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I'm often looking for a strong voice that has a spark of my own internal monologue but is smarter, funnier, wilder, kinder, closer to the Spirit, more daring, more deliberate in their learning, a more chaotic failure, very good at pool, seeks out the strange, knows about mushrooms, is in for the trip, is more radical, more historically aware, is practiced in the spellcraft of wordsmaking, is more in on the cosmic reality than I am in the hopes that some of that good stuff may mosaic my neural pathways and make me a better citizen of this whacky world.
A novel about eating disorders, their corrosive effects on everything from how you spend your time to who you choose to love (or lust), and the freedom that comes when you let your appetite roam where it wants. Rachel is a twentysomething plagued by the fear of weight gain instilled in her from an early age by her anxious and fatphobic mother. When her therapist challenges her to cut off contact with her mom for 90 days and stop restricting everything else, Rachel's carefully constructed shell of calories in calories out begins to crack. In Milk Fed, we have change, we have desire, we have mental illness, we have prejudice, and we have liberation. Let the milk and honey flow!
After hearing of Jane Britton's murder in its fable form from a couple of upperclassmen during her undergraduate years in the Harvard archaeology department, Becky Cooper finds herself haunted by the cold case and its apparent coverup. It's from here that Cooper launches a thorough investigation bordering on the obsessive. Although 'We Keep the Dead Close' stays firmly within the tradition of the true crime genre, it examines the echoes of misogyny, classism, and solipsism of academia that ripple through the case, as well as her own slippery relationship with the past and present. Perhaps the most salient line of questioning has a lot in common with the practice of archaeology itself -- is it possible to recreate the past? Who gets to try? And to what end?
Yes! Here it is! The exuberant, deeply fun, quasi-psychadelic, mind-melting, heart-throbbing follow-up to everyone's favorite necromantic doom-o. While in Gideon we found a fairly straightforward murder mystery, within Harrow lies more of a memory puzzle in the style of Memento. Clues abound but can't be put together and memories surface that don't quite add up, all while Harrow does her best to get through Lyctor training, fend off constant threats to her life, and protect the Emperor's life/fate of the known universe. This book is certainly a case of "the less you know the better" but I appreciated the advice from coworkers to stick with it through Harrow's brain mud -- trust me when I say that the payoff is worth it. I'm officially obsessed with this series
An acid-tipped portrait of the artist as a young broke millennial, Luster pushes on painful pressure points of modern life with humor, precision, and a bruised, beating heart. Edie is a futureless editor at a publishing house when she begins a Tinder-borne affair with a much older man. He's white, married, and wealthy; she's black, orphaned, and completely broke. I won't spoil anything else, but know that as this story complicates, Leilani skillfully excavates truths about power, class, racism, gender, manners, and trauma that exist even in our most minor interactions. I loved this book for its sexiness, its embrace of complexity, and its careful attention to pain.
In this fizzy bummer, Leigh Stein takes a sharp, human, funny look the dominating archetype of modern feminism -- the very online girlboss. This is like American Psycho, if Patrick Bateman was a co-founder of an online platform devoted to self-care (and the associated products) but instead of murdering women, he murdered their souls (including her own). Also similar to American Psycho is the Stein's use of popular brands, websites, and pop culture to indicate everything from class level to the likelihood someone is a pervy misogynist. The effect is a deeply fascinating, deeply disturbing take on what happens when the more toxic, more exploitive, more hypocritical aspects of flash fame, social media, corporate feminism, and, yes, self care infiltrate these women's relationships, work lives, and their very own senses of self. Unlike many of the things hawked online, a necessary tonic!
In 1920, a fire raged in the American-owned El Bordo Mine, killing 87 people and leaving seven survivors stranded for six days. It happened in writer Yuri Herrera's hometown of Pachuca, where almost no written history of the event existed, save for a few articles and a short official report. In this slim, effective piece of journalism, Herrera asks the questions nobody did at the time -- who made the decision to seal up the mine so hastily, leaving so many inside? Why? Why were discrepancies in accounts from the mine's administrators left unexamined, even when they contradict themselves within a single page of the official report? Why weren't families allowed to bury their dead? Unlike the officials, journalists, and investigators who dictated the original history, concerned as they were with getting the mine back up and running as quickly as possible, Herrera focuses on the impact this catastrophe had on the humans involved. Here we have another horrible story of what happens when the powerful prioritize money and material over people; Herrera gives voice to the story untold to clarifying, devastating effect.
