In 2019, I published my first book, The Body Papers, and while visiting bookstores, book fairs, festivals, and colleges, I met other authors on the road accompanying their newly published books to panels and readings and salons. I bought their books and they bought mine. A book or three, even hardcovers, fit easily into my bag and I would drop them off at home in between trips. Because it was such a special treat to have so many Filipinx books available, I filled a suitcase of books from the Filipino American International Book Festival with authors such as Jose Antonio Vargas, Walter Ang, Randy Ribay, Cecilia Brainard, Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino, Sarge Lacuesta, Eugene Gloria, EJR David, Alfred A. Yuson, Criselda Yabes, and dozens more. By then, I didn’t have any more space in my bookshelves so I stacked my souvenirs in the dining room.
I usually pass
books onto students and friends after I’ve read them, but I had not read these
yet. And the ones I did pull out of the pile to read, I loved so much that I
wanted to keep them. It wasn’t until I saw my husband almost trip multiple
times as he tried to make his way through the obstacle course that I knew that
I had a problem.
I burned through some graphic memoirs in one sitting, such as Malaka Gharib’s I Was Their American Dream, AJ Dungo’s In Waves, and Good Talk by Mira Jacob, all of which I loved and have given away multiple copies as gifts. While on the road, standing in lines and waiting in boarding areas, my companions were the essayists in anthologies such as Burn It Down, edited by Lilly Dancyger, and What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, edited by Michele Filgate. As for the rest of the books, I stack them and they fall down and I stack them again.
I am in two
writing groups and I will highlight the books from those members published this
One of my groups is an online accountability group. For several years, we’ve emailed weekly reports of where we’ve submitted our writing. We wanted to counteract the imbalance of women’s writing in the pages of literary magazines and book review pages by encouraging each other to submit more often. This year, two of the women in that group published books, which made my very happy and proud. Novelist Beth Castrodale’s In This Ground follows Ben, a cemetery worker, as he turns 50 and his once stable, quiet life is threatened. Once an indie-rocker who almost made it, Ben has spent the past few decades putting his musical dreams behind him while also at his job at the cemetery, constantly reminded of the death of his band’s former lead singer. If you’re going to check out her work, I also recommend Marion Hatley, about a young woman in 1931, who, while running from her past, invents the an alternative to the corset, which is a relief for all women who suffer privately from the hidden constriction of their torsos. Beth is a compassionate writer whose novels are immersive, totally engrossing reading experiences. I was also overjoyed when Gilmore Tamny’s HAIKU4U was published. I’ve been listening to Gilmore perform these poems for years and to have these nuggets of the absurdity, mundane, and transcendent bound in a book was such a joy. Daniel Clowes, author of Ghost World, writes, “In these apocalyptic end-times, I recommend reading twenty of Ms. Tamny’s haikus every day to remind yourself that humankind is still, in certain rare instances, redeemable.”
My other writing group, The Chunky Monkeys, more of a traditional feedback group, also had a big year. Six of us published books. First, Whitney Scharer published her first novel, The Age of Light, which is now out in paperback. The launch for her first novel was so crowded with fans and supporters that they snaked through the aisles of the bookstore and listened to her reading over the sound system. The novel is beautiful in so many ways and the writing sparks joy for me. But the book will also be a souvenir of a wonderful evening and a reminder of how important it is to trust our creative instincts. That night, Whitney talked about how the idea for the book, the life of artist Lee Miller, came to her as she walked through an art museum, pushing her daughter’s stroller. She could have ignored the idea or forgotten it, but instead she followed her curiosity and conviction and now Whitney was standing in front of us, her daughter in the front row, reading from a work of art that came out of that chance moment with another work of art.
