These aren’t necessarily the books that were deemed most literary or which won all the prestigious awards — they’re just the ones we really, really enjoyed, talked about to our friends and thought about long after we’d read the last page. Behold The Post’s staff picks for best books of 2018.
“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup”
(Knopf) by John Carreyrou
Even if you didn’t follow the story of charismatic Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes (and the ensuing trainwreck) in the news, you will find yourself zipping through a book that proves once again that fact is stranger than fiction. A stunning look into a high-tech hoodwinking; like a high-speed car chase in a book.
Chosen by Susannah Cahalan and Mackenzie Dawson
“University of Nike: How Corporate Cash Bought American Higher Education”
(Melville House) by Joshua Hunt
By shining a bright light on how Nike founder Phil Knight leveraged his “charitable” contributions to the University of Oregon into total control of the school, Hunt exposes an ongoing American tragedy — the decline of public college education after being co-opted by corporate America.
Chosen by Larry Getlen
“Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime”
(Flatiron Books) by Ron Stallworth
How does a black police officer infiltrate the KKK? Very carefully. Stallworth, whose book became a well-regarded Spike Lee film this year, paired with a white officer to spy on the group, with Stallworth playing himself over the phone and the white officer portraying him in person. The result was a brilliant operation that likely prevented several tragedies and also made for bizarre moments that destined this tale for the big screen.
“The Heart is a Shifting Sea: Love and Marriage in Mumbai”
(Harper) by Elizabeth Flock
“I’m reading this book about three married couples in Mumbai, and I can’t put it down.” — Me to everyone I spoke to while reading this. These are real couples leading ordinary lives, but this beautiful book reads like a novel. A fascinating look at love, marriage and modern India.
“Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World”
(Hachette) by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope
This book has it all: money, power, nerds. The tale of how Malaysian playboy Jho Low amassed a remarkable — albeit ill-gotten — fortune, making him a darling of the jet set despite his pronounced awkwardness, could be stripped from a Scorsese film. Learning that he actually financed one, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” ties a neat little bow around this insanely extravagant package.
(Basic Books) by Alisa Roth
This well-researched exposé of how we’ve so hideously failed the seriously mentally ill in this country is a must-read for anyone who has ever brushed up against the mental-health-care system. If blood flows in your veins, this book will make it boil.
“Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon”
(St. Martin’s Press) by Charles Casillo
Norma Jeane Baker’s life was a tragedy in so many ways. This biography from Castillo fleshes out the icon, telling Monroe’s tale in great and often harrowing detail and showing how the notorious blond pin-up was smarter and shrewder that most realize, yet just as tragic as we knew.
“Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends”
(Harper Collins) by Peter Schweizer
An enraging look at how elected officials and those they appoint betray the public trust, this book focuses on “corruption by proxy,” where politicians skirt ethics laws by allowing money they can’t legally accept to flow through their friends and families. Focusing on corruption by both major parties, this book shows the need for further reform to keep those committed to serving our country from serving themselves instead.
“The Truth about Animals”
(Basic Books) by Lucy Cooke
The downside is that you’ll never un-know these facts: penguins are sex addicts, bats engage in oral sex and hyenas have pseudo-penises. The upside is that “The Truth about Animals” is chock-full of fun facts that can so easily be busted out during dinner parties. Get ready to weird everyone out this holiday season!
“The Finest Building in America: The New York Crystal Palace 1853-1858”
(Oxford University Press) by Edwin G. Burrows
A delightful slice of early New York City life. This look at the brief but shining era of the Crystal Palace, located in what is now Bryant Park at a time when the current Upper West Side was still farmland, places us at a key time in our city’s history while showing how political turmoil and seismic repercussions of urban development are constants in New York’s rise to greatness.
“Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for the Simpsons”
(Dey Street Books) by Mike Reiss with Mathew Klickstein
The ultimate gift for Simpsons fans. Longtime show writer Mike Reiss regales us with tales from the show’s history — including how its beloved characters became yellow because the color is “kinda hair, kinda skin” — and shares behind-the-scenes anecdotes on celebrity guest stars from Leonard Nimoy to Michael Jackson, who, it turned out, brought in a stunt vocalist to sing in his place.
(Scribner) by Sarah Smarsh
This is a smart and moving look at a childhood of rural poverty in Kansas and the unsafe working conditions, abusive relationships and untreated illnesses that were a part of her family legacy. Sharp, loving and observant. This year’s “Hillbilly Elegy.”
(Gallery Books) by Mandy Stadtmiller
Full disclosure: I am in this memoir as a recurring character who pops up throughout Stadtmiller’s reminiscences of being a newly divorced woman dating in NYC. If only all memoirs let it hang out in this manner — the effect is raw, hilarious and true.
