How to Be a Sister: A Love Story with a Twist of Autism

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Most Anticipated: The Great Summer 2024 Preview

Summer has arrived, and with it, a glut of great books. Here you'll find more than 80 books that we're excited about this season. Some we've already read in galley form; others we're simply eager to devour based on their authors, subjects, or blurbs. We hope you find your next summer read among them. —Sophia Stewart, editor July Art Monster by Marin Kosut [NF] Kosut's latest holds a mirror to New York City's oft-romanticized, rapidly gentrifying art scene and ponders the eternal struggles between creativity and capitalism, love and labor, and authenticity and commodification. Part cultural analysis, part cautionary tale, this account of an all-consuming subculture—now unrecognizable to the artists who first established it—is the perfect companion to Bianca Bosker's Get the Picture. —Daniella Fishman Concerning the Future of Souls by Joy Williams [F] If you're reading this, you don't need to be told why you need to check out the next 99 strange, crystalline chunks of brilliance—described enticingly as "stories of Azrael"—from the great Joy Williams, do you? —John H. Maher Misrecognition by Madison Newbound [F] Newbound's debut novel, billed as being in the vein of Rachel Cusk and Patricia Lockwood, chronicles an aimless, brokenhearted woman's search for meaning in the infinite scroll of the internet. Vladimir author Julia May Jonas describes it as "a shockingly modern" novel that captures "isolation and longing in our age of screens." —Sophia M. Stewart Pink Slime by Fernanda Trías, tr. Heather Cleary [F] The Uruguayan author makes her U.S. debut with an elegiac work of eco-fiction centering on an unnamed woman in the near future as she navigates a city ravaged by plague, natural disaster, and corporate power (hardly an imaginative leap). —SMS The Last Sane Woman by Hannah Regel [F] In Regel's debut novel, the listless Nicola is working in an archive devoted to women's art when she discovers—and grows obsessed with—a beguiling dozen-year correspondence between two women, going back to 1976. Paul author Daisy LaFarge calls this debut novel "caustic, elegant, elusive, and foreboding." —SMS Reinventing Love by Mona Chollet, tr. Susan Emanuel [NF] For the past year or so I've been on a bit of a kick reading books that I'd hoped might demystify—and offer an alternative vision of—the sociocultural institution that is heterosexuality. (Jane Ward's The Tragedy of Heterosexuality was a particularly enlightening read on that subject.) So I'm eager to dive into Chollet's latest, which explores the impossibility of an equitable heterosexuality under patriarchy. —SMS The Body Alone by Nina Lohman [NF] Blending memoir with scholarship, philosophy with medicine, and literature with science, Lohman explores the articulation of chronic pain in what Thin Places author Jordan Kisner calls "a stubborn, tender record of the unrecordable." —SMS Long Island Compromise by Taffy Brodesser-Akner [F] In this particular instance, "Long Island Compromise" refers to the long-anticipated follow-up to Fleishman Is In Trouble, not the technical term for getting on the Babylon line of the LIRR with a bunch of Bud-addled Mets fans after 1 a.m. —JHM The Long Run by Stacey D'Erasmo [NF] Plenty of artists burn brightly for a short (or viral) spell but can't sustain creative momentum. Others manage to keep creating over decades, weathering career ups and downs, remaining committed to their visions, and adapting to new media. Novelist Stacey D’Erasmo wanted to know how they do it, so she talked with eight artists, including author Samuel R. Delany and poet and visual artist Cecelia Vicuña, to learn the secrets to their longevity. —Claire Kirch Devil's Contract by Ed Simon [NF] Millions contributor Ed Simon probes the history of the Faustian bargain, from ancient times to modern day. Devil's Contract is, like all of Simon's writing, refreshingly rigorous, intellectually ambitious, and suffused with boundless curiosity. —SMS Paul Celan and the Trans-Tibetan Angel by Yoko Tawada, tr. Susan Bernofsky [F] Tawada returns with this surrealist ode to the poet Paul Celan and human connection. Set in a hazy, post-lockdown Berlin, Tawada's trademark dream-like prose follows the story of Patrik, an agoraphobe rediscovering his zeal for life through an unlikely friendship built on a shared love of art. —DF The Anthropologists by Ayşegül Savaş [F] Savaş’s third novel is looking like her best yet. It's a lean, lithe, lyrical tale of two graduate students in love look for a home away from home, or “trying to make a life together when you have nothing that grounds you,” as the author herself puts it. —JHM The Coin by Yasmin Zaher [F] Zaher's debut novel, about a young Palestinian woman unraveling in New York City, is an essential, thrilling addition to the Women on the Verge subgenre. Don't just take it from me: the blurbs for this one are some of the most rhapsodic I've ever seen, and the book's ardent fans include Katie Kitamura, Hilary Leichter, and, yes, Slavoj Žižek, who calls it "a masterpiece." —SMS Black Intellectuals and Black Society by Martin L. Kilson [NF] In this posthumous essay collection, the late political scientist Martin L. Kilson reflects on the last century's foremost Black intellectuals, from W.E.B Dubois to Ishmael Reed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes that Kilson "brilliantly explores the pivotal yet often obscured legacy of giants of the twentieth-century African American intelligentsia." —SMS Toward Eternity by Anton Hur [F] Hur, best known as the translator of such Korean authors as Bora Chung and Kyung-Sook Shin (not to mention BTS), makes his fiction debut with a speculative novel about the intersections of art, medicine, and technology. The Liberators author E.J. Koh writes that Hur delivers "a sprawling, crystalline, and deftly crafted vision of a yet unimaginable future." —SMS Loving Sylvia Plath by Emily Van Duyne [NF] I've always felt some connection to Sylvia Plath, and am excited to get my hands on Van Duyne’s debut, a reconstruction of the poet’s final years and legacy, which the author