A quote on the back of this arc described it as "Lynchian" and yeah, for sure. This is a trip that spoke confidently to my subconscious, drifting me along a night and day of former actress Ayami, our fragmenting protagonist. Things happen -- she finishes her last shift as a ticket-taker at an audio theater for the blind. She has dinner with the theater's director in a restaurant where diners are served in complete darkness. She witnesses a bus crash. She picks up a friend of a (suddenly missing) friend at the airport and together they visit the photo exhibit of a mysterious poet. Along the way, phrases are repeated, scenes replay, characters monologue with urgency, all in a way that throws us into Ayami's flailing attempt to find solid ground. As the characters fracture and dream logic reigns, they are called back to earth by mundane tasks like applying for a new administrative job or meeting a deadline for their mystery novel, rendering these duties not so much mundane as feats of impossible strength and ability. Is this the story of a break-up? A psychotic break? The nature of perception? A story of unresolved trauma? Of a failure to connect? Of reality tv, of overpopulation, of family, of radio waves? Haha I don't know! Maybe? Bae Suah writes like an oracle, handling the cycloning elements of her story with stunning beauty and mind-boggling steadiness, landing the narrative despite its frequent disruptions. I mean, it's all such a feat I want to give it a standing ovation.
Lacey May is 14 and living in Peaches, a drought-ridden town in Central California that has turned to the proselytizing Pastor Vern and his promise of relief rain in exchange for nothing less than their total devotion, when her mother is exiled from the community on the back of the bike of a Turquoise Cowboy, leaving Lacey to fend for herself against a desperate and wanting parish. Now I can be tough on cult novels but this one's got my heart. First, there's the cult backdrop itself, a dried-up, glitter-blasted, heat-lined horror show that manages to mirror and amplify the more nightmarish aspects of a misogynistic society. Then there's the hot-blooded and vibrant cast of characters that populate Lacey May's world, from her taxidermy-loving grandmother to her near-famous lawn-painting boyfriend and the acid-scarred callgirl who saves. Finally, there's Lacy May's voice, which carries us through her faith, her doubts, her encounters with evil and despair, her bravery in the face of power, and her love-fueled search that won't stop until she's found some solid ground. But most of all, these pages contain so, so much divine feminine truth -- a resource that is, to me, a substance more precious than gold.
A page-turner of a medical mystery/history of an illness/complex family tragedy. Kolker does a commendable job of organizing the stories of the two parents and 12 kids that make up the Galvin family, in which six of the siblings are diagnosed with schizophrenia. No member leaves without chapter-space on their history with or perspective on the family's unusual, often traumatic circumstance. Interspersed between the narratives of family members, he presents a basic history of the disease, starting with the disagreement between Freud and Jung that triggered the dissolution of their relationship and a decades-long nature vs. nurture debate on whether the cause of schizophrenia is essentially biological or psychological. The research and treatment history of schizophrenia, and mental illness in general, is tarnished by ineffective treatments, dehumanization and overmedication of patients, and bad convictions, like that all cases of schizophrenia can be traced back to bad mothering. With the rise of genetic research and the Human Genome Project, conceptualization of the condition improved, and the high-rate of the disease's expression within the Galvin family helped move research along in important ways. The book makes clear, there's a ways to go yet.
Sam Pink, songman of the wage-worker, has written a collection of stories I'm over the moon about. They are absurd, dark, and deeply true. As a writer, he sees those around him in perfect clarity, meaning he has an awareness of their context, not just what they happen to be saying or doing in that precise story moment. That contextual sensitivity is important because what he's looking at is the working poor of America (this gal included). He knows the toll of repetition, pain, futility, and humiliation built into the code of most service jobs. He also knows that it's the humans around you that make it all kind of fine, depicting everyone in his world with mighty precision, humor, and grace. He has an irascible goofy streak that floods his destitute and powerless with a light and sparkling joy -- with connection. Throughout, the book connects and it left me full. Hard to get at how fun a book this is to read. I also have to say, he gained my trust as a reader when, (*spoiler alert*) in one story, he treats the murder of a female character with appropriate rage and disturbance. Rather than turn his narrative towards fascination with the act itself, he's tuned into the loss of a person. This is surprisingly rare and completed my confidence in his profound empathy.
This book gave me many very special things. In the first few pages, a certain line/scenario gave me a laugh that lasted to this moment now -- I laugh every time I think of it, it's so charming and funny! It gave me a beautiful metaphor with which to process moments so intense that they split the self in two, the before and the after and where exactly do they meet again? And when? It gave me a character who reminded me so vividly of someone I've lost that I dreamt about them for what felt like hours. It gave me a great heist, a wild ambition, and willing players to thwart all of the evil our bored and capable human hands hath wrought by granting simple freedom. It gave me chickens, glorious in their plumage, feet that tap, and millions-year-old grace, them who have and will see it all, clucking on through. I loved this book and its spirit through its every little bit and can't wait for it to shine its light on our dark, uncertain, trying world.
