Who could blame us for our panicked clamor while in the throes of possible apocalypse? Still, we can’t let it get the best of us. What we really need is to set our public conversation aright and dethrone idiocy. And that’s what books are for. For all its horrors, 2017 brought us no shortage of solid reads to better our hearts and minds. Here are just five books you can give this holiday season to help kick 2018 off to a decent start.
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy Hardcover by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World)
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s is the most urgent voice writing today. The essays in We Were Eight Years In Power trace the backlash following Obama’s election to our precarious moment. Critics have given Coates some flack recently for his decided hopelessness. Yet nobody writing today has a more keen analysis of our country’s racist substructures without resorting to theoretical feebleness and easy answers. So, there’s your hope.
Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood (Riverhead Books)
Known for her hilarious Twitter account and two books of remarkable poetry, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, Patricia Lockwood is a proven wit. In the memoir Priestdaddy, Lockwood relays thigh-slapping tales of returning home to her eccentric family after a debilitating illness. Her primary focus is Father Greg Lockwood, Patricia’s dad and a married Catholic priest thanks to some papal exemption. Her portrait of Father Lockwood, a guitar shredding kook not unlike the author, is the most delightful and poignant portrait you will read this year.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Penguin)
In an essay in n+1, Turkish-American writer Elif Batuman decried the “crisp” style taking over contemporary fiction in favor of “long novels, pointless novels.” In The Idiot, Batuman follows through with a Russian-style bildungsroman so compelling even the most impatient reader will stay for the ride. Set in 1995, the novel follows Selin, a daughter of Turkish immigrants, from Harvard through her excursions in Europe. But the real journey is Selin’s interior life and her calling as a writer on the cusp of adulthood. Batuman’s style, wit, and emotional accuracy is just pitch perfect.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib (Two Dollar Radio)
Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet and music critic from Columbus, Ohio. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much deserves a place on this list in its own right. The essays in They Can’t Kills Us Until They Kills Us, many of which have appeared in The New York Times and Pitchfork, are balms of intelligence and observation in a time of quick “takes.” Reading Abdurraqib is like hanging out over records with your smartest friend. Whether he’s tackling Springsteen or Ferguson, Abdurraqib cuts through our cultural artifacts to reveal what America has become with sharp accuracy.
Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music by Michael Robbins (Simon & Schuster)
The last book I’ll mention is like the one above: cultural and music criticism by a poet. Michael Robbins is well-known in the poetry world for his collections Alien vs Predator and The Second Sex, which brimmed with rhymed, metrically exacting poems embracing high and low culture with equal affection and critique. The essays in Equipment for Living continue to expose Robbins as a person too smart for his own good but a thrill to read. Whether talking Theodor Adorno, Def Leppard, or John Ashbery, Robbins reminds us that a life of intellectual rigor and political resistance is not a life lacking in pop and poetry.
WORDS BY: Marco Martinez