October and November are brimfull with exciting releases and that’s why I focussed on these two months and less in December. But these two month have everything from stimulating theory over captivating memoirs to wonderfully strange stories. 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.
Ordinary Girls (Jaquira Díaz)
Synopsis: Ordinary Girls is a fierce, beautiful, and unflinching memoir from a wildly talented debut author. While growing up in housing projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, Jaquira Díaz found herself caught between extremes: as her family split apart and her mother battled schizophrenia, she was surrounded by the love of her friends; as she longed for a family and home, she found instead a life upended by violence. From her own struggles with depression and sexual assault to Puerto Rico’s history of colonialism, every page of Ordinary Girls vibrates with music and lyricism. Díaz triumphantly maps a way out of despair toward love and hope to become her version of the girl she always wanted to be.
Why I am excited: I love a good memoir and have heard nothing but praise for this one.
Better Never Than Late (Chika Unigwe)
Synopsis: Better Never Than Late charts the unconventional lives and love affairs of a group of Nigerian migrants, making their way in Belgium. The collection is centred around Prosperous and her husband Agu, and the various visitors who gather at their apartment each week. These interconnected stories explore their struggles and triumphs, from unhappy marriages (of convenience or otherwise), to the pain of homesickness, and the tragic paradox in longing to leave Nigeria so that you may one day return to it.
Why I am excited: I did like Unigwa’s novel On Black Sisters Street and the concept of this short story collection sounds wonderful.
The Best American Food Writing 2019 (ed. Samin Nosrat)
Synopsis: “Good food writing evokes the senses,” writes Samin Nosrat, best-selling author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and star of the Netflix adaptation of the book. “It makes us consider divergent viewpoints. It makes us hungry and motivates us to go out into the world in search of new experiences. It charms and angers us, breaks our hearts, and gives us hope. And perhaps most importantly, it creates empathy within us.” Whether it’s the dizzying array of Kit Kats in Japan, a reclamation of the queer history of tapas, or a spotlight on a day in the life of a restaurant inspector, the work in The Best American Food Writing 2019 will inspire you to pick up a knife and start chopping, but also to think critically about what you’re eating and how it came to your plate, while still leaving you clamoring for seconds.
Why I am excited: I loved Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Heat, Acid, Fat and her commitment to center women and PoC in her work, so that she edited this collection really excites me. Some of my favourite food writers like Yemisi Aribisala and Ruby Tandoh are included.
What’s the Use? (Sara Ahmed)
Synopsis: In What’s the Use? Sara Ahmed continues the work she began in The Promise of Happiness and Willful Subjects by taking up a single word—in this case, use—and following it around. She shows how use became associated with life and strength in nineteenth-century biological and social thought and considers how utilitarianism offered a set of educational techniques for shaping individuals by directing them toward useful ends. Ahmed also explores how spaces become restricted to some uses and users, with specific reference to universities. She notes, however, the potential for queer use: how things can be used in ways that were not intended or by those for whom they were not intended. Ahmed posits queer use as a way of reanimating the project of diversity work as the ordinary and painstaking task of opening up institutions to those who have historically been excluded.
Why I am excited: I already listened to Ahmed speaking about some aspects of this work and – like everything she does – it was amazing.
Grand Union: Stories (Zadie Smith)
Synopsis: A dazzling collection of short fiction, more than half of which have never been published before, from the multi-award-winning author of White Teeth and Swing Time
Zadie Smith has established herself as one of the most iconic, critically-respected, and popular writers of her generation. In her first short story collection, she combines her power of observation and inimitable voice to mine the fraught and complex experience of life in the modern world. With ten extraordinary new stories complemented by a selection of her most lauded pieces for The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Granta, Grand Union explores a wide range of subjects, from first loves to cultural despair, as well as the desire to be the subject of your own experience. In captivating prose, she contends with race, class, relationships, and gender roles in a world that feels increasingly divided.
Nothing is off limits, and everything—when captured by Smith’s brilliant gaze—feels fresh and relevant. Perfectly paced, and utterly original, Grand Union highlights the wonders Zadie Smith can do.
Why I am excited: Even though I had mixed feelings about Smith’s last nonfiction collection, her fiction usually works for me. Seeig forward to read her short stories.
Homesick (Nino Cipri)
Synopsis: Dark, irreverent, and truly innovative, the speculative stories in Homesick meditate on the theme of home and our estrangement from it, and what happens when the familiar suddenly shifts into the uncanny. In stories that foreground queer relationships and transgender or nonbinary characters, Cipri delivers the origin story for a superhero team comprised of murdered girls; a housecleaner discovering an impossible ocean in her least-favorite clients’ house; a man haunted by keys that appear suddenly in his throat; and a team of scientists and activists discovering the remains of a long-extinct species of intelligent weasels.
