Best of 2019: Books

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Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW’s “Bookworm,” has put together his favorite books of the year (in no particular order). 

Three books by Eve Babitz (New York Review Books Classics):

Eve’s Hollywood
Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh and L.A.
I Used to be Charming: The Rest of Babitz

Cover images of Eve Babitz’s books. Photo credit: New York Review Books

We have to be grateful to find these back in print.  Eve Babitz has done as much as anyone (except maybe the very different Joan Didion) to define an L.A. state of mind.  She’s fun to read and her essays stay with you for weeks after you read them, teasing your mind with insight after indelible insight.  Great gifts.

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes (Penguin Poets)

The cover of “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin.” Photo credit: Penguin Poets

Brilliant, scary, stinging poems written every day for the first few months after Donald Trump took office.  Terrance Hayes gets my nomination for one of the three liveliest poets writing today (don’t ask about the others - they are on this list).  Probably everyone you know needs this book for mental health and well-being.

Making Comics by Lynda Barry (Drawn and Quarterly)

The cover of “Making Comics.” Photo credit: Drawn and Quarterly

Lynda Barry. Courtesy of Lynda Barry 

This beautifully designed how-to-do-it book will help anyone, adult or child, to regain the spirit of freedom, improvisation and joy that will teach them first to draw and then to make comics.  Really a fun book of useful suggestions and assignments.

Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li (Random House)

Yiyun Li. Photo credit: Agence Opale

In the most moving book I’ve read in this decade, Yiyun Li invents a sort of metaphysical limbo in which a mother speaks to her dead child and he answers her.  Neither depressing nor despairing, Yiyun Li writes a book for which the many parents of lost children can be grateful. The book is a singular, nearly unimaginable accomplishment.

A Sand Book by Ariana Reines (Tin House Books)

Ariana Reines. Photo credit: Nicolas Amato

A glorious full-length (323 pages) book of poetry about (as the poet says) “love, ethics, mourning, rage, magic and the search for the sacred in this information age.”  It’s a powerful and sensuous book about transience: I’ll be reading it for years to come. 

Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by Laszlo Krasnahorkai (New Directions)

The cover of “Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming.” Photo credit: New Directions

A masterpiece, the culminating work of the extraordinary Hungarian writer’s career.  “I am the one who, by the truth of God, is simply waiting for all of this to be over,” ends a warning in the book’s opening pages.   Translated by Ottilie Mulzet, it’s the only book on this list not originally written in English. The alternation of narrative darkness and radiant syntactical beauty makes this my personal favorite on this year’s list.

Dunce by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books)

Mary Ruefle. Photo credit: Matt Valentine

The third book of poetry on my list.  It’s been a strong year for poetry. This book takes up the important subject of stupidity.  In these hilarious and melancholy poems Ruefle fears she has become a dunce, then she wonders if that’s so very bad given the alternatives offered in our difficult times.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy, volume 1) by Marlon James (Riverhead Books)

The cover of “Black Leopard, Red Wolf.” Photo credit: Riverhead Books

This Jamaican writer won the Man Booker Award.  Still the news that he’s been working on a fantasy trilogy was underwhelming.  Well, open it up. James has written the funniest, sexiest, most musical book I’ve read in a long time.  Completely off the charts, and wait until you meet those hyenas with their sex toys! I never would have guessed I’d enjoy this so much.  I can’t wait for the next volumes.

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck - Ann Beattie (Viking)

The cover of “A Wonderful Stroke of Luck.” Photo credit: Viking

I love this novel and yes, I know that opinions of it vary widely.  My enjoyment of it puts it in the upper stratosphere of books this year.  Surprises on nearly every page and those beautifully crafted Ann Beattie sentences.  Suggestion: keep track of the characters by keeping a list and brace yourself for a wild ride!

Two books by Dave Eggers (Knopf):

The Parade
The Captain and the Glory

Dave Eggers. Photo credit: Brecht van Maele

These two very short novels by Dave Eggers prove that he is still doing some of his strongest work.  Considering that both of them came out this year and that the second is the wildest and funniest satire of our president I’ve read so far, it’s a great relief to see that Eggers has not lost his edge, in fact he’s turning himself into one of our great  political novelists.