A dying year promises rebirth. As the Northern hemisphere turns its face away from the sun, we all tilt and tremble, waiting for the new.
This year has schooled me. I spent more time reading than I have in a while, and the books I’ve chosen are only some of those that thrilled me.
The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk: Gargantuan and restless, like Poland and all nations.
What Are You Going Through? by Sigrid Nunez: Inspired by a line from Simone Weil’s essay, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View toward God,” this novel attends to the pain of others.
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews: This novel, set in a Mennonite community like the one Toews was raised in, shows how the most acerbic tone can bleed tenderness.
Recitation by Bae Suah: The stories of a traveler, who seems to be one person and many.
Bohemian Magic by Veronica Varlow. Veronica is a childhood friend, and she’s been exuding pure magic for decades. Like Neil Gaiman says, “Learn from her.”
Patch Work by Claire Wilcox: Wilcox sweeps in and out of garments as she describes her work at the Victoria and Albert Museum and her life. From paeans to Frida Kahlo’s corsets to musings on exiting the museum after hours, her anecdotes teem with the ghosts within fabric.
Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim: This graphic novel, about the life of a Korean “comfort woman” forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese, made me cry. It also haunted me with its questions about narrating another’s story.
Devotion by Patti Smith: Because she’s a badass rocker and a piercing storyteller.
Climate Change, Interrupted by Barbara Leckie: This book by a Victorian literature scholar didn’t just remind me of how great Middlemarch and Frankenstein are. It also reaffirmed my belief that literature and literary writing have a role to play in fighting inertia amidst the climate crisis.
In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova: Every once in a while you find a shadow book, the one you may have written in another life.