Co-op Booksellers' Top 5 in 2018

To celebrate the brilliant and baffling year that was 2018, we compiled a list of Co-op booksellers' top 5 books. Peruse the remarkable array of reads—complete with personal takes and insights—below. We hope you recognize and discover a few favorites!


This year, I finished Ulysses with Jeff, Bryce, and Conor after a one year hike through a one day walk around Dublin. If you want to get me started on Ulysses (not recommended), just say "omission," "ellipses," and/or "being outside of time." I also finished Absalom, Absalom! by my number one most favorite author William Faulkner after abandoning it for 5 years, and just in time to visit Faulkner's eccentric homestead in Oxford, MS in January! Speaking of the American South, my visit to Memphis and environs prompted a deeper dive into Elvis scholarship, including In Search of Elvis, which gathers speeches/essays from academics, outsider artists, and impersonators (all from a 1990s Elvis academic conference [!]) alike for a truly democratic take on the King of radical democracy himself, Elvis Aron Presley. Meanwhile, in contemporary literature, I enjoyed Ohio by Stephen Markley, about which I wrote elsewhere: "A novel by and for those of us whose childhoods pivoted on 9/11, and whose adulthoods have been rocked by recession, war, and drug epidemics. Uncannily familiar to anyone (like me) who grew up in small towns at the turn of the century, yet universal in its depiction of the many ways we're haunted by our pasts." In the same vein (ha?) of the opioid epidemic, I found Beth Macy's Dopesick a fascinating, nuanced look at causes and effects of what I think of as an epidemic endemic to late capitalism. Honorable mention goes to Nico Walker's Cherry, which similarly treats drugs, war, and post-9/11 nihilism, and which I left off lest you think that's all I read. I would have put Nick Drnaso's Sabrina in here, too, but I gave my copy of way, which reminds me that I need to buy again today…


I read more poetry than I have ever read in my life this year. The Interior Landscape, A. K. Ramanujan’s translation of classical Tamil love poems, has it all: first meetings, sundry passers-by, relationship-induced anxiety, relationship with and without form, infidelity between friends, final unions. And it confirms too that even small books can have heavy, heavy weight. Norton’s The Making of a Poem introduced me to the sestina and I will forever be grateful to know this form. My favorite from this Anthology, Miller Williams’s "The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina." To be no longer intimidated by poetic form was an unspoken reading goal—and Caroline Levine’s smart and wonderfully negotiated book Forms: Whole Rhythms, Hierarchy, Network gives a gleaming and physically-thrilling argument for a certain type of historicism, one that considers form and its persistence across time and space. I am no longer afraid only newly invigorated.  

I read greedily (in single sittings) my favorite fiction from this year. Ferrante’s Troubling Love, her first book, troubles so much about the mother/daughter image. Naples-set, this book stages so much of Ferrante’s future writing, with familial pain, betrayal and the laying out of the deepest and most troublesome of truths about the mother/daughter coupling. Amélie Nothomb’s Strike Your Heart—also about the mother/daughter form—left me ill. Disorienting and revelatory, this book and the female bonds presented exhausts more than it gives and I enjoyed  it all. While it did not strike me quite as hard as her book Heroines (which I have lots of feelings towards), Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter also, as the title suggest, is a mediation on mothering and mothers. Modeled on Louise Bourgeois’ structure Cell, Zambreno takes the form of autobiography and hurls everything at it. The mess moves through generations and dirties the sweetest of familia assemblages.


I think that I can say without hesitation that I have never read as many good books as I have read this past year and this is definitively thanks to you all and your amazing recs. Picking only 5 of them is such a difficult exercise. Each book on this pic represents so many more books, but I have chosen carefully each one of them for what they stand for.

