Saturday, October 19, 2019

Favorite Books of 2018

These books stood out for me in 2018. Here are the notes I wrote after finishing each one.

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos (memoir)
Haunting in a deep and loving way. The author reveals things about herself that are hidden in us all. What a generous book, written from the heart and mind. An original voice and great American book.

All in the Family by Courtney LeBlanc (poetry)
The metaphors of family bonds and family strife are heartfelt and utterly relatable.

All Strangers Are Kin by Zora O’Neill (travel memoir and language)
What a treat. As the author travels through disparate Arabic, Muslim countries to learn the various dialects and connect with the real people, she discovers how universal humanity is, despite our differences. I relished her love of Arabic and her constant battle between her Apollonian and Dionysian sides.

The Amoeba Game by Tara Skurtu (poetry)
I felt an immediate connection to these lovingly written poems about family, religion, and homeland. I look forward to more from this poet!

Autumn by Ali Smith (novel)
A quiet story of a twenty-year friendship between an elderly gay man and his young female neighbor, considered the first Brexit novel. Written in an idiosyncratic style that works magic. Inspired and touching.

Brass by Xenet Aliu (novel)
A mother-daughter novel written from both perspectives in two time periods. Loved the wry sarcasm and the women’s stubborn willfulness. The solo birthing scene made my heart race.

City of Night by John Rechy (novel)
Written in 1963, this novel broke ground in its frank depiction of hustlers and drag queens, and trans people across the country. Philosophical at times with sublime language. I adored every word, many of which are still slung by queers today.

Dirty Work by Larry Brown (novel)
Two men, disfigured in a VA hospital, share stories of their hard lives. Not all maudlin, though. Powerfully told through both their points of view, in dialect. The ending is hallucinatory and haunting.

The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis (novel)
A frank, short novel about a young gay man escaping his oppressive heteronormative life in Picardy, northern France. Stellar storytelling.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (novel)
Metafictional novel about the nature of friendship and suicide amid the writing milieu and a big dog. The author examines every aspect of her life, talking to her dead friend and the Great Dane he left to her. So satisfying.

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast (memoir comic)
A love letter to NYC, the greatest city in the world. Wry, shrewd. I’ve always been a big fan of her work.

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara (novel)
A lovingly told tale of friendship and family among the denizens of the House of Xtravaganza. The characters are fully fleshed and you can’t help but feel for them at every moment. The injected Spanglish was perfect for authenticity.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (essays)
These essays force you to face your demons and kill the golem that has been keeping you from being the writer you were meant to be. Very inspiring.

IRL by Tommy Pico (poetry)
The poem straggles between the worlds of the poet’s ancestry/life on the res and as a gay man with an iPhone in NYC. It’s a beautiful struggle both linguistically and culturally.

Jelly Roll by Kevin Young (poetry)
Musical poems that truly sing: the musicality of the lines of love and loss had me making up tunes in my head. The short poems speak volumes; the longer ones, lifetimes.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer (novel)
Beautiful, shrewd, and funny. A fifty-year-old gay novelist traverses the globe to avoid the wedding of his ex. Echoes of The Odyssey throughout. The final message: love.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (novel)
Everything about this novel—the exceptional storytelling of intertwined lives, the indelible prortraits of characters going through major internal changes, the expert plotting and backstories and future revelations—left me breathless.

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley (short stories)
Every story vibrates with humanity; the author writes lifetimes in each tale, and the characters resonate beyond the stories. One of the best collections.

Middle Passage by Charles Johnson (novel)
What a trip! The slave trade is the background to this novel about an ex-slave unwittingly boarding an illegal slave trade ship in New Orleans. High-seas high jinks ensues. At times philosophical, other times revolting and metaphysical. This novel defies genre. Every page brims with the unexpected.

The Mutual UFO Network by Lee Martin (short stories)
One of my favorite collections of all time. These are dark tales. The stories’ intimacies and characters’ inner lives made me gasp and sigh and smile and cry. It will haunt me (in a good way) forever.

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim (novel)
One of the best novels I’ve ever read. The author’s use of simile and metaphor is perfection, every word and image relating to the accretion of dread the story projects. No tears, no mea culpas. Refreshing in its frankness. A great American novel.

Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve by Ben Blatt (statistics)
A fun read. The author, through statistics, proves that -ly adverb use diminishes a novel on several levels.

Not Everything Thrown Starts a Revolution by Stephen S. Mills (poetry)
This book is in two parts, in two centuries, about two redheads: a devout eighteenth-century woman’s dalliance with suicide by proxy and a twentieth-century unabashedly sexual gay man’s brush with vandalism and the law. Powerful stuff about those who question societal norms.

Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen (poetry)
Upsetting. Pulls no punches, but not brutal. The poet deals with issues related to his mother, body size, creativity, and immigrants. Fascinating.

Now I Sit Me Down by Witold Rybczynski (history and design)
Reading this history of the chair and its designs throughout the ages has changed me forever. I will never look at or experience one so casually anymore. Love the author’s writing and erudition.