I spent the first months of 2019 very ill with pneumonia and Christopher Castellani’s Leading Men was the first book I was able to read. I was so grateful to leave my sick bed for Portofino in 1953 and hang out in the fabulous world of Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and his lover Frank Merlo. The novel is meticulously researched and yet I didn’t see the research. Rather, I felt the aliveness of the characters and their complicated, loving relationships with each other. I’ve loved Castellani’s fiction since his first novel, A Kiss from Maddalena, his several novels in between, and was overjoyed to have another book to read. While recuperating, I also read his book from Graywolf’s “Art of” series, The Art of Perspective. I’ve been lucky to hear Chris lecture on perspective and was glad to be able to return to his ideas more closely in this book.
Later that spring, on the day Chip Cheek’s Cape May was published, I rushed to a bookstore and when I found his novel on the shelf, I jumped and clapped with joy. I was so happy to hold it in my hands, this beautiful, heartbreaking story that forced me to stay up later than I should have that night. I could not stop reading it. Somehow, I simultaneously rooted for the honeymooning couple to have a long and loving marriage while also wanting them both to misbehave and betray each other immediately. In May 2019, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere came out in paperback. I had already read and loved this novel in hardcover, but the paperback served a different purpose. I was often alone and even lonely on book tour, so whenever I spotted Celeste’s novel, which was prominently displayed in almost every airport bookstore I walked past, it was like glimpsing the face of a dear friend, cheering me on.
At the close of 2019, the sixth book published from our group is Calvin Hennick’s Once More to the Rodeo: A Memoir. A few years ago, Calvin sent to me what became this book in daily accountability emails. He told me not to read his emails, but I could not help myself. I was riveted by his candor, humor, and the beautiful, complicated, loving relationship unfolding between a father and son on a road trip. I was certain this would become a book even if the author sometimes doubted it would reach an audience larger than us. Already, the pre-publication response has been overwhelmingly positive and the memoir has appeared on “best” lists.
2019 was a great year of reading and I have so many in 2020 that I look forward to. From my writing group, Jennifer De Leon’s Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From in May. Meredith Talusan’s Fairest, Matthew Salesses’s Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear, and so many more. But first, before one of us sprains an ankle, I need to hit the books.
What do you read, what do you have the time and energy to read, the year your first book comes out and you slowly crawl back to the drawing board to write the second, drip by unsteady lead pipe drip? 2019 was a cruel and exciting time to crisscross the country to engage with other writers and promote your strange feminist immigrant memoir (and read from it more times than you thought you ever could or should). There were many incredible books I could not get to this year, but here are some of the ones I devoured on my way to and from PDX airport. In honor of underdogs everywhere I am going to cover books from small presses or ones that flew below the radar and leave the heavy hitters for the feel-like-dog-shit end of the year winners lists.
Let us begin at the natural home of all the white-men-are-garbage controversies and go right to the crotch area. Caren Beilin’s Blackfishing the IUD completely knocked me out and illuminated so much about the plight of women’s health, copper toxicity, gaslighting, and the need for more research on birth control. I was in the hands of a writer so well-read, so prepared, and so capable, all while suffering the loss of her own health, that I kept wanting to scream out, Why the hell isn’t this on the news, in the streets, blowing up? Well, it’s about what we little sneaks hide up there in our uterus/machines, so it’s yucky and private. Or totally none of anyone’s concern or interest. Unlike abortion. It wasn’t that long ago that women were advised to douse their “dirty” vaginas in Lysol or douche out a man’s ejaculate rather than allow the withdrawal method to inconvenience his pleasure. Beilin is tapping us on the shoulder with a copper fist to pay attention to the sick woman with a coil inside. She is not your grandma’s ghost; you barely have any reproductive rights or advances in not being the butt of a cosmic joke—one where you have to experience minor side-effects, like no longer wanting sex, crying uncontrollably, experiencing chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and possible risk of death in order to bone Larry (we forgot oral sex exists), Gary (we forgot paying your bills is a thing), or Josh (we forgot to break up).
