber