LARB Editors’ Picks, 2018

As we near the end of 2018, we’re looking back at some of the pieces we’re proud to have published this year. Here, our editorial staff has highlighted some of the most notable pieces they’ve worked on this year. We hope you enjoy — and if you’re moved to support LARB during our fund drive this December, we welcome your donation, no matter how small, to sustain the operations of our 501(c)(3), keep our publication paywall-free, and increase our capacity to pay our contributors. 

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Jay A. Fernandez, Editor:

Reclaiming Africa’s Stolen Histories Through Fiction” by Lizzy Attree: I was fortunate to edit many insightful, ambitious pieces this year, but Dr. Lizzy Attree’s essay on historical novels written by contemporary African authors has resonated with me longer than others. It does what all my favorite pieces do: explores a literary landscape foreign to me yet deserving of much wider exposure. She writes with great enthusiasm about her subjects and draws a hopeful thematic conclusion that these works may have impact far beyond the world of books.

 

Andrew Hoberek, Comics/Graphic Novels:

Comics and Storytelling: A Conversation with Mat Johnson” by Alex Dueben: I love this piece because we got a major contemporary novelist to talk at length about his work in comics. The result illuminates the current state of both art forms.

 

Anna Shechtman, Film:

Elio’s Education” by D. A. Miller: In his masterful review of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, D. A. Miller pursues a question that most would be too prude to explore: “Why are ‘mainstream gay movies’ conspicuously beautiful?” And, bolder still, “What does this high gloss of beauty work to conceal?” In answering, Miller not only punctures the film’s pretentious bloat, he discovers its pathos.

 

Eric Newman, Gender & Sexuality:

Sultry Night: Grant Wood’s Queer Midwest” by Anya Ventura: I learned so much working on this piece. For me it was one of those perfect LARB pieces that tells you something you didn’t know and then changes the way you see that thing moving forward.

 

 

Steph Cha, Noir:

Naomi Hirahara’s Los Angeles” by Mike Sonksen: This is the year we said goodbye to Mas Arai. After seven novels, Naomi Hirahara has finally let her elderly gardener turned amateur detective retire. The Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai series has been incredibly important, both to crime fiction and to the literature of Los Angeles (she’s getting her handprints in Vroman’s Walk of Fame this weekend!). I wanted to make sure we gave Mas a proper sendoff at LARB, so I tapped Mike Sonksen, also known as Mike the Poet, a native Angeleno with an enormous store of local knowledge, a natural byproduct of his endless enthusiasm and curiosity. He took it upon himself to read the whole Mas series, as well as several of Naomi’s nonfiction books. Naomi led us (me, Mike, and the graphic novelist and memoirist MariNaomi) on a walking tour of Mas’s Los Angeles, and Mike wrote up this huge, beautiful profile. It’s a wonderful tribute to both Naomi and Mas, two important figures in L.A. noir.

 

Jonathan Alexander, Young Adult:

‘Read Everything, Son, Everything You Can Get Your Hands On’: James Baldwin’s Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood” by Tiffany Willoughby-Herard: This article on the re-issue by Duke University Press of James Baldwin’s only book for children, Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood, speaks powerfully about the ongoing relevance of Baldwin’s work to understanding race relations and the experience of racial bigotry in our country.  It also testifies to the ability of a creative genius to mold his messages and insights for a variety of audiences and readers, in this case children and their parents.

 

Don Franzen, Law:

A Hope Manifesto for Times of Resistance” by Keli Goff: Author, journalist, playwright, and screenwriter Keli Goff contributed this moving review of the collected letters of Nelson Mandela, concluding her review with the comment that it was Mandela’s “commitment to finding the light in the darkest of circumstances and the dark walls of a prison cell that carries this book.”

 

Lee Konstantinou, Humanities:

New Black Gothic” by Sheri-Marie Harrison: It’s not only a great and original analysis of Childish Gambino’s “This is America” — a demonstration of how the video is part of a new wave of black cultural production that uses Gothic tropes. But it’s also a perfect example of a critical essay that genuinely crosses the boundary between academic and popular writing. Academics will cite “New Black Gothic,” but anyone interested in contemporary art and culture will learn from it.

 

Lisa Teasley, Senior Editor:

Youtube Comment #2 to Björk – Sacrifice – Live @ Zénith de Paris, France, March, 8th (08-03-2013)” by Yxta Maya Murray: Yxta Maya Murray is masterful on issues of feminism, art, self-promotion, as well as productivity as a parent, and this piece is done with wicked humor.

 

Katie Fitzpatrick, Humanities:

Himmler’s Antiquity” by Alison C. Traweek: Alison Traweek offers a forceful and thorough exploration of the racist origins of the Classics department. She reminds us that we all have a responsibility to fight white supremacy, even and especially in the academic spaces we call home.

