Year in Reading Outro

This is the part of the Year in Reading where I'm supposed to count all the times each book was mentioned in the series and go over the highlights but frankly, I'm tired. 2017 has taken it out of me. As it happens, that was a theme this year, something our roster of amazing participants dealt with in different ways. Some people demanded fact over fiction; others found a lifeline in novels (Jeff VanderMeer apparently coped by reading everything that was published in 2017). It's been a long, eventful year. People were awash in news. People nursed parents and lost parents and had babies. They made art, too. At The Millions, we asked for your help (and so many of you gave it). We're tired, but we're grateful, and we're looking ahead. Here's to 2018, and to you. -Lydia Kiesling More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Kyle Chayka

This year I felt that everything I read was self-consciously fractured into fragments. Aggressively broken up. Left to be reassembled by the reader, that is, me. Maybe it had something to do with the time we’re living through: The entire narrative cannot even be forced to make sense, and so it has to be split into apprehensible parts, isolated and then dissected. But it also took on the feel of a stylistic tic, the millennial equivalent of the Victorian social novel. I developed an acute sensitivity to section breaks. At times I thought I could feel them coming as the sentences decelerated or the apex of the argument was achieved. The author strains toward that break, anticipating the chance to start all over again logically afresh after the ellipses or a clean blank line. Then, like the cartoon coyote, I run into the gap with a crash. The walls are invisible. Look out, here comes one now. * * * It is not only our attention spans that require fragments but our taste. The fragment, the ruin, the miniature, the gloss, the collection, the list: A completeness in incompleteness is the aesthetic. “The fragment is hard and pristine, grows a shiny carapace that protects it from the world outside, actual or textual,” writes Brian Dillon in Essayism, itself a gathering of fragments and my favorite book on literature this year, published by the London press Fitzcarraldo, which is indispensable (not to mention stylish). One benefit of the fragment is that the break between one and another clears the air. Transitions are abrupt: connections are implied but not immediately explained. Cultivating dissonance between fragments is vital: friction creates meaning. “The force and unity of a fragmentary work are precisely the results of struggle and disparities between the parts,” Dillon writes. Sometimes the process feels more curatorial than narrative—an exhibition of potent moments, lined up side by side. * * * Such as: I recommended Sarah Manguso’s book of aphorisms 300 Arguments to many people. Her memoiristic lines are exemplary fragments, even arrowheads—pointed to the touch, incisive, jagged yet polished smooth. They are universal but also very personal, emerging from the subjectivity of a successful, mid-career female artist, reflecting on the challenges of the same. Two friends became particularly obsessed with the book’s surprising insight and force. They were both men. I hope we learned something. * * * A critique could be made that any paragraph is its own fragment, assembled into a larger agglomeration like sediment. My first response is that language is all fragments: letters, words, sentences, pages, where does it all start or stop? My second is that fragments can contain multiple paragraphs, or none at all. This is a distinct advantage. Unlike the rest of the above, they have no set form or rule. To read a book of fragments is to dive into a kind of rockslide. The only way to survive is to fall with it. Ideally the book produces its own logic that becomes apparent over time. Kate Briggs’s This Little Art (also from Fitzcarraldo), a highly fragmented essay on translation, particularly her exercise translating Roland Barthes, is challenging. Briggs writes of grammar, dance, philosophy, London, motherhood in pieces of varying size (single sentences to many pages) and academic complexity. Yet as it accelerates it attains a rhythm and Briggs’s ideas—translation as movement, a way of writing-by-reading—coalesce not by explanation but inference. This Little Art looks long but it contains a lot of empty space. * * * Monographs, models, sketches, introductions, précis: all forms that acknowledge, even embrace, their own lack of comprehensiveness. These are appealing to me as a reader because I can ingest them whole, but also as a writer because I don’t know everything and thus don’t need to pretend to explain it all. In the vein of non-comprehensiveness, I enjoyed and learned much from Fleur Jaeggy’s These Possible Lives, in which the author recasts the biographies of her three writer subjects—Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob—in an ominous shade of fairy tale using language alone. The benefit of the