describes as "a reckoning with the broken past and the messy present" that takes into account both Plath’s "white privilege and [the] misogynistic violence" to which she was subjected. —CK Bright Objects by Ruby Todd [F] Nearing the arrival of a newly discovered comet, Sylvia Knight, still reeling from her husband's unsolved murder, finds herself drawn to the dark and mysterious corners of her seemingly quiet town. But as the comet draws closer, Sylvia becomes torn between reality and mysticism. This one is for astrology and true crime girlies. —DF The Lucky Ones by Zara Chowdhary [NF] The debut memoir by Chowdhary, a survivor of one of the worst massacres in Indian history, weaves together histories both personal and political to paint a harrowing portrait of anti-Muslim violence in her home country of India. Alexander Chee calls this "a warning, thrown to the world," and Nicole Chung describes it as "an astonishing feat of storytelling." —SMS Banal Nightmare by Halle Butler [F] Butler grapples with approaching middle age in the modern era in her latest, which follows thirty-something Moddie Yance as she ditches city life and ends her longterm relationship to move back to her Midwestern hometown. Banal Nightmare has "the force of an episode of marijuana psychosis and the extreme detail of a hyperrealistic work of art," per Jia Tolentino. —SMS A Passionate Mind in Relentless Pursuit by Noliwe Rooks [NF] In this slim volume on the life and legacy of the trailblazing civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune—the first Black woman to head a federal agency, to serve as a college president, and to be honored with a monument in the nation's capital—Rooks meditates on Bethune's place in Black political history, as well as in Rooks's own imagination. —SMS Modern Fairies by Clare Pollard [F] An unconventional work of historical fiction to say the least, this tale of the voluble, voracious royal court of Louis XIV of France makes for an often sidesplitting, and always bawdy, read. —JHM The Quiet Damage by Jesselyn Cook [NF] Cook, a journalist, reports on deepfake media, antivax opinions, and sex-trafficking conspiracies that undermine legitimate criminal investigations. Having previously written on children trying to deradicalize their QAnon-believing parents and social media influencers who blend banal content with frightening Q views, here Cook focuses on five families whose members went down QAnon rabbit holes, tragically eroding relationships and verifiable truths. —Nathalie Op de Beeck In the Shadow of the Fall by Tobi Ogundiran [F] Inspired by West African folkore, Ogundiran (author of the superb short speculative fiction collection Jackal, Jackal) centers this fantasy novella, the first of duology, on a sort-of anti-chosen one: a young acolyte aspiring to priesthood, but unable to get the orishas to speak. So she endeavors to trap one of the spirits, but in the process gets embroiled in a cosmic war—just the kind of grand, anything-can-happen premise that makes Ogundiran’s stories so powerful. —Alan Scherstuhl The Bluestockings by Susannah Gibson [NF] This group biography of the Bluestockings, a group of protofeminist women intellectuals who established salons in 18th-century England, reminded me of Regan Penaluna's wonderful How to Think Like a Woman in all the best ways—scholarly but accessible, vividly rendered, and a font of inspiration for the modern woman thinker. —SMS Liars by Sarah Manguso [F] Manguso's latest is a standout addition to the ever-expanding canon of novels about the plight of the woman artist, and the artist-mother in particular, for whom creative life and domestic life are perpetually at odds. It's also a more scathing indictment of marriage than any of the recent divorce memoirs to hit shelves. Any fan of Manguso will love this novel—her best yet—and anyone who is not already a fan will be by the time they're done. —SMS On Strike Against God by Joanna Russ [F] Flashbacks to grad school gender studies coursework, and the thrilling sensation that another world is yet possible, will wash over a certain kind of reader upon learning that Feminist Press will republish Russ’s 1980 novel. Edited and with an introduction by Cornell University Ph.D. candidate Alec Pollak, this critical edition includes reminiscences on Russ by her longtime friend Samuel R. Delany, letters between Russ and poet Marilyn Hacker, and alternative endings to its lesbian coming-out story. —NodB Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow by Damilare Kuku [F] The debut novel by Kuku, the author of the story collection Nearly All the Men in Lagos Are Mad, centers on a Nigerian family plunged into chaos when young Temi, a recent college grad, decides to get a Brazillian butt lift. Wahala author Nikki May writes that Kuku captures "how complicated it is to be a Nigerian woman." —SMS The Missing Thread by Daisy Dunn [NF] A book about the girls, by the girls, for the girls. Dunn, a classicist, reconfigures antiquity to emphasize the influence and agency of women. From the apocryphal stories of Cleopatra and Agrippina to the lesser-known tales of Atossa and Olympias, Dunn retraces the steps of these ancient heroines and recovers countless important but oft-forgotten female figures from the margins of history. —DF August Villa E by Jane Alison [F] Alison's taut novel of gender and power is inspired by the real-life collision of Irish designer Eileen Gray and Swiss architect Le Corbusier—and the sordid act of vandalism by the latter that forever defined the legacy of the former. —SMS The Princess of 72nd Street by Elaine Kraf [F] Kraf's 1979 feminist cult classic, reissued as part of Modern Library's excellent Torchbearer series with an introduction by Melissa Broder, follows a young woman artist in New York City who experiences wondrous episodes of dissociation. Ripe author Sarah Rose Etter calls Kraf "one of literature's hidden gems." —SMS All That Glitters by Orlando Whitfield [NF] Whitfield traces the rise and fall of Inigo Philbrick, the charasmatic but troubled art dealer—and Whitfield's one-time friend—who was recently convicted of committing more than $86 million in fraud. The great Patrick Radden Keefe describes this as "an art world Great Gatsby." —SMS The Bookshop by Evan Friss [NF] Oh, so you support your local bookshop? Recount the entire history of bookselling. Friss's rigorously researched ode to bookstores underscores their role as guardians, gatekeepers, and proprietors of history, politics, and culture throughout American history. A must-read for any bibliophile, and an especially timely one in light of the growing number of attempts at literary censorship across the country. —DF Mystery Lights by Lena Valencia [F] Valencia's debut short story collection is giving supernatural Southwestern Americana.  