January, February, and March 2019 flew by in a flash. Luckily it provided us with a pile of great books. There are ones I still haven’t gotten to personally, but here are a dozen I read and loved.
Go Ahead in the Rain: Part biography, part cultural criticism. Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet-turned-music critic-turned-poet again. His writing swims on the page and if you’re looking how to make your writing better, this book will teach you that. It will also teach you about A Tribe Called Quest, rap and culture in the 1990s, and what it means to grow up.
The Good Immigrant: A Collection of essays about immigration, race, ethnicity, and America. The writers they got for this is a who’s who of today’s more important and up-and-coming writers. My favorite essay – which is biased because it’s from one of my top five living writers – is Alexander Chee’s “Your Father’s Country.”
Magical Negro: Confession: I don’t read a lot of poetry. I am trying to read four collections this year. Morgan Parker’s was the one I picked to start the year off. I’m not eloquent enough to explain why it’s so good. Which I guess sounds like poetry requires some sort of hoity toity education. It doesn’t. My relationship with Magical Negro was one that made me think and feel. I’m still thinking about it weeks later.
An Orchestra of Minorities: This is the type of novel that seems ordinary, but then by page 50 you realize it’s extraordinary and unlike anything you’ve ever read. It seems like a straight forward immigration and love story. But it dives deep into Igbo folklore and the supernatural. The only thing I can say is to expect the unexpected.
A Woman is No Man: Rarely do we see such an honest portrayal of Arab-Amerian women in literature. That’s because, according to Etaf Rum, they’re taught to keep their culture’s secrets private. By writing this, the author says her community feels she betrayed them. She wrote about the dark side of marriage and abuse. It’s a haunting story, but an important one to read and spread.
American Spy: The short version is that this book is about a black female spy in Africa during the Cold War. The slightly longer version is that it is a meditation on what it means to be a black woman in America. It is a spiritual ancestor to Invisible Man and explores double consciousness. Lauren Wilkinson broke spy tropes, but also added to a very important canon in African-American literature.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A memoir about broken families, alcoholism and addiction, and sexual discovery. T Kira Madden’s essays are breathtaking. She subtly brings the reader into her world. Not all of us were queer outcasts in a posh private school, but it was so easy to connect with her thoughts and emotions through her approachable writing.
Lot: Bryan Washington’s story collection is about race, masculinity, sexuality, and Houston. Each story takes place in a neighborhood in his native city, and Houston becomes its own character throughout the collection. He offers readers an insight into his characters and their world with such ease. If you’re not a fan of story collections, fret not: he weaves together characters and places throughout the collection to offer a holistic feel to everything.
Parkland: Dave Cullen was one of the first journalists on the scene at Columbine in 1999. He wrote the definitive book on the massacre and became the “mass shooting guy” for news stations. Parkland isn’t about the shooting or the shooter. It’s about the response the teens had after and the movement they created. America is broken; this book is a step to healing us.
Sugar Run: A slow, sultry noir about a woman getting out of jail after nearly two decades and trying to find her place in the world. My favorite part about this was how Mesha Maren created the atmosphere of Appalachia on the page. The story is enthralling, but her ability to capture place and setting really made this novel stick with me.
Bangkok Wakes to Rain: Filled with loosely connected threads, this novel is an ode of Pitchaya Sudbanthad’s hometown. The vignettes and sections that fill this book offer a wide lens to view the city through. From an American doctor an entry ago trying to adjust to the city to local shop owners in present-day, we are offered an inside look into a city that is an enigma to the world, but also itself.
Survival Math: Subtitled “Notes on an All-American Family,” Mitchell S. Jackson’s memoir reveals how his life and family were shaped by “gangs and guns, near-death experiences, sex work, the concept of hustle, and the destructive power of addiction.” So often we think the All-American family is that white, nuclear quartet of a dad, mom, daughter, and son. Jackson’s memoir proves America is much more complex than that. If you haven’t realized how diverse our country is yet, then this book is the book you need to read right now.
Honorable mentions: Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi and Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken. They are breathtaking.
While it’s been easy to complain on Twitter how everything from politics to your love life sucked in 2018, it’s clear one aspect of life was amazing: literature. This was proven on a range from debut novels like Joseph Cassara’s The House of Impossible Beauties and R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries to tried and true wrtiers like Rebecca Makkai (The Great Believers) and Alexander Chee (How To Write an Autobiographical Novel).
