This weird Russian novel imagines humanity some 200 years after the cataclysmic Blast. Slapstick but cynical, Tolstaya writes like Bolaño, but a Bolaño tripping balls on LSD instead of heroin - they share a sentimental nihilism, or a precise tossed-offedness. In other words, instead of lists of dead girls, we get straight-faced descriptions of people's post-nuclear Consequences, like nostrils sprouted on knees and extra legs. This book is hilarious and tragic, bizarre and bizarrely moving. (There is, I think, a little Benedikt in all of us.)
Much like her films, My Mother Laughs breathes Akerman's day-to-day, rooting itself in the deterioration of her mother. It's a crushing love story, brief in length but nails its impact on how toxic a relationship can become, and how we retaliate. I felt ambushed with questions on how we metabolize an abusive relationship, how do we let our guard down when the ones closest to us are only honest, and felt burnt at how similar her relationship was with her sister was with mine. My Mother Laughs humanizes Chantal.
I’ve heard surfers praise Barbarian Days for capturing else the joys and sorrows of surfing—its “special brand of monomania,” to use Finnegan’s phrase—better than anything else. To this non-surfer, Finnegan’s account of life in and out of the water is vivid and precise—whether on fellow surfers’ styles, etiquette in the water, his own wanderlust, or the slow work of growing up—and as propulsive as any of the waves he rides. Surf’s up.
Most "funny" books cause me to literally lol not at all. This one did, a lot.
Growing up wasn't easy for Mantel. A dreary northern English village whose people are so accustomed to disappointment that if they found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow they'd say "Call that a pot? Call that a rainbow?", a Catholic family so predisposed against Protestants it considers them a different species, and a medical establishment so obtuse and sexist that it failed to diagnose Mantel's life-threatening endometriosis for over a decade provide the backdrop for this searingly honest memoir, punctuated with reflections on writing, medieval history, fatness, ugliness, and regret.
In this harrowing and hilarious memoir of growing up mixed race and gay in 90s Los Angeles, Myriam Gurba tackles difficult subject matter—sexual assault, survivor's guilt, the casual violence and racism of America—with a razor-sharp sensitivity and disarming black humor that will make you laugh despite yourself, right before your throat starts to close up. She articulates the unspeakable and impossible again and again with a biting, deadpan, and somehow perfect prose. Like when she describes white people's houses as smelling "...sour and not very alive. Like a phonebook." And since we have yet to find a replacement tome to mail to every house in America, maybe we should try this book.
The first book of Calvin Trillin's published after the death of his wife carries the dedication "I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice." About Alice is the longform version of that exactly perfect two-line love letter.
Hilarious and deep, basically Trevor Noah in print. Take a deep dive into South African history, contemporary culture, as well as the deep complexities of colonization and religion, domestic violence, and race, all in Trevor's voice, with his own personal outrageous life stories to boot. I laughed. I cried. Literally. A quick but, thoughtful read.
I don't know anything about giving birth -- but I do know a funny, human and honest book when I read one. This is one of those.
New York-residing Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt was home in Copenhagen visiting family when she learned her 25-year-old son had taken mushrooms, had a bad trip, and thrown himself out a window. He died. This is her book about losing her son. Aidt writes this book in fragments, because grief itself is fragmented. She uses repetition and grammar like a poet, because grief, like ghosts, are constantly repeating , happening back upon themselves, defying langauge and rational thought. This is a book in the vein of Maggie Nelson and Anne Carson, about greif in its most naked, feverish form.
Taylor began writing this book as she was extremely ill with melanoma, suspecting that it would be the last book she would write. It was. She passed away shortly before Dying was published in 2016, and it is one of the most astonishing books you will ever read. Clear-eyed, unsentimental, incredibly wise, Dying is not really about death at all. Or, it is, but it's about the ways that death is no real tragedy - we are all bodies, we are all yoked to the passage of time, we will all pass from life and our consciousness cease, but we are not so very different from the birds and the leaves and the light, all of us permeable to the world.
This is a book about an abortion, by a woman who deserves the Nobel Prize in Literature, and all the other prizes for Literature. It is difficult to write, let alone speak, about abortions. Women tend not to - an abortion is, after all, the most intensely private experience you will ever have. But when I made that decision, at twenty-two, afraid and alone, I wish I could have had this book at hand, just so I might have felt that that intensely personal fear and loneliness was shared by other young women, everywhere, throughout history, without having to say anything to anyone at all.
Like Joan Didion or Renata Adler, Ben Lerner or Sally Rooney, Anna Wiener writes with dead-on specificity, scalpel-sharp analysis, deep sensitivity, and an eye for the absurd. She headed west into the modern gold rush that is the tech boom and now returns with gleaming ingots of insight, telling tales of a strange land where boy-CEOs ride ripsticks and hoover up your data.
I found this cowgirl memoir in a tiny used bookstore in Flagstaff, Arizona, and it is one of my most treasured unearthed masterpieces. Morley Cleaveland's memoir details her childhood in frontier-era New Mexico, before the Wild West was but a myth. And the wild west was what Morley Cleaveland actually lived - outlaws on her doorstep, gunfights, bear chases, lonely canyons, cattle wrangling, and murder. I was drunk on the words of this bygone cowgirl - unrepentant, strange, unladylike - a woman who dated the death of the frontier to the invention of barbed wire and the birth of the John Wayne Western.
Lucas Mann proves in Captive Audience that you can be sincere and intellectually rigorous about the parts of everyday life most punters would just write off as trivial. This gorgeous book is part love letter, part meditation on ‘reality,’ and part defense of watching television. Because the everyday of just, like, hanging out and watching TV with one’s partner, is what gives our lives shape, and it’s in the habits of the everday that the real texture of our love for another person is formed.