Subjects as distinct as social media influencers, ghost hunters, and slasher writers populate these stories which, per Kelly Link, contain a "deep well of human complexity, perversity, sincerity, and hope." —DF Mourning a Breast by Xi Xi, tr. Jennifer Feeley This 1989 semi-autobiographical novel is an account of the late Hong Kong author and poet Xi's mastectomy and subsequent recovery, heralded as one of the first Chinese-language books to write frankly about illness, and breast cancer in particular.—SMS Village Voices by Odile Hellier [NF] Hellier celebrates the history and legacy of the legendary Village Voice Bookshop in Paris, which he founded in 1982. A hub of anglophone literary culture for 30 years, Village Voice hosted everyone from Raymond Carver to Toni Morrison and is fondly remembered in these pages, which mine decades of archives. —SMS Dinosaurs at the Dinner Party by Edward Dolnick [NF] Within the past couple of years, three tweens found the fossilized remains of a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex in North Dakota and an 11-year-old beachcomber came upon an ichthyosaur jaw in southwestern England, sparking scientific excitement. Dolnick’s book revisits similar discoveries from Darwin’s own century, when astonished amateurs couldn’t yet draw upon centuries of paleontology and drew their own conclusions about the fossils and footprints they unearthed. —NodB All the Rage by Virginia Nicholson [NF] Social historian Nicholson chronicles the history of beauty standards for women from 1860 to 1960, revealing the fickleness of fashion, the evergreen pressure put on women's self-presentation, and the toll the latter takes on women's bodies. —SMS A Termination by Honor Moore [NF] In her latest memoir, Moore—best known for 2008's The Bishop's Daughter—reflects on the abortion she had in 1969 at the age of 23 and its aftermath. The Vivian Gornick calls this one "a masterly account of what it meant, in the 1960s, to be a woman of spirit and intelligence plunged into the particular hell that is unwanted pregnancy." —SMS Nat Turner, Black Prophet by Anthony E. Kaye with Gregory P. Downs [NF] Kaye and Downs's remarkable account of Nat Turner's rebellion boldly and persuasively argues for a reinterpretation of the uprising's causes, legacy, and divine influence, framing Turner not just as a preacher but a prophet. A paradigm-shifting work of narrative history. —SMS An Honest Woman by Charlotte Shane [NF] As a long-time reader, fan, and newsletter subscriber of Shane's, I nearly dropped to my knees at the altar of Simon & Schuster when her latest book was announced. This slim memoir intertwines her experience as a sex worker with reflections on various formative relationships in her life (with her sexuality, her father, and her long-time client, Roger), as well as reflections on the very nature of sex, gender, and labor. —DF Mina's Matchbox by Yoko Ogawa, tr. Stephen B. Snyder [F] Mina's Matchbox is an incredible novel that affirms Ogawa's position as the great writer of fantastical literature today. This novel is much brighter in tone and detail than much of her other, often brutal and gloomy, work, but somehow the tension and terror of living is always at the periphery. Ogawa has produced a world near and tender, but tough and bittersweet, like recognizing a lost loved one in the story told by someone new. —Zachary Issenberg Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov, tr. Reuben Woolley [F] The Grey Bees author's latest, longlisted for last year's International Booker Prize, is an ode to Lviv, western Ukraine's cultural capital, now transformed by war. A snapshot of the city as it was in the early aughts, the novel chronicles the antics of a cast of eccentrics across the city, with a dash of magical realism thrown in for good measure. —SMS The Hypocrite by Jo Hamya [F] I loved Hamya's 2021 debut novel Three Rooms, and her latest, a sharp critique of art and gender that centers on a young woman who pens a satirical play about her sort-of-canceled novelist father, promises to be just as satisfying. —SMS A Complicated Passion by Carrie Rickey [NF] This definitive biography of trailblazing French New Wave filmmaker Agnès Varda tells the engrossing story of a brilliant artist and fierce feminist who made movies and found success on her own terms. Film critic and essayist Phillip Lopate writes, "One could not ask for a smarter or more engaging take on the subject." —SMS The Italy Letters by Vi Khi Nao [F] This epistolary novel by Nao, an emerging queer Vietnamese American writer who Garielle Lutz once called "an unstoppable genius," sounds like an incredible read: an unnamed narrator in Las Vegas writes sensual stream-of-consciousness letters to their lover in Italy. Perfect leisure reading on a sultry summer’s afternoon while sipping a glass of prosecco. —CK Survival Is a Promise by Alexis Pauline Gumbs [NF] Gumbs's poetic, genre-bending biography of Audre Lorde offers a fresh, profound look at Lorde's life, work, and importance undergirded by an ecological, spiritual, and distinctly Black feminist sensibility. Eloquent Rage author Brittany Cooper calls Gumbs "a kindred keeper of [Lorde’s] lesbian-warrior-poet legacy." —SMS Planes Flying Over a Monster by Daniel Saldaña París, tr. Christina MacSweeney and Philip K. Zimmerman [NF] Over 10 essays, the Mexican writer Daniel Saldaña Paris explores the cities he has lived in over the course of his life, using each as a springboard to ponder questions of authenticity, art, and narrative. Chloé Cooper Jones calls Saldaña Paris "simply one of our best living writers" and this collection "destined for canonical status." —SMS The Unicorn Woman by Gayl Jones [F] The latest novel from Jones, the Pulitzer finalist and mentee of Toni Morrison who first stunned the literary world with her 1975 novel Corregida, follows a Black soldier who returns home to the Jim Crow South after fighting in World War II. Imani Perry has called Jones "one of the most versatile and transformative writers of the 20th century." —SMS Becoming Little Shell by Chris La Tray [NF] When La Tray was growing up in western Montana, his family didn’t acknowledge his Indigenous heritage. He became curious about his Métis roots when he met Indigenous relatives at his grandfather’s funeral, and he searched in earnest after his father’s death two decades later. Now Montana’s poet laureate, La Tray has written a memoir about becoming an enrolled member of the Chippewa Little Shell Tribe, known as “landless Indians” because of their history of forced relocation. —NodB Wife to Mr. Milton by Robert Graves (reissue) [F] Grave's 1943 novel, reissued by the great Seven Stories Press, is based on the true story of the poet John Milton's tumultuous marriage to the much younger Mary Powell, which played out amid the backdrop of the English Civil War. E.M. Forster once called this one "a thumping good read." —SMS Euphoria Days by Pilar Fraile, tr. Lizzie Davis [F] Fraile's first novel to be translated into English follows the lives of five workers approaching middle age and searching for meaning—turning to algorithms, internet porn, drugs, and gurus along the way—in a slightly off-kilter Madrid of the near future. —SMS September Colored Television by Danzy Senna [F] Senna's latest novel follows Jane, a writer living in L.A. and weighing the competing allures of ambition versus stability and making art versus selling out. The perfect read for fans of Lexi Freiman's Book of Ayn, Colored Television is, per Miranda July, "addictive, hilarious, and relatable" and "a very modern reckoning with the ambiguities triangulated by race, class, creativity and love."—SMS We're Alone by Edwidge Danticat [NF] I’ve long been a big fan of Danticat, and I'm looking forward to reading this essay collection, which ranges from personal narratives to reflections on the state of the world to tributes to her various mentors and literary influences, including James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. That the great Graywolf Press published this book is an added bonus. —CK In Our Likeness by Bryan VanDyke [F] Millions contributor Bryan VanDyke's eerily timely debut novel, set at a tech startup where an algorithm built to detect lies on the internet is in the works, probes both the wonders and horrors of AI. This is a Frankenstein-esque tale befitting the information (or, perhaps, post-information) age and wrought in VanDyke's typically sparkling prose. —SMS Liontaming in America by Elizabeth Willis [NF] Willis, a poet and professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, plumbed personal and national history for last year’s Spectral Evidence: The Witch Book, and does so again with this allusive hybrid work. This ambitious project promises a mind-bending engagement with polyamory and family, Mormonism and utopianism, prey exercising power over predators, and the shape-shifting American dream. —NodB Creation Lake by Rachel Kushner [F] I adore Kushner’s wildly offbeat tales, and I also enjoy books and movies in which people really are not who they claim to be and deception is coming from all sides. This novel about an American woman who infiltrates a rural commune of French radicals and everyone has their private agenda sounds like the perfect page-turner. —CK Under the Eye of the Big Bird by Hiromi Kawakami, tr. Asa Yoneda [F] Kawakami, of Strange Weather in Tokyo and People in My Neighborhood fame, returns with a work of speculative fiction comprising 14 interconnected stories spanning eons. This book imagines an Earth where humans teeter on the brink of extinction—and counts the great Banana Yoshimoto as a fan. —SMS Homeland by Richard Beck [NF] Beck, an editor at n+1, examines the legacy of the war on terror, which spanned two decades following 9/11, and its irrevocable impact on every facet of American life, from consumer habits to the very notion of citizenship. —SMS Herscht 07769 by László Krasznahorkai, tr. Ottilie Muzlet [F] Every novel by Krasznahorkai is immediately recognizable, while also becoming a modulation on that style only he could pull off. Herscht 07769 may be set in the contemporary world—a sort-of fable about the fascism fermenting in East Germany—but the velocity of the prose keeps it ruthilarious and dreamlike. That's what makes Krasznahorkai a master: the world has never sounded so unreal by an author, but all the anxieities of his characters, his readers, suddenly gain clarity, as if he simply turned on the light. —ZI Madwoman by Chelsea Bieker [F] Catapult published Bieker’s 2020 debut, Godshot, about a teenager fleeing a religious cult in drought-stricken California, and her 2023 Heartbroke, a collection of stories that explored gender, threat, and mother-and-child relationships. Now, Bieker moves over to Little, Brown with this contemporary thriller, a novel in which an Oregon mom gets a letter from a women’s prison that reignites violent memories of a past she thought she’d left behind. —NodB The World She Edited by Amy Reading [NF] Some people like to curl up with a cozy mystery, while for others, the ultimate cozy involves midcentury literary Manhattan. Amy Reading—whose bona fides include service on the executive board of cooperative indie bookstore Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, N.Y.—profiles New Yorker editor Katharine S. White, who came on board at the magazine in 1925 and spent 36 years editing the likes of Elizabeth Bishop, Janet Flanner, and Mary McCarthy. Put the kettle on—or better yet, pour a classic gin martini—in preparation for this one, which underscores the many women authors White championed. —NodB If Only by Vigdis Hjorth, tr. Charlotte Barslund [F] Hjorth, the Norwegian novelist behind 2022's Is Mother Dead, painstakingly chronicles a 30-year-old married woman's all-consuming and volatile romance with a married man, which blurs the lines between passion and love. Sheila Heti calls Hjorth "one of my favorite contemporary writers." —SMS Fierce Desires by Rebecca L. Davis [NF] Davis's sprawling account of sex and sexuality over the course of American history traverses the various behaviors, beliefs, debates, identities, and subcultures that have shaped the way we understand connection, desire, gender, and power. Comprehensive, rigorous, and unafraid to challenge readers, this history illuminates the present with brutal and startling clarity.  —SMS The Burning Plain by Juan Rulfo, tr. Douglas Weatherford [F] Rulfo's Pedro Páramo is considered by many to be one of the greatest novels ever written, so it's no surprise that his 1953 story collection The Burning Plain—which depicts life in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution and Cristero Revolt—is widely seen as Mexico's most significant (and, objectively, most translated) work of short fiction. —SMS My Lesbian Novel and TOAF by Renee Gladman [F/NF] The perpetually pitch perfect Dorothy, a Publishing Project is putting out two books by Renee Gladman, one of its finest regular authors, on the same day: a nigh uncategorizable novel about an artist and writer with her same name and oeuvre who discusses the process of writing a lesbian romance and a genre-smashing meditation on an abandoned writing project. What's not to love? —JHM Dear Dickhead by Virginie Despentes, tr. Frank Wynne [F] I'm a big fan of Despentes's caustic, vigorous voice: King Kong Theory was one of my favorite reads of last year. (I was late, I know!) So I can't wait to dig into her latest novel—purported to be taking France by storm—which nods to #MeToo in its depiction of an unlikely friendship that brings up questions of sex, fame, and gendered power. —SMS Capital by Karl Marx, tr. Paul Reitter [NF] In a world that burns more quickly by the day—after centuries of industrial rapacity, and with ever-increasing flares of fascism—a new English translation of Marx, and the first to be based on his final revision of this foundational critique of capitalism, is just what the people ordered. —JHM Fathers and Fugitives by S.J. Naudé, tr. Michiel Heyns [F] Naudé, who writes in Afrikaans, has translated his previous books himself—until now. The first to be translated by Heyns, a brilliant writer himself and a friend of Naudé's, this novel follows a queer journalist living in London who travels home to South Africa to care for his dying father, only to learn of a perplexing clause in his will. —SMS Men of Maize by Miguel Ángel Asturias, tr. Gerald Martin [F] This Penguin Classics reissue of the Nobel Prize–winning Guatemalan writer's epic novel, just in time for its 75th anniversary, throws into stark relief the continued timeliness of its themes: capitalist exploitation, environmental devastation, and the plight of Indigenous peoples. Héctor Tobar, who wrote the forward, calls this "Asturias’s Mayan masterpiece, his Indigenous Ulysses." —SMS Good Night, Sleep Tight by Brian Evenson [F] It is practically impossible to do, after cracking open any collection of stories by the horror master Evenson, what the title of this latest collection asks of its readers. This book is already haunting you even before you've opened it. —JHM Reservoir Bitches by Dahlia de la Cerda, tr. Julia Sanches and Heather Cleary [F] De la Cerda's darkly humorous debut story collection follows 13 resilient, rebellious women navigating life in contemporary Mexico. Dogs of Summer author Andrea Abreu writes, "This book has the force of an ocean gully: it sucks you in, drags you through the mud, and then cleanses you." —SMS Lost: Back to the Island by Emily St. James and Noel Murray [NF] For years, Emily St. James was one of my favorite TV critics, and I'm so excited to see her go long on that most polarizing of shows (which she wrote brilliantly about for AV Club way back when) in tandem with Noel Murray, another great critic. The Lost resurgence—and much-deserved critical reevaluation—is imminent. —SMS Scaffolding by Lauren Elkin [F] Who could tire of tales of Parisian affairs and despairs? This one, from critic and Art Monsters author Elkin, tells the story of 40 years, four lives, two couples, one apartment, and that singularly terrible, beautiful thing we call love. —JHM Bringer of Dust by J.M. Miro [F] The bold first entry in Miro’s sweeping Victorian-era fantasy was a novel to revel in. Ordinary Monsters combined cowboys, the undead, a Scottish magic school, action better than most blockbuster movies can manage, and refreshingly sharp prose astonishingly well as its batch of cast of desperate kids confused by their strange powers fought to make sense of the world around them—despite being stalked, and possibly manipulated, by sinister forces. That book’s climax upended all expectations, making Bringer of Dust something rare: a second volume in a fantasy where readers have no idea where things are heading. —AS Frighten the Horses by Oliver Radclyffe [NF] The latest book from Roxane Gay's eponymous imprint is Radclyffe's memoir of coming out as a trans man in his forties, rethinking his supposedly idyllic life with his husband and four children. Fans of the book include Sabrina Imbler, Sarah Schulman, and Edmund White, who praises Radclyffe as "a major writer." —SMS Everything to Play For by Marijam Did [NF] A video game industry insider, Did considers the politics of gaming in this critical overview—and asks how games, after decades of reshaping our private lives and popular culture, can help pave the way for a better world. —SMS Rejection by Tony Tulathimutte [F] Tulathimutte's linked story collection plunges into the touchy topics of sex, relationships, identity, and the internet. Vauhini Vara, in describing the book, evokes both Nabokov and Roth, as well as "the worst (by which I mean best) Am I the Asshole post you’ve ever read on Reddit." —SMS Elizabeth Catlett by Ed. Dalila Scruggs [NF] This art book, which will accompany a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum organized by Scruggs, spotlight the work and legacy of the pioneering printmaker, sculptor, and activist Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), who