Recommendations for Non-Fiction November

As every month is non-fiction month for me, I will not officially be participating in Non-Fiction November but I still wanted to talk about some of my favourites and recommend a few books that those of you who are looking to read more non-fiction might want to check out. Disclaimer first: my non-fiction reading is heavily dominated by memoirs written by women, feminist essays, and creative non-fiction. I rarely read biographies (but really want to more) and general non-fiction, so here your recommendations are very welcome. Recommendations are always welcome, in fact.

I have based my recommendations on other genres, so that this is also accessible to those who don’t ever read non-fiction.

If you usually read contemporary, then memoirs might be the way to go. Usually fairly accessible, memoirs often deal with that weird period of life between being a child and being properly “grown up” and for me offered a much-needed glimpse into other people’s lives. (I have written a whole post on why I love memoirs which can be found here.)

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

35840657One of my absolute favourite books of the year, this short memoir packs an enormous punch. Written in fragments and often in a spiralling way, Mailhot chronicles her fight with mental illness and what it means to be Native. She does not claim to speak a universal truth, but only her truth and I found this incredibly effective. Her language is poetic and abrasive and I am very much in love. I still don’t have the words to talk about this properly, but in my review I tried.

Mean by Myriam Gurba

34381333This book took me totally by surprise. It took me a while to find my bearing and to get used to the abrasive writing style, but once I did and once I realized what Gurba’s essays were working towards, I was hooked and in awe. The book is a total punch to the gut, but so very brilliantly executed that I cannot help but adore it. My review can be found here.

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

9214995No list would be complete without me recommending this book. In fact, if you only read one book from this list, maybe choose this. It was my favourite book of last year and just a complete masterpiece. Lidia Yuknavitch has a brilliant way with words and her memoir is raw and honest and just perfect. My longer review can be found here.

If you are really invested in politics, then some of these feminist essay collections might be of interest for you.

Not That Bad ed. by Roxane Gay

35068524One of the best books I have read this year, this collection of personal essays on rape culture really is a must read. I am obviously a huge fan of Roxane Gay’s work and I was very impressed by the way she curated these wonderful essays. There was not a single essay in this collection that I did not appreciate and I found a lot of people whose next work I am eagerly awaiting and whose other essays I am reading religiously. If you can deal the subject matter, I really do recommend picking this up. My longer review can be found here.

Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates

25175985Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism project and her collection of essays on the subject and on the project is definitely worth checking out. I listened to the audiobook, which Laura Bates narrates herself and I found myself really immersed in her writing. Her book is impeccably researched and wonderfully realized; she draws both on literature and statistics and on the more personal anecdotes shared on the Everyday Sexism page and builds a really convincing whole. It also did not end with me wanting to burn the world down, which is always a plus. My review is here.

If you usually read literary fiction, then creative non-fiction might just be the thing for you. It is usually exceptionally well-written and for me at least, has a poetry to the sentences that I just adore (and closely mirrors the very best literary fiction in that sense).

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (or any book written by Maggie Nelson)

28459915Maggie Nelson is possibly the queen of creative non-fiction. Her sentences are crisp and she flits between different ideas and styles in a highly impressive way. The Argonauts deals with her relationship with her gender-fluid husband and chronicles the changes to her body due to pregnancy and the changes to Harry’s body due to hormone therapy. It also deals with so much more, drawing on gender theory and sociology and everything inbetween, and as a reading experience is highly rewarding. Bluets by the same author is also highly recommended.

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

22244927This book is seriously short but packs an unbelievable punch. Sarah Manguso writes about her complex relationship with her diary, which she kept religiously for most of her adult life, and about why she stopped keeping one. I found this moving and thought-provoking and incredibly well-done. You can find my review here.

Vanishing Twins: A Marriage by Leah Dieterich

37690295Leah Dieterich writes about her marriage, but she also writes about dance and art and polyamory and everything in-between. I absolutely adored her short and snappy essays that build to a much larger whole. She made me think and smile and sad and in general this book just really worked for me. You can find more of my thoughts on the book here.

Are you planning on participating in Non-Fiction November? What books are you planning on reading? Also, what is your favourite non-fiction book?

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Recommendations: Short Story Collections

I love short stories. I only started properly reading them a few years ago but I have developed such an appreciation for the format. When a short story is done right, it can pack an unbelievable punch.

16158505I am currently reading A Guide To Being Born by Ramona Asubel, a rather brilliant collection, with twisty, dark, wonderful, magical stories (I understand why Jen Campbell names this as one of her favourites) and the reading experience got me thinking about what I like in the collections I adore. I gravitate towards short stories with a bit of a magical twist – I find these stories to be super mesmerizing. I also appreciate more realistic stories but here I often find that these collections are overall rather bleak which can get too much for me.

