Best Books of 2018, Largely Outdated

I suppose I could open with politics or some state of the union in 2018, maybe comment on race relations or gender inequalities, but the truth is I used reading often as an escape to get a little lightness away from the frequent burden of news. Being in Portland, something of a comics capital, I saw a lot of great sequential art and visual storytelling. Also going to a poetry workshop put on my Zyzzyva, I read a lot more poetry, finding a little solace in verse.

Fat City, Leonard Gardner

Early in the year I read about California. While Silicon Valley is thriving and money pours into the bay, I focused on two (fictitious) boxers in Stockton, a young up-and-comer and a washed up older man, doing everything he can to reclaim some slice of his former glory. The story is about struggle in a state that promises so much but, ultimately, not everyone gets a stake. Like Grapes of Wrath, this book shows the Golden State’s version of the American Dream, not from high-rises, but from the cracks on the concrete and the blood on the canvas.

Wonderland, Matthew Dickman

This is the book that got me the poetry workshop. Matthew Dickman’s precise poetry is not new, but this collection illustrates growing up lower-class in Portland and the Pacific Wonderland. Some themes in his work may be masculine, but vulnerable and original. Overall, his poems are gut-wrenching and darkly beautiful, and merit several rereads.

Read “Minimum Wage” by Matthew Dickman

Supergods, Grant Morrison

Starting back in the thirties, Grant Morrison, polarizing comic writer, takes us on a historical tour. We start with Superman, Batman, and Captain America, move to near death of comics in the 1950s, the Silver Age rebirth in the early sixties with the Fantastic Four, and then move up to present day.

Morrison moves quickly and analytically from characters, breaking them down, but discussing what they say about us and the social-political climate surrounding the creation and changes our beloved capes undergo. The narrative shifts from history lesson to autobiography as Morrison subtly introduces himself and his journey as a young reader, writer, and comic superstar.

Best Slice of Trivia: The creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, a sexually liberal professor, also created the lie detector and practiced sexual bondage with his wife, ere go the Lasso of Truth.

Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan

With Axel Rose, Christian music festivals, and the Real World, John Jeremiah Sullivan dives into the most esoteric niches of our American culture. He relentlessly probes deeper into his stories and interviews, pissing off Bunny Wailer and reckoning with his own past obsessions with religion. Sullivan can’t stay out of the story, and that’s what makes his essays so addicting. In showing us these deep American recesses, our pop culture obsessions, and the dark side of the himself, we as readers come back around and reveal the collective American consciousness, or simply, he shows us to ourselves.

John Jeremiah Sullivan in GQ on Bunny Wailer, “The Last Wailer”

Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger

I suppose I could not stay entirely hopeful in a year of books. In Friday Night Lights—you know the series and the movie—Bissinger unearths West Texan values and football culture. Following the 1988 Permian Panthers for a season, Bissinger exposes the small town of Odessa, stranded in the American desert. A town of poverty to oil boom money to rags again, a town of black v. white, a town of high school celebrities that peak and wash up to dead-end jobs at eighteen.

This is a story I too have become obsessed with. I push the movie. I recommend the book. Every time I see that movie or rifle through passages of the book, I pull for the ’88 Panthers harder, hoping for yards, first downs, and glory for those boys.

I also combed through the immense and intense world building of Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation trilogy, read the melancholy verse of Maggie Nelson in Something Bright, Then Holes, marveled at the art in Tokyo Ghost by Remender/Murphy/Hollingsworth, saw the coming end of the cowboy era in Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing, laughed and was moved by George Bilgere’s Haywire, read more and more of Mignola’s Hellboy, discussed gods with Thor: God of Thunder by Jason Aaron (while drooling over Esad Ribic’s pages; may be one of the best comic artists ever), was stunned by the new, chicano Ghost Rider in All-New Ghost Rider, and laughed once again at Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos, in Zakopane, southern Poland under the Tatra mountains, where the plotlessness is the point.

I have to admit my major shortcoming is a lack of diversity. While I may have read many short stories of women, POC, LGBTQ, etc. in literary magazines or online, I never spend more than a day with any of them. My New Years goal is to read a short story every day, but also to spread the love to a variety of narratives.


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