Smackdown Books 2018

Wolf Hollow
Salt to the Sea
The Serpent King
Optimists Die First
The Hate U Give
Orphan Island
Dan vs. Nature
The Female of the Species
Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere
Paper Girls, Vol. 1
The Passion of Dolssa
The Distance Between Us
When We Collided
Louis parmi les spectres
Girl in the Blue Coat
Defy the Stars

Thursday, May 11, 2017

I’ve been taking part in the Mighty Smackdown for a few years now and I think this has been a really tremendous edition. Not only because of the exceptional quality of the books - even the ones I was critical of were still pretty darn good, and these final three are all exceptional - but also because of two significant changes for me: 1) I have two of my wonderful colleagues from Callingwood, Beth and Christy, taking part in the Smackdown this year and 2) My daughter Sara is now old enough to read and enjoy most everything the Smackdown has thrown our way.

It says a lot about the level of books on offer in this year’s Smackdown that I feel really honored and inspired to be able to share these books with these important people in my life. Choosing between three books of this caliber is tough not only because they are such uniquely good reads, but also because I think they share an ethos and maybe even a moral compass. And not to get all political on y’all, but you don’t have to look much further than the leader of the free world’s latest transgression (Note: I’m referring to the FBI director’s firing, but I haven’t checked twitter since I started typing this, so there may be an even more egregious betrayal of fundamental democratic principles occurring as I write) to see that we live in very perilous times, where our hearts and minds are being battered by violence that seems so absurd it sometimes masquerades as the comical. But, of course, there’s not much funny about revolting abuses of power and this is at the heart of each of these three books, and perhaps, most profoundly, it is the core of Echo, our choice to be the Smackdown victor. I have a bit of a tendency in these posts to justify my choice by poking holes in the other book and sometimes that feels OK, but it wouldn’t feel very good With The War that Saved My Life and Wolf By Wolf. We all deeply enjoyed both of these books and I don’t have anything bad to say about them. Why Echo then? Well, it is beautifully written, with characters that are fully realized through restraint rather than excessive detail and these characters have a resonance that continues even after one closes the book for the night. The three primary stories at the heart of the novel (excluding that framing narrative) are wrapped up and tied together neatly for us in the end, but even before we see how everything comes together there is a unity to the narrative that runs through all three of those stories. The musical thread serves an important narrative function, but I think it also, to come back to my earlier point, conveys a powerful and devastatingly important point about the power of the arts to transcend tyranny, from the petty to the grandiose. But I don’t need to tell any of us that, because that’s at least part of why we keep coming back the Smackdown every year. See you next year! Thanks Arlene and Dia, as always!

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