Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new release titles from Barbara Brandon-Croft, Dizz Tate, Maggie Millner, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Where I’m Coming From by Barbara Brandon-Croft
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Where I’m Coming From: “Brandon-Croft, the first Black woman with a nationally syndicated American comic strip, delivers a spirited career compilation cut through with razor-sharp wit. Debuting in the Detroit Free Press in 1989, Brandon-Croft’s strip featured a cast of opinionated, wisecracking Black women (drawn with varied expressions, hair styles, skin tones, and tones of voice) relaying everyday life and unfiltered social commentary. This trademark sisterhood of talking heads chatted at the nation through 2005, including syndication in Essence and the Baltimore Sun. For example, feminist Lekesia skewers racial bias and sex scandals in the military, quipping: ‘I think this country needs to change its recruitment slogan to Uncle Sam wants you… to behave!’ No topic escapes critique, from education to dating woes to workplace inequality and voting. The unabashed sarcasm and upbeat playfulness are infectious, while the cast are carefully distinguished with a flip of a hand or a pointed gaze. Snappy dialogue competes for space next to twisted, braided, and coiled hair atop the heads that dominate the panels. The humor befits its era, with references newsy to the 1990s, such as reflections on Rodney King and Clarence Thomas, but the underlying themes hold uncanny relevancy to contemporary America. This trenchant volume easily sits alongside works from contemporary heavyweight Black cartoonists such as Aaron McGruder and Ray Billingsley.”
Brutes by Dizz Tate
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Brutes: “Tate’s uneven debut tracks an ensemble cast of teenage girls who long to escape their suffocating hometown of Falls Landing, Fla. After cool older girl Sammy disappears, a group of 13-year-olds who’d obsessed over her wonder what happened. Chapters alternate perspectives, including that of chorus-like entries from the girls’ collective point of view as well as individual narrators such as Isabel, one of the girls’ mothers, who describes the nightmarish landscape defined by toxic lakes, alligators, and hurricanes (‘The light fades and the whole place just looks like something about to die’). Hazel, one of the girls, delivers alarming lines inflected by philosophy: ‘If I’ve learned anything, it’s that even movement becomes another kind of stillness if you force it to last too long.’ While the language has mesmerizing moments, the repetitiveness of the first-person plural passages blunt the impact: ‘We shook our bangled wrists… we didn’t know what it meant… we were in the mood where nothing was going to make us happy.’ As the girls look for Sammy, they also dream about appearing on a talent show and finding fame in Los Angeles. The finale’s murky, and the author leans a bit too much on the missing-girl trope. It’s an often beautiful work, but it’s also exhausting.”
The Black Guy Dies First by Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Black Guy Dies First: “‘Unlike ‘The Black Guy,’ Black horror has managed to not only survive, but thrive,’ contend Coleman (Horror Noire), vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion at Northwestern University, and journalist Harris in this animated chronicle. The authors examine how Black representation in horror films has changed since the 1960s, beginning in 1968 with the releases of Spider Baby and Night of the Living Dead, the former of which is an early example of the ‘Black guy dies first’ trope. A particularly strong chapter dissects Black horror stereotypes, noting that witch doctors from such films as Child’s Play (1988) ‘have African origins that lead’ to their portrayal as ‘primitive, uncultured savages,’ and that the selflessness typical of the ‘Magical Negro’ (The Stand, The Green Mile) is usually in service of a white protagonist. The authors bring appropriately sharp humor to their examination of contemporary satirical fare inspired by the success of Get Out (2017) and remark that The Forever Purge (2021), in which Black characters struggle to survive ‘against rich White elitists who view them as expendable,’ is ‘like the NFL.’ Coleman and Harris’s encyclopedic knowledge of horror astounds and their critiques yield fresh insights. Horror aficionados will want to take note.”
Big Swiss by Jen Beagin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Big Swiss: “Beagin (Vacuum in the Dark) delivers a delightfully off-kilter romantic comedy set in a Hudson Valley increasingly transformed by transplants from New York City. The protagonist, Greta, is in her 40s, living in a semi-derelict Dutch farmhouse in Hudson, N.Y., with her beloved dog, Piñón. Greta is working as a transcriptionist for a local sex therapist named Om when she is captivated by the voice of one of Om’s patients, a 30-something married woman whom she nicknames Big Swiss for her height and nationality, who used to live in Brooklyn. At the dog park, Greta and Big Swiss (whose real name is Flavia) meet by chance, and romance between the two blossoms, complicated by the fact that Greta is privy to Big Swiss’s most private inner thoughts. While the interpersonal intrigue is palpable, this is also very much a novel about place, full of alternately snide and affectionate commentary about the rapidly gentrifying town. When encountering another of the therapist’s patients and his wife at a coffee shop, Greta notes, ‘like most people in Hudson, they were better looking than average and dressed like boutique farmers.’ Beagin is a gifted storyteller with a flair for the eccentric and a soft spot for a wayward soul. This unconventional love story has a surplus of appeal from page one.”
Culture: The Story of Us, From Cave Art to K-Pop by Martin Puchner
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Culture: “The circuitous paths by which art, literature, customs, and ideology diffuse through and transform the world are traced in this exhilarating treatise. Harvard English professor Puchner (The Drama of Ideas) spotlights works that crystallize episodes of cultural cross-pollination, including the famous bust, discovered in 1912, of ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, leader of a monotheistic religious movement that influenced early Judaism; a medieval Japanese noblewoman’s diary, which reveals the deep imprint of Chinese poetry and manners on Japanese society; enigmatic Aztec picture-writing books and contemporary Albrech Dürer prints, which exemplify the incipient gulf between books as objets d’art and as commodities; a portrait of Haitian statesman Jean-Baptiste Belley and its link to Parisian salons; and the resonances between British colonialism and post-independence Nigerian literature apparent in Wole Soyinka’s play Death and the King’s Horseman. Along the way, Puchner analyzes the ingenious mechanisms by which culture is stored, transformed, and spread. (By carving his Buddhist ethical precepts onto giant stone monoliths, the ancient Indian philosopher-king Ashoka cannily assured that they would not just persuade his subjects but tempt scholars thousands of years later into deciphering and discussing them.) Elegantly written and full of erudite lore, this vibrant history illuminates the inveterate human yearning for expression.”
Couplets by Maggie Millner
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Couplets: “Copulative pleasures abound in this spectacular debut that cloaks memoir in rhyming couplets and prose poems. The autofictional plot reads like a fairy tale: a woman in Brooklyn leaves her old life with ‘its familiar openwork/ of sex and teaching, kale and NPR// and the boyfriend at the center I revered,’ for a woman, ‘My eye loved// everything it fell upon./ And then one day it fell upon/ a mirror. And he was nowhere/ in the mirror. And she was everywhere.’ Love and lust find uncanny expression under poetic constraints (‘isn’t love itself a type// of rhyme?’). The rhymes are at once delicious—at times gasp-worthy—and yet so expertly deployed that they become ‘a shape that feels more native than imposed.’ ‘Those days, I was something else:// a soft vacuity. A sort of net./ No guilt, no age. No epithet.’ As the perfectly paced narrative unfolds, self-scrutiny about life and writing deepens; love becomes ‘the engine of self-knowledge.’ Exploring the question of how exactly to tell her story, the poet admits: ‘Sometimes when you sat down, alone with your mind, you felt you were performing both parts of an elaborate duet.’ Erudite but never overbearing, this is a remarkable achievement.”
Also out this week: City of Blows by Tim Blake Nelson.