The second half of 2019 began already a couple of days ago but I only now managed to finish my list of anticipated reads for July, August, and September. While July brings some really great publications, August and September promise to be unbelievably good book months. I could hardly choose which books to feature. Like always, I share brief descriptions of each book (either from Goodreads or the publisher’s page, sometimes abridged) and in a few words why I am excited about it! I introduce my five top picks for each month and name a few additional titles because there are just so many promising books.
Shapes of Native Nonfiction (Elissa Washuta, Theresa Warburton eds.)
Synopsis: Just as a basket’s purpose determines its materials, weave, and shape, so too is the purpose of the essay related to its material, weave, and shape. Editors Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton ground this anthology of essays by Native writers in the formal art of basket weaving. Using weaving techniques such as coiling and plaiting as organizing themes, the editors have curated an exciting collection of imaginative, world-making lyric essays by twenty-seven contemporary Native writers from tribal nations across Turtle Island into a well-crafted basket.
Why I am excited: This book speaks to multiple of my interests: non-fiction writing, marginalized voices, and themes such as “materiality, orality, spatiality, and temporality”. One of the included writers is Terese Marie Mailhot whose memoir I found astounding.
The Nickel Boys (Colson Whitehead)
Synopsis: As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”
In reality, The Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors, where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.
Why I am excited: I am still thinking about aspects of Whitehead’s last novel, The Underground Railroad, and the fascinating way he crafted that narrative. Thus, I am very interested to see how he renders this story based on the real story of a school in Florida.
Uncomfortable Labels: My Life as a Gay Autistic Trans Woman (Laura Kate Dale)
Synopsis: Being LGBT and having autism is actually fairly common and yet often misinterpreted. This groundbreaking firsthand account uses personal experiences from birth to late diagnosis to explore this connection, and the nuances of both gender identity and ASD.
Looking at everyday struggles faced by the author, such as learning feminine presentation through observation of subtle cues, issues around sensory processing, socially difficult situations exacerbated by gender identity, and coming out as trans during an autistic meltdown, this book gives a unique insight into the links between autism, sexuality, and gender.
Why I am excited: As the description says this is a topic which is hardly ever dealt with in a sufficient way. I have not yet read texts by Laura Kate Dale but I am seeing forward to get to know her writing through this book.
Speaking of Summer (Kalisha Buckhanon)
Synopsis: On a cold December evening, Autumn Spencer’s twin sister Summer walks to the roof of their shared Harlem brownstone and is never seen again—the door to the roof is locked, and no footsteps are found. Faced with authorities indifferent to another missing woman, Autumn must pursue answers on her own, all while grieving her mother’s recent death.
With her friends and neighbors, Autumn pretends to hold up through the crisis. She falls into an affair with Summer’s boyfriend to cope with the disappearance of a woman they both loved. But the loss becomes too great, the mystery too inexplicable, and Autumn starts to unravel, all the while becoming obsessed with murdered women and the men who kill them.
Why I am excited: So far, I have read some glowing reviews and this book’s premises just sounds very promising.
A Lesson in Englishness (Novuyo Rosa Tshuma)
Synopsis: A country school girl attends the prestigious Girls’ College in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and she learns how to be English. She learns pronunciations, learns to pour, sip, and hold tea, and even learns to laugh the English way- Hahaha!…Hahaha… Haaaaa haaaaa haaaa…
But things begin to change for the pupils of Girls’ College when Zimbabwe’s new president calls for ‘A’ grade schools to enrol more black pupils.
Why I am excited: Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s novel House of Stone was my favourite novel of 2018 and I got the chance this year to record a podcast episode with her talking about this novel – and other topics. So of course, I am seeing forward to read this short story.
Also this month: Love Lives Here (Amanda Jette Knox)
I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays (Bassey Ikpi)
Synopsis: A deeply personal collection of essays exploring Nigerian-American author Bassey Ikpi’s experiences navigating Bipolar II and anxiety throughout the course of her life. Bassey Ikpi was born in Nigeria in 1976. Four years later, she and her mother joined her father in Stillwater, Oklahoma —a move that would be anxiety ridden for any child, but especially for Bassey. Her early years in America would come to be defined by tension: an assimilation further complicated by bipolar II and anxiety that would go undiagnosed for decades. By the time she was in her early twenties, Bassey was a spoken word artist and traveling with HBO’s Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam, channeling her experiences into art. But something wasn’t right—beneath the façade of the confident performer, Bassey’s mental health was in a precipitous decline, culminating in a breakdown that resulted in hospitalization and a diagnosis of Bipolar II.