My hit parade of angry, annoyed, hungry, and tired masses of women stacked up to the ceiling this year. Good thing that protective glass was there to cap my voracious appetite for knowledge coming from anyone other than mediocre dudes. Speaking of not having any of it, in The Not Wives, Carley Moore created a nuanced character us single mothers who exist hand-to-mouth, whether in blue-collar or academic purgatories, have needed for some time now. This is the modern Cookie Mueller without massive amounts of drugs, and I can stand to read a thousand more variations on this theme, please and thank you.
I read Moore alongside the new edition of Judith Arcana’s literary biography of another scrappy urban badass, Grace Paley’s Life Stories, a vital and thorough exploration of one of the greatest writers and activists of our time. Turns out I am mildly shallow because the whole time I was just waiting for the juicy old romance/new romance tidbits and drama. Paley loves and likes men a whole lot, and she is a master at showing what that love does to a woman. In the end, I learned that your kids are going to quit high school and temporarily hate your guts even if you are indeed actually Grace fucking Paley (who is the inspiration for my current protagonist in the making and I would chop off both my pinky toes to snort her ashes).
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is as pure as the driven glow stick juice and she perfectly channels the—Hey kids, get another decade to imitate cuz ya can’t—’90s club scene in Sketchtasy, and this girl is both fast and a fast girl, so it’s a BoGo. Keep your eye on this prize because Sycamore is churning out a few more projects you won’t wanna miss. She knows that nostalgia parties are funerals and to hear her read or talk is to live.
Lilly Dancyger brought us the right anthology for these bleak times with Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger. The voices range in pitch, background, geography, and best practices for expressing rage, but they all manage to deal with the body, shame, and violence in an intersectional and intentional way that reminds me of the groundbreaking sister companion texts Angry Women and Angry Women in Rock, edited by Andrea Juno and V. Vale. I wouldn’t have survived high school or college without Karen Finley, Annie Sprinkle, Kathy Acker, Lydia Lunch, Kathleen Hanna, or bell hooks, and am so grateful for visionary editors who can forge these feminist cauldrons for future generations.
Just because I would never actually drink Drano with corn nuts doesn’t mean I am not capable of ingesting the equivalent of the blue crunchy stuff as my reading experience. I died and died smashing my face on the coffee table, I mean, reading The Incest Diary, written by Anonymous, but managed to finish Christine Angot’s narcotic and jangly Incest, before the rigor mortis set in. Someone asked me why I would seek out such material, in a condescending Heathers lunch-time poll style, projecting something sinister onto what is seen as victim literature, or dirty stuff to avoid. I have zero “fascination” with this subject, per se, and while it is the hardest topic in the books-containing-rape category, here’s the deal—these are astonishing works of art. You will glimpse the most private of wars where these characters got their wounds sutured in a way far more relevant than Hemingway’s cock-wagging battlefield sagas. This reminds me to dole out my annual PSA: read Martha Gellhorn, repeat often.
The author of Nine and a Half Weeks may indeed have been a Nazi sympathizer, but I don’t have the proper credentials to make this bold claim since I only lasted in Hebrew school for two years. You will have to read Ghost Waltz and decide for yourself. This yeshiva-attending bookworm was absolutely hooked on Elizabeth McNeill’s story from the first scene to the very last word. I went ahead and pulled a…”but Woody Allen made Annie Hall pass” and compartmentalized the real narrator, Ingeborg Day (anti-Semite?), who lost her job at Ms. magazine of all places because she was in the loony bin recovering from her love affair, which was brief, passionate, creepy, and like most abuse, really hard to admit to and get away from. Having just exited a voluptuously sadistic (and not the sexy or voluntary) relationship of my own, I was rightfully fascinated with the banality of the liberated woman being driven to a psychotic break by a controlling parasite of a man. What year is this again? The lunar calendar says it will be the Year of the Rat…and the jokes write themselves.
And finally, please understand that Kate Zambreno can pretty much put out a crayon drawing of a glass of skim milk and I would proclaim it to be the essay of the year, darling. So, how lucky am I that she squeezed out two whole books within a year, The Appendix Project and Screen Tests. It’s a pleasure to read her notes and staccato essays and examine the bones that may never make up a whole skeleton. In that, lies the true joy of these texts—the gaps and silences add up to a whole lot of potent noise and I wanna stick my head in the speaker. If you can’t party this hard, it’s high time you try out one of those coffee enemas Caren Beilin recommends and swears by in Blackfishing the IUD. May your cervix be well in your new year of reading!
