• Your Favorite O’Nan of the Year

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 35 comments

    Discussion questions: Tell me about your favorite 2019 reading experiences. Does a particular book stand out as the best you read this year? Or if not the best, your favorite? Do any reading moments come to mind, where you weren’t necessarily reading your favorite book of the year but still had a memorable experience? Let’s talk about your year in reading in the comments below. And if you’re looking forward to any particular book(s) in 2020, I wanna hear about that, too.


    It seems the older I get, the more I’m looking for memorable reading experiences, as opposed to simply memorable books.

    I’ve tried to write about this before, and for some reason I have trouble articulating it. Maybe because I have trouble understanding it. But here’s what I mean: I’m more likely to remember a book I read in a unique place, or at a unique moment in my life, than a better book I read at home.

    Let’s try it this way: Imagine two books, Book A and Book B. Book A is the best book I’ve ever read; Book B is so-so. But I read Book A at home, or in any of my other everyday reading spots; I read Book B on a train traversing Asia. Because of the unique environment, I’m more likely to remember, and more fondly, the experience of reading Book B, even though it’s not as good a book as Book A. And I’m also more likely to remember more about its plot, structure, etc.

    I don’t know what this means. It’s just how my brain works these days.

    Ian Crouch, in an excellent New Yorker piece about his struggle (which matches mine) with reading retention, writes this passage, which hits home for me:

    “If we are cursed to forget much of what we read, there are still charms in the moments of reading a particular book in a particular place. What I remember most about Malamud’s short-story collection The Magic Barrel is the warm sunlight in the coffee shop on the consecutive Friday mornings I read it before high school. That is missing the more important points, but it is something.”


    That’s a too-lengthy introduction to what my purpose here is: To tell you about my favorite 2019 reading experiences, and to ask that you share yours in the comments below.


    At the end of March I took myself on a little writing retreat up the Hudson; I rode an Amtrak to Hudson, NY, and stayed in a dismal motel, where I knocked out about three chapters of a novel. The weather was atrocious, so mostly I stayed in.

    When I did go out, I took along Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, an excellent novel I’d read some years earlier. After one particularly fruitful writing session, where I wowed myself with some surprisingly artful passages about baseball, I skipped across the street to a deserted Chinese restaurant. I do mean deserted; I was the only patron, throughout my meal. Which should’ve raised alarm bells.

    But I was riding high from my writing, and over a plate of Kung Pao chicken (which was delicious, and didn’t make me ill) (at least not deathly ill), I read Joseph O’Neill’s brilliant and sentimental (in the best way) reflections about his character’s love of baseball’s close cousin, cricket.

    In my memory, the entire weekend coalesces into that one meal with that one section from that one book.



    In June, after a weekend in Plymouth recording dozens of episodes of Yak Babies, including one where we discussed Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster, I spent a night back in Boston and visited the Brattle Book Shop, one of my favorite haunts from my grad-school days.

    In the stacks I found a few more O’Nan titles. I hadn’t read any other O’Nan, but Lobster was excellent, so I figured I should try another. I settled on The Night Country, and went back to my hotel with my new toy. Over dinner at the attached bar, I read one of the creepiest and most unique opening chapters I’ve come across. I almost considered closing the book and saving it for the Halloween season.

    But it was so good, I just had to keep going. And going. And going.

    Hours later I stumbled out of the bar, drunk not on alcohol but on good literature, and alcohol. Up in my room, I put the book on the nightstand and flipped on the TV. Then I flipped off the TV, picked the book back up, and read into the middle of the night.

    The next morning, on the bus back to NYC, I finished.

    Since then, I’ve read more O’Nan. Of the four O’Nan books I read in 2019, The Night Country ranks only third. But as a reading experience — where I bought it, where I read it, what was happening with me psychically at the time — it’s my favorite O’Nan of the year.


    I want to hear about your favorite O’Nan of the year. Figuratively if not literally. (If you haven’t tried Stewart O’Nan, browse his titles and strongly consider giving one a go.)

    Tell me about your favorite 2019 reading experiences. Particular moments that stand out, particular books that dropped your jaw; your coolest 2019 reading environments.

    Did you read as much this year as you wanted to? If not, why not?

    Are there any books you’re looking forward to diving into in 2020?

    Tell me about it below.

    And then, if you haven’t already, hop on over to last week’s post, where we talked about our favorite 2019 writing experiences.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2019 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    I think you’re asking: “What was your best association with reading a particular book this year?” It’s not a place for me. My reading was done at home and I don’t get out much. So I’ll judge by looking for that book that grabbed me and stimulated me intellecutally or emotionally to the point I enjoyed (indeed, looked forward to) the experience of reading. Actually, there were a few of those experiences in 2019. Though in familar surroundings, the association of the book transformed my environment rather than the reverse (although I have had the reverse experience in 2016 with… Read more »


    Good morning, I feel there are a few books that I really enjoyed but perhaps if I had to write down my most favorite book, it might be a toss up between a book written on Anger and another book written about the brain. The book written about anger is called The Angry Book, written by Theodore Issac Rubin. I chose to read that book because I felt tons of anger towards a man that I thought I loved. For some reason, feeling that much anger did not seem healthy especially towards someone I felt love for. The book helped… Read more »


    I am very interested in the brain as well. I may check out the Deepak Chopra book. I have been listening to one of his TED talks about healing.


