Aly tries to read broadly, but she definitely prefers poetic prose with a bit of magic. Entangled storylines, smart humor, and hopeful honesty tend to pull her in, and by the end of a strange enough book she’s prone to have a crush on the author.
I learned more from the intro than any sex-ed class has even attempted to communicate. In my utopia, everybody reads it, the phrase "genital nonconcordance" enters the Zeitgeist, TikTok overflows with conversations about spontaneous vs responsive desire, cis-men quiz each other about female anatomy, doctors believe women, and everyone orgasms every single day. Be the change you want to see in the world. Read the book.
In a shocking twist, I'm recommending a niche, feminist deep dive by a Radiolab reporter. The chapter on Sarah Baartman will break your heart. The history of measurements and made-to-order clothes will vindicate and enrage. And the music video you're thinking of right now? Layers on layers of fascinating nuance. Occasionally cheeky, often juicy, and always robust, this is a fantastic read for anyone, but a requirement for all who struggle to accept their own, personal bums.
Happy NaNoWriMo! Natalie Goldberg believes in you. Goldberg approaches writing as a Zen practice, filling a journal every month and gifting her favorite obsessions a thousand literary lives. Funny and practical, your new professor wants to see you commit to your craft and communicate the memories that matter to you.
A rad middle grade series about the power of building up others. The Junior Muses embark on their first mission: to help a shy outcast believe in herself so she can grow up to save Miami's coast from rising seas. For kids who love Greek mythology, friendship, and portals to after-hour museum clubhouse training grounds.
Microdose on art school with this engaging read that dashes and leaps from one lovely art concept to the next.
Raise your hand if you're angry! Raise your hand if you want to be angrier! Why do we do this to ourselves?
I think they should hand out copies at JFK to everyone moving to NYC. This book is so orienting and informative, I could practically feel each piece of new knowledge clicking into a permanent place. Since reading it, I've been following its table of contents like a syllabus, falling in love with the authors Laing highlights. Rooney, Nelson, Rhys, and above all, Ali Smith. My life would not be the same without Ali Smith. My life would not be the same without Olivia Laing.
"When Richard is lonely, Paddy tells him to invent an imaginary daughter to take to shows, museums, and galleries covered in clouds. Richard writes Paddy postcards from her perspective, and Paddy treats the letters like tarot cards. Such strange, sweet details dot the dark, political landscape -- a terrain that, even in concept, is uncertain. People we're traveling with, Florence and Brittany, are also places, and places split, their borders thickening with detention centers. With realism at its cruelest, we're left with magical realism to break us out. It's a spring less of flowers and more of clouds, but the clouds are drifting, and the future we imagine is writing to us. You could even find hope in the loneliness, but only if you keep dealing the cards."
"What Holly said."
"After Fight Night I went down a Miriam Toews rabbit hole because wow. Now that I've read her whole oeuvre, I feel like Amy March after her trip to Europe, when she can't paint anymore because she's too aware of what's already been done. In All My Puny Sorrows, all my spiraling thoughts find words. Yolandi, empathetic but tired of following what feels like an expected script, struggles to express herself and her love in her own terms. Her inner voice is so kind and she gives real thought even to ideas that cause her unbearable pain, but she also fights and screams and demands to be considered in return. All My Puny Sorrows is autobiographical and drawn from a period of deep grief, and so requires almost every content warning out there, especially for its themes of suicide and eating disorders."
While I enjoyed this book for its unsettling speculations and vivid, specific horrors, what resonated most were its desperate descriptions of beauty. Fu writes like she's already grieving things that haven't yet vanished. Sometimes the absences are plot points -- the loss of taste, of innocence -- but however literally the future she imagines gobbles up the things she loves, her eulogies always ring true. Refusing to take the world for granted, she destroys it, eliciting the same longing in us.
The clarity! Imagine a smart, funny friend interpreting the things that matter as kindly as integrity allows...and then throwing shade everywhere else. Imagine a feminism that doesn't see celebrity dramas as microcosms of our fight or extrapolate the tenet of Women Supporting Women to require blind endorsements of everything from the lucrative business that is wellness culture to $700 empowerment rallies. Capitalist scammers benefit from the tangle of feminism, self-hate, half-lies, and partial-truths, and Tolentino is here to help us name and sort through some of those self-delusions. My brain feels better for having read this book.
Playful and full-flavored, Popisho is a story of strange magic and communal intimacy. The kelp-crossing scene, which asks us to trust a shifting world, is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature I have ever read. "I told you," a young guide urges, while teaching our hero to walk on water, "I not following any path. I following what is here in the moment, ready to take me."
What? You were already going to read this anyway because of that intriguing NYT review? Then consider this a second alarm, post-snooze, or an email labeled "urgent." I really want to talk to someone who's finished it.
