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The thing about living in our contemporary moment is that it feels like the sky is falling down around us but we all still have to go to work every day. If I needed to pick a book that perfectly encapsulates this feeling, it’s WEATHER. Written in pithy vignettes, Lizzie’s astute observations of her work and family while the world seemingly inches towards apocalypse are filled with sadnesses, small joys, and interactions that point out exactly how complicated it is to be a person in our world. Offill’s writing is brilliant and often obliquely really, really funny; there are lines in this book so perfectly pointed that I had to stop to read them again to myself. I couldn’t put this odd little novel down, and ultimately it gets at the heart of what’s worth fighting for in this world: “All these people. I have so many people, you wouldn’t believe it.”
I made it about 30 pages into this memoir before urgently recommending it to everyone I know. Marcelo Herandez Castillo writes of the everyday feeling of being undocumented in this country with such depth, of the ways in which safety and family and both figurative and literal homes are complicated and destroyed by borders and often arbitrary judgments and rules, by the insidiousness of being deprived a sense of belonging. This book will be called “timely” and “important,” and these things are undeniably true, but reading this book was not just an act of political posturing for me, it was a reckoning. A reckoning of what I thought were my correct, compassionate views on immigration (undocumented or otherwise) with the unassailable fact that, as a natural born American citizen, I can never fully understand this experience, I can only hold space for it. Hernandez Castillo’s writing is generous and so so beautiful, and I am both stunned and grateful.
This novel pulled me in so, so wholeheartedly. The Gimmicks is a weaving: of history, of Armenian and American cultures, of perspectives, of messy, imperfect characters whom I grew to love. The impact of the past plays largely into the lives of these characters, the ways in which history is carried in their memories and colors their choices. Told in alternating perspectives, this novel is also very much about the imprints that characters leave on each other, a deeply meaningful exploration of the ways in which the lives of human beings are intertwined. With beautiful writing and engaging storytelling, The Gimmicks is not to be missed.
There is finally a read reminiscent of the magic in Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and it is Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. There are delightfully endearing characters, intriguing secret societies, a hidden world of books and stories and the people and cats who keep them, love stories, and one deep sea. I could not put this book down, and I can still feel a warm glow from reading a novel that just really pulled me into its world. If you are looking for a fantastical and intricately beautiful story to dive into, this is the book for you!
Meet Gideon the Ninth, a sarcastic and sharply jaded swordswoman serving Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the necromancer of the Ninth House. When Gideon is caught trying to escape her life of servitude, her necromancer and childhood nemesis requires something of her before she can leave, that Gideon serve as her cavalier for a multi-house competition on another planet. What ensues is one of the wildest rides I’ve ever read, a glorious mashup of science fiction, dark fantasy, and horror set in a brilliant and violent world of secrets, skeletons, and swordsmanship. Lives are lost and loyalties are tested as houses and necromancers compete for power, and Gideon and Harrow must learn to trust each other’s strengths in order to survive. A book like no other and the first in a trilogy, the mythology of this world runs deep.
Dream House as Literati Shelf Talker: This book stunned me. If you’ve read Carmen Maria Machado’s excellent short stories, you know that she plays around with genre and pop culture tropes in order to look at her themes in new ways. As fiction, her style is engaging and deeply creative. As memoir, it’s a whole new kind of writing, a dissection of a relationship through narrative and genre tropes that I can really only describe in bursts of feeling: it’s wild and dark and has all of Rilke’s beauty and terror, it’s crushing and brilliant and so completely revelatory, it’s vital and brave and required me to pause to take deep breaths as every chapter sparked a new flame of understanding in my mind. This book is a gift, an exploration of how to unpack our selves and our experiences, with writing at the growing edge of what writing can do. I will read everything that Carmen Maria Machado writes forever and ever.
Ahhhhhh, this book is a beautiful, deep breath of appreciation for the wonder of clouds! Collected by the Cloud Appreciation Society (yes! A thing!), these photos were taken all over the world, and (labeled with the member number who submitted) each photo is a reminder to look up and notice, that we are always in the presence of nature. For anyone seeking a simple way to widen their perspective or calm their mind.