Luigi Ghirri's The Map and the Territory, like All About Saul Leiter, offers the rare opportunity to see through the eye of photographers investigating in the deepest and most genuine way what it means to be looking at something, what idiosyncratically 'reading' the world can mean. Robert Irwin's interview/memoir Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Things One Sees would offer a perfect follow-up to this, with his reflections about how we perceive and experience the world (or how we miss this opportunity). But instead of Robert Irwin's reflective wisdom, I picked David Wojnarowicz Close to the Knives for the sense of urgency present in his work, how relevant his revolt still is today despite the distance in time and also for a book cover (one of his pictures) which still obsesses me with the same intensity after a year (and which you can see for real at the Art Institute).

David Grubbs stands for all the texts which offered to me a new understanding of what writing could mean. I am still stunned by how Now that the Audience is Assembled... changed my understanding of what worlds can do and summon, in the same way as I am still hypnotized by the power of Chris Kraus writing project with I Love Dick. David Grubbs playing at the Co-op was also one the most beautiful memories of the year for meand as the previous artists I mentioned earlier opened my mind about the art of looking, Grubbs really opened my mind to the art of listeningwhich makes him stand too for the fantastic book I am reading at the moment, David Toop's Ocean of Sound.

Helen Weinzweig's Basic Black with Pearl and Passing Ceremony, like Anna Kavan's Ice, Ann Quinn's The Unmapped Country,  Rachel Ingall's Mrs Caliban, were the most intense and exhilarating readings and I urge everybody to read these amazing women's writings—fierce, powerful and radical.

An Untouched House by Willem Frederick Hermans could have been replaced by Jon Fosse's Boathouse or  Steve Erickson's Shadowbahnnovels which welcome the complex, the unresolved and which I still can invest and get lost in months after I have read them.


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017): I picked this up after reading somewhere that it was Barack Obama's favorite novel of 2017. What more of a recommendation do you need? It's both a magical realist delight and an incredibly powerful and relevant narrative for today, about homes and immigrants and making places yours. Completely stunning.

All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey (2017): In the last couple of years I've gotten very into reading essay collections and memoirs by women, Joan Didion being the patron saint of this genre. I've read a bunch of Didion this year too, and Heidi Julavits's memoir The Folded Clock is another one of my top-ten books read in 2018. All The Lives I Want (which takes its title from The Bell Jar, a sure sign that I would be obsessed with it) is a book of essays about famous women in pop culture. The essays are incredibly sharp and relatable (Massey being only ten years older than I, her pop-culture references are mostly intelligible and delightful to me), and the last one in the book is about Joan Didion.

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes (2018): One of the most stunning books of poetry I've read in a very long time, and I've read a lot of poetry already this year. I know this book has been widely acclaimed and talked about, and it's really as good as everyone says it is. (The second-best book of poetry I've read this year is Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay, which is one of my favorite poetry book titles ever; the poems in that book are so gorgeous and expansive.)

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid (1988): Places are my favorite subject. I am working on being a modernist (specifically a Joycean) and I am endlessly interested in the way Joyce's work inhabits Dublin and Woolf's inhabits London. The way Kincaid inhabits Antigua in this book-length essay feels to me very much in that modernist tradition of writing places like they are characters (I also feel this way about NW by Zadie Smith, another book I read this year). For my MAPH thesis I am thinking about writing a comparative analysis of Ulysses and A Small Place, looking at the poetics of home at work in each text.

James Joyce by Richard Ellmann (1959): I've been meaning to get to this book for a couple of years, and I finally made time this summer. (This was the first book I ever bought at the Co-op, also.) The patience and real love with which Ellmann writes about the mundanities and strangenesses of James Joyce's life and family and writing and career-making is so beautiful. I also deeply appreciate that Ellmann pulls no punches; he does not pretend Joyce was a better person than he was. Joyce was just your average shitty white dude who happened to also be a literary genius. I am trying really hard to get Maud Ellmann to advise my MAPH thesis; will let you all know how that goes.


Think my reading this year was mostly related to courses or papers (as opposed to last year, where I spent a lot of fall quarter questionably taking advantage of a library that actually had all the books I had always wanted to read but couldn't find). Anyway:

David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction — a long and fascinating treatment of biogeography and evolution in the 19th and 20th centuries that makes me really excited for his newest book, The Tangled Tree 

Stanislaw Lem, The Cyberiad — Rabelais meets Norbert Wiener in this incredibly fun collection of "fables for the cybernetic age"

Jeffrey Kripal and Whitley Strieber, The Super Natural — A scholar of comparative religion (trained at UChicago) teams up with the writer of probably the most famous account of alien abduction in past decades to produce this very strange book. As Kripal writes, how could he study a 12th century mystic but ignore their modern counterpart? I took a US Intellectual History class this spring; one of the really interesting results of reading people like C. S. Peirce or William James (or, more tangientally, Franz Boas) is that a lot of postwar American folklore looks less novel and more like a continuation of a much longer tradition of blurring boundaries between the material and mental. I'm still a skeptic, but this makes some of these things legible in a way that they weren't for me before.

Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity — Prof. Daston (as I can report firsthand) synthesizes staggering amounts of material into coherent and completely unexpected histories that seem completely self-evident. But this history not just of what it means to reproduce nature on the page but of how people have imagined and cultivated the scientific persona is also an example and blueprint of generous intellectual collaboration. 

Greg Dening, Beach Crossings — a beautifully written book: part history and reconstruction of Polynesian voyages across the Pacific, part intellectual autobiography and continuous essay on the cross-cultural encounter 

(Bonuses: Alice Dreger's One of Us, about conjoined twins and the ethics of surgical intervention; Hernan Diaz's In the Distance, a very strange new novel about the American West).


This is a long-ago book, but this year I finally read Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. It made me feel a lot of warmth for small-town religiosity, which is not a thing I thought I'd ever have much feeling for. Reading the book felt like sitting in one long ray of sunlight for a very long time without getting a sunburn. I really need to read the two companion books now! 

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church and The Hopefuls were two fantastic love/end-of-love stories I read this year that struck me both for how they dissected relationships and how they dissected their particular moments. I read The Atomic Weight of Love shortly after I had the chance to visit Los Alamos, New Mexico; the book is set in that Los Alamos community, before, during, and after the development of the A-Bomb. It deals with the way science, secrecy, and sexism can eat at people; I found it to be very honest and rich. It also has a lot of fascinating ornithology in it, and who doesn't love cool birds?  The Hopefuls looked at the devolution of a political marriage in the early years of the Obama administration. It features a dashed statewide Democratic campaign in Texasvery relevant these days.

I got to go to Beirut this summer, and while there I got to read Bye Bye Babylon, a graphic-novel memoir of the Lebanese Civil War. It's a bitter book, and it was shocking to see Lamia Ziade's images of pain and blood in places where I was buying groceries and eating ice cream. It's a great reminder of the layers that every place hides. 

Finally I just recently finished Straight A's, an edited compilation of interviews and essays by a group of Asian-American Harvard students. I'm not sure if this was an objectively wonderful book, but I was very moved by it. First, I just found the direct-interview format to be heartbreaking; you hear the nuance and sadness in the way these brilliant young people see the world so clearly in this format. I also think it's a very timely book, given the context around the whole Harvard Students for Fair Admission lawsuit, and the way that lawsuit attempts to exploit the experiences of students like these in order to roll back affirmative action. And in reality, I think I loved this book because it treated Asian-Americans like a people with a story worth hearing; this was very refreshing for me. 


It was difficult choosing just five (and lest you think I cheated, I would venture that Cusk’s Trilogy will still be in print in 20 years, and will only exist – and be remembered – as a single volume. At any rate, here they are, with a quote from each and two identity statements from Simone.

The Outline Trilogy – Rachel Cusk

’When I told my mother I’d written a book,’ he said, ‘the first thing she said was, “You always were a difficult child.”’

Ghosts in the Schoolyard – Eve Ewing 

But for those closest to these schools, these questions swim beneath the surface of something much more important: love.