It would be hard for 2019 to top that, right? Wrong. It seems that the literary avalanche of top-notch, instant canon, career-defining books will continue to publish on a nearly weekly basis.
There’s Black Panther Red Wolf by Marlon James which is the first in a trilogy that has already been heralded as having the potential to be as influential as G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series. Magical realist Karen Russell is returning with yet another collection of unique short stories. Dave Cullen, who wrote the defining book on the Columbine massacre has turned his eyes toward Parkland and the #neveragain movement. Then there are debuts from rising stars like Bryan Washington and Chia-Chia Lin.
Needless to say, the release schedule for the first six months of 2019 is full. But where to start?
Over the past few months, advance copies of books to be published in 2019 have been making their way to my doorstep. I’ve already read a few stellar ones, started a handful more, and have talked to writers and booksellers who have read other upcoming books I haven’t gotten a chance to get to just yet.
Below are 50 books that I’m excited for. Again, I’ve either read these, started to read them, or heard good things from people I trust. There are already lists out there like this – Entertainment Weekly, the Rumpus, and Bustle to name a few. Of course, the pinnacle of lists like these, The Millions, has yet to be published. Still, I wanted to share the ones I am stoked about. That means I probably left off some big names (sorry, not sorry) and this will be mostly fiction with a handful of non-fiction and poetry.
I’ve included the beginning of the publisher’s summary for each one and provided links to Indiebound so you can find your local bookstore to track down these stunning books upon publication.
[Please visit DEBUTIFUL, a blog I am starting with a few friends in 2019 that is dedicated to reviewing debut books and interviewing the authors who write them.]
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma (Little Brown, and Company; 1/8) Set on the outskirts of Umuahia, Nigeria and narrated by a chi, or guardian spirit, AN ORCHESTRA OF MINORITIES tells the story of Chinonso, a young poultry farmer whose soul is ignited when he sees a woman attempting to jump from a highway bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, Chinonso joins her on the roadside and hurls two of his prized chickens into the water below to express the severity of such a fall. The woman, Ndali, is stopped her in her tracks… [more]
Sugar Run by Mesha Maren (Algonquin; 1/8) In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison. When she’s released eighteen years later, she finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom but determined to chart a better course for herself. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian Mountains, she heads south in search of someone she left behind, as a way of finally making amends… [more]
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux; 1/8) In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age. For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession… [more]
Mouthful of Birds by Samantha Schweblin (Riverhead; 1/8) Stories. Unearthly and unexpected, the stories in Mouthful of Birds burrow their way into your psyche and don’t let go. Samanta Schweblin haunts and mesmerizes in this extraordinary, masterful collection… [more]
99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai (Viking; 1/8) Twelve-year-old Marwand’s memories from his previous visit to Afghanistan six years ago center on his contentious relationship with Budabash, the terrifying but beloved dog who guards his extended family’s compound in Logar. Eager to find an ally in this place that’s meant to be “home,” Marwand approaches Budabash the way he would any dog on his American suburban block–and the results are disastrous: Marwand loses a finger and Budabash escapes… [more]
Mothers by Chris Power (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1/15) Stories. Chris Power’s stories are peopled by men and women who find themselves at crossroads or dead ends—characters who search without knowing what they seek. Their paths lead them to thresholds, bridges, rivers, and sites of mysterious, irresistible connection to the past. A woman uses her mother’s old travel guide, aged years beyond relevance, to navigate on a journey to nowhere… [more]
You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian (Gallery/Scout; 1/15) Stories. You Know You Want This brilliantly explores the ways in which women are horrifying as much as it captures the horrors that are done to them. Among its pages are a couple who becomes obsessed with their friend hearing them have sex, then seeing them have sex…until they can’t have sex without him; a ten-year-old whose birthday party takes a sinister turn when she wishes for “something mean…” [more]
Hark by Sam Lipsyte (Simon and Schuster; 1/15) In an America convulsed by political upheaval, cultural discord, environmental collapse, and spiritual confusion, many folks are searching for peace, salvation, and—perhaps most immediately—just a little damn focus. Enter Hark Morner, an unwitting guru whose technique of “Mental Archery”—a combination of mindfulness, mythology, fake history, yoga, and, well, archery—is set to captivate the masses and raise him to near-messiah status… [more]
The Falconer by Dana Czapnik (Atria; 1/29) New York, 1993. Seventeen-year-old Lucy Adler, a street-smart, trash-talking baller, is often the only girl on the public courts. At turns quixotic and cynical, insecure and self-possessed, Lucy is in unrequited love with her best friend and pick-up teammate Percy, scion to a prominent New York family who insists he wishes to resist upper crust fate… [more]
Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James (Riverhead; 2/5) Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard… [more]
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken (Ecco; 2/5) From the day she is discovered unconscious in a New England cemetery at the turn of the twentieth century—nothing but a bowling ball, a candlepin, and fifteen pounds of gold on her person—Bertha Truitt is an enigma to everyone in Salford, Massachusetts. She has no past to speak of, or at least none she is willing to reveal… [more]
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang (Graywolf; 2/5) Essays. An intimate, moving book written with the immediacy and directness of one who still struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness, The Collected Schizophrenias cuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esmé Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the “collected schizophrenias” but to those who wish to understand it as well. Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness… [more]
Magical Negro by Morgan Parker (Tin House; 2/5) Poems. Magical Negro is an archive of black everydayness, a catalog of contemporary folk heroes, an ethnography of ancestral grief, and an inventory of figureheads, idioms, and customs. These American poems are both elegy and jive, joke and declaration, songs of congregation and self-conception. They connect themes of loneliness, displacement, grief, ancestral trauma, and objectification, while exploring and troubling tropes and stereotypes of Black Americans… [more]
Parkland by Dave Cullen (Harper; 2/12) On the first anniversary of the events at Parkland, the acclaimed, New York Times bestselling author of Columbine offers an intimate, deeply moving account of the extraordinary teenage survivors who became activists and pushed back against the NRA and feckless Congressional leaders—inspiring millions of Americans to join their grassroots #neveragain movement… [more]
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (Random House; 2/12) It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. Her career has stalled out, she’s overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes… [more]
Leading Men by Christopher Castellani (Viking; 2/12) In July of 1953, at a glittering party thrown by Truman Capote in Portofino, Italy, Tennessee Williams and his longtime lover Frank Merlo meet Anja Blomgren, a mysteriously taciturn young Swedish beauty and aspiring actress. Their encounter will go on to alter all of their lives. Ten years later, Frank revisits the tempestuous events of that fateful summer from his deathbed in Manhattan, where he waits anxiously for Tennessee to visit him one final time… [more]
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Knopf; 2/12) A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. Their destination: Apacheria, the place the Apaches once called home. Why Apaches? asks the ten-year-old son. Because they were the last of something, answers his father… [more]
The Study of Animal Languages by Lindsay Stern (Viking; 2/19) Ivan is a tightly wound philosophy professor whose reverence for logic and order governs not only his academic interests, but also his closest relationships. His wife, Prue, is quite the opposite: a pioneer in the emerging field of biolinguistics, she is bold and vibrant, full of life and feeling. Thus far, they have managed to weather their differences. But lately, an odd distance has settled in between them… [more]
Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad (Riverhead; 2/19) A missionary doctor pines for his native New England even as he succumbs to the vibrant chaos of nineteenth-century Siam. A post-WWII society woman marries, mothers, and holds court, little suspecting her solitary future. A jazz pianist in the age of rock, haunted by his own ghosts, is summoned to appease the resident spirits… [more]
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead; 3/5) Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories—equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel” to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can—beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe… [more]
When Brooklyn Was Queer by Hugh Ryan (St. Martin’s; 3/5) Hugh Ryan’s When Brooklyn Was Queer is a groundbreaking exploration of the LGBT history of Brooklyn, from the early days of Walt Whitman in the 1850s up through the queer women who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, and beyond. No other book, movie, or exhibition has ever told this sweeping story. Not only has Brooklyn always lived in the shadow of queer Manhattan neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Harlem, but there has also been a systematic erasure of its queer history—a great forgetting. [more]
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum (Harper; 3/5) Palestine, 1990. Seventeen-year-old Isra prefers reading books to entertaining the suitors her father has chosen for her. Over the course of a week, the naïve and dreamy girl finds herself quickly betrothed and married, and is soon living in Brooklyn. There Isra struggles to adapt to the expectations of her oppressive mother-in-law Fareeda and strange new husband Adam… [more]
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Ballantine; 3/5) Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things… [more]
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (Bloomsbury; 3/5) Memoir. Acclaimed literary essayist T Kira Madden’s raw and redemptive debut memoir is about coming of age and reckoning with desire as a queer, biracial teenager amidst the fierce contradictions of Boca Raton, Florida, a place where she found cult-like privilege, shocking racial disparities, rampant white-collar crime, and powerfully destructive standards of beauty hiding in plain sight… [more]
Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson (Scribner; 3/5) Memoir. With a poet’s gifted ear, a novelist’s sense of narrative, and a journalist’s unsentimental eye, Mitchell S. Jackson candidly explores his tumultuous youth in the other America. Survival Mathtakes its name from the calculations Mitchell and his family made to keep safe—to stay alive—in their community, a small black neighborhood in Portland, Oregon blighted by drugs, violence, poverty, and governmental neglect… [more]
If, Then by Kate Hope Day (Random House; 3/12) In the quiet haven of Clearing, Oregon, four neighbors find their lives upended when they begin to see themselves in parallel realities. Ginny, a devoted surgeon whose work often takes precedence over her family, has a baffling vision of a beautiful co-worker in Ginny’s own bed and begins to doubt the solidity of her marriage. Ginny’s husband, Mark, a wildlife scientist, sees a vision that suggests impending devastation and grows increasingly paranoid, threatening the safety of his wife and son… [more]
Lot by Bryan Washington (Riverhead; 3/19) Stories. Around him, others live and thrive and die in Houston’s myriad neighborhoods: a young woman whose affair detonates across an apartment complex, a ragtag baseball team, a group of young hustlers, hurricane survivors, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, a reluctant chupacabra… [more]
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (Gallery/Scout; 3/19) Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places… [more]
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell (Hogarth; 3/21) On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the epic story of a small African nation, told by a mysterious swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis. The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human.
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (Pantheon; 3/26) Late one spring night, as Driss Guerraoui is walking across a darkened intersection in California, he’s killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui’s daughter Nora, a jazz composer who returns to the small town in the Mojave she thought she’d left for good; his widow, Maryam, who still pines after her life in the old country… [more]
White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf (Ecco; 3/26) The White Elephant looms large over the quaint suburban town of Willard Park: a gaudy, newly constructed behemoth of a home, it soars over the neighborhood, dwarfing the houses that surround it. When owner Nick Cox cuts down Allison and Ted Millers’ precious red maple—in an effort to make his unsightly property more appealing to buyers—their once serene town becomes a battleground… [more]
The Light Years by Chris Rush (Farrar, Straus, Giroux; 4/2) Memoir. Chris Rush was born into a prosperous, fiercely Roman Catholic, New Jersey family. But underneath the gleaming mid-century house, the flawless hostess mom, and the thriving businessman dad ran an unspoken tension that, amid the upheaval of the late 1960s, was destined to fracture their precarious facade… [more]
The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero (Ecco; 4/2) Ana Falcón, along with her husband Lucho and their two young children, has fled the economic and political strife of Peru for a chance at a new life in New York City in the 1990s. Being undocumented, however, has significantly curtailed the family’s opportunities: Ana is indebted to a loan shark who calls herself Mama, and is stretched thin by unceasing shifts at her factory job. To make matters worse, Ana must also battle both criticism from Lucho’s cousin—who has made it obvious the family is not welcome to stay in her spare room for much longer—and escalating and unwanted attention from Mama’s husband… [more]
Women Talking by Miriam Toews (Bloomsbury; 4/2) One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins… [more]
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (Henry Holt; 4/9) In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. When within this striving “Brotherhood of the Arts,” two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed… [more]
Normal People by Sally Rooney (Hogarth; 4/16) At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal… [more]
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence edited by Michele Filgate (Simon and Schuster; 4/30) In the bestselling tradition of The Bitch in the House, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About is an anthology about the powerful and sometimes painful things that we can’t discuss with the person who is supposed to know us and love us the most… [more]
The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; 5/7) In Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel, The Unpassing, we meet a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. The father, hardworking but beaten down, is employed as a plumber and repairman, while the mother, a loving, strong-willed, and unpredictably emotional matriarch, holds the house together. When ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, he falls into a deep, nearly fatal coma. He wakes up a week later to learn that his little sister Ruby was infected, too. She did not survive… [more]
Juliet the Maniac by Juliet Escoria (Melville House; 5/7) It’s 1997, and 14-year-old Juliet has it pretty good. But over the course of the next two years, she rapidly begins to unravel, finding herself in a downward trajectory of mental illness and self-destruction… [more]
