The best books of 2018
Literary giants mingled with new talent and former presidents and first ladies in last year’s hottest releases
Last year saw a string of new releases from literary giants such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Zadie Smith and Julian Barnes.
That’s not to mention a host of exciting new talent – and a political thriller from Bill Clinton.
Here are some of the best novels and non-fiction released in 2018.
Feel Free by Zadie Smith
A new Zadie Smith book is always accompanied by a fair amount of fanfare, but with Feel Free, the hype is well warranted.
With subjects ranging from Jay-Z and Quentin Tarantino to Facebook and Trump’s America, Smith’s “brilliant”, second collection of essays, “is at once delightful, challenging, and important”, says Esquire, “and might be the closest we’ll ever get to a real-life conversation with the fiercely private writer”.
Buy Feel Free from The Week Bookshop for £16
Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover, who grew up in a Mormon commune in Idaho, didn’t see the inside of a classroom until she was seventeen, but it was an experience that dramatically changed the trajectory of her life.
Voted the number one book of the year by Amazon book editors, who called it their “hands-down favourite”, Westover’s “stirring memoir chronicles how she survived her survivalist upbringing, eventually earning a PhD from Cambridge University” and is “a rousing reminder that knowledge is, indeed, power” says Business Insider.
Since its publication, it has gone on to win near-unanimous praise from readers and critics alike. The New Yorker called it “astounding” while Barack Obama described it as “remarkable”.
Buy Educated from The Week Bookshop for £12.99
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
The celebrated Japanese author returns to the spotlight with the English translation of his latest novel; the story of a failing portrait painter whose life begins to change after a he discovers a mysterious painting referencing Mozart’s 18th-century opera Don Giovanni.
“As is often the case in Murakami’s fiction, a plot of relative simplicity – an artist’s reinvention – is disrupted by enigmatic, surreal or violent incidents” writes Charles Finch in The Independent.
While “he allows his disparate elements to spin out too widely, to the point where they begin to appear only tenuously connected” says The Guardian, “paradoxically, it’s this incompleteness that this beguiling, confounding – and yes, sometimes infuriating – novel is concerned with: the sense that everybody is unfinished, a work in progress, and that any clear-cut resolution is therefore a lie”.
Nominated for last year’s replacement for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and “written in a style that calls to mind The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, this is Murakami at his best”, says Vogue.
Buy Killing Commendatore from The Week Bookshop for £15.99
Becoming by Michelle Obama
First lady memoirs can often be turgid affairs but Michelle Obama is no normal first lady.
Charting her trailblazing path from Chicago’s South Side to the White House alongside her husband, “Becoming is frequently funny, sometimes indignant or enraged, and when Michelle describes her father’s early death from multiple sclerosis it turns rawly emotional,” says The Guardian.
Kuba Shand-Baptiste in The Independent says: “It’s both humbling and affirming to bear witness to the very human makings of Obama.”
At its most moving, it is “told with the style and warmth of a fireside tale”, says Vanity Fair, even if overall “her story is paced indifferently and regrettably”. The prose shifts between “bloodless, campaign-trail professionalism and the language of empowerment found on daytime talk shows”, says the magazine.
Her decision not to hold back on the current incumbent of the White House has broken with many accepted norms but her candour and insight into the ongoing American malaise has been widely welcomed and well received.
“With the full weight of Trump’s presidency on our shoulders, there’s something devilishly comforting about losing yourself in a book that so effortlessly pulls you out of today’s hellscape and thrusts you back to what, comparably at least, seem like the good old days,” says Shand-Baptiste.
Buy Becoming from The Week Bookshop for £25
Brave by Rose McGowen
The long-awaited memoir chronicling the life of actress and activist Rose McGowan, Brave tracks her childhood growing up in the Children of God cult and details her experiences with the Hollywood machine, including her alleged sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein.
“A must-read as the era of #metoo moves into a new year”, says Harper's Bazaar.
Buy Brave from The Week Bookshop for £17
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
A must for all coffee lovers, Eggers’s non-fiction tome tells the tale of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, the American son of Yemeni immigrant parents, who travels to Yemen to learn about the origins of coffee making.