Why I am excited: I love reading essays. Also, mental health is often still a rather white and Western-dominated conversation. I am seeing forward to encounter Ikpi’s perspectives.
Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World (Zahra Hankir ed.)
Synopsis: International media coverage of the Arab world is dominated by the work of Western correspondents—meaning we often view stories about those complex, interconnected conflicts through one particular lens. But a growing number of intrepid Arab women, whose access to and understanding of their subjects are vastly different than their Western counterparts, are working tirelessly to shape nuanced narratives about their homelands through their work as reporters and photojournalists.
In Our Women on the Ground, nineteen of these women tell us, in their own words, about what it’s like to report on conflicts that are (quite literally) close to home. From sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo to the impossibility of travelling without a male relative in Yemen, their challenges are unique—as are their advantages, such as being able to speak candidly with other women or gain entry to places that an outsider would never be able to access. Their daring, shocking, and heartfelt stories, told here for the first time, shatter stereotypes about Arab women and provide an urgently needed perspective on a part of the world that is often misunderstood.
Why I am excited: Basically, everything about this book sounds very intriguing. I also hope to find a few writers I have not heard of before but whose work I can start following.
The Black Flamingo (Dean Atta)
Synopsis: Fiercely told, this is a timely coming-of-age story, told in verse about the journey to self-acceptance. Perfect for fans of Sarah Crossan, Poet X and Orangeboy. A boy comes to terms with his identity as a mixed-race gay teen – then at university he finds his wings as a drag artist, The Black Flamingo. A bold story about the power of embracing your uniqueness. Sometimes, we need to take charge, to stand up wearing pink feathers – to show ourselves to the world in bold colour.
Why I am excited: Absolutely adore the cover. I have barely read any fiction which includes drag – and I’d like to rectify that.
Black Light: Stories (Kimberly King Parsons)
Synopsis: With raw, poetic ferocity, Kimberly King Parsons exposes desire’s darkest hollows—those hidden places where most of us are afraid to look. In this debut collection of enormously perceptive and brutally unsentimental short stories, Parsons illuminates the ache of first love, the banality of self-loathing, the scourge of addiction, the myth of marriage, and the magic and inevitable disillusionment of childhood. Taking us from hot Texas highways to cold family kitchens, from the freedom of pay-by-the-hour motels to the claustrophobia of private school dorms, these stories erupt off the page with a primal howl—sharp-voiced, bitter, and wise. Black Light contains the type of storytelling that resonates somewhere deep, in the well of memory that repudiates nostalgia.
Why I am excited: Dark short stories are my favourite kind of short stories. And some of my current favourite writers – Carmen Maria Machado and T Kira Madden – have praised this book.
I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girls Notes from the End of the World (Kai Cheng Thom)
Synopsis: What can we hope for at the end of the world? What can we trust in when community has broken our hearts? What would it mean to pursue justice without violence? How can we love in the absence of faith? In a heartbreaking yet hopeful collection of personal essays and prose poems, blending the confessional, political, and literary, Kai Cheng Thom dives deep into the questions that haunt social movements today. With the author’s characteristic eloquence and honesty, I Hope We Choose Love proposes heartfelt solutions on the topics of violence, complicity, family, vengeance, and forgiveness. Taking its cues from contemporary thought leaders in the transformative justice movement such as adrienne maree brown and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, this provocative book is a call for nuance in a time of political polarization, for healing in a time of justice, and for love in an apocalypse.
Why I am excited: I read Kai Cheng Thom’s book A Place Called No Homeland which I really liked and this book sounds very different in approach but even more exciting content-wise. Also, it will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press whose books I am often drawn to.
Also this month: A Particular Kind of Black Man (Tope Folarin), Trans Love: An Anthology of Transgender and Non-Binary Voices (Freiya Benson), March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women: A Library of America Special Publication (Carmen Maria Machado, Jenny Zhang, etc.), Everything Inside: Stories (Edwidge Danticat), The Unfamous Five (Nedine Moonsamy)
Cantoras: A Novel (Carolina De Robertis)
Synopsis: From the highly acclaimed, award-winning author of The Gods of Tango, a revolutionary new novel about five wildly different women who, in the midst of the Uruguayan dictatorship, find one another as lovers, friends, and ultimately, family. In 1977 Uruguay, a military government has crushed political dissent with ruthless force. In an environment where citizens are kidnapped, raped, and tortured, homosexuality is a dangerous transgression. And yet Romina, Flaca, Anita “La Venus,” Paz, and Malena–five cantoras, women who “sing”–somehow, miraculously, find on another and then, together, discover an isolated, nearly uninhabited cape, Cabo Polonio, which they claim as their secret sanctuary. Over the next thirty-five years, their lives move back and forth between Cabo Polonio and Montevideo, the city they call home, as they return, sometimes together, sometimes in pairs, with lovers in tow, or alone. And throughout, again and again, the women will be tested–by their families, lovers, society, and one another–as they fight to live authentic lives. A genre-defining novel and De Robertis’s masterpiece, Cantoras is a breathtaking portrait of queer love, community, forgotten history, and the strength of the human spirit. At once timeless and groundbreaking, Cantoras is a tale about the fire in all our souls and those who make it burn.
