It’s gift-giving season, and the best gifts are literary gifts. If you’re looking for ideas, my own favorites of 2018 include local writer Bruce Holbert’s axe blade of a novel Whiskey (MCD 2018), Laura Read’s shimmering poetry collection, Dresses from the Old Country (BOA Editions 2018), Wayétu Moore’s magical, frank novel about colonization and slavery, She Would Be King (Graywolf Press 2018), Thi Bui’s graphic memoir about immigration and displacement, The Best We Could Do (Harry N. Abrams 2018), Leni Zumas’s warning bell of a novel Red Clocks (Back Bay Books 2018), and Carmen Maria Machado’s strange and thrilling story collection, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf Press 2017).
Here are more recommendations from area writers, booksellers and librarians, available to purchase or order from Auntie’s, our awesome local independent bookstore:
Bruce Holbert (author of Whiskey): Denis Johnson’s Largesse of the Sea Maiden (Random House, 2018) possesses a capacity for empathy and at the same time an organic moral orientation that never indicts his characters but doesn’t let them off the hook for their flaws either.
Leyna Krow (author of I’m Fine But You Appear to be Sinking): I’m plugging new-to-Spokane author Elliot Reed’s book, A Key To Treehouse Living (Tin House 2018). It’s a narrative hidden inside a glossary. The protagonist/glossary-writer is a teenage orphan whose travels down the Mississippi on a homemade raft, Huck Finn style, to find information about his father. The story is revealed through the definitions he provides in his glossary—an attempt to make sense of both the world around him and his own place in it.
Maureen McQuery (author of The Peculiars and the forthcoming Between Before & After): The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth, a novel for young adults (HarperTeen, Oct 2018). This is a book about longing for home and discovering where we truly belong. It’s set in post WWII London and alternates between historical fiction and a fantasy setting. Great for those who love The Chronicles of Narnia.
Laura Read (author of a beautiful 2018 poetry collection, Dresses from the Old Country): My choice is Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee (Pamela Dorman Books 2018). It’s a story of two sisters, one of whom suffers from mental illness. The novel gives both of their points of view and does a great job exploring the effects of the illness on both people and the relationship between the sisters. And even though it’s about a painful and serious subject, it has funny moments.
Jackie McCowen Rose (author of multiple essays and stories in the Lilac City Fairy Tales anthologies, organizer of the Diverse Voices Circle at Spark Central): An older title, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, (Vintage paperback, 2015). A story of life after a devastating pandemic that illuminates and uplifts human resiliency and community, in spite of terrible events. Resonates in these times….
Eva Silverstone (Librarian, Downtown Spokane Public Library): Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (Walker Books Ltd 2018). This is a picture book about a boy who spends time with his grandmother and he wants to dress up and become a mermaid. It’s beautifully illustrated and very accepting of all people and their choices. It will make you cry from joy.
Alexis M. Smith (author of Marrow Island and Glaciers): My son and I recommend Where the Woods End by Charlotte Salter (Dial Books 2018). A fantasy for the middle-reader set, the story follows twelve-year-old Kestrel as she attempts to hunt the “grabber” who took her grandmother. There are truly scary moments, and some twisted turns of the plot, but the lyrical prose makes for a perfect read-aloud for those with who love a good shiver.
Kathryn Smith (author of Book of Exodus): Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen (Omnidawn 2018), a poetry collection and a finalist for the National Book Award. Centered around the death of the poet’s brother, these poems act sometimes like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, sometimes like the half-finished puzzle’s incomplete image, as Nguyen tries to come to terms with her brother’s suicide and to restructure her own life around this new reality.
Margaret Starry (events coordinator for Auntie’s Bookstore): My pick would have to be Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (Back Bay Books paperback, 2018). Red Clocks is the most politically relevant fiction read of 2018. Through the lives of five women, Zumas explores what it means to inhabit the body of a woman in a reality where pro-choice options have become inaccessible to women. Zumas constructs a deep and visceral understanding of female identity that will leave any reader, regardless of political preferences, thinking about what it means to possess control over a body.
Rachel Toor (author of multiple titles including Write Your Way In and Misunderstood): This spring a friend forwarded to me a review of Sharp: The Women Who Made An Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (Grove 2018) with a subject line that read, “Sharp, like you.” This book features women like Dorothy Parker, Hannah Arendt, and Renata Adler—women who were called “sharp,” and not necessarily as a compliment. In the days of #metoo and #timesup, it’s great to read about ten strong, smart women who were unafraid of saying what they thought.