Books & Fiction

The Best Books of 2018

Lee Polevoi

Too bad more biographies aren’t like this one, a kaleidoscopic and irreverent look at the life of a now-deceased member of the 20th century British family, a princess determined to go her own way. Craig Brown dispenses with traditional linear narrative (birth, youth, middle age, old age, and death), preferring to draw us in with a series of impressions, anecdotes and speculations about Her Royal Highness (99 in all) that grow out of documented fact and salacious rumors.

John Cleese Discusses Something ‘Completely Different’ in ‘Professor at Large’

Sam Chapin

If you had asked me why it was funny, I probably would have yelled, “Ni!” and ran away. And I’d wager that a lot of Python faithfuls have a hard time enunciating their affections for the material--it feels so effortlessly humorous. It’s easy to forget that someone actually wrote it. In John Cleese’s new book, Professor at Large: The Cornell Years, he gives an intimate and exhaustive exploration of his creative and analytical mind, allowing us to see firsthand the inner workings of a comedic genius. 

Our All-Time Favorite Books (Which You Should Also Read)

Highbrow Magazine Staff

All of us treasure a few books in our lives, which we read and reread and pass onto future generations. These books managed to bore themselves into our brains and hearts, and some even had the power to shape who we are today. In honor of PBS’s The Great American Read – which selected Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as America’s favorite book -- Highbrow Magazine writers and contributors list their all-time favorite book, which stands head and shoulders (so to speak) above the rest of the musty books in their personal libraries.

Ghosts and Spies Emerge From London Fog in Kate Atkinson’s ‘Transcription’

Lee Polevoi

Atkinson quickly establishes place, diction, and a credible spirit of wartime and postwar milieus—while rarely getting bogged down in unnecessary exposition. The tone in the early chapters is both keenly literary and vividly cinematic. Confusion arises, however, with a plethora of secondary characters, i.e., the German sympathizers and double agents, some of whom are being “run” by Godfrey Tobey, some by Perry (her boss). The reader might be forgiven for wondering why many of these clandestine members of the Fifth Column talk so openly about “working for Berlin” or “spying for the Gestapo” in the midst of wartime England. 

H. Jon Benjamin and the Art of Failure

Adam Gravano

We all have a friend whom we laugh and have a good time with, but later, when we go through the events of time together, when it's too late to mention and we're too far apart, we wonder if everything is all right — perhaps while lying awake. This is a book written by that friend. You'll cringe; you'll laugh; you'll cringe while laughing. The book does a remarkable job of accomplishing its goal: You'll find that failure is an option and it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's great to read and makes a more helpful suggestion to people who haven't quite found a good fitting place after graduation.

Two Killers Haunt 1950s London in ‘Death in the Air’

Lee Polevoi

Winkler describes these disparate events in impressive detail. She offers a chilling description of how abysmal government policies, combined with a bout of truly terrible weather, created the slaughterhouse effects of 1952. She writes with verve and sympathy about a handful of Christie’s victims, and seems to capture with disturbing accuracy the killer’s mental state as he commits and then hides the evidence of his monstrous crimes. 

A Girl Vanishes, Seasons Pass, in Jon McGregor’s ‘Reservoir 13’

Lee Polevoi

A frenzied, exhaustive search gets underway. But despite the best efforts of residents and authorities, no trace of the girl is found. McGregor, employing a kind of narrative wide-angle lens, travels fitfully among the villagers—Jones, the school janitor; Jane, the vicar; the butcher Martin Fowler and his wife, Ruth; teens Sophie, James, Liam and Deepak—pausing long enough to remark on their circumstances and then moving on. 

Movies and Politics Collide in Jim Shepard’s ‘Tunnel at the End of the Light’

Lee Polevoi

In The Tunnel at the End of the Light, Jim Shepard, a professor at Williams College, exercises a different set of muscles. These essays, written for The Believer during the George W. Bush administration, closely explore a handful of iconic American films for insights they can shed on American ideas of individuality, power and imperialism. Shepard isn’t shy about naming the wrongdoers and political leaders who led the US into unwanted wars and a pernicious global recession.

Asterix Returns for Another Comic Adventure

Sonia Ye

The original books, written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, built up a mass following in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with many childhood readers from those days still snapping up the titles decades on. After Goscinny’s death in 1977, Uderzo wrote and illustrated the series until he retired in 2009. The last three editions have been written by Jean-Yves Ferri and drawn by Didier Conrad, sticking closely to the original format.​

James Atlas Shares His Own Life in ‘Shadow in the Garden’

Lee Polevoi

James Atlas, the author of Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet and Bellow: A Biography, has written a sort of “summing-up” of his own life, large chunks of which he’s devoted to chronicling the lives of an obscure poet of the 1930s and Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist of more recent times. His memoir, The Shadow in the Garden, is an often fascinating—and, at times, very personal—account of the nearly insurmountable tasks of completing an in-depth literary biography.

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