By the Book with Julia Alvarez

Editor's note: Ahead of Inside the Writer's Studio tonight with Julia Alvarez (there are still tickets available!), we asked her to share with us some of her favorite books of the past year, which she's generously included below. 

I keep a reading diary, in which I write down the books I've read, starring the ones I love, listing favorite poems if the book is a poetry collection. Sometimes I'm moved to write a sentence or two about a book.  

So I looked over this past year's list and picked only those books that blew me away. Books whose covers I stroked (or shamelessly kissed–I have been known). I also decided to include some favorites from 2018. I hope my gush doesn't end up being an emotional spoiler alert. None of us want to be told that we must fall in love with anything or anyone. As with people, so with books, we each fall in love with those who call to who we are and where we are in our lives. So please consider this an introduction to my lover's list of beloved books–and if you fall in love, too, I'm willing to share.

Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
Sigrid Nuñez, The Friend 
Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt (Sent to me to blurb–amazing novel!  But don't go looking for it yet, due out next year)
Jenny Erpenbeck, Go, Went, Gone  (This author is a new find and favorite. The novel is devastating–it's about the slow politicization of a retired Classics professor when he encounters a group of refugees camped out in a small square in Berlin. Even the translation seems seamless–I don't read German. I've given this book away to so many friends and have talked about it so much that if you've read any interviews in the past year, you'll have heard me say all this before!)

Short Story Collections
Look no further than your own Kali Fajardo-Anstine's collection of linked stories, Sabrina & Corina (I was sent the galleys for a possible blurb, and read dutifully, but oh boy, I fell in love with this writer's fierce and bighearted imagination and absorbing female characters. So much so, I tried to get her hired at Middlebury College after I retired. Nobody ever listens to me–except all of you, of course.)

Another favorite: my dear friend Edwidge Danticat's new collection of stories, Everything Inside (This is a writer with an unerring moral imagination and deceivingly simple and accurate prose style. Her stories allow us inside a world not many of us know except through her stories: Haiti and its Diaspora.  There is everything inside all of us inside these stories.) 

Marie Arana's comprehensive and absorbing history of the southern part of our hemisphere, Silver, Sword & Stone: Three Crucibles of the Latin American Story, will help us all better understand the history behind those faces we now see on the news massed at the border or penned in cages by Customs & Border Patrol agents. For shame. But hey, this is my rage. Arana is balanced and accurate and fully informed in her reporting of how this debacle came to be will give depth to all our outrage.  Eduardo Galeano once noted, "History never says goodbye. History says, see you later." Arana proves this statement true. One of the best histories of Latin America, up there with Galeano's–a must read at this moment in our history.  

Poetry–I can't leave out my favorite genre!
Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X  (Not because she's Dominican-American, I swear, but this young writer is hugely talented. This first collection of poems–actually, a novel told in linked poems–is luscious, full of sass and attitude, portraying the coming of age of a self-doubting but driven young woman who comes into her full voice in this powerful debut!)

Julia Alvarez has written novels (How the García Girls Lost Their AccentsIn the Time of the Butterflies, ¡Yo!In the Name of SaloméSaving the World), collections of poems (HomecomingThe Other Side/ El Otro LadoThe Woman I Kept to Myself), nonfiction (Something to DeclareOnce Upon A Quinceañera, A Wedding in Haiti), and numerous books for young readers (including the Tía Lola Stories series, Before We Were Free, finding miraclesReturn to Sender and Where Do They Go?). A recipient of a 2013 National Medal of Arts, Alvarez is one of the founders of Border of Lights, a movement to promote peace and collaboration between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  She lives in Vermont, where she is at work on a new novel.