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“When the world fell apart around you, when the walls of your home cracked and crumbled, Izzy now had some idea of how to keep living. You held on to the person you loved, the one who would be there in the aftermath, and you built a new home.”
Stories such as this one, serve as the most poignant reminder of why I do what I do. It strengthens my ever-intensifying belief that literature is powerful. That it has the unique ability to reach inside of you, to open you up, and to speak to parts of yourself that you’ve long since forgotten, purposefully or not.
Kevin Wilson’s Perfect Little World does all of these things with a tenderness that I was admittedly unaccustomed. Until finishing this book I hadn’t realized how odd it felt to read a story with a happy ending and actually feel gratified. However, Wilson does more then tell a wonderful story with a happy ending. He captures, with an expert kind of grace, the paradoxical, heart-breaking, life-saving power of family — the ones we are born into and the ones we create for ourselves.
Needless to say, I am thankful for this story. I’m thankful in the way that we are grateful for anything that brings to light the simple beauty of our own radical existence.
Having already devoured Kang’s Man Booker International winning debut, The Vegetarian, I harbored no delusions of what she was capable of and still I was blown away. Human Acts is a story of searching – for loved ones, for closure, for bodies, for justice, for peace. Told through a sequence of interconnected narratives, Kang allows her readers to suffer alongside her characters. Her control of language is nothing short of masterful – rendering me profoundly grateful for the power of translation. The descriptions of decay and pain are nauseatingly vivid, and yet I desperately read on. She creates a visceral kind of suffering that demands to be acknowledged -- making this novel less of a literary pursuit and more of an experience in empathy. Greedy as it may be, I’m already anxious for more from Han Kang.
Zadie Smith is a veritable powerhouse. I'm sure this is news to no one. Even knowing this though, this book blew me away. Smith tells us a story of girlhood and race, of movement and struggle, of family and fate, with such delicate, lyrical beauty. This story is one that captures you before you have time to protest. I found myself fighting sleep to continue reading all the while chastizing myself to slow down because I wasn't ready for the ride to end. I couldn't help but reflect on my own faded childhood friendships and feel that dull, familiar ache of things lost -- that is the magic of Smith's prose. This book is not one to be missed.
Confession: I am a true a crime junkie. I will read anything from JonBenet: Inside the Ramsey Murder Investigation to Helter Skelter, and I will love it. I’ll spare you my well-reasoned defense of the genre’s literary merits, but suffice it to say that reading this book felt like sneakily giving in to my guilty pleasure.
An interesting addition to the increasingly popular thriller genre, Emma Flint’s Little Deaths, drew me in with the plot, but kept me reading for Flint’s compelling depiction of misogyny showcased by her (possible) antagonist, Ruth Malone. Ruth is the mother of two children that went missing and were later found murdered. She is also the primary suspect in the investigation. Flint gives us two narrators that are not to be trusted, each for reasons of their own, and a story of devastations that weave themselves together.
This book is not simply a thriller, but a provocative take on motherhood and sacrifice; jealousy and love; obsession and devotion.
I have to come clean here. I had never heard of Jessi Klein before I picked up this book. Amy Poehler? Tina Fey? Amy Schumer? Sure. However, after reading her memoir I can say with total honesty that I now know Jessi Klein about as well as anyone (including her gynecologist, probably). Reading this book felt as if I was getting drinks with my funniest friend (Though I know this to be impossible because I am the funniest of my friends and I never drink alone). I listened to her stories and somehow felt as if I was a little less alone in even my most shameful of moments.
Klein expertly exposes the tenderest parts of herself with remarkable wit and incredible humor. She discusses loneliness, femininity, the seemingly never-ending search to find our person in a sea of probable rejection, sex (see: loneliness), but perhaps most poignantly she discusses “trying”. Whether it be trying to get pregnant or simply trying to find yourself in a world rife with uncertainty and fraught with opportunities to make a total fool of oneself. Jessi Klein has certainly made a fool of herself many times over, and God, am I thankful that she did.
Can anyone tell me where Nell Zink came from? No – seriously. I don’t want to say that this woman is a genius but…this woman is a genius. Nicotine, her third novel in three years, is a stunning testament to the amalgam of bizarre brilliance that is Zink’s prose. She tells us a story about family, community, adulthood, smoker’s rights, sex, death, culture, counterculture, anarchy – truly, I could go on – with impeccable flow and refreshing economy.
Penny, still reeling from the painfully prolonged passing of her father Norm, a wealthy hippie and founder of a “healing center”, ironically, where the rich go to die, discovers an eclectic group of squatters living in Norm’s childhood home. What follows is a chaotic escapade into activism, a journey into the Millennial mind, and a discovery of what it means to belong.
Zink’s characters are smart, complex, and remarkably striking. I found myself drinking them in, absorbing their lives – their stories, from start to finish. Nicotine is certainly an adventure, and I was more than happy to come along for the ride.
A raw and stunning account of one man's nineteen year prison sentence and the spiritual exploration that started in a cell. We meet Shaka Senghor, a casualty of the poverty, violence, and drugs plaguing Detroit. Through the wonderfully crafted recounting of his own struggle, Senghor challenges you to address the brokenness of our criminal justice system and in so doing restores humanity to those who have been robbed of it. He provides an indelible look into the struggle for survival that led him to prison, and his enduring quest for forgiveness during his incarceration. His story is both tender and brutal, introspective and far-reaching. This book is an invaluable narrative of pain, of healing, of struggle, but most of all, of redemption.
