Penguins with People Problems

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Beattie, Toews, Boyle, Filgate, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Ann Beattie, Miriam Toews, T.C. Boyle, Michele Filgate and more—that are publishing this week.

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Morelia by Renee Gladman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Morelia: “Gladman’s strange and hypnotic novella (following Houses of Ravicka) depicts a woman moving through a dreamlike world and trying to find meaning in its inexplicable shifts. Upon discovering a sentence in a language that ‘wasn’t English’ written on a piece of paper tucked inside one of her books, the unnamed woman attempts to figure out what it means. She moves from one situation to another, often either without an explanation as to how she traveled from one place to the other, or with the explanation provided taking a surrealist bent. For example, in a scene where a man tries to violently extract information from her for an ominous figure named Mr. Otis, the narrator realizes she can escape through the man’s “eyebrows” and does just that, somehow. She’s being chased by Mr. Otis and ‘his goons,’ but the exact reason remains obscure. Returning again and again to the mysterious and almost indecipherable sentence (which continues to appear in different places and in different forms), the woman believes that with each reappearance she knows a little more about it than before. An exquisitely written yet confounding tale, Gladman’s novella functions like a dream on the contours of a person’s imagination, making for a singular ride.”

Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Women Talking: “After more than 300 women in the Mennonite colony of Molotschna were attacked between 2005 and 2009, eight of the settlement’s women, from the Loewen and Friesen families, gather secretly to discuss their plan of action in this powerful novel by Toews (All My Puny Sorrows). They believed that the nightly attacks were by ghosts and demons until a man was caught and named other perpetrators; then the women realized that the victims were drugged and raped by men from their community. The Friesens want to stay and fight the men, and the Loewens want to leave Molotschna altogether; the rest of the women in the colony decide to do nothing and skip the clandestine meetings. Schoolteacher August Epp—who takes the minutes of the meetings for the women, since they are illiterate, and is trusted by them because he’s been ostracized by the community’s men—tracks every conversation leading to the women’s final decision. Through Epp, Toews has found a way to add lightness and humor to the deeply upsetting and terrifying narrative while weaving in Epp’s own distressing backstory. Epp’s observations (such as those about how the women physically react or respond when someone shares a divisive suggestion) are astute, and through him readers are able to see how carefully and intentionally the women think through their life-changing decision—critically discussing their roles in society, their love for their families and religion, and their hopes and desires for the future. This is an inspiring and unforgettable novel.”

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about I Miss You When I Blink: “In this heartwarming if occasionally self-indulgent essay collection, Philpott (Penguins with People Problems) shares her struggle with depression despite an outwardly perfect life. Philpott weaves together a collection of anecdotes about her struggles with perfectionism, failure, and coming to terms with her need for change. She discusses her experiences with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome caused by fertility medication, her disconnect from the mundane conversations with friends after they all had children, and her ongoing war with her neighbor over their respective troublemaking pets. Amid this, she became weighed down by an ‘existential angst’ and at times missed work deadlines, stopped washing her hair, and forgot about scheduled commitments. Philpott’s prose is conversational and easy to settle into (‘Maybe we all walk around assuming everyone is interpreting the world the same way we are, and being surprised they aren’t, and that’s the loneliness’). However, her tone, while aiming to be witty, can come across as arrogant (‘I’m not a monster. I just want everything to be perfect. Is that so much to ask?’). Readers who worry their type-A personalities have led them to be unsatisfied with their successes, or those who yearn for change but can’t pinpoint exactly why, will find this book comforting and reassuring.”

