Alison C. Rollins$16.00 $14.72
I've never met a librarian I didn't love, and Alison C. Rollins is no exception. This poetry collection is stunning in how it addresses and fearlessly archives topics like race, sexuality, and memory. Even while staring down the cruelties of history, Rollins' love for her field manages to shine -- each poem is written with a love of language and a deep cultural comprehension that only an archivist could have.
The Town is a broody book about (lack of) purpose, depression, disappointment, and existential ennui. It is also a book about longnecks of beer, bong hits, grocery stores, and cassette tapes. The narrator is an unnamed writer investigating disappearing towns in New South Wales -- or trying to, at least: mostly he works at a grocery store and chats with the few eccentric occupants of his own town. I could keep detailing things that happen, but... nothing really does. Characters don't change, the town's history is non-existent, and even the narrator eventually quits searching for answers. At points it's almost a slog, but it always feels purposefully so -- Prescott's mastery of tone is more important than any plot, frankly. The atmosphere is as evocative as it is oppressive, a perfect distillation of boredom and loneliness on the edge of oblivion.
Danez Smith$16.00 $14.72
You know that tweet that’s like “sometimes it's so lit that you're like wow glad i didn't kill myself six months ago?” Yeah, that’s how My Nig (that’s Homie to you) feels to read. This is black queer poetry that explores ecstasy, tenderness, vulnerability, friendship, and bong water grins. This is the poetry I never knew I needed. My Nig is burned into my gray matter like a trauma or a holy text. Read it. Love it. If it’s not for you, learn from it. If it is for you? Welcome to the best club of all time.
Donika Kelly$16.00 $14.72
Bestiary is a masterpiece, mythic and animal and all too heart-rendingly human. It is a book about traumas; it is a book about migration. And for all its sadness, Donika Kelly writes some of the best love poetry I’ve read in years. Maybe that’s because love is beastly by nature, a mish-mash of feelings, an emotional chimera. It’s complex and hard and thrilling and — I’m getting slightly carried away, this book’s just clocked me. The heart is a muscle the size of your fist, but Bestiary reminds us that it is also a labyrinth — and we are both Theseus and the minotaur.
Emily Skaja$16.00 $14.72
The cover of Brute is a portrait of Fenrir, the world-ending wolf of Norse myth, but it’s titled “Gleipnir” after the impossible ribbon that binds him and spares us his violence. This contradictory chain — mades of a fish’s breath and a bird’s spit — is nowhere near enough to hold back Emily Skaja’s rage. She is more than willing to embrace contradictions; the chains that still the wolf are whips in her hands. Skaja’s poems have shades of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. They also have shades of your high school-era breakup poetry, in the best way. They’re angry, vulnerable, confessional, and (just occasionally) darkly funny. Some will chill you to the bone, others are like watching a wildfire, but all of them will you totally shaken.
Amelia Gray$15.00 $13.80
Gutshot is a GROSS collection of short stories. It’s kinda like running full-tilt through a carnival sideshow. Amelia Gray deals heavily in flesh and its imperfections: bile, pus, viscera, and other gooey horrors spill over every page. And it’s utterly fantastic. Gray dissects the human psyche in tandem with the body, using the horrible squishiness to incite a delirium where we can understand the revelations that she yanks from the muck. With prose like an electric shock, a keen sense of humor, and a huge sack of devastating truths, Gutshot is a riveting book that I would recommend to anyone.... except, perhaps, for the squeamish.
Carmen Giménez Smith$16.00 $14.72
Be Recorder is an incandescent collection of poetry divided into three parts like a holy thing. Topics run the gamut — Smith covers stuff from Star Wars to world domination — but it was “Beasts” that made me sit and stare at a wall for a while. “Beasts” is the most gut-wrenchingly accurate portrait of life with a parent whose mind is slipping that I’ve ever encountered. I am unfortunate enough to know the experience: my entire family is afflicted by a chronic illness that makes the impermanence of memory furiously clear. This poem perfectly captures the devastating storm of feelings, the one that will eventually settle into a constant fog. Guilt, anger, and responsibility turn children into caregivers who practice a new form of love, a type that comes frightfully close to archivalship. Coping and taking inventory start to blend with time. Equally powerful whether it’s an epic poem or a manifesto on apologizing, this book is a wonder.
Morgan Parker$15.95 $14.67
This is my favorite poetry collection in recent history. Morgan Parker’s writing is as hilarious as it is devastating; so many poems feel like dirges that managed to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart (“When I drink anything / out of a martini glass / i feel untouched by / professional and sexual / rejection”). It’s a delightful love letter to black womanhood, drenched in pop culture and sealed with a kiss. Whether she’s paraphrasing Beyoncé or listing 99 problems (#36-42 are “American History”), Parker keeps it witty, relatable, and shamelessly 21st century. This is poetry with rage and joy and a hell of a lot of pride, and I for one think it’s perfect.
Brian K. Vaughan$9.99 $9.19
Plucky teens, Reagan-era rayguns, nostalgia, the fourth estate, weird sci-fi, childhood’s end, AND a mysterious language ripe for the decoding?! Sign me all the way up. Paper Girls is my personal dream come true and as close to aesthetic perfection as it is creatively possible to be, totally delightful even (ok, especially) at its weirdest and most bewildering. Friendly ribbing, era-appropriate cussing, and good ol’ fashioned adolescent rebellion make the main crew fun to follow whether or not you’re a child of the 80s, and don’t worry about it anyway! There’s more than enough time travel to go around.
Jordie Bellaire and Dan Mora$14.99 $13.79
This is the best Buffy media produced since 2001 and a spectacular update of a classic series. It has all the charm of the TV series (striking action scenes, rapid-fire dialogue, plus a hell of a lot of heart) and even addresses the flaws of its source material (the blatant disrespect for Jenny Calendar, Joss Whedon as a person, etc.) to create a sharper final product. Writer Jordie Bellaire is clearly enamored with BtVS and the excitement is infectious: I’m unrepentantly addicted to this comic. Also Willow starts the series already in touch with her queer identity as she continues her reign as “Best Teenage Witch In Media” and that’s such an inspired creative decision.
Shirley Jackson$16.00 $14.72
Shirley Jackson is a literary horror icon for a reason. She’s unrivaled in her mastery of terror, the delightfully unpleasant anxious feeling that you get leading up to real horror. Her stories are drawn from her own experiences as a housewife in the 20th century: the protagonists are frequently smart women who are forced into silence or otherwise subjugated by inescapable societal cruelty. Arguably her most famous work, “The Lottery,” combines that recurring casual violence with mob mentality and a blind devotion to outdated ritual, and the result is so creepily unique that it’s taught in schools. My favorite thing about Jackson’s writing, though, is how she crafts sentences like cathedrals. Each one is unhurried, unfussy, and drenched in carefully selected adjectives. The words she leaves unsaid are as vital as those on the page; her carefully placed semicolons can do the emotional heavy-lifting of paragraphs and spark that hyperspecific anxiety — you know, the one you feel when someone is obviously judging and condescending to you with a fake smile. So trust me, “The Lottery” deserves to be taught in schools. Read it once and you’ll understand why. Read it twice and who knows what you’ll understand?
Anyone with any knowledge about folklore can tell you: cuisine reflects culture. We are what we eat. In that sense, The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery is as much chronicle as cookbook. Every recipe, from whole hogs to “potato candy,” speaks volumes about the trials and tribulations of Appalachian life. Poverty clearly didn’t dampen the human creative spirit; this book is full of joy and an infectious love for life. I can’t recommend it enough to everybody interested in foodways, memory, or good ol’ down home southern cooking.