Travelling deep in his ancestral homeland in order to resurrect the ancient art of Yemeni coffee, Alkhanshali finds himself caught up in the civil war, unable to abandon his people and give up his dream.
Buy The Monk of Mokha from The Week Bookshop for £16.99
Milkman by Anna Burns
Anna Burns’ Booker-Prize winning novel about the Northern Irish Troubles was the unanimous choice of the judges and has been widely hailed as a darkly comic masterpiece.
Told from the perspective of a 18 year-old girl with no interest in the conflict, Milkman is “viciously funny. Its jokes come out askew, as does its plot” says the Daily Telegraph.
Burns, who was shortlisted for the Orange prize in 2002 with No Bones, which also depicted the Troubles, “is excellent at evoking the strange ecosystem that emerges during protracted conflict”, agrees The Guardian.
The New Statesman says that “while Milkman is a work of timely universality, it is also a distinctly Irish novel, a darkly mirthful satire with a twist of Beckettian melancholy and an anarchic touch of Swift”.
Buy Milkman from The Week Bookshop for £6.99
Ctrl Alt Delete: How Politics and Media Crashed Our Democracy by Tom Baldwin
In his blistering book about how media and politics have been involved in a decade-long death spiral, journalist Tom Baldwin takes Apple’s first iPhone launch in 2007 as a kind of Year Zero moment.
The resulting explosion of social media, suggests Baldwin, destroyed the advertising revenue base of conventional media, created echo-chamber filter bubbles and laid people open to manipulation by shadowy forces.
Ctrl Alt Delete “is a well-written, often funny, sometimes elegiac and occasionally angry musing on how the worlds of politics and the media have been changed for the worse”, says David Aaronovitch in The Times.
Interviewing everyone from Tony Blair to Michael Gove, top journalists to Russian bloggers, and tech giant execs to online activists, “Baldwin describes a vicious battle for control of the news agenda, at the expense of public trust and the value of truth”, reports the Frontline Club.
While understandably focused on the Twitter age that spawned Brexit and Trump, “a merit of this book is that it takes care to explain that the crisis in the conduct of democracy did not happen overnight”, says The Guardian. “It is the culmination and interaction of trends reaching back at least three decades.”
Buy Ctrl Alt Delete from Amazon for £14.45
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
The Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending returns with a novel about a young man’s love for an older woman darkening into tragedy. Opening with the question, “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less and suffer the less?" the book struggles to answer the question, exploring the possibilities of both.
Buy The Only Story from The Week Bookshop for £12.99
How to be famous by Caitlin Moran
The 1990s were recently voted the decade Britons would most want to go back to. In the era of Trump and Brexit it is understandable many people yearn for the sunny optimism of the end of the Cold War, Bill Clinton, New Labour and Britpop.
“Nostalgic or not, [Caitlin] Moran’s newest novel, the hilarious sequel to the soon-to-be adapted How to Build a Girl will transport you to grungy and gritty London during this time”, says Esquire.
Seen through the eyes of witty and wilful Wolverhampton-native Johanna Morrigan, Moran’s protagonist transforms herself into a self-styled music journalist whose unapologetic writing (and sex life) ends up catapulting her to fame with explosive consequences.
Buy How to Be famous from Amazon from £9.99
A long way from Home by Peter Carey
The double Booker prize-winning author returns to the remote country towns of his youth in a novel which touches upon his complicated relationship with race as a white Australian for the first time.
Set in the 1950s, the novel follows Irene Bobs and her husband as they enter the Redex Trial, a brutal motor race around the Australian outback, “over roads no car will ever quite survive”.
“I couldn’t have imagined that a car race could be so enthralling,” says the Guardian’s Tessa Hadley.
Buy A Long Way From Home from The Week Bookshop for £7.99
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
The second novel from the author of Beasts of No Nation (adapted into an award-winning Netflix film), Speak No Evil covers strikingly different ground to its predecessor.
Harvard-educated Iweala starts his follow-up novel far closer to home with a Harvard-bound hero from a well-off Nigerian family. But after young Niru is inadvertently outed to his profoundly homophobic parents by his white friend Meredith, the novel “veers into the dark unknown” as his life becomes “a journey of confusion, torment and, eventually, violence”, says Vulture.
