This was the year I realized life could encroach on reading unless I made a decision not to let it happen. I picked up big books, small books, weird books, popular books, and here are a few that slayed me.
First, A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava. There's something so compelling about seeing the American criminal justice system through the eyes of Casi, de la Pava's narrator and protagonist. The novel is messy and strange, acidly comic, brutal in its descriptions of the system that brutalizes the poor seemingly for sport. This is a protest novel that thankfully doesn't read like one. Never didactic, always inventive, a page turner that is at once hilarious, bizarre, and maddening. I can't say enough about this novel. I liked it so much, I set up an interview with Sergio, just so I could chat with him.
Francisco Goldman's The Interior Circuit is a marvel, and if you've been reading his incredible reporting from Mexico for The New Yorker, you know that Goldman knows the country well: its moods, its culture, its history. This particular book is almost unclassifiable (maybe that's a theme for this year—2014, the year of unclassifiable books?). Part memoir, part reportage, part homage to Mexico City, The Interior Circuit tells the story of Francisco's relationship with the world's largest urban center in the aftermath of his wife Aura Estrada's tragic death. He realized after she passed, that he could either break free from the city where they fell in love, or dive deeper in, and get to know it as never before. Thankfully for us, his readers, his fans, he chose the latter, and wrote this marvelous book as a result.
Lastly, the letters of Emma Reyes. I was gifted this amazing book when I was in Bogotá, a tiny little book, 130 pages, pressed into my hands by a young woman, who said I simply had to read it. It took me a few months, but I did. Fucking hell! Emma Reyes was a Colombian painter who passed a few years ago, and her letters, really her autobiography in letters, were collected and published this year in Colombia. Her poetic retelling of her childhood of grinding poverty in Bogotá and provincial Colombia is stunning. Every moment is beautifully drawn, subtle, strange, with a hint of anger. I loved this book so much I decided to translate it. So, New York editors: Anyone want to publish it in English?
Daniel Alarcón is the author of War by Candlelight, Lost City Radio, and At Night We Walk in Circles. In 2011, he co-founded Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language podcast committed to telling Latin American stories.