Electric Literature’s Top Posts of 2018

Here are the essays, lists, humor, stories, and charts you loved, as much as any of us could love anything during this hell year

We’re not sorry to be saying goodbye to 2018. There were bright spots—Democrats delivered an absolute spanking in midterm elections for the House of Representatives! That’s the only one we can remember right now—but overall it’s been pretty grim. Climate change, disasters, government corruption, inhumane detention of refugees, the all-consuming rot of capitalism… well, here’s to a better 2019, right? Ha hahaha ha.

BUT ANYWAY. While every day was basically bad in some significant, all-consuming way, there were also many days on which Electric Literature published stuff you liked, or at least stuff you read! Here’s a look back at the most popular posts of this year. We hope they slightly leavened the experience of struggling through 2018, or at least gave you something new to think about for a few minutes.

The Fun Stuff

If you learn one thing from reading Electric Literature, we hope it’s this: Talking about books doesn’t need to be dorky or dull. (Well, maybe a little dorky.) Here, in ascending order of popularity, are your favorite humor pieces, charts, and diversions from this year.

Books Where the Dog Dies, Rewritten So the Dog Doesn’t Die

The thing we all needed to read in 2018.

These Book Covers Are So Terrible You Won’t Believe They’re Real

Madeline Raynor introduces us to Wordsworth Classics, the budget editions that have to be seen to be believed.

10 Book Designers Discuss the Book Covers They Rejected, And Why

These before-and-after shots (or sometimes before, after, after after, and after that) show the artistic and conceptual process of designing a perfect book cover. Electric Lit associate editor Jo Lou interviewed ten designers about their process, their changes, and how they landed on their final products.

What’s Your Author Horoscope?

Are you a Didion? A Butler? An Angelou with Atwood rising? Electric Lit’s resident astrologer Jeanna Kadlec (who is also now doing seasonal horoscopes!) encourages you to forget about those un-relatable scorpions and water-bearers and embrace a Zodiac sign that really speaks to you.

Title Your Inspirational Memoir With Our Handy Chart

Party, Snack, Nap. Complain, Dawdle, Tweet. Sleep, Worry, Cry. There are so many options for your personal Eat, Pray, Love, generated from your initials!

10 Satirical Covers for the Terrible Books You Can’t Get Away From

What does the cover of Novel About the Sexual Awakening of a Young Woman look like? How about 20-Something Man from New York Writing About His Isolation? You’ve seen these books hundreds of times, but maybe you couldn’t picture them—until now. Designer Matthew Revert’s covers, paired with fake blurbs by Jo Lou, roast the everloving daylights out of the literary world.

What Does Your Favorite Shakespeare Play Say About You?

After reading your social media reactions to this highly scientific piece by Helena Fitzgerald and Electric Lit editor-in-chief Jess Zimmerman, we have one more to add: If your favorite Shakespeare play is Twelfth Night, you have a 90% chance of saying “Drag me” when you post this link on Twitter.

This Handy Chart Automatically Generates a Pitch for Your New Novel

Y’all loved these handy charts this year! This one helps you devise a plot—or at least marketing copy—for your highly anticipated novel. We heard even Jonathan Franzen used it to plan his next book, a darkly comic autobiographical novel about an unlucky man’s expedition to avenge his fear of spiders. That’s just what we heard.

If You’re Not Sure How a Male Author Would Describe You, Use Our Handy Chart

This chart and its companion piece, our post about the “describe yourself like a male author would” Twitter thread, blew everything else this year out of the water. Any literary site will let you read about, say, Jane Austen, but only Electric Literature will inform you that if a male novelist were describing her, he’d write “She had curves like a silken bedsheet and I resolved to ravish her.”

The Serious Stuff

Jokes and infographics are all well and good, but for a lot of you, the real fun of reading comes from criticism, scholarly investigation, and generally thinking deeply about how books and other storytelling media influence, and are influenced by, the culture at large. In ascending order, here are the essays you were most excited to dig into this year.

The Medieval Roots of Bro Culture

Scholar Carissa Harris investigates the deep roots of our cultural problems with sexual consent. Call it #MedievalToo.

