We are already in the third quarter of – what the hell is this year – 2020. But one thing I can say: the next three months promise a lot of great books in a wide array of genres from horror to philosophy, historical novels to queer memoir. Here are some, I am particularly excited about:
Empire of Wild: A Novel (Cherie Dimaline)
Synopsis: “Broken-hearted Joan has been searching for her husband, Victor, for almost a year–ever since he went missing on the night they had their first serious argument. One terrible, hungover morning in a Walmart parking lot in a little town near Georgian Bay, she is drawn to a revival tent where the local Métis have been flocking to hear a charismatic preacher named Eugene Wolff. By the time she staggers into the tent, the service is over. But as she is about to leave, she hears an unmistakable voice. She turns, and there Victor is. The same face, the same eyes, the same hands. But his hair is short and he’s wearing a suit and he doesn’t recognize her at all. No, he insists, she’s the one suffering a delusion: he’s the Reverend Wolff and his only mission is to bring his people to Jesus. Except that, as Joan soon discovers, that’s not all the enigmatic Wolff is doing. With only the help of Ajean, a foul-mouthed euchre shark with a knowledge of the old ways, and her odd, Johnny-Cash-loving, 12-year-old nephew Zeus, Joan has to find a way to remind the Reverend Wolff of who he really is. If he really is Victor. Her life, and the life of everyone she loves, depends upon it. ”
Why I am excited: This novel promises to be creepy and scary but also full of heart – all while being deeply rooted in Métis culture and history. I believe it was already published last year in Canada and I have seen glowing reviews.
The Pull of the Stars (Emma Donoghue)
Synopsis: “Dublin, 1918: three days in a maternity ward at the height of the Great Flu. In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia’s regimented world step two outsiders—Doctor Kathleen Lynn, on the run from the police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.”
Why I am excited: I really love Donoghues older (and very queer) fiction such as Kissing the Witch and Hood but also her newer historical fiction novel The Wonder (though I never read Room; maybe her best-known novel). The Pull of the Stars sounds like a fantastic – and oddly timely – historical novel (and there is supposedly a romantic relationship between two women in there).
Afterland (Lauren Beukes)
Synopsis: “Most of the men are dead. Three years after the pandemic known as The Manfall, governments still hold and life continues — but a world run by women isn’t always a better place.
Twelve-year-old Miles is one of the last boys alive, and his mother, Cole, will protect him at all costs. On the run after a horrific act of violence-and pursued by Cole’s own ruthless sister, Billie — all Cole wants is to raise her kid somewhere he won’t be preyed on as a reproductive resource or a sex object or a stand-in son. Someplace like home. A sharply feminist, high-stakes thriller from award-winning author Lauren Beukes, Afterland brilliantly blends psychological suspense, American noir, and science fiction into an adventure all its own — and perfect for our times.”
Why I am excited: Beuke’s 2010 novel Zoo City has been on my wishlist for … well, a long time (really need to get that one). But Afterland sounds fascinating too – though I think that dystopia relying a lot on a male-female dichotomy can also go horribly wrong. But let’s see!
The Sky Is Blue with a Single Cloud (Kuniko Tsurita)
Synopsis: “The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud collects the best short stories from Kuniko Tsurita’s remarkable career. While the works of her male peers in literary manga are widely reprinted, this formally ambitious and poetic female voice is like none other currently available to an English readership. A master of the comics form, expert pacing and compositions combined with bold characters are signature qualities of Tsurita’s work. Tsurita’s early stories “Nonsense” and “Anti” provide a unique, intimate perspective on the bohemian culture and political heat of late 1960s and early ‘70s Tokyo. Her work gradually became darker and more surreal under the influence of modern French literature and her own prematurely failing health. As in works like “The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud” and “Max,” the gender of many of Tsurita’s strong and sensual protagonists is ambiguous, marking an early exploration of gender fluidity. Late stories like “Arctic Cold” and “Flight” show the artist experimenting with more conventional narrative modes, though with dystopian themes that extend the philosophical interests of her early work. ”
Why I am excited: I am not well-read with regards to mangas. But I am always interested in marginalized voices in any genre being highlighted. The sample pages I have seen from this collection looked absolutely great.
The Only Good Indians (Stephen Graham Jones)
Synopsis: “ Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way. ”
Why I am excited: This is the newest novel by very prolific Blackfeet writer Stephen Graham Jones. Horror not my go-to genre but everything I read about this one had me interested.