bio-essays is not their depth but what they choose to highlight, recast, or imagine as close narrative. Similarly, Stefan Zweig’s Genius and Discovery: Five Historical Miniatures narrates moments of epiphany and extreme action. They are extended newspaper articles written by a novelist who did an unclear amount of research and made up an unclear amount of quotes. The tales are not sinister or abrasive enough to be totally interesting, save for the first, a Spanish colonial stowaway who manages to hustle his (violent) way into being the first European to see the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. I read Guido Beltramini’s The Private Palladio as much as for its incompleteness as the facts it does present. Not everything is known about Andrea Palladio, one of history’s most famous architects. His past is shattered into pieces too fine to reassemble. That historical silence or untranslatability Anne Carson refers to as “white paint” in her own collection of fragments, Float. * * * What I like about fragments is you can sift through them with your hands. Or your mind. It’s so hard to be certain; it’s so hard to finish much of anything at all. I don’t work in an office building nine to six. My writing time is already broken into meaningless pieces between cafés, bookstores, museums, and a coworking desk. This disjunction has only heightened for me in 2017, personally and politically. Maybe the written fragments reflect or assuage my own state of dis-integration. Reading the fragment is like picking up a coffee as you walk down the city street. It might not change your life but it’ll change your day, or however that one goes. (Apparently it’s a self-help maxim.) To be honest, that seems like enough to accomplish right now. * * * I think my desire for fragments is for something (an art) that is nothing but itself. More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 [millions_ad]

A Year in Reading: Sarah Smarsh

Inauguration Day was, in the eyes of most people I know, a horrifying day. The poison of hate had taken control of our political system, and it touched us whether we voted for it or not. Thus, the year that followed was for many—even those who sprang into civic action on the right side of history—lived in a state of foul bitterness. In precise tandem with that political trauma, I happened to receive a shock to my physical system. Hours after the inauguration ceremony, which I had refused watch, I was in an emergency room with a rare, painful infection that progressed far enough to initiate liver failure. I fully recovered from that weeks-long illness, but it set the tone for the resistance I would undertake for the rest of the year. My scary hospitalization was a reminder, for me, that living to fight—to write—another day is reason to not just resist but to be glad. In the face of such an assault on decency as the current political leadership, there is perhaps no greater act of resistance than to appreciate our lives, even as we fight back against the forces that tear at us. To see beauty in this place called Earth and the broken beings with whom we share it for a short while. To read and write the books that the most corrupted of them would burn. Here is what I read or re-read this past year. It is a list in which I now see the simultaneous peaceful reveling and spirited reckoning that I hope might save this democracy in peril in 2018. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert Dark Money by Jane Mayer Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love by Zack McDermott Healing the Soul of America: Reclaiming Our Voices as Spiritual Citizens by Marianne Williamson Homing Instincts: Early Motherhood on a Midwestern Farm by Sarah Menkedick Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America, edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry PrairyErth: A Deep Map by William Least Heat-Moon Revolution by Russell Brand Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression by Dale Maharidge Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation, edited by John Freeman The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy The Dorothy Day Book: A Selection from Her Writings and Readings, edited by Margaret Quigley and Michael Garvey The Editor and His People by William Allen White The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream by Studs Terkel The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I by Barbara W. Tuchman The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers 2 by Marci Penner and WenDee Rowe The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis Women as Healers: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, edited by Carol Shepherd McClain Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés Magazine Subscriptions: Columbia Journalism Review Creative Nonfiction Dissent Harper’s In These Times No Depression Poetry The Believer The Lion’s Roar The New Territory The New Yorker More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 [millions_ad]

