I don't really have "favorite" books. I read too much, and I read too widely, to believe that any one book can encompass the totality of my tastes and reading experiences. Similarly, I think best-of lists are absolute bullshit. The only reason anyone ever made a list was because they wanted to start a fight. But here we are in the last week of the year, and I do think that some reflection is worthwhile. This week, I'll highlight some of the books by local authors that made my year in reading so memorable. Today, the focus is on novels.
It's been a tough year for me and fiction. The first year of Trump's presidency has stripped my attention span down to a nub. Non-fiction was relatively easy for me to read, but fiction demands attention and suspension of disbelief. Every time I open Twitter, my tolerance for disbelief shrinks a little further.
But these books by local authors reminded me why fiction is so vital. They helped me climb inside someone else's mind, to experience the world through someone else's eyes and ears and nose for a little while. Of all the novels and story collections I've read this year, these are the ones that took up residence in my head.
In a year when The Handmaid's Tale dominated the discourse, Jennie Melamed's Gather the Daughters told a different kind of dystopian story. The collapsed society of Daughters represents the pain and torment of victimized girls — Melamed works with traumatized children in her day job as a nurse practitioner — and as many horrors of sexual abuse have been revealed in the last half of this year, I've thought of this book again and again.
I'm always thankful for Doug Nufer's oulipian novels, which experiment with how much weight language and fiction can bear. This year, he published The Me Theme, and from its first line, the book laid out its particular echolalia: "O pen, open an aesthetic anaesthetic tome to me." It's a book that rhymes with itself multiple times in every sentence, revealing the patterns behind language and forcing the reader to think about words in a whole new way.
It's snide and reductive to say that Tara Atkinson's novella Boyfriends was "Cat People" before "Cat People" was "Cat People," but if that gets you to read the book, I'll say it. Boyfriends is about what it means to be a woman in a society where we still often judge women based on their relationship to men. It's funny and sad and it might make you mad, but you will definitely recognize the woman in this story.
Anca Szilágyi’s Daughters of the Air is a fantastic debut — a magical realist fairy tale set in gritty New York City. It's the kind of book that leaves you utterly confounded at the end, as you try to remember all the twists and turns that you took along the way. It feels like an impossible book, somehow — a product of alchemy, a creation of unearthly talents.
In Laurie Frankel's This Is How It Always Is, a family responds to the needs of their trans daughter with compassion and grace. It's a warm and loving book — a testament to parenting and empathy. In other words, it's exactly the book we need right now.