If the only things you know about Spiritualism are the (Parker Brothers™) Ouija boards your cousin had when you were a kid and those scammy celebrity mediums on TV, you are in for a treat. Ptacin explores the history of Spiritualism from its inception in the 1840s, to its appeal in the aftermath of the devastating losses of the Civil War, to its relationship with the suffrage movement, to its current role as a potential salve for Americans’ fraught relationship with death. The book centers around Ptacin’s time at Camp Etna, a community of Spiritualists living and practicing in Maine. Ptacin herself is no stranger to grief, and it is her personal moments with the modern Spiritualists that make this an especially engaging read. Ptacin never quite takes a stand on Spiritualism; she presents her experiences with the Spiritualists with an utmost respect for their beliefs, but with a journalist’s healthy skepticism. But Ptacin doesn’t distance herself from the Spiritualists either; she allows herself to be seen by them as well, and she has enough stories to keep my mind open to possibilities. This is a fascinating book about a rarely explored thread of American history and a misunderstood religion, woven with Ptacin’s beautiful writing of her own experiences with loss and healing.
Things We Didn’t Talk When I Was a Girl is unlike any book that I’ve read, and I’d wager that it’s unlike any book that you’ve read either. This memoir is a project in motion, morphing and reconstructing itself as Vanasco works through the telling of her own narrative, the reader as witness. Vanasco’s project--to write a memoir about her rape that deliberately brings in the literal voice of her rapist--is something that no one could ever ask of a victim, but offers a perspective so brave and invaluable that I wish that I could personally thank Vanasco for this book. Vanasco’s approach to telling her story allows for an exploration of trauma and its aftermath in real-time. We are witness as Vanasco thinks through her own internalized misogyny, the ways both minute and large in which rape culture has persuaded and distorted the thinking of both rapist and victim, a conversation between two experiences of an event that adds such a deep level of nuance to this conversation that nearly every page of my copy is dog-eared. This book changed how I think about so many things--my own memories and experiences and consents (or not-consents), the ways in which I myself internalize or reinforce rape culture, and most importantly, the revolutionary act of reclaiming one’s own story, of insisting on believing survivors as they reclaim theirs. Read. This. Book.
This essay collection covers a lot: empathy and the song of a lonely whale, the reported past lives of children, an online world full of real-life strivings and longing, traveling in the aftermath of war, photography past and present, relationships, Vegas, love, the body, motherhood. I loved Leslie Jamison’s THE EMPATHY EXAMS for its blend of the journalistic and personal, and for me, this collection digs in even more. Jamison’s writing left me deeply self-conscious in the best way, and by that I mean that her explorations of her presence in the world made me wonder what my reading of her work can tell me about myself. Ultimately, her writing left me with a glittering inability to reconcile all of my selves, that there are no easy answers, that being human is messy and complex but that it’s all we have.
“When you come from a mythologized place, as I do, who are you in that story?”
I knew two narratives of New Orleans before reading this thoughtful memoir: the party life in the French Quarter and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. In The Yellow House, Sarah Broom writes of what it means to be from New Orleans East, an area ignored in the first narrative and damned in the second. Broom centers her story around the yellow shotgun house where she grew up, a house that was both a home to her large family and ultimately lost in the hurricane. In telling the story of her family and her return to a complicated city, Broom has much to say about the mythology of place--both the richnesses and the distortions-- and how where we’re from affects how we view ourselves and others.
I’ve been hearing about this book all over the place, for its groundbreakingly frank (“explicit”) discussion of the desire and sexuality of three women and the ways in which their lives are affected, driven, or trapped by the desires of men. A warning: this book is not representative. It is not a sweeping exploration of the sexuality of women. All three women in this book are straight, for a start. I think the power of Three Women lies in its specificity though, in Taddeo’s ability to sit with the lives of these women willing to divulge everything, to dive deep into their experiences, often moment by moment, without an overarching analysis. My hope is that this book is only one important addition to a much larger conversation, one about patriarchy and its insidious effects, not on an ideological level but in the lives of people. This book made me so angry at so many moments, but hopeful at others, that we might be slowly slowly slowly making space to talk about the sexual health of women, to talk about the violence and abuses suffered and also the empowerment in seeking pleasure and fulfillment of desire.
