I am currently not really reading. Work is still crazy and I come home feeling absolutely knackered, so I have not finished a single book in nearly two weeks. So I did the sensible thing and bought more books. I bought a mix of mostly short stories and non-fiction in the hope of one of these getting me excited enough.
Here are the books I bought, in no particular order:
Black Wave by Michelle Tea
Blurb: It’s 1999 in San Francisco, and as shockwaves of gentrification sweep through Michelle’s formerly scruffy neighborhood, money troubles, drug-fueled mishaps, and a string of disastrous affairs send her into a tailspin. Desperate to save herself, Michelle sets out to seek a fresh start in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, climate-related disruptions and a string of extinctions are the background noise of impending doom. One day, Michelle wakes up to an official announcement: the world will be ending in exactly one year. Daily life in Los Angeles quickly becomes intensely surreal.
Humans begin to collectively dream of the lives and loves they would have had, if not for the end of the world, and the lines between fantasy and reality become increasingly blurred. As the planet nears its expiration date, Michelle holes up in an abandoned bookstore and calmly begins to write—convinced she’s finally stumbled upon the elusive “universal story”—a novel about a struggling writer facing the end of the world.
Funny, gritty, improbable, and endearing, Black Wave muses on the hallucinatory confusions of addiction, the hope and despair of a barely published writer, notions of destiny, and the porous boundaries between memoir and fiction.
Why I bought it: It sounds like such a brilliant book that is so up my alley I am bemused that I haven’t bought it earlier. Also, Maggie Nelson blurbed it.
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Blurb: In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.
Kiese Laymon is a fearless writer. In his essays, personal stories combine with piercing intellect to reflect both on the state of American society and on his experiences with abuse, which conjure conflicted feelings of shame, joy, confusion and humiliation. Laymon invites us to consider the consequences of growing up in a nation wholly obsessed with progress yet wholly disinterested in the messy work of reckoning with where we’ve been.
In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to his trek to New York as a young college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, Laymon asks himself, his mother, his nation, and us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.
A personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Heavy is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful, often comical exploration of weight, identity, art, friendship, and family that begins with a confusing childhood—and continues through twenty-five years of haunting implosions and long reverberations.
Why I bought it: I have been excited about this for months. While I mostly read memoirs by women, this one intrigues me to no end and I cannot wait to hold it in my hands.
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
Blurb: Video games, conspiracy theories, breakdown, murder: Everything’s gonna be all right—until it isn’t
How many hours of sleep did you get last night? Rate your overall mood from 1 to 5, 1 being poor. Rate your stress level from 1 to 5, 5 being severe. Are you experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide? Is there anything in your personal life that is affecting your duty?
When Sabrina disappears, an airman in the U.S. Air Force is drawn into a web of suppositions, wild theories, and outright lies. He reports to work every night in a bare, sterile fortress that serves as no protection from a situation that threatens the sanity of Teddy, his childhood friend and the boyfriend of the missing woman. Sabrina’s grieving sister, Sandra, struggles to fill her days as she waits in purgatory. After a videotape surfaces, we see devastation shown through a cinematic lens, as true tragedy is distorted when fringe thinkers and conspiracy theorists begin to interpret events to fit their own narratives.
The follow-up to Nick Drnaso’s Beverly, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Sabrina depicts a modern world devoid of personal interaction and responsibility, where relationships are stripped of intimacy through glowing computer screens. Presenting an indictment of our modern state, Drnaso contemplates the dangers of a fake-news climate. Timely and articulate, Sabrina leaves you gutted, searching for meaning in the aftermath of disaster.
Why I bought it: While I have given up on even attempting to read the Man Booker shortlist (which this book didn’t make), this one has not let me go and I really do love graphic novels and figured I should read this.
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel
Blurb: Reminiscent of Aimee Bender and Karen Russell—an enthralling collection that uses the world of the imagination to explore the heart of the human condition.
Major literary talent Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, coming Summer 2016, combines the otherworldly wisdom of her much-loved debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, with the precision of the short-story form. A Guide to being Born is organized around the stages of life—love, conception, gestation, birth—and the transformations that happen as people experience deeply altering life events, falling in love, becoming parents, looking toward the end of life. In each of these eleven stories Ausubel’s stunning imagination and humor are moving, entertaining, and provocative, leading readers to see the familiar world in a new way.
