I want to read and I want to write "stories that have to be written." Everybody will have their own definition of that, but mine is stories that scratch an itch I might not have known was there, and once scratched, I feel relief; stories that express something in a particular writer's essential voice (a voice that doesn't belong to or mimic anyone else) and move the culture or change a perspective; or stories that make me laugh really hard.
This year was low on comedy, but high on scratching itches. And if I couldn't stop talking about a book, or if I didn't talk about it at all because it was too personal, or if it left me with flashbacks that are between me and myself, it's on this short list of 2018 favorites.
Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country (Steve Almond) got below the surface of our politics, biases, and affinities and told the truth about how we created the swirling mess we're negotiating.
Circe (Madeline Miller) uses mythology in a way that feels current and more truthful than truth to tell a strong woman's journey—the journey of a woman who could be any of us.
Cove (Cynan Jones), in a mere 92 pages, makes you feel how badly we really want to live and survive. After reading a library copy, I had such a craving to be able to pick it up whenever I wanted that I bought a copy and read it again. It gets better every time.
The Overstory (Richard Powers) made me see my own—our own—smallness in the context of all nature, and this view was comforting in such turbulent times of environmental abuse.
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death (Maggie O'Farrell) is all about a magnificent and singular writer's voice. It is not only gorgeous language, but it makes one's heart pound.
Fear: Trump in the White House (Bob Woodward) is as much about writer's voice as it is about the topic. There is a bird's eye view of our imbroglio and no judgment—astounding clarity and compassion.
In the Land of Armadillos (Helen Maryles Shankman) is a perfect book that I spoke about to no one, except to write my review here. It is still haunting me.
Big Picture (Percival Everett) did a slow explosion in my head after I read it. There is a magically repeating structure using the same character in stories #1, #4, and #9 in this collection of nine. The protagonist's journey may be obscure to some readers. For me, it burst into clarity a couple of days after finishing the book and I am still thinking about it.
Man with a Seagull on His Head (Harriet Paige) is a huge book in a tiny package (200 taut pages) that left me blown to bits.