Our Day 15 author bookends her list in the smart, poetic, alluring way of her memoir, The Chronology of Water. The Chronology is on the shortlist for a Pacific Northwest Book Award from the indie booksellers of this region; a good number of other year-end lists and non-lists; and was recommended by authors on Day 7 and Day 12 of this series. We’re pleased to present a “stockingful of emotional and linguistic dynamite” from Portland author Lidia Yuknavitch. Her next book, also from Portland’s Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts, is a novel called Dora: A Head Case. Her favorite indie store is Powell’s.
I think a lot about the chasm between bestselling books and books that make you
Feel something differently about your body or your life or your heartsong. I think
A lot about what we mean when we say “book” these days. I know a lot of different
Writers at this point in my life, and I can assure you, we all approach the one-eyed cyclops with similar vulnerabilities and victories. We all face the vast white of the page. We all do well sometimes, and not so well other times, and hide in the closet in a fetal ball on occasion.
I want to tell you about some books that may not have the neon light flashy economy of bestseller shooting out of them. Instead, they have the human condition shooting out of them, and they will be books you will hold very close to your chest. You won’t want to loan them out. You’ll want to write in them and lick them and rub them on your belly when no one is looking.
You can also consider these books a stockingful of emotional and linquistic dynamite. Ho ho.
I read two novels this year that made the top of my head lift off, to borrow an affect from Emily Dickinson. The first was Zipper Mouth by Laurie Weeks, a searing debut novel about life on the cusp in NYC, but also life on the cusp of being and not being. Then I read Zazen by Vanessa Veselka and the rest of my head just completely exploded. You will recognize our zeitgeist in the story of Della Mylinek, a woman whose world is literally devolving around her one molecule or bomb at a time. Why both of these novels made me happy in a kind of dark way is that they reminded me how it is that women writers can unearth the stories in culture’s blind spots.
I also read two electric memoirs, though I immediately want to turn back on that phrase and say I read two books that unraveled what we mean when we say “memoir.” Doug Rice’s Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist reminds me of what a book used to be—something with aura that you hold in your hands and want to become. Because the narrative enters the realm of dream and fantasy, both in form and content, you are never reading the story of an “I” the way you are used to. She is a he is a she. Names emerge and fall away. Sometimes there is only a trace of a word or image, what we leave behind every moment of our being. In Peter Hoffmeister’s stunning memoir, The End of Boys, we finally get to read about a boy coming to being a man without the convention of male narcissism. I know. Right? In the book you will be taken to the cusp of identity – where things either fall apart or reconstitute – and you will reconsider what we mean when we say “I heard voices.” Sometimes the voice is a life. There are boys surviving underneath the stories we hand boys to live or die with.
Then there are two books that defy genre altogether. The first is Lance Olsen’s Calendar of Regrets, a collage of 12 interconnected narraticules about travel, time, space and death. You will both recognize the stories we see all around us and be reminded that our entire reality is nothing but the will to make story. It’s probably the most important book of innovative fiction we have in America right now. In Ayiti, Roxane Gay’s debut collection, fiction, poetry and nonfiction are all woven into a strange fabric of art-truths orbiting around the Haitian diaspora experience.
Put simply, these books matter, or they are the matter. Maybe they are like resistance narratives in a time when the commmodification of the book is both at its Amazonian zenith and simultaneously collapsing into whatever’s next.