In Light of India – Octavio Paz 

For Shankara, one is the limit of the thinkable; for Nagarjuna, emptiness is. Between the one and the zero – incessant combat and instantaneous embrace – the history of Indian thought unfolds.

To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf 

…another fold of the shawl loosened; there it hung, and swayed. 

Gravity and Grace – Simone Weil

Belief in the existence of other human beings as such is love
Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.


For me, it's a little early to be thinking about the best of 2018 (I say this as the Notables are about to be unleashed) since I'm still very much reading new and forthcoming releases, but there are three books that I've consumed this year (to date) that have impacted how I think about stuff:

- The Iphigenia Plays | Euripides -- Rachel Hadas, trans. (Northwestern UP, 2018)

- Super-Cannes | J.G. Ballard (Picador, 2000/2017)

- The Cow With Ear Tag #1389 | Kathryn Gillespie (U Chicago Press, 2018)


Of Silence & Song by Dan Beachy-Quick (Milkweed Editions 2017)

Teacher, this is my book report on the soul. I promise not to start crying in front of the class like I did last time with my book report on the discovery of the mind.

Trickster Feminism by Anne Waldman (Penguin 2018)

Do not forget the false memory of the world.
Twilight becomes true memory summoned by roaring.

Exiles by James Joyce (Panther Books 1979)

I have wounded my soul for you—a deep wound of doubt which can never be healed. I can never know, never in this world. I do not wish to know or to believe. I do not care. It is not in the darkness of belief that I desire you. But in restless living wounding doubt. To hold you by no bonds, even of love, to be united with you in body and soul in utter nakedness—

ICON by David Mutschlecner (Ahsahta Press 2018)

"Open this book to see where you are."—Paul Hoover
"It is here that hope resides.”—Allison Cobb

The poem
has teeth in it
and lives in the mountains

Exquisite Disgust: A Taxonomy of Sublime Creatures by Tara Walker (The Little Door 2018)

The feral child of Giotto's "St. Francis Preaching to the Birds" and Allison Cobb's After We All Died. Tara Walker's poems read like beings polished into existence over millennia. Creatures and behavioral forms stand sentinel over the taxis of an American psychogeography, inviting us into the dark (and dazzlingly bright) recesses of our daily lives and tired bodies. The utility of Walker's language exceeds its transactional precedent; by consciously tapping the figures and features of life to which we are mostly averse, she charges language with primordial meter.

(Honorable Mentions)

Collected Poems 1934-1952 by Dylan Thomas (New Directions 1971)

I read somewhere of a shepherd who, when asked why he made, from within fairy rings, ritual observances to the moon to protect his flocks, replied: 'I'd be a damn fool if I didn't!' These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I'd be a damn fool if they weren't. 

The Poet in the World by Denise Levertov (New Directions 1960)

I do not believe that a violent imitation of the horrors of our times is the concern of poetry. Horrors are taken for granted. Disorder is ordinary. People in general take more and more 'in their stride'—hides grow thicker. I long for poems of an inner harmony in utter contrast to the chaos in which they exist. Insofar as poetry has a social function it is to awaken sleepers by other means than shock.


No particular order for me, either, but a strong "theme" of "memoirs."  And, I've recognized the influence of working on an event/meeting the author on my choices.   

Born a Crime - Trevor Noah

The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After - Clemantine Wamariya

Next I was forbidden to play with my friend Neglita. . . We made up fairy worlds. She let me set the rules. We collected petals and bits of moss, and the fairies wore the petals as dresses and lived in the moss.

The Hate You Give - Angie Thomas

Although not technically a memoir, the story offered me a glimpse of what could, I think, be the sad memoir of many African-American young people.  This one is also on the list because it was my family's summer read so I have that special memory of the perspectives of some of my loved ones from 12 to 72. 

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Rise of the Billionaires Behind the Radical Right - Jean Mayer

A "twisted memoir" of the Koch Brothers and others. It took me a long time to read because of its density and my anger, but persisted because it proved I wasn't as "woke" as I should be.

Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise - Eboo Patel

Been one of my "go to" authors for knowledge building  and new perspectives for awhile and this one didn't disappoint.

(Honorable Mention)

The Day You Begin - Jacqueline Woodson

A picture book that is my new "new baby," birthday, graduation, etc gift. Could easily also become part of my required reading for classes I teach.  

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you until the day begin to share your stories...This is the day you begin to find the places inside your laughter and your lunches, your books, your travel and your stories, where every new friend has something a little like youand something else so fabulously not quite like you at all.


My picks, presented as they come to mind, and without any order of priority. Plenty of reasons for each, which I'll give at length if asked! 

The Prelude - William Wordsworth

Click Away Close Door Say - Verity Spott

Precarious Life - Judith Butler

Of . the . Abyss . - J.H. Prynne 

(with as its complement People of the Abyss - Jack London)

Home: Social Essays - Amiri Baraka (published though under LeRoi Jones)

Honorable mentions (thanks for your precedent, Peg): 

Receptive Bodies - Leo Bersani

The Bettesworth Book and Memoirs of a Surrey Laborer - George Sturt

The System of Dante's Hell - Baraka


each month, i carry 5 books in my backpack. 3 of the 5 are "the still necessary ones" from the previous month and the other 2 are "new and hopefully momentous" ones.

for many months in 2018, i was carrying around sheep machine by vi khi nao, peirce on signs by peirce, and butoh dance training by juju alishina. eventually sheep machine got swapped for finnegan's wake and butoh got swapped for hadot's plotinus: or the simplicity of vision and those 3 were "the still necessary ones" for many many months. then, plotinus got swapped with scripting addiction by e. summerson carr and peirce got swapped for farrin's structure and qur'anic interpretation and i brought alishina's butoh back. i was fairly certain that these would be the 3 that would go thru 2019 but then structure and qur'anic interpretation got swapped with barnsley's fractal image compression and now, for the past 3ish months, i've been carrying those same 3: scripting addiction, fractal image compression, and butoh dance training


Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

An all too relatable account of the perks and woes of working in the book selling business.  

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli  

After meeting the author at our Epic Reads event this year, I purchased her book and found it permanently attached to my hand. After reading so many average YA novels, it was very refreshing to read something that keeps you locked in until the end (and it helps if the sequel is already out too)  

Educated by Tara Westover

I literally finished this book in less than 24 hours after getting a copy. I found myself experiencing all the emotions that she refused herself. I wanted to hug her, listen to her, cry with her and sometimes shake her because she kept doubting herself.  

Scythe by Neal Shusterman 

I have never thought about Utopia so much until this book and how much I would hate it. 

Sons of Freedom: The Forgotten American Soldiers Who Defeated Germany in World War I by Geoffrey Wawro

2018 marks the 100th year anniversary of the end of the Great War. Even though the Americans were only involved in the war for a short period of time, there are so many stories of ordinary folks who played extraordinary roles in the war to end all wars. These stories are what make history so intriguing to me. 

Honorable Mention: 

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  


My list this year is heavy on the exploration of desire and identity in the midst of expectations both societal and personalsome with a dash of the strange and surreal as well. There's at least four more that I would have liked to include on this list, as it was ever hard to narrow down this year, but so it goes. 

In no particular order, the top 5: 

In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda, translated by Peter Bush

Motherhood by Sheila Heti

Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval, translated by Marjam Idriss

Love by Hanne Ørstavik, translated by Martin Aitken

The Third Hotel by Laura Van Den Berg 

Honorable mentions (or, the rest of my top 10 this year): 

The Diving Pool by Yōko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder

Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah

Severance by Ling Ma

People in the Room by Norah Lange, translated by Charlotte Whittle

Dolly City by Orly Castel-Bloom, translated by Dalya Bilu


Here's this list and ask me about it or don't. 

