As 2018 comes to an end, most of your media sources will begin to bombard you with end-of-year lists rating everything from "Best Photos" and "Top Stories" to "Most Unforgettable Moments."
Here at your most local media source, we try to spend our time covering the meetings, events, sports and issues that matter most to our community. (And yes, a year in review is forthcoming).
That being said, while recently spending an extended period of time on hold and in front of my computer, I now present to you my top three book choices of the year — and as an added bonus, the Christmas song I think each of those books pair best with.
Enjoy! (and read them)
"All You Can Ever Know"
My mother’s mother didn’t want her. So, she gave her away.
At some point in the fall of 1965, a white couple walked into a room of cribs looking for a son. There was, as family legend holds, a cute red-headed boy who would have fit in very nicely in the house on the block of houses that looked just like it up north in America.
But the boy was crying —screaming — and the couple didn’t care much for screaming babies. My mother, with her dark skin and black hair (that wouldn’t fit in at all in the house on the block of houses that looked just like it), was sleeping — and the couple liked that.
That’s how my mother grew up a Mexican girl in a family of blondes in a neighborhood of white people and experienced the politics of race in America in the unique way adopted children do. In the way that has them pressing their noses up to the glass of the culture they were born into (but not raised in) while being pushed against that glass — and out the door — by the default whiteness of a country that says “You’re not one of us.”
It’s a concept that dominates and develops Nicole Chung’s “All You Can Ever Know.” It recalls her childhood in the Pacific Northwest as a child of Korean descent adopted by white parents in the 1970s. She navigates — or tries to — the complicated intricacies of looking like she belongs somewhere else, with someone else, and how that constant drumbeat of being pointed out as different awakens the kernel of truth that, at one point, she did belong somewhere else — and to someone else.
It forces her to reconcile the fundamental question of where she came from, what it means and if it should have all played out differently; if her home country and culture is really hers or if she’s been renting this whole time.
Chung’s story isn’t a long read, clocking in at 225 pages, so it’s perfect for a long holiday weekend. And since I promised each book recommendation would come with a bonus song choice, simply search Spotify, iTunes, Pandora or grab a CD (Honestly not sure they make these anymore, so if you don’t already have it you’re out of luck) and find “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
It’s pretty obvious, so I’m not going to waste column inches here explaining why this pair makes so much sense other than to say, if that classic holiday song makes you think of home and long for something that may not be there anymore, you’ll like “All You Can Ever Know.”
"I’ll Be Gone in the Dark"
If comedy is tragedy plus time, then Patton Oswalt grew on me over the last year. I never thought he was par-ticularly funny in that I never particularly saw him. He existed in the peripheral of my environment like Marvel movies and Kombucha.
He didn’t come into focus until a few months ago, sometime before all the wildfires and Bohemia Mining Days, when his name was casually mentioned in news stories describing the capture of the Golden State Killer.
The man who terrorized California by raping and killing women was the subject of obsessive research for Oswalt’s wife, Michelle McNamara. But the true crime writer didn’t live to see his arrest — she passed away in her sleep two years earlier at the age of 46.
'“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is the culmination of McNamara’s unfinished work that Oswalt completed with the help of additional writers after her death. It chronicles her search for the man who eluded police for decades while committing approximately 50 sexual assaults and killing 10 women.
McNamara weaves such an easy story it’s nearly impossible to believe that it was hard work pouring over police reports, interviewing survivors and embedding herself in online chatrooms investigating every detail that would lead to his arrest and the bittersweet reality that McNamara died before the payoff.
Wherever she is, I hope her heart is light and that all her troubles are out of sight and while I never found Oswalt funny and he’s slipping out of focus again, I hope he and his young daughter find some sort of peace in believing they’ll all be together if the fates allow.
So, if you’re into true crime or want to appreciate the fact you get to see another year come and go, read “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” and listen to the holiday favorite “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
“One thing we should keep in mind moving forward is that no one ever rolled heads down temple stairs. Mel Gibson made that up. But we do have in our minds, those who saw the movie, the heads rolling down temple stairs in a world meant to resemble the real Indian world in the 1500s in Mexico. Mexicans before they were Mexicans. Before Spain came.”
Ugh, Tommy Orange.
“There, There” is his debut novel but I’ve already set a Google alert to notify me the minute he releases the next thing he writes. I don’t care if it’s a grocery list — I’m sure it will be equally as poetic, heart breaking and obnoxiously self-questioning as “There, There.”
The novel takes place in California today but also not today — some of it reaches as far back as 40 or 50 years ago but in a way that separates the narrative before making you realize it’s all the same story.
He’s tricky, that Tommy Orange.
Six characters guide us through the modern-day depictions of Native Americans in the U.S. and the institution-alization of the images as they make their way to the largest pow-wow in the state.
The text is ripe with the irony and injustice that is Native existence today examining what was, what is and challenging what we’ve accepted as truth and history. It’s uncomfortable and rambles; it finds resolution in the smallest of conflicts and lets the larger wars rage; it makes allowances for the division in Native culture for those who’ve been told they’re Native but have become “urbanized” and vocalizes the fears that come when an entire people are at risk of vanishing — left only to memory and caricature.
Borrowing from Gertrude Stein, Orange sums it up, … “(she) found that she was talking about how the place where she’d grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore.”
It should be required reading and it earned my top spot for 2018. Easily.
And because every first-place winner deserves a song so good, so cherished it is unquestionably (unquestionably) the best holiday song, I suggest “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
Yes, Mariah Carey.
Here’s why: Many have come for her Christmas title and have fallen short. Kelly Clarkson (please), Brittney Spears (go home), a bunch of country artists I don’t know because to me they all sound and look the same, with their cowboy boots and hats and heartbreak.
And not one of them has toppled the No. 1 singles queen from her throne.
“All I Want for Christmas is You” was released in 1994. That means they’ve all had 24 years to come up with something better.
Not even HRH Beyoncé has attempted to touch Mariah’s mantel. Because she has some respect and holds her elders where they belong — on a pedestal.
There it is, my top three.
And if none of those appeal to you, try one of the (very close) runners-up: “The Library Book,” “The Great Believers,” “American Prison” and “Educated.”