    Yes, thanks for the response. The brain is one very powerful muscle and very needed too. I cannot imagine walking around town, and forgetting my brain in the glove comparment of my car. Or leaving my brain at school and trying to do my homework after dinner. Hmm…something to ponder over today, I guess. Grateful, Brigitte


    you couldn’t even forget your brain unless you had a brain to do the forgetting


    If you see a wet squishy gray thing lying around the NY/NJ area it might be mine…pour black coffee on it and play jazz for it until I get there…

    Elissa Malcohn

    I generally read at home, in waiting rooms, or at one of our local diners. In good weather I’ll read on our front porch or at a local park. So this year’s reading experience is not place-based but book-based, and for that the prize goes to Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Wow, did that book mess with my head, in a good way. With ten days to go in the year, I’ve finished reading 80 books, with three more in partial stages of completion. Of the three, one is my current library loan, one is a free download that I’ve interrupted for… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I can’t think of an all-night bookstore, and I moved to the Boston area in 1983 (visited the Cheers bar after running a road race in 2002). In addition to Brattle Book Shop, I hung out at the Coop, Paperback Booksmith (gone, I believe), and Grolier (danced in the street at their 75th anniversary celebration — they are THE place to go for poetry). And Mandrake Books, which (now that I’ve checked my journal) is actually the place where I had purchased the Watkins. I’ve read some shorter books this year (a couple by Karel Čapek come to mind), but… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    Mandrake was near what had been the Wursthaus in Harvard Square (the Wursthaus closed in 1997). I suspect it has closed as well. I have a new contender for best reading experience of 2019. The time span between Christmas and New Year’s has always held a magical quality for me that is best embodied in the Janus head (looking backward and forward at once) that I once carried in Boston’s First Night procession. When I was a kid it was embodied in all the TV and radio retrospectives. Time changed form. It stood still, hovering between past and future, and… Read more »


    The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts by Abbie Farwell Brown, an out of print book I discovered by accident while searching for something else. The old drawings are great. The stories are fun. I am amused, inspired or horrified by lives of saints, but I really like the ones with the magical animals. I have had a hard time finishing reading anything this year, for some reason, but I finished Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour because her descriptions and exposition are so rich and because she was writing about turn of the century NYC, from which time/place I, and… Read more »


    Not attacked yet, just scared. They are roaming all over the East Side, and I wouldn’t be scared except I read that they have been attacking people in Michigan. They are huge, wild turkey, birds. One day I turned the corner on my street and there were four of them, standing in front of the dentist’s office. Waiting for their cleanings I suppose. One day I saw that four females were occupying my neighbor’s porch, and then out strutted this huge male, and he started squawking at them and flapping his wings; he flew up onto the porch railing and… Read more »


    It dawned on me slowly that the asterisks around where are you are implying that I might be somewhere other than my *right mind*. Yes! It’s fun. Seriously, there are turkeys, they are out there, they are coming for you. Seriously, seriously, I can walk my dog for 1/2 hour and generally see two to three separate clans. They walk very slowly across streets, paying no mind to traffic.


    As spelling bee champion of the fourth grade in my elementary school I object to any changes in spelling whatsoever; but, that being said, I have seen a few words in the dictionary–can’t think of what they are offhand, where they list two spellings, one of which is ‘through common usage’, so you could try just spelling it that way and see if it catches on. But what about house keys and car keys? Would they be kies?


    Whiskeys and whiskies…
    Actually they have turkeys in NJ….(no government jokes, please)…but there were/are wild turkeys around Lakewood, lots of commentary over Thanksgiving (“They are coming, with cranberry sauce and stuffing TO SEEK REVENGE on humans! One was seen carrying a copy of ‘To Serve Man’ by Damon Knoght!”, etc)…


    Okay, I won’t make any government jokes. This is dead serious. Notice the spelling of Chris Christie. Didn’t it used to be Christey? Did David Duhr change that too? And, speaking of serving, hence servers, I heard that he wants to change the spelling of Ukraine to You, Crane. Something very birdy going on here.


    Yes, and henceforth my first name will be abbreviated as “Kiev”…and when we’re done Russian around the You, Crane we will call on Vladimir and sing “Putin On the Ritz” in honor of his favorite cracker.

    In other news, here in Jersey “Christie” is now spelled either “Mudd” or “Phoole”, depending on one’s political affiliation/affectation…either way, have some turducken for NYE before The Many Fowl of Lakewood get their own movie, courtesy of The Bard of Bloomfield, David Chase…


    I surrender.


    Why did you want to go out intentionally?


    I sort of discovered E.E. Cummings this year (not e.e.; the lower-case initials were a publisher’s affectation, apparently). I was aware of his work but I never explored it much…not sure why…

    Oh crap, I committed semi-colon…

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