This was a splendid year for books that took the political into the personal realm and vice-versa — and that makes sense, because in 2018 America, as in previous years, there was no escaping politics. My own reading was somewhat less wide-ranging than it has been in years past, because I spent a possibly inordinate amount of time reading books about motherhood for an essay, but I also stuck to the subject because it was exciting to find my own right now experience as a new-ish mother getting serious literary treatment from so many corners at once, so take that as a caveat and disclosure. (Note to publishers: we still need more literature and advice books about queer and gender-nonconforming parents.)
Other mini-trends of 2018: books about women’s anger (both at their personal lot and at sexism at large), books re-engaging with ancient mythology, and in the year we lost Philip Roth, sly and thoughtful female-penned reappraisals of Great Literary Men.
From hanging out in San Francisco at the beginning of the AIDS years to catering for William F. Buckley, Jr. and far beyond into painful, strange and beautiful corners of the country’s recent history, Alexander Chee has lived a disarmingly full life. His essays veer between straight memoir and craft and writing-life rumination, a perfect mix. I’ve been browsing through each installment one by one, out of order, for months now —approaching the pieces about novel-writing with a mix of rabid hunger for wisdom and fear that they will reveal my own shortcomings as a writer. I shouldn’t be scared: Chee’s thoughtful, self-aware candor pervades each piece, all of which are threaded together by a deep, but never grandiose, faith in storytelling.