Trying to make sense of the books I loved in the last year and why is a bit like trying to divine the logic that guided me into past relationships. The books — each a kind of lover — all just…made sense at the time.
I don’t have favorite lovers, just current ones. Right now, I’m cheating on all of you with Helen Oyeyemi’s novel Mr. Fox. Like her excellent Boy, Snow, Bird — another recent paramour of mine — the magical realism in Mr. Fox pulled me into its grasp one page at a time, seducing me so effectively I didn’t realize I had walked into a heart-shaped trap until it was too late.
My relationship with A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara was so brutal I spent the entire summer in France trying to get my groove back. Reading a galley of Alexander Chee’s forthcoming epic The Queen of The Night helped a great deal. But then I returned to New York City in the fall and couldn’t walk down a single sidewalk in the city without meeting someone else who’d also been seduced then wrecked by A Little Life. There should be a recovery group, ALL-Anonymous, for people who, like me, didn’t know that a book could be so gorgeously wrought and exacting at the same time. That book hurt me; I’m not sure if this is a recommendation or confession.
Some lovers sent me running into the arms of old haunts. Reading Eula Biss’s On Immunity forced me to think about the self in relation to others. If the borders of our bodies are in fact porous, what do we owe one another? I expected a book about disease and instead Bliss’s brilliant meditation urged me to consider morals in a challenging, beautiful way. And so from that lover, only one ghost would do: I got my hands on a copy of Melville House’s James Baldwin: The Last Interview. The conversations the book captures speak to the self’s relationship with racism, America’s most infectious disease, and I just don’t know what to do with the fact that everything Baldwin says feels so hauntingly contemporary — except know it and honor it.
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