Underland is an unforgettable journey of the underground, exploring the wonder and history and danger to be found in spaces where humans meet the earth. Macfarlane takes his readers to places they most likely haven’t visited and maybe haven’t even heard of, guided along the way by fascinating people living with and working with these spaces: he visits physicists studying dark matter deep underground, mycologists studying how trees communicate through their root systems, urban explorers in the catacombs of Paris, cavers mapping unseen rivers flowing beneath the earth, ancient artists who painted in caves on the edge of the world, and scientists at the front lines of the climate crisis studying the deep history stored in rapidly melting glaciers. Macfarlane writes with such reverence for these spaces that I also felt a deep sense of awe, for the earth and the amazing things to be seen in and on it. But this book isn’t just about the beauties of nature, it is also about humans, the horrors of our history, the things that we attempt to bury for better or worse, and the ways that humans have changed the landscape itself. Throughout his journey, of the seemingly natural world and the lives of the people who study it and live at its wild edges, Macfarlane demonstrates that there really isn’t a separation between humans and nature, that we are an integral part of and owe an urgent responsibility to the earth.
I came to Mostly Dead Things for the strangeness, and strangeness it has aplenty: there’s a taxidermy shop, a dysfunctional family, and some very experimental art, all imbued with a dark humor. But it’s also a deeply heartfelt story; I connected with Jessa and her fight to hold her family together through a wave of grief, her struggle to accept both herself and the members of her family as the complicated people that they are. This is a story of flawed people trying the best that they can, full of the very real, imperfect love of a family and the gritty resolve that it takes to move through a tragedy together. I loved it.
Karen Russell has been on my to-read list for years, and this short story collection was a really delicious introduction to her work. I’ve long associated Russell with magical realism (and it is true that each story in this collection has an element of the fantastical odd), but I was stunned by how deftly Russell uses this to get at the heart of the human experience: a teenage boy falls in love with a bog girl with all of the bittersweet abandon of a first love, a man returns to his former livelihood -- raising tornadoes -- and must reconcile with his role as a father, and in the title story, a new mother makes a deal to breastfeed the devil in order to keep her baby safe, exploring parental love and fear and the pressures of new motherhood in a deep way. The otherworldly meets reality, and when it does, Russell spins magic.
Suffice it to say that I picked up this book and did everything that I could to squeeze in chapters around my life so that I could understand what was happening, and when I got to the end, I was dumbstruck by the scope of what Masande Ntshanga achieves in this wonder of speculative fiction. It is both an enjoyable read, and also has much to say about oppression, the onward march of technology and corporations, and the fate of the earth in the hands of human civilization. There is a mysterious manuscript within a book, a coming-of-age narrative, a span of 50 years that covers both South African history and near future, and a curious “machine” that keeps appearing to the narrator of the manuscript. There is a quest to find a missing mother amidst other suspicious circumstances, a book about UFOs, and underground groups of hackers and spies fighting an unseen war. There is also friendship, love, and sacrifice. With masterfully deployed elements of mystery and science fiction and backdropped by post-Apartheid South Africa, this novel is in a genre all its own. TRIANGULUM is an astonishing puzzle of a book, one that I immediately wanted to reread to marvel once more at all of the interlocking pieces.
This novel grabbed me by the heart and still hasn’t let me go. Kampol is a five-year-old boy living in Thailand who has been abandoned by his family following an argument between his parents. While Kampol is at first all alone, it quickly becomes clear that he has been left to the neighborhood, a working-class community that adopts him and makes sure that his needs are met, however imperfectly. Kampol’s childhood is filled with difficulties, and Pimwana pulls no punches when it comes to Kampol’s often dire situation. But like any child, Kampol also finds joy. His friends and neighbors form a quirky cast of characters, my favorite being Chong, a grocer who keeps an eye on Kampol and tries to help him understand the world around him. The first book by a Thai woman to ever be translated into English, this novel is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. It is a genuine portayal of a community, with all of the good and bad and strivings of the humans who live in it.
