My 2018 in Reading and Writing

2018 was an eventful year. I had surgery. I started going to therapy again. I wrote about love, and the importance of voting while disillusioned, and a year of #MeToo, and activism fatigue, and Roseanne and Roseanne again, and how it is our responsibility to deal with Trump’s racism, and the shooting in Thousand Oaks, and Louis C.K. and men like him who think they can dictate their comebacks, and a short story called Boy In a Coma, and whether or not we can separate the art from the artist, and how much I hated the show Insatiable, and I am forgetting some things but I am not so good at keeping track anymore. My very first book, Ayiti, was re-released. My memoir, Hunger, came out in paperback. I curated an anthology about Unruly Bodies, and an anthology about rape culture called Not That Bad, and edited Best American Short Stories 2018. I worked on things you will be reading or watching in the coming years. I wrote an episode of a limited series and the studio didn’t like it and it was a failure but I learned from it. I had my first manicure and the manicurist came to my apartment and made our fingernails pretty. I went to a movie premiere with my best friend and we met Janelle Monae and saw lots of celebrities including M’Baku, a man who makes me wish I was a carrot. I won an Eisner for World of Wakanda, and I am really proud of that. I traveled way too much and did a lot of speaking engagements. I saw Beyoncé and her fella in concert with seven wonderful people and we had really great seats. Beyoncé waved at me so we might be married now. I went to Vegas with new friends and saw Magic Mike Live and the show is masterful and the drinks are HUGE. A difficult thing happened but it happened with a lot of grace and love. I had to deal with my feelings instead of eating them and I did, mostly. I appeared on I Love You America. I did an event with Geena Davis. I bought a house and did it all on my own and it still doesn’t feel real because I never thought such a thing would be possible. I learned that when you own a house you are responsible for its care and feeding. On a very bad day, the plumbing exploded two weeks after I moved in. I quit my day job because I was not valued there the way I deserve to be valued at this point in my career and if I am thinking too highly of myself for that, I will be okay. I won a Guggenheim fellowship. I received a presidential fellowship from Yale University which brought one part of my life full circle and now I am teaching there I guess. I started dating a lovely woman who walks very fast, and thinks she is 5'4.5", bless her heart (she’s like 5'2"). I exercised a lot and hated every moment of it. I went to London for the first time and it was fine but the people I met were amazing and I enjoyed going on the London Eye and the Tate Modern was well worth the visit. I made a Skillshare class. I went on the Bitch Sesh podcast which is such important work. I worked with my Purdue thesis students and now they’re getting agents and selling the books they wrote and I could not be more proud. I saw Hamilton and loved it. I did a conversation thing with Hannah Gadsby who is a delight. I saw The Color Purple and absolutely loved it. I saw Once On This Island and absolutely loved it. I was able to go to theater again because I could sort of fit in the seats instead of not being able to fit at all. I went to a fancy party with a friend and we saw fancy people. I went to another fancy party with that friend and we saw fancy people. I was often immature on Twitter. I was interviewed 333 times. I let the world know I have nemeses, and they will be defeated. There are nine, but the main one, she receives the majority of my petty energy, as she fucking well should.

I also read a lot and as I do every year, here is that reading list…

My favorite book:

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Sunburn was dark but not too dark, thrilling, richly descriptive with an utterly compelling protagonist. What I particularly liked about her was how unapologetic and ruthless she was. Lippman really leaned into letting this character be terrible in an eminently readable way. I read this book at a furious pace and never forgot about it all year. Sunburn was a reminder that storytelling matters and good storytelling is all too rare.

My second favorite book:

All the Names They Used For God by Anjali Sachdeva

It was a close tie for my favorite two books of the year. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is exemplary. I knew nothing about this book going in and was thrilled by each story. There is so much range here, and there is a nice fabulist edge to nearly all the stories. The writer wields so much confidence and control in her prose and my goodness, what imagination, what passion there is in this work. From one story to the next I felt like the writer knows everything about everything. One of the best collections I’ve ever read. Every single story is a stand out.

The other best books of the year:

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani
Chemistry by Weike Wang
Meet Behind Mars by Renee Simms
Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu
In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee
You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

The book I loved despite initially reading it out of pettiness and I feel really bad about that pettiness because there’s room for all of us to thrive and maybe someday I will win a Pulitzer, too:

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

A book I didn’t care for that I reviewed for The New York Times:

Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters by Tom Santopietro

Incredible romance novels I read that genuinely moved me, made me believe in love and romance all over again, and that I highly recommend to anyone who will listen:

Whiskey and Ribbons by Leesa Cross Smith
The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Books I Blurbed So Of Course They Are Excellent:

