Monday, December 24, 2018

A TNBBC Twist on "Top 2018" Lists

2018 was a rough reading year for me, clocking in an all-time low of 40 books for the year. Granted, I did spend more of my free time focusing on freelance publicity, and most of what I read was for "work" purposes. Since I haven't read enough to create an impactful Year End list, I thought I'd enlist the help of some of my author friends, and see what books they were most impressed by.

The TNBBC Author Series: Top 2018 Reads

(author of Mr. Neutron)

This book renewed my faith in imaginative, intellectual writing. The stories in Chiang’s collection combine science fiction with themes of faith and possibility to create tales that speak to where humanity finds itself in the present day.

From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler
Possibly the best book about writing I’ve read, and I’ve read dozens. Butler connects good writing to the way in which people (readers) experience the world—through sensory perception. Then he takes the concept an extra step and shows writers how to apply those perceptions and the reactions to them in their work.

The Nix, Nathan Hill
A whopper of a book at over 700 pages, and yet it’s a fast read because you just can’t put it down. Hill uses the Chicago riots of 1968 as the backdrop to his story about finding family and self in an increasingly self-centered and confusing world. No gimmicks, no polemics, just compelling writing.

Throw out every preconception you have about human origins. Abandon the myth that we are born of different races. Recent DNA analysis shows how human interbreeding and migration over hundreds of thousands of years has produced the people we are today, with much more in common than we ever imagined.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

I reread this book to help inspire a new project. It’s even more apropos today, as our society seems headed toward authoritarianism, than it was when it came out. 

Joe Ponepinto’s latest novel, Mr. Neutron, was published by 7.13 Books in March, 2018. He was the founding publisher and fiction editor of Tahoma Literary Review, a nationally-recognized literary journal that has had selections reproduced in Best American Poetry, Best American Essays, Best Small Fictions, Best Gay Fiction, and other notable anthologies. He has had stories published in Crab Orchard Review, Fugue, Lumina, and dozens of other literary journals in the U.S. and abroad. He is an adjunct writing instructor at Seattle’s Hugo House and Tacoma Community College.


(author of Scoundrels Among Us)

Large Animals by Jess Arndt 
– This story collection is such a killer mix of toughness and vulnerability, darkness and light, realism and surrealism. Arndt’s gorgeous prose had me feeling gratitude and the deep desire to do my own writing (which is the highest praise a writer can give, I think). Sentence by sentence I was mystified, challenged, and rewarded, and I completed the entire book in one sitting.

The Week by Joanna Ruocco 
– One quality of being an artist that cannot be taught is uniqueness of vision; the artist’s particular way of seeing and rendering the world. Ruocco’s vision is singular and dazzling. Some readers will say, “I don’t get it,” but I don’t think you need to “get it” any more than you need to “get” the open-mouthed wonder of staring into a steaming, churning volcano. Just sit back and enjoy.

What We Build Upon theRuins by Giano Cromley 
– A carefully crafted, deeply satisfying collection of realist stories. Cromley avoids the trite and sentimental, preferring the sort of complexity and psychological depth that will make you revisit these pieces again and again. Like most of the other books on my list, this features characters who are down but not out; evoking the work of Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolfe, the inhabitants of these pieces seem to be reaching for grace that hangs just out of their grasp.

Fever Chart by Bill Cotter 
– I love bold, unapologetic writing (as represented by all of the authors on this list). This novel, about a guy who escapes from a mental institution and drives from New England to New Orleans, where he becomes a world champion grilled cheese maker, is my favorite type of ugly. It’s full of colorful losers and miscreants who are far more interesting than anyone you will ever meet. Hilarious, sad, and of course reminiscent in the best ways of that “other” famous New Orleans comic novel.

The Largesse of theSea Maiden by Denis Johnson 
– A beautiful swan-song by a beautiful soul. This guy was so influential to me and countless others, and I read his final collection with joy, existential terror, envy, and wonder (that is to say, pretty much a typical Denis Johnson book). When I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with him and even hang out with him a bit. He inscribed my copy of Jesus’ Son: “To Darrin – Thanks for your kind assistance in getting out of that whorehouse in Sonora.” A great dude and one of the best writers I know.

Darrin Doyle is Professor of English/Creative Writing at Central Michigan University. He is the author of four books of fiction, most recently the story collection Scoundrels Among Us (Tortoise Books), which The Bookends Review calls “a majorly imaginative, evocative, and rewarding read.” BULL magazine writes “His world vision, his heart, his ability to cut to the core of what makes humanity tic, what makes humanity ugly, what makes humanity beautiful–it all should be required reading for everybody.”  


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