In “Atria” a pregnant teenager believes she will give birth to any number of strange animals rather than a human baby; in “Catch and Release” a girl discovers the ghost of a Civil War hero living in the woods behind her house; and in “Tributaries” people grow a new arm each time they fall in love. Funny, surprising, and delightfully strange—all the stories have a strong emotional core; Ausubel’s primary concern is always love, in all its manifestations.
Why I bought it: First of all, that cover. Second of all, Jen Campbell said this might be her favourite short story collection, which is high praise indeed.
Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso
Blurb: In Ongoingness, Sarah Manguso continues to define the contours of the contemporary essay. In it, she confronts a meticulous diary that she has kept for twenty-five years. “I wanted to end each day with a record of everything that had ever happened,” she explains. But this simple statement belies a terror that she might forget something, that she might miss something important. Maintaining that diary, now eight hundred thousand words, had become, until recently, a kind of spiritual practice.
Then Manguso became pregnant and had a child, and these two Copernican events generated an amnesia that put her into a different relationship with the need to document herself amid ongoing time.
Ongoingness is a spare, meditative work that stands in stark contrast to the volubility of the diary—it is a haunting account of mortality and impermanence, of how we struggle to find clarity in the chaos of time that rushes around and over and through us.
Why I bought it: Because Sarah Manguso blurbed Vanishing Twins, my favourite book of September.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Blurb: Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?
Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.
At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.
In this, Boyne’s most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.
Why I bought it: I caved; everybody loves it, Rachel loves it, I hope to love it.
Walk Through Walls: A Memoir by Marina Abramovic
Blurb: This memoir spans Marina Abramovic’s five decade career, and tells a life story that is almost as exhilarating and extraordinary as her groundbreaking performance art. Taking us from her early life in communist ex-Yugoslavia, to her time as a young art student in Belgrade in the 1970s, where she first made her mark with a series of pieces that used the body as a canvas, the book also describes her relationship with the West German performance artist named Ulay who was her lover and sole collaborator for 12 years.
Abramovic has collaborated with stars from Lady Gaga to Jay-Z, James Franco and Willem Dafoe. Best known for her recent pieces ‘The Artist is Present’ and ‘512 Hours’, this book is a fascinating insight into the life of one of the most important artists working today, and the woman who has been described as ‘the grandmother of performance art’.
Why I bought it: Marina Abramovic endlessly fascinates me. Her performance art is just so stunning and uncomfortable and boundary breaking. I need to know more about her.
A Lucky Man: Stories by Jamel Brinkley
Blurb: In the nine expansive, searching stories of A Lucky Man, fathers and sons attempt to salvage relationships with friends and family members and confront mistakes made in the past. An imaginative young boy from the Bronx goes swimming with his group from day camp at a backyard pool in the suburbs, and faces the effects of power and privilege in ways he can barely grasp. A teen intent on proving himself a man through the all-night revel of J’Ouvert can’t help but look out for his impressionable younger brother. A pair of college boys on the prowl follow two girls home from a party and have to own the uncomfortable truth of their desires. And at a capoeira conference, two brothers grapple with how to tell the story of their family, caught in the dance of their painful, fractured history.
Jamel Brinkley’s stories, in a debut that announces the arrival of a significant new voice, reflect the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class―where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.
Why I bought it: I wanted to read this since its publication and the nomination for the National Book Award for fiction gave me that last push.
To Much and Not in the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose
Blurb: An entirely original portrait of a young writer shutting out the din in order to find her own voice
On April 11, 1931, Virginia Woolf ended her entry in A Writer’s Diary with the words “too much and not the mood.” She was describing how tired she was of correcting her own writing, of the “cramming in and the cutting out” to please other readers, wondering if she had anything at all that was truly worth saying.
The character of that sentiment, the attitude of it, inspired Durga Chew-Bose to write and collect her own work. The result is a lyrical and piercingly insightful collection of essays, letters (to her grandmother, to the basketball star Michael Jordan, to Death), and her own brand of essay-meets-prose poetry about identity and culture. Inspired by Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Lydia Davis’s short prose, and Vivian Gornick’s exploration of interior life, Chew-Bose captures the inner restlessness that keeps her always on the brink of creative expression.
Too Much and Not the Mood is a beautiful and surprising exploration of what it means to be a first-generation, creative young woman working today.
Why I bought it: It just sounded like my type of book. And maybe less political than some of the non-fiction I have been reading lately, which suits my reading mood.
Have you read any of these? What are your thoughts?