Suttree by Cormac McCarthy (Jeff even admitted there's a good passage in there somewhere)

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector

Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano

You Don't have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (which I listened to, which is also what I recommend)

Competition was fierce for the last spots, but I can't remember any of the other contenders at the momentmy list is at home.

The Devotion award, given to the most recent thing I've read which feels too fresh to be on the list but probably will be by the end of December:

The White Book by Han Kang 


In no particular order here are my favorite books for the year:

Milkman by Anna Burns. This novel, which just won the Booker Prize, tells the story of an unnamed eighteen-year old teenager and her difficult encounters with the milkman and others in an unnamed city, which is obviously Belfast during the Troubles. By the way, the milkman of the title does not deliver milk or drive a milk lorry.

Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions by Alberto Manquel. I picked up this meditation after selling books at his lecture at the Regenstein Library and meeting Alberto in person. I connected with this book partly because I also I have a problem on a far smaller scale of what to do with my books.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. I have always enjoyed books about places. The place of this diary is an used bookstore in a small town in Scotland located near the coast. Wigtown with a population of 987 is also a designated booktown with 13 bookstores, a bookstore airbnb, and a yearly-held book festival.

Last Stories by William Trevor. He is one of my favorite writers and was one of the best short story composers of all time with Chekhov, Cheever, O'Connor and Munro. Few writers have captured human nature with all of its ticks, emotions, and follies as Trevor. 

The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton. This novel was not as great as Cloudstreet. It is the story of sixteen-year Jaxie Clackton (a new orphan) on the run from his former broken home and lost in the salt flats of Western Australia. He meets Fintan, a defrocked Irish priest, and his life is changed in this coming-of-age story.


The Unmapped Country by Ann Quin - This volume of previously uncollected pieces by Quin was the first 2018 book I read... way back in 2017. For those of you who don't know Quin, she was a British novelist in the 60's & 70's who I often describe as Virginia Woolf if Virginia Woolf grew up working class and hung out at your favorite dive bar singing along to the jukebox and occasionally starting a fight. One of the pieces in this collection is actually a working draft of my favorite of Quin's novels, Tripticks. 

Northwood by Maryse Meijer - Some of you know Maryse. If you know her from her visits to 57th Street with her daughter, she's the one with impeccable vintage wardrobe taste that spends hours in our Children's Department reading stories to her daughter Charlotte. Her prose-poem hybrid novel is INTENSE and dark. Here's the rec I wrote a while back: 

Northwood is a darkly erotic, violent, and reflective journey through obsession, desire, and the personal journey toward one's own grief and oblivion.  A memory that refuses to die... while also refusing to breathe life. Meijer is fearlessly personal here, admitting through the experimental narrative things that most of us sidestep. She rends the fiber of desire into its base elements and deftly reconstructs them into something a little less fragile...but no less ready to burst. Northwood will turn you on, draw you in, and f**k you up. Meijer is a rare writer able to make you feel empathy for very flawed characters...and then shows you that you've been looking in a mirror all along. 

Educated by Tara Westover - It's been on several Best-of lists, including Barack Obama's reading list...and it deserves to be. What could have been just another memoir is something truly incredible and a testament to the power of an individual to escape familial history and forge their own life. Another blurb I wrote a while ago:

A story of what it means to overcome nurture, one's past, and circumstance to take control of your own become oneself. Tara Westover's childhood in an isolated survivalist religious family could have been the entirety of her life, but her limitless tenacity...and the realization that her limitless curiosity was an integral part of who she was, despite her upbringing, helped put her on a path toward education in academia and life. This isn't your typical "I was prevented from living my life in childhood" story, but a truly complex examination of family, abuse, intent, cause & effect, and what it means to build a life on your own terms. Educated is a powerful memoir you won't soon forget.