After their mother, Marianne, is institutionalized following a suicide attempt, Edie and Mae go to live with their estranged father. But it quickly becomes clear that the two sisters understood life with their mother very differently, and that there is much more to their parents’ relationship than they’d previously known. As the conflict between the sisters grows, questions arise about the past and the sway that parents hold over their children. But what makes this a remarkable novel is the intricate exploration of perspective and the false stability of narrative; when you look at the story from different sides, the idea that there is one truth crumbles. Each of Apekina’s characters arrive at the present with full stories of their own, well-developed viewpoints and influences that drive them to understand events in different ways. What I loved about this novel is that it is, in a way, a literary mystery: whose story do we hold as truth?
Hitomi works the register at a secondhand shop. Her only coworkers are the quirky Mr. Nakano himself, his equally quirky artist sister, and Takeo, a young man for whom Hitomi isn’t sure of her feelings. What I loved about this novel are the small moments; Kawakami writes the quiet ins and outs of daily life so, so well. I felt a part of this small business and the ways that they interact as a staff and a work family, nuanced relationships that are felt in the small conversations and meals and (sometimes offbeat or meddlesome) ways in which they care for each other over time. And the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Hitomi and Takeo could not have been more spot on. Often delightful and with an amount of feeling that took me by surprise, this is a quiet novel perfect for someone who wants to breathe inside the comfort of the everyday for a little while.
I devoured this book. Reading these characters feels like stepping right into other lives, with all of the messiness of human striving and relationships. If, Then is a beautiful novel for this alone, but when each character begins to see visions that they don’t understand, the book takes on a new sense of urgency. Driven by its characters and with a masterfully written thread of speculative fiction, If, Then is a moving look at how events large and small and the choices that we make carve our unique lives out of the infinite number of possible lives that could have been.
“How do we become who we are in the world? We ask the world to teach us. But we have to ask with an open heart, with no idea what the answer will be.”
I first heard Pam Houston speak about her ranch on an episode of the podcast Dear Sugars, and I’ve been waiting for this book ever since. In her early thirties, Pam Houston bought a ranch in Colorado. Deep Creek offers a beautiful meditation on what the ranch has come to mean since: healing from a traumatic family life, grieving her mother and their complicated relationship, a complex symbol of independence and vulnerability, a coming into her own. Also a larger exploration of the meaning of human-animal relationships, the power of finding one’s place in the world, and the larger question of how to appreciate and care for this world in our time of environmental destruction.
Part memoir, part environmental call to action, part love letter to one small part of the world, Deep Creek is a deep reflection on place, how it can heal us, and what we owe the natural world in return.
This book is a beautiful meditation on work and repairing one’s relationship with it. While Marlee certainly speaks to overwork and that particular type of “working all the time” that accompanies social media, this book also provides an opportunity to think broadly about what one’s work is, and how we differentiate that from or cultivate that within a job. This book helped me find a balance in attitude towards work, which has in turn helped me make strategies for creating a healthier relationship with it. Recommended for anyone, whether with a job that they love, a job that they dislike, unemployed, working on a side hustle, or just looking to explore what their work is in the world.
Everything Under is a living, breathing thing, wild and difficult to pin down, its characters morphing under the reader's eye. The plot is built around a retelling of the Oedipus myth, but as in the best retellings, Johnson makes this story her own, exploring gender and memory and fate with an untamed folkloric hue. This novel is as much about the force of language itself as anything else--to bring things into being, to create our world and futures, to tell us what we know about ourselves and our pasts. Brilliantly exploring the liminal spaces of human mythology and memory, this is a deeply layered and visceral novel. -Kelsey
What I look forward to most in Claire Fuller’s writing is the deliberate unfolding of plot and character, the careful chemistry that crackles when characters observe one another and reader observes narrator. Bitter Orange is Fuller’s most mysterious novel yet, a house haunted by the stories its characters tell of their pasts and the slow unraveling of the truth. Dark and twisty and full of secrets, Bitter Orange is a satisfying page-turner perfect for readers who like a spooky and psychological read.