A Year in Reading: Laura Turner

The best book club I ever joined was one that reads exclusively from two categories: Bestselling books from several years back, and books set in the place we happen to be traveling. We meet whenever we want, read whatever we want, and eat whatever we want—mostly milk chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s. I am also the only member of this book club, which is either brilliant or terribly sad. I was beginning to think it was the latter until one morning in July, when, sitting on a dock at a small alpine lake in the Sierra Nevada, I realized how incredibly happy I was to be reading The Goldfinch at that moment, stuck with our heroes in Las Vegas, when all the other, self-respecting book clubs had read it four years ago, when it first came out. If you haven’t read The Goldfinch, welcome! This is a safe space. You could call it a coming-of-age story (“bildungsroman,” if you’re nasty), and it is, but it’s also a philosophical treatise on the value of art, family, and New York City. Young Theo survives a terrorist attack at an art museum, and takes something more from the scene than what he arrived with. The best part of the book is Theo’s fever dream year in the near-empty suburbs of Las Vegas with his Russian friend, Boris, who has to be played by Adam Driver in the eventual film version. That section alone is worth the price of admission. Don’t tell me if you didn’t like the book, or if you think I’m dumb for reading it four years after its release. I had fun reading it, and this year, fun reading was hard to come by. The only other truly fun book I read in 2017 was We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union, everyone’s best friend in every truly good teen movie of the '90s. Union is much more forthcoming about almost every aspect of her life than in most celebrity memoirs; as a life-long and self-proclaimed B-lister this may be because she has less to lose. She talks frankly about her sexuality as a teenage girl growing up in northern California; about being one of only two black girls at her mostly upper-middle-class high school; and her surprise at having to code-switch when she returned each summer to visit family in Omaha. She deconstructs her first marriage with an incredible amount of honesty and responsibility, and her chapter about wanting to get pregnant and having had “7, maybe 8” miscarriages after many rounds of IVF was heartbreaking, as was her account of her family’s response to her rape by a burglar at the Payless store where she worked. It’s not Marcel Proust, but then again, I’ve never really liked Proust. Traveling through Turkey and Georgia this spring, I was eager to read some books by local authors, so when I found Motherland Hotel by Yusuf Atilgan at a bookstore, I picked it up. Set in Izmir, a port city on Turkey’s Aegean coast, the titular hotel is run by Zeberjet, whose family ran the place before him. He has no nearby relatives or family of his own, but spends his days attending to the work of running a small hotel, including a daily tryst with the sleeping housekeeper, who seems to have halfheartedly agreed to being used in this way. That all comes to an end when Zeberjet falls in love with a beautiful guest, and his obsession over her causes his days and his world to constrict to an impossibly small pinprick. He keeps the guest’s room in just the order she left it, turning out paying customers in case of her return. His descent into madness is precipitated by unexpected sexual behavior, revealing traumas from his past, and a terrible (metaphorical) claustrophobia that shuts off any possibility of a meaningful life. It’s a strange read, immersive and Kafkaesque, and hard to forget. Prospero’s bookstore in Tblisi is enough to drive any reader to max out her credit card. I was limited by the size of my suitcase to one or three new books, and so I chose The Knight in the Panther’s Skin carefully—it was a beautiful edition but sizable, hardcover with beautiful illustrations. The book is an epic poem, written by the 12th-century Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli, (his fame is still great enough that the central avenue running north-south in Tbilisi is called Rustaveli). In this poem, two best friends (Tariel and Avtandil) go in search of Nestan-Darejan, the Helen of Troy-ish figure who was actually modeled on the Georgian Queen Tamar (a woman so badass she was occasionally referred to as “King”). In Lyn Coffin’s translation of the poem, which is essentially Lord of the Rings meets The Once and Future King with a dash of the Biblical book of Esther, we encounter a weeping knight wearing a panther’s skin (“Lost in his grief he wept, and knew not that any stood near him”) who seems to disappear into thin air. Avtandil spends three years searching for him, and finally finds him living in a cave. This is Tariel. Together, they set out to find Nestan-Darejan. [millions_ad] Strangely, the book takes place entirely outside of Georgia—Rustaveli sets it in Arabia, India, and