Can you tell I worked in a bookstore and was in graduate seminars this year?
Ancius Boethius$16.00 $14.72
Maybe the oldest book I've ever read? THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY is an interesting and logical approach to living a virtuous life with vague references to God, but no mention of Christ (cause it was written 500 years before). It is uplifting and peaceful; a great reminder when feeling lost or overwhelmed. It's also very easy to read!
Max Porter$15.00 $13.80
A sweet friend of mine gifted me this book for personal reasons and I loved it. It's a hybrid of fiction and poetry following the story of a young father who loses his wife in an accident, though we never learn exactly how. The Crow comes knocking and remains with the father and his two young sons while they grieve. Some just heartbreaking lines capture grief so well. I did get distracted by some of the non-narrative lyricism, but that's just because I'm not very well educated in poetry.
Ramona Ausubel$16.00 $14.72
Originally, I was really hooked on this collection. Most stories are semi-based in reality with some kind of fantastical element which was really fun to read. My two favorite stories were "Fresh Water from the Sea" and "Motherland" which were kind of mirror stories in that they both discussed characters who were absent mostly in each others' stories and then the main character in their own story. Overall, I think those two stories kept me engaged with the rest of the collection.
Claudia Rankine$20.00 $18.00
Online this book has been classified as poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. It is a meditation on race and what it means to be black in America. Rankine uses anecdotes and photos and research to tell this story. I found the section on Serena Williams to be particularly moving. Though it is hard to describe, you just have to trust me on this one: it is *very* good.
Danielle Lazarin$16.00 $14.72
A collection of short stories, Danielle Lazarin's writing is clear and strong and poignant. All the stories have strong female leads, battling all sorts of decisions and obstacles and even when they aren't sure what they're going to do, they are confident and unapologetic. I "gobbled" it in a few sittings.
Beth Ann Fennelly$13.95 $12.83
What a cool experiment in form! This is my only experience with such short piece of nonfiction. Some "essays" are a sentence long, others a few pages. The writing is lyrical and beautiful which is unsurprising considering Beth Ann Fennelly is also a successful poet.
Maxim Loskutoff$15.95 $14.67
A debut collection of short stories set in the Midwest and Western United States. All these stories were set in the same fictional world that gave new details about the "Redoubt," an armed occupation of a national park, based on true events that took place in 2016. It was a really neat way to connect the stories. While this collection gives life and voice to Western Americans, it had them questioning "was it worth it?" in stories like "Daddy Swore an Oath." I'll tell you now, the first story is WEIRD, but I LOVED it.
Zinzi Clemmons$16.00 $14.72
Another experiment with form, the chapters of this novel are incredibly short, none longer than a couple pages. The story of our narrator losing and grieving her mother is told in clipped, lyrical vignettes that move mostly chronologically with some side narratives and information. The writing on grief was so apt and moving, I would really recommend this to someone who is experiencing a loss of their own.
James Baldwin$15.00 $13.80
James Baldwin is THE American Essayist, in my opinion. The first couple of essays in this book are mostly book and movie critiques from the time period, which make them interesting anthropological studies. Baldwin's essays on race, like the title essay, changed me for the better and should be required reading for every American.
Jo Ann Beard$15.99 $14.71
Jo Ann Beard is as skilled of an essayist as they come and a master of language. She really experiments with form and pushes the boundaries of memory by telling essays from the point of view of her 3 year old self in one and a coyote in another. Her masterpiece "Fourth State of Matter" is in this collection as well.
Lauren Groff$16.00 $14.72
Lauren Groff is a writer's writer, but her voice and craft is extremely honed and strong. These stories are not super plot driven, if that's your thing. We spend a lot time inside characters' heads which I find compelling. It's entertaining and exciting to see Florida captured and rendered on the page.
Ta-Nehisi Coates$26.00 $23.40
Written in the form of a letter to his son a la James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates begins by meditating on a question he had been asked recently about what it would mean to lose his body. As a black man, that question obviously comes with layers of a response, which Coates pens and dedicates to his son. Toni Morrison called Coates the next James Baldwin and I'm not going to question it.
Joan Didion$16.00 $14.72
Joan! Didion! What else is there to say? This memoir follows the famed essayist's grief journey after losing her beloved husband and leading up to losing her daughter. Didion's writing is simple and elegant. She includes some light research, but is never muddled or too high brow. Ultimately, my favorite parts were when she discussed the process of grieving in universal terms and then weaves in her personal experience.
Riley Sager$9.99 $9.19
FINAL GIRLS is what I would call a buffer book for me. We follow a baker/blogger, Quincy, about 10 years after she was the lone survivor of a massacre of her friends at a cottage in the woods. With this she became a "final girl," joining two other women who survived similar experiences. But then one of them appears to commit suicide and the other shows up at Quincy's door and then secrets and questions unravel until we find out that the massacre wasn't what we thought. It kept me engaged, but it was entirely plot focused and driven with kitschy details and I found it to be predictable. I recommend it if you're in a reading rut and need to breeze through something mildly entertaining.
Carolyn Bahar, Caroline Moss, et al.$16.99 $15.63
I really wanted a laugh at the time and had heard this book was "hilarious." HEY LADIES! is a semi-graphic novel told through texts and emails between a fictional group of friends as they plan one of the girl's weddings. It is a satire of the millennial generation and I did laugh out loud at some parts, but I had an issue. I liked the hyperbolic, but honestly real portrayal of trying to find love/planning events/being a woman in 2018, but it felt like a bit of overkill just how *mean* these women are to each other. My very personal opinion on it. I know lots and lots of people who loved it and did just find it laugh-out-loud funny.