Orphic Paris by Henri Cole (memoir)
A loving paean to Paris, the city of poets, and beauty and flowers. A slim book overflowing with a master’s insight in to the tangible and he intangible, the Apollonian and the Dionysian, friendship and solitude. And, ultimately, love.

Paul by Howard Brenton (play)
The story of Saul’s conversion told as a spin-doctor tale. I couldn’t get enough of this. The playwright is a great writer. He knows how to write from both sides while still maintaining his liberal stance.

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor (novel)
Paul can change himself into a woman in this Gen-X nineties picaresque bildungsroman. Wry, insightful—a fascinating distillation of gender and fucking. So relatable to queers of my generation.

The Pencil Perfect by Caroline Weaver (history)
The author organizes the book thoughtfully—by pencil brand/family history, then by a pencil’s aspects. A fun read. I learned so much! The illustrations by Oriana Fenwick are gorgeous—nonpareil.

The Prince of Los Cocuyos by Richard Blanco (memoir)
The poet laureate writes about his childhood and teen years in Miami. I felt a strong kinship: never feeling like you fit in because of the Closet. The last two pages made me weep.

Razzle Dazzle by Kevin Boyd Grubb (biography)
The life of Bob Fosse, with many words from his friends and colleagues. Reading it makes you want to watch all his movies and wish you had seen the stage work. I’ve always felt an affinity for his work, especially his choreography.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (novel)
A chilling tale that takes place in the near future of America, when women no longer have reproductive rights. The narratives of these indomitable women are a balm of hope during this fucked-up time.

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown (novel)
An unabashedly, unapologetically told coming-of-age romp. Loved it!

Severance by Ling Ma (novel)
This zombie apocalypse reads as a satire and indictment of American consumerism and capitalism (the death of NYC) and how everything is tainted to the point of lifeless monotony. Scary and funny, sharp and unsettling. Wry. A page-turner.

Shady Characters by Keith Houston (nonfiction)
The grammar geek in me loved this thoroughly researched and fun, well-written guide to the history of obscure or strange punctuation, like the pilcrow and interrobang.

Some Hell by Patrick Nathan (novel)
Redoubtable and stunning debut novel of a teenage boy coming to grips (or not) with his dad’s suicide. A harrowing tale of Eros and Thanatos dancing a dangerous and breathtaking pas de deux. I did not foresee that ending! I will never forget this book.

The Songs of Trees by David George Haskell (nature and science)
The author is a poet and scientist, a lover of trees. The central thesis revolves around the connectivity of all organisms. Profound, liberal, moving. I’ve always adored trees. Now I understand more of my own connection to all living things.

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala (novel)
A modern tragedy, and what an indictment of our times. Slim yet packs powerful punches. Beckettian in that we must go on, even after we are ravaged by the horrors of injustice and heartbreak. The deliberate bad punctuation drove me a little batty. But, then again, reading Pride and Prejudice did the same.

Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard (essays)
The author grew up an only child with parents who always seemed to be searching for something, resulting in Christian Science faith and Amway. Very personal and well researched. Excellent long essays that read quickly.

Sweet and Low by Nick White (short stories)
Provocative characters fill these Mississippi tales with unexpected outcomes. The gay characters woven into them fit perfectly among its denizens: Queers act funny and are a part of the social fabric. Just don’t talk directly about them. I can’t wait to read more from this writer!

Tango by Justin Vivian Bond (memoir)
A short but honest memoir of the author’s childhood sex life, growing up closeted and confused, learning to hide and be hypervigilant. Slightly scattered, which mimic’s their ADD, but effective. I wish I were their friend growing up.

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (essays)
The author is unabashedly frank but never vulgar or trendy. Here is an intellectual’s foray into the intersectionality of being black, a feminist, and female. Her letter to Michelle Obama is golden. I have been taught and learned so much.

Twentieth-Century Boy by Duncan Hannah (memoir)
A wild and name-dropping ride through the seventies and early-eighties New York art, music, and literary scenes. The author is very literate and engaging. I read this so quickly, devouring his language. I like his figurative art too.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby (essays)
The author is a true curmudgeon, and I laughed my ass off while reading it on the subway. I also felt for her, as she comes from quite a broken family. One of those books that should be required reading. I also love her pet cat as an antagonistic character.

We’ve Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey (short stories)
Excellent collection that explores in thirteen interrelated stories vivid characters mired by their sad and sometimes humorous existential crises. The last story, ending the collection in full circle, gutted me.

World’s End by T. Coraghessan Boyle (novel)
A page-turner about the battle between generations of capitalists and patriots versus communists and the underdog laborer. No one wins. The perniciousness of patriotism is exposed. Timely.

You Must Remember This by Michael Bazzett (poetry)
Loved the wordplay! These poems take unexpected, slightly macabre turns and forced me to interact with them on not just an intellectual but a visceral level.

No comments:

Post a Comment