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The Most Notable Jewish Books Of The Year

The books of 2018 brought fresh perspectives, vital voices and new ways to examine questions of identity, history and even literature itself. And many of the best were authored by members of the tribe. Admittedly, we’re a bit biased, so don’t take our word for it: Look to The New York Times Book Review, which unveiled its 100 Notable Books of 2018 on November 20.

Among the novels praised are Dara Horn’s “Eternal Life” which Forward contributor Julia Klein called “Provocative and deeply moving in spots;” Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion;” Joan Silber’s “Improvement;” Ottessa Moshfegh’s “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” and Rachel Kushner’s “The Mars Room,” which Forward contributor Yevgeniya Traps applauded for its”authority” and “moral indignation.”

Also on the list are the late French writer and filmmaker Romain Gary’s novel of the French Resistance, “The Kites,” translated to English for the first time by Miranda Richmond Mouillot, and Gary Shteyngart’s tale of finance bro woe, “Lake Success,” which David Ulin celebrated for its sharp satire in a review for the Forward.

Fairy tale fans will be pleased to see Naomi Novik’s “Spinning Silver” on the list, one of the only genre fiction entries to receive notice. And those who like their fiction short will note praise of Deborah Eisenberg’s collection “Your Duck Is My Duck: Stories.”

Among The Times’s nonfiction selections are “Ali: A Life,” Jonathan Eig’s biography of the late boxing champ Muhammad Ali, Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple’s “Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War” and Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s safe-space critique “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.”

British playwright, poet and novelist Deborah Levy was honored with the inclusion of her memoir “The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography.” She has happy company in Susan Orlean’s probing investigation of am arson at an LA public library in “The Library Book.”

Books on humanism did well on this year’s list, with psychologist Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress” and Michael Massing’s “Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther and the Fight for the Western Mind” both being featured in nonfiction.

Popular food writer Michael Pollan made the Times list for a book about another kind of edible: “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence,” praised by Marty Kaplan in the Forward for its “lyric” presentation of a magic mushroom trip. Deborah Blum also had a notable food book in “The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century”

“Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations” by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman is the sole Israeli book in the list. “She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity” by Carl Zimmer, who in 2016 told the Forward’s Ari Feldman about his adventures in having his personal genome mapped, also made the cut. So did UCLA law professor Adam Winkler‘s “We The Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights.”

Also on The Times’ list is Tayari Jones’s “An American Marriage” about a black couple faced with a wrongful conviction, Man Booker-finalist “The Overstory” by Richard Powers and Emily Wilson’s celebrated translation of “The Odyssey,” the first English translation of the poem by a woman.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected]

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