After nearly drowning, Cass has gained two things: a best friend who happens to be a ghost, and the ability to enter the spirit world. But when Cass meets another girl with the same ability, she learns that the world is more complicated (and haunted!) than she’d thought. Full of both adventure and heart, this is a wonderfully spooky read for young readers and adults alike! -Kelsey
This novel begins with stories of people living out their lives, full of joys and tragedies and dramas, and each affected in some way by a tree (yes, a tree). As the lives of its characters begin to intertwine in unexpected ways, The Overstory spirals outward in scope until it becomes about the trees themselves, their long lifetimes overarching the human ones. Humanity would be only a blip in the tree world if not for the devastating effects of modern attitudes towards nature, something that each of the characters must grapple with in some way. I loved the complexity and urgency of this novel as an exploration of how individual human lives fit into the larger natural world (if only we thought of ourselves this way), and how we all are responsible for what’s being done to it. And no small thing, The Overstory contains some of the most beautiful sentences that I’ve read in awhile. Best read arborside, of course.
Lovingly placed in my hands at just the right moment by a brilliant friend, this is the collection that made me fall in love with the essay. There is no simple way to describe the breadth of this book except to say that Paterniti approaches each of his subjects with such an incredible sense of empathy and genuine curiosity that I could feel his perspective on the world influencing mine. Heartbreaking and hopeful and in awe of the complexity of human stories, I find these essays surfacing in my thoughts often, a sure sign that this one left a mark. -k
I read this novel for the first time in my freshman lit seminar in college. While discussing a pivotal scene of violence, another student slammed both the book and his mind shut, refusing to keep reading because he disagreed with a choice that a character made, calling the book unrealistic because he could never picture himself doing what she did. My professor asked us to look at our own lives, at the ways in which we were protected from ever having to make such a choice, to consider that other lives force choices that may seem unimaginable to us. For the first time I saw the potential for reading to cultivate empathy, how it can be used as a tool to break open our narrow perspectives and show us other facets of the human experience. Morrison’s writing is stunningly visceral, and I revisit this novel when I need a reminder of what incredible writing is and of what it can do. I hope that someday that student finished the book.
It is no exaggeration to say that this book saved me during a very difficult time, infusing my life with a revelatory new perspective and a deep sense of empathy, for others but most radically, for myself. My go-to prescription for heartbreak, grief, and Big Feelings of all kinds, Tiny Beautiful Things explores the vast experience of human pain but ultimately holds a light to its dual nature: the power of hope and human connection. -k
I have deep envy for readers who get to experience the surrealism of Haruki Murakami for the first time, and he’s one of my favorite authors to recommend. The best thing that I can say about Murakami’s writing is that it is imbued with its own specific mood, one where a character eats an average dinner and then carries on a conversation with a cat with no change in tone. But Murakami’s writing isn’t just strange for its own sake, but rather uses the dreamspace to delve into the lives of his characters with a unique emotional intelligence. Kafka is a puzzle of interlocking narratives and strange occurrences, and is an excellent entry point into the worlds of both Murakami and magical realism.
My mom recommended this book to me by telling me that she loved reading it to her second-graders, that its many layers resonated with different kids in different ways, but that mostly the kids loved it because reading it aloud always made their teacher cry. And there’s something comforting to me about the idea that several cohorts of elementary school kids learned firsthand that while books are indeed made of plots and characters and ideas, ultimately their power lies in how they move us. There are many books written for children that get at the heart of life better than most books written for “adults;” this is one of those. Recommended for readers of all ages, particularly those who’ve felt a bit of sorrow and know that the purpose of heartbreak is to open the heart up to love.
“in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.”
This is my favorite underrated classic. Anderson is often named as an influence on Hemingway, Faulkner, and Steinbeck among others, and is considered the first to link short stories into a larger, novel-like narrative. Winesburg, Ohio tells the stories of the residents of a small town, with each chapter settling into a different perspective. The brilliance of this book lies in its tenderness, in how it highlights the loneliness of being human while also fostering empathy for the many stories and trutthat exist in the human experience.
I read this novel many books ago and it’s still the one that comes to mind when someone asks about the last book that I read that really blew my mind. I rarely use the words weird and lovely together, but this symphonic meditation on the ways that we live and love and must learn to let go glows bright in my heart and just might be the weirdest and loveliest book that I’ve ever read.