So, on some level, this book is a rich white woman's thoughts on work and wealth. On no level is it the Communist Manifesto or a roaring cry to activism. That being said, Biss' thoughts are sharp, rebellious, intersectional, and very well put. Her fast, apt chapters made me laugh, think, and reconsider the worth of art, indulgence, and abundance.
This is the coziest book I read all year. The characters are so kindly written, and their voices are funny and strong. I'm tempted to reread it for the good vibes alone. For fans of Backman and Only Murders in the Building.
Recency bias or favorite book ever? Elsa's grandmother builds her a fairytale castle from the roughest bricks of her adventurous life and they retreat inside it together. In their secret language, they fight fairytale shadows and dragons--because real ones are just around the corner. On a mission to find and deliver her grandmother's apology letters, Elsa finds the edges of the fairytale seeping into real life--which is fine, because she is a knight. The plot is sweet and reads a little young, while the characters are funny and complex. Emotions ring true, pain is handled tenderly, and love manifests in the most creative ways. If, like me, you considered learning Swedish because you can't wait a year for the third Beartown to be translated, consider this gem from Backman's backlist. It definitely hits the spot.
It's a spin-off! The hardest-to-like character from My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She's Sorry keeps on being so impossibly irritating and so fully lovable. It's the closest thing to Ted-Lasso-as-a-book that I've ever read.
I'm obsessed with Liane Moriarty's ability to write miscommunications. Whenever we're with one character, the others feel so annoying and suspicious, but the second we swap POVs my empathy swerves. I think it reaffirms my belief that all people are simultaneously absurd and beautiful. No offense to the designer (kind of), but please don't judge this one by the cover.
I love this series. So smart. So gross. A perfect October read.
If you give an adventurer a giant tree, she'll fall and break her spine but not notice for years until she has to go the hospital and undergo a surgery that results in a bout of blindness. If you give a scientist a bout of blindness, she'll become fascinated by light and optics and make breakthrough discoveries about bio-luminescence. If you give a bio-luminescence research team a deep-sea submarine, they'll probably encounter a giant squid. This incredible autobiography could have succeeded as a fictional adventure story, a medical mystery drama, a companion to Merleau-Ponty, or a science textbook. But it did all three so well, and offered a ton of inspiration and a little bit of real hope on top of that. For fans of science podcasts and saving the world.
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"I fell in love with this poetic, honest, and deeply personal book from the beginning for its immediate resonant confession: knowing that life is meaningless and we can joyously create our own meaning doesn’t always impart real joy. Miller, desperate for meaning, places her hopes in the star-naming, flower-collecting hands of the wildly resilient taxonomist David Starr Jordan. At first, Miller writes rosily, even seeming to brush past some unsettling details, but the story twists in incredible ways. Jordan’s chaotic biography takes Miller down a branching rabbit hole of taxonomy, philosophy, psychology, and finally, to her great heartbreak, eugenics. Writing transparently about the pain of losing an idol and everything he’d held for her, Miller bravely and vulnerably follows the story along the new path her pain opened up. That second story is a raw and beautiful gift, and I hope you read it. This is my favorite book I’ve read all year."
"For me, there’s nothing more comforting than a thoughtful, reflective person putting my strange, jumbled thoughts into beautiful words. Naturally, Zadie Smith dives inward, but my favorite moments were her studies of others. I hope that change in all of us lingers after this pandemic is over—a wild fascination with the deeper lives of others."
An eery-but-palatable, devour-in-one-evening potluck of strong perspectives. I found the plot thrilling in a slow, intangible way, and I loved watching the relationships shift in response to that obscure strangeness. I was especially intrigued by the mundanity that refused to yield to the extraordinary. The way the characters clung to the familiar was sometimes comforting and sometimes wildly unsettling, often sparking the fires of introspection and occasionally fanning them like mad.
"Fredrik Backman is the writer I aspire to be. Anxious People, like so much of his work, is hilarious and heartbreaking--scathing toward life's absurdities and idiocies but so compassionate toward our shared pain and loneliness. I've laughed so many times at sentences even when the paragraphs they're in are so sad. If you want to know that you've understood, if you want to understand someone you've always dismissed, if you want a reminder of the fullness of people and their memories and their grief, you couldn't be in better hands. Or, if you just like hostage dramas, it's pretty good for that too."
"A Deadly Education raises the bar for how thorough, clean, and wildly unique I now expect my magical systems to be. As fun and fast-paced as the plot was, the details were some of the most meticulous and rational I've ever encountered. It reminded me of the PerfectFit subReddit--only instead of Oreos sliding nicely into stainless steel containers, a good human being who just wants to be accepted absolutely has to go out of her way to look like a terrible person, because of the rules of magic. It was wonderfully crafted and a delight to read. I'll concede that I'm a little tired of snarkiness as a primary personality trait so El took a minute to grow on me, but on the other hand, taking a while to grow on people is sort of her deal. By the end of the story, I loved her, and I don't think I've been this anxious to read a sequel since childhood."
