COPY’s Favorites of 2023: Literature
Where we found words of wisdom—in print, in person, and online.
By THE COPY TEAM
Shark Heart by Emily Habeck
Lewis and Wren are married, and they are happy. Lewis begins turning into a shark, and then they are less happy. This is a piece of literature that will gut you like a fish and drench your eyes in saltwater. The book is formally genius, rich with metaphor, and hilarious. Shark Heart reminded me that literature can heal, transport, and teach. When I finished the book at The Goddess & Grocer in Wicker Park, I cried so hard that I had a river of snot running down my face.
Pig by sam sax
These poems are just so, so good. Horny, vulnerable, stinky, shit-covered, flesh-loving, melancholic, chewy, elegiac, reverent, irreverent, oh yes, sam sax did it again, it’s all here, it’s all in this book.
“Never Left: Notes on leaving but forever remaining present (PART II: L.A.)” by Jason Parham in The Los Angeles Times
Thank you to my hometown newspaper for this absolute gem. After reading, I immediately texted the link to my mom and one of my best friends from L.A. And I cried. I want to sear these closing lines behind my eyes: “What I am now certain of is this: A person can also find home by leaving it. Because to remember what made you is to survive. And to survive is to honor everything that has made you.”
Someone Who Isn’t Me by Geoff Rickly
My Goodreads review of this was just “fucking banger” and that’s saying something because I can be verbose. This novel follows Geoff, lead singer of the post-hardcore band Thursday, as he undergoes treatment with ibogaine—a potentially lethal psychedelic—for heroin addiction at a clinic in Mexico. Trapped inside his mind, the narrative digs through layers of memories in a desperate search for survival and healing. It’s a modern echo of The Divine Comedy. It’s dark, funny, and heartbreakingly beautiful. It floored me.
“Forest Against the Trees” by Sarah Aziza in The Baffler
Illuminating and infuriating. This essay is both a resonant personal history and an in-depth look at how extractive agricultural practices reflect the brutalizing process of colonization.
“no good alone” by Rayne Fisher-Quann in Internet Princess
A critical essay on the mental health/wellness/therapy movement of self-isolation for self-improvement’s sake. It breaks down the notion that we “don’t owe anyone anything” and instead paints an image of a beautiful existence rich with conflict, pain, uncertainty, and connection. As it turns out, an antisocial life is no life to live, and you come to find that people are far more forgiving than you give them credit for. I try to give it a good read every so often to remind myself that nothing real can have contact without friction. “To grow beside a friend or lover, knowing that you will poke and prod at each other as you take shape but unafraid of the resulting scar tissue—this is the good stuff.” <3
Paul Schrader’s Facebook
Still going strong in 2023. I don’t remember my Facebook login, but luckily for those of us below 50, there is a Twitter page dedicated to taking and posting screenshots of Schrader’s posts (@paul_posts). Highlights include critiques of AI, provocative takes on popular new movies, and opinions on Taylor Swift’s relationships.
South by Babak Lakghomi
A haunting, enthralling book about a journalist named B who is assigned a mysterious project to report on recent strikes on an offshore oil rig. What follows is a hallucinatory, spinning fever dream of how far one goes to find and protect the truth. I’m a huge fan of Lakghomi’s poetic language that commands the reader’s attention at every turn.
“November 23 2007, Again” by Cash Compson in Expat Press
I’ve been a huge fan of Compson’s poetry for a while, but the stunning storytelling in this poem stopped me in my tracks. His language is cruel, longing, and absolutely beautiful. “Just make me fat / with all that hate. Your cherubic slut.” Writers like this keep me going. Keep an eye out for his poetry collection, People Scare Me, out next February from House of Vlad.
“50 Years Later, Terrence Malick’s Badlands Remains a Pure Encapsulation of American Violence” by Gus Mitchell in Literary Hub
“Girls Like You” by Annell López in Guernica
Writers are often advised to avoid second-person narration, partially because it’s so difficult to pull off. Tell that to Annell López. Her essay exploring the relationship between artistic and personal loss brilliantly intertwines the reader with the narrator’s own grief and emotions.
I Do Everything I’m Told by Megan Fernandes
I saw Meg read “Do You Sell Dignity Here?” and “Sagittarius” in Hudson and bought her book a week later. Meg’s poems are sharply humorous and profoundly self-aware. Her command of language and relationship to locations weave vivid, emotional stories that I find myself coming back to again and again.
“Sorry to Interrupt This Wilco Festival, But There Are Some Bad IPAs Going Around” by Pat Cassels in McSweeney’s
Speaking as someone who grew up in Chicagoland and, I’ll admit, loves a hazy IPA, this quick read from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is the perfect drag. This one is for all the dad-music lovers out there.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (2011-2014)
Oh to find a depiction of female friendship capable of holding hatred and love at once! I haven’t quite recovered from these. I feel I know myself better after reading them.
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut (2020)
Between this book and Oppenheimer, I am beginning to feel like a tiny, tiny particle. I’ve realized I like feeling small. It makes it all so much more interesting.
Stereophonic by David Adjmi (seen at Playwrights Horizons)
Collaboration is hard. We forget that a lot.
Sounds like this one is coming back in the new year.
Elaine Farah’s Poetry Emails
Little moments of joy when these find their way into my inbox. Contact Elaine to be added to the list.
The Golem of Brooklyn by Adam Mansbach
Potentially one of the best books I read this year, The Golem of Brooklyn had me dying laughing over and over again. One day, in his backyard, Len Bronstein accidentally creates and brings to life a Golem—a mythical Judaica figure that can be summoned in times of crisis. What ensues is mayhem, a road trip, and an attempt to readjust history. My book club (which is just me and two of my friends) held a very necessary meeting about this one over fries and diet cokes at Brooklyn’s Kellogg’s Diner. To anyone Jewish and from New York: read this. You won’t be sorry.
On Nobody Famous by Kaitlyn Tiffany and Lizzie Plaugic
The fact that we live in a world where you can read someone’s Substack in paperback form is a beautiful thing. Kaitlyn and Lizzie, authors of Famous People, which is now hosted online by The Atlantic, write about their mundane gallivanting around New York, the weird things they see, the random drinks they buy. I giggled my whole way through this book, which I read cover to cover in about two hours. It was a fun time.
“Jax, Americana” by John Paul Brammer in ¡Hola Papi!
I know very little about Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules or the “Scandoval” that rocked the network, the fandom, and the world according to my Twitter feed. But Brammer’s (typically) excellent diagnosis of Jax, the hollow, tan, self-styled Don Juan of the SUR TV universe is both an indictment of his model of American masculinity and the culture that has created and enabled him. It also features a quotation I have not been able to stop thinking about, and would get tattooed if I wasn’t worried about what it would say about me: “He pushes women away so that he might desire them anew, a Gatsby who much prefers the green light over Daisy and would date the green light itself if he could, if the green light would agree to a boob job.”