The Gulf by Belle Boggs

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Gulf: “Boggs (The Art of Waiting) brings characters to unexpected rapport in her droll yet genuine unpacking of contemporary for-profit education and culture wars. Underemployed atheist poet Marianne hesitantly agrees to serve as the director of a new low-residency writing program for Christian authors being set up by her ex-fiancé Eric in his great aunt’s rundown Florida hotel. An unusual set of writers forms the school’s first group, including a has-been singer attempting a born-again comeback and Janine, a frustrated home economics teacher who writes poems from the perspective of Terri Schiavo. Students initially complain about nearly everything but soon form productive bonds. Surprised by the apparent success of the program, Marianne wilfully ignores how Eric’s venture capitalist brother Mark is turning control over to an aggressive, Christian-oriented for-profit education group called God’s Word God’s World. When she learns that God’s Word God’s World has close ties with extreme pro-life activists, Marianne struggles to reconcile her own politics, her lingering feelings for Eric, and her attachment to the students. Readers will find this witty, nuanced work both satisfying and resonant.”


Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Beyond the Point: “In Gibson’s debut, friendship and ambition buoy three young women through life as female cadets at West Point in the late 1990s and through the realities of adulthood in a post-9/11 world. Dani McNalley is known for her remarkable athleticism at West Point, but finds that her abilities in the classroom make her more of a threat to the male-dominated culture. Hannah Speer’s drive for excellence leaves her little time for a typical college experience. Talented and beautiful Avery Adams doesn’t take well to being sidelined—from the basketball court or her lively social life—and breaks many of the strict rules to vent her frustrations. Though each’s competitive nature batters down the first blooms of the threesome’s friendship, shared adversity cements a bond that lasts beyond graduation. Deployments, failed relationships, and unsuccessful attempts at careers outside of the military separate the women, and though they try to stay in touch, their fleeting interactions are not enough to sustain the friendship. Just when they feel they no longer really know one another, tragedy strikes, and suddenly they must remember the values that brought them together in the first place. The real-world experiences of the women of West Point come across in realistic dialogue delivered often in the form of email and instant message conversations. This heartening and heartbreaking story is an ode to the strength of friendship.”

Outside Looking In by T.C. Boyle

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Outside Looking In: “Boyle (The Terranauts) returns with a satisfying, if overlong take on Timothy Leary’s LSD studies from the early 1960s. After a brief explanation of LSD’s discovery in a Swiss laboratory in 1943, the novel leaps forward to center on Fitz Loney, a Harvard psychology graduate student, and his wife, Joanie, in 1962. They join Harvard professor Leary’s inner circle of hallucinogenic test subjects and researchers who are working to develop therapeutic methods of employing the drug. To avoid employer interference, Leary relocates his study to Mexico. Fitz and Joanie tag along, frequently trip, and sexually experiment with others, but caught in the middle is the couple’s teenage son, Corey, who gradually isolates himself from his parents. After Harvard fires Leary, he moves his group to an estate in Upstate New York, where Fitz theoretically works on his thesis while Joanie loses faith in the cause; she and Fitz drift apart, and Corey realizes his own rebellious nature. While early chapters set the scene, the real ride begins when the scientific evaluations wane and the characters give themselves over to the drug. Though it takes its time hitting its stride, Boyle’s novel picks up momentum and is an evocative depiction of the early days of LSD.”

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Wonderful Stroke of Luck: “Beattie’s discursive, unfocused novel (following The Accomplished Guest) chronicles the coming-of-age of Ben, an intelligent teenager who, as the book opens, is studying at an elite New Hampshire boarding school called Bailey Academy. In the months before and after 9/11, he pines for his alluring fellow student LouLou Sils, copes with his fragmented family, and joins the group that congregates around enigmatic philosophy teacher Pierre LaVerdere. After graduation from Bailey and then Cornell, Ben eddies through a series of unsatisfactory jobs, fleeting sexual encounters, and a relationship with a troubled young woman named Arly. After he moves to a small town in 2011, LouLou, LaVerdere, and his family reveal themselves in new and challenging ways. Beattie’s depiction of the aimless and largely unremarkable Ben is overshadowed by the detail lavished on scores of vivid minor characters who pass briefly through his life. LaVerdere, whose interactions with Ben frame the novel, is also unsatisfying: pretentiously cerebral and verbose, he feels implausible as either a defining influence in his students’ lives or the dramatically problematic man who emerges at the novel’s close. As always, Beattie offers sharp psychological insights and well-crafted prose, but the novel lacks the power and emotional depth of her best work.”

