From the Lit Director Desk: What I’m Reading

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IMG_9937I’ve been to some very cold places this year in the name of books. 

 

The beginning of February saw me return from one book conference in time to promptly turn around and fly out to another book conference. I had just enough time to empty my suitcase of one load of books and make room for another. (Pity me, I know. Play the world’s smallest violins. My dishes were dirty for weeks! The cat did not learn how to do laundry in my absence!)

The great thing about flying in airplanes is that I’m too terrified to look out the window (the ground is so far away) or into the faces of my fellow passengers (which one of these people will be the one to fix the mask over my face when this steel machine goes down???) so I keep my head down and read. And drink tiny little bottles of airplane wine. And hope for the best. I read quite a lot this month. Here are a few of the books that stood out to me. There have been tons of great new books to read and 2017 has barely begun. Get to a bookstore! Browse around! There are good books afoot!

 

right way to be

The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked: The Fiction of Disability
edited by Sheila Black, Michael Northen and Annabelle Hayse

Available now! // Cinco Puntos Press

I’m so grateful to Cinco Puntos Press for sending this beautiful anthology my way. Twenty-seven writers present stories about “disability” in all ways the word can be defined. This is the first time – the first time – that short fiction by writers with disabilities, featuring disabled characters, has been anthologized. In addition to unfolding underrepresented perspectives, this book is just chock full of beautiful, lyrical writing. I am mesmerized, story to story. I’m a fan of anthologies in general and love being able to flip between a panoply of voices and styles between two covers. I’m thrilled to have this collection on my shelf.

 

kintu

Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
On sale May 16 // Transit Books

I’ve just begun this sweeping story of family, inheritance and history by Ugandan novelist and short story writer Makumbi. Longlisted for the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Debut African Fiction, Transit Books is publishing this debut novel in the US in May. Moving through time, it follows the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan across generations. I’m really getting into the layers of Kintu Kidda’s journey and family life early on in the book, in the section set in 1750 in Buddu Province, Buganda. The tension of ritual, of tradition adhered to, subverted and manipulated, runs through Kintu’s large family and underscores the violent political turmoil incited by the region’s royalty. The ways in which the characters are bound to one another by blood, tradition, social norms, expectation, love and friendship create a rich and engaging emotional plot. There’s a lot more of this story to come, which is amazing, because Makumbi has already packed so much into the first 100 pages. This book already feels like several novels in one.

 

we are never meeting

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby
On sale May 30 // Vintage

Hallelujah, all praise be, our year is saved thanks to Samantha Irby. This collection of ab-so-lute-ly hilarious essays reads like a long, wine-laced night with the good friend with whom you can discuss all of your totally honest and unpopular opinions about sex, life, love, mental health, aging, family, money, work, and being alive in a seriously less-than-perfect world. Irby is by turns irascible and endearing, self-deprecating and self-assured. In fashioning herself as an anti-hero with a penchant for cheap and dirty meals, doomed relationships and a happy life of cranky spinsterhood, Irby cracks sharp jokes with one hand while revealing poignant emotional vulnerability with the other. I don’t know whether or not it’s a good idea to glean dating advice from this book, but, I have to say, I have found her stories of romance and relationship-building both informative and reassuring. (Date someone who is the opposite of you, that person will know how to pack real road trip snacks; I will remember this advice forever.) If you’re shy and prefer to avoid attention in public, do not read this book outside of your home. You will laugh out loud, a lot, and people will look at you. I also do not recommend attempting to read this book at the gym. Especially don’t try to read the essay about exercising while you are trying to exercise. Take it from me: you cannot laugh this hard and elliptical at the same time. Samantha Irby is also the author of the essay collection Meaty and writes this blog over here.

 

goodbye vitamin

Goodbye Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong
On Sale July 11 // Henry Holt and Co.

I ate this book right up. Yes, it has a tremendous cover, a cover that, at thirty-almost-six years old, intimidated me just a smidge. Am I hip enough to read this book?! Embrace the lemons, my friends, and get to page one, because you’ll forget yourself and be hooked straight away. This book is all humor and big, big heart. Told in dated entries that begin on December 26, it’s the story of Ruth Young, a thirty year old woman recovering from major heartbreak in her parents’ home, where she stays on after Christmas to help her mother manage her father’s rapidly developing Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s and broken hearts sound like a hoot, I know, but I promise, Khong delivers the hard stuff of heartache and health in memorable characters and tender, hilarious situations. This book has some of that oddball Miranda July dark humor I enjoy, with notes of Palahniuk’s ‘broken humans in extreme but somehow functioning and believable circumstances’ style, along with some deadpan emotional lines that punched me right in my Amy Hempel heart. As Ruth comes to terms with her parents’ marriage, her relationship with her father and family, and her own messy emotions, the story lifts right off the page and soars with hope. Khong was executive editor of Lucky Peach and is also the author of All About Eggs: Everything We Know About the World’s Most Important Food. This book will be called the perfect summer read, because it comes out in July, but, I promise, you’ll love it any time of year.

 

abandon-me separation-kitamura dear-friend

New Books On Shelves Now That I Really Enjoyed:

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker
A Separation
 by Katie Kitamura
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
Why I Am Not A Feminist by Jessica Crispin
Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

 

exit-west all-grown-up sorry to disrupt the peace

Books to Look for in March: 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
White Tears by Hari Kunzru
South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Wait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace : A Novel by Patty Yumi Cottrell
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hanna Tinti