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Zadie Smith, Saeed Jones, Jac Jemc, Lilly Dancyger, Andrew Marantz, and more—that are publishing this week.
Grand Union by Zadie Smith
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Grand Union: “In Smith’s smart and bewitching story collection, the novelist’s first (after the essay collection Feel Free), the modern world is refracted in ways that are both playful and rigorous, formally experimental and socially aware. A drag queen struggles with aging in ‘Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets’ as she misses the ‘fabled city of the past’ now that ‘every soul on these streets was a stranger.’ A child’s school worksheet spurs a humorous reassessment of storytelling itself in the postmodern ‘Parents’ Morning Epiphany.’ ‘Two Men Arrive in a Village,’ in which a violent duo invades a settlement, aspires to ‘perfection of parable.’ Some stories, including ‘Just Right,’ about a family in prewar Greenwich Village, and the sci-fi ‘Meet the President!,’ in which a privileged boy meets a lower-class English girl, read more like exercises. But more surprising and rewarding are stories constructed of urban impressions and personal conversations, like ‘For the King,’ in which the narrator meets an old friend for dinner in Paris. And the standout ‘The Canker’ uses speculative tropes to reflect on the current political situation: people live harmoniously in storyteller Esorik’s island society, until the new mainland leader, the Usurper, inspires ‘rage’ and the ‘breaking of all the cycles [Esorik] had ever known.’ Smith exercises her range without losing her wry, slightly cynical humor. Readers of all tastes will find something memorable in this collection.”
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How We Fight for Our Lives: “Poet Jones (Prelude to Bruise) explores sexual identity, race, and the bond between a mother and child in a powerful memoir filled with devastating moments. As a gay African-American boy growing up in Texas, Jones struggled to find his way. In 1998, at age 12, ‘I thought about being gay all the time,’ he writes, but at home the subject was taboo. Here, Jones candidly discusses his coming of age, his sexual history, and his struggle to love himself. He describes engaging in destructive behavior in college, including repeated relations with a sadistic, racist man, and their encounters graphically illustrate how sex and race can be used as weapons of hate. Jones writes that, at that grim time in his life, he appeared to others to be a happy young man: ‘Standing in front of the mirror, my reflection and I were like rival animals, just moments away from tearing each other limb from limb.’ Jones beautifully records his painful emergence into adulthood and, along the way, he honors his mother, a single parent who struggled to support him financially, sometimes emotionally, but who loved him unconditionally until her death in 2011. Jones is a remarkable, unflinching storyteller, and his book is a rewarding page-turner.”
False Bingo by Jac Jemc
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about False Bingo: “Jemc’s electric, nimble collection (after The Grip of It) plumbs its characters’ most intimate relationships and unearths potent hidden truths. In ‘Delivery,’ a father’s sudden spike in online shopping signifies a troubling development. In ‘Don’t Let’s,’ a woman stays in the Georgia Lowcountry, trying to clear her mind after leaving an abusive relationship, but finds signs of a ghost’s presence in her house. ‘Pastoral,’ about the work of a porn actress who has a husband and two sons, defies convention by having no conflict at all (‘There are no wolves at the door…. There is no obstacle that requires overcoming’). A woman’s stay at a wellness retreat is impinged upon by an overbearing fellow retreater in ‘Maulawiyah.’ In ‘Hunt and Catch,’ a woman named Emily is ominously followed by a man in a garbage truck (‘When he waved, Emily felt like someone had shoved the skin of her face in the direction of his hand’). In ‘Trivial Pursuit,’ an unnamed couple is irritated by the eccentricities of a couple known as the Board Game Couple before dumping them for the Artist Couple, followed by a succession of other couples, each with their own problems. Many of these stories are only a few pages, allowing Jemc to deliver a range of payoffs, some unsettling, some poignant, all evocative. This constantly shifting collection will leave readers beguiled.”