Silicon Valley -- the land of 28-year-old billionaires in hoodies. Anna Wiener wrote a memoir of her time working in the gold rush era of SV startups and it is, in a word, fair. In a few more words, specific, enlightening, searching, defining. She lays before us the young (mostly) men with nothing but optimism, technical skills, and venture capital burning holes in their startup-bought outerwear with nuance and humanity -- after all, many of these people were her coworkers, bosses, friends, lovers. She writes her observations with clarity, non-judgment, and a deep appreciation for the drive, intelligence, and positivity that permeates the San Francisco workforce. Still, her publishing background and her orientation to the sensory world of art, music, culture, and history make her a bit of an outsider; she's constantly seeing the other side to their world as it grows and morphs and swallows San Francisco whole (and we all know it doesn't stop there). Power, responsibility, choices, and who has access to what and why rove through her perspective on the tech workforce and its impact on the rapidly changing landscape. It's a powerful portrait that asks millions of questions -- and invites even more. Loved it, obv.
Wow! This book truly has it all -- old creepy molding castles full of necromancers called together to defeat a great evil; a good old-fashioned whodunnit murder mystery; a hot jock charmer of a lead character; and much MUCH lesbian flirtation. Much flirtation in general! Flirting everywhere, as well as death, spells, and excellent fights. After getting good and grounded in the gooey world of this book, I had stupendous fun ripping through it. 10 skulls all the way up!
A soft, intimate, deep heart work of nonfiction about the writer Carson McCullers, the writer Jenn Shapland, and their relationships with identity and language. So effective was this pairing of biography, cultural/literary history, and personal memoir, it had me wondering why all biographies aren't written with so many of the biography writer's questions, motivations, and personal stakes interwoven throughout as much of the forefront as the subject's birthplace and major contributions. Shapland focused on all the areas I care about in trying to get at the heart of a person -- who they loved, why they loved them, was that love successful. What did they wear? How would you categorize their style and how did it reflect other truths of their life (in this case, a large collection of dressing gowns speaks to McCullers's chronic illness; a love for vests an early indicator of her queer identity). Who in their circle is to be trusted and who, from the facts, seems like a bad egg? What were the places that inspired them to create -- and who? Pulsing amicably throughout is a self-identified obsession on Shapland's behalf to find out whether or not Carson McCullers was a lesbian. Hints exist throughout the literature written by and about her, but nothing definitive (it's important to note that Shapland dissects this "need to know," identifying that the way we write about queer identity now is very different from how it was written about in the 'then' of her studies). That is until, while staying in residence at McCullers's childhood home, Shapland comes across a set of late-life session transcripts between Carson and her therapist, Mary that had serendipitously been unsealed just in time for Jenn to discover them. A mystery, a love story, a biography, several hearts on the page -- I so loved this generous offering.
This is a book about what happens when war infects a nation, a city, a village, a family -- something comes in and breaks what was once whole. Here, our focus is Etta, Josef, Max, and Georg, and just how the war and Nazism separate them from one another. It’s destructive and sad and Binder does not shy away from dark forces at play, exploring how soldiers become soldiers, how madness sets in when faced with horror, how lonely it can be to not go with the group, and the reality of fire and bombs. But while sadness and loss are everpresent, Binder shows us just how powerful small moments of kindness and connection can be, in prose as soft, rhythmic, and beautiful as falling slow. Georg, the character based on Binder's own father who spent time in the Hitler Youth, resists his fate as a boy soldier by simply walking away from it, at the risk of losing his life. Meanwhile, his mother is determined to bring her older son, Max, back to his sanity after his years in battle. As they both walk back towards the home they once shared, they meet people who, despite living with the same fatigue, loss, conflict, and fear, do what they can to help. In fact, it’s this shared recognition of what is kind, good, and brave in the face of encroaching darkness that seems to help the most.
This is a very special book, with moments, places, and people who have stayed with me in bright, glorious detail in the weeks since finishing it. We start off with five women, a hut on a secret beach hidden from the growing surveillance of the Uruguayan government, and a pact -- to think of this found place as home and each other as family. From there, we dive deeper into each of their lives, floating from lonely rockstar love to unspeakable days in prison. I loved these characters, the love they had for each other, and the bravery that love gave them in living fully in the face of an increasingly hostile world.
A story as gorgeously told as its content is enraging, we find in the first few pages Leila, murdered and stuffed in a bin, the latest victim of a serial killer targeting prostitutes. According to a rather interesting study, the brain remains active for the first 10 minutes and 38 seconds of death. For the first half of the novel, Shafek links each post-mortem minute with a scent memory, taking us through the stages of Leila's life -- her childhood, her escape to Istanbul, her first love, her soul connection with five very good friends. The second half, we are privvy to the love and loyalty Leila's friends have for her as they find ways to properly mourn her death. An immersive story with wonderful characters who linger, there's little wonder why this one made the Booker shortlist.
