Samantha Hunt$15.95 $14.67
I first read "The Seas," by Samantha Hunt, in the summer of 2019 and have been haunted by its sparse, stunning prose ever since. Think myth and fantasy meets the horribly human and mundane, a hurricane of young love to the point of neurosis in all its scaly, fleshy wonder. Is our unnamed narrator really a mermaid, as she claims to be, or is she sick? I’ve come to think that may not be the crux of the story, but rather, what stops you from believing? Prepare to be shipwrecked.
Madeline Miller$16.98 $15.62
No longer a supporting character but the protagonist of her own story, Madeline Miller’s Circe is a far cry from the succubus she is portrayed as in "The Odyssey." Rather, we are presented with the story of a woman - albeit a goddess witch woman but nonetheless a woman - and the radical liberation that lies in self-definition. For the lovers of mythology, with a contemporary, feminist twist.
Yaa Gyasi$16.95 $15.59
In Yaa Gyasi’s "Homegoing," two sisters are separated by historical circumstances - Esi captured and sold into slavery and Effia married into a family of slavers. What ensues is a multigenerational family saga that follows the descendants of the two sisters across three hundred years, from 17th century Ghana to modern day America. Because the novel is formally ambitious, each chapter representing an entire generation, you may find yourself forgetting the relationship between characters at times. No trepidation - Gyasi placed a family tree at the beginning of the novel (reminiscent of Garica Marquez’s "100 Years of Solitude"), that you can routinely go back to reference (I know I did!). To sum it up: Rich, relevant history told through breathtaking, sweeping prose.
Toni Morrison$16.00 $14.72
I’m not sure I can review Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel "Beloved" without doing it some bit of injustice. That being said, I must urge everyone everywhere to read. this. book! Morrison is a master of exploring the dark, shadowed underbelly of our history and our cultural consciousness, and specifically in regards to the legacy of slavery. Because her work is so literary, I found myself having to re-read certain passages in order to grasp and savor the meaning. But that, to me, is what makes the work so profound: the language. Morrison has essentially created her own lexicon of trauma, memory and suffering and has done so in a way that feels entirely original and distinct.
Haruki Murakami$17.00 $15.64
It took me a while to get on the Murakami train for various reasons, the primary one being his incredibly one-dimensional portrayal of female characters. (Unwarranted response: “At least he writes women characters, unlike ______ , he doesn’t even try!”) You’re not wrong. They are there, in all their sexy, mysterious, passive tortured wonder. And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed "Kafka on the Shore." Unlike the vast majority of Murakami's protagonists - men in their thirties going through some variation of a quarter-life crisis - we have a fifteen year old boy who, hilariously, has changed his name to Kafka. And while the novel stays committed to the recurrent theme of a man searching for meaning, the young age of Kafka makes this specific work particularly potent and even tender. A coming-of-age story like I’ve never read before, full of family (or lack thereof), lust, magic and a whole lot of confusion.
Delia Owens$26.00 $23.40
Ok folks, I really didn’t want to like this one. And to be fair, there are many aspects of this story I don’t love, including what felt like a one-dimensional portrayal of African American characters and a rather cliche storyline. However, the magic of "Where the Crawdads Sing" is not in its originality, but in its depiction of nature. Owens herself is a Zoologist and has worked her entire life studying animals and the environments they live in, a background that shows in her stunning depiction of the North Carolina swaplands. I truly felt like I was right there with Kya, the supposed “Marsh Girl,” paddling through moss covered canopies, collecting specimens and running and screeching with birds. A fairytale for adults. Oh, and there is a murder.
Cheryl Clarke and Audre Lorde$16.98 $15.62
“Sister, Outsider: Essays and Speeches” is an essential collection of work by the poet, activist, educator and Black feminist Audre Lorde and is, in my opinion, required reading for those committed to social change. Prepare to dog-ear pages, underline passages and meditate on meaning.
Robin Wall Kimmerer$18.00 $16.56
“Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” is the book that everyone must read, and especially right now. As a scientist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, much of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s work has explored the delicate balance between western systems of knowledge and her cultural heritage. “Braiding Sweetgrass” throws out what I consider to be our culture’s tiresome commitment to dichotomy and presents a new way of being in relation with the earth, a way that fuses western science with Indigenous practice and tradition. According to Kimmerer, there is no way to move toward an ecological and cultural sustainability without the belief in its possibility. In times like these, we have to believe that things will get better - that we will be better.
Carmen Maria Machado$16.00 $14.72
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect upon picking up Carmen Maria Machado’s “Her Body and Other Parties.” I’m not one for short stories (at least I wasn’t), nor Sci-Fi infused narratives. I think my reluctance towards short stories is that if I enjoy something, very rarely do I want it to end, and short stories are ending all the time. And Sci-Fi, well, I can’t not think of dudes in robes in space, zipping through galaxies on some primordial quest, probably destined at birth. Machado’s work is anything but. In the second story titled “Inventory,” an unnamed narrator lists all the people she has ever been intimate with as a deadly virus rampages across the nation. The first - a girl in her parent’s basement. They said they were going to find a movie to watch - “Jurassic Park,” and instead found each other’s bodies. The last - an older woman, a refugee on her way to Canada. The two stay together and become a rest stop for others fleeing the virus. One day the narrator wakes up and her partner is dead. She checks for symptoms, packs an emergency bag and rows out to an island off the coast, writing in her notebook, “I keep thinking I can see the virus blooming on the horizon like a sunrise. I realize the world will continue to turn, even with no people on it. Maybe it will go a little faster” (43). I first read “Her Body…” months before we were all sent to “shelter in place,” before we realized how naive we were to think this would not be coming for us too. Nonetheless, that last sentence gave me shivers. Machado’s writing is like a whisper or a slow, long exhalation, full of an eerie familiarity yet somehow ungraspable.
Jia Tolentino$27.00 $24.30
Some critics have taken to calling Jia Tolentino the “Susan Sontag of the Millennial Generation.” If that sounds somewhat extra, you are not wrong. Still, “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion” continues to be one of my most frequently referenced books of 2019. Tolentino has this way of writing that makes you feel like you’re gossiping with a friend but in a smart, critical, even productive way. Her genius lies in her ability to ground a larger cultural discourse in a very personal experience, making concepts such as “self-optimization” and “late-capitalist fetishwear” not only approachable, but enjoyable to read about. You may not agree with everything she has to say, but that is part of the fun, no?
Madeline Miller$16.98 $15.62
I’ve always preferred “The Odyssey” to “The Iliad” for reasons that appear obvious to me. I mean, just think about it: one poem recites the epic journey of returning to one’s home, full of mythological creatures, seduction and witchery and the other, a TEN YEAR WAR. Thus it should come to no surprise that I assumed Madeline Miller’s first novel, “The Song of Achilles,” would be inferior to her latest work “Circe.” And yet, “The Song of Achilles” has impacted me in a way that can only be described as deeply visceral. Miller’s characters are vivid, fierce and full of an intense, child-like yearning for life that reads as beautifully, (terribly), human. For folks who felt taken by the infatuated tone of Aciman's “Call Me by Your Name,” only the stakes are a bit higher. Like, death prophecy high.