End of the 2010s

Washington Writers Pick Their Favorite Local Books of the Decade

E.J. Koh, Angela Garbes, Paul Constant—each offers a title for your reading list.

By Ryan Phelan December 27, 2019

End of the decade lists are decently narcotic—you almost have to click. But quantifying art is, of course, deeply fraught. And silly. So instead of trying to rank local books from the last 10 years we reached out to local writers we like and asked a simple question: “What’s your favorite book—or the one you’d most implore others to read—by a Washington state writer this past decade? And why (in a sentence or three)?" Some interpreted the sentence or three loosely, but here are their answers. 

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson
In a decade that saw Marvel Comics explode from a nerdy diversion to the biggest film franchise in Hollywood history, Seattle author G. Willow Wilson was charged with the intimidating task of rethinking Marvel superheroes for 21st century America. Created by Wilson, artist Adrian Alphona, and editor Sana Amanat, Ms. Marvel is a shape-changing Muslim teenager named Kamala Khan who posts Wolverine and Spider-Man fan fiction during the day and fights to keep the streets of Jersey City crime-free at night. With a wicked sense of satire and a thoughtful approach to comic-book violence, Wilson gave Ms. Marvel a distinctive voice, a wholesome moral code, and a complex universe of weird characters and modern-day dilemmas. – Paul Constant, co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books

Hardly War by Don Mee Choi
Don Mee Choi's poetry collection Hardly War gives the truth of history, national identity, and militarism. Like Don Mee Choi, as a daughter of immigrant parents and an inheritor of violence, these operatic words rearranged how my mind and body perceived war. – E.J. Koh, author of The Magical Language of Others

Everfair by Nisi Shawl
The book I would implore others to read is Nisi Shawl's Everfair, a radical re-imagining of Belgian Congo. Everfair challenges us to reconsider what we consider possible, what it would take to transform the conditions for a horrific genocide into an earned, thought-out utopia. It is a fascinating labor. – Quenton Baker, author of This Glittering Republic

Curve of the World by Vonda N. McIntyre
Vonda N. McIntyre completed her final novel, Curve of the World, in March, just two weeks before she died of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Vonda was a brilliant writer with huge talent—and an even greater heart. She believed in community and humanity's ability to solve problems by paying attention to reality and to each other. Curve of the World is an alternate history of the ancient world, three or four thousand years ago, in which Minoans build a global trading community based on mutual obligation and a trust-but-verify approach to communication. We meet people, human and imperfect people of the steppe, Central America, the North American plains, northwest coast, plus the piratical Sea People who prey on them, and see how the Minoan credo—pay attention, communicate, tell the truth (particularly to yourself), and trust-but-verify—can build a working world in which capitalism, global trade, and fairness are not contradictions in terms. There is still conflict—war and famine, fear and hatred, love and friendship, human dignity and human slavery—because people are people, but it is a marvelous vision of how the world might have been, perhaps once was, and might, still, one day be. The world needs this novel. – Nicola Griffith, author of So Lucky

While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Madness by Eli Sanders
In the aftermath of an unspeakably gruesome crime in South Park, Sanders (who won a Pulitzer for his work covering it) manages, through exhaustive and compassionate reporting, to create something utterly beautiful. The care he takes with the victims and survivor, as well as his empathy for the perpetrator, are a powerful reminder of the interconnectedness of all our lives. – Angela Garbes, author of Like a Mother

Overpour by Jane Wong
There is a calming knowing in Wong’s 2016 poetry collection that reminds me of someone broken standing in the family garden and finally realizing who they are and what they can never have, and yet they love the world. Every day, there is a haunting, there is wind, and Wong’s sharp poetry has followed me around ever since, transporting me still to tragic places as I walk the streets of Seattle. – Richard Chiem, author of King of Joy

Instructions for My Mother’s Funeral by Laura Read
Laura Read is a Washington state treasure, and while she’s a well-known literary name on the eastern side of our state, she deserves a lot more rooftop shouting over here in the Seattle area. Her most recent collection of poems, Dresses from the Old Country, does a beautiful job showcasing her ability to walk the fine line between humor and heartache. However, if you haven’t read her first book—the Donald Hall Prize-winning collection Instructions for My Mother’s Funeral—you should start there. This book should have been an easy contender for the Washington State Book Award seven years ago. But just because those judges passed it up back then doesn’t mean you have to miss out on these excellent poems now. The Guggenheim award-winning poet Dorianne Laux picked this collection for publication out of hundreds of other manuscripts under consideration, and there’s a good reason why: Read’s poems help us to recognize our flawed but flourishing selves on each page, as if catching a glimpse of our own reflection in a plate of window glass, eyes full of wonder, surprise, and yes, tears. – Keetje Kuipers, author of All Its Charms

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