The best years are the ones where I read
as much as I write, so I am wrapped in a delicious swirl of story. Like most
writers I think the secret to good writing is good reading—and this was a
banner year. Here are just a few of the good books I read:
Many Restless Concerns: The Victims of Countess Bathory Speak in Chorus by Gayle Brandeis. This comes out February 2020 and wow what a dazzler: a story told in prose about the 650 girls and women murdered by the Countess Bathory of Hungary between the years 1585 and 1609. As with all great stories it is about even more.
As a River by Sion Dayson. A lovely, sweet and hopeful debut novel.
The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi Laskar. One of many books I read this year that deserved more attention than it got. I think that is true for 99.9 percent of books published nowadays. Instead of the same handful of books getting all the praise, wouldn’t it be nice to see more range and diversity on the lists?
Strung Out by Erin Khar. As a novelist I love memoir. Good memoir is someone peeling back their own lies to reveal the aching truth underneath, and Erin Khar does a brilliant job of that here.
A Grip of Time by Lauren Kessler. Lauren teaches writing I the same prison where I do my death row work. But that’s not why people should read this book. It is an award-worthy account of lives we have vanished, disappeared and erased through mass incarceration.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. A story inside a dream inside a miracle.
Lastly, Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson. This is one of the rare novels that doesn’t depict foster kids as either evil seed demons or hopeless throwaways. As a former homeless street child and longtime foster parent I am thankful.
Happy reading, everyone!
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.”