Past the first two pages, I found myself suddenly in defiant conversation with every idea about gender and power I've had or been taught. Using the deviant and bizarre work of Valerie Solanas as a jumping off point, Andrea Long Chu absolutely shreds the binary and eviscerates a kind of American masculinity?—and they do it with extraordinary style, dancing between literary criticism, personal essay, and I-don't-even-know-what. One of the best new books you can fit in your pocket.
"Past the first two pages, I found myself suddenly in defiant conversation with every idea about gender and power I've had or been taught. Using the deviant and bizarre work of Valerie Solanas as a jumping-off point, Andrea Long Chu absolutely shreds the binary and eviscerates a kind of American masculinity?—and they do it with extraordinary style, dancing between literary criticism, personal essay, and I-don't-even-know-what. One of the best new books you can fit in your pocket."
The premise is hardly new: a man picks up a mysterious object--it could be a key, a ring, or a mirror, but here, it's a book--and he might enter a new world, one full of surprises and charming adventures and, probably, the love of a beautiful woman. Or something like that. But in THE OTHER CITY, the man instead finds himself newly aware of the world he lives in; he doesn't enter another place so much as discovers the one that exists in the cracks and crevices of his own, a separate city in the margins of Prague. Like Rome atop Rome or like Israel atop Palestine, this other place exists all around him, just beneath his notice, but “usually we don't stray off the path even once in the course of our lives.” Later in the novel, a parrot named Felix elaborates: “The places we call the fringes are the secret center on whose fringes we dwell. . . this secret center is itself only the fringes of a more distant center. The last center gleams in a dream beyond a thousand frontiers and you'll never reach it. . .” At the same time, this book is full of references to blackfish, to sacred sharks, and to a bizarre religious cult built around sea creatures of all kinds. And Ajvaz seems to relish the repulsive: he describes monsters “playing slimy Ludo with figures carved from meat” and tells us of tiger-maulings and shark-assassins in church towers. He is a poet of the truly gross, but he's also crafting something, an alternate reality achieved along an absurdly classical journey.
Raving about an Irish writer's gift for gab is a cliche I won't indulge, but in this boozy and bawdy collection, Kevin Barry goes far beyond the shores of Ireland, traipsing through Wales, England, and lesbian bedrooms in Berlin to bring an Irish poetry to a wretched people inundated with fucking Anglo curse words, lager, and cider. Marrying clear-eyed and open-hearted narration with an optimistic nihilism and a very dirty mouth, Barry is in a class of his own, but he'll be readily enjoyed by fans of Frank Bill and Dan Chaon. So here's the deal: I challenge you to stand in the store, read "Fjord of Killary", and not leave with this book.
This book is Joan Didion's first, a dishy exposure of the bleak marriage of two wealthy scions of California landowning families. Falling somewhere between The Great Gatsby--in its nostalgic depiction of troubled, striving privilege--and The Grapes of Wrath--as a crucial entry in the mythology of California--people have somehow resisted calling it The Grapes Gatsby. Not sure how. As an almost-sixty-year-old novel alongside Didion's better known works like Play It As It Lays, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and The Year of Magical Thinking, it can stand outside the shadow of the author's reputation as a truly gorgeous novel.
HOUSEKEEPING feels like a book in code, like something handwritten on yellowed paper, lost, and then found again. On the surface, this is a family history: three generations of precarity and loss as the women of one family succumb to disasters and suicide and time itself. It's about the tenuousness of rural living, and of modern living, but more than that, it emphasizes how difficult it is for people to hang on to civilization when they're being torn up by the roots.
"Which of the readers is loud enough to be heard over smacking lips and chewing?" The answer? Mattilda. "And which reader is best able to compete against deliciousness and wine for the attention of the room?" Again, the answer was Mattilda. "And which of these writer-provocateurs has written the definitive memoir of gay activism, drugs, sex, and 90's culture in San Francisco replete with sonic signposting to the electroclash, RIOT GRRRL, and rock of the that storied decade?" It could only be MATTILDA.
The creep of economic precarity and labor insecurity into the millennial generation of the upper middle class, the notable absence of men in the lives of women, and a potent strain of social hostility makes this THE novel to read to understand a large minority of young professional women. Butler doesn’t sugar coat anything, not about the bullshit jobs or the professional striving or the materialist hunger for lifestyle and unearned satisfaction, or the clinging depression and noxious hope that drive this novel’s action. It’s a book full of private shame made public and almost-guilty admissions, perfect for readers of Ottessa Moshfegh or Alissa Nutting. Our heroine is even named Millie. The millennial. Just perfect
Before 1600, India was the seat of some of the greatest and most technologically advanced empires the world has ever seen. Fully a quarter of the global economy--fabrics, metals, and trade--was Indian. But then the British East India Company systematically stripped India, turning one of the richest countries in the world into one of England’s poorest colonies. This book details how the British affected the economic and cultural subjugation of a subcontinent of 200 million and how the rapacious theft of that nation’s wealth by a private corporation masquerading as a government led to the rise of the British Empire. This book is a crucial understanding of colonial economics, and would be excellent reading for anyone curious how capitalism operates on an international scale.