Neil Gaiman is one of my very favorite authors. I recommend all of his novels, his short stories, and the Sandman series, and also his essays on storytelling and the importance of libraries and books and Ray Bradbury, and also his writings about literacy and about working with Syrian refugees and about art and about how to love. I recommend his work because he writes with a deep respect for stories, and always with an eye for the magic in the world. Gaiman is incredibly prolific and there are many places to start with his work, but I found him through this small story about a boy raised by ghosts.
In my memory I can still feel the cover of my childhood copy of this book, a texture that registered as soft and rather peachlike to my small fingers as I curled up with my mom to read our nightly chapter. My love for otherwordly, imaginative fiction certainly began here - a lonely boy drops a bag of magic crystals, a peculiar and very peachy adventure ensues. Dahl is great fun, and while I know for a fact that my mom and I shared many books before this one, it’s James and the Giant Peach that comes to mind when I think of how she taught me to be a Reader.
Enter the singular world of Karin Tidbeck, where people fall in love with airship prototypes, phone operators connect calls from demonic beings, and something weird lurks around every corner. Translated from the Swedish by Tidbeck herself, this collection is so delightfully bizarre and written in language to deceptively simple that its many moments of loveliness will take you by surprise. For fans of Swedish weird fiction and, more importantly, those who don't yet know that they love Swedish weird fiction.
Told through a series of near-death experiences, I Am, I Am, I Am breaks from a chronological narrative to mimic memory itself, each chapter rising to the surface before becoming sensory and deeply visceral. While the subtitle suggests a preoccupation with death, O'Farrell's title & epigraph (a line from The Bell Jar) reveal the memoir's true heart: an unconventional and revelatory delve into what it means to be alive. As O'Farrell revisits each of the times when her life nearly ended but didn't, I was left considering all of the other everyday moments in between, and how thinking of life in such impermanent terms changes their hue. Yet, written as guidance to a daughter living with a life-threatening illness, O'Farrell's memoir isn't only asking us to appreciate life, but also to see that life will hurt, for all of us. Nevertheless, being truly alive means taking big, gulping breaths of it anyway.
This is a memoir about getting sober, and a good one at that - rehab, the shock of seeing life in a new light, the often mundane changes required of a big shift, all told with the offbeat humor characteristic of Augusten Burroughs. By Dry is also one of my favorite love stories, a chronicle of the messiness of emotions, of taking ownership over one's personal STUFF and the ways in which it gets in the way of relationships. I first read this book over ten years ago, and it remains one of the best testaments to learning to show up for those whom we love, a bloody endeavor but ultimately why we're here. -Kelsey
Leni Zumas' writing hums with an energy that I can't quite put my finger on except to say that I didn't want to put this book down. One could begin to talk about this novel through its premise: abortion has been made illegal, personhood is now declared at conception, in vitro fertilization is also illegal as a result. But it feels truer to start talking about this novel with its characters, to say that Red Clocks is about four women leading their lives in a small town, much the same way that I am leading a life in a small town. Their lives are vastly different from each other's, but what they share is that they are all in one way or another trapped by their circumstances, longing for freedom under a system defined by the absence of choice. I loved these characters, felt their heartbreak and their frustrations and desires in such a deep way. Brilliant and nuanced, Red Clocks is a fiercely feminist exploration of the multitude of ways in which women seek meaningful lives under the limits of a patriarchal system that is dangerously close to our own.
Carmen Maria Machado's stories are like nothing I've ever read (although I can say that they put me in an Angela Carter & Kelly Link sort of MOOD, the best sort of mood). These stories are otherwordly and genre-bending, absolutely, but also sexy and visceral and pointed. They don't just let the darkness lurk in the corners, they pull it into the light, see how it feels in the body, open it up to reveal both the violence and tenderness inside. This is a brilliantly crafted collection and will be deeply satisfying for readers interested in the subconscious horrors that are present with us always.