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About edited by Michele Filgate

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: “Filgate, contributing editor at Literary Hub, collects a fascinating set of reflections on what it is like to be a son or daughter. One of this anthology’s strengths lies in its diversity, both in the racial and socioeconomic backgrounds represented, and in the experiences depicted—some loving, others abusive. The strongest pieces are the most revealing: in Kiese Laymon’s essay about ‘the harm and abuse I’ve inflicted on people who loved me,’ he asks ‘Why do I… want to lie?’—a question that resounds throughout this book. Nayomi Munaweera offers an attention-grabbing account of growing up in an immigrant household and with a mother with a personality disorder, while Brandon Taylor conveys the shattering pain of verbal and physical abuse. In a sunnier entry, Leslie Jamison explores the magic of having a great mom and describes the spell cast by a parent shaped by hippie-era Berkeley. Despite the title, the contributors find it difficult to talk about what’s unsaid, with most discussing what has already been spoken. Nevertheless, the range of stories and styles represented in this collection makes for rich and rewarding reading.”

Also on shelves: Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine.

A Year in Reading: Natashia Deón

When I think about the books I’ve read in 2016, the greatest have left me cut open, because I believe words are swords. Even hello and goodbye. Especially goodbye. And even curse words. But for my purposes, they’re swords against injustice, a voice to the marginalized — spoken or on a page, a wall, a tattoo.

I fear the silences.

The silence of those who feel unthreatened. That is, the silence of well meaning, “nice people” who want to get along, and who believe a disagreement or protest only means no peace, not a path to get there. I fear the silence of other Christians that I now hear so loud.  Those who only pray for the police and not the protestors. We need God all around.

When I was 19 years old, a boy in my college who was offended by the words I used after his assault said, “If you say anything, I will destroy you. I have more friends than you do.”

He was right about having more friends. In other words, he had more power and influence in that space, the same way politics and money have power over us. But at almost 40 years old now, I’ve lived long enough to have been destroyed before, and I can testify that sitting in silence is worse. In shame is worse. Had I known then what I know now, I would have chosen differently. I would have chosen for myself when and when not to be silent. Back then, his threat chose for me. But today, I’m different.

I believe that love casts out all fear. Including mine. And I believe the world is rigged in the favor of love. It is what will ultimately unify us. And I believe in hope. Active hope. And active love. Not just a feeling, but the kind of love that compels us to do something selflessly for the people we say we love and support. It should compel us to serve others, and if necessary, to stand in the gap for those who can’t. It’s an action word and still a sword.

Preferring love doesn’t mean to ignore other emotions, like this anger I know I carry. And if I’m honest, I try to carry it the same way I do my lust. I have become a container of longing. It’s redirection. It’s discipline. I know we don’t all have it. Not yet. I’ve read the biographies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I admire the way he carried his passions, but I’ve read about his failings, too. No one’s perfect.

I give these admissions of love and lust and anger to you because we are alive and there is so much to feel right now and to acknowledge and understand about others — there are no “others” — but not all of our emotion is helpful to what must be done in times of “no peace.” To stand in the gap for others, to get us along the road to move forward and help in some way.  Whether we feel personally threatened or not, we’ll have to recognize what our cleanest sustainable fuel is — the cleanest emotion. I think it’s love. For all other emotions, we’ll have to make time and a safe place to be reckless.

Books help to inform how I’ll love; where the need is outside of my own personal experience and circle of friends. So I’ve read so many good books in 2016, many are from marginalized groups, but not solely, and include women and people of color, and from the LGBTQIA communities, and from different religious and spiritual groups. But what I want to share with you are the books I’ll be bringing with me into the unknown of 2017.