 

David Higgins, Speculative Fiction

Tade Thompson’s Rosewater — An Alien Invasion that ‘Grows On You’” by Jessica FitzPatrick: This review is one of my favorites from the SF section this year it’s a thoughtful, well-written review of one of the most unusual and relevant works of SF that was released in 2018.

 

Costica Bradatan, Religion/Comparative Studies:

The Emperor and the Empty Tomb: An Ancient Inscription, an Eccentric Scholar, and the Human Need to Touch the Past” by Kyle Harper: It was pure joy to work on this piece. When Sherlock Holmes meets classical philology, we are in for a memorable feast. Harper’s essay makes the study of the past suddenly relevant. And that in a time that seems to have dispensed not only with the serious study of the past, but with true relevance as well.

 

Phillip Maciak, Television

The Other Secret Twist: On the Political Philosophy of The Good Place” by Robin James: What I love about Robin James’s essay on The Good Place and political philosophy is that it uses every single element of the show — its premise, its episodic structure, its casting, its reception, even the style of its serialization — to make a searing and hilarious and even moving argument. James takes The Good Place seriously as both a statement of political philosophy and as a TV show. What results is both unsparingly critical and extraordinarily generous — I could read writing like this all day.

 

Julien Crockett, Science and Law

Beyond the Lyme Wars” by Suzanne Koven: In her insightful review, Suzanne Koven artfully ties her experience as a physician trying to understand mysterious ailments like chronic Lyme disease with the personal account Porochista Khakpour offers in her book Sick: A Memoir. Suzanne places the reader at the center of this controversial medical debate introducing us to its many layers. As she writes, “chronic Lyme is either definitely phony or possibly real; chronic Lyme patients are either ‘head cases’ or people suffering from a serious and poorly understood disease; doctors who dismiss chronic Lyme are either responsibly practicing evidence-based medicine or they’re sexist jerks.”

 

Medaya Ocher, Managing Editor

The Cafe” by Kristen Gleason: Kristen Gleason’s short story “The Cafe” was one of my favorite pieces of 2018. It’s about three women, sitting around a white slab in a disembodied, strange café. They’re all eating seeded crackers and drinking decaffeinated coffee as curtains shimmer around them. Soon they start talking about the importance of travel — how much it changes you, how one must travel as much as possible. They then begin telling each other stranger and stranger stories from their travels — the stories are surreal, inexplicable, disturbing. There is an undercurrent of violence in all of the stories, and it finally bursts forth at the end, within the café itself. Gleason’s story is a satire — it’s very funny — but it’s also dark. It’s an impeccable depiction of privilege and capital, the commodification of experience, the movement of currency. It really took my breath away when I first read it, and it’s just as good on the 10th read as it was on the first.

 

Callie Siskel, Poetry

The Trouble You Promised: Reading Tracy K. Smith” by Sumita Chakraborty: In her beautifully written review of the poet laureate’s most recent book, Wade in the Water, Sumita Chakraborty realizes that to review one book is to recall a writer’s body of work. Like the title of Smith’s collection, Chakraborty traverses the poet’s poems, and brings to the surface four potent themes: Authority, Education, Need, and Love. In this review, which is also a lyrical essay, each theme, divided into sections, builds off the previous one, the way Chakraborty insists on cumulative and deeply-considered criticism.

 

Ellie Duke, BLARB Editor:

It Just Made Perfect Sense: Dorothy, a Publishing Project” by Nathan Scott McNamara: I am in awe of Dorothy Project — the quality of the writers they discover and celebrate, the beauty of their books, the community they have created — and I adored Nathan McNamara’s essay about the genesis of the press. Nate visits Danielle Dutton and Martin Riker, who founded and run Dorothy together in St. Louis, and discusses their work, their forthcoming books, and the state of publishing today. It is a delight!

 

Constance Valis Hill, Dance:

Color of Reality: Jon Boogz, Lil Buck, and Black Lives in Livid Color” by Constance Valis Hill: Color of Reality, the six-minute short film written, directed, and co-choreographed by Jon Boogz and fellow movement artist Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, in collaboration with painter and installation artist Alexa Meade, will be counted as one of the seminal anthems of the Black Lives Matter movement as it offers a most articulate, empathetic, and encapsulating response to police brutality. The film is mesmerizing, in large part, for the striking visual scenography of Alexa Meade, but where it makes its most original and enduring contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement is that Boogz and Riley have created an artistic language of movement — poetic, elevated, enduring — to give expression to black struggle in this millennium.

 

Christopher Newfield, Rethinking the University:

Remaking the University: Geoffrey Galt Harpham on Democracy and Interpretation in the United States” by Michael Meranze

 

Featured image by Etel Adnan, “Untitled” (2017), selected by Art Director Perwana Nazif. More in our Featured Artist Section.
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