China—but commentators have found in Knight an entirely Georgian vision of the world. I’m not entirely sure what that means, except that in Georgia I found the most sweeping sense of world history—the earliest hominids to be found outside of Africa were found there—alongside a warmth of spirit that was not disconnected from the warmth of appealing food, which Knight also celebrated. My book club of one is finishing up the year with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, a book that reminds me both of Graham Greene and Joseph Heller, which is a perfect combination. There is some, um, imaginative use of squid, conflicted feelings about the protagonist’s homeland, and a lot of wandering questions about when a place really becomes home. It’s a perfect book for the end of a year that has seen me asking much of the same. Til next year! More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Kevin Barry

The book I’ve read the most this year is Antwerp by Roberto Bolaño. I read a few pages from it every morning before I crawl across the floor to my desk. It’s Bolaño distilled. It’s a crime story, a death story, a sex story, a love story, but always it refuses to pick up its narrative threads. It never binds. Instead it spins out. It is pure expression. I think Bolaño is the most important guide for fiction writers of this era; in fact, he is a kind of spirit-guide—he shows us what we don’t have to do anymore. The note of his perception rings utterly true on every line. And even in translation his sentences have such a glamorous charge to them. When night falls, I crawl back across the floor, to the fireside, where this year I’ve been mooning constantly over A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf. It is hugely consoling to see the way she constantly twists on the wires of doubt; she is dismayed by doubt at her own ability, on a daily basis, but also she is strangely enraptured by this same doubt—it fortifies her. You can see her thinking: if I’m worried, that means I must be working. She comes across in places as a desperate old snob but she’s of her era, and as often she seems a really gorgeous person. And I’d personally forgive her a murder for prose like this: Thursday, August 18th 1921 - … and what I wouldn’t give to be coming through Firle woods, dirty and hot, with my nose turned home, every muscle tired and the brain laid up in sweet lavender, so sane and cool, and ripe for the morrow’s task. Here in Ireland, if the short story doesn’t get an almighty kick up the arse about every five years or so, it tends to melt down into puddles of lyric reverie. Fortunately, this year was a good, spiky and raucous one—there were some fabulous collections, and most of them came from the small, indie Irish presses. Three I admired: The History of Magpies by Desmond Hogan (Lilliput Press), a witness text by one of our finest prose stylists that peels away the layers to reveal the true, contemporary Ireland, in all its melancholy, gaudiness, and shabby grandeur; Levitation by Sean O’Reilly (Stinging Fly Press), a memorable return from a writer of fierce commitment, and a collection that constantly questions the story as form; and Room Little Darker (New Island Press), a miraculous debut from June Caldwell, whose every sentence roars that she is the real, darkly-comic deal. Finally, it is conceivable that Virgina Woolf is back, and this time she’s a man—Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 is a portrait of an English rural community that’s quiet on the surface, measured in its structure, but astonishing in its effect, and his sentences have a truly Woolfian uncanniness and grace to them. It’s an absolutely beautiful novel. More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 [millions_ad]

A Year in Reading: Simeon Marsalis

William Faulkner Books provide me an escape from the horrors of our modern reality until they call me back to what I am trying to escape. When I read the work of authors who captivate me, as Faulkner’s work does, I feel there is something underneath the text the writer is communicating. Here, I must add that I am captivated by things that contain content I dislike. For a more nuanced explanation of this phenomena, read Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark (1992). I was reading an early draft of Zachary Lazar’s Vengeance (2018) when my friend told me that my novel, As Lie Is to Grin (2017) reminded them of Absalom, Absalom! (1936). I had not read this book, and was embarrassed by the fact, so I went to my local bookstore to find a copy. Faulkner had taken great care in the naming of places. The city where Sutpen finds his first wife is called Jefferson. Every time I saw Jefferson, the fictitious town began to take on a historic meaning. Every time he wrote Jefferson, I began to wonder if the whole tale about Sutpen was not a thinly veiled psychoanalysis of Thomas Jefferson and his offspring. So distracted was I by this presumption that I went to a bookstore in my old neighborhood, to see if this link