Best Books of the Year: Humor & Entertainment

Jon Foro on December 13, 2018
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I am the bravest Amazon Books editor, because of the categories I manage for our Best of the Month and Best of the Year efforts. Art & Photography? Good luck pleasing anyone; that stuff's in the eye of the beholder. Nonficton? Frustratingly undefined by what it is not, without even the potency of anti. But Humor & Entertainment is the worst. What's funny or engaging to me will likely mystify, possibly offend many others if not most. As they say, One man's trash is another man's treasure, while others treasure what they know to be trash.

But as Popeye said, "I am what I am," and one thing that I am is the Humor & Entertainment editor here. So, again, I have done my best within my own admitted limitations. Dear reader, you will find no joke books here—it might make more sense to think of this as a list of books about humorists and entertainers, full of writers and artists who fit my outsized appreciation for the weird, iconoclastic, absurd, and sometimes (seemingly) pointless—but all genius in one way or another.  

Enjoy, if you will, a closer look at a few of our selections, and see everything in the Best Books of 2018.  


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Creative Quest by Questlove: It's hard to imagine having either the time or energy to do everything that Questlove does. But on top of that, how does he muster the creativity to drive his projects as a musician, designer, producer, and at least three other things totally unrelated to those? While everyone must find their own wells of inspiration, Creative Quest lays out Questlove's own philosophies and methods, as well as what he's learned from the likes of David Byrne and George Clinton. It's fascinating reading for anyone choosing an unconventional path.

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Calypso by David Sedaris: Reading ruminations on middle age and mortality is not typically a cheery exercise, unless David Sedaris is doing the writing. Many of the essays in Calypso are set at the “Sea Section”—Sedaris’s retreat on the Carolina coast. There, his family whiles away the holidays playing cutthroat board games, baking in the sun, and feeding tumors to snapping turtles (yes, you read that right). In others, he describes shopping shenanigans in Japan (you can thank him for the resurgence of the culotte, or not), his unhealthy Fitbit obsession, and a side vocation picking up trash near his Sussex home. All provide the sort of everyday fodder that is ripe for his beloved brand of witty repartee. But Calypso is as dark as it is droll; it also touches on his late mother’s alcoholism, his sister’s suicide, and a sometimes strained relationship with an irascible father. Any one of these things could fracture a family but it’s clear from these pages that their bond is strong. Calypso is David Sedaris’s funniest, most outrageous, most moving offering yet.

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Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley: In her latest collection of essays, Crosley demonstrates, yet again, a knack for making the mundane miraculous. Reading Look Alive Out There is like listening to your smartest, funniest friend regale you about their (mis)adventures, be it waging war on a rude neighbor, making an ill-conceived climb up a volcano, or helping a swinger couple pick out a third (as you do). And like a friend, Crosley is not afraid to veer into vulnerable territory, which reveals the growth of a writer who first displayed her sardonic wit and keen appreciation of the absurd in, I Was Told There’d Be Cake. It’s as good a time as any to be reminded that life is full of good humor, but only a select few do that as well as Sloane Crosley

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Burning Down the Haus by Tim Mohr: When Mohr traveled to Germany in the early 1990s, he discovered the remnants of a seemingly unlikely history: The punk rock culture of Communist-era East Berlin. A DJ with a bit of a rebel streak himself, Mohr explored a netherworld of dank, dirty clubs in search of the malcontents and musicians who put their futures on the line in the '70s and '80s, when observable reality told them it would not end well. And despite the events of 1989, many still carry the trauma from their days as (sometimes fugitive) enemies of the state. While Please Kill Me and Under the Big Black Sun provided more-or-less definite accounts of the scenes in London, New York, and Los Angeles, Burning Down the Haus adds an altogether unexpected and inspiring chapter to the story of rock and resistance, one which still resonates.

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Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss: According to writer Moss: "I learned to read from educator-approved picture books about poky puppies and purple crayons, but I learned to become a reader from Sweet Valley High." Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction filters the Rosebuds of Moss's literary innocence through the bright lens of experience. The Baby-Sitters Club, Fear Street, Pony Pals, Flowers in the Attic, and hundreds more are lovingly, hilariously, and occasionally raunchily re-examined across six chapters: Friendship, Love, School, Family, Jobs, Terror, and Tragedy. Nostalgia can be a double-edged sword, but in this case, it's pure joy.

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Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Howovitz: The Beastie Boys wrote a book,, and it's a piece of work. Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz, otherwise known as Mike D and Ad-Rock, present a rambling and unruly stream-of-consciousness trip through more than three decades of uncensored memories—records, rashes, tours, graphic novels, and playlists. Madonna’s here, as is Guns N’ Roses, Dolly Parton, Johnny Ryall and the Egg Man. Illustrated with dozens or possibly hundreds of pictures, we get relive their earliest shows, go behind the scenes of their short-lived magazine, Grand Royal (which mainstreamed the Mullet, the business-in-front/party-in-the-back "hairstyle"), and relive pickup basketball games between sets at Lollapalooza, in which Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan dunks savagely against type. Lest you think this is frivolous, disreputable stuff, Amy Poehler, Wes Anderson, Jonathan Lethem, and National Book Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winner Colson Whitehead stop by with their own contributions. Beastie Boys Book is uncountable things, but overall it's a box full of love letters to fans, founding member Adam Yauch (who passed away in 2012), the early days of hip-hop, and dirty old New York. It's a book that can't, won’t stop giving.

More of the best humor and entertainment books of the year:


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