Davide Enia rightly believes that only its protagonists - the millions of people crossing deserts and seas in search for a better life - will be able to tell the story of the great migration that is changing the face of Europe. What he offers in the meantime, though, is equally necessary: by blending reportage from the Italian island of Lampedusa, Europe's southernmost point, with the story of the relationship with his father, Enia brings the enormity of the refugee crisis back to human proportions without losing any of its complexity. The questions posed by this book with raw, unsettling force go to the very heart of our civilization, showing both its corruption and possibility of redemption.
Written by the youngest and only female winner of the annual Mongol Derby - a long and Kafkaesque journey across the Mongolian Steppe on 25 different horses - this book is one of the most astonishing I've ever read about the relationship of humans to animals. For any former Horse Girl, and anyone weary of books that interest themselves only in navel-gazing human concerns, I promise you will not be able to put this down, you will, as I did, miss subway stops and leave parties early to finish it.
Vera Brittain grew up, got into Oxford, fell in love, and then World War One began. So she dropped out of Oxford, trained as a nurse, and she went to war. I read this memoir in the wake of the 2016 election, and it was exactly what I needed - this is the perfect depiction of what it’s like to live in a time of calamity when you’ve believed in the easy promises of your life up until now, and what it’s like to keep going when you fear that the thread of meaning has resolutely frayed. Give this to the proto-revolutionaries in your life, woke and thoughtful women, progressives gearing up for the battle.
Finding herself divorced and unhomed at age fifty, writer Deborah Levy finds herself reassessing her life. In prose both beautiful and elliptical, she uses this book to begin engaging with the ideas Simone de Beauvoir first posed in The Second Sex: how to reconcile a life of love and sex and desire with intellectual liberty when you're a woman. What Levy has produced is something like A Room of One's Own for the 21st century, a manifesto on women's work. More than any other book this year, The Cost of Living has lingered with me : it is the book I have most often gifted the women in my life, and which I would most want to have gifted to me.
French sociologist Dider Eribon turns his gaze on his own childhood in this incredible, beautiful book, part memoir and part political philosophy. Eribon, who grew up gay and bookish in a working class French family which, once proudly communist, have deserted the left for the nationalist far right, examines the social consequences of late 20th century capitalist realism on the working classes, insisting on the importance of thinking about class if we want to understand the chaos of the present moment. It sounds heavy-going, but Returning to Reims has all the urgency of an addiction - I inhaled the whole thing in two subway rides.
This is a beautiful memoir by one of my favorite novelists. Moving from a rural childhood to a life as member of Castro’s revolutionary army to detailed accounts of the Cuban literati and finally transitioning to a struggle against the plague of New York City in the 80’s - always with a poet’s eye. Throughout these radical transitions Arenas consistently writes and has sex...lots of sex. Even while fleeing the agents of Fidel who chase him into the woods he finds a way to cavort with hot young Cuban men and rewrite seized novels. Sodomy, war, Castro, this is a great gateway drug for his lengthy, beautiful, novels.
Do yourself the favor. It's a uniquely American epic following X from childhood church pews to Harlem hustling and all the way to Mecca. It's compulsively readable and as relevant as ever.
A profound work. Little did we know in the ‘80s sitting around dorm rooms and stuffy basements discussing literature and the meaning of life, philosophers, sociology, punk rock, feminism, the racial; or in the '90s at “sex parties” and techno clubs in the East Village, that Nelson’s work, re: 2015, was our bible, as now, for many. Transformative; of parental undergrounds. Sexual self-determination and freedom. Spiritual self-actualization. Love, baby, love. The most important (and best) book I've read since Bolaño's 2666.
Smart is a literary saint of heartsick, conveying biblical psalms and gothic psychosomatics forward in time to the Smiths and their best executors. Her one and only masterpiece enacts an open diarism without incident, a private practice of style-for-survival; should its haughty loft and sacrificial ardor strike you maudlin, perhaps you are not obsessing over someone enough.
Three seamy, essential memoirs from the most reliable unreliable narrator of our time, and a time capsule of queer and literary becoming. There's something of a lovable Confidence Man about the narrator 'Kevin Killian,' something that enables wild digression, ribaldry, auto-embarrassment, and reinvention, and this collection marks a great occasion to get acquainted with his tell-all generosity of spirit.
"I was born in 1881 at Winnepeg (sic), in Canada. Whether Winnepeg will yet live to be proud of this fact is a matter for some conjecture and anxiety on my part." At nineteen, avowed Satanist and would-be libertine MacLane was already too voracious for her childhood environs; the "devil's workshop" of her journals forms a phrase-for-phrase indelible retort to this indifferent landscape and a timely social circumscription both. Precocious, quotable, sometimes wonderfully quaint: a book of escapist prayers for prairie queers.
So emotionally suspenseful that many times while reading I realized I had stopped breathing and had to hastily suck in air. I can't say for sure how, but "the drunkenness of return" will affect you, too.
The ultimate mid-century American road-trip book, written by one of the smartest women who ever lived. Simone de Beauvoir arrives in New York in the winter of 1947, and for the next few months she travels by plane and train and Greyhound across the country and back again, smoking weed at the Plaza, gambling in Reno, falling in love with Nelson Algren in a Chicago dive bar, keeping a faithful diary the whole way. Sometimes it's an outsider who can best capture all there is to love and hate in this weird and vast and beautiful country, and I've never known anyone to do it as well as Simone de Beauvoir.
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. Poetic, poignant, full of grace. Honest, moving, funny, unapologetic and yet deeply humble. Perry paints an incredible portrait of black motherhood, and of the complexities and beauties of being black in America. Tackling faith, Blackness, Americanness, gender, passion, striving, identity, being, and becoming, processing questions all of us have had to work through as we find our place in the world. It will surely be a gift to you.