The 10 Letters Project: A Year of Art and Friendship

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A Year in Reading: Esmé Weijun Wang

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Good books in 2016 have been bright lights to remember and hold close. I write this in the wake of the election, when almost no books seem appealing, and all I want to do is sleep and cry. And yet it’s been an amazing year for me personally and professionally; my debut novel was published this year, and I won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, which means that I’ll have another book out in a couple of years. This mix of events was reflected in the books I read — for comfort and solace I reread The 10 Letters Project, by Jen Lee and Tim Manley, as a reminder of the value of friendship and art-making; I read (and loved) M.F.K. Fisher’s The Art of Eating because I love books about food, but hadn’t yet read that particular classic; How to Live with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide, by Toni Bernhard, is a how-to that kept me sane on many feverish days. Home, by Marilynne Robinson, is an all-time favorite, and I’ve been returning to it when no other book seems right. But most of the best books I read this year were upsetting ones. I admired Charlotte Shane’s Prostitute Laundry for its stark and brilliant writing on sex work and love; Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is one of the most terrifying books I’ve ever read, and absolutely deserving of the Man Booker International Prize; Solmaz Sharif’s Look was memorable for its ferocity and clear-eyed language. My year in reading has been both soothing and discomfiting, and that feels absolutely appropriate.

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