New Year, New Lists: Best Books of This Year and Last
Jan 20, 2018
By Colorado Review Associate Editor Aliceanna Stopher
Although I’m painfully pop-culturally behind—I just got to Lost and there’s something funny about that island nobody better spoil for me—I’ve made it my mission to read as much of what’s current as I’m able. At first this sprang from the squirmy suspicion that if I’m going to write contemporarily (and isn’t all writing making a kind of literary conversation?) that it’s, at the very least, impolite to not read contemporarily. Initial superficial reasons aside, I hadn’t realized how much I’d been craving modern company in my reading until I became more conscious of it; hadn’t realized how useful to my own writing reading super fresh literature could be. Which is not to say I don’t also read whatever I please regardless of publication date but only to suggest to you fellow writers and avid readers out there that putting your ear to the door of the literary party happening right now might embolden you to reach your hand up to the knob and twist.
So find below (as if you needed more to add to your reading list) a few titles published in 2017 that I’m still gushing about, as well as what I’m looking forward to in 2018:
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The eight stories in this collection—retellings, steamy and strange modern fables, form-challengers and rule-breakers—are each a dazzling spell. When I finished the first story, “The Husband Stitch,” I gasped. In public. Loudly. The gasp, which may have turned heads, was out of shock, admiration, and recognition (both joyful and envious) of a damn near-perfect story. I couldn’t put the rest of the collection down. These stories are under my skin, still.
In a similar storytelling vein, I’m looking forward to Ramona Ausubel’s Awayland: Stories, coming out March sixth, which I expect will be, like Machado’s collection, delightfully odd but with a slightly more earnest heart. Both writers have been compared to Karen Russell which I suppose means I should probably read Karen Russell.
I feel lucky to have heard Dungy read from this essay collection last summer not long after its publication. I remember sitting in the audience rapt; occasionally, teary-eyed. These essays are journeys indeed, deeply rooted in place and mapping necessary histories in Dungy’s stunning and thoughtful prose. I recently heard one of the hosts of the All The Books podcast (an excellent resource if, like me, you’re always on the lookout for what’s new) gushing about Dungy’s collection, and was so excited to vigorously nod along with all the host’s praise.
Hot off the press, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo just came out January sixteenth. You may know Oluo from her widely read pieces online, an interview with Rachel Dolezal in The Stranger among them. As a fan of Oluo’s shorter work at The Establishment, I’m excited to get to spend an entire book length’s amount of time with this writer.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker: Before teaching for the first time, I bopped around online to find young contemporary poets to introduce myself, and my students to. Luckily, I bopped into a corner of the Internet with a most anticipated poetry collection list for 2017, and Parker’s collection was first on the list. I’m pretty sure I immediately preordered it. The poems didn’t disappoint. Dripping in pop culture, both in celebration and criticism, Parker’s poems miraculously seem both deeply private and graciously inviting. My students were struck by them, too.
This intersection of the political and personal is paramount in my reading, and I anticipate Don’t Let Them See Me Like This by Jasmine Gibson will, like Parker’s collection, work in that highly charged space. She’ll be a new writer to me, but thankfully I’ll have time to read her previous work online and build up my anticipation before her book comes out July third.
Monstress Volume Two: The Blood consists of issues seven through twelve of writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda’s gripping series that centers around (you guessed it) a young girl monster, Maika Halfwolf. The world of the series feels true to me somehow, like a possible past that just so happens to be magical and mystical and a little steampunk-y. This series is a must read if you’re into girl rage, cats, magic, and in this second installation, pirates.
One of my faves, Jeff Lemire, has a new series, Gideon Falls, coming out this March with co-creator and artist Andrea Sorrentino. From what I’ve read it’ll deal with two things dear to my heart: city trash and recluses. I’m counting down the days.
With my lists on the table, I wonder about yours. What books did you love in 2017? What books are you salivating for this coming year?