We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time - Take one celebrity chef who has busted his hump to become one of the best in the world who regularly charges higher-than-I-can-afford prices at most of his restaurants, one huge natural disaster named Hurricane Maria, and a very practical response to tragedy...doing what you know how to do best, doing it tirelessly, inspiring and asking others to join you in doing so, and feeding as many people as possible in their time of need. Jose Andres is a badass chef who knows and dominates his industry, and a well-respected and polished celebrity at that. This book isn't about restaurants or tasting menus, though. It's about getting back to fundamentals and building an effective movement from the ground up. Andres isn't afraid to speak his mind, either, so when political leaders neglect citizens in need, he isn't afraid to speak his mind and use America's #1 twitter user's reaction reaction to draw attention to the cause.   

Man With A Seagull on His Head by Harriet Paige - A freak accident changes Ray Eccles life forever. At 40 years of age with nothing particularly interesting to show for his life, a post-trauma Ray develops an obsession with the last person he saw before his accident and dedicates his life to recreating this image in any medium available. Suddenly, he finds himself a world-famous artist. From there, the narrative takes a multi-layered turn. Harriet Paige has written something truly unique. A quirky and intelligent read with a deep beating heart. 

(Honorable Mentions)

Milk Street Tuesday Nights - My favorite cookbook this year. The first three chapters are titles Fast, Faster, Fastest. Tuesday nights, indeed. And I know some of you might say that Chipotle is faster than all three, but everything I've made here has been better than a burrito bowl (those lime-salt chips, though... it might be a tie) 

An Untouched House by W.F. Hermans

My Struggle (Book 6) by Karl Ove Knausgaard - Not done yet, but the struggle was worth it.

Night Moves by Jessica Hopper - A pastiche of Chicago nostalgia. Much of it taking place in places/times that I existed in. Pretty sure Jessica was in my house at some point when I lived in Ukranian Village. Jessica thinks we parked our bikes next to each other. Both are entirely possible.

Mark H:

Thanks to all for your excellent contributions/suggestions!  My top 5 for the year were all recommended my SemCoop colleagues (or written by them) as well as by SemCoop members/customers:

1) Blood Meridian. (Bryce's suggestion).  Among the most compelling and horrifying narratives about the bleak brutality of western expansion, McCarthy throws the genocidal impulses and practices of manifest destiny/design into sharp and hellish relief.  

2) Chime. (Franny's masterpiece). At once haunting, harrowing, and hilarious, a crucial and captivating antidote to bubblegum witch v. princess narratives.

3) Going on a Bear Hunt. (sound effects edition). Now, the only book my 2-year-old niece will read before bed. A fun, interactive take on the classic adventure story. Warning: the bear roar is blood curdling!

4) Lincoln in the Bardo (recommended by many). Masterfully and playfully blurs the boundaries between fiction and historiography, life and death.  (Will never read DK Goodwin the same way again.) Informative, funny, profound, and poignant. Challenging at first, but given a chance, it'll shake you up in fruitfully disorienting ways.

5) Moby Dick (read for SemCoop reading group). I like the way HM encourages us to contemplate two conflicting imperatives of modernity.  On the one hand, we're drawn into the border-blurring ('post-racial'?), hierarchy flattening, life-consuming effects of absurdly compulsive industrial accumulation, notably of oil for energy and en-light-enment.  On the other hand, HM repeatedly channels our attention back to the curiously anti-capitalist practices though which modern subjects reconstruct these precarious boundaries/hierarchies, e.g.,  A) by wasting oil (from the standpoint of Capital) in the ritual anointing of sovereigns, etc, and B) through increasingly slippery and untenable representationsof whiteness in particular and of racial superiority and inferiority in general. I've also been enjoying HM's subtle (and not-so-subtle) derision of anthropocentric fantasies of human mastery, as well as of boundaries separating the human world from non-human nature (man v. "dumb beasts" etc.). In my view, Moby Dick remains a highly relevant commentary...and a wild ride. 


