These are always difficult lists for me to compile since most of my reading dives into the past. That said, I still get around to some new releases and this year’s list references a few. Here’s my picks:
The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah Jones
Easy to understand why this one rattles the IWSCPs (imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchs—thank you, bell hooks). It doesn’t just shake the buildings, it shakes the tectonic plates. Hold on—the bumpy ride is just beginning.
Afterparties, Anthony Veasna So
Stories from a brilliant young writer whose passing just weeks before publication is one of the year’s greatest losses
Who They Was, Gabriel Krauze
Hybrid tales from the London estates in Kilburn, rife with intoxicating slang, frightening with implications.
Last Evenings on Earth, Roberto Bolaño
You enter this world, you stay in this world. You even come to like it, but why you’ll never know.
Craft in the Real World, Matthew Salesses
An unpacking of the creative writing workshop that, like the Nikole Hannah Jones above, shakes the tectonic plates. A provocative, important book for workshop leaders, participants, and institutions.
Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror, Carlos Basualdo and Scott Rothkopf
This catalogue, for the concurrent retrospective exhibitions of Johns’s vast output at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, gathers essays that range from historical, art historical, and speculative, from curators, art historians, and literary writers the likes of Terrance Hayes and Colm Tobin. Johns said, do something to an object, then do something else. Not a bad place to start for writers.
The Copenhagen Trilogy, Tove Ditlevsen
A riveting account of literary ambition forged out of cultural and economic deprivation.
Ditvelsen’s work set me off on a memoir kick. These three grabbed me.
How I Became Hettie Jones, Hettie Jones
Memoirs of a Beatnik, Diane di Prima
Feelings are Facts, Yvonne Rainer
The Jones and the di Prima depict a long lost New York City (the New York City I love, but missed, like the proverbial wave). So does the Rainer. The first two, like the Ditlevsen, concern aspiring writers, the third a dancer-filmmaker. Sex is also very much on the minds of these memoirists. Gore Vidal said that in the 1950s only three Americans were fucking: himself, Tennessee Williams, and JFK, and that left all the women to Jack. The accounts of these three women suggest something else. In each case, the fucking of the 50s leads the way to the more and merrier 60s.
Correctional, Ravi Shankar
And while I’m on memoirs, this. Shankar provides a detailed account of his family’s migration from India to the US, and his trajectory from celebrated poet/editor and professor to inmate of the Hartford Correctional Center, the Connecticut prison that forms some of the book’s most riveting scenes. Another important book that explores the 1619 turf of America’s “justice” system.
Oblivion, Robin Hemley
In this wildly and hilariously inventive posthumous autobiography by an author very much alive, Hemley explores both family history and the career misery of the mid-list writer. With a Kafka quest that echoes Flaubert’s Parrot.
Riverrun, Danton Remoto
Remoto's brilliant hybrid memoir-fiction-recipe book reissued here in the US, where, in the next few decades, we might be seeing our own bildungsromans of life under a dictatorship.
And three current releases in poetry:
Post-Mortem, Heather Altfeld
In “The Apoacalypse Club,” Altfeld writes, “Let’s face it, the end of days titillates …” The collection supports the claim.
Love and Other Poems, Alex Dimitrov
A collection firmly ensconced in New York City, and in the New York School circa now.
Earthly Delights, Troy Jollimore
With a sense of humor part Coen Brothers, part Slavoj Zizek, the poet-philosopher takes on the movies, and existence.