MATT’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2018
There There by Tommy Orange (Knopf)
There’s not much left to be said about this book, it was one of the biggest books of the year. It absolutely blew me away. The story follows twelve characters who, through their own eyes, seem distant, but as we read we recognize they are all connected. The story has tremendous pace to it and the narrative gathers into an explosive climax. I thought it for sure should have won the National Book Award for Fiction. A debut novel from an author with a ton of talent. And I cannot wait to read more from Tommy Orange.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (Knopf)
This is just a wonderful book. Washington Black is a young slave on a plantation in Barbados who becomes the assistant to a scientist on the island. As the heat, both temperature and anger, rises on the island, Wash escapes on a makeshift Zeppelin. And that is only the beginning. Wash’s adventures take readers from the Caribbean, to the Underground Railroad, to the Arctic, and to London, and the deserts of Morocco. Ultimately this is a book about friendship, discovery, love, and trust. I loved every second of it and hated to put it down.
Not Here by Hieu Minh Ngyuen (Coffee House Press)
Not Here is one of those collections of poetry that melts away your surroundings, fills you with warmth and wonder, and calls forth memories from lives that are separate for our own. It’s a punch straight to the heart and I loved it so, so much.
Rising by Elizabeth Rush (Milkweed Editions)
An essential book that speaks to issues such as how the forces of climate change are transforming the American coastlines, to the #metoo movement in science and scientific journalism, and an indictment of our collective inaction in the face of our civilization’s greatest most imminent threat. I read this book while I was travelling in the Philippines and remember sitting on the beach reading about the inevitable rise of the oceans and thinking about how, without dramatic action, we will all lose so much.
Night Moves by Jessica Hopper (University of Texas Press)
Here, Jessica Hopper pens an edgy, humorous, and expertly crafted love letter to Chicago. Sharing stories of late night bike rides to punk shows, and depictions of what it was like growing up as a writer in the arts scene of Chicago. Reading this book feels like you're hanging out with your most cool friend.
Almost Everything by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf Press, Wave Books, Soft Skull Press)
Now, before you scramble to open a 79th tab and search the web for this mysterious book titled Almost Everything by Maggie Nelson, what I mean is I read, and loved, almost everything by Maggie Nelson this year. Yes, this means I’m cheating on my “best books of 2018” rules but it’s my list and I do what I want. I started with Something Bright, Then Holes which was a poetry reissue and that opened up a wormhole in my mind that I just couldn’t find the end of. The Argonauts is a singular, genre-bending book that opened my heart and mind. The Red Parts and Bluets both astonished me in their own ways. It was such a unique reading experience to read these all at once and I long to find an experience like this again. Highly recommend.
After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel trans. by Rosalind Harvy (Coffee House Press)
This heartbreaking and sad and hopeful and romantic novel really took me by surprise. The book alternates between two main characters; one, a young women living in Paris and spends a lot of time in graveyards and cafes, and the other, a living, breathing asshole (maybe a bit harsh) in New York City who, like too many men, thinks he’s the smartest coolest man to ever walk the Earth when really he’s a little bit abrasive and definitely crazy. Their connection is fascinating and this novel is absolutely marvelous.
Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls (New Directions)
Did you love The Shape of Water? Well, this inspired that, except replace the Cold War espionage (that in my opinion felt forced and a bit overwrought) with a small town in the countryside and an absent husband. This novella just wrecked me; so beautiful in its portrayal of desire and true love. Plus, there’s frogman sex.
Stoner by John Williams (NYRB)
Of all the books on this list, I think this is the book that means the most to me. The book is ostensibly about nothing. I mean, it’s about a man who comes from nothing to become a college professor of English who marries the first woman he ever fell in love with and buys a house and starts a family and well… I don’t know how it ends. I never finished it. But the writing here is perfect. It’s just perfect. I was reading it this fall, and William Stoner reminded me so much of my own father, who passed away in September. I think one day I’ll finish it. I just may need a good bottle of whiskey and another decade or so.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (Mariner)
This book, too, holds a special place on this for me. The slumpbuster. In the weeks after my dad passed away, I was entirely unable to read. Two months, not a single page. I just couldn’t, and in some ways still can’t, get my mind disciplined enough to absorb the words. Until I started this book. This book showed me how to grieve. It showed me how to be a better friend. It showed me how to be a gardener. (How timely! I just got a yard!) It showed me that it’s okay to write again. These essays moved me in a way few books ever have. Just wonderful. If I ever get the chance to meet Alexander Chee, he’s getting a hug. He probably doesn’t appreciate hugs from strangers, especially tall lanky ones, but he’s getting a hug.
Bonus: My ten favorite live performances, in no particular order
Leon Bridges, Palace Theater
The Dip, 7th Street Entry
Julien Baker and Hanif Abdurraqib, Eaux Claires Music festival (YA IT WAS AS COOL AS IT SOUNDS!)
The National, Eaux Claires Music Festival (Holy damn so good!)
Tash Sultana, Palace Theater
Kevin Morby, Eaux Claires Music Festival
St. Lucia, Mamby on the Beach
Dave Simonett, ICEHouse MPLS
Portugal. The Man, Palace Theater
Bad Bad Hats, First Avenue