Most recent staff pick: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
Every city has its own history, its own personality, and its own magic. When a city is born, its particular enchantments draw some people and repel others as it perpetually recreates itself in its own, dynamic image. New York City was born fighting. In THE CITY WE BECAME, the incomparable N.K. Jemisin weaves a transfixing incantation out of subways and vandals, tourists and gods, the undeniable past and the unimaginable future.
"At times ugly and violent, others transcendently beautiful, Stephen Graham Jones's unpretentious prose mirrors the lives of his troubled characters as they navigate their chaotic landscapes. These are powerful, wise, flawed, disenfranchised, but, above all, deeply ordinary people at odds with the past and each other and a primal, monstrous manifestation of tribal law. Like the lives it depicts, "The Only Good Indians" is a relentless, unflinching, and unapologetically human experience."
"At the height of their success, the Go-Go's were a powder keg of raw passion and innovative, pop brilliance. The inevitable explosion would leave a crater in the sonic landscape of the world and the lives of everyone they touched. In this imminently readable rock-and-roll memoir, Kathy Valentine chronicles the dizzying highs of manic creativity and the punishing comedown of the dark excess that follows. Sometimes the hardest part of getting all you ever wanted is just surviving it."
Mental illness is a difficult subject to navigate due to its necessarily imprecise nature and the stigma attached to the afflicted. Schizophrenia, in particular, too often reduces its sufferers to little more than a diagnosis and a burden. However, Robert Kolker approaches his subjects with empathy and respect, humanizing a medical oddity and challenging readers to confront their preconceptions about disease and the bonds of family.
"Some guys have it all: functional alcoholism, IBS, a face like mayonnaise puts him on its sandwiches. Colin Jost has been responsible for some of the most iconic sketch comedy on TV over the last fifteen years. His writing is esoterically brilliant, jarringly funny, and, when it needs to be, the dumbest thing you've ever seen. This memoir is not unlike lobster at a diner - a weird choice but, ultimately, the only correct one."
"There is power in being proper. Nice, southern ladies have always been the unacknowledged gatekeepers of authority, and everybody knows it - it just wouldn't be polite to talk about. Grady Hendrix's cultural pastiche of Charleston in the '90s explores the particular anxieties of good housekeeping back when men were still men, women were still women, and vampires were still fiends that ate your children at night. A little hydrogen peroxide will get the bloodstains right out."
"This cookbook boils over with simple yet elegant recipes that effortlessly vivify the home kitchen. Québécois meals are served by way of Los Angeles with a Polish garnish for the consummate, cosmopolitan dining experience. The cauliflower steaks with turmeric and crunchy almonds are edible poetry."
"To thoroughly examine the life of a stranger is, in one sense, to give oneself over partially to their experiences and, in another, to confer one's own experiences onto them. The biographical construct becomes a mirage shared by the biographer and subject, with the truth living somewhere inside the mirror. Jenn Shapland spent years searching for identity and meaning amid the debris of Carson McCullers's life, and this hypnotic book approximates her transformation."
"The dizzyingly sensational elements of this taut thriller are wired together to light up the brain's pleasure centers like a short-circuited jackpot machine. An international syndicate of assassins works all angles of a diamond smuggling conspiracy that culminates in an iconic round of extreme dental torture. This is the Holocaust revenge fantasy that once and for all declares that it isn't safe to be a Nazi."
"The landscape of Oklahoma is so flat and wide open that some days it seems possible to be sucked into the vastness of the sky. During the Great Depression, these infinite skies were dyed black with the windswept topsoil from America's failing farms, and blinding dirt descended on the ruined lands for years. In "The Worst Time", Timothy Egan laments the policies and practices that caused the Dust Bowl and eulogizes the lives it tore apart."
"The Donner Party was condemned to death long before they tearfully bit into their first charred morsel of human flesh. They were deceived by profiteering charlatans, doomed by the dispassionate cruelty of nature, and betrayed by their own hubris from the start. In this lyrical history, Daniel James Brown maneuvers unflinchingly through one of the most desperate chapters in the American story."
"Dessa is a rapper, a jazz singer, a philosopher queen, a rattlesnake, and an active volcano. This collection is a gunpowder tonic of furious psychic energy that remixes and redefines the potential of personal narrative. Each of these essays should end with a mic drop."
"Liz Phair is infamous for her unflinching honesty in the face of taboo. From the naked candor of Exile in Guyville to the raw text of Horror Stories, the confetti queen of alt-rock has made a career of stripping away the glamour from life in the limelight. The nonlinear essays that constitute this hyper-literate memoir are intimate, painful, and at times shameful, but these are the achingly true memories that roughly approximate a human life."
