It’s been quite a year over here in Ponyland. I spent most of the year working on Innisfree, which required a good bit of revision (not to mention a lot of actual rewriting!). I also saw essays I was incredibly proud of published on The Rumpus and BuzzFeed LGBT and a short story in Empty Sink. The Light Ekphrastic and Wilde Magazine accepted my poetry for publication, and (strange and marvelous) the Hastings Women’s Law Journal asked me for a poem too (even though I am neither a lady nor a lawyer). An author I admire enormously included me on a list of the best living American short story writers (I still don’t know what to do with this). Someone else who seems to know what she’s talking about compared my work to Silas House’s work (I don’t know what to do with that either). So, yes, overall it was a good year.
The ship didn’t quite come in, but — even better! — I learned to build my own damn ship, which should be ready to sail pretty soon.
In addition, I read a lot (as usual), and some of what I read was just completely outstanding.
This year I don’t know how many items will be on my list. Last year I had eleven things on my top ten list, if that’s any sort of guide. Unlike last year, this time I am doing BOOKS and THINGS THAT ARE NOT BOOKS.
These are in no particular order except for the order in which they occurred to me:
- J. M. Legrand’s novel Submergence, which is a phenomenal novel about love and war and fear, or a phenomenal novel about the sea and the ocean, and the ways in which those are not the same thing. The use of language is astonishing and gorgeous, and sometimes there are sentences that explode you. I read it months ago and dream about it often.
- David Levithan’s novel Two Boys Kissing, a YA book that does SO MANY THINGS RIGHT. I went into it thinking that it would be a YA book about two queer boys, which I thought sounded nice, and I liked Levithan’s collaborative books, so… But really this is a love letter, and a bridge, from a whole generation of gay men to the generations that follow. It’s about love and AIDS, about hiding or deciding not to, about how you come to terms with the kind of boy you are, or don’t. The first time it made me cry was, if I remember correctly, on page eight. It might have been page two. And then it made me cry another several dozen times after that.
- Stacey D’Erasmo’s book about writing, The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between, one of Graywolf’s invaluable Art of… series. These are hands down my favorite books about writing (I would add to that list a handful of others, including Stephen King’s On Writing, if anyone’s keeping track). This one in particular is amazing; I had to get a second copy so I could make notes in it.
- Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rivka Brunt. Another book about love and loss and AIDS. Sometimes it seems like those appear on my lists all the time, and I’m okay with that. This one was superb. It works deep into your emotions without ever making you feel manipulated and weird, or like it’s A Very Special Episode with an Important Message. Yes, I cried.
- Save Yourself, by Kelly Braffett. When this novel came out, everyone was all, “OMG it’s like this year’s Gone Girl!” I was a bit meh about that, since I was a bit meh about Gone Girl, but then I read Save Yourself. It’s damn good, people. All the things that Gillian Flynn got right in Gone Girl (which were many) are done as well or better here, and all the aspects of Gone Girl that made me not quite love/like/want it are absent from Save Yourself. It is grim and horrifying, a lit fic thriller with a heart of gold, and I have thought about it almost every day since it came out in August.
- Colum McCann’s glorious TransAtlantic. Pretty much if there is a new book from Mr. McCann I am going to include it on my list, because he is so very good at what he does. This particular novel moves between the not-too-distant past and the present, mainly in Ireland although also in the northeastern reaches of the North American continent. It’s the best writing on Ireland I’ve read since Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys. And as usual, Mr. McCann’s people are deftly, humanely given breath and breadth.
- Things by Anne Ursu, generally. Both Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy are stellar books for children (middle grade, or perhaps younger YA), and I really admired and enjoyed the perspective that Ms. Ursu brought to the particular outsider children who populate her work. Likewise, she also posted several very interesting and intelligent pieces about writing, children, writing for children, books, and the literary world in a variety of forums this year. If you’re not reading her, you should be.
- Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War, by Joe Bageant, which is a difficult book. It’s about the people — usually white, usually poor or lower middle class, usually not very well-educated — who are the prey of the Right wing and the scapegoat of the Left. Most reporters who write about these people do so from a weird distance, or with incredible condescension, but Joe Bageant wrote about his own people in his own West Virginia town. His book is a valuable reminder that liberal progressives who are all, “Oh, well, TEXAS,” or “Oh, well, THOSE PEOPLE,” should go sit down and be quiet.
- A novel that I liked VERY MUCH this year was Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which does a tremendous job of moving a story through time. It’s also so good at humans, especially the means by which we must come to terms with our failings if we want to truly love our friends.
- Yes, Zadie Smith will be on this list every year forever, because she is amazing. This year, we had a lot of things from her, including this essay about voice, perception, etc. It has become required reading in my classes.
- This essay about love and tortoises, by Caroline Leavitt.
- A lot of articles about diversity in SF/F, including almost everything Daniel Jose Older wrote, and this, by N. K. Jemsin.
- Mia White’s lovely, sad essay about love, loss, and goldfish.
- A paper one of my students wrote about Black women in the American fashion industry, based on her experiences.
- EW’s interview/books of your life feature with Jonathan Franzen, which explained everything I ever wanted explained about him.
Most of what I read in 2013 was pretty damn good, whatever its genre/category/whatever. Now and then I stumbled into something completely terrible, as is often the case when one just picks things up and reads them. 2013 was much better than 2012 in terms of knowing how to feel about books I read, and whether or not I loved/hated them. This year there was only ONE of those, while last year there were a handful. This year, I also encountered a handful of ARCs, and I can tell you right now that one of them is definitely going to be on the top reads of 2014. Not just mine, but everyone’s. It’s crazypants good.
All of these books are available at Powell’s or your local indie store (plus those other places, yes).
To see all the books I read in 2013 (that I remembered to add to the list), you can check me out on Goodreads.