Also this month: Must I Go (Yiyun Li), It Is Wood, It Is Stone: A Novel (Gabriella Burnham), Memorial Drive (Natasha Trethewey), A History Of My Brief Body (Billy-Ray Belcourt)
World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments (Aimee Nezhukumatathil)
Synopsis: “From beloved, award-winning poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil comes a debut work of nonfiction–a collection of essays about the natural world, and the way its inhabitants can teach, support, and inspire us.
As a child, Nezhukumatathil called many places home: the grounds of a Kansas mental institution, where her Filipina mother was a doctor; the open skies and tall mountains of Arizona, where she hiked with her Indian father; and the chillier climes of western New York and Ohio. But no matter where she was transplanted–no matter how awkward the fit or forbidding the landscape–she was able to turn to our world’s fierce and funny creatures for guidance.
“What the peacock can do,” she tells us, “is remind you of a home you will run away from and run back to all your life.” The axolotl teaches us to smile, even in the face of unkindness; the touch-me-not plant shows us how to shake off unwanted advances; the narwhal demonstrates how to survive in hostile environments. Even in the strange and the unlovely, Nezhukumatathil finds beauty and kinship. For it is this way with wonder: it requires that we are curious enough to look past the distractions in order to fully appreciate the world’s gifts.”
Why I am excited: Always interested in nature-writing, especially by BIPoC or queer authors. This book has only 150 pages but sounds like it is brimful with small discoveries.
The Death of Vivek Oji (Akwaeke Emezi)
Synopsis: “One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.”
Why I am excited: Easily, my most-anticipated read of the entire year. I loved both of Emezi’s last novels. Their writing is impeccable and they write about queer lives with depth and nuance.
Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women (Kate Manne)
Synopsis: “Male entitlement takes many forms. To sex, yes, but more insidiously to admiration, bodily autonomy, knowledge, power, even care. In this urgent intervention, philosopher Kate Manne offers a radical new framework for understanding misogyny. In clear-sighted, powerful prose, she ranges widely across the culture — from the Kavanaugh hearings and ‘Cat Person’ to Harvey Weinstein and Elizabeth Warren — to show how the idea that a privileged man is tacitly deemed to be owed something is a pervasive problem. Male entitlement can explain a wide array of phenomena, from mansplaining and the undertreatment of women’s pain to mass shootings by incels and the seemingly intractable notion that women are ‘unelectable’. The consequences for girls and women are often devastating. As Manne shows, toxic masculinity is not just the product of a few bad actors; we are all implicated, conditioned as we are by the currents of our time. With wit and intellectual fierceness, she sheds new light on gender and power and offers a vision of a world in which women are just as entitled as men to be cared for, believed and valued. ”
Why I am excited: Manne’s last book, Down Girl, was so precisely argued, immensely readable, and gave us concepts such as “himpathy” – so I can’t wait to dive into this one.
The Unreality of Memories (Elisa Gabbert)
Synopsis: “We stare at our phones. We keep multiple tabs open. Our chats and conversations are full of the phrase “Did you see?” The feeling that we’re living in the worst of times seems to be intensifying, alongside a desire to know precisely how bad things have gotten—and each new catastrophe distracts us from the last. The Unreality of Memory collects provocative, searching essays on disaster culture, climate anxiety, and our mounting collective sense of doom. In this new collection, acclaimed poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert explores our obsessions with disasters past and future, from the sinking of the Titanic to Chernobyl, from witch hunts to the plague. These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it. Can we avoid repeating history? Can we understand our moment from inside the moment? With The Unreality of Memory, Gabbert offers a hauntingly perceptive analysis of our new ways of being and a means of reconciling ourselves to this unreal new world. ”
Why I am excited: The topic is so interesting. I hope this book also dives into the structural reasons people tend to care for certain disasters and not for others.
Love in Colour: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold (Bolu Babalola)
Synopsis: “Discover love from times long ago… Join Bolu Babalola as she retells the most beautiful love stories from history and mythology in this stunning collection. From the homoromantic Greek myths, to magical Nigerian folktales, to the ancient stories of South Asia, Bolu brings new life to tales that truly show the vibrance and colours of love around the world. The anthology is a step towards decolonising tropes of love, and celebrates in the wildly beautiful and astonishingly diverse tales of romance and desire that already exist in so many cultures and communities. Get lost in these mystical worlds and you will soon realise that humanity – like love – comes in technicolour. ”
Why I am excited: This just sounds like not much I have read yet. And how stunning is that cover?
