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The best books of 2018, according to experts

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AMNA NAWAZ: As we mark the end of year, many
of us are thinking about resolutions. That might include reading more. If so, you will want to pay close attention
as Jeffrey Brown guides us through the best books of 2018. JEFFREY BROWN: And for our look at books,
I’m joint by two distinguished literary voices. Ann Patchett, as many of our viewers know,
is an author, novelist and owner of the bookstore Parnassus. Her last novel, “Commonwealth,” was on many
critics’ list for best books of the year in 2016. Her latest book is “Nashville: Scenes From
the New American South.” And Carlos Lozada is the book critic for The
Washington Post who specializes in nonfiction. Welcome to both of you. Ann, start off with a couple of your fiction
choices. ANN PATCHETT, Owner, Parnassus Books: OK. I love year-end roundups, because I get to
really think about what stuck with me over the course of the year. My favorite book hands down this year is called
“Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine.” It’s a short story collection by Kevin Wilson. It’s just wholly original, a little rough. Every story is unique. There are no weak sisters in the book. Every single story is a winner. I love this book. I hope it just takes the world by storm. A very close second for me, favorite, “The
Overstory” by Richard Powers. You could really say every Richard Powers
book is a masterpiece, but this one is really important. It’s a giant novel about trees and the people
who work to save them. But every single one of his narrators has
an amazing story about an amazing tree. And then, finally, all of those parts come
together. It’s a giant , engrossing novel. I loved it. JEFFREY BROWN: Ann, I know you’re a big reader. Do many books stay with you throughout the
year? ANN PATCHETT: No. And it’s really odd, because I can read a
book that I love, and then I will forget about it. And then another book that I wasn’t so sure
about, six months later, if I’m still thinking about it, I will know that that’s a book I
really loved. JEFFREY BROWN: OK, Carlos, you got a couple
of nonfiction books, especially topical books, huh? CARLOS LOZADA, The Washington Post: Yes. First is “The Line Becomes a River” by Francisco
Cantu. He’s a young writer who studied about borders
and immigration in college, and then wanted to see it for himself. So he becomes a Border Patrol agent working
in the Southwest. His mother warned him against taking the job. She said, the soul can buckle in a job like
this. And his did. He ends up having a lot of nightmares. He’s racked by guilt. And he is at the same time trying to discourage
migrants from coming over by ransacking their supplies, while he’s also trying to help some,
advising them on the right time of the year, for instance, to try to do the crossing. JEFFREY BROWN: This is one, I should say,
I hope our viewers should remember, because I went into the desert with him to talk about
the book, yes. CARLOS LOZADA: Yes, I think — and you really
get a sense of place with this book. What I like about it so much is that we’re
having all these big policy debates over immigration right now. And the dilemmas that Cantu faces are the
dilemmas that the country is facing right now, but told just through the very honest,
empathetic story of one person. JEFFREY BROWN: OK. CARLOS LOZADA: Next up is “Good and Mad” by
Rebecca Traister. Rebecca Traister is the columnist for “New
York” magazine and has written a history of female anger in politics, basically, from
the suffrage movement through the MeToo movement. It came out in the midst of the Brett Kavanaugh
hearings. It was sort of excruciatingly topical at the
time. And she writes how men are often praised and
lionized for their anger, while female anger is dismissed as emotional or irrational, when,
in fact, it can be a vital educational and organizing tool. The — one of the key things in this book
is that Traister also turns the lens on herself and writes about how she used to suppress
her own anger in her writing. She’s not doing that anymore. This is a book that embodies its own argument. JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Ann, where do you
want to take us? You want to stay with fiction? ANN PATCHETT: I can really follow up on that. I have got a great novel about female anger. And that’s “Circe” by Madeline Miller. Her first book was “Song of Achilles,” which
I had thought could not be topped. But she really does something even better
with “Cerci.” She goes back to Homer and is retelling these
