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 non-fiction.
A lot of the best non-fiction I read this year was by non-Seattle authors. Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy blew my mind with the way it nonchalantly tore apart the memoir tradition and created something new. And Amy Goldstein's Janesville was one of the most interesting and informative books about the problems with American politics that I read this year.
It wasn't a banner year for non-fiction, locally. There were some well-researched histories and a few cultural books released by local authors that were pretty good. These three books stood high above all the rest as testaments to the Northwest tradition of storytelling.
The fact that Fantagraphics had to publish the definitive history of Fantagraphics — a massive book called We Told You So will always strike me as a shame. I wish someone else would want to record the life and history and legacy of the greatest comics publisher in the world. But Fantagraphics went and did it themselves, and the book is fun and funny and gossipy. It will make you want to cast your life aside and take up the monklike tradition of publishing. And then you'll likely come to your senses, and not a moment too soon.
Seattle Times reporter Claudia Rowe's The Spider and the Fly is a true crime book that looks inward. Rowe writes about her personal interactions with a horrible serial killer who likely only killed for as long as he did because the prostitutes he killed were beneath society's notice. Some readers will likely find the memoir pieces of Spider to be frustrating, but that's only because they're looking for a generic true crime formula. Instead, Rowe is piecing together her own history after deeply examining the history of a genuine monster.
Sherman Alexie's memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is tender and hilarious and harrowing. It's about one of the worst years in Alexie's life, and it made 2017, which is likely to be the worst year in many people's lives, a little more survive-able. Alexie's writing is so readable that many readers fail to notice the intricate structures and deeply thoughtful construction that goes into the book. This is one of Alexie's very best books, which means it's automatically one of the best books to come out this year.