"Cleansed by fire and forgotten by time, the Overlook Hotel still has its hooks in Danny Torrance decades after his father rampaged through its haunted corridors. Scarred and sobered by a life spent running from his ghosts, the shining has dimmed within him, but, when a gifted child is threatened by a consortium of supernatural evil, he is given a rare chance at redemption. Danny must shine one last time or succumb to darkness forever."
"What is the measure of life? The accomplishments one achieves throughout its course, indifferently checked off like items on an itinerary? The experiences one shares with one's fellow man, lost to time as precise memory becomes indistinct nostalgia? Or is it something more -- something that can flow from one being to another, something that can be calculated and metered out arithmetically? The space vampires can measure life, and the space vampires can take it away."
"Thirteen stories describe thirteen bewitching landscapes in this strange cartography of fear. Familiar terrain transforms into lurid phantasmagoria, and nostalgia is corrupted by malevolent pandemonium. This is a world where death is a mirage, and illusions are sharper than facts. Joe Hill, as always, shines on."
"The Year of the Monkey lives in the places where the abstract brushes against reality. Patti Smith's hypnotic novel of loss, confusion, and longing propels its inhabitants - both invented and achingly real - across bleached landscapes, barreling through candy wrapper logic toward an inevitable, timeless unknown. The fugue poetry of the narrative spreads like ivy across the disorienting architecture of an absurd year."
The abduction of Sally Horner is a grand tragedy in and of itself. A little girl is taken from her home and smuggled torturously across the country over the course of two years, only to become a tabloid scandal upon rescue. The most surreal fold in the story, however, is how an obscure Russian-American author twisted these headlines into one of the most celebrated novels of the twentieth century. In "The Real Lolita", Sarah Weinman details this bizarre saga with narrative expertise, detailed research, and, above all, respect for the often sidelined victims of circumstance.
"The Apology" is Eve Ensler's speculative memoir of her father, her greatest influence, her abuser. This groundbreaking work of epistolary catharsis is written from the negative space beyond death but within the agonizing grasp of memory, granting simultaneous spiritual absolution to both tyrant and victim. This profound exercise in forgiveness leads us inexorably down the path toward total self-acceptance.
"The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail." So begins the calm, measured narration that launched a thousand nightmares, pumping brackish dread through the veins of a generation. Peter Benchley's abyssal masterpiece dissects the deep-seated paranoia that swims just beneath the surface of any close-knit community and shows that nothing tears a small town apart like itself. Or maybe a giant, man-eating shark.
Stephen King's classic meditation on the fragility of the human psyche and the quickening madness of isolation is as haunting today as in its conception. The mundane and the macabre are expertly interwoven in ever-tightening braids throughout the novel to fabricate a frozen tapestry of supernatural suspense. Drink deeply of the red rum, and allow the undisputed master of horror to enchant you with his intoxicating prose.
The piecemeal redemption of Helene Stapinski's outlaw family roughly approximates Jersey City's troubled ascent to legitimacy from its inception as a city of smokestacks and vice to "America's Golden Door". When casual graft was the rule of the day and knowing whose palms to grease spelled the difference between poverty and cornucopia, the author's family was embroiled in the same urban corruption that caricatured New Jersey for generations. Five-Finger Discount chronicles Helene Stapinski's life from within a criminal enterprise and what comes after.
A Tribe Called Quest spent thirty years exploring the instinctive rhythm of consciousness, swimming through the low end up to the boom, the bip, the boom bip. Now Hanif Abdurraqib has written a love letter to that same, subconscious beat of life. But how do you write a letter to a feeling? You address it to the ones who make you feel it, the ones who make you feel like you can kick it. This is the finest piece of literary criticism ever put into writing.
Easy Rawlins just needs to make his mortgage payment. Being a decorated war hero doesn't count for much in segregated Los Angeles in 1948, so, when Easy is laid off from his factory job, he doesn't ask too many questions about an opportunity for fast money. Thrust into an unfamiliar world of double-dealing gangsters and killer cops on the take, he has to teach himself to be a private eye if he wants to keep his life. In this urgent, neo-noir thriller, the pages turn so fast they might catch fire.
"Every city has its own history, its own personality, and its own magic. When a city is born, its particular enchantments draw some people and repel others as it perpetually recreates itself in its own, dynamic image. New York City was born fighting. In THE CITY WE BECAME, the incomparable N.K. Jemisin weaves a transfixing incantation out of subways and vandals, tourists and gods, the undeniable past and the unimaginable future."
"SULA is a smoldering furnace that brightens without heat. It illuminates daily, annual, and generational sorrow but does not provide comfort and will not apologize for its lack of hospitality. It is beautiful, and it is horrible. It is grief and mercy and joy and triumph and death. SULA is the perfectly flawed emblem of what it means to be alive."