A Year in Reading: Chanelle Benz

December 12, 2019 | 3 books mentioned 2 min read

This year has been the year of baby, the year of book baby, a year of anxiety, exhaustion, and the struggle to be present enough to feel enough gratitude. I have given birth (again), been hustling my book all over the country, and yet spent a lot of time alone in my bedroom with my newborn listening to true crime or politics—perhaps synonymous at this point. Beautiful books have been the balm to my blistering, sleep-deprived mind when I am parched by Twitter and the unrelenting, oppressive news cycle. These are a few of the books that gave me a shot in the arm.

I actually had the sublime experience of slowing down when I realized I was coming to the last pages because I didn’t want Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall to end. More of a novella than a novel, it follows a family who join an expedition with an archeology professor and his students in order to reenact the lives of Iron-Age Britons. It’s a menacing and strange coming-of-age story about authenticity, violence, and what connects us to those that have come long before us.

covercovercoverAnna Burns’s Milkman blew me away. It’s one of those books you have to give into because the repetition and rhythm and digressions of the voice are intimately connected to who the nameless protagonist is. I love that there’s so much pain and honesty and humor in something so constructed—it’s exceptional.

In Brandon Hobson’s Where The Dead Sit Talking the language is economical, sometimes lyrical, and sometimes deceptively simple. The protagonist, Sequoyah, is truly unpredictable, which, I think, is a rare thing in fiction. I was worried for him, a little scared of him, and endeared by what he saw/the way he sees. There’s an ache at the center of this book.

Miriam Toews’s Women Talking felt like theater. In the sense that it is dialogue-led, but also in that something invisible is being channeled. The voices of this group of Mennonite women are sort of floating in the air as they trade jokes and barbs and philosophy while trying to decide whether or not to leave their community. The way that Toews distinguishes between the characters is done so gracefully. It reminds me of something that the author Yewande Omotoso once said to me when I was scared to write something—that you have to “Love that voice into being.”

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Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

has published work in Guernica, Granta.com, The New York Times, Electric Literature, The American Reader, Fence and others, and is the recipient of an O. Henry Prize. Her story collection The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead was published in 2017 by Ecco/HarperCollins. It was named a Best Book of 2017 by The San Francisco Chronicle and one of Electric Literature’s 15 Best Short Story Collections of 2017. It was also shortlisted for the 2018 Saroyan Prize and longlisted for the 2018 PEN/Robert Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and the 2017 Story Prize. Her novel The Gone Dead was published by Ecco/HarperCollins in June 2019 and was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and a Tonight Show Summer Reads Finalist. It was named a best new book of the summer by O, The Oprah Magazine, Time, Southern Living, and Nylon. She currently lives in Memphis where she teaches at Rhodes College.

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