Before we all run off to celebrate our personal and communal New Years’ Eves tonight, some of the staff at the Columbia Journal thought we’d take a look back on 2015 and select some our favorites, our finds, and our obsessions. Here for your champagne-addled viewing pleasure are our Favorites of 2015. Feel free to steal some and use them in your conversations tonight. It’ll make you seem wicked smart.
Kristi DiLallo, Online Nonfiction Editor
One of my favorite essays from 2015 was “Girl” by Alexander Chee, which was published in Guernica’s special issue on gender over the summer. The piece is about the narrator’s experience dressing up in drag one night in the 90’s and, like much of Chee’s nonfiction, it explores his continued struggle to reconcile race, gender, and identity politics. The film that resonated with me the most this year was Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller Ex Machina. Not because of its aesthetics or special effects (which were brilliant), but because of its portrayal of the harmful effects of the male gaze and its powerful commentary on the over-sexualization of women. Like Mad Max: Fury Road, which was another of my favorites this year, it challenges us to think about what it means when men want to own women. Lastly, the best book I read this year was Roz Chast’s poignant and charming graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? It was released last year and was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award in nonfiction. Through brightly colored cartoons, old family photos, and documents she found in her parents’ home, Chast tells the story of caring for her elderly parents as they approached the end of their lives. It is a story of death and love and life that showcases Chast’s abilities not only as a prolific cartoonist, but also as a gifted storyteller.
Jesse E. Sherwood, Online Editor
I have a bad tendency to blur one year’s beginning and another’s end. It feels like 2015 started in June; and, seriously, it isn’t 2016 yet? So my picks may be pulled from the Jesse of 2014 and the imminent Jesse of 2016. One book that hit me over the head is A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. But since that one is on everyone’s list, I’ll choose Self Portraits: Stories by , and in particular, the story “Female.” A Japanese writer from the 1930s and 40s, Dazai’s semi-autobiographical stories are frank, self-depreciating, comical, and profound glimpses into life, relationships, and the burden of art (which is interchangeable with mental illness). My list for film is long, but two that seemed to push forward their genres were Slow West and the Austrian Goodnight Mommy. Slow West brings a realistic and yet classic take on the Western; Goodnight Mommy twists the horror and thriller genres and leaves you with an almost sickening “What the fuck?” feeling at the end. Some runners-up for film are: Interstellar (space+Matthew McConaughey), Bone Tomahawk (western+horror+Kurt Russel’s mustache), Get Low (Bill Murray+Robert Duvall+comedy+sadness), and Nightcrawler (Jake Gyllenhaal+creepy+media). Runners-up for books: Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño (literature+fascism+mystery), Fata Morgana by Svetislav Basara (existentialism+meta+comedy), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by A New History of Life by
Raluca Albu, Managing Editor
If you want to be transported by language, read Lidia Yukanvitch’s The Small Backs of Children. It’s part novel, part poetry, part philosophy, part meditation, part magic. Reviewers have referred to this book as one that resists categorization, redefines the parameters of a novel, and productively challenges readers expectations. They’re completely right. It’s a story about war, children, internal conflict, ethical choices, and how artists handle (or don’t handle) it all. Yukanavitch never flinches from the edge – she lets her characters jump right off of it, and it’s great to read through. She is not only an incredible writer, but also a powerful motivating force for other writers. Take a look at her ‘Corporeal Writing’ videos for support and inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9pUjixyWI4
If lyrical prose isn’t your thing, but you love strong short stories, check out Vintage Books’ new anthology: New American Stories edited by Ben Marcus. It’s full of smart, weird, memorable, probing, haunting short stories by some of the strongest writers out there. The stories here are equal part thought provoking and entertaining — covering a broad swath of what short stories have the capacity to do. Marcus’ introduction is a strong work of prose in and of itself — it will stay with you as a quiet cheerleader through every story – a strong reminder of why we pick these heavy pages up in the first place, and how fun it is to disappear into them.
Claire Sibley, Online Translation Editor
The two songs tying for my ears’ attention this year were Fetty Wap’s “Again” and Neko Case’s “Things That Scare Me.” “Again” is a feast of seductive destruction, while Case’s song is an excellent resource if you like to take long walks into your loneliness late at night. Of similar bleak ilk is my movie of the year, The Purge: Anarchy, a spec-fic “horror” film which manages to incisively critique America’s socio-economic fixity while entertaining the pants off you. As a bonus, Michael K. Williams (The Wire’s Omar) performs a bizarre cameo on par with Iggy Pop’s 1990 Hardware voiceover. The books which shook me were Rankine’s Citizen and Mitchell’s translations of Rilke’s Duino Elegies; the latter reminded me of what poetry can and should do to consciousness (“”And how bewildered is any womb-born creature / that has to fly. As if terrified and fleeing / from itself, it zigzags through the air, the way / a crack runs through a teacup. So the bat / quivers across the porcelain of evening.”). Citizen is something different: a book which Americans need to change the ruinous racism which wracks their country. To wash it down, my 2015 beverage of choice was a tall glass of V8 laced with an unhealthy quantity of Frank’s RedHot.