2018 in Review – Literary

2018 in Review – Literary

Top 5 Local Literary News Stories of 2018

5. Early this year it was announced that Mike Stanton’s 2003 Buddy Cianci bio The Prince of Providence would be adapted for the stage. I won’t hold my breath, because Trinity Rep commissioned playwright George Brant to do the job. His recent comedy Into the Breeches! was far and away the single worst play that I saw this year.

4. At the very end of 2017 Take Magazine announced that is was shutting down. Based in western Massachusetts, the award-winning regional arts and culture magazine profiled artists, chefs, and makers from all over New England. (I wrote quite a few stories for them, including a food tour of Pawtucket for their final print issue, which hit newsstands (and Whole Foods checkout aisles) in February.

3. Cellar Stories owner Mike Chandley passed away in August at the age of 67. The store, ironically located on the second story of a Mathewson Street building, thankfully remains open.

2. Providence Public Library began a $25 million top-to-bottom renovation this fall. It’s the largest public library renovation in the history of Rhode Island.

1. Armed with a documentary film crew, Sean Spicer came to Rhode Island this summer to promote his memoir, The Briefing, which focused mostly on the six months in which he served as the mouthpiece for the executive branch of the federal government. The tour, which was already a disaster, led to protests in Spicer’s hometown of Barrington. The most annoying conversation I had all year was with a devil’s advocate type who suggested that the store canceling the appearance would be censorship. Meanwhile, a BBC interviewer had perhaps the best response to the book.

My Year in Reading

I finished about twenty books this year and started probably just as many. We’re living in a great time for short books – some of the year’s most celebrated titles are in the 200-page range, which is great for those of us with limited time and/or attention spans. Here were ten favorites, five new titles and five older ones. I’m currently about 2/3 of the way through Tommy Orange’s There There, which has made tons of year-end Best Of lists. So far it seems just as good as everybody’s making it out to be.

1. Adrienne Celt, Invitation to a Bonfire
A Russian girl in New Jersey and her swirling, ominous romance with an obscure author from her homeland; based on the story of the Nabokovs, I guess.

2. Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
An essay collection for writers, for readers, and for anyone interested in queer life at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

3. Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Friday Black
A short story collection for fans of Black Mirror or Kurt Vonnegut, but one that pulls a fascinating trick on the reader near the end.

4. Laura van den Berg, The Third Hotel
A brief, thrilling novel about a woman roaming a film festival in Cuba, where she may or may not have found her dead husband. Recommended if you like David Lynch or Patricia Highsmith.

5. Rosalie Knecht, Who is Vera Kelly?
A zippy spy novel from an author who seems to have little to no interest in spy novels. This one’s about an American operative in 1960s Argentina and it’s a real page turner, though if you’re looking for James Bond style shenanigans you’ll hate the ending.

1. Kei Miller, Augustown (2017)
2. Young-Ha Kim, I Have the Right to Destroy Myself (1995)
3. Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)
4. Patricia Carlon, Crime of Silence (1999)
5. Abdellah Taïa, An Arab Melancholia (2008)

Good News (and lots of it)

Stillwater Books opened in downtown Pawtucket in March.
Kiddos, a children’s book and toy store, opened in Cumberland this spring.
Mobile book truck Twenty Stories opened a brick-and-mortar space in Pawtucket’s Hope Artiste Village.
Cookbook-heavy shop Ink Fish Books opened in Warren in the fall.
What Cheer Writers Club, a private co-working space for writers, opened up in downtown Providence. They had a public launch in late October that doubled as a NaNoWriMo kickoff.
The Collective, a group-run bookstore in Peace Dale, opened at the tail end of 2017 and really upped its presence this year (as in, I am now aware that it exists).
Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed introduced the bill to reauthorize the Library and Museum Services Act. It will hopefully pass.
Motif underwent a major (and very necessary) redesign in the fall.

Let Us Never Speak of It Again

In March, two Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill that would require internet service providers to block all sexual content. The block could be lifted with payment of a $20 fee to the state. The RI ACLU pointed out the many reasons why this bill made no sense, though we’re clearly moving towards an era where online activities are going to be policed. (See: recent developments with Tumblr and Facebook.) This may seem unrelated to books and literature, but I fear we’re quickly sliding downhill towards and era of increasing censorship. The bill was later withdrawn.

Gripe of the Year

This was a particularly gloomy year for local media. The Providence Journal is down to 15 reporters, and this year lost writers including Kate Branson (in January) and Andy Smith (in September). At least it wasn’t as bad as the TV news scene. In a horrifying zombification of society, news anchors for stations owned by Sinclair Media – which is to say, people who like news journalism enough to have made it their career – were all forced to recite the same creepy monologue warning viewers about fake news. Most reporters aren’t in a position to say no, so it was particularly disappointing that Frank Coletta, who is old and popular, delivered the message for Channel 10.