2017

10 books
  • If Not, Winter

    Sappho, translated by Anne Carson

    Image of If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho

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  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle

    Angela Y Davis

    Image of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement

    This slim collection of interviews and speeches covers some similar ideas in different contexts, and while I had a little wish that these had been reworked into one super essay, it’s also no big deal to revisit comparable concepts a few times when they are so significant. Plus it’s fascinating to get a sense of how Angela Davis structures a talk. A preeminent scholar, activist, and general bad-ass person, the connections she makes between the protests in Ferguson in 2014 (and on) with the ongoing fight of the Palestinian people are crucial. It’s not just that the systems of oppression are alike, but that the militarism of the police forces in the US overall is directly tied to the...more

  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing

    Madeleine Thien

    Image of Do Not Say We Have Nothing: A Novel

    What was a zero anyway? A zero signified nothing, all it did was tell you nothing about nothing. Still, wasn’t zero also something meaningful, a number in and of itself? In jianpu notation, zero indicated a caesura, a pause or rest of indeterminate length. Did time that went uncounted, unrecorded, still qualify as time? If zero was both everything and nothing, did an empty life have exactly the same weight as a full life? Was zero like the desert, both finite and infinite?

    A sprawling novel centered around two generations of an extended family — two closely connected families, really — from the oppression of China’s Cultural Revolution through the violence of the student protests in 1989 into the modern day where some characters...more

  • Things We Lost in the Fire

    Mariana Enríquez

    Image of Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories

    Beautifully eerie stories set across Argentina pairing the darkness of modern life, with its extreme poverty, violence, and crime, to the murkiness of otherworldly terrors. It’s been almost two months since I read this collection, and it has stuck with me in a way that I know I will want to read this again. Strangely the only story that didn’t grab me is the eponymous “Things We Lost in the Fire,” in which women self-immolate to protect themselves from domestic violence. But having loved the rest of the book, maybe I read it in an off moment and will see it differently on a re-read.

    This is the first book of Enríquez’s to be translated to English, and I hope...more

  • 300 Arguments

    Sarah Manguso

    Image of 300 Arguments: Essays

    The premise of this slim offering is contained in one of the 300 snippets: “Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” While I definitely found some quotable moments in the quotable passages (which is kind of funny!), it didn’t really work for me as a book; it just didn’t feel crafted. Some of the “arguments” are funny or sardonic, some feel rather profound, while others strike me as throwaways. The trouble is the ones that do sound like a long book’s quotable passages just beg for the rest of the book, and the rest are fragments for the sake of the premise.

    This one suggests it...more

  • Amiable with Big Teeth

    Claude McKay

    Image of Amiable with Big Teeth (A Penguin Classics Hardcover)

    The back story of how this novel came to be published is fascinating: originally written and edited in 1941, it was never published and was essentially lost in the archives until a graduate student at Columbia University found a copy of an essentially finished manuscript among the papers of another writer in 2009. The New York Times reported on this discovery and the process to authenticate the manuscript in 2012. Now finally the book has made it into print.

    Amiable with Big Teeth captures a later point in Harlem’s Renaissance, at the time when Ethiopia was invaded by Italian fascists. It’s a satirical look at the political maneuverings of activist groups and differing perspectives of race and class relations,...more

  • Fugitive Pieces

    Anne Michaels

    Image of Fugitive Pieces: A Novel

    The shadow past is shaped by everything that never happened. Invisible, it melts the present like rain through karst. A biography of longing. It steers us like magnetism, a spirit torque. This is how one becomes undone by a smell, a word, a place, the photo of a mountain of shoes. By love that closes its mouth before calling a name.
             I did not witness the most important events of my life. My deepest story must be told by a blind man, a prisoner of sound. From behind a wall, from underground. From the corner of a small house on a small island that juts like a bone from the skin of the sea.

    While I was reading...more

  • Brown Girl Dreaming

    Jacqueline Woodson

    Image of Brown Girl Dreaming (Newbery Honor Book)

    Memoir in verse, telling the stories of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood. The poems impart an impressionistic narrative, focused more on the small moments amidst the larger transitions — like the end of her parents’ relationship, moving with her mother and siblings to her grandparents’ home in Greenville, SC, then moving again to Brooklyn — and on the gradual development of Woodson’s path to becoming a writer. Since it’s written from her perspective as a child, it’s published as a middle reader book, but it’s a beautifully rich experience for grown-up readers too.

    Writing #1

    It’s easier to make up stories

    than it is to write them down. When I speak,

    the words come pouring out of me. The story

    wakes

    ...more
  • By Blood

    Ellen Ullman

    Image of By Blood: A Novel

    A disgraced college professor moves to San Francisco in the late summer of 1974 while his school investigates him for an inappropriate relationship with a student. Hoping to work on a series lectures during his exile, he rents the cheapest office he can find and describes a dreary building with “begrimed gargoyles crouched beneath the parapet, their eyes eaten away by time.” In the marble lobby, the elevators are overseen by bronze cherubs whose eyes circle to watch the cars rising and falling. The floors are inhabited by an array of tenants behind frosted glass doors, and he settles in to begin working. After a couple weeks, he arrives to find a new whirring noise and discovers he rented the...more

  • Southland

    Nina Revoyr

    Image of Southland

    Stretching across the 1940s, 1960s, and 1990s, Southland encompasses an impressive breadth of cultural history without overreaching. After the death of Jackie Ishida’s grandfather in 1994, her aunt finds a box of old papers that cracks open a door to long-hidden family secrets and tasks Jackie with sorting them out. Almost immediately, her quest brings her to Jimmy Lanier who reveals that during the Watts riots in 1965, four black boys were murdered in her grandfather’s store — an event her grandparents never revealed to their adolescent children.

    One of the boys was Jimmy’s older cousin Curtis, who he adored unreservedly, and the suppression of the crime was particularly tough for him to accept. Together Jackie and Jimmy work to uncover...more