In the spirit of Laura van den Berg, Emily Geminder, Chaya Bhuvaneswar, and other winners of the Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize, Nino Cipri’s debut collection announces the arrival of a brilliant and wonderfully unpredictable writer with a gift for turning the short story on its ear.
Why I am excited: I have never read anything by Cipri but this description absoluely speaks to me: dark, queer short stories – I am here for that.
Bury the Lede (Gaby Dunn)
Synopsis: Twenty-one-year-old Madison T. Jackson is already the star of the Emerson College student newspaper when she nabs a coveted night internship at Boston’s premiere newspaper, The Boston Lede. The job’s simple: do whatever the senior reporters tell you to do, from fetching coffee to getting a quote from a grieving parent. It’s grueling work, so when the murder of a prominent Boston businessman comes up on the police scanner, Madison races to the scene of the grisly crime. There, Madison meets the woman who will change her life forever: prominent socialite Dahlia Kennedy, who is covered in gore and being arrested for the murder of her family. The newspapers put everyone they can in front of her with no results until, with nothing to lose, Madison gets a chance – and unexpectedly barrels headfirst into danger she never anticipated.
Why I am excited: A queer graphic crime novel – sounds like a great autumn read.
Crossfire: A Litany for Survival (Stacyann Chin)
Synopsis: Crossfire collects Staceyann Chin’s empowering, activist-driven poetry for the first time in a single book. According to The New York Times, Chin “is sassy, rageful and sometimes softly self-mocking.” The Advocate wrote her poems, “combine hilarious one-liners with a refusal to conform” and note “Chin is out to confront more than just the straight world.”
Why I am excited: I have read some of Chin’s poetry but wanted to read more for some time (also, I could finally read her memoir The Other Side of Paradise I own).
Also this month: Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers (Natalie Eve Garrett), Females (Andrea Long Chu), Rebent Sinner (Ivan Coyote), The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History (Nathalia Holt), How We Fight for Our Lives (Saeed Jones), Blood: A Memoir (Allison Moorer), The Private of Joys of Nnenna Maloney (Okechukwu Nzelu), The Factory (Hiroko Oyamada (translated by David Boyd)), The Beadworkers: Stories (Beth Piatote), Orpheus Girl (Brynne Rebele-Henry), Olive, Again (Elizabeth Strout), The Trans Space Octopus Congregation (Bogi Takács), Mooncakes (Suzanne Walker), A Wild and Precious Life: A Memoir (Edie Windsor)
In the Dream House (Carmen Maria Machado)
Synopsis: For years Carmen Maria Machado has struggled to articulate her experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship. In this extraordinarily candid and radically inventive memoir, Machado tackles a dark and difficult subject with wit, inventiveness and an inquiring spirit, as she uses a series of narrative tropes—including classic horror themes—to create an entirely unique piece of work which is destined to become an instant classic.
Why I am excited: Her Body and Other Stories by Machado is one of my all time favourite books, so of course I would pick up anything she writes. But even without this backround, this memoir sounds absolutely stunning in every way.
Exquisite Cadavers (Meena Kandasamy)
Synopsis: Karim and Maya are lovers. They share a home, they worry about money, and then Maya falls pregnant. But Karim is still finishing his film degree, pushing against his tutors’ insistence that his art must be Arab like him. And Maya, working a zero-hours job and fretting about her family, can’t find the time to quit smoking, let alone have a child.
Framed with fragments and peppered with footnotes Exquisite Cadavers is at once a bricolage of influence, and a love story that knows no borders.
Why I am excited: This concept sounds so intrigueing: Kandasamy tells a story – and in the margins discusses its influences, so creating a work contributing to fiction/nonfiction debates.
Nudibranch (Irenosen Okojie)
Synopsis: In this collection of short stories, offbeat characters are caught up in extraordinary situations that test the boundaries of reality . . .
A love-hungry goddess of the sea arrives on an island inhabited by eunuchs.
A girl from Martinique moonlights as a Grace Jones impersonator.
Dimension-hopping monks sworn to silence must face a bloody reckoning.
And a homeless man goes right back, to the very beginning, through a gap in time.
Nudibranch is a dark and seductive foray into the surreal.
Why I am excited: Okojie’s brand of strange stories is very special and I can never get enough of it.