The Seven of Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames (Ecco; 5/7) For Stella Fortuna, death has always been a part of life. Stella’s childhood is full of strange, life-threatening incidents—moments where ordinary situations like cooking eggplant or feeding the pigs inexplicably take lethal turns. Even Stella’s own mother is convinced that her daughter is cursed or haunted… [more]
Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer (Catapult; 5/7) At the age of nineteen, Lara Prior-Palmer discovered a website devoted to “the world’s longest, toughest horse race”–an annual competition of endurance and skill that involves dozens of riders racing a series of twenty-five wild ponies across 1,000 kilometers of Mongolian grassland. On a whim, she decided to enter the race. As she boarded a plane to East Asia, she was utterly unprepared for what awaited her… [more]
I Like to Watch by Emily Nussbaum (Random House; 5/14) Essays. From her creation of the first “Approval Matrix” in New York magazine in 2004 to her Pulitzer Prize–winning columns for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum has known all along that what we watch is who we are. In this collection, including two never-before-published essays, Nussbaum writes about her passion for television that began with stumbling upon Buffy the Vampire Slayer—a show that was so much more than it appeared—while she was a graduate student studying Victorian literature… [more]
Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene (Knopf; 5/14) Memoir. As the book opens: two-year-old Greta Greene is sitting with her grandmother on a park bench on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A brick crumbles from a windowsill overhead, striking her unconscious, and she is immediately rushed to the hospital. But although it begins with this event and with the anguish Jayson and his wife, Stacy, confront in the wake of their daughter’s trauma and the hours leading up to her death, Once More We Saw Stars quickly becomes a narrative that is as much about hope and healing as it is about grief and loss… [more]
Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell (Knopf; 5/14) These eight exuberant, arrestingly vivid, emotionally precise stories present one of America’s most gifted young writers at the top of her form… [more]
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (Knopf; 5/21) One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka Peninsula at the northeastern tip of Russia, two girls–sisters, ages eight and eleven–go missing. The police investigation goes cold from the outset. In the girls’ tightly-woven community, everyone must grapple with the loss. But the fear and danger is felt most profoundly among the women of this isolated place… [more]
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright; 6/4) When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it’s the culmination of years of yearning to be reunited with Cicely, her oldest friend and secret love, who left home years before for the “land of opportunity.” Patsy’s plans do not include her religious mother or even her young daughter, Tru, both of whom she leaves behind in a bittersweet trail of sadness and relief. But Brooklyn is not at all what Cicely described in her letters, and to survive as an undocumented immigrant, Patsy is forced to work as a bathroom attendant, and ironically, as a nanny… [more]
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin; 6/4) On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation… [more]
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (Tin House; 6/4) One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function… [more]
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung (Ecco; 6/18) An exhilarating novel about a trailblazing mathematician who unearths her own extraordinary family story and its roots in World War II. From childhood, Katherine knows she is different, and that her parents are not who they seem to be. But in becoming a mathematician, she must face the most human of problems–who is she? What is the cost of love, and what is the cost of ambition? … [more]
The Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz (Ecco; 6/25) Billie James’ inheritance isn’t much: a little money and a shack in the Mississippi Delta. The house once belonged to her father, a renowned black poet who died unexpectedly when Billie was four years old. Though Billie was there when the accident happened, she has no memory of that day—and she hasn’t been back to the South since… [more]
It’s the time of year when established media outlets and blog boys alike put out their “Best ____ of 2018 so far” lists. Ya know I’m no different. However, I don’t make money off of my last name dot com, so I don’t need 50 different lists to appease my advertisers. I limited myself to five of each. If you don’t see your favorite album/film/goldfish, it was probably 6th on my list. Or I haven’t encountered it yet.
Gimme 5: albums from the first half of 2018
One Stone by Trixie Mattel (self-released) March
A drag queen superstar goes against making EDM club music in favor of earnest Americana. Must listens are “Little Sister” and “Red Side of the Moon.”
Clean by Soccer Mommy (Fat Possum) March The cream of the crop when it comes to college-aged people mastering their feelings with a guitar. Must listens are “Your Dog” and “Scorpio Rising.”
Saved by Now, Now (Trans-) May
These high school besties turned pop power duo didn’t disappoint after it took five years to make this album. Must listens are “SGL” and “Holy Water.”
Nightstandby Tancred (Polyvinyl) June
Jess Abbott could have written the soundtrack to any angsty teen movie from the late-90s. Must listens are “Apple Tree Girl” and “Underwear.”