Spieglman’s breathtaking debut, a memoir of girlhood, motherhood, and all that fills the spaces in between, absolutely devastated me. I found myself lying in bed, wide awake, lines of her poetic prose echoing inside me like a singing gong. The title alone was enough to conjure up images of my own mother, body curled around mine like a question mark, comforting me after a bad dream. She weaves a stunning tapestry of narratives, focusing on the most poignant points of intersection. Her prose expertly captures those sharp, inconspicuous moments of hurt that radiate through one’s life – each telling their own story like a childhood scar. Her memoir purports no objectivity, instead opting to embrace the variance in recollections in order to allow each woman to reveal her own truth. With impeccable grace and absolute beauty, Nadja Spieglman invites us to peer inside the heart of a mother and pay homage to the girl still housed within.
Alexandra Kleeman’s debut novel is incredibly stunning and wonderfully unsettling. From sheet-donning cults to grocery stores supplying nothing but fake food to sustain one’s ghostly form -- this is certainly one of the strangest novels that I’ve read in a while. When friends inquired what the book was about my only response was, “Honestly, I have no clue, but you HAVE to read this.” Lovers of Thomas Pynchon and Chuck Palahniuk: do not sleep on this book! I promise you will not regret this frightful foray into weirdness. Kleeman’s prose will leave you craving more (and also a Hostess cupcake, just trust me).
Sex Object is Valenti in full force; sharply unapologetic and jagged edges exposed. Her conversation with the reader is neither tentative nor gentle, but rather a legitimizing of the pain, guilt, grief, and rage that have become an indelible piece of women’s lives. Valenti shares intimate and formative experiences in order to answer the question: “who would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated women?” I heard myself in her prose and felt a sense of solidarity with her in the most vulnerable of moments. With a sense of refreshing honesty and a desire to be seen as nothing more than exactly who she is, Valenti attacks the sentiment that if a woman is hurting then she is weak.
This book will break your heart. A stunning testament of survival and the boundlessness of a mother's love, Donoghue tells the story of Ma, Jack, and Room -- the only world Jack has ever known. I devoured this book. Room is not a story, but a truly immersive experience. Its plot is shot through with pain and hope in equal measure. Donoghue gives Jack a voice that is truly endearing in its honesty and heart-wrenching in its innocence. You will fall in love with the way that he sees the world. Room serves as a much-needed reminder that for all the world's darkness there will always be light.
This book would not let me go. Wasserman crafts a love so sharp and utterly insatiable that the edges seperating one body from another blur. This is the story of Hannah and Lacey, whose need for one another is nothing short of parasitic. Girls on Fire is neither a testament to the power of female friendship nor a story of first loves. It is a foray into the realm of propulsive desire and an unsettling answer to the question, "who am I without you?"
"This is for all the girls when they have grown"
If you were to ask me the question that every bookseller and bibliophile dreads, "what is your favorite book?" while holding my beloved signed photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg over a raging dumpster fire -- this book would likely be the first to come to mind. Part autobiography, part love letter to the countercultural Mecca that was San Francisco in the 70's, Phoebe Gloeckner holds nothing back in her heartwrenchingly honest portrayal of fifteen year old Minnie Goetz. This novel is just as much about sexual discovery as it is strength, pain, growth, and falling in love with yourself before anyone else. There is bravery in these pages and a story with the extraordinary ability to speak to a small piece of us all.
Two Mormons and Evel Knievel walk into a bar...
Daredevils is Shawn Vestal's first full length novel and he certainly did not disappoint. Loretta, fifteen year old sister wife, aching for freedom meets Jason, Evil Knievel devotee coming of age in a Mormon community nestled in rural Idaho. Vestal forgoes what we've come to expect from a coming of age story in favor of something that both challenges and inspires us. Loretta is everything I want out of a protagonist: sharp, unyielding, and incredibly brave. This story is equal parts humor and heartache, and you will find yourself rooting for Loretta till the very last page.
American history heavyweight Laurence Leamer chronicles one of the most revolutionary civil suits of the twentieth century, "Donald V. United Klans of America". A seamless blending of race and law, The Lynching serves as a sociological artifact and a remarkable opportunity to expand one’s knowledge of the ousting of one of America’s most prominent and dangerous hate groups. Leamer weaves in an impressive cast of characters from Michael Donald, who is violently murdered at the hands of two Alabama Klansmen, to the Imperial Wizard himself -- Robert Shelton. His portrayal is vivid, often heart-wrenching, and, at times, seemingly more fantastical than any work of fiction. The Lynching couples a thrilling narrative with an impeccable snapshot of our nation's history and forces us to acknowledge some of our ugliest wounds.
Attention: lovers of Gone Girl, Girl On the Train, and Girls on Fire -- this book is for you. Wendy Walker has harnessed the power of the increasingly popular unreliable narrator in a remarkably novel fashion. Don't let the absence of "girl" in the title fool you, Walker certainly gives us a woman to root for. Meet Jenny Kramer, a high school student who is brutally assaulted at a house party and immediately administered an experimental treatment that will leave her with no memory of the attack. I found myself instantly enslaved to Walker's harrowing prose and provocative, yet painfully flawed cast of characters. All Is Not Forgotten is an exploration into the realm of trauma, strength, and what it truly means to heal. Darkly brilliant, this book may very well be the thriller of the summer.