Burn It Down edited by Lily Dancyger
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Burn It Down: “Editor Dancyger collects essays from 22 female writers contemplating (and unleashing) anger, continuing the #MeToo ethos of emotional transparency and righteous indignation, to bracing and powerful effect. The writers are a diverse group and cover a wide range of experiences. Samantha Riedel recalls unlearning a lifetime of aggressive masculine social conditioning after transitioning from male to female, while still harnessing the power of anger to scare off harassers and put TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) in their place. Lisa Marie Basile documents years of suffering from a chronic illness and having her symptoms minimized by doctors and friends alike, declaring her refusal to be dismissed: ‘There is too much beauty in being alive to silence my intuition, to ignore my body, to not sing its needs and demand they be met.’ Evette Dionne writes of the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype, and how it silences women and shapes perceptions of famous African-American women such as Serena Williams. Other rage-inducing topics include intentional misgendering, religious discrimination, sexism in the classroom, and perimenopause. As Dancyger notes in her introduction, women’s anger has long been trivialized and discredited, but this collection allows that anger the space to flourish. It is a cathartic and often inspiring reading experience.”
Ghosts of Berlin by Rudolph Herzog
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ghosts of Berlin: “Everyday problems are complicated by weird plot thickeners in these seven vivid and intriguing stories from the author of A Short History of Nuclear Folly. A filmmaker as well and the son of director Werner Herzog, Herzog writes relatively lengthy stories told in short cuts; the reader has time to inhabit the world of the protagonist before the plot turns dark, often with a strain of deadpan humor. In ‘Needle and Thread,’ Bjorn is so wrapped up in his corporate dealings that he ignores, at his own peril, the pleas of his daughter, Alena, about a figure lurking in her bedroom. In ‘Key,’ the admittedly neurotic violinist Stiebel struggles to adjust to his new apartment and a move to Berlin. He develops a complicated relationship with a prickly neighbor named Wondrak, who triggers inexplicable emotions in him. In ‘Tandem,’ Greek immigrant and language teacher Dmitri finds himself drawn to his sweet German student Lotte, until she commits a shockingly rapacious act. The common thread in the stories is the city of Berlin and the dark shadows in its history. These links unfold in different ways as each story progresses. That this history is rarely addressed directly adds tension and resonance. The macabre mischief in Herzog’s tales is far from benign and speaks eloquently to the anxiety of modern life.”
The Furies by Katie Lowe
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Furies: “Lowe’s powerful and atmospheric debut features a troubled young woman who becomes entangled in witchcraft and murder at a private British all-girls school. Soon after starting at Elm Hollow Academy, teen Violet Taylor falls in with Alex, Grace, and their chain-smoking, impossibly cool ringleader, Robin, and begins drinking, shoplifting, and taking drugs. She especially bonds with Robin and joins an exclusive study group where the girls explore the ‘great women of art and literature,’ including the rumors that Elm Hollow’s founder was a powerful witch. After Violet is sexually assaulted , she and her friends perform a dark revenge ritual involving animal sacrifice. When the brutalized body of student Emily Frost, who was missing for months, is found in the elm in Elm Hollow’s courtyard, the girls pin her murder on the dean, leading to further shocking violence. Lowe’s sinuous prose weaves a disturbing tale of friendship, obsession, and revenge, and readers must decide whether Violet is a trustworthy narrator. Those who thrill to dark coming-of-age tales with a dash of the uncanny will find much to enjoy.”
