Essays & Creative Nonfiction
Searing, brilliant, true: Poetry and essay conjoined at the heart. Threaded through with powerful art by Carrie Mae Weems, Wangechi Mutu, John Lucas, and others, Citizen becomes artifact and evidence as Rankineconfronts the trope of racial invisibility imbedded in our "shared" history, language, and culture. Whether channeling the broken voices of Hurricane Katrina survivors, or unpacking the ubiquitous, casual racism of white "peers," there's a pervasive sense of incredulity, always and forever choked by reality: "Did I hear what I think I heard? Did that just come out of my mouth, his mouth, your mouth?" Rankine realizes, "The world is wrong. You can't put the past behind you. It's buried in you; it's turned your flesh into its own cupboard." Despite being embalmed in an acid bath of racism, we fugitive citizens stumble on.
Feeling a bit blue, you wander through the family attic. You discover a cerulean chest, adorned with fiery blue opals, awaiting your open sesame. Tentatively raising the lid, you're blinded with wonder. The chest is overflowing with blue: glorious, wild, lunatic blue; blue objects; blue language; blue attributes and allusions; the emergence and evolution of blue; aesthetic theories of color, filtered through blue; celestial and spiritual blues; sexually charged blue humor; insinuations of blue sex in literature (Flaubert, Colette, Barth, Proust); our meager sexual vocabulary measured against the breadth of blue; blue shaping our intimate encounters, dreams, nightmares; our singular identity and the inevitable interiority of blue. You savor the Gassian lists and litany: Greek philosophers parsing perception and boundaries; poets, painters performing blue; blue in Christian iconography, history, war. At the bottom of all this blue, you rescue a slim, blue book: On Being Blue: A Philosophical Enquiry; you're dazed, vertiginous, transformed by the spell of blue; you hallucinate the storm blue eyes of William Gass; you caress the book with your blue stained fingers, chanting relentless, obsessive, incantatory allegiance to blue.
Funny, honest, and raw. These sexy and sext-y essays lay bare the kinds of melancholy, insecurity, obsession, and kink we all feel but try desperately to hide. So be sad, but don’t be shy.
Future Sex brings together a number of essays about contemporary American sexuality - ranging from polyamory, Chaturbate, Burning Man, the normalization of dating apps, the ubiquity of internet porn and the underwhelming state of birth control. Witt's writing, like Joan Didion or Eula Biss, uses her personal experience as a lens to examine what it's like to be alive and desiring, and uncertain about how that lines up with the technologies and conditions at hand. Future Sex is, I think, the best book published about contemporary sexuality in recent memory.
Maybe the best essay collection published this year, Meghan O'Gieblyn has been touted as the Didion of the Midwest, and yes, that is accurate. Here are essays about life in Flyover Country, about the 'Pure' in Pure Michigan, the history of Christian Rock, losing faith when faith is all you've ever had, and finding echoes of Christian eschatology in the logic of transhumanism, depressed and alone and drinking too much in dank Chicago dive bars at three in the morning.
I love Berger for his curiosity and his generosity, for the wholeness of his vision (aesthetic, political, moral—the three are often one and the same). Reading him has been clarifying and comforting at a time when clarity and comfort have been hard to find.
Little Labors is a wry, lovingly-assembled miscellany of fragments, essays, and aphorisms about motherhood. Inspired by Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book, it is not quite a novel or an essay or a diary, so much as a side-ways examination of children and mothering,gorgeous and quiet, a perfect subway read, a book that lingers in your mind long after you've closed its covers.
On Immunity is broadly about the anti-vaccination movement and Biss' feelings about it as a new mother, but it's one of those books which is really about America, about protection, metaphor and how we behave as individuals when our communities feel under siege. More to the point, it feels more potently relevant and necessary than it did two years ago when I first read it. It's the kind of book that stays with you long afterwards, growing roots. Eula Biss is one of the best non-fiction writers working today — like Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, her thinking is sharp and precise, but her prose is creative and lyrical and moves in the same kind of cross-genre loops as Maggie Nelson and Anne Carson.
book is one of the few I always return to when I am finding this city difficult to love.
This gorgeous book is a philosophical exploration of topics described in the title, flitting between characters and incidents as various as Captain Cook, shark researchers, and schizophrenic surfers paddling out to sea. McCarthy, who is the chief obituary reviewer of the International Necronautical Society, a group whose goal is to “bring death out into the world,” came to sharks and surfing by writing obituaries of surfers, and thus, of the sharks that sometimes kill them. Her disparate narratives are connected by the themes and feelings central to surfing: balance, slippage, misdirection. Thus, she disorients us, lulls us. Reading this book feels just like being at sea, the unknown lurking below our sight, epithany always accompanied by the threat of calamity. Or, in a direct quote from the book, “We all realize that the chances of being taken by a shark are exceedingly remote, but it is the horror of having chunks bitten from one’s body while still alive which evokes fear out of all proportion to the actual danger.”
Morgan Jerkins is a new writer to watch out for. Her first collection of essays examines, with compassion and bravery, her experience of black womanhood and its broader political and historical context.
When I finished Calypso I told Twitter that if David Sedaris didn't get a National Book Award nod I would burn the bookstore and its surrounding environs down. The awards came and went last night with no mention of him (I'm real happy for you Jeffrey C Stewart and imma let you finish but) and I have managed to not commit a single act of arson in response which I think we can all agree is a real sign of personal growth for ya girl here. Sedaris has gotten a lot from being a known commodity, including the sprawling family beach house he named The Sea Section that connects all the essays in this collection, but being universally acknowledged as a comedic genius is getting him overlooked as an actual genius (a pain I am all too familiar with). Calypso is Actual Genius.