In this memoir, Mira Jacob tells poignant stories of her American experience with illustrations superimposed on photographs. Through effervescent dialogue with natural rhythms, she interlaces recollections from her childhood as the "other kind of Indian" in New Mexico with the wrenching pain of raising a curious, thoughtful, biracial child in the Trump Era. & from the mouths of these babes, her-as-a-child & her child, Jacob draws difficult questions about whether America is living up to its promise to immigrants & people of color. Spoiler alert: we're not even close. I read this standing up on the subway & under the streetlights as I walked home. I stood outside to finish it in the wind. It's that good.
When we watch the classic films noir like Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, & Shoot the Piano Player—or read the excellent novels they were each based on—we're carried away by the clipped dialogue, bleak cynicism, & simmering, often brutal, sexuality that mark the genre & we lose sight of the fact that these are great social novels as profound as anything by Upton Sinclair or George Orwell. This book has everything we love: a big heist, a sexy dame, & a desperate man at the end of his rope. But it's also a powerful story about the world that awaited American soldiers & exconvicts in the postwar world & two people with no restraint running wild in a society governed by uniformity.
Golden State has all the trappings of a classic California detective novel: a hardluck gumshoe who's still carrying a torch for the one who got away, a rookie partner as earnest as she is young, and a vast conspiracy with our intrepid pair in the thick of it. What makes this story extraordinary is that it's set in a future society built on the ruins of California and our down-at-the-heels hero is an investigator with the Speculative Service, a special police that enforces truthfulness at all times, for everyone. This inventive novel contains multitudes: all the best parts of Westlake and Chandler spliced into a utopia like those built by Ballard and Orwell. The result is shockingly good and often quite funny.
When Jakov Lind died in 2007, The Guardian hailed him as a writer who was a consummate survivor, a Jew who had lived through the peak of Nazi power “inside the lion’s mouth” where he did not “have to feel the animal’s teeth and claws.” Lind's stories are stuffed with the madness of that time, of hiding in plain sight, remembered through a haze of LSD, hashish, and surprising good humor. His stories are full of a logic divorced from reason and the pain of survival. The sum, improbably, is wildly, darkly funny.
When people talk about Chicago, their eyes light up and no matter where they’re from or what language they speak, they always seem to say the same names: Al Capone. Michael Jordan. Barack Obama. Cabrini Green. Some people might remember pizza or Oprah or the damned Cubs, but the silhouettes of this city’s housing projects still loom large for out-of-towners driving past the still-empty lots that millions of black Chicagoans have called home since 1940. In High Rise Stories, Audrey Petty gives voice to twelve of the people who lived in these projects in an approachable, personal oral history format. Their stories offer a vastly different picture of life in the projects than decades of sensationalist news stories and the depiction here is buttressed by essays and comments from well-regarded scholars like Alex Kotlowitz, Larry Vale, and Brad Hunt. This isn’t just one of the best new books about the city, but one of the best works of first-person history I’ve ever read.
I don't miss where I come from, and even while living there, while walking those safe and sterile streets at night and crossing my neighbors' perfect lawns, I felt--or maybe assumed--that our whole world was empty and that nothing was going on even in the minds of the people inside their homes. Danielle has filled all of the supposed emptiness of suburbia with a flood of thought and feeling. Her protagonist's powerful stream of consciousness peeks inward and outward, bringing her marriage, her world, and herself into powerfully shifting focus, as if she was passing everything around her under a microscope for the span of a second. A very provocative read.
There’s nothing terribly new about the confessional as a literary form. It can just as easily appear as swagger as it can an act of contrition, and this book has the flavor of both. Lynn, the protagonist's lover of the moment, acts as the touchstone for painful recollections of relationships gone by. Full of unhealed wounds and populated by the numerous women that interconnect in his memory, in this memoiristic novel the author is at his most brilliant and his least kind. Montauk is messy in the way that psychotherapy is messy, like the gorgeous self-scrutiny of Maggie Nelson or Karl Ove Knausgaard. It’s loving, in its way, and sadly aware of how much time has passed and how badly.