were true. In my hands was Annette Gordon-Reed’s Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings: An American Controversy (1997). It was supplemented by DNA evidence, which confirmed the theory that our founding father had, in fact, had children with his wife’s sister (after her death), who was one of his slaves. We had been robbed of history because Jefferson had tried to conceal the unseemly parts of his life with falsified legal documents and delayed freedoms. I wanted to get closer to Jefferson, so I went back to the bookstore, and picked up something he had written. Although, The Jefferson Bible: The Life & Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (1803), was not written by the former president, but edited by him. The Jefferson Bible was a combination of verses from a select few gospels that told the story of Jesus Christ, without mention of (what Jefferson perceived to be) the fantastical. The narrative fits within the Founding Father’s grasp of reality, underneath that apathetic God-head. The tale begins with Jesus’s parents being taxed. In the end, there was no resurrection. This was not what interested me though, what was in my brain then were these three texts, all-in-one. The City of Jefferson, or the person, peaked between lines 38 and 39 of Book LXVIII in a wildly confused man on a cross, calling out to a dead prophet, Elias. Clarice Lispector I made a new friend in late February. She gave me The Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector (2015) translated by Katrina Dodson. It was around this time that I had been walking around New York City, with my head in Sharifa Rhodes Pitt’s Harlem Is Nowhere (2011), so my memory of Lispector’s stories was incomplete. I do remember, “Explanation.” I laughed out loud. She wrote (Dodson translated), “Someone read my stories and said that’s not literature, it’s trash. I agree. But there’s a time for everything.” I purchased Machado De Assis’s The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas (1881, translated by Gregory Rabassa in 1998) and Hilda Hilst’s The Obscene Madame D (1982, translated by Nathanaël and Rachel Gontijo Araújo in 2012). John Keene wrote the introduction, which was funny, because I had just finished his Counternarratives (2016). Hilst’s work reminded me of Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H. (1964, translated by Idra Novey in 2012)—this made me pick up my copy of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915, translated by John R. Williams in 2011), again. Although, it is hard for me to get through that story now, with all of these other words, from another world, on top of it. Not that the work seems less modern, but I could not get back to the original feeling I’d had when I first read it. Or so it seemed, on certain afternoons. Washington Irving There was one book that stalled my reading in 2017: Washington Irving’s A History of New York (1809). I was trying to finish reading it before my stay in New Orleans was to end, this June. Irving had created a character, Diedrich Knickerbocker, who was retelling the history of New York from the beginning of the universe. It was written in lofty prose to mock the Historical Societies of the time. From their pretenses about the origin of man and race to the way they quoted from unreliable yet primary sources, Irving had crafted a witty tale in which the pioneers were would-be-dictators, drunks, and dullards. I can imagine that the publishing of this work meant a great deal to Irving. The year that it was published, the 24-year-old was mourning the loss of his 17-year-old wife. To drive sales, Irving took out advertisements in New York’s newspapers declaring that an old Dutch Historian, Diedrich Knickerbocker, had gone missing. The number to Knickerbocker’s hotel was listed for any who had information. Some days passed. Irving took out more ads in the paper declaring, We have not found Knickerbocker, but we have found his manuscript, an inexhaustible history of New York, which we will publish to recoup the cost of his stay. Needless to say, the history was Irving’s novel. [millions_ad] More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Paul Goldberg

During the presidential primaries, I picked up a copy of The Art of the Deal. My financial exposure in the deal I made at the cash register was minimal—it was a paperback. My underlying business strategy: I would read that thing in the unlikely event its author would win the Republican nomination. Who knows, it might be possible to gain insight into his mind. Also, quoting Donald Trump could become my parlor trick. And I could annoy my wife and children. I ended up reading that book in the way fundamentalists read the scripture. I hate to admit this, but great fun can be had with The Art of the Deal and a sharp No. 2 pencil. As I did this, I reminded myself that things could be worse. Vladimir Lenin’s complete works are arranged into 45 hefty volumes and Joseph Stalin’s into 16. The margins of my copy of The Art of the Deal are heavily