Also this month: Tomboyland (Melissa Faliveno), Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World (John Freeman), Summer (Ali Smith), The Disaster Tourist: A Novel (Yun-Ko Eun), Gegenwartsbewältigung (Max Czollek), Elatsoe (Darcie Little Badger), Luster (Raven Leilani)
Stranger Faces (Namwali Serpell)
Synopsis: “If evolutionary biologists, ethical philosophers, and social media gurus are to be believed, the face is the basis for what we call “humanity.” The face is considered the source of identity, truth, beauty, authenticity, and empathy. It underlies our ideas about what constitutes a human, how we relate emotionally, what is pleasing to the eye, and how we ought to treat each other. But all of this rests on a specific image of the face. We might call it the ideal face. What about the strange face, the stranger’s face, the face that thwarts recognition? What do we make of the face that rides the line of legibility? In a collection of speculative essays on a few such stranger faces―the disabled face, the racially ambiguous face, the digital face, the face of the dead―Namwali Serpell probes our contemporary mythology of the face. Stranger Faces imagines a new ethics based on the perverse pleasures we take in the very mutability of faces.”
Why I am excited: Serpell’s genre-bending or rather genre-crashing epic novel The Old Drift is one of my favourite novels and I had the chance to interview Serpell for my podcast last year. I love how her mind works and would buy basically everything she writes.
Pizza Girl (Jean Kyoung Frazier)
Synopsis: “Eighteen years old, pregnant, and working as a pizza delivery girl in suburban Los Angeles, our charmingly dysfunctional heroine is deeply lost and in complete denial about it all. She’s grieving the death of her father (who she has more in common with than she’d like to admit), avoiding her supportive mom and loving boyfriend, and flagrantly ignoring her future.Her world is further upended when she becomes obsessed with Jenny, a stay-at-home mother new to the neighborhood, who comes to depend on weekly deliveries of pickled covered pizzas for her son’s happiness. As one woman looks toward motherhood and the other towards middle age, the relationship between the two begins to blur in strange, complicated, and ultimately heartbreaking ways. Bold, tender, propulsive, and unexpected in countless ways, Jean Kyoung Frazier’s Pizza Girl is a moving and funny portrait of a flawed, unforgettable young woman as she tries to find her place in the world. ”
Why I am excited: This novel – which is already out in the US – gives me Ariel Gore’s When We Were Witches vibes and I really loved that one. But all in all, the synopsis just ticks many of my boxes.
Transcendent Kingdom (Yaa Gyasi)
Synopsis: “Gifty is a fifth year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine studying reward seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after a knee injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith, and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanain immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.”
Why I am excited: Homegoing was such a strong debut novel (though I found the ending a bit too neat). In her sophomore novel, Gyasi again tackles a lot of difficult topics and as we know she is a great storyteller – I am very much seeing forward to reading the novel.
Before the Ever After (Jacqueline Woodson)
Synopsis: “For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone’s hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he’s as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans. But lately life at ZJ’s house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ’s mom explains it’s because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career. ZJ can understand that–but it doesn’t make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can’t remember it. And most importantly, can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?”
Why I am excited: I am always here for new books by Jacqueline Woodson. So far I read Another Brooklyn, Red at the Bone, and Brown Girl Dreaming by her – all great books.
Bestiary: A Novel (K-Ming Chang)
Synopsis: “Three generations of Taiwanese American women are haunted by the myths of their homeland in this spellbinding, visceral debut about one family’s queer desires, violent impulses, and buried secrets. One evening, Mother tells Daughter a story about a tiger spirit who lived in a woman’s body. She was called Hu Gu Po, and she hungered to eat children, especially their toes. Soon afterwards, Daughter awakes with a tiger tail. And more mysterious events follow: Holes in the backyard spit up letters penned by her grandmother; a visiting aunt arrives with snakes in her belly; a brother tests the possibility of flight. All the while, Daughter is falling for Ben, a neighborhood girl with strange powers of her own. As the two young lovers translate the grandmother’s letters, Daughter begins to understand that each woman in her family embodies a myth–and that she will have to bring her family’s secrets to light in order to change their destiny. With a poetic voice of crackling electricity, K-Ming Chang is an explosive young writer who combines the wit and fabulism of Helen Oyeyemi with the subversive storytelling of Maxine Hong Kingston. Tracing one family’s history from Taiwan to America, from Arkansas to California, Bestiary is a novel of migration, queer lineages, and girlhood.”
Why I am excited: You say “queer lineage” and I am sold.
Also this month: Just Us: An American Conversation (Claudia Rankine)