Verdugo by Richard Edwards (Joyful Noise) June
The result happens when your life and health go to shit but so you write two albums – the bummer one and this one. Must listens are “A Woman Who Can’t Say No” and “Olive Oyl.”
Gimme 5: books from the first half of 2018
The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara (Ecco)
Before RuPaul made drag mainstream, there was the queer community of NYC in the late ’80s struggling to find acceptance. This is their story. [My interview with the author can be found here.]
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (Grove) Modern-day Nigerian folklore crossed with a sincere coming-of-age story is perhaps the best way to describe this novel.
Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley (MCD) Essays about topics ranging from porn to volcanoes to personal musing. Expect to laugh, cry, and dry heave.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder (Hogarth) A woman in the midst of an existential crisis mixed with a cocktail of depression and anxiety has a sexual relationship with a merman. Or does she?
Florida by Lauren Groff (Riverhead)
A collection from one of the best writers out there. She explores different characteristics of the state through time and location with such emotional precision. [My interview with the author can be found here.]
Gimme 5: returning TV shows from the first half of 2018
The Americans (FX)
A final season about Cold War Russian spies in America that wasn’t watched or respected by nearly enough people. Standout episode: “START.”
Completely different, yet somehow exactly the same from the first season. Auteur television perfected. Standout episode: “Teddy Perkins.”
Baseball is America’s pastime. Hank Azaria is America’s future. Minor league baseball has never been so fun. And that’s saying something considering how fun MiLB is already. Standout episode: “Knuckleball.”
Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)
It never takes itself too seriously and is lighthearted and hefty throughout. Sometimes even in the same scene. Standout episode: “Suspicious Objects.”
Well, well, well. If there was a show I turned sour on, it’s this one. Still, I can’t stop thinking about it week in and week out. Standout episode: “Kiksuya.”
Gimme 5: new TV shows from the first half of 2018
Bill Hader proves he’s more than a funny man in this dark hitman comedy.
The End of the F*ing World (Netflix)
Two disturbed teens go on a dangerous roadtrip across England that is filled with drugs, sex, and murder.
Queer Eye (Netflix)
Five men so fabulous a second season came out less than half a year later.
The Looming Tower (Hulu)
Problematic, sure, but an honest retelling of America’s darkest hour.
Killing Eve (BBC America)
A twisty murder mystery that avoids the typical tropes and has stand out performances lead by Sandra Oh.
Gimme 5: films from the first half of 2018
A Quiet Place by John Krasinski, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck (Paramount) It took 90 minutes to explore the themes The Walking Dead still hasn’t figured out.
Black Panther by Ryan Coogler(Marvel) The best(?) superhero flick since The Dark Knight. Wakanda forever.
Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson(Fox Searchlight) The film auteur returns to stop motion and surpassed all expectation.
Love, Simon by Greg Berlanti, Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger(20th Century Fox) Queer stories are more important than ever; especially for teens.
You Were Never Really Here by Lynne Ramsay (Amazon Studios) Joaquin Phoenix returns to form and might as well be nominated for Best Actor right now.
Gimme 5: podcasts from the first half of 2018
Keep It with Ira Madison, Karen Brown, Louis Vitrell (Crooked Media) Pop culture commentary with a political twist.
Homophilia with Dave Holes and Matt McConkey (Earwolf) One of the best podcasts on queer culture other than Nancy.
Nancy with Tobin Low and Kathy (WNYC) Speaking of Nancy. The best podcast from 2017 is back and better than ever!
Today, I start working part-time my favorite bookstore – Changing Hands in Phoenix. I am incredibly stoked because I love bookstores. I often spend any free time that I need to kill at a local indie or at Barnes & Noble. I even worked at BN in Augusta, Maine and Tempe, Arizona (where I dated someone at each one… so there’s that).
For nearly three years, now I have interviewed authors for various sites including Electric Literature and the Millions. I’ve provided some reviews and criticism as well; mostly at Writer’s Bone. If you didn’t already know, I love books. Now that I am going to be on the front lines of the book world a few days a week, I went through my favorite works of fiction – mostly novels, but some short story collections as well – so I could be ready to suggest some works people may have missed.
I was looking for a specific type of book in the summer of 2017. I asked the subreddit Suggest Me a Book “History of Drag. Any suggestions? Not biographies. But a cultural/sociological look into Drag Queen history and such. Thanks!”