I have a growing list of women whose writing makes me feel vulnerable and introspective and purposeful in the best way, and I was so happy to find Megan Stielstra to add to it. This is a collection of threaded essays exploring family and politics and relationships and work and community and the power of writing, difficult to pin down in its breadth and deeply thoughtful as a whole. Stielstra writes of being a person in the world with such an incredible sense of empathy that, wanting to spend more time with her, I was sorry to see this book end.
I was completely caught off guard by how incredibly gorgeous this novel is. The characters in Good Morning, Midnight could not be facing bleaker circumstances, but Lily Brooks-Dalton tells their stories so masterfully and with so much heart and heartbreak that I found myself thinking about them long after I finished reading. This novel transcends its own story and becomes a beautiful meditation on what life means, in the face of the end of everything, and how the ways in which we show up for ourselves and others might be the point of it all.
To say that I was moved by Sherman Alexie's memoir is a terrible understatement; in fact, there is a pulse in this book that has worked its way into my being and irrevocably changed how I think about my own life. Alexie's kaleidoscopic approach to storytelling is so representative of the feeling of being human, with childhood memory, relationships, love, trauma, and art all moving in and out of focus at once. At the center of You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is a deep grieving, for Alexie's mother, for the ways in which parental love is imperfect, for unthinkable personal and cultural traumas. But Alexie's brilliance is in holding multiple truths, that one can experience simultaneously both trauma and hope, grief and humor, violence and love. I, like Alexie, "tend to fall in love with the unnamable," that nebulous complexity at the heart of the human experience that can only be understood by holding on to all of the pieces of your life at once, a practice both beautiful and terrifying. Alexie achieves this exquisitely, and You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is an unforgettable work.
Borne introduces us to Rachel, a scavenger, and Wick, her partner-in-survival and a biotech engineer. Rachel and Wick scrape together a life in a ruined city suffering under the tyranny of a giant bear, a Magician hungry for power, and the shadow of the collapsed Company and its failed biotech experiments. But Rachel changes everything when she brings home Borne. Found on a scavenging trip, Borne is maybe a plant, maybe an animal, but is definitely one of the more interesting characters that I've ever met. As Borne grows, Rachel and Wick are forced to ask deeper questions - of each other, of their world, of power and love and agency and of their own sense of identity. I was struck by the vulnerability carried by these characters against such a bleak world. At its heart, this novel grapples with what, to me, are the most meaningful questions to be explored in fiction: What makes us human? And how do we keep hold of this humanity in a world that tries to take it from us? This book is going to stick with me for a long time.
Where humanity has driven itself to the brink of extinction, Lidia Yuknavitch finds amid the rubble an urgent yearning for hope. Brutality and love, creation and destruction, desolation and the richness of art all move through this novel with a forceful energy, translating the transcendent power of the human experience into something to be felt on a visceral level. Or, as whispered by one of our narrators, "Bodies are miniature renditions of the entire universe...This is what we have always been." The Book of Joan is an unforgettable work ofspeculative fiction.
This book begins with the tale of the Frost demon, told on a cold winter evening by the grandmotherly Dunya. Nothing could better set the tone for this novel, as reading it feels much like settling in for a folktale around a warm fire in the dead of winter. Arden's storytelling is enchanting, full of an old, wild kind of magic raging in the Russian wilderness. Vasya is a fierce protagonist with powerful gifts, and I reveled in seeing her learn to trust herself against the ancient spirits that threaten everything that she holds dear. This is a highly original take on the fairy tale told in a beautiful voice.
This is a fascinating look at how American history can be read through our ghostlore! I came for the spookiness - and there are some great ghosts in here - but Dickey's focus is more on how ghost stories function in our culture. I love how this book is organized (by theme and region), so that a particular story is brought back into context. From this perspective, it seems that the stories we tell ourselves about the dead may say a lot more about us than about historical facts. Bonus points for featuring my favorite spooky place, The Ridges, in Chapter Ten: The Stain.