Heavy by Kiese Laymon
I Can’t Date Jesus by Michael Arceanaux
Lilith, But Dark by Nichole Perkins
A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing by Damaris B. Hill
Museum of the Americas by J. Michael Martinez
We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Thick And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Brute by Emily Skaja
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Everything’s Trash But That’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson
Maid by Stephanie Land

A book I hated, not just because I do not care for the author but because the essays were mostly bland, indulgent, and the one about writing rules made my eyes roll at a fast and furious speed:

The End of the End of the Earth by Jonathan Franzen

A book everyone but me seemed to love where I kept thinking, “This person hates women:”

Cherry by Nico Walker

A book about the possibilities of whiteness and the scammer of all scammers:

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

A book to which my response, throughout, was the gif of a black man holding a red Solo cup pursing his lips as he turns away:

She Wants It by Jill Soloway

Two fascinating, cerebral, nuanced thrillers with a really complex protagonist:

The Lost One by Sheena Kamal
All Falls Down by by Sheena Kamal

Amazing poetry collections that reminded me, as excellent poetry always does, about how poetry can open the world up in unexpected ways:

Blood Vinyls by Yolanda J. Franklin
American Sonnets For my Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes
Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen
Fragile by Cheryl Hopson
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen
Oceanic by Aimee Nehzukumatathil

A poetry collection where I simply did not understand or feel a connection to the poems but you might:

Blue Rose by Carol Muske-Dukes

A challenging novel that made me uncomfortable but was stylistically quite interesting:

Any Man by Amber Tamblyn

A gorgeous book that’s hard to explain but is highly worth reading from an author who doesn’t get nearly enough attention for her brilliance:

Frail Sister by Karen Green

A book about the “president,” his enablers, and all his bullshit and the book was clearly rushed and is a hot mess but if you want to know how terrible things are it offers some insight:

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

A warm, raucous, wonderful memoir about the life of a chef I read after the author died (RIP) because I wanted to know more about him:

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Two books—a series of deeply considered, intelligent conversations about branding and a book of intriguing, complex, moving visual essays—that are both excellent and written by a talented woman:

Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman
Self-Portrait As Your Traitor by Debbie Millman

A short story collection by an author I greatly admire and whose books I generally love but not this time:

Days of Awe by A.M. Homes

A thriller I very much wanted to like but that was poorly written, poorly conceived, and disappeared from my mind as soon as I finished the last page:

Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton

A rather underrated book that is part memoir, part cultural history of addiction and which I found quite compelling:

The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

A novel so good, so richly written that I remain filled with envy, but the productive kind that makes me want to try and write something as good:

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

A fun novel about a serial killer and her sister, I mean, it’s right there in the title:

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithewaithe

BAN MEN:

The Power by Naomi Alderman

A sequel to a space opera I read a couple years ago and I love both books and the world building so much and I cannot wait for the next installment and I hope it is coming out soon because I AM READY:

The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi

A moving memoir I enjoyed and that surprised me, more than once:

Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

A chilling but poetic book about rising waters and the erosion of American shores and how the effects of global warming are many, alarming, and so very urgent:

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush

A book by a man I met in a signing line once and I told him I would read his book so I did and the book is good:

Eat the Apple by Matt Young

A good novel I wished was longer, from which I wanted more even though that’s not how any of this works:

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

Two outstanding short story collections that are smart, witty, and so very well written:

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires

An outstanding novel about a young man struggling with anorexia and being alive who has an incredible power he may not be able to control:

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller

A novel that is timely, beautifully written, with descriptions and moments so tangible I was utterly immersed:

Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester

A dazzling chapbook of flash fiction:

A Bright and Pleading Dagger by Nicole Rivas

A formidable book by a black woman that centers black women and does so eloquently:

Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper

An interesting book about North Korea that isn’t perfect but still I learned a lot in reading it:

Without You There Is No Us by Suki Kim

Books that underwhelmed me but that are well written and worth reading and it’s me not the books:

There There by Tommy Orange
Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

A remarkable book that came out some time ago but that I only discovered this year and is just, like I said, remarkable, gritty, the kind of read that hurts in the best possible way:

Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun.

A strange, intriguing novel about a grieving woman in Cuba who finds her dead husband, as one does:

The Third Hotel by Laura Vandenberg

A gripping YA novel I really enjoyed and I cannot wait for the next book in the series and why do they make us wait like this:

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

A book about the oil fields of North Dakota:

Great American Outpost: Dreamers, Mavericks and the Making of an Oil Frontier by Maya Rao

Two memoirs:

Sick by Porochista Khakpour
The Weight of Being by Kara Richardson Whitely

Some nonfiction that was… fine I guess but not very good:

Our Town: A 100,000 mile journey into the Heart of America by James Fallows and Deborah Fallows
The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West by John Branch
Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich