Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. This novel is such a good read, funny, generous, unpredictable, that it took me a while to realize how stunningly intelligent and brave it is. It talks about “global warming” the way Uncle Tom’s Cabin talked about slavery—not as some abstract problem, but as what’s going on right now—what we are doing. Beautiful, and tremendous.
—Ursula K. Le Guin, author of the Earthsea and Hainish fantasy series
On tour this summer, driving the vast empty landscapes of the Western United States, I listened to War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy—downloaded from Audible.com and read by the English actor Neville Jason. I have never felt so ensnared in the architecture of a book. But—on an entirely different stylistic note—I just finished local writer Michael Heald’s Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension. It’s absolutely terrific!
—Pauls Toutonghi, author of Evel Knievel Days
I read Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? on the bus to Vancouver, B.C. Somewhere around Olympia I realized that if I couldn’t pace myself I’d finish it before the border. Fuck it, I yelled at the Tacoma Dome, and opened the book back up. It turned me on, it turned me off, it challenged everything I thought I knew about women and nonfiction.
—Michael Heald, author of Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett. Patchett has a penchant for dragging her readers into hell—beautiful, emotional hell. Mirroring the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, her State of Wonder takes pharmaceutical researcher Marina Singh to the Amazon to retrieve her missing co-worker. The results are tragic, fascinating and truly wondrous.
—Penelope Bass, WW books page editor
Coeur de Lion, by Ariana Reines. An epistolary book full of startling moments and bare-ass naked truth by a rising star of poetry. It’s actually kind of shocking, the way it unfolds its raunchy, sexy, angry, confessional beauty.
—Kevin Sampsell, author of A Common Pornography
The book that was my steadfast companion in 2012 was David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish. It was wonderful encouragement for my nascent meditation practice, a splendid (and splendidly succinct) memoir of an artist I admire, and served as the fascinating director’s commentary to Twin Peaks.
—Viva Las Vegas, author of Magic Gardens: The Memoirs of Viva Las Vegas
Spitalfields Life: In the Midst of Life I Woke to Find Myself Living in an Old House Beside Brick Lane in the East End of London is a physically gorgeous book by an indefatigable blogger known only as “The Gentle Author,” chronicling everything from a fourth-generation paper-bag seller to a freelance wheel truer—it’s an absolute labor of love and curiosity.
—Paul Collins, author of Murder of the Century
Rain Dragon, by Jon Raymond. Raymond is one of those writers whose work I always enjoy. He’s interested in interesting things. In this case he wrote a book about Oregon commune life, and it’s told by a hapless first-person narrator. It’s funny and thought provoking.
—Arthur Bradford, author of Benny’s Brigade and Dogwalker.
I haven’t read any brand-, brand-new books this year, but two of the newest were both excellent and locally produced. Zazen, by Vanessa Veselka, is an incendiary portrait of a woman living out the radical ideals of late Liberalism with intense poetry and rage. And Ablutions, by Patrick deWitt, is a bilious romp through Los Angeles’ dark hours guided by a narrator of true depravity and wit.
—Jon Raymond, author of Rain Dragon and Livability.
One of my favorite books this year was also one of the smallest books I read. The End of Space, by Albert Goldbarth. This small bright planet of a book proves you don't need a hundred pages to make someone feel human and happy to be on earth."
—Matthew Dickman, author of Mayakovsky's Revolver and All-American Poem
If I had to pick one, I’d pick Carole Maso’s Mother and Child. In the words of Emily Dickinson, it blew the top of my head off. Breaking all the rules that keep realism and surrealism separate from one another, the narrative, like the bond between mother and child, radically form, deform and reform being and knowing.
—Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Dora: A Headcase and The Chronology of Water.