A good time that keeps getting better -- I cannot wait to read this one again. Death in Her Hands is Moshfegh's entry into the "woman living alone loses grip on reality" genre, done with signature dark humor, precise language, and impeccable timing. Vesta Gul lives alone on a piney twelve acres at the edge of a lake where she enjoys taking walks with her big dog Charlie. One day they stumble across a note indicating dark deeds and Vesta, despite her best efforts, becomes obsessed by the mystery. The more I think about what happened in this novel, the less I know for sure. The clues pile up in unusual but concrete ways, making one idea as plausible as the next (and fighting with my coworkers about the "reality of the situation" great, diverting fun). I got spectacularly freaked, especially during the first half, but in that rare good-natured way. Moshfegh never fails to bring me joy.
The most life-affirming rabbithole tumblr scroll I can imagine, in book form. Chaotic, astrological, and wildly contemporary, Fiona Alison Davis (FAD) chronicles an impossible number of highly relevant stories in her novel, the most thrumming threads of which (to my natal chart) were the fruit of her completed Saturn Return, the expulsion of an unquittable fuckboy, and the perverted desire to put all that she deems pure and full of glory on screen via reality tv. Luckily, she thwarts each of these through crystal dildo dancing, a deep, abiding love for her friends, and a budding private relationship with God. I've not read a book that captures so accurately the insecure ADHD of today, which Davis explores via class delineations. the femme brain, and the rare but all-important access to the Real. Plus, the writing is juicy fruit. Take for example a line, "Susan rolled her disenchanted eyes so far back at his yee-haw that they got stuck at her third eye and she became instantly enlightened." Fun! Mystic! Political! Loving! Reading it took weight off of my dreary shoulders.
Jia Tolentino is in love with the surreal and I'm in love with her for it. She writes about everything I'm interested in -- scammers, reality tv, the wedding industrial complex, god as drugs as god -- with technicolor prose, hyper, hyperreal, hyperintelligent. In my favorite essay of the book's nine, she wades through the complexities of the Rolling Stone cover story about a woman gang-raped at UVA (Tolentino's alma mater) that later cost the magazine $3 million in damages for false reporting, taking every piece of it -- detecting, or not, the edges of your bad culture, the need to exaggerate in order to communicate accurately, the rotten core of UVA's Southern gentility -- and carefully turning the pieces of the story over and over until a nuanced, complex, honest reality is revealed. Along with being funny, whipsmart, digitally native, and a pioneering thinker, Jia is -- there's no other word for it -- cool. I would read her thoughts on anything.
I'm by no means the first one to say this, but heck I'll say it again -- Sally Rooney is our modern George Eliot. No one writes the 2019 social novel of manners with her level of observation, complication, and sensitivity. Her sophomore effort introduces us to Marianne and Connell, whose secret high school relationship led to the kind of entangled growth that can only begin with the most potent kind of love. As they move from high school to college to the wide open beyond, their social standing shifts, tipping along with it who holds more power over the other. Less cynically, they remain magnetically drawn to each other, as much for their beguiling differences as for the shared language they've built between them, secret and untranslatable to everyone else. These are normal people who feel exceptional to themselves and to each other, cementing and exploding their ordinariness. From page one, I read this novel of love and coming of age and conversations of the day with my heart aflutter in my throat -- I hated to turn the last page.
Carmen Maria Macahdo contains a power over language so strong and enchanting that I would be scared of her (I am a little scared of her) if I wasn't so convinced of her force for good. Here, she presents a year-and-a-half long queer relationship she had with an abusive partner through a series of vignettes, framed "Dream House as _____". These wildly inventive vignettes flow with the rush and clarity of a river, floating from concrete moments in their relationship, fairytale depictions of her surroundings and past, and historical analysis of queer violence. Her project is to put language to same-sex abuse so that she may build framework -- architecture -- for a painful experience, allowed in and to rot a part of her life because of this architecture's (former) nonexistance. In the Dream House, she builds a new house for us to live in.
A fun page-turner and the first adult offering from one of our great mythmakers, The Ninth House follows ex-drug addict Galaxy Stern and her induction into the ritualistic, privileged, magical underworld of Yale's secret society network as a member of Lethe, the designated gatekeepers and rule-enforcers of the societies. I loved most Bardugo's use of Alex's anger to not only unlock latent abilities, but to help her connect to her (formidable, resourceful, justice-seeking) true self. Ghosts! Murder! History! Late-night flashlight reading at its finest.
This book was like reading a high-culture edition of US Weekly. Philosophers photographed at grocery stores (they're just like us!), Susan Sontag in a bear suit (who wore it best!), female writers going mad in hotels (see exclusive photos!). Kate Zambreno has the best brain -- catch-all, salacious, irreverent -- and here she lets it experiment fruitfully in the land of celebrity and intellect.