centered the experiences of Black and Mexican women in all that she did and aspired "to put art to the service of the people." —SMS The Repeat Room by Jesse Ball [F] I often credit Jesse Ball's surrealist masterpiece A Cure for Suicide with reviving my love of reading, and his latest got me out of my reading slump once again. Much like ACFS, The Repeat Room is set in a totalitarian dystopia that slowly reveals itself. The story follows Abel, a lowly garbageman chosen to sit on a jury where advanced technology is used to forcibly enter the memories of "the accused." This novel forces tough moral questions on readers, and will make you wonder what it means to be a good person—and, ultimately, if it even matters. —DF Defectors by Paola Ramos [NF] Ramos, an Emmy Award–winning journalist, examines how Latino voters—often treated as a monolith—are increasingly gravitating to the far right, and what this shift means America's political future. Rachel Maddow calls Defectors "a deeply reported, surprisingly personal exploration of a phenomenon that is little understood in our politics." —SMS Monet by Jackie Wullshläger [NF] Already available in the U.K., this biography reveals a more tempestuous Claude Monet than the serene Water Lilies of his later years suggest. Wullschläger, the chief art critic of the Financial Times, mines the archives for youthful letters and secrets about Monet’s unsung lovers and famous friends of the Belle Époque. —NodB Brooklynites by Prithi Kanakamedala [NF] Kanakamedala celebrates the Black Brooklynites who shaped New York City's second-largest borough in the 19th century, leaving a powerful legacy of social justice organizing in their wake. Centering on four Black families, this work of narrative history carefully and passionately traces Brooklyn's activist lineage. —SMS No Ship Sets Out to Be a Shipwreck by Joan Wickersham [NF] In this slim nonfiction/poetry hybrid, Wickersham (author of National Book Award finalist The Suicide Index) meditates on a Swedish warship named Vasa, so freighted with cannons and fancy carvings in honor of the king that it sank only minutes after leaving the dock in 1682, taking 30 lives with it. After Wickersham saw the salvaged Vasa on display in Stockholm, she crafted her book around this monument to nation and hubris. —NodB Health and Safety by Emily Witt [NF] I loved Witt's sharply observed Future Sex and can't wait for her latest, a memoir about drugs, raves, and New York City nightlife which charts the New Yorker staff writer's immersion into the city's dance music underground on the cusp of the pandemic—and the double life she began to lead as a result. —SMS [millions_email]

Looking for Myself in the Stories of Sib Lit

1. Recently I did something I’ve been avoiding for a long time: I read literature by people like me, about people like us. We go by “Sibs,” short for “siblings of people with disabilities.” I don’t love this term. I’ve had it marketed to me my whole life: I went to Sibs Camp, joined Facebook’s SibNet group, my parents connected me to other Sibs so we could be friends in our bizarre isolation. I even represented Sibs for Parents as Leaders in Wisconsin, sitting three years in a row on a panel, where we answered questions from anxious parents whose lives had been recently upturned by a child’s diagnosis. “It will be all right,” I told them, at age 14. “Look at us, we’re fine,” we said. My older brother, whose profound cerebral palsy defined my childhood—and who died several years ago of respiratory complications—marks me as a Sib. However, I’ve long mistrusted book recommendations that include, “It sounds like you.” My pride rankles: You don’t know me. Back off. Still, when I began thinking about writing about my relationship with my older brother—our Wild-West alliance; my adoration of, and then distance from, him as we grew older—I wanted to know what else was out there and what others among us had said. 2. I found just one relevant book in the barebones D.C. Public Library system, The Normal One by Jeanne Safer. It made me so irate I couldn’t read it with a clear head. It was everything I’d expected to resent in Sib Lit, absolutist, pessimistic and dramatic. I covered it in post-it notes with snide comments. Safer, who calls us the “intact” children and our siblings the “damaged” ones, writes: Having a damaged sibling marks you. No matter what you achieve, where you go, or who you love, that other’s life remains your secret alternative template, the chasm into which you could plunge if you misstep. Whether you know it or not, his is the doom you dare not duplicate, the fate you contemplate … Safer’s own family situation growing up was one I didn’t recognize. Her brother had undiagnosed behavioral issues, and as a response, her parents emotionally abused and neglected him. They housed him in a separate part of the building from the rest of the family, visibly favored Safer, and treated her brother as the family scapegoat. The sadness of her family’s circumstances undercut my anger a little bit. I don’t deny anyone self-inclusion in the Sib community, but of the dozens of families with kids with disabilities I knew growing up, none looked like Safer’s. It was difficult to stay livid with her for extrapolating her own life out onto ours; how could she know how far off she was? It hit me somewhere between pages 110 and 116 that Safer hits upon multitude reasons why Sibs behave as they do: guilt, fear, resentment, neglect, loneliness. But not once in the book did she diagnose a Sib’s behavior as stemming from love for a disabled brother or sister. The shock of this—that she had no knowledge of love between siblings—softened me towards her. I couldn’t begrudge her what she hadn’t known. After stripping Safer’s book of my post-it notes and returning it to the library, I bit the bullet and ordered used copies of every single other title on Sibs. For days, packages turned up on my doorstep, bulky envelopes and boxes and shrink-wrapped plastic. I put them on a shelf with other titles I found pertinent: Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill, the children’s book The Brothers Lionheart, and Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slapstick. So far, Vonnegut’s deformed twins Eliza and Wilbur still felt like the best literary representation of my relationship with my brother. 