Year End Reads

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Year End Reads

As the official winter season gets closer, the weather slows things down and instills a heaviness that really makes us feel ourselves in our bodies. When we are not as frenetic, books are a great companion to the new (but cyclical) rhythm. It’s a vista from which to take stock, particularly with a new year on the horizon line. The books below offer characters or writers who are speaking to a centeredness, steadiness, or timeliness. They are not all soft, but they are not all hard edges either; instead, they read like an assessment of self, urging characters toward understanding and leaving white space on the page for readers to do the same. 
 
With Ada Limon’s The Carrying, poetry is used to assess a life. Thematically, the book is a cataloging of her interactions with her attempts at pregnancy as she finds meaning in the life she has built for herself both in her marriage and in the language she still uses as lifeblood and vocation. She speculates on the landscape of Kentucky (not her first home) and the shifting lines between what we want and what is meant for us. With lines like “How my own body, empty, / clean of secrets, knows how to carry her, / knows we were all meant for something” giving insight into her embodiment of her life, we can perhaps see where we’ve fallen short of our ideas for ourselves, and take the time to re-write them instead of internalizing them as something that lessens us.
 
In The Center of Everything (also available as an e-book), Laura Moriarty introduces readers to a collection of characters it is difficult to walk away from once the book is over. Evelyn Bucknow, living with her single mother Tina in Kansas feels particularly rooted in the picture of her location (a tornado is mentioned on the third page), but large enough to feel herself spilling over its edges. She manages these feelings and a lot more so that by the end of the book, she understands her place in the world a little better and can pull the pieces of herself back into her own gravity, making her not in the middle of nowhere, but (as the title suggests) at the center of everything. The message is clear, but it is the empathy of Moriarty’s writing that illuminate the path she takes to get and make the book worth reading.
 
Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain is another book about someone on the cusp. Crain’s writing is lyrical and timeless despite being grounded in a very specific time and place (Prague in 1990 – one year after the Velvet Revolution). The book starts with Jacob, himself an aspiring writer, trying to make sense of what he is doing with his life as he leaves his home and goes to teach English in Prague, waiting for graduate school application responses. There he languidly moves through his life, building deep but ephemeral relationships with other expatriates and exploring his own sexuality in a place that is not, for the first time, somewhere that feels like home. The ending is almost beside the point, as it is the lived experience that fills the pages of the book. December always feels like the space between the old year and the new, and this book similarly exists at the juncture when what was is slowly shifting to what will be.
 
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling is a much less harmonic book but still an appropriate read for the end of the year. In parallel to the past twelve eventful months, the book is also journey, breaking down the state of the country alongside the state of its protagonist, Daphne (a single mom) as she struggles with her Turkish husband’s banishment from the United States due to a “processing error." Instead of finding ease, she arrives at situations that come to a head as she builds tenuous relationships with two other women while managing existence in a world that feels more and more divided. The book uses love and the character to detail many facets of what it is to be alive in 2018, making it a timely book as we head into the new year.
 
There There: A Novel by Tommy Orange
Garnering both praise and inclusion on many year-end lists, There There: A Novel is a book many people have likely already heard about. If it has slipped off of, or never entered your radar, it might be something to bear in mind when thinking about books relevant to December. As The Golden State does, the book follows the structure of a journey and ends with a conclusion that builds over the narrative. There There follows twelve Urban Indians in Oakland as they make their way to the Big Oakland Powwow. Orange’s characters are vibrant and his voice is something to really pay attention to as he wrings an energetic vitality out of his plot, compelling readers to imagine themselves on a journey, something that will end in its own way, with its own door to whatever is next.