Why I am excited: My interest was already captured by the fact that the book is about five queer women in Uruguay and then raving reviews by trusted reviewers followed…
Pet (Akwaeke Emezi)
Synopsis: There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question-How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist? In their riveting and timely young adult debut, acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi asks difficult questions about what choices a young person can make when the adults around them are in denial.
Why I am excited: Emezi’s debut novel Freshwater was a revelation and I have not stopped speaking about it. I can’t wait to see how they render their writing for a younger audience. The synopsis sounds absolutely wonderful.
Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays (Leslie Jamison)
Synopsis: Among Jamison’s subjects are 52 Blue, deemed “the loneliest whale in the world”; the eerie specter of reincarnated children; devotees of an online existence called Second Life, to the exclusion of their real lives; Civil War photography; and an entire museum dedicated to relationship breakups. Through these essays and through forays into her own obsessions and longings, Jamison delves into the nature of storytelling itself. We wonder alongside her whether it is ever really possible to hear someone else’s story without somehow making it our own, without seeing it through the cracked windows of our private selves.
Throughout these essays, Jamison, who has frequently been compared to Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, shines the spotlight every bit as uncomfortably on herself as she does on others. Unlike the standard journalistic practice, Jamison acknowledges her emotional investment in her subjects, always with utmost clarity and unwavering empathy. In her view, true art cannot be made any other way. Indeed, this refusal to hide—this emotional frankness—is precisely the quality that makes Jamison’s questing and irrepressible voice impossible not to fall in love with.
Why I am excited: Five years ago, Jamison’s debut essay collection The Empathy Exams was published. And while I did not love all the essays I still think about a couple of them regularly. I am really looking forward to see where she is at five years on.
The Shadow King (Maaza Mengiste)
Synopsis: In 1935, orphaned servant Hirut struggles to adapt to her new household as Ethiopia faces Mussolini’s looming invasion. As the battles begin in earnest, Hirut and other women must care for the wounded. But when Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia is about to lose hope, Hirut helps to disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor to keep the fight alive. She becomes his guard, inspiring women to join the war against fascism.
In this extraordinary, beautifully told epic, Hirut overcomes rape, violence, and imprisonment, finding the strength to fight for her country’s freedom and her own. Maaza Mengiste breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a searing story of ordinary women and the advanced army they courageously opposed. Set against the first real conflict of World War II, The Shadow King is a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.
Why I am excited: Another book following the ‘big literary books’ trend this year. It took me some attempts to get in Mengiste’s debut novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze but when I finally was in the right mood I really enjoyed reading it. A historical novel set in 1930’s Ethiopia is nothing I have read before, but am very much interested in reading.
Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) (Hazel Jane Plante)
Synopsis: Fiction. LGBTQIA Studies. The playful and poignant novel LITTLE BLUE ENCYCLOPEDIA (FOR VIVIAN) sifts through a queer trans woman’s unrequited love for her straight trans friend who died. A queer love letter steeped in desire, grief, and delight, the story is interspersed with encyclopedia entries about a fictional TV show set on an isolated island. The experimental form functions at once as a manual for how pop culture can help soothe and mend us and as an exploration of oft-overlooked sources of pleasure, including karaoke, birding, and butt toys. Ultimately, LITTLE BLUE ENCYCLOPEDIA (FOR VIVIAN) reveals with glorious detail and emotional nuance the woman the narrator loved, why she loved her, and the depths of what she has lost.
Why I am excited: This book is published by Metonymy Press, another publisher I appreciate (and the synopsis speaks for itself).
Also this month: So Now You Know (Vivek Tejuja), I Choose Elena (Lucia Osborne-Crowley), Out of Darkness, Shining Light (Petina Gappah), LGBTQ POC (Mona Elthaway, Zeyad Salem eds.), Red at the Bone (Jaqueline Woodson), Sontag: Her Life and Work (Benjamin Moser), Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers’ Poetry (Amber Dawn, Justin DuCharme eds.), My Mother Laughs (Chantal Ackermann), High School (Tegan Quin & Sara Quin)