What flew off the shelves in 2018?
Many of the best-selling books this year dealt with political life and Washington intrigue
Not only do celebrities sometimes become politicians, now politicians are often celebrities. Many of the best-selling books of the year were about political figures. Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, sold more than any other book, and she promoted it in arenas like a rock star, backed up by other famous names (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon). The book didn’t hit stores until November, but more than two million copies sold in 15 days. Even Stephen King doesn’t fill stadiums or sell tickets for hundreds of dollars.
During the first half of the year, the best-selling book was Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. More gossip than policy, it portrayed Trump as sitting in his bathrobe watching TV. Criticism of the president also came from ousted FBI director James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty, and readers lapped up famous journalist Bob Woodward’s Fear, with its tales of aides undermining the commander-in-chief.
Even parody books about politics sold well. The Last Week Tonight With John Oliver book A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, ostensibly an illustrated memoir by Vice President Mike Pence’s rabbit, was in the top-10 best-sellers for the first part of the year. (It was inspired by Charlotte Pence and Karen Pence’s Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President.)
After Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina, a parody based on Trump’s comments ascended the best-seller lists. Whose Boat Is This Boat? by the staff of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert said on its cover it was “by Donald J. Trump (by accident).”
And The President Is Missing, a novel by former president Bill Clinton and prolific author James Patterson, was not only popular, it seemed to point again to the blurred line between politics and celebrity.
One theory floating through the zeitgeist is that politicians are a 21st-century cultural unifier rather than, say, TV shows or other forms of entertainment.
With thousands of shows and books available, very few are the cultural touchstones they were in the days when most Americans watched The Magical World of Disney or when writers John Updike and Norman Mailer were household names. We may be divided over whether we’d vote for Trump, but we’re united in that he and those in his orbit are kitchen-table topics.
We all know something about the latest headlines, and we all have an opinion. Ask five people if they’ve watched GLOW and most may say “no.” But they all can comment on James Comey.
ALTHOUGH POLITICAL works were the year’s best-sellers, they don’t necessarily show up on many “best books” lists. Those are more eclectic. With more than 300,000 new titles and editions published in the United States each year, choosing the top-10 “best” is close to impossible.
That said, it appears few reviewers focused on politics for their favorite books for 2018.
Among novels, fiction reviewers included Washington Black, There There and The Mars Room among their favorite books of the year.
Esi Edugyan “brings alive the boy’s sights, sounds and his moment-to-moment sense of impending danger and menace,” Holly Silva wrote of Washington Black, a story of a boy born into slavery in Barbados.
In The Mars Room, author Rachel Kushner’s heroine, a former lap dancer, is imprisoned for killing a customer who stalked her. “The book is beautifully written, without sentimentality or agenda, and at times even a sly and dark humor,” Silva wrote.
There There by Tommy Orange is a debut novel that has shown up on several “best” lists for its story of modern-day urban American Indians, who struggle with loss and identity.
In Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage, a young, happy African-American couple have their lives turned upside down when the husband is accused, apparently falsely, of sexual assault.
Rebecca Makkai wrote a powerful novel about the AIDS epidemic in Chicago from the 1980s to contemporary advancements. The Great Believers ended up on short lists for awards.
Like Makkai’s novel, The Overstory was oft praised. Written by Richard Powers, the novel ties characters to trees and a battle between clear-cutting and what some might call eco-terrorism. Reviewer Dale Singer called out Powers’s “ability to balance the humanity of his individual characters’ stories with their passion for the greater lesson they impart.”
Singer also liked Barbara Kingsolver’s novel about two families decades apart who lived in the same house. Unsheltered does have a political edge, as it’s linked to the 2016 election.
Other favorite novels this year include The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, Kate Atkinson’s Transcription and Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success.
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
COPIES OF the book ‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’ by Michael Wolff are seen at a bookstore in Washington, DC, in January.