Most recent staff pick: Just Us by Claudia Rankine
"Default position and pathways might already mean that what I imagine doesn't matter given that I am a black woman // What would white people have to graft onto their fantasies so they can treat as real the possibility of true change? True equality?" Simply put: the best book of 2020. Rankine does humanity the immense favor of bringing everyone to the table for inquiries into the uncomfortable "not newness of white supremacy". This book holds within it everything of our current time: the pain and fury, the embarrassing stumbling attempts at allyship, the dead black bodies and the thriving white bodies, the feeling of confusion and resignation in our communities. I am certain that I need to reread this book - along with all of her work- and that I will still make errors every day. But in Claudia's words: "I slow down so as not to make the same mistakes. If I am to get things wrong, I want them to be different from before."
"The Living Mountain is *the* book to read while in quarantine. Shepherd writes with a high-flying grace and reverence for the natural world that borders on the lustful, and through her eyes every leaf or snippet of birdsong will take on the sublime. Her experience living in and walking through the mountains takes a very unique look at the craft of climbing and hiking. Whereas most nature writing strives always for the peaks and elevations, Nan is happy to reflect more inward than upward."
"An absolutely vital read for the end times, Manguso has created a perfect meditation on stillness, the passage of time, and the traps we fall into by trying to plan or control our lives. Bite-sized wisdom to help soothe your aching nerves."
Rebecca Solnit is the kind of writer who both dazzles and educates with every sentence that she writes. Here she takes the form of memoir and uses it to craft a story of gentrification, of the education necessary to survive as a woman, or coming into one's own in the world. Her ear for language is matched perfectly by her eye for all the little details that make up the larger fabric of what it truly means to come of age. A must-read for any acolyte and a good entry point for those curious about the best essayist of this age.
"When Natalie Diaz's debut collection hit the poetry world a couple of years ago it was an announcement that a new voice was upon us, a voice that felt urgent and clear, in language that was surefooted and gorgeously-wrought. Diaz's eagerly-awaited sophomore collection comes at a time when the idea of love, gender, sexuality, and intimacy are all under inspection. Diaz turns the love poem on its head in order to further this investigation and in doing so finds space for new kinds of love to flourish. Important poetry for our time from one of the new generations of poets' fiercest voices."
"A sharp critique of the 'wellness' movement as well as a take-down of 'pink-ribbon' culture, Boyer turns a poet's eye towards her own fight with cancer as she navigates towards a way to enter herself into the canon of cancer literature. She tackles the indelible mark that illness has in our culture and the shadow it casts on the life of a creative."
"As someone who reads almost exclusively collections of essays, I don't say this lightly, but: this is the best book I read in 2019, hands down. Eula Biss has crafted a perfect collection of essays that feel piercing and human and pull from every corner of American society to examine the thing that frightens us most: class, race, identity, and the intersection of our fears with regards to each other."
"Eleanor Davis is my favorite contemporary graphic novelist. Her art style is warm and human and everything she writes exudes complicated goodness and tongue-in-cheekiness that reveals a deep thinker behind the sketched, watercolored comics. This is her newest book, but definitely check out How to be Happy to see her color work in action."
"Worth picking this book up for the first essay alone, a long-form dissection of a relationship that plays with a fluidity of gender, race, sexuality, and calls the entire notions of memory, identity, and longing into question. Als is also a razor-sharp cultural critic and several of these essays changed the way I watch, read, and listen to media. A first-rate collection of criticism."
"Hanif is your brilliant friend who knows more about music than you but instead of lording it over you he brings you into his world with passionate and authoritative language. Within the frame of a love letter to A Tribe Called Quest lies a deeply personal examination of otherness, Black Excellence, art, and an era that feels distinct and important. I passed this by this book dozens of times thinking I didn't know enough about A Tribe Called Quest to really enjoy it, but I was so wrong. Hanif's knowledge and love for the group speak to novices and hip hop heads alike. A beautiful work that greatly surpasses simple music writing and steps boldly into poetry."
"Pushing stigma aside, Esme Weijun Wang writes with a compassionate precision about the effects of schizophrenia and other chronic illness in her life, effects that are far more personal and life-altering than physical sickness alone. These essays are witty, devastating, and reach deep into the 'the kingdom of the sick'."
"A poetic examination into one of the most basic of the human phenomenon: crying. Written with grace and an inquisitive mind, The Crying Book recalls the poetic investigations of Maggie Nelson or Eula Biss in scope. Through the lens of crying, Christle explores motherhood, anxiety, depression, and the connective tissue that holds us together. Why do we cry? Why did Romans catch and save their tears in small vials? How did Didion stop herself from crying? All answered and brought close to the realm of the personal in this deeply moving book."
"This book hit me like a truck. It lays out a displacement of the self through lack of home, of identity, of a rudderless political agenda, through the ennui of an entire generation slowly shrugging towards Bethlehem. Incredibly well-argued, Low has crafted a necessary philosophy for our current moment without dating herself or compromising artistry."
Wow. This books completely blew me away. I finished it and started right back in to pick at the nuanced and knotted language that emits from Belcourt. This is a phenomenal exploration of the poetics of queerdom and isolation and lonliness as philosophy and as a collection of essays it stands alone. It exists as a statement of pure joy while at the same time delves deep into the (thoroughly complicated and corrupted) self. I can't wait to share this with everyone I know, I see Bill-Ray going far.
This memoir contains the kind of deep, genuine sadness that stirs you to contemplate grief in a new way. Vanasco writes of mental illness from the inside out, never taking the easy route, never pulling a punch in self critique. The Glass Eye signals to me a fantastic new voice in creative nonfiction and is a memoir that thoroughly reinvent the form.
"One of those books that expand your understanding of just how little you know and thrills you in doing so. Popova is a master curator, welding together the stories of geniuses throughout history (mostly women, mostly queer) to explore the central question: is genius the perfect measure of an actualized life? Is fame, glory, or happiness? Is love? Read the first two pages and try to put the book back down, you won't be able to."
"A book that will be perennially urgent and important because of the terrible time line in which we live, but why not pick up this fantastic collection of essays this minute and better attune yourself to the world around you. Mixing sociological precision with the knowledge of someone who lives what they write, Cottom has opened a door through which everyone should step. She is funny without being corny, wildly smart without talking down to you, and nails her theses to the church door with unassailable conviction."
" 'Default position and pathways might already mean that what I imagine doesn't matter given that I am a black woman // What would white people have to graft onto their fantasies so they can treat as real the possibility of true change? True equality?' Simply put: the best book of 2020. Rankine does humanity the immense favor of bringing everyone to the table for inquiries into the uncomfortable 'not newness of white supremacy'. This book holds within it everything of our current time: the pain and fury, the embarrassing stumbling attempts at allyship, the dead black bodies and the thriving white bodies, the feeling of confusion and resignation in our communities. I am certain that I need to reread this book - along with all of her work- and that I will still make errors every day. But in Claudia's words: 'I slow down so as not to make the same mistakes. If I am to get things wrong, I want them to be different from before.' "