Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
By an accident of timing, the Sunday Post has the last word on 2017 at the Seattle Review of Books.
When I agreed to collate this weekly list, it was just after Donald Trump’s election; the news cycle hadn’t yet shifted into something past lightspeed. Truth was still truth, more or less, and powerful men weren’t monsters, or at least we weren’t yet saying so out loud. We knew that Donald Trump was a racist and that his election represented something ugly embedded in this country. We didn’t understand — those of us who had the privilege not to already live and breathe it — how ugly and how deep.
As happens after a visceral blow, we were numb for a while, huddled under shock blankets and waiting for the pain to hit.
Then it did hit, hard. And writing on the internet became a firestorm of Trump-centered emotion and analysis: grief and fury, resignation and defiance, reflection and contention. Much of that writing is stunning in its depth and force.
And yet, and brilliantly, people still committed millions of words and images to simply celebrating the oddity and beauty of the world.
And yet, and brilliantly, people still committed millions of words and images to simply talking about things like books.
By treating words and ideas and books as if they matter, these writers ensure that words and ideas and books continue to do so.
So: Usually the Post covers writing that happens off the site. But I’m ceding the last word of 2017 (here at SRoB, at least) to the reviewers, poets, artists, and essayists who wrote about books for the Seattle Review of Books this year. Each of them, in their own way, transformed the fire around us — took the heat, and turned it back around.
Robert Lashley wrote eloquently and with passion about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power and showed us the thoughtful, personal, eloquent book obscured behind cheap shots and hot takes.
Sophia Shalmiyev’s review of Eileen Myles’s Afterglow was breathless and reckless and startling and perfect.
Donna Miscolta wrote several pieces for us this year, but her essay on the language of rape and M. Evelina Galang’s Lolas’ House is the one that left us speechless, which believe me is not easy to do.
Contrariwise, Colleen Louise Barry and Jessica Mooney reviewed comics by writing words. Both of their pieces are standouts: Barry’s review of Jason T. Miles’s Lightning Snake adeptly captures the book’s disorienting disjointedness. The opening to Mooney’s review of Kristen Radtke’s Imagine Wanting Only This is heartwrenching, and her exploration of why we’re drawn to decaying things is perceptive, empathetic, and smart, smart, smart.
Nick Cassella, in his review of Richard Reeves’s Dream Hoarders, and Jonathan Hiskes, covering Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, tackled some of the terrifyingly large social and environmental issues of this year (and unfortunately, but unquestionably, the year ahead).
Samuel Filby looked at Maged Zaher’s Opting Out through the lens of Richard Rorty’s Philosophy as Poetry through the lens of Socrates and Derrida. A knowledgeable and wide-ranging brain-bender of a review.
“If you have never been close to death, then this book is probably not for you.” That’s Dujie Tahat on The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, reminding us that poetry is in no way distant or distinct from real life, and pushing hard on our assumptions about the Black Lives Matter movement as he does it.
And Anca Szilágyi, whose Daughters of the Air was just released, explained why we’ve all been thinking about translation in the wrong way — in an essay that includes one of my favorite lines of the year, and perhaps the best possible close to 2017: “To all this I say: poppycock.”
The fact that our year in poetry started with battle, with Elisa Chavez’s “Revenge” (“rest assured,/anxious America, you brought your fists to a glitter fight”), and ended in a hot bath, with Sarah Jones’s “When I finally get that claw-footed tub” (“the heat a rising redemption/misty and heaven-bound”), makes me gleeful — they’re the perfect bookends (sorry, couldn’t resist).
This year the site was graced by an incredible range of Poets in Residence: in addition to Chavez and Jones, JT Stewart, Jamaica Baldwin, Joan Swift (posthumously), Oliver de la Paz, Tammy Robacker, Kelli Russell Agodon, Daemond Arrindell, Esther Altshul Helfgott, Kary Wayson, and Emily Bedard. If you haven’t been following the Tuesday poem, top off your cup and catch up now.
Our columnists have a regular platform to talk about what they love — explain why it matters, and show us how the world looks through its lens, even when that world is run, seemingly, by a madman with bad hair.
Nisi Shawl’s Future Alternative Past is a masterclass on SFFH. Her knowledge of the genre is comprehensive, and she approaches it with a completely fresh critical lens and a fine eye for relevance. See, for example, her column on fat positivity in science fiction.
Olivia Waite’s Kissing Books touches on race and feminism and socioeconomic issues — all the hard, smart ideas that romance novels are supposed to not contain but do. And her takedown of Robert Gottlieb was epically excellent.
Daneet Steffens’s Criminal Fiction is a monthly reminder that reading is a pleasure. The joy she takes in what she reads is evident in every capsule review and interview.
Two new columnists started sharing their pen-and-ink perspective on the world at SRoB this year: Aaron Bagley’s Dream Comics are charming and odd and full of import; this one is about whales. Clare Johnson’s Post-It Note Art is quiet and personal and expressive far beyond the boundaries of a three-by-three square.
Nobody addresses humanity’s relationship with the written word, and all the shame and social awkwardness and anxiety it provokes, as regularly and accurately as Cienna Madrid in the Help Desk.