This is one of the most unique novels that I've read in a while, and I could not put it down. Jemisin's use of the apocalyptic setting to explore oppression is brilliant. Her world-building is masterful, but most importantly for me as a reader, I came to care deeply for her characters and their places in the world of the novel. Jemisin has said that this was a difficult novel to write given its exploration of racial injustice, but I'm so glad that she stayed with it -- Jemisin has made an important contribution to the world of SFF. **WINNER OF THE 2016 HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL**
"And yet, whatever has been lost in translation in the long journey of my thoughts through the maze of civilization to your mind, I think you do understand me, and you think you do understand me. Our minds managed to touch, if but briefly and imperfectly. Does the thought not make the universe seem just a bit kinder, a bit brighter, a bit warmer and more human? We live for such miracles."
This is one of the best short story collections that I have ever read. Every story is meaningful, and Liu uses science fiction and fantasy elements in such thought-provoking ways. I believe that science fiction has some of the highest potential for critical themes of any literary genre, and this collection is my new favorite evidence for this. For short story lovers, sci fi readers, and anyone who loves thought-provoking fiction. -k
I've been on the hunt for some great new fantasy, and this book was everything that I needed. Parallel Londons exist within the world of this novel, each with its own complicated relationship with magic. Kell is one of the last magicians able to travel between the Londons and has a dangerous interest in smuggling magical objects. Delilah is a young woman surviving as a criminal in Grey London who gets drawn into Kell's quest to repair that damage he has caused. But don't call her a sidekick - she has motivations of her own. I loved the characters in this smart fantasy, and I can't wait to read A Gathering of Shadows. -K
Once on a school field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art, I saw an eery photograph of a young girl that I couldn't get out of my head. Without the title or the name of the photographer, it took another chance encounter years later for me to discover that it was Sally Mann. I can't think of a better way to describe Mann's work than to say that each of her images is powerful enough to haunt you for years. In Hold Still, Mann begins with the idea of a "meuse": the nest-like imprint created when an animal beds down in long grass. With dramatic family history, a deep connection with her Southern heritage, and, of course, photographs, Mann explores the imprint that has both influenced and been created around her life as an artist and human. Reading this memoir is like listening to a wild relative recount all of the stories of her amazing life, only that relative also happens to be one of America's most renowned (and controversial!) photographers. I loved every page of it. - K
What I loved about this memoir is how Macdonald builds her story through several moving parts: a close reading of T.H. White's The Goshawk, childhood memories of her father and her love of White's book, and how these two converge to shape the present as she grieves her father and trains her own goshawk, Mabel. A poet, historian, and passionate falconer, Macdonald writes of her experience in such a satisfying way - I could relate to both her grief and her yearning to understand the meaning behind her own story. -K
All I can say about this novel is that it is pure emotion on paper. On the surface, A Little Life follows the lives of four close college friends as they grow into adulthood. It is impossible to reduce this novel to a plotline, though - the experience of the novel takes precedence over the story itself. For me, this book is about the power of the past and of human relationships, and is ultimately an exploration of the deep struggle of being a human being. Equal parts beautiful and heartwrenching, this is one of the most extraordinary books that I have ever read. -K
It's rare to read a novel that makes me feel like the author is literally inventing a new way to tell a story. Brian Selznick doesn't just pair illustrations with text, but rather seamlessly moves between text and illustration, using pictures to tell entire sections of the story. The Invention of Hugo Cabret follows an orphan boy living in a train station in Paris, alternating between words and images. Selznick's Wonderstruck tells the story of Ben and Rose, two characters living 50 years apart whose lives intersect in amazing ways. Ben's story is told through text, while Rose's storyline is entirely illustrated. These are beautiful books that push the boundaries of storytelling! -K
This novel is Gaiman at his most distilled - a fantastical and at times terrifying world exists alongside our own, and storytelling and myth prove to be the most powerful tools against everything that threatens Ocean's young narrator. Ocean taps into the deep emotional space of memory and myth and is ultimately a beautiful, edgy fairy tale about being a human being. Also, I dare you to not fall in love with the Hempstock women! -K
I was immediately drawn into this family drama, which never feels dramatic but rather quietly and beautifully genuine, leaving me with the sense that I’d truly gotten to know these characters. Williams’ observations of the relationships between people brought together by circumstance are full of a crackling energy, and the novel crescendos to brilliance as his characters grow to become a family. This book has so much heart, and I loved it.