The Year in Books According to Keaton!

Another year at Brazos, another year end list. When you’ve been a bookseller as long as I have, it gets hard at times to inject new life into the stale tradition of the top 10 list. I’ve tried several different variations, including a full on award show style presentation last year replete with applause gifs. This year, though, I want to stray a bit further from the typical listicle formula and try to give some insight into how I--as a bookseller--experience a reading year. In short, there are themes that present themselves throughout the book release seasons. Sometimes a particular fascination takes hold of the zeitgeist and several books on the same topic come out all around the same time. But that can be more the result of market research than anything else. No. What I’m searching for here are such connections observed in the book world that are the result of being guided by personal interests (my own and other readers’) that latch onto and can’t let go of certain ideas. Whatever brings it on, my reading more often than not takes the form of thematic movements throughout the year. And that is what I want to present here for your perusing pleasure. So without further ado, here is the year in books according to Keaton. Enjoy!     


HOUSTON ON TOP

I can’t think of another year that has been as exciting for the Houston literary community as this one. Maybe the founding of UH’s creative writing program? But that’s not quite the same thing. This year, I saw several Houston-based writers turning out amazing books that racked up critical acclaim from across the country. For a proud city like ours, perpetually in the literary shadow of NYC and LA, this is BIG cause for celebration! And foremost among these releases are Bryan Washington’s debut story collection, LOT, and the first novel from Brazos’ own Mark Haber, REINHARDT’S GARDEN. Both of these stellar works of fiction manage to escape the creative death knell of “regional” literature, whether they are exploring the streets of the Bayou City or the jungles of South America. And I can attest to the fact that both of these authors’ next works will be coming out soon as well. So we can finally let the community of American Letters know that HOUSTON IS HERE! Now get your H’s up.  

 

HANIF

Poet and critic, Hanif Abdurraqib, has been on a roll like few writers ever experience. Since the 2017 release of his astounding essay collection, THEY CAN’T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US, there has been no rest for the man from Columbus, Ohio. Since then, Hanif has published numerous poems and prose pieces in online and print media, been an in-demand commentator on the current events of our troubled times, and provided the introduction for Melville House’s PRINCE: THE LAST INTERVIEW earlier this year. On top of that, he released not one but two of my absolute favorite books of 2019--the National Book Award nominated tribute to A Tribe Called Quest, GO AHEAD IN THE RAIN, and the stunning cyclical poetry collection entitled A FORTUNE FOR YOUR DISASTER. Let’s just say the guy’s got prolific range. We should all feel lucky we have a writer like Hanif to help us make sense of our inner and outer lives.


 

WAKING NIGHTMARES

With turmoil, paranoia and anxiety coloring every aspect of our daily lives, it’s no surprise that the horror genre has entered a new golden age. From the big screen to TV to the written word, people are being drawn toward facing their fears in ever greater numbers. But two books in particular seemed to tap that vein more directly than any other this year. SONG FOR THE UNRAVELING OF THE WORLD, Brian Evenson’s latest story collection, exhibits a menagerie of the horrific and strange that toys with humanity’s inherent fear of the unknown. His imagination and craftsmanship can unnerve even the most seasoned reader in as little as two pages. Then there is Argentinian author Ariana Harwicz’s slouching beast of a novel--DIE, MY LOVE. Her first book to be translated into English is stunning in its imagery and its unflinching portrayal of a young mother descending into madness and animalistic desire. In this age of real life horrors, it’s cathartic to have these fictional nightmares to assuage our fears.  

 

THE UNFETTERED MIND

There are few reading experiences I enjoy more than engaging with a work of creative nonfiction tackling a topic of complex difficulty in a unique way. Such bold, challenging exercises of the mind leave me in awe. And this year has seen no shortage of essay collections, criticism and memoirs with the potential to alter the way a reader conceives of and understands the world in which we exist. Through intensive research and her own lived experience living with mental illness, Esme Weijun Wang’s THE COLLECTED SCHIZOPHRENIAS excises the myths surrounding one of the most feared diseases known to humanity. Her brilliance and struggle amount to nothing less than a potent reckoning with our culture’s avoidance of mental illness. IN THE DREAMHOUSE is another work that drags dark secrets into the light of literature--this time focusing on the oft overlooked reality of domestic violence between queer women. Literary wunderkind, Carmen Maria Machado, mines her own painful past with an abusive lover, framing her ordeal and that of others in a wholly unique set of vignettes that explode the very genre of memoir. And then there is Thomas Chatterton Williams’ provocative and controversial work, SELF-PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE. Taking on perhaps the most fraught topic in America, Williams dares propose that the only way our nation will ever overcome the socially constructed scourge of racism is to give up racialized thinking itself as a formative component of our identities. He pulls from personal anecdotes of his own mixed family and the thoughts of critics such as James Baldwin and Albert Murray to counter what he sees as harmful essentialist conceptions of race espoused from all sides. A nuanced and important discussion that will undoubtedly raise some readers’ hackles.   

 

BIG TEX

And at long last we have Stephen Harrigan’s monumental, standard-setting, new single volume Texas history--BIG WONDERFUL THING! Years in the making, this astounding work charts a more complete and egalitarian view of the Lone Star State’s unique past and culture from prehistory to today. An essential addition to any Texan’s library.

Staff Pick Badge
Lot: Stories Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9780525533672
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Riverhead Books - March 19th, 2019

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Reinhardt's Garden Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781566895620
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Coffee House Press - October 1st, 2019

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Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781477316481
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: University of Texas Press - February 1st, 2019

A Fortune for Your Disaster Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9781947793439
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tin House Books - September 3rd, 2019

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Song for the Unraveling of the World Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781566895484
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Coffee House Press - June 11th, 2019

Die, My Love Cover Image
By Ariana Harwicz, Sarah Moses (Translator), Carolina Orloff (Translator)
$15.95
ISBN: 9781999722784
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Charco Press - October 15th, 2019

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The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781555978273
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - February 5th, 2019

In the Dream House: A Memoir Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781644450031
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - November 5th, 2019

Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race Cover Image
$25.95
ISBN: 9780393608861
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - October 15th, 2019

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Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9780292759510
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: University of Texas Press - October 1st, 2019

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