(Random House) by Tara Westover
This is 2018’s runaway hit — with good reason. Westover, born to a survivalist family in the Idaho mountains, is subjected to unspeakable levels of poverty and abuse. But she survives and thrives. You will root for this remarkable woman every step of the hard-won way. Read this before it hits the big (or small) screen, as it’s sure to do soon.
“You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Death, and in Between”
(Little, Brown) by Daniela Lamas
Lamas was the one resident who refused to let her patients die. This seems like a low bar, but as Dr. Lamas enters the world of critical care it becomes harder than she realizes. Through Lamas’ eyes we learn about a woman whose blood is oxygenated outside of her body and a man who plugs into a wall every night to keep his heart beating, offering compelling portraits of the thin line between life and death.
“The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts”
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Tessa Fontaine
This literary debut memoir by snake charmer/fire breather/all around badass Fontaine follows the story of her own coming of age as a circus performer set against the daily horrors of watching her mother succumb to a neurological illness. It’s beautiful, disturbing and strange — all combined in one hallucinatory package.
“Bad Call: A Summer Job on a New York Ambulance”
(Little, Brown) by Mike Scardino
A laugh-till-you-cry look at 1960s New York through the eyes of an ambulance driver who saw the city at its most vulnerable and bloody. Scardino, who worked in a Queens ambulance for four summers in the 1960s, encountered the grotesque and the ludicrous daily and shares his tales in hilarious and harrowing detail. A fun slice of NY life that is not for the squeamish.
(Simon & Schuster) by Stephen Markley
You know those books that haunt you long after you read them? This is one of those books. Four former classmates, a battered Ohio town and one summer night in 2013 where they all converge. A powerful read from a debut novelist.
“The Sparsholt Affair”
(Picador) by Alan Hollinghurst
Hollinghurst is an idol of mine, and “The Sparsholt Affair” did not disappoint. The novel follows the aftermath of a same-sex tryst in 1960s London, a time when homosexuality was illegal and taboo. It’s a meticulously crafted story that spans decades, and Hollinghurst elegantly captures the joy and heartbreak of what gay men lived through in the 20th century.
Chosen by Christian Gollayan
(Berkley) by Christina Dalcher
What if women could only utter 100 words a day and were forced to wear devices that would shock them if they went over the limit? That’s the dystopian world of Vox, a “Handmaid’s Tale” for 2018 readers.
(Simon & Schuster) by Stephen King
This lovely little 146-page novella by the horror master is almost as thin as its main character. Scott Carey can’t stop losing weight — no matter how much he indulges. In a King sleight of hand, as the numbers on the scale take a dive, Carey appears exactly the same. As his weight approaches the big fat zero, “Elevation” hits a new height in its moving conclusion.
“The Kiss Quotient”
(Berkley) by Helen Hoang
Rom-com fans will fall in love with this smart and sexy beach read, which is basically a millennial “Pretty Woman.” The novel follows an autistic woman who hires an alluring male escort to teach her how to make love.
“My Year of Rest and Relaxation”
(Penguin Press) by Ottessa Moshfegh
“This is not for everyone,” I say when I recommend “My Year of Rest and Relaxation.” It’s mean-spirited; the characters are mostly terrible people; the action is confined to a couch on the Upper East Side; and the narrator sleeps for a good bulk of the book. Still, I swear this is one of the most unusual and unforgettable books I’ve ever read.
“She Would Be King”
(Graywolf Press) by Wayétu Moore
Reading Moore’s mystical debut novel felt like I was in a fever dream. “She Would Be King” depicts the formation of Liberia through three strong female characters and magical realism. It’s a lyrical page turner.
“Laura & Emma”
(Simon & Schuster) by Kate Greathead
Laura, born to privilege on the Upper East Side, believes that taking the subway shows that she can hang with the plebs. But when she gets pregnant during a one-night stand, she keeps the baby and out comes Emma, who’s everything Laura is not. The quiet beauty of this novel resides in this fraught mother/daughter relationship.
“Grist Mill Road”
(Picador) by Christopher J. Yates
“I remember the gunshots made a wet sort of sound, phssh phssh phssh.” And so begins the haunting “Grist Mill Road,” which opens with the horrific BB gun shooting of a 13-year-old girl in upstate New York — and the resulting fallout more than two decades later. The twists are surprising, the plot is propulsive and the portrait of guilt is nuanced. This is psychological thriller writing at its most compelling.
SC and MD
“America Is Not the Heart”
(Viking) by Elaine Castillo
This family epic spanning from the Philippines to Milpitas, Calif., reads like a literary telenovela. It features a mysterious heroine, political upheaval and a sweeping romance. I couldn’t put it down.
“An American Marriage”
(Algonquin Books) by Tayari Jones
I still often think about “An American Marriage.” This tragic tale centers on an upwardly mobile black couple in Atlanta who are torn apart because of a corrupt judicial system. Jones’ tender yet unsentimental prose shows that sometimes love isn’t enough to fix a broken marriage.
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