Y'all don't need me to tell you Maggie Nelson is good, but that's what I'm going to do. This is a book for fans of Nelson's peculiarly brilliant form of self-criticism, but also something for the many who are REALLY into true crime. Ostensibly about the closing of a cold case—the brutal murder of the author's aunt before she was born—but reaching beyond that grisly affair into much broader questions of trauma, voyeurism, and grief, every sentence reminds me exquisitely, maybe painfully of the people I care about most. This is a brilliant memoir, to be sure, but there are deeper reverberations here about how a 36-year-old murder can color how we remember the dead and relate to the living.
Part memoir and part espionage novel, My Life in CIA is a farce in the vein of The Man with One Red Shoe, a riotous case of mistaken identity that brings a American expat in Paris uncomfortably close to the world of Cold War spies. Written with good humor by the first American member of the OuLiPo—a group of French experimentalists revered by a small coterie of literature nerds—it's unclear what in this book is true and what is clever reinvention of the form. But like Anais Nin or Nicholson Baker writing erotica, or Paul Auster and Robert Coover toying with noir, this is a snob's spy novel, a pleasing genre book from an impressive literary talent.
Rarely as a reader have I experienced a book like this one, the story of a place and a people through the life of just one man. Adina Hoffman's prose is so wonderfully malleable—poetic here, matter-of-fact there—that she not only distills the Palestinian experience of the last hundred years to four hundredish pages, she moves us and entertains us with the saga of their lives and the intertwined life of a poet, the incredible Taha Muhammad Ali. So much more than a biography, it is the painstaking resurrection of a disappearing world and a tremendous new understanding of how history is written and the struggle of oral traditions in the face of "People of the Book."
" 'I have despised America's view of itself most of my life--the belief that we are a city on a hill shining grace and light onto other nations, that we fight only defensive wars, that we have solved the problem of class by pretending everyone is middle class. And that race is a detail in our long illustrious past....' National identity is a fabrication and comes and goes with the vast migrations of peoples. When Hadrian built his famous wall the people north of the wall were not Scots and the people south of the wall were not English.... "American lives are supposed to have straight narratives ending in redemption. I don't believe lives are straight stories. And I don't believe in redemption. You can only be forgiven if you have not really had a life.... "I read history. When others deny the past, I am annoyed. When others claim it answers all the questions, I am appalled. The same with archeology, theology, geology, anthropology and agricultural studies. I want all the explanations, epochs, theories to be gone. Just the thing itself left in the theater faintly peering out at me in the glow of the ghost light.... "Marauders cross the land, various Indian groups drifting toward fortune. The Apaches drop down from the Great Slave Lake in Canada, the Sioux wander out from Wisconsin, the mound builders line the rivers and streams of mid-America and then vanish. Europeans come from all directions and everyone claims ground and keeps moving, stabs beasts, hits new neighbors in the head, says the earth is sacred and abandons it for new horizons.... 'I do not hear the song of America; I do smell the fatigue.'"
"There is no time like the present to confront the casual karmic crime of being a citizen of the United States of America. Drawing on her experience translating on behalf of immigrant minors, Valeria Luiselli walks us through Kafkaesque scenes of unaccompanied kids--small actual children--trying to defend themselves from the machinery of deportation, of detention centers kept ice cold as a kind of psychological warfare, and of a monstrously inhumane process designed to deny freedom to all comers. Read this before you vote. Read this before you talk to your family. Read this approximately now."
"A sinister collection of short stories that really gets into your head—a series of crushed dreams and failed promises and social decay that is at once oppressively real and strangely cold."
"Said to be the first thing to grow in the bomb-blasted ruins of Hiroshima, the matsutake holds an extraordinary place in Japanese life and the logistics around importing this elusive mushroom have far-reaching and extraordinary connections to distant lands and far-flung people. Tsing's storytelling here is expansive and this book is the key to understanding the role that a single commodity can have in a global network, and the hope that we still can have when it seems that everything is coming apart."
"This is at once difficult to read and difficult to put down. It is the kind of book that should be required reading for men, but it’s almost impossible to recommend to anyone casually. Vanasco’s memoir recounts her experience as a victim of a rape perpetrated by one of her closest friends from high school, just a short while after graduation. What follows is a succession of complex documents—transcripts of her conversations with her one-time friend, conversations between her and her current partner, between her and her editor, between her and the people close to her, and, most painful of all, her own reflections on these conversations. It’s hard and hard to write something this personal, harder still to strip the process down enough to tell a story that wounded the author so totally in a way that anyone else can understand, but Vanasco does it. This is challenging stuff."
"Sam Pink is the most compelling new poet of the growing American underclass, a broadly precarious crowd in perpetual service to the fat and happy. His stories of psyches bent by misfortune, twisted by repetitive work, and broken by social realities resonate with all of us who have worked in kitchens and food service, all of us who have watched the middle class collapse into the low-wage basement of the once-prosperous land of the free. He's the millennial heir to James Kelman and Charles Bukowski and I can't recommend this collection more highly than that."