The Score (H. J. Golakai)
Synopsis: In this fabulous follow-up to the internationally acclaimed The Lazarus Effect, newspaper reporter Vee Johnson reprieves her role as Cape Town’s most feisty female investigator. Vee and her ever-faithful sidekick, Chloe Bishop, have been banished from City Chronicle’s newsroom to review a tourist lodge in sleepy Oudtshoorn. But Vee and Chloe are barely checked in to their rooms when the first body is discovered…hanging from a tree, with Vee’s purple silk scarf used as a noose. But is it suicide or strangulation? As Vee investigates the death, she is pulled into a bewildering world of conferences and corruption, dog-walking and drug addiction, break-ins and black economic empowerment. And all this whilst juggling the two men in her love life.
The Score is a unique combination of sex, intrigue and subterfuge, set against the fading colours of the Rainbow Nation.
Why I am excited: I still have the first novel in this series to read (though I do own it), but if there is a crime series I’d want to get into this autum, that’s the one.
Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Jessica McDiarmid)
Synopsis: For decades, Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been found murdered along an isolated stretch of highway in northwestern British Columbia. The highway is known as the Highway of Tears, and it has come to symbolize a national crisis.
Journalist Jessica McDiarmid meticulously investigates the devastating effect these tragedies have had on the families of the victims and their communities, and how systemic racism and indifference has created a climate where Indigenous women and girls are over-policed, yet under-protected. Through interviews with those closest to the victims–mothers and fathers, siblings and friends–McDiarmid provides an intimate, first-hand account of their loss and unflagging fight for justice. Examining the historically fraught social and cultural tensions between settlers and Indigenous peoples in the region, McDiarmid links these cases to others across Canada–now estimated to number up to 4,000–contextualizing them within a broader examination of the undervaluing of Indigenous lives in the country.
Highway of Tears is a piercing exploration of our ongoing failure to provide justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and testament to their families and communities’ unwavering determination to find it.
Why I am excited: Important topic I’d like to read a deep dive on.
The Deep (Rivers Solomon)
Synopsis: Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.
Why I am excited: Rivers Solomon’s debut novel, An Unkindness of Ghosts, was absolutely stunning. Their upcoming work sounds equally great.
They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears (Johannes Anyuru (translated by Saskia Vogel))
Synopsis: This daring speculative novel tackles terrorism and anti-immigrant hysteria, combining lyric intensity with the tools of science fiction.
In the midst of a terrorist attack on a bookstore reading by Göran Loberg, a comic book artist famous for demeaning drawings of the prophet Mohammed, one of the attackers, a young woman, has a sudden premonition that something is wrong, changing the course of history. Two years later, this unnamed woman invites a famous writer to visit her in the criminal psychiatric clinic where she’s living. She then shares with him an incredible story—she is a visitor from an alternate future.
Despite discrepancies that make the writer highly skeptical, he becomes increasingly fascinated by her amazing tale: in her dystopian future, any so-called “anti-Swedish” citizens are forced into a horrific ghetto called The Rabbit Yard. As events begin to spiral and the author becomes more and more implicated in this woman’s tale, he comes to believe the unbelievable: she’s telling the truth.
A remarkably intense, beautifully wrought tale that combines the ingenuity of speculative fiction with the difficulties of today’s harsh political realities, They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears is the groundbreaking, award-winning work from the bestselling Swedish-Ugandan author Johannes Anyuru. With echoes of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, and anti-immigrant hysteria, this largest and most complex novel from an already celebrated poet, author, and spoken word artist catapults him to the front ranks of world writers.
Why I am excited: This sounds like an incredible strange story – and it is translated by the wonderful Saskia Vogel, whose own novel, Permission, I really enjoyed earlier this year.
Also this month: Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai’i (eds. Hokulani K. Aikau & Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez), The Life & Times of Butch Dykes: Portraits of Artists, Leaders, and Dreamers Who Changed The World (Eloisa Aquino), The Great Pretender (Susannah Cahalan), Queen of the Conquered (Kacen Callender), Space Invaders (Nona Fernández (translated by Natasha Wimmer)), Shine of the Ever (Claire Rudy Foster), White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue … and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation (Lauren Michele Jackson), Feminist City: A Field Guide (Leslie Kern), Camgirl (Isa Mazzei), The Fugitivities (Jesse McCarthy), On the Up (Alice O’Keeffe), Feed (Tommy Pico), On Swift Horses (Shannon Pufahl), Body Tourists (Jane Rogers), Beyond Aesthetics: Use, Abuse, and Dissonance in African Art Traditions (Wole Soyinka)
December is way quiter with regard to the books I am excited about. But here are some publications I am looking into:
Some books this month: Fat, Pretty, and Soon to Be Old: A Makeover for Self and Society (Kimberly Dark), Africaville (Jeffrey Colvin), Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orïsha #2) (Tomi Adeyemi)