stories of classic mythology. Cerci is the witch that Ulysses meets on his
way back home in “The Odyssey,” and she turns his men into pigs. But that turns out to be just one tiny bit
of her story. She is all-powerful and really grabs a hold
of her own life. It’s a fantastic book, educational, but also
a ripping good read that will keep you up at night. And then another book that I loved was called
“Early Work” by Andrew Martin, which was a book that I stumbled on because I read a review
of it in The Times, and I thought it sounded so interesting. It’s really dirty. (LAUGHTER) ANN PATCHETT: It’s a book about… JEFFREY BROWN: How dirty is it, Ann? ANN PATCHETT: … attractive young graduate
students who drink a lot, read a lot, have a lot of sex. And, somehow, it’s just mesmerizing. I have given this book to a dozen people,
and everybody says just they stayed up all night, they loved it. Terrific book. JEFFREY BROWN: OK, can you top that, Carlos? (LAUGHTER) CARLOS LOZADA: This won’t be as dirty, though
now I want to be the 13th person that gets that book. ANN PATCHETT: Yes, absolutely. CARLOS LOZADA: Post-Truth by Lee McIntyre. So, there have been many books on… JEFFREY BROWN: In our moment, right, the truth. (CROSSTALK) CARLOS LOZADA: Yes, on the — many, many books
on the fate of truth and the American republic. They all have funky names, like “Truth Decay”
or “Gaslighting America.” What I what I like about this book, which
is more of a philosophical tour, is that he isn’t just concerned about the fate of particular
facts or truths, but he thinks what is really under result here is the very method by which
we ascertain truth or get to truth, in particular, science. What is also helpful here is that he doesn’t
just stay at the level of the collective or sort of as a society kind of arguments, but
he really tries to look at what we can do as individuals to fight back against this
current. And he says, we need to question our own truths,
our own certainties. We need to embrace doubt. He says, that’s very hard to do, but it’s
a good message for this moment. Another book that I also think hits the moment
in kind of an unusual way is called “The List” by Amy Siskind. This is a very weird book. It is a reflection of this exercise the author
did at the beginning — right after the 2016 election. She began just compiling online a list of
every weird norm-breaking move made by the incoming Trump administration. The first week, it was nine items. Then it was 18. Then it was 26. And, finally, she’s chronicling hundreds of
items per week. And what is what is helpful here is that it’s
basically — basically a compressed history of the Trump presidency. And you forget in every shock of the moment
about the last shock of the moment that you have already forgotten about. So I hope she does volumes two, three and
four, though this book is already 500 pages, so I’m not sure how she’s going to do more
in the next one. JEFFREY BROWN: All right. I think we might have time for one more pick
apiece. Ann, you want to start? ANN PATCHETT: OK. I’m going to pick “The Baltimore Book of the
Dead” by Marion Winik, who wrote the terrific “The Glen Rock Book of the Dead.” It doesn’t seem logical, but it is the most
life-affirming little book. They are tiny vignettes of people that she
knows, has known who have died, and also famous people that we all know who have died. They’re like little personal obituaries. And, oddly, the collective effect is that
it sees — makes you see the joy and the beauty of life, a weirdly terrific holiday gift,
“The Baltimore Book of the Dead.” JEFFREY BROWN: And that one, we should say,
is nonfiction, clearly, right? ANN PATCHETT: Yes. JEFFREY BROWN: OK. Carlos, one more? CARLOS LOZADA: Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “The
Lies That Bind” about identity politics, another hugely controversial subject right now. It’s basically a tour through the history
and philosophy of identity politics. He is sort of skeptical of this trend to identity
politics. And he feels that, really, there — he rejects
essentialism, the notion that we have some kind of overriding force that defines us and
puts us into one group. He thinks we’re messier than that, and the
fact that we’re messy is actually what sets us free as individuals. It’s a nice counterpoint to a lot of the identity
writing, but in a way that’s not judgmental, and is actually quite enlightening. JEFFREY BROWN: A start on what I hope is good
reading for many people for 2018. Carlos Lozada, Ann Patchett, thank you both
very much. ANN PATCHETT: Thank you. CARLOS LOZADA: Thank you.

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