Here are some of my favourite short story collections, in case you are (like me) always looking for more collections to read.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

28818921Nobody is surprised to see this collection of this list: I adored every second of it. I am in general a huge fan of Roxane Gay’s writing and these stories are a perfect example for her prose and her characterization, which I am just in awe of. The stories are well-plotted and purposefully structured. You can find my review here.

 

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

29236311One of my all-time favourite books, everything about this spoke to me. Marra tells an overarching story in wonderfully structured short stories. His command of language is impressive, his way of characterising people with a sentence and a half something that I find fascinating, and his sense for pacing and plotting is absolutely on display here. Be warned though, the book and its subject matter is bleak (it is after all set in Chechnya and unblinking in its depiction of war and atrocities), but Marra infuses it with just enough hope to be a stunning ode human connection. I cannot wait for his next book.

The Brink by Austin Bunn

22693283I loved this (and its perfect cover!). The stories all deal with some sort of Brink – often the end of the world as we know it. I adored the vagueness of the stories and the punch they had. Bunn is a another of those authors whose next work I am eagerly awaiting. You can find my review here.

 

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

32874103Another set of interconnected short stories where I found the whole even greater than the sum of its parts. Strout shows great tenderness for her characters while being unflinching in her portrayal of their short comings. Her stories are wonderfully structured and impeccably paced. She excels especially in depicting families in all their dysfunctional glory. I adored this. My review is here.

Tales of Falling and Flying by Ben Loory

33570520These stories are peculiar. They feature anthropomorphic animals (amongst other things) and revel in their weirdness. But for me, these stories worked exceedingly well and I had a blast with this collection. There is just something poetic and lyrical in the way Loory’s language flows and his imagination is glorious. My review can be found here.

 

The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks

25622828These stories just combine everything I adore in short fiction: they are magical and weird, wonderfully written, and often feature sibling relationships (I adore that). Her language flows wonderfully and every story in this collection is strong on its own. My review can be found here. (Sparks is apparently working on a new collection, an angry, feminist collection, which I cannot wait for.)

Do you read short stories at all? What are your favourite collections?

Top 5 books of the year so far

Can you believe the year is halfway done? I definitely cannot grasp that.

I have read some very lovely books so far this year and wanted to talk about my favourite five some more, so here they are, in no particular order:

Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay

35068524This book is brilliant, heartbreaking, necessary, raw, exquisitely edited, and all around great.

“The essays are not grouped together but rather all stand on their own while building a crescendo of voices. Because they are not thematically grouped together they always met me unawares. Every single voice is needed, every single voice adds something to the conversation. I have not read an anthology that I found this strong, ever. The essays are all perfectly structured and wonderfully realized. There is not a single weak essay in here but there were some that spoke to me even more than the rest did. […] My personal favourites of the book were Lyz Lenz’ All the Angry Women and Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s Knowing Better spoke to me in a way that I cannot just yet put into words; especially not in a forum that is by design public.”

 Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

35840657This book wrecked me. I could not stop reading it or thinking about it. Books like this are the reason I read memoirs.

“Terese Mailhot’s memoir packs an unbelievable punch into a book this short. I could not stop reading it: her language is hypnotic, her turn of phrase impressive, her emotional rawness painful. This book does not follow conventions, Terese Mailhot tells her story the way she wants to and needs to. She is unapologetically herself. She bares her soul and hides it at the same time. I cannot wait to see what she does next.”

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

35412372I knew from the very first page that I had something extraordinary in my hands with this one. It is unlike anything else I have ever read, but brilliant and a book I have not been able to stop thinking about.

“This debut combines many things I adore in books: unconventional framing and unreliable narrators, a story that gets recontextualized constantly and kept me on my toes, a basis in mythology that informed but did not over-shadow the actual story, perfect sentence structure that packs an unbelievable punch, and so many more things that I am still struggling to adequately talk about.”

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

37590570God, this book. I have not been able to stop thinking about it – Melissa Broder is definitely a new favourite author and the way she crafts her main character and thoroughly infuses her with life and a personality is nothing short of brilliant.

“The biggest strength of this very strong book is therefore Lucy. She is unpleasant, deeply so, mean and self-centered while staying believable as a person and ultimately being somebody I could not help but root for, even when she makes one ridiculous decision after the other. She manages to always find the most destructive course of action for any given situation. Her addiction to love (while being emotionally unavailable) is painful to watch, exactly because it is so believable. Her reaction to men is even more unbearable to watch and Melissa Broder captures the awkwardness and heartbreak of bad one-night-stands so very vividly that it made me cringe (and I