annotated with exclamation marks, all manner of expletives, even miniature drawings. I didn’t just underline—I color-coded. Here is something one can use in daily life: “I like to think big. I always have. To me it’s very simple: if you are going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.” “Old man Goethe could not have done better,” I scribbled on the margins. Also, this from Mr. Trump: “There are people—I categorize them as life’s losers—who get their sense of accomplishment and achievement from trying to stop others. As far as I am concerned, if they had any real ability, they wouldn’t be fighting me, they’d be doing something constructive themselves.” My response: “Does this not prepare you for pretty much everything that has happened so far and everything that is about to happen?” And I would be remiss to neglect this: “I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.” “Indeed!” I concurred on the margins. Had these lines in The Art of the Deal been uttered by a character in a novel, what would you be able to say about that character? This can be a game. Any writer with a dog-eared copy of the DSM-5 can play. Perhaps a professor at a place like Bard could fashion a lovely workshop to develop this character—how does he live, what does he eat, wear, think? After my fundamentalist reading of Trump, I resolved to make 2017 the year of reading masochistically. I didn’t plan to read dreck. The Art of the Deal was but my starting point. My next step was to torture myself with good stuff. Heeding the call of inner voice, or possibly an inner chorus, I went to my neighborhood bookstore and bought out the entire Bertolt Brecht lineup, figuring that as a Communist who has seen the rise of fascism in Germany and the heyday of McCarthyism in the U.S., Brecht might have something to say. The Brecht selection at the bookstore was surprisingly light. So, I supplemented on AbeBooks, acquiring a stack of slender, pre-loved, pre-underlined tomes Until this year, I experienced Brecht one play at a time. Having self-administered a high dose of Brecht, I felt more than my usual level of anger at the forces of darkness and more than my usual level of resolve to stand up and confront them no matter what the cost. It is with a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction that I must report that I plowed through almost the entire Brecht without even a faint urge to self-mutilate. Disclosure: I am not now nor have I in the past seven years been in therapy. I emerged with confirmation of the not-entirely-surprising notion that political repression is good for literature. At least for a while, it’s good for journalism as well. Ipso facto, had I been voting to advance my professional interests, I would have voted for Trump. [millions_ad] My pile of slender tomes of Brecht included a rarely produced play, Schweik in the Second World War. Brecht took the Czech national hero, a fictional dim-witted World War I soldier named Schweik (spelled Švejk in Czech), and extended his life and adventures into World War II. After going through that play, I found myself turning to the novel that inspired it: Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk. Mine was a fine Russian translation, but I am sure there are great English translations as well. Just make sure you get the copy with cartoons. They are as good as the prose. Is Hašek’s Švejk really a dimwit or is he pretending? We never learn, and it’s entirely possible that the author doesn’t really care about the answer. But we do learn that when the world goes mad, as was the case in World War I, it takes a thick coat of feeblemindedness to remain sane. When Brecht extends the novel to World War II, his Schweik meets Herr Adolf Hitler in the snows of Stalingrad. In Brecht, the chorus always get the best lines: The times will be changing. The intricate plotting Of people in power must finally fail. Like bloodthirsty cocks though today they are strutting The times will be changing, force cannot prevail. There you have it: “Force cannot prevail.” From Brecht’s chorus to God’s ear; yes? Few things are as comforting than determinism. For the record, I would support any proposal to have choruses roam the streets or stand on every street corner and just sing. There is no such thing as too much truth. I am ending the year on a genuinely masochistic note: Ezra Pound. I had the neighborhood bookstore special-order me a copy of The Cantos. As the specter of fascism pops up in places like Charlottesville, it may or may not be relevant to know that it’s possible to be both a fascist and a great American poet. I am still on the early pages, but I am putting my No. 2 pencil to good use, and I picked up a copy of The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound, by Daniel Swift, to inject some reality into the situation. Here is what I am able to report so far: The Cantos are incomprehensible, but I am finding some priceless lines. More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Heather Scott Partington

