From the Lit Director Desk: What I’m Reading

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FullSizeRender (11)(Getting the hard work done.)

 

Greetings from the new year! I’ve been busy powering through my early 2017 reading list while I start to get things up and running for this year’s Festival. (This year’s Texas Book Festival takes place November 4-5 here in Austin.) Here’s a quick look at the books that have stuck to the top of my pile. They all come out in The Future, which isn’t always convenient for those of us who live in The Now, so I’ve also put together a quick list of books to look for this month, as well as new books that have recently hit shelves.

 

what it means

What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
(Riverhead, April 4)

Sharp and surprising, fantastic and dark, human and heartbreaking, this debut collection by Lesley Nneka Arimah is a must-add to your short fiction list this year. Arimah covers a lot of ground in these stories, digging into the tension of parent-child relationships (particularly mothers and daughters), the hollows of loss, and the small ways in which we move forward, sometimes with hope and sometimes not. Elements of magical realism drift through this collection, creating a world in which human babies begin as handmade bundles of found material and a dead mother steps out of a photograph and back into life. I was met with the unexpected, story after story, page after page. I loved every minute of reading this book.

 

salt-houses

Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2)

I’m about halfway through this absorbing story by Palestinian-American poet and debut novelist Hala Alyan. Opening with the wedding of Alia in 1967, the novel tells the story of a Palestinian family over the course of generations, beginning with the Six Day War, as they’re uprooted physically and emotionally by political violence. This is the book I’m itching to stop everything and read during those awful moments when I’m forced to do other things like go to work and talk to humans. Alyan’s well-drawn characters are a personal, poignant lens on the effects of the long conflict, presenting history in its human details; a New Year’s celebration underpinned by dread, marital spats grown out of the grief of unspoken tragedy, children born into a word changed in manners they don’t even know. Alyan’s attention to visual detail underscores the poignant emotional tension of the story, creating a world I can feel in all senses. Beautifully done. I can’t wait to finish this blog post and read more.

 

the rules do not apply

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
(Random House, March 2017)

I started reading this memoir with many plans on deck for that day; now, hours later, the dishes weren’t done, I was still in my pajamas, and I’d wholly consumed this story, cover to cover. Levy writes of being a woman in her late thirties who has proudly built an unconventional life as a globe-trotting journalist and wife, only to watch the elements of her security and success come apart in perfectly human ways she did not expect. The consequences of presumption underscore each chapter; the presumption that a marriage built on love will survive unscathed; the presumption that you can have everything you set out to want in life and not expect to want more; the presumption that a life carefully and joyfully planned will play out precisely according to script. When presumptions fail, then what? The writing is sharp and vibrant (Levy is a journalist) and swept me right along. This book is recommended for anyone staring at the rest of her life, whatever joys and tragedies may lay in her wake, and wondering, What could possibly come next?

 

sing-unburied-sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
(Scribner, September 2017)

This novel absolutely blew me away. Jesmyn Ward is the author of the 2011 National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones, the memoir The Men We Reaped, and is the editor of the 2016 essay collection, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race. Sing, Unburied, Sing is her first novel since winning the National Book Award. It’s been at the top of my most-anticipated books of 2017. Ward is a phenomenal writer with a classic style. Each sentence in this novel feels forged from the blood and dirt of the human heart, visceral and precise, vital and inevitable. Chapters alternate perspective between Jojo, a boy coming of age on his grandparents’ farm in Mississippi, and his mother, Leonie, whose drug addiction pitches the family into a steady thrum of danger that ratchets up page by page. I loved this book, even during scenes when the tension was excruciating. I held my breath for Jojo, for his two year old sister, Kayla, for their grandfather, for Leonie. Ward weaves tremendous tenderness in with the tension, binding the family in deep love and haunting history. Supernatural elements sew their generations together, dissolving time and lighting up the long effects of racism, incarceration and grief. As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to discuss Sing, Unburied, Sing with someone. An unforgettable story, told in unforgettable writing. I wish it was September so we could all get together and talk about this book together right now.

 

Books to look for in February

the refugees more-beautiful-beyonce abandon-me

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker
A Separation
 by Katie Kitamura
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward

 

New Books Out Now To Keep On Your Radar

selection day lucky boy history-of-wolves

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Selection Day by Aravind Adiga
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller
Human Acts by Han Kang
My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King