Here’s my Top Ten list of favorite books read in 2018 (all are in paperback and only one was actually first published this year). I’d love to see your list!
The Cartel by Don Winslow. If you read his Mexican drug war novel The Power of the Dog, then you probably waited in line for this sequel, a brutal masterpiece that continues Winslow’s take- no-prisoners unmasking of the real culprits (allow me to name check the late first President Bush) in the ongoing narcotics apocalypse of North America. This trilogy concludes with The Border, due out in February, and I’ve pre-ordered that, too.
The New Valley by Josh Weil – A debut novel (really three novellas) set in rural Southwest Virginia, its chiseled sentences and hard scrabble situations spark like a hoe striking stone. Sent a copy to my friend in prison and he has not stopped asking me for more like it. Sadly, haven’t found one.
Chattahoochee by Patrick Phillips. I attended this serious young poet’s affecting reading at St. Phillips Church here in Richmond, then spent a week poring over his rich cycle of poems about growing up alert, hurt, and in wonder at the world about you.
This Young Monster by Charlie Fox. Fierce, loving essays about monsters that had me rethinking prejudice, disability, my face in the mirror, and all the Others that scare and fascinate us. Sent me back to Shelley’s Frankenstein, to Diane Arbus’ photographs, to David Lynch’s whole oeuvre with woke eyes.
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Catching up on the classics, read this feet on the ground/head in the sky epic during a beach week. Don’t think I’ll ever appreciate an Outer Banks sunrise more.
Walking on Alligators by Susan Shaughnessy. Inspirational quotes by writers for writers, one to a page, glossed by short essay prompts. Reading a page each morning became an essential element of my preparatory routine for writing. Lacking a sequel, I’m starting over at page one now.
The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder. The great beat poet is a leader of the Deep Ecology movement, and these essays may change how you walk in the world. My favorite quote: “An ethical life is one that is mindful, mannerly, and has style. Of all moral failings and flaws of character, the worst is stinginess of thought, which includes meanness in all its forms.”
Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Snyder the young zen acolyte, woodsman and poet is the star of this novel, which to my mind rivals On the Road. Somehow had never read it before. Here’s my take on the book from an earlier blog post: On Reading a Worn Copy of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums at 62.
Collected Essays by James Baldwin. A favorite birthday gift last year, this book burned up my bedside table. No one has ever written with this intensity and rue about inequality in America. Start with The Fire Next Time, a time capsule from the 1960s that speaks directly to now.
A Short History of the World by E. H. Gombrich – Yes, this is a children’s history book, and it has you feeling like a child again, sitting on your wise old uncle’s knee as he recounts a life well-lived. Pipe ash flits onto your p.j.’s, but you don’t care, because the tale he tells has never been expressed so well. Dare you to find another children’s book that risks a quote this profound: We are like that. Each one of us no more than a tiny glimmering thing, a sparkling droplet on the waves of time which flow past beneath us into an unknown, misty future. We leap up, look around us and, before we know it, we vanish again. We can hardly be seen in the great river of time. New drops keep rising to the surface. And what we call our fate is no more than our struggle in that great multitude of droplets in the rise and fall of one wave. But we must make use of that moment. It is worth the effort.
That’s it! Tag you’re it! In 2019, stay calm and read on!