A few days after the 2016 presidential election, I did a weird, sobbing thing. I copied Walt Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider” onto a card and posted it in my office. “And you, O my Soul, where you stand,/ Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,” I wrote. 2017 began, and that space had become everything; I just sat alone in the middle of it, swaddling myself in anxiety. I blocked myself from reading social media because I was afraid to feel angry about my friends and family. Every day was another national crisis; my husband and I started redirecting our money and attention to newspapers, charities, and organizations that protect —we’ve deemed these civic tithes. But I felt scattered and incapable of sustaining a thought, let alone a life of critical reading, or engagement with my government. I wanted to slip into a dark crack and hide there, unnoticed. I didn’t want to read. I didn’t want to move. To borrow from Whitman, my 2017 in reading was about the bridge I needed out of that dark space; the tentative, then hopeful casting of webs until something caught. Two books I read early in the year were bridges for different reasons. Courtney Maum’s novel Touch celebrates a future where the latest trends are freedom from technology, and physical human connection. That thought was a balm. The second was David McCullough’s collection of speeches, The American Spirit. Frankly, it gave me hope because it reminded me that America has been in dire straits before—awful messes—but is built on imperfection and persistence. I was reminded that books are products both of when they are written, and the world they are born into. I read Viet Thanh Nguyen’s phenomenal short story collection, The Refugees, the same week the president first cruelly called for a ban on all refugees entering the country. Many books I read—both fiction and nonfiction—in 2017 started to coalesce around the same idea: we don’t believe each other. Whether we’re talking about political needs, or allowing immigration, or honoring the story of someone who has been abused, belief is the central tenet of the conversation. Nguyen’s stories, like Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger, Hillary Clinton’s post-election memoir, What Happened, Mohsin Hamid’s magical novel Exit West, and Jesús Carrasco’s novel, Out in the Open, all deal in some way with the questioning of personal truth. This makes sense to me, given how we’ve treated truth like a toy for the last 10 years. I find that exhausting. I caught up on titles I’ve missed from years past, finally immersing myself in things like Phil Klay’s Redeployment, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad. I read George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo like everyone else and, like everyone else, was amazed. Two books from 2017 that stood out were Attica Locke’s smart thriller Bluebird, Bluebird, which moves beyond easy tropes of good guy/bad guy to tackle real issues of race in East Texas, and Andrea Lawlor’s gutsy, hopeful, gender- and shapeshifting novel, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl. I read wonderful books by people I adore: Liska Jacobs’s novel, Catalina, Tod Goldberg’s sequel to Gangsterland, Gangster Nation, JoAnn Chaney’s thriller, What You Don’t Know, Natashia Deón’s novel, Grace, Deanne Stillman’s historical nonfiction Blood Brothers, and Elizabeth Crane’s short story collection Turf. I read a funny memoir about a brain tumor: Mike Scalise’s The Brand New Catastrophe. I read Joan Acocella’s Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints and wondered if I’ll ever be the kind of critic I want to be. But all of these books were daring, moving, life affirming. And when I couldn’t handle the all-conflict-no-resolution scroll of social media, these words brought me back to myself and back to a sense of my place in the world. If there’s a slow words movement, like slow food, I want to join it. Most importantly: This summer I attended a teacher institute at the Library of Congress, and worked on a research project about the WPA Federal Writers’ Project—a time when our government prioritized putting writers to work by having them collect personal histories and write regional guides—writers like Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston. I knew that the Library has a vast array of online and physical resources, but what I didn’t know is that it relies on an almost parallel network of human historians. As I navigated my way through the various reading rooms, I was guided by experts in American Folklife who showed me slides of Hurston in Florida and played recordings of her singing; I was handed boxes of photographs of Federal Writers’ Project Book Fairs by WPA experts in the Prints and Photographs room, and in Manuscripts, an excited WPA expert pulled four boxes of FWP minutes, hand-written notes, and records for me to read. I kept wondering why they were letting me look at all of that stuff. (What if I sneezed on something?) But all I needed was my library card. My most powerful moment in reading was sitting in those quiet, beige rooms in D.C. with American history in my hands. Libraries are still a beautiful democracy of ideas. Despite the sky falling every day in 2017, we have that. It was the thread of connection I needed. O my soul. More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? 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A Year in Reading: Patty Yumi Cottrell

