The top ten best-sellers of 2018 at the Unity store in High St, Auckland.
1 The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck by Mark Manson (MacMillan, $35)
Self-help in the Age of Trump. Manson’s book really hit a nerve, and kept pressing it all throughout the year; there was barely a week when The Subtle Art wasn’t in the top 10 best-seller list in Auckland. And by God it was such an Auckland book. It was for the young urban professional on the make. It appealed to the ambitious, the independently minded, the choose-your-own-destiny types – oh let’s just cut to the chase and state that it appealed to men. It was the most popular men’s read since the heyday of Playboy, and had similar appeals – pleasure, the good life, the unworried conscience. If 2018 political correctness was a sickness, The Subtle Art offered a cure. John Summers wrote a searching review at The Spinoff: “Manson rails at the modern culture of narcissism, but his book is about the individual, and the neoliberal notion that we only have ourselves to thank or to blame for our lot in life…It’s essentially about deciding what’s truly important to you, what’s worth the inevitable stress and what’s not.” It’s destined for the trash heap of history but in 2018, in Auckland, Manson’s book did something all writers want for their books: it spoke.
2 A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Windmill Books, $26)
God, really! The second biggest seller! It did it without fawning literary reviews (The Spinoff didn’t even bother farming it out for review) or any particular industry hype; it did it because people liked it, found pleasure in it, and told other people about it, who agreed with the high assessment, and told other people about the very real charms of this novel about an aristocrat who watches history go by from his luxurious hotel room. It’s escape fiction, it’s enjoyable, it’s eminently readable – it’s a book for summer.
3 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage, $30)
“Harari is the most lucid and effective communicator of challenging ideas since Bertrand Russell,” stated Danyl McLauchlan in his review at The Spinoff. But whatever happened to Russell? Who reads him now, who even remembers that white-haired old duffer with his no-nukes placards, his sex talk, his benevolent patrician revolution? Harari may well end up on the trash heap of history, too. Isn’t much of his thinking actually kind of… cod, pat, banal? From Danyl’s review: “Harari writes we should learn to think critically, to out seek new ideas, new ways of living and relating to each other. But to do this, we need to know more about ourselves and who we really are.” Yeah? And? Harari then whips the curtain back, and reveals what works for him: meditation. O Maharashi! O just another dear old Sexy Sadie. But his book spoke to now, and appealed to the thoughtful, the considered, the big-picture-thinkers – oh let’s just cut to the chase. It appealed to men. 2018, the year of the guy book.
4 Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Jonathan Cape, $35)
Three words: The English Patient. As the author of a modern masterpiece, Ondaatje will always be revered, always be read, always be taken seriously. Warlight, set in post-war London, was almost completely humourless and yet also atmospheric, complex, and moving. A somber master at work.
5 Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ebury Press, $65)
6 Becoming by Michelle Obama (Penguin Random House, $55)
If Trump is a sickness, a scourge, a deep existential crisis of the state and the will, Michelle Obama is a bright light offering hope and platitudes. Her memoir flew out the door the second it arrived and will continue flying into liberal homes all summer long.
7 Less by Andrew Sean Greer (Little, Brown, $35)
The most popular book of the year was a novel about gay writer Arthur Less as he travels the world on a literary tour and dreads his looming 50th birthday. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and earned rave reviews but the best commentary came from David Sedaris. In a Q + A with the Financial Review, he was asked, “What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year and why?” He replied, “Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It just seemed kind of breezy for a great deal of it – just funny. I laughed out loud. And the writing was always good. He’s just a really good nuts-and-bolts writer. So just when it seemed completely enjoyable, all of a sudden it was like that sensation you have when you’re in the ocean and you go out and it’s only up to your knees. And then you take another step, and all of a sudden, you’re up to your neck. It was just so profound. And you didn’t expect it. You didn’t see it coming.”
8 Milkman by Anna Burns (Faber & Faber, $33)
No one wanted a bar of it till it won the 2018 Man Booker Prize and suddenly it started flying out the door and has continued to do so as word of mouth has spread about the joys of this novel set in Ireland during the Troubles.
9 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson (Allen Lane, $40)
When a book of new ideas comes in, The Spinoff sends for Danyl McLauchlan. His assessment, in a brilliant 3000-word review: “We don’t have enough right-wing intellectuals around, for my money, and one of my favourite works of political philosophy is Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man. Even though I don’t agree with much of it, it still blew my mind and I was hoping Peterson could deliver something similar. But if he turned out to be a crackpot then I could write a cruel, mocking review, and that’d be fun too. Spoiler: I think Peterson is mostly a crackpot….He’s got some valid points, some interesting research; he’s got patient cases and anecdotes, some good-if-vague advice, and I’m always there for takedowns of the Marxist left. But most of the text consists of his life-is-pain-and-dominance-because-evolutionary-biology-proves-Jungian-archetypes-in-the-Book-of-Genesis routine, wedded unevenly to his admonitions to straighten up and fly right.”
10 Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber, $33)
Named the best book of 2018 by The Spinoff Review of Books. Kim Hill reviewed it, and loved it. John Campbell wanted to review it, and loved it. Everyone loved it. You’ll love it! Buy the Irish novelist’s love story for yourself or as a gift; it’s the best $33 you’ll spend in a bookstore this Xmas.
All titles are available at our wonderful and life-giving sponsor Unity Books.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.