Buy Speak No Evil from The Week Bookshop for £16.99
The Melody by Jim Crace
Another bleak portrayal by the author of Harvest, The Melody is “a fable about grief, myth, music and persecution, in which a widowed musician inadvertently sparks a campaign of violence against the paupers scratching a living on the fringes of town”, says The Guardian. The story is tale about greed as much as it is grief, offering commentary on those who are feared and othered for the sake of profit.
Buy The Melody from The Week Bookshop for £13.99
How Democracy Ends by David Runciman
There were many authors analysing the current political crises of the West last year, but David Runciman takes the award for the most gloomy. Nevertheless he is among the most critically acclaimed.
Expanded from an article written in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s shock election victory, the driving force behind the Cambridge academic’s book are questions such as what happens when websites like Facebook use their data to sell us opinions that suit our prejudices?
Calling the book “provocative”, “fluent” and “typically counter-intuitive”, Prospect says Runciman “believes that as democracy has grown middle-aged it needs to be more responsive to people’s actual needs”.
“Otherwise darker, more atavistic, forces may prevail,” says the magazine.
Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer says: “I didn’t entirely subscribe to his rather gloomy thesis, but there is five-star food for thought in How Democracy Ends.”
Buy How Democracy Ends from Amazon from £8.99
The Favourite Sister by Jessica Knoll
Set to be one of the beach holiday books of the summer, the new thriller from the author of Luckiest Girl Alive “has a reality TV show as its setting, and a pair of sisters — who are definitely no Housewives — with a dark secret to get the action going” says Elle.
USA Today says that in The Favourite Sister, “Knoll mines the rich landscape of reality television and creates a binge-worthy beach read complete with the provocative twists and turns of a whodunit”.
TIME has even published an except for those who want to dip their toe in before diving.
Buy The Favourite Sister from Amazon for £14.75
Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America by Gregory Pardlo
Taking as a point of departure his father’s own role in the 1981 US air traffic controllers strike, which saw the newly-elected Ronald Reagan go head-head-to-head with the unions, Gregory Pardlo’s memoir is “a masterwork, blending personal and family history with a historicised critique on blackness and masculinity” says Vogue.
An epoch-defining confrontation comparable to Margaret Thatcher's battle with the miners a few years later, Pardio manages that rarest of things - to tell a personal memoir that is also an important story about modern America.
Buy Air Traffic from The Week Bookshop for £22.00
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
Twenty-five years on from the release of The English Patient, Booker Prize-winning writer Michael Ondaatje returns to familiar territory with a novel set in the aftermath of the Second World War.
A series of unexplained mysteries involving abductions, disappearances and intrigue begin in Blitz London and unravel over number of years.
Buy Warlight from The Week Bookshop for £13.99
The Neighbourhood by Mario Vargas Llosa
A bona fide literary giant, Peru’s most celebrated author and Nobel Laureate tackles political corruption, the hazards of extreme wealth and erotic intrigues in his latest novel. The story follows Enrique, a high-profile businessman who receives a visit from the editor of a notorious gossip magazine which unleashes a twisting tale of murder, affairs, wealth and corruption.
Buy The Neighbourhood from Amazon for £15.28
Identity by Francis Fukuyama
One of the world’s most respected and accessible big thinkers, Fukuyama’s Identity brings a fresh spin to the much-covered themes of populism, political Islam and the conflict between liberalism and white nationalism.
Buy Identity from Amazon for £16.99
Love is Blind by William Boyd
Part of the rockstar group of authors who burst onto the British literary scene in the early 1980s, William Boyd is one of those rare writers who precipitates a cultural event with every new book.
This historical travelogue-cum-romance which takes place in 19th century Scotland, France and Russia, follows in the vein of earlier successes such as Any Human Heart and Waiting for Sunrise.
Set in the late 1890s, it’s an international saga about love, music, missed opportunities and revenge.
“Yet there is also a sense of mischief and playfulness imbued into its narrative that takes the form of several elaborate homages to other books and stories,” says Alexander Larman in The Guardian.