This year I have been keeping a list. The first book I read was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. A friend recommended it and she was right. This slim novel is very funny. I went on to read more books by Muriel Spark, like The Finishing School and The Driver’s Seat. I remember trying to read Memento Mori at a café with a woman I had a crush on, and I couldn’t read it. I stared down at the same page for an hour. I’m sure it’s a good book! I spent a lot of time at the beginning of the year in Los Angeles with the digressive and maddening Javier Marías: A Heart So White, All Souls, The Infatuations, Dark Back of Time. By the summer, I was living in a sublet in Brooklyn. In that shabby room crowded with mood boards and Zen trinkets, I read The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean, Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh, a grotesque, startling vision of contemporary life on this planet, and The Answers by Catherine Lacey, a gorgeous and incisive account of people struggling to answer impossible questions about what it means to be a flawed human in relation to other flawed humans. A couple months ago, I moved from a sublet in Brooklyn to a place in Ditmas Park. I read Taipei by Tao Lin, which is one of the most uncomfortable and awkward books I’ve ever encountered. It moved me. I adore it. My friend Brandon Shimoda, a poet, sent me his journal. He printed it out and mailed it to me in a priority envelope. He writes about dreams, walking, his impressions of people on the bus, etc. Sample entry: “Couldn’t care less about poetry or its mind, I just want to make things out of trash and give it all away.” And finally: Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard. Sarah Gerard is a writer who also happens to be a detective, an intellectual, and a hobo. Her collection of essays about Florida, religion, friendship, sex, and eccentric people and their questionable activities made me perceive the world in a different way. I fell in love with her, so I might be kind of biased. More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 [millions_ad]

A Year in Reading: Kara Levy

For me, there are two types of reading urges: the impulse to read the mirror of your life, and impulse to forget your life by reading yourself out of it. This year I was lucky enough to read a book that did both. George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo may be a play about ghosts with an undead president, a spectre with a giant erect penis on display, and enough puns to light up the night sky, but it’s anything but slapstick. This is everything humor can and should be: the mirror, the escape, the heartbreaker and the thing that makes you shout “Ha!” on public transportation. (No one even turned around, but that’s the San Francisco BART for you.) Lincoln in the Bardo is as close to a perfect book as I can imagine. I have now read it about five times, which either says something bad about me or great about this book. I also read two phenomenal story collections this year. Both were in the “mirror of your life” category—though often a kind of fun-house mirror. First, I re-read Katie Chase’s Man and Wife. Sometimes I lie awake thinking about these stories. They’re not just about what it means to have a female body in this world, but about female consciousness, female expectations, and female desires. And Katie does it all with a dry wit and beautiful concision that will make you wish you wrote this collection. I also read Katherine Heiny’s Single, Carefree, Mellow. Fiction is so often complimented for being unsentimental, but this collection leaps into sex, disgust, desire, and betrayal as though it were a ball pit full of M&Ms. If you’re ready to escape your life, I highly recommend two very different novels: Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne, and Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach. Borne takes you into a post-apocalyptic world where the protagonist questions every step she takes—but not the existence and good will of an otherworldly, amorphous being. Totally creative, weird, funny, and suspenseful—I didn’t think one time about my looming deadlines or the contents of my child’s lunchbox. Manhattan Beach, like all of Jennifer Egan’s work, was researched and executed so beautifully that the absorption is total. Not a detail out of place to make you think you aren’t really on the dock of a '40s shipyard with a sick sister at home and a mysteriously missing father. More from A Year in Reading 2017 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 [millions_ad]