Here are my top picks of 2018 (so far):  

Bastards of Utopia: Living Radical Politics after Socialism by Maple Razsa 

Mesopotamia by Serhiy Zhadan

Gossip and Metaphysics: Russian Modernist Poems and Prose (editors: Valzhyna Mort, Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris, with quite a list of commendable translators) 

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore 

My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist by Mark Leyner


The books that makeup my top 5 this year embody a spirit of reverence, and each, in their own way, speaks to the use of uselessness, the rhythm of futility. The distance between reverence and obedience is one I hope to measure in my reading in the year ahead, unless, of course, I take seriously Tony Hoagland's parting words from his poem, "Into The Mystery" that "more and more the message is / not to measure anything." Russell and Lillian Hoban's searching tale of loss, lack, and unlikely renewal, The Mouse and His Child, dramatically made way for the testament to livelihood that is David Shulman’s account of his faithful work as a peace activist in the West Bank in Freedom and DespairTaking a cue from Jeff, I too include a trilogy by Martin Laird begun in 2006 and concluded this year with An Ocean of Light on Christian contemplation that together and individually lay steady waste to most books on the subject. And speaking of practice, while Robert Pinksy’s The Sounds of Poetry was important to me personally, two volumes of verse, like each book on this list, are ones I had and plan to keep sharing with others: Tony Hoagland’s sorrowfully final collection, Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God, and the, as ever, astonishing Pam Rehm, whose concentrated majesty I can't exaggerate, and whose latest, Time Will Showwill be for me a kind of daybook for many days to come.


1) Ghettoside - Jill Leovy 

One journalist’s 10 year portrait of homicide in one of the country’s most violent locales: South Central LA. How do you solve homicides when the city won’t even buy you stationary? Just one of many valid and astonishing questions asked in this fantastic book.

2) The Five Invitations - Frank Ostaseski 

How can meditation on death help us live a fuller life (not Fuller)? Such a beautiful ode to the wisdom of those who face life’s last gambit. 

3) Philosophy as A Way of Life - Pierre Hadot

Pierre Hadot is the Jimmy Page of philosophy (without the hair and leather trousers. Possibly.).

4) Thinking Fast, and Slow - Daniel Kahneman

Picked this up expecting it to be massively overrated; turns out that this assumption, along with 99% of all my assumptions, was fallacious. Literally mind-blowing.

5) Awaken the Giant Within - Tony Robbins

I find this man utterly compelling. I’m not sure if he’s Jim Jones without the free beverages, or a Hulk Hogan Yoda. 


Les Lubies d'Arthur by Herve Guibert 

I would like to tell the story of a present-day saint, who has undergone all the stages that lead to holiness: licentiousness and cruelty like Julian the Hospitaller, visions, transfiguration and, at the same time, a suspicious trade in animals. In the end, solitude and poverty then, finally, stigmata and bliss.

Though the quote might make you think that the book is rigorously structured and lavishly supplemented with life-teaching anecdotes, I can say, with indestructible certainty, that none of that is true. This book, "histoire tendre, tendre, tendre", as described by one critic, is joyful, refreshing and truly unique. 

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

So much to say about this book. If anyone else here read M&M—let me know, I'd be happy to chat about it. 

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

Apocalypse Culture (2nd Edition), edited by the great and uncompromising Adam Parfrey

Extreme Cinema: The Transgressive Rhetoric of Today's Art Film Culture by Mattias Frey

One of the very few academic books on Extreme Cinema that does not focus on psychological or aesthetic analysis of the respective genre (not to mention that the majority of research in this field revolves around micro-analysis of individual films, and thereby fails to give a comprehensive picture of the genre). Instead, the book investigates production and reception trends, discourses employed by filmmakers and film critics, as well as distribution and marketing models of "extreme" films.

My top five includes a sixth, Seasonal Associate (Heike Geissler), which I expect would have made it, but I haven't finished it yet and who knows what terrible stylistic turn it might take. The books I did finish and which I liked very much, beginning, middle, and end:
Outline, Rachel Cusk
Motherhood, Sheila Heti
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
The White Book, Han Kang
Bark, Georges Didi-Huberman