For spiritual fuel…I’ll be bringing Timothy Keller’s book Prayer in order to pray for this world around me, including our president, the House and Senate and our judiciary, and for every group in our country that is living under extraordinary threat based on ethnicity or religion or sexual preference. For Native Americans. For women.  And I pray for those of us who are able to do something, even if it’s one thing or a handful of things, or many things. We can make a difference.

I’ll also be bringing Beth Moore’s book So Long Insecurity to remind myself of the courage we’ll all need to carry on. Beth Moore, a pastor, tirelessly and publicly stands up for women. And I’ll bring Judah Smith’s book Life Is______.

And last but not least, for spiritual fuel, I’ll be reading The Bible. Specifically, the four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — books by men about a man who respected women from all walks of life, no matter the mistakes she’d made in her life, years ago or just moments ago. And in this way, I’ll remind myself of the kind of men who possess the love I’d put my faith and hope in, even if they don’t call themselves feminists.

For other strengths, I’ll be rereading Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State and any of her essays, including one of my favorites called “Acts of Faith.” Ever since I read that essay for the first time last year, and learned of the existence of Jesuit Priests, I’ve considered converting to Catholicism just for them…and for the Pope. I enjoyed his recent book, The Name of God Is Mercy.

I’ll also be reading essays by Rebecca Solnit and finishing her book The Faraway Nearby because it says so much about the nature of us, of women, and our “place” in society and what we hope for. I’ll never forget the term she coined, “Mansplaining.” It sums up my professional life in the last year or so. Fourteen years as a lawyer in my field, and men will still feel compelled to explain the ropes of law practice to me. I let them. It allows me to rest.

I’ll be carrying We Love You Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge and Surveillance by Ashaki Jackson for the times I need to be reminded why I must keep walking. Why we all do.

To laugh, I will take Ayisha Malik’s new book, Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged. When I heard her read from it in London this summer, I was crying-laughing. The same as when I was flipping through the pages of Mary Laura Philpott’s book, Penguins with People Problems. I’ve read her book again and again like it was a squishy stress-relief toy. And, of course I’m taking the book Go the F**k to Sleep, which is essential reading for new parents who have protected their senses of humor from sleep deprivation. And I’ll take the book All My Friends Are Dead just to smile, and finally, I’ll finish Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley because it’s worth it. We need laughter. Even if it feels wrong to laugh right now.

I want to bring books about girls and women into 2017 that may not fall into the designation of “women of color” — some of the books I’ve already mentioned do not. I want to remember that we’re all in this together and no one gets out of this life as an adult unwounded. Shared pain (and shared laughter) may be the simplest unifiers. So I will read Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne, The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak, and Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell. Gina’s book has this opening line: “My father proposed to my mother at gunpoint when she was nineteen, and knowing that she was already pregnant with a dead man’s child, she accepted.”

Because I am a sister to four brothers and have always been told growing up that I was a Tomboy — but whatever! — I will call these books my masculine selections that I’m carrying into 2017: Vu Tran’s Dragonfish, Tod Goldberg’s Gangsterland, Matthew Nienow’s chapbook House of Water, and Shooting Elvis by Robert Eversz. Coincidentally, Shooting Elvis has a young female protagonist from the 1980s to whom I can relate. I still imagine myself wearing neon with crimped bangs.

And finally, I’m carrying an early review copy of The Yellow House by Chiwan Choi. It’s gorgeous. In it, Choi writes about painful loss — he’s lost a child, he’s lost his native country, and now, the people he loves are slipping away. The poems in his book have caused me to ponder the state of life, this world we now live in, and to draw enormous conclusions about us: That maybe by 40 years old, every person alive has lost something so germane that it changes her — something about her country, her personal life. But what I’ve discovered is more true is that the love we give is timeless. For everything else, we’ll have to decide how we’ll move forward with what remains.

More from A Year in Reading 2016

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