What flew off the shelves in 2018?

Many of the best-sell­ing books this year dealt with po­lit­i­cal life and Wash­ing­ton in­trigue

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • JANE HEN­DER­SON

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)

(Car­los Bar­ria/Reuters)

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.

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