Shapton writes about being good at swimming but wanting to be great at it, which transfers to being an artist or a writer, or frankly, a human being. If you are in love with the person you want to be, but aren't there yet, this book is for you.
Take a break from the daily assault of the news by revisiting the cognitive horrors of the Bush era. Shepard takes on American mythology and complicity by deconstructing some of our most popular films. A cynical but realistic look on the values that got us to the 21st century.
— Jacob S.
At once a completely heart-wrenching exploration of the current child migration crisis sweeping across the North American continent and into the heart of this city, but also a masterclass for writers in new, exciting things you can do with an essay. Nothing has captured for me precisely how hard it is to come to this country - all the griefs and humiliation and loss - and all the reasons why you'll do everything you can to stay once you're here.
The Red Parts is a reissue of Maggie Nelson's memoir about the murder of her aunt in the 1960's and the reopening of the case almost fifty years later. This is true crime written with the lyrical precision of a poet, combining personal memoir, psychoanalysis and the kind of excruciatingly beautiful writing only Nelson can offer. I defy you to read The Red Parts without weeping.
This book-length essay presents a fretful picture of our personal relationships to the climate as it changes around us. Hildyard proposes the idea that in addition to our flesh-and-blood bodies, we each possess a second body, one which is part of a shared climate-catastrophe-causing mass, dispersed across the globe. Culminating in a flood that upends the writers' entire life, Hildyard writes, “My second body came to find my first body when the river flooded my house.” For any of us who are waiting for the flood to come find us.
Were T.S. Eliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald misogynists or were they just overwhelmed? You tell me.
His best work was always the Atlantic essays. Here, ‘Reparations,’ the ‘White President’ afterword, an essay on Michelle, and his obsession with Civil War (corrective) history. The weakness of what should be the centerpiece — the incarceration of black men essay — almost derails the entire book. But his point-of-view is so direct, powerful, and meaningful, that it incinerates any hard shell of prosaic or logic bloat. You have to read this brother even when he’s lost narratively. America should.
In a series of vignettes, Vivian Gornick reflects upon her years of walking New York City. Brief encounters and long relationships are captured by her deft, intelligent writing.
— Jacob S.
Anne Boyer’s The Undying is not for the light-hearted. We are taken on a journey with Anne as she undergoes treatment for her triple-negative breast cancer. She is interrogating the pharmaceutical industry, new age cancer remedies, and the idea of morality. I was upset, scared, and grateful for her authenticity in this powerful and moving memoir. It is not a book about suffering. In recent years I’ve had both parents go through several forms of treatment for cancer, and reading this has oddly provided me with warmth, as in love that I needed to give my parents during their time of need and tenderness that I didn’t allow myself to give to others or myself.
While Calvino never saw the "next millennium," the literary values advocated for here - lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity - are more pertinent than ever before. A spellbinding investigation of the power and magic of literature; a prodigious hymn to its indispensability.
"Micro" philosophical non-fiction of sorts, a most awesome summer read for the beach. Culturally reflective sexuality and "old" south Appalachian mores. Blanchfield's shit is fun and indecipherable, of literary futures.
A book-length essay about essays, part critical appreciation for writers like Susan Sontag and Elizabeth Hardwick and Walter Benjamin, and partly an ode to the essence of a weird and tricky genre. This is a book about the way people like me - and probably you - live our lives through books, the way we turn to words for consolation, a manifesto for bibliophiles, the melancholy, and all writers-at-heart.
An expressionistic examination, through the prism of Morrison's own prose, into the origins of the American sense of Other. On the befuddling 19th century romanticism of the slave, becoming (or unbecoming) the Stranger, the fetish of race, side configurations of "blackness", and a heartbreaking tale of slave infanticide.
No collection of essays I have ever read has made me care or feel for the subjects like the ones in this book. Abdurraqib can enthrall you with a single sentence, whether he's describing the glory of Prince or the scrappiness of the emo kids from Ohio he grew up with. There is so much I want to say about this book, about its tenderness, about its passion, but any summary would not do it justice. Read an essay, any essay in here, and try to not to feel the pain and grace he manages to tuck inside every single word.
Paula Modersohn-Becker was the first woman to ever a paint a naked self-portrait. She was a friend of Rilke’s, an expressionist before expressionism, and she died giving birth at the age of 32. I knew none of that when I started reading this book, I had never heard of Paula Modersohn-Becker, and this book expects that you haven’t either. That’s part of the point. Being Here Is Everything is about the experience of being a female artist, more particularly, it’s about how your work interacts with your relationships and your body, especially your fertility. I want to thrust this into the hands of every female artist and writer who comes into this store, and every man who is in a relationship with one. You will rarely have read anything that feels so vital.
Dreams, journal entries, newspaper clippings, and local lore are reformatted from prose to verse as Maggie Nelson investigates the life (and death) of her aunt Jane. The end result is a new genre: the true crime epic poem memoir. Are there more books in this genre? Maybe not. But I promise you'll want to read this book more than once.
Most of the voice-over narration of the new Baldwin doc is lifted from this, a sustained rumination on film and how it crystallizes, refracts and reproduces panic regarding race, gender and sexuality: "I doubt that Americans will ever be able to face the fact that the word, homosexual, is not a noun. The root of this word, as Americans use it - or, as this word uses Americans - simply involves a terror of any human touch, since any human touch can change you. A black man and a white man can come together only in the absence of women; which is, simply, the American legend of masculinity brought to its highest pressure, and revealed, as it were, in black and white."