A Year in Reading: Chanelle Benz

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.

Anna 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.”