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The Scroll’s Year in Review

Some 2018 reading you might have missed to catch up on in the year ahead

The Scroll
January 01, 2019
Mostafa Dashti, Wikiart
Untitled painting, 2011Mostafa Dashti, Wikiart
Mostafa Dashti, Wikiart
Untitled painting, 2011Mostafa Dashti, Wikiart

A few weeks ago we offered a neat, numbered list of the “Tablet Top 10: An entirely subjective list, presented in no particular order, of our 10 favorite articles from Tablet’s Arts & Culture and News & Politics sections in 2018.”

That was the formal affair; “entirely subjective,” yes, but, nevertheless, presented with all the prestige and institutional authority of the Tablet imprimatur. Today, in a rather more impulsive and personal manner, The Scroll offers some ad hoc recommendations of its own from outside the Tablet universe. These are not official endorsements, just an incomplete list of suggestions representative of no broader judgment and presented in the spirit of a post-New Year’s hangover conversation as a way to send off the widening gyre that was 2018 and welcome what’s ahead.

– We haven’t had a chance yet to read C.J. Chivers new book, The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, but an excerpt published by The New York Times titled “War Without End” is one of the best things we’ve read about how individual soldiers and the institution of the military have been transformed under the doctrine of permanent war.

– While we’re on the subject, the Marine veteran and National Book Award winner Phil Klay wrote a searing essay for The Atlantic on how “Two Decades of War Have Eroded the Morale of America’s Troops.”

“If you think the mission your country keeps sending you on is pointless or impossible and that you’re only deploying to protect your brothers and sisters in arms from danger, then it’s not the Taliban or al-Qaeda or isis that’s trying to kill you, it’s America.”

– One of the best pieces of cultural criticism we read all year was the novelist Brian Van Reet’s essay about Nico Walker, an army veteran turned bank robber turned writer whose debut novel Cherry was published this year while he finishes serving his 11-year bid in Kentucky federal prison.

– Also excellent on the cultural criticism front, this Wesley Morris essay asking whether “Art Should Be a Battleground for Social Justice.”

“The risk should come from the art itself, the discomfort it can produce and whether it can transcend that discomfort. Avoiding that unpleasantness feels natural, but it denies a truth in art, which is our humanity—all of it.”

On the book list, we highly recommend Reihan Salam’s Melting Pot or Civil War, a deeply informed and thoughtful treatise on immigration and national identity that’s also an engaging read. Tablet readers likely know Wesley Yang from his ranging and penetrating essays for the site but those who haven’t yet should also pick up his book The Souls of Yellow Folk, a collection of essays that gathers in one place his trenchant writing on race and identity.

This piece of travelogue on “A Week in Xinjiang’s Absolute Surveillance State” published in new online magazine Palladium is an extraordinary account of the pseudonymous author’s travels through the semi-autonomous province of Northwest China and, as we take our first tentative step into 2019 and the future, a fitting note to end on.

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel and Park MacDougald.