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The year’s best books

December 21, 2018

Of all the outstanding

titles that grabbed our attention this year, these 10 stood out:

‘Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger’

By Rebecca Traister

The author of “All the Single Ladies” pays tribute to female rage with a look at the history of women who got things done by publicly expressing their indignation, from the suffragettes to the #MeToo activists who put Harvey Weinstein (among others) out of a job. Of course, society has a complicated relationship with female anger, and Traister delves into that, too, particularly the double standards surrounding our collective acceptance of male aggression. Simon & Schuster

‘The Library Book’

By Susan Orlean

The New Yorker writer and author of “The Orchid Thief” has written another winner with a narrative that revolves around the devastating Los Angeles library fire that ruined or damaged 1 million books in 1986. But what starts out as a masterfully written tale of true crime turns into a sprawling look at the Los Angeles library system before pivoting into a heartfelt tribute to libraries as institutions devoted to making life better. In other words, it’s every bookworm’s dream read. Simon & Schuster

‘The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border’

By Francisco Cantú

In lyrical prose, Cantú captures his nightmare-inducing experience as a Border Patrol agent in the American Southwest. Even his mother can’t understand why her son, whose grandfather was Mexican, would want to join such an organization, but Cantú can’t be dissuaded. After four years on the job, Cantú leaves it in 2012, but he finds it does not leave him. “It’s like I’m still a part of this thing that crushes,” he tells his mother. Riverhead

‘The Maze at Windermere’

By Gregory Blake Smith

This complex novel takes place in one location — Newport, R.I. — though it also covers some ground with five different narratives spanning three centuries. Those range from the tale of a womanizing tennis player to the writer Henry James as he ponders his creative process. Smith’s talents transcend his ability to interweave these stories in ways that brilliantly echo one another. He also captures with stunning accuracy voices as disparate as a 17th-century Quaker girl and a British officer during the American Revolution. Viking

‘On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle’

By Hampton Sides

Sides’s meticulously researched account of unlikely survival amid horrifying carnage during the Korean War also serves as a cautionary tale for what happens when an egocentric and paranoid leader refuses to acknowledge reality. In this case, it was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who remained willfully ignorant when he was tactically outmaneuvered, leaving his men exposed — both to the harsh elements in the Korean mountains and to an onslaught of Chinese soldiers the five-star general should have seen coming. Doubleday

‘One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy’

By Carol Anderson

In a kind of sequel to her book “White Rage,” Anderson examines voter-suppression tactics since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that, she argues, account for the precipitous decline of black voters in the 2016 election. According to the Emory University professor, that drop-off was not a one-time anomaly but rather evidence of a systemic hijacking of our democracy that involved purging voters, gerrymandering, instituting voter-ID laws, closing polling places and preventing felons from voting. Her bleak conclusion: “In short, we’re in trouble.” Bloomsbury

‘The Overstory’

By Richard Powers

Powers, who won a National Book Award for “The Echo Maker,” delivers a poignant and urgent ode to trees through the tales of an expansive cast of characters, from a fighter pilot who owes his life to a banyan to a scientist convinced that a forest’s leafy inhabitants are communicating. The plants in this environmental epic aren’t mere window dressing. They’re as sympathetic as the people, which proves to be powerfully galvanizing — and not a moment too soon. W.W. Norton & Co.

‘A Place for Us’

By Fatima Farheen Mirza

What initially set Mirza’s first novel apart was that it launched Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint. As it turns out, the actress has great taste. Those who picked up the book found a beautifully crafted story that begins with the return of a prodigal son, then shifts into an exploration of the dynamics within a Muslim family living in California. Mirza’s book is a promising debut, yes, but that ultimately undersells such a mature examination of what it means to belong. SJP for Hogarth

‘There There’

By Tommy Orange

This shattering debut by a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes pulls together divergent tales of modern-day American Indians in and around Oakland, Calif., to examine the thorny issue of identity — and all the shame and pride it inspires. As characters prepare to converge on a powwow at the Oakland Coliseum — some with nefarious aims — it becomes clear that there’s no single Native American experience, even if so many of those experiences feel informed by a legacy of subjugation. Knopf

‘Washington Black’

By Esi Edugyan

In Edugyan’s third novel, a young slave escapes a brutal existence on a Barbados sugar plantation by hot-air balloon, but this isn’t simply a fantastical fairy tale. The story kicks into gear when “Wash” Black floats away with his master’s brother — inventor of the lighter-than-air contraption — but goes on to explore the pair’s freighted dynamic as they travel the world and discover that injustice can never be truly escaped. Knopf

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