Neel Patel$15.99 $14.71
This debut collection of stories is stunning! If you ran into me in July of 2018 when I first read this book, I probably told you about it. It is 11 stories about first generation Indian Americans and their very human and American lives, but also the culture carried on from their parents and passed down to them, and how these two generations come together. Patel writes beautifully from perspectives of all kinds of people and they are believable and fantastic. There are recurring themes of how people from our past, who often scared or intimidated us, turn out to be regular people; how mistakes and missed opportunities come back to haunt us; and how hiding who you are and what you want can be one of the most painful experiences. An easy 5 stars in my book.
Meghan O'Gieblyn$16.00 $14.72
The cover advertises this as a collection about the Midwest and faith. The Midwest pops up a couple of times, but faith is more of a common thread. I personally had a radically different faith journey than the author and so at times I had a hard time connecting with the narrator.
Ibram X Kendi$19.99 $18.39
This book is 511 pages of hard truth that I needed. It's broken up into 5 sections that are each led by a "tour guide," a person of significance in their time period to carry us through the centuries of oppression that black Americans endured and continue to endure. There's so much to say about this book and not enough space to say it, but I highly recommend it, especially if you think you know the history of this country.
Jacqueline Woodson$10.99 $10.11
Technically this is a YA/Children's Chapter Book, but even reading this as an adult was compelling and engaging. We follow the story of our narrator from before she is born up until she is around 10-12 years old in verse poems. Woodson discusses race and growing up in the 60s as a black girl in the South and in NYC. I loved the form of this book, told in short chronological poems that function the way memories do, only remembering specific moments and details, but not all the in between.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah$14.99 $13.79
My favorite book of 2018 hands down. This debut collection covers race and violence, but also working in retail and consumerism. Some of the stories are science fiction, imagining a frightening future world. I read it in a little over a week, making myself put it down so it would last longer. The worlds Adjei-Brenyah creates and the characters he develops are SO GOOD. If I could only recommend one book for the rest of my life, this would be it.
Colson Whitehead$16.95 $15.59
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD won so many awards it is insane. We're told the story of Cora, a slave woman in Georgia who escapes to freedom in the north, but not without many hiccups along the way. How is she able to escape so often, undetected? Through a literal underground railroad. It was definitely a slow beginning and took me about 50 pages to really get into it, but once I got into it, there was no putting it down.
A National Book Award Winner! Jesmyn Ward writes from the perspective of an adolescent boy and his mother. They, along with a couple others, make the trip to pick up their imprisoned father/partner, from the same prison their grandfather/father was wrongfully imprisoned years ago. Both mother and son see ghosts of men who suffered violent deaths. It's an interesting meditation on motherhood, racism, poverty, death, and the after life. I enjoyed it and read it in under a week so it certainly moves along and captivates.
Zora Neale Hurston$16.99 $15.63
This nonfiction, anthropological account of Cudjo Lewis/Kossula who, at the time it was written, was the last surviving founding member of Africatown, Alabama and the last known person to have been abducted from the coast of Africa and sold into slavery. It was only published in 2018 because at the time that Hurston wrote it, publishers wanted to put Kossula's story in "standard English" and Hurston refused, insisting the writing remain true to his dialect. It's an interesting and valuable text, operating as a sort of "reverse slave narrative" as the editor describes it.
Nicole Chung$16.95 $15.59
This was an incredibly unique memoir, unlike any I've ever read, about the author's transracial adoption. Chung was born to Korean parents in Washington, but was adopted by white parents. It asks and answers so many questions about adoption broadly and her transracial adoption specifically and the identity crises and racism she grew up experiencing. Chung writes beautifully and really gets at the heart of the matter in a way I've always been curious about.
Shirley Jackson$16.00 $14.72
I read this after watching the Netflix show by the same name, though the show was only inspired by the book and is not, beat for beat, the same story. The books tells the story of 4 individuals who descend on Hill House because they may or may not have had an encounter with the supernatural at some point and a researcher would like to figure out if Hill House is indeed haunted. We follow the main character, Eleanor, as she discovers what an evil house can do to one's psyche. This novel is a psychological thriller, so not based on gore and violence, but still terrifying and a better read than most horror books in my opinion. Definitely a good Halloween read or for general goosebump-inducing thrills. I recommend you read it with the lights on.
David Sedaris$17.99 $16.55
Believe it or not, this was the first David Sedaris book I've ever read. Sedaris is laugh out loud funny, of course, and it's amazing the way he can turn an "average" day or situation into comedy. I really love how he meaders from topic to topic; it is literally seamless as he moves from anecdote to analysis to another anecdote born from the analysis of the first, etc. I would recommend this for those looking for light reading that also makes you think about family a lot alot.
R. O. Kwon$16.00 $14.72
I was drawn to this book when I heard it was about a religious cult bombing an abortion clinic--which does happen in the last 20 pages or so-- but I wish blurbs and reviews didn't confuse something that *happens* in a book with what the book is *about.* THE INCENDIARIES is told from the perspective of Will, an apostate, who falls for Phoebe, who, still feeling guilt regarding her mother's death, is pulled into an extremist cult (is there any other kind?) I really loved how the narrator admits to piecing parts of his memory together and imagining what happened in instances he wasn't present for. There's no quotations for the dialogue, allowing for a blend of speaking and exposition that bent reality a little. My only wish was that it had been a little longer!
Eula Biss$16.00 $14.72
Winner of the Greywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, this collection of essays packs a punch. Biss has a really strong voice and does a beautiful job portraying race relations and blending different historic facts to build a single narrative. While blending/braiding seemingly unrelated events, Biss finds a thread and runs with it, adding bits of personal narrative that ties these essays all together.