Your ultimate guide to 2018's biggest books

3 December 2018

It's the busiest time of year for the publishing trade, with 63 million books typically sold in the UK in the run-up to Christmas. So if you're looking for the perfect present for a special someone, or you just fancy curling up with a good book over the festive period, we've rounded up 40 of this year's biggest titles - from literary heavyweights to sporting biographies.

The perfect books for… literature lovers

One of the most talked-about novels of the year, Normal People by Sally Rooney is an exquisite love story about two young people navigating school and university in Ireland. It was named the best book of 2018 by Waterstones and has made a star of its 27-year-old author.

This year's Man Booker Prize winner, Milkman by Anna Burns, is set during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and follows an 18-year-old girl who is forced into a relationship by an older married man. The judges said: "You've never heard a voice like it before, it's completely new."

Jonathan Coe's Middle England is a state-of-the-nation novel about Brexit Britain, featuring characters from Coe's hit novel The Rotters' Club. And Killing Commendatore is the latest epic by the hugely popular Japanese author Haruki Murakami. A portrait painter in Tokyo is abandoned by his wife and finds himself holed up in the mountain home of a famous artist, where he discovers a strange painting in the attic...

The perfect books for… political animals

Michelle Obama's memoir, Becoming, became the biggest-selling book of the year in the USA within just 15 days of publication. It chronicles the experiences that have shaped her, from her childhood in Chicago to her legal career and her life with President Barack Obama as the First Lady of the United States. Listen to extracts on BBC Sounds.

In Why We Get the Wrong Politicians, award-winning journalist Isabel Hardman takes a detailed look at the culture of Westminster to try to discover why politicians are consistently voted the least trusted professional group, while in The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, Michael Lewis examines how President Donald Trump's policies are threatening the fabric of the US government.

And How to Be Right is LBC phone-in host James O’Brien's guide to dismantling the arguments of those who blame benefits scroungers, the EU, Muslims, feminists and immigrants for the UK's woes.

The perfect books for… telly addicts

Fans of BBC One drama Strike who can't wait for the next instalment can stay one step ahead with Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling). The fourth book in the series sees Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott tangling with devious politicians and investigating crimes from the past while negotiating their own complex relationship.

Past Tense is the latest novel in Lee Child's phenomenally successful Jack Reacher series, which is soon to get a new TV treatment. Child has admitted that he's still looking for the perfect lead actor, as Tom Cruise - who played Reacher in two movie versions - was "too short".

If you were blown away by Killing Eve, all four of Luke Jennings' ebooks that inspired the series have been collected in one volume, Codename Villanelle. And a new edition of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend has been published to tie in with HBO's acclaimed adaptation of the much-loved Neapolitan novel.

The perfect books for… music fans

The most talked-about pop memoir of the year is My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen - an unflinchingly honest look back at the singer's life and career that covers the death of her baby and being stalked as well as the hedonistic side of life as a celebrity.

Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson, of 90s indie heroes Suede, is a beautifully written account of his working class upbringing in Hayward's Heath and how he found escape through music; while Viv Albertine's To Throw Away Unopened is the second searing memoir from the former Slits guitarist.

Winner of the British Male Solo Artist and Album of the Year awards at this year's Brits, grime MC Stormzy has penned a brilliant account of his meteoric ascent: Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far - hailed by the BBC's Arts Editor Will Gompertz as "not only a decent read [but] a very important book".

The perfect books for… big thinkers

In a strong year for science publishing, neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore's Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain won the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize and was named Hay Festival's Book of the Year.

Mathematician Hannah Fry - seen on screen this year on Tomorrow's World as well as her own Magic Numbers series on BBC Four - was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize for Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine, in which she explores and explains the algorithms that now surround us.

Physicist Stephen Hawking died in March, but the posthumous volume Brief Answers to the Big Questions features his final thoughts on the universe's biggest questions. And budding space travellers can see how they compare to Tim Peake with The Astronaut Selection Test Book, which includes 100 real tests and exercises from the European Space Agency’s rigorous selection process.

The perfect books for… myth geeks

One publishing trend which shows no sign of slowing down is the exploring of ancient myths from a contemporary perspective. Actor, comedian and writer Stephen Fry has followed up his bestselling Mythos with Heroes, which retells the dramatic, funny, tragic and timeless tales of the key mortals from Greek mythology.

Elsewhere, Madeline Miller's Circe recounts the powerful story of the mythological witch Circe, inspired by Homer's Odyssey; while The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is a new take on the events of Homer's Iliad from a female perspective.

And in Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman retells the great myths which have inspired so much of modern fiction. A new BBC Radio 4 adaptation of the book starts on Boxing Day, starring Diana Rigg and Derek Jacobi.

The perfect books for… comedy connoisseurs

Made In Scotland: My Grand Adventures in a Wee Country is the life story of Billy Connolly, from his working class upbringing in Glasgow to one of Britain's best-loved stand-ups.

Ahead of a Christmas special of The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan on BBC Two, the comedian's autobiography Straight Outta Crawley details his path from frustrated teacher to hugely successful comedian.

In How to Be Famous, Caitlin Moran follows up her brilliant novel How to Build a Girl with a hilarious story of life as a music journalist in Britpop-era London, drawing heavily on her own experiences. And Deborah Frances-White has written a book to accompany her hit comedy podcast: The Guilty Feminist: From Our Noble Goals to Our Worst Hypocrisies explores what it means to be a feminist in the 21st Century.

The perfect books for… young adults

A new collectors' edition of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is the ultimate version of this hugely successful YA novel, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, about a 16-year-old girl's struggle for justice when her best friend is fatally shot by a police officer.

Jason Reynolds' extraordinary Long Way Down follows Will, a 15-year-old boy out for revenge after his older brother is shot dead. Told in verse, it takes place over a single elevator journey, as various visitors interrupt his journey to the ground floor.

Sarah J Maas is the 32-year-old author whose bestselling Throne of Glass series has taken the YA fantasy world by storm. Kingdom of Ash is the latest in the epic series. And Feminists Don't Wear Pink (And Other Lies) is an incredible collection of 52 essays from the likes of Emma Watson and Keira Knightley, curated by Scarlett Curtis.

The perfect books for…. criminal minds

US true crime aficionados will devour I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, about the late author's quest to identify the Golden State Killer who terrorised California in the 1970s and 80s.

In Wrecking Crew: Demolishing the Case Against Steven Avery, journalist John Ferak explores the Wisconsin murder case made famous by Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, and details the post-conviction strategy of Kathleen Zellner, the high-profile lawyer working to free him.

Back in Britain, The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken is an eye-opening (anonymous) account of the life in the criminal justice system - and how it's failing us; while Unnatural Causes is a fascinating glimpse into the world of forensic pathology by the UK's top practitioner, Dr Richard Shepherd.

The perfect books for… aspiring athletes

The bookies' favourite to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year is Cardiff cycling superstar Geraint 'G' Thomas, who this year added the Tour de France title to his two Olympic gold medals. He recounts the inside story of his victory in the world's biggest bike race in The Tour According to G: My Journey to the Yellow Jersey.

Two of Britain's favourite sporting figures, Stoke City striker Peter Crouch and cricketer Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff, have each released a very funny collection of memoirs, musings and anecdotes: How to Be a Footballer and Do You Know What?

And last year's Sunday Times Sports Book of the Year - Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth - was published in paperback this year. It tells the remarkable story of the 'swimming suffragettes' who fought for the right of women to take to the water in the 1930s.