"Original and charming from the very first line, this beautiful story of ghosts and tradition, friendship and family deals gently with death and richly with life. Music and colors fly from every page as the protagonist processes her grief through synesthesia. That she is half Asian, an artist, and a daughter wildly curious about her mother’s inner world made it personal to me, but even without my bias, there’s plenty to praise. The bold poetic choices. The subtle clicking pieces. The sensory experience of walking through Taiwan—it was wonderfully done. I can’t recommend this book loudly enough."
"My only consolation upon finishing "Beartown" was that I could immediately dive into its sequel: still powerful, still sympathetic, still gut-wrenching. While our heroes get some stage time, "Us Against You" focuses more on the complexities of characters on the outskirts of the last book, which feels like 100% the right call. Now to self-soothe until the third book's released..."
"Partway through reading this gut-punch of a book, I had to put it down to look up the publication date. When I confirmed it had been out there, floating around, in print BEFORE Kavanaugh's nomination, I wanted to scream. This book should have changed the world. It is powerful and sympathetic and important and written in a way that demands to be both savored and devoured. I know Fredrik Backman has a big audience, but I can't help wondering how different the world would be if everyone read at least one of his books."
"It's a Western! Without the toxic masculinity and white supremacy! I didn't know I could have that! For fans of horses, adventures, and wildly original metaphors."
"Patricia Engel’s beautiful book, full of uncanniness and anger, longing and love, explores the sometimes hazy, sometimes intimately concrete concept of home. The members of a family separated by convoluted and infuriating circumstances tell their separate and entwining stories, all bursting with big, modern questions. How does an individual’s story fit in with and veer from a family’s story, a country’s story, a great, ancestral myth? What does it mean to belong, without fitting into a larger group’s boxes and borders? When life is so short and love is so strong, how can the U.S. continue to force families into these impossible corners? It’s a short, quick read with lasting effects. So please, do read it, but be prepared to be angry forever after."
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""No One Is Talking About This" is an appropriately absurd exploration of modern absurdities, in vague company with "Endgame" and "Memoirs and Misinformation." With sharp, defamiliarizing names for the dull and smothering details of daily life and unsettlingly specific references to the smallest subcultures and memes, Patricia Lockwood will make you laugh in pain. It was poignant. It was weird. I really, really liked it."
"Hey! It's a nice, inspirational book about writing (and music). It's anti-gate-keeping and full of down-to-earth wisdom. I'm neither a Wilco ultra-fan nor a Wilco ultra-enemy; I just found a couple of the creative exercises to be genuine gems!"
"An atmospheric treat that I devoured in one day. A little on-the-nose but sometimes you just want what you want! For fans of 'Big Little Lies; and 'The Searcher.' "
"A single, asexual woman longing to meet her own unique, hypothetical child embarks on a complicated fertility journey full of intense ethical questions, laws, and taboos. A beautifully written, no-holds-barred deep-dive into the discomforts of being a human, of being a woman, of having and not having the power to create more life."
"What are your favorite tropes? Mine are books as diaries, messages in bottles, ghosts with ambiguous realness, precocious children engaging with philosophy, academics who love Proust, misty PNW islands, and strangers glimpsing each other's lives. What are your favorite themes? Mine are time, death, interconnectedness, translation, and people with mixed identities grappling with their family histories. I really love this book."
"I'm sorry, but it's a *magical cub scout camp,* where you learn magical knots and wizarding adventure skills. I wish I could be an 11-year-old reading it at summer camp. Please buy this for your children. Let me live vicariously through their joy."
"A beautiful narrative composed of short, sweet chapters that read like Yoko Ono's art prompt poems, grounded in the practicality of hardware tools. After watching the moon landing projected from the mayor's balcony onto a white sheet and then achieving his own small victory, D decides that "all moments of happiness, large and small, deserved to be projected into a town square." I don't know if I've ever loved an image more."
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I need you to know that this was published as an Ebook in April 2020. It was written before the pandemic, based on extensive research and an interest in epidemiology, and was not a response to last year. I read it in that form, at the beginning of the pandemic, and personally I enjoyed feeling freaked out by Nawaz’ intense prescience (though from the reviews I’ve read I realize it’s more fashionable to compliment the book on its own). Regardless, while the unfortunately validated research into how *exactly* a 2020 Covid-19 pandemic might play out may or may not have been the work of an actual psychic, the fact that Nawaz chose to write a kind, gentle, hopeful book about how we can all help each other in such a time as this makes me think she’s a very nice psychic after all. I loved this novel, with its entangled story lines and strong characters whom I cared about deeply, and I’m sure it would have been a wonderful read regardless of the circumstances—but the timing definitely added interest, and I don’t feel like pretending otherwise. Seeing life reflected, predicted, put onto a page is always comforting to me, and I hope you can find some comfort in this book as well. At the very least, read it for the rockstars and sea voyagers. They’re pretty interesting folks.