Southwest Festival of the Written Word: The Best Books we Read in 2018

Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt looks at Shakespeare’s power wielders – King Lear, Macbeth, Richard III, etc. – and shows that the days of psychotic strongmen ruling their nations is nothing new. For a brilliant dissection of how the west has ransacked Africa, look no further than Lee Wengraf’s Extracting Profit: Imperialism, Neoliberalism, and the Scramble for Africa. Closer to home, I enjoyed Phil Connors’ A Song for the River, a beautiful meditation on life and death, and a paean to the natural world. JJ Amaworo Wilson, Chair, Southwest Festival of the Written Word

Image result for Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser is a transcendent view of America’s “pioneer” mythos. This richly detailed work examines the real lives fictionalized in the Little House series of books, the author’s complicated relationship with her editor/daughter, and the storied history of the series itself. Susan Berry, committee member

Penguin Random House UK’s 2018 re-release of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s abridged Gulag Archipelago is my pick for best book of the year. Solzhenitsyn himself approved this abridgment when it first appeared in 1985, and at under 500 pages, this accessible softcover will reach more readers than the 1800 page original ever could. Though not a pleasant read, it is an essential one. Dr. Roberta Brown, committee member

The best books I read this year were Hawthorne on Painting, a classic that covers the essentials with brevity; Theseus: Vincent Desiderio on Art, a modern painting master in conversation with aspirations, narrative, history, and culture, and interviews with Daniel Maidman; and The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World–and Us by Richard O. Prum, a subterranean and revelatory nexus of science and art. Paul Hotvedt, Executive Director, Southwest Festival of the Written Word

The portrayal of conflict between personal values and following (or not following) the letter of the law in Francisco Cantú’s The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border is extraordinary. Alexis Rhone Fancher’s Junkie Wife is an unapologetic, brutal, and yet compassionate insider look at life as a junkie. Katherine L. Gordon’s Caution: Deep Water is a gentle poetic report of life in the benevolently imprisoning environment of a progressive assisted living condo that does its best while unable to alleviate the yearning for adult autonomy. Beate Sigriddaughter, Poet Laureate of Silver City and Grant County, committee member

Written by a Hungarian exiled writer about a Hungarian writer in exile, The Door by Magda Szabo has one of the best relationships between women I’ve ever read. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, and has one of the best dog characters ever to appear in fiction. Louise Erdrich’s prolificness does not dilute her work. Her novel LaRose tests the boundaries of what family means, and in typical Erdrich style she doesn’t hold back at the same time as she keeps her cards close to her chest. Helen Oyeyemi’s collection What’s Yours is Not Yours is pure magic. Though the stories aren’t necessarily linked, characters show up in other characters’ stories, just like magic. Dr. Heather Steinmann, committee member

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