‘Call Me By Your Name‘ Finally Shows the Kind of Bisexual Narrative I Want to See

Anna Rose Iovine applauds both book and movie for providing much-needed nuance.

Why the ‘Good Place’ Personality Test Is Better than the Myers-Briggs

The most metaphysical show on TV succeeds because its characters represent specific aspects of moral failure, says Sulagna Misra.

It’s Okay to Give Up on Mediocre Books Because We’re All Going to Die

Do you need permission to put that book you hate in the donate pile or stop renewing it at the library? Janet Frishberg will give you permission. Life is short.

Why Do So Many Judges Cite Jane Austen in Legal Decisions?

Were you aware of this weird phenomenon? Matthew Birkhold was, and he’s got some ideas about what’s behind it.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ Is a Masterpiece of Racial Metaphor

Mimi Wong explains how a book full of (probably) white British people is also a brutally effective exploration of the minority experience.

A Brand New Interview with David Foster Wallace

Eighteen years after it was conducted, and ten years after Wallace’s death, Eduardo Lago’s interview with the author is finally published in English.

The Secret Writing Tips I Learned from Kendrick Lamar

This was the year Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer prize, and it was well-deserved. Leila Green’s beautiful essay shows her learning from Lamar’s music and applying his lessons to her fiction.

The Literary Roots of the Incel Movement

Does our culture encourage bitter young men, and allow their violence to thrive, by endlessly repeating the idea that men’s sexual frustration is all-important? Erin Spampinato says yes.

In Praise of Tender Masculinity, the New Non-Toxic Way to Be a Man

Terra Loire brings us good news: machismo is out, and it’s being replaced (in books and movies, at least) by a kinder and gentler masculinity.

The Middle of the Venn Diagram

We’re not sure where to put Helena Fitzgerald’s essay “Magic Mike XXL Is Basically ‘The Odyssey,’ But With Butts,” which is a serious investigation of how a particular work of cinema both enacts and reinscribes Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, but is also mostly about pointless sexy dancing. But we feel we have to mention it, because we loved it, and so did you.

The Recommendations

Electric Lit often publishes lists of books on a theme, so that readers interested in a particular country, time period, subject matter, or character type can populate their TBR lists. Here, in ascending order, are the lists you were most interested in this year.

Animals who have broken into the library

Okay, Erin Bartnett’s list of wildlife that’s invaded library property isn’t technically recommendations, but we do HAVE some recommendations. For instance, put a capybara in the library!

Books about women’s rage

A syllabus for understanding why all the women in your life are so pissed off, by Kate Harding.

Literary podcasts

Jo Lou brings us this list of listening options. It’s like talking to your friends about books, except you don’t have to have friends!

Books by writers from “shithole” countries

Our shithole president gave EL staff an excuse to put together this list celebrating authors he wouldn’t want in the U.S.

Books by women of color to read in 2018

R.O. Kwon’s annual list of books by WOC to watch out for is always a highlight of our year. We can’t wait to read the one for 2019!

The Fiction

Here’s the most beloved of the contemporary fiction we published this year in Recommended Reading. With recommendations by George Saunders, Sheila Heiti, and more, you don’t even have to take our word for it.

With Jazz” by Bobbi Ann Mason, recommended by George Saunders

A story about wandering through the still-beautiful but ever-hostile American dreamscape, from a writer who was revolutionary for her time.

“On the Town” by Helen DeWitt

A fantasy tale about having competent people in charge.

“i love you” by Kathy Fish and “Thank you for Your Order” by Dorothy Bendel, published in honor of our 300th issue.

Tiny stories inspired by the shit boyfriends say.

“A Strange Tale from Down By the River” by Banana Yoshimoto, recommended by the Storyological Podcast.

A story about making peace with the way life ebbs and flows.

“Last Night” by Laura van den Berg, recommended by Electric Literature.

An original short story about the survivor’s guilt of the suicidal.

“Someone is Recording” by Lynn Coady, recommended by Electric Literature.

This story was far and away our most popular, despite the fact that reading it feels like doing a full-body wince.

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Thank You!