Antisocial by Andrew Marantz
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Antisocial: “Marantz, a staff writer at the New Yorker, makes a timely and excellent debut with his chronicle of how a ‘motley cadre of edgelords’ gleefully embraced social media to spread their ‘puerile’ brand of white nationalism. In examining how ‘the unthinkable became thinkable’ in American politics, he narrates that tech entrepreneurs disrupted the old ways of vetting and spreading information—including the traditional media of which Marantz identifies himself as a part—but refused to take up a role as gatekeepers, and the white nationalists seeped in like poison. Marantz profiles alt-right figures and tech titans alike: vlogger Cassandra Fairbanks, Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes, antifeminist Mike Cernovich, Reddit founder Steve Huffman (who experimented with gatekeeping by deleting the site’s forum dedicated to the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory), The Filter Bubble author and tech entrepreneur Eli Pariser, and clickbait startup CEO Emerson Spartz, who opines, ‘If it gets shared, it’s quality.’ A running theme is how journalists should cover ‘a racist movement full of hypocrites and liars,’ and, indeed, Marantz doesn’t shy away from asking pointed questions or noting his subjects’ inconsistencies. This insightful and well-crafted book is a must-read account of how quickly the ideas of what’s acceptable public discourse can shift.”
We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—for more October titles, check out our Second-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Find Me by André Aciman: In a most-anticipated list, Aciman’s Find Me may be the most anticipated of all. Set decades after Oliver and Elio first meet in Call Me by Your Name, this novel follows Elio’s father Samuel, who while traveling to Rome to visit his son meets a young woman who changes his life; Elio, a classical pianist who moves to Paris; and Oliver, a New England college professor and family man who yearns to return to Italy. I’m aching to read this and I know I’ll be aching while reading it too. (Carolyn)
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner: The pre-pub blurbs for Lerner’s third novel are ecstatic, with his publisher calling it a breakthrough and Claudia Rankinedescribing it as “a powerful allegory of our troubled present.” Set in late 1990s Kansas, it centers on a lefty family in a red state. The mother is a famous feminist author; the father, a psychiatrist who specializes in “lost boys.” Their son, Adam Gordon, is a debate champion who unwittingly brings one of his father’s troubled patients into his friend group, to disastrous effect. (Hannah)
Grand Union by Zadie Smith: Grand Union is the first short story collection of Zadie Smith, the award-winning author of White Teeth and The Autograph Man, among others. Ten unpublished new stories will be put alongside with ten of her much-applauded pieces from The New Yorker and elsewhere. Everything, however familiar or small it may seem in daily life, glows in Smith’s brilliant observation. Grand Union is a wonderful meditation on time and place, past and future, identity and the possibility of rebirth. (Jianan Qian)
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones: A 2014 NBCC finalist for his poetry collection Prelude to Bruise, How We Fight for Our Lives tells Jones’ coming-of-age as a black gay boy and man in the South via prose-poetry vignettes. From the publisher: “Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze.” (Sonya)
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha: Your House Will Pay is a propulsive and well-plotted novel set in Los Angeles where crime and tension are at an all-time high. In Cha’s narrative that explores race, class, and community in Los Angeles, her characters must confront their histories and truth. Catherine Chungdescribes Your House Will Pay as “a devastating exploration of grief, shame, and deeply buried truths.” (Zoë)
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz: In her debut memoir, Jaquira Díaz mines her experiences growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami, grappling with traumas both personal and international, and over time converts them into something approaching hope and self-assurance. For years, Díaz has dazzled in shorter formats—stories, essays, etc.—and her entrée into longer lengths is very welcome. (Nick M.)
Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco: The CDC estimates 1 in 5 women in the U.S. are raped in their lifetimes, but concealed in those conservative, anonymized figures is the mind-bending enormity of 33,000,000 individual women and their stories. In her latest memoir, Jeannie Vanasco shares hers. Remarkably, Vanasco interviews the former friend who raped her 15 years ago, interweaving their discussions with conversations involving her close friends and peers to produce an investigation of trauma, its effects, and the ways they affect us all. “Courageous” is an inadequate word to describe this project, let alone Vanasco herself. (Nick M.)