3. What is it about this relationship between a disabled body and a non-disabled body, bound as siblings, that is so impossible to define? From kindergarten through college, I was obsessed with trying to write about it, but I never hit the mark. My brother surfaced as the primary subject in short stories, composition essays, personal statements, poems, communications class speeches, and yet he didn’t. He was never there; neither was I; everything I wrote eclipsed us to become cliché and insipid. I had dozens of tacks to take, but I mostly stuck with the same one: the righteous warrior on my brother’s behalf. All of my efforts came out bland, weirdly ugly and hollow. Even in college, the words sounded childish. I became sick of myself. I decided to stop writing about him. After Safer, reading through the rest of Sib Lit became a quest. I wanted to find something true, some Sib who had figured out how to transcend our particular brand of Hallmark prose. I read practical guides from Sibs-turned-professional-empaths, essay collections and memoirs. Almost all of the Sibs’ siblings in this genre had an intellectual disability, mostly autism. There were few to no books written by Sibs like me, whose sibling had a physical but not intellectual disability. Unlike my brother, most of the disabled siblings could speak. Most of the authors in this genre are women, this for reasons obvious as soon as I learned why: Research shows that as adults, sisters are more likely than brothers to become caretakers for their siblings with disabilities. In the face of a thankless task, women step up. The clinically-focused literature, like Safer’s book, tended to diagnose Sibs’ ills, and then offer strategies to Sibs and practitioners for managing our specific brand of distress. Some of these I couldn’t take seriously; I’m still mulish on this subject, and chapter titles like “Your feelings and how to cope with them” elicit from me an arrogant laugh. Of this subset, I responded best to Being the Other One by Kate Strohm, who gently avoids generalizations about Sibs through phrases like “may be” and “some siblings.” In Strohm’s pages, I caught a few glimpses of myself and grudgingly tagged them. Yes, I worked hard to make my parents feel better. Yes, their marriage dissolved anyway. Yes, I can’t imagine ever having kids of my own. Yes, my closest friends all have chips on their shoulders to rival mine. But as in any diagnostic, don’t I miss as many symptoms as I hit? Doesn’t everyone, inevitably? Experts can yammer on about us for centuries but all they’ll ever come up with is the clinical equivalent of a horoscope. I mean this with all due respect. When I read of a supposed Sib characteristic that, however fleetingly, matches my own, it feels like a revelation: I’ve got it! I try to hold on, to follow the author’s thinking, but we’ve only intersected in that instant. The rest of the diagnostic was about someone else; about the author herself; about a composite of mes around the world. It reminds me of sitting in church as a teenager, trying to follow the sermon. I’d surface from a daydream to catch a phrase that stuck to me, and then strain to focus, to follow the thought through its successive mutations. Before long it was lost again. These books offer snippets, reflections but not the original image. Nadine Gordimer’s profile of a prodigal sister in Burger’s Daughter was sharper. Again the fiction seems more real. Strohm quotes numerous Sibs throughout her book. One, whom she calls Nance, says that talking about her brother consistently “brings tears to [her] eyes,” that her emotions are triggered the moment she tries to articulate their relationship. The subject can’t breach her voice box. I don’t need to tell you that my throat has the same switch. There is so much contained there, contained in my body and heart that will never make it past my skin or out of my mouth. I think sometimes that it can’t be possible. Books upon books are devoted to exploring grief and trying to describe its contours, and more still engage with the fascinating nature of siblinghood. The full spectrum of nonfiction books about Sibs, however, fit on one shelf in my office. There isn’t one about simply having a brother with cerebral palsy. And why would there be? Who the hell would want to deal with this material, this inexplicable bind? The pseudonymous Nance politely shrugs: “It just seems there are many feelings that I have never acknowledged, and unfortunately…speaking about [my brother] in an intimate sharing way almost always brings out the tears.” I hear her. In all my stabs at writing, I mastered spins and platitudes. But watch me try to say one true thing about my brother and me, and I will fucking crumble. [millions_email] 4. Since a writing fellowship in Banff in 2017, I’ve adhered to the idea that the details of what happened are the best path to meaningful explanations. To glean truth from the facts, I turned to memoirs Sibs had written about their childhoods and siblings. Even here, truth was hard to find. What I read felt like family stories, the kind told over and over again and that highlight family members’ quirks. Every family has these. They’re how we collaboratively define ourselves and what we use to describe our dynamic to others. (My family likes to rehash an incident involving chocolate chip cookies and the can-can.) These were the kinds of stories I told my whole life, trying to explain who we were: limitations explicated, plots tinged with slapstick humor, my sardonic tone as the punchline. [millions_ad] If possible, I saw even less of myself in the Sib Lit memoirs I read. I should note: These memoirs were about Sibs whose brothers and sisters had primarily intellectual disabilities. Karl Taro Greenfeld, in Boy Alone, wrote about his brother with autism; Eileen Garbin, in How to be a Sister, wrote about her sister with autism; Rachel Simon, in Riding the Bus with my Sister—the most successful of the batch—wrote about her sister with what was once called mental retardation. I closed these books wondering what, if any, overlap these families had