In so doing, “Boyd has pulled off an audaciously cunning trick, a literary bait and switch that both delights and surprises” says Larman.
Anton Chekhov’s influence on this novel “is clear from the epigraph, which quotes Chekhov’s widow, to one of the novel’s final images”, says The Spectator. “One wonders, though, how mindful Boyd is of the great Russian writer’s urge to ‘flee the stereotype’ at all times”.
In short, says The Scotsman, Love is Blind is “the equivalent of a nice blended whisky rather than the fine malt that Boyd provided in, for instance Any Human Heart. It’s Boyd at less than full throttle, but that is still better and far more engaging than the work of most novelists”.
Love is Blind hardback is available to buy from The Week Bookshop for £18.99
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Wolitzer “has always found a way to write engrossing, smart, and breezy books that also cut to the heart of the conundrum of living as a woman in the world”, says Vulture, and her latest book is no exception, focusing on the generational tensions among feminists at a fictional US college.
Buy The Female Persuasion from The Week Bookshop for £13.99
Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna
Fresh from near-universal praise for his Twin Peaks follow-up, visionary director David Lynch teams ups with Kristine McKenna to deliver a part memoir, part biography incorporating interviews with friends and contemporaries. Giving us an in-depth look into his creative process, Lynch reveals the inner story of the life behind the art.
Buy Room to Dream from The Week Bookshop for £22.00
The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
Political memoirs are ten-a-penny, but it is not so often a former US president turns his hand to fiction. Teaming up with prolific novelist James Patterson, Bill Clinton brings insider knowledge to this political thriller about the disappearance of a US president.
Buy The President is Missing from The Week Bookshop for £18.00
The Fruits of my Labour by Karl Ove Knausgaard
“The final volume in the epic Norwegian autobiographical series includes a long essay on Hitler and a consideration of the personal fallout from his earlier books,” says The Guardian. The borders between private and public worlds merge in this tell-all, as Knausgaard opens up about everything from his ambitions and frailties, his uncertainties and doubts and his relationships with friends and family.
Buy The Fruits of my Labour from Amazon for £19.49
21 lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari
New books by Yuval Noah Harari have become something of an event.
Ever since Sapiens, his history of humanity, burst on to the literary scene in 2014 the book and its author have become a literary phenomenon. Selling over one million copies worldwide, it has been cited by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama as a must-read.
The future-gazing follow-up, Homo Deus, was also a global bestseller, and now Harari has turned his attention to the present with 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, covering everything from war to fake news to meditation.
The Guardian describes 21 Lessons as “a self-help guide for a bewildering age” whose “sweeping statements are peppered with truly mind-expanding observations”.
Some critics have claimed the book amounts to little more than a collection of already-published articles, but given Harari’s status as ‘guru of the moment’, there is little doubt it will still prove hugely popular amongst his legion of devoted fans.
Buy 21 lessons for the 21st century from Amazon for £9.96
The Secret Barrister by the Secret Barrister
A unique take on courtroom drama, The Secret Barrister holds the distinction of being written by an actual barrister, who chooses to withhold their name.
Cosmopolitan says the real-life stories detailed in the book straddle a fine line between “touching, telling and at times terrifying”, adding that the mystery author answers “questions you might’ve always wanted to ask: about wigs, about defending someone they suspect is guilty, and about holding the responsibility of someone’s future in your hands”.
The Guardian notes that the book, while funny and informative, also serves as a damning indictment of an “utterly broken” justice system.
Buy The Secret Barrister from The Week Bookshop for £16.99
Bring It On Home by Mark Blake
Subtitled Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin and Beyond: The Story of Rock’s Greatest Manager, Mark Blake’s rip-roaring Bring It On Home takes readers through the formation of Led Zeppelin, one of the world’s most iconic rock bands, and the story of their shrewd, mercurial manager Peter Grant.
“To say Bring It On Home is a rambunctious page-turner is an understatement; but despite all the violence and weirdness, you can’t help liking the ‘real’ Peter Grant who emerges here,” Planet Rock says of the book, which was published to coincide with the band’s 50th anniversary.
Buy Bring It On Home from Amazon for £13.65