False Bingo by Jac Jemc: The unsettling horror that made Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It such an unnerving read has mutated into an uneasiness that infiltrates the everyday lives depicted in False Bingo, Jemc’s second book of short stories. Jemc’s characters are misfits and dislocated, and their encounters often cross the line where fear becomes reality. There’s a father with dementia who develops an online shopping addiction and an outcast mulling over regret as he taxidermies animals. In essence False Bingo is a “collection of realist fables exploring how conflicting moralities can coexist: the good, the bad, the indecipherable.” (Anne)
Holding On To Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne: This debut novel set in the mountains and hollows of Eastern Tennessee will charm you with its warmth and love for its characters, a cast that includes a dog named Crystal Gale. (Which has to be one of the best pet names in fiction.) The novel centers on Lucy Kilgore, a young woman who was planning to leave small town Tennessee but instead ends up getting shotgun-married to Jeptha Taylor, a bluegrass musician with a drinking problem. With too little money and too much alcohol in their lives, their little family is doomed from the start, but Lucy can’t help trying to hold everyone together. (Hannah)
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (translated by Marilyn Booth): Alharthi’s novel, which won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, is the first by an Omani woman to be translated into English. Following the lives of three sisters and their families, the novel examines a rapidly changing Omani culture through their familial sagas, dramas, loves, and losses. Publishers Weekly’s starred review called it an “ambitious, intense novel” that “rewards readers willing to assemble the pieces of Alharthi’s puzzle into a whole.” (Carolyn)
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson: Longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, Winterson’s latest novel follows a fictionalized Mary Shelley as she creates Frankenstein, or rather Winterson’s reimagining of it. In modern-day, Brexit Britain, Ry Shelley—a transgender doctor—falls in love with a professor specializing in AI. There’s also sex dolls and a cryogenics facility of dozens of bodies—medically dead but not gone yet. The novel questions what is means to be human—then, now, and in the future. With starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, the former called the novel “beguiling, disturbing, and full of wonders.” (Carolyn)
Eat Joy edited by Natalie Eve Garrett (illustrated by Meryl Rowin): Writer and author Garrett has gathered 31 illustrated essays about comfort food from some of the finest writers working today—including Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Anthony Doerr, Carmen Maria Machado, and Alexander Chee among others. About the collection, writer Kiese Laymon says: “This is the first collection that ever made me want to sensually eat, cook, write, and thank all the wonderful makers of the most memorable memories in my life.” (Carolyn)
Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur: In the summer of her fourteenth year, Brodeur, former editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and current Executive Director at Aspen Words, is woken by her mother—brimming and joyful—and told a secret: she’s been kissed by a man who is not her husband. The secret becomes the foundation of their warped relationship as Brodeur becomes her mother’s most trusted friend and expected facilitator of her extramarital affair. This graceful and heartbreaking memoir explores complicity, forgiveness, and complex familial relationships. “This layered narrative of deceit, denial, and disillusionment is a surefire bestseller,” writes Publishers Weekly. (Carolyn)
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout: In a follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, Strout returns with 13 interconnected stories about Olive, her neighbors, and her hometown of Crosby, Maine. Receiving starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, the latter writes: “Beautifully written and alive with compassion, at times almost unbearably poignant.” (Carolyn)
Burn It Down edited by Lily Dancyger: “Throughout history, angry women have been called harpies, bitches, witches, and whores,” so begins the introduction of Dancyger’s anthology on women’s anger. The twenty-two essay collections includes works by Leslie Jamison, Melissa Febos, Evette Dionne, and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan among others. Exploring anger from a multitude of perspectives, the essays show the varying ways anger manifests in our lives—and gives it a place to take up space and have a voice. (Carolyn)
Exquisite Mariposa by Fiona Alison Duncan: Duncan’s metafictional debut follows a fictional Fiona Alison Duncan as she navigates her new life in Los Angeles—and consumed by her journey into “the Real,” an almost unattainable state of consciousness. Kirkus’ starred review writes: “The novel is highbrow and lowbrow; about everything and nothing; and wholly of this particular cultural moment—in a good way.” (Carolyn)