with mine. Many of these authors wrote of containment: containing their siblings’ outbursts, sounds, activity, mood swings. I remember my house as the opposite. We lifted, carried, pushed; I bent my energies to making my brother’s still mouth break into a wide grin. Do we actually belong in the same bubble, sharing life hacks on SibNet and bunk beds at Sibs Camp? Does our commonality come less from our experiences with our siblings, and more from our experiences with the outside world? Greenfeld’s memoir, Boy Alone, is cuttingly sad. Spoiler alert—after describing his and his brother’s difficult childhood, Greenfeld spends 50 pages at the end of the book describing how, after years of stagnation, his brother slowly starts to make progress. He grasps rudimentary ASL, which helps bridge the gap to verbal language. He becomes more independent and gets a job as a copyeditor. He marries his childhood friend. Culminating this trajectory, he travels by himself to visit Hong Kong. Which is when the author fesses up: None of this happened. There was no progress, no happiness that his brother found in life. If anything, his situation deteriorated; he was institutionalized in various dirtholes and subject to systematic abuses including sexual assault. The twist is gutting. I wonder which part of the book, truth or fiction, was easier for Greenfeld to write. I can’t imagine my brother’s life with speech or mobility. But, reading Boy Alone, it feels as though the fake story is Greenfeld’s sanctuary, as though this imagined life is somehow more tangible than reality. What does it say about a facet of someone’s life, if a seasoned journalist like Greenfeld would rather skim the facts and embellish the fantasy? Is it akin to my cynicism, to my dislike of self-help texts while identifying with Vonnegut’s enfants terribles? In How to be a Sister, Garbin describes how, as an adult, she watched a documentary about autism, “my heart full of emotion. If it were a nice feeling, I’d say my heart swelled. But it was more like a bulging, like it might kill me. It was a terrible feeling. Part empathy, part schadenfreude.” Why are there so few books about Sibs on my shelf? It’s like instead of brain drain we all have heart drain. As if, unable to bear the intensity of our most fundamental sense of home, we live in emotional exile. Garbin writes, When I say ‘autism,’ I feel the weight of the letters resonate beneath my collarbone as if the word is tattooed on my skin. When I hear the word in the mouths of strangers, the mouths of teachers, the mouths of celebrities, my heart constricts. I feel lonely and familiar at the same time, homesick, like someone is talking about a place I used to live. Another possible reason for the dearth of Sib Lit, and for why so much of it feels trite and hollow, is because as Sibs we are usually only rewarded for bringing our archetypes to life. There is a market for stories about Sibs who are martyrs, Samaritans, self-destructive, game, empathetic, and resentful. This market has been around since I can remember, and the purveyors of these archetypes have been relatives, friends, teachers. Of course I learned how to be a cliché. Of course these books sound overly familiar to me. Our siblings don’t fare much better. Garbin writes, “Whenever I mention that I have an autistic sister, people always ask me what Margaret is like. What they really mean, though, is what her autism is like.” Similarly, in an essay called “Riding to the Fountain with My Sister,” Simon writes that she remembers how “people asked me almost nothing about” her sister, nor about our relationship. It seemed as if it was enough for them to know that I had a sister with a disability, the one then called mental retardation. [In adulthood] the lack of curiosity from others did not waver. It was those same shallow questions, over and over. Never anything about what TV shows Beth liked and I didn’t, or what names—nice and nasty—we called each other. These days, the words I’m trying to put down about my brother are frightening. No one’s ever asked me about most parts of our relationship, and meanwhile I’ve become so good at saying what people expect me to say. It’s difficult sometimes to stray from those tried-and-true lines. I fear that in explaining my brother’s disability, I’ve erased him. 5. The Sib Lit book that managed to transcend so many of these pitfalls was Simon’s Riding the Bus with my Sister. Part self-discovery memoir and part stunt journalism, the book centers mainly around Simon and her sister, Beth, as adults. Beth, who occupies her days riding public buses around the city, challenges Simon to join her for a year; this is the premise and structure of the book. It’s a bit like an urban Wild. What works for Simon in Riding the Bus with my Sister is that she approaches the story both as a participant-observer and as a diarist. While parts of the book do sound like those “classic family stories,” most of it feels like two real adult women trying to renegotiate their relationship. Beth the person is more believable than Beth the disability. I didn’t see myself in this book. I barely used any post-it notes while reading it. Simon and her sister were so obviously not me, so singularly themselves, that there was no point. It felt like an opening of space instead. Like I could breathe. I didn’t find a good reflection of my relationship with my brother, but I did find a way out from the funhouse mirror maze. Perhaps like Simon, the trick to curing Sib Lit is to dissolve it, and with that, its strictures. To force our unrehearsed truths into the mainstream. To be plainer, less analytic, less charming. In my case, it’s hard to tell whether this will be possible. Because he died when we were both in our 20s, my brother and I never really got the chance to figure out our adult relationship. We’re rooted in my memories, which I worry are prone to fogging and revision. And as Safer points out, that leaves me in a tough spot: Siblings are “the only surviving witnesses to your intimate history. Nobody else will remember your childhood.” I’m left to hope that, in spite of him being gone, I’ll be able to remember more than the stories I’ve rehearsed. Image credit: Unsplash/Larm Rmah.