I wanted a definitive history to read like explored in the documentary Paris is Burning. I got a few upvotes and two responses – My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones and Sex Change, Social Change by Viviane Namaste – but nothing I was particularly looking for. I didn’t even ask to think of looking for a good literary fiction book about queer, trans, and drag queens during the 1980s and early 1990s because, well, I had a feeling it didn’t exist.
At some point I got an advanced copy of a book. Upon a quick glance it just seems like a romance. It has Beauties in the title and has a glamorous shot of a woman.
I glance at it a few days later. It’s a man with make up on. In drag.
This is the book I was waiting for. Joseph Cassara wrote The House of Impossible Beauties and I am going on record by saying this is going to me one of the books of 2018.
The podcast is back for Episode 14 (while 13 was technically over at Writer’s Bone, which is why you won’t find it in my iTunes feed).
In his debut novel One of the Boys, Daniel Magariel uses his personal history to write from the perspective of a young boy who starts a new life with his brother and father. Everything is perfect in the eyes of the preteen, but events slowly turn heartbreaking when the father’s addictions and violence begin to rise to the surface. The novel carries a lot of emotional weight in a brief space — less than 200 deeply-affecting pages.
Every two months, I’ll wrangle up ten of my favorite books that I’ve come across to recommend to friends and family (plus random internet strangers). These might range from books I think are the “best” to ones that just surprised me to authors I interviewed. Here are ten from January and February in the order that they were released.
A lot of people have been viewing all of pop culture – including literature – through the political lens of 2017. While it’s important to make these connections, it’s not always necessary. Remember, books are written years in advance. They’re purchased by publishers who pick a date in the future that they feel will be the best for sales. Some of the books on this list are easy targets when making connections to the new President Administration. Others are not. However, they all have something in common even if they don’t seem similar at all.
Some explore the past. The future. Some look at the fringe aspects of society. Some take place in America. Some don’t. All of the books explore the beautiful, as well as haunting, aspects of humanity. They all stand on their own and will still be seminal reading experiences they’re read during a more stable period.
Erica Ferencik is a Boston-based author whose recent release, The River at Night is a modern Deliverance set in the deep woods of Maine. I conducted a full-length interview with her for Electric Literature that talks about the research that went into writing the book and so much more.
Samantha Hunt is a very successful author: she won the Bard Fiction Prize, was part of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 award, and was a finalist for the Orange Prize. After receiving critical acclaim for her first two novels, The Seas (2004) and The Invention of Everything Else (2008), she returned with one of the best books published in 2016: Mr. Splitfoot.
Herman Koch’s The Dinner (2013) is intriguing from the beginning. Sure, an entire story told through the course of a dinner is nothing groundbreaking, but the way Paul, the narrator, speaks to the reader is what makes this unique. He purposely omits details about the story at hand; the name of the restaurant, for example. Instantly he is seen as unreliable, but you grow to believe him as he spins his tale.
Paul Lohman is private and wearisome, yet his brother, Serge, is on the verge of being prime minister. The story promises to revolve around something that their two fifteen year old boys did, but that doesn’t come into play until much, much later. This book is a slow, laborious read. There are many pages spent describing the food and atmosphere of the restaurant. This doesn’t bother me as much as it does others, but I wish that Koch developed the characters’ problems earlier. There are passages that feel like if they were omitted then the pacing issues would be non-existent.
About halfway through the book is when everything finally becomes interesting. The plot moves quickly, and it’s rather refreshing. However, it feels rushed and we end up only get the slimmest of details. Perhaps this was to go in hand with Paul’s purposeful lack of narration, but I feel Koch just didn’t develop the gritty details enough. The action of the last half, especially the final act of the book, is boom-boom-boom. It left me wanting more, but not in a satisfactory way. In more of a, “wait-what?” way.
There were some points during my read that I felt that Koch’s beautiful prose was lost in translation from Dutch to English. It felt choppy at best during times I wanted the scenes to flow painlessly. However, Koch’s take on jumping back and forth in time to unfold a story was good. His jumps were always triggered by key moments and sometimes spent entire chapters on events that didn’t seem all that important until the rest of the story unfolded.
All in all, it’s a good read if you’re interested in dry drama and have a pension for rapid assault endings. If you’re looking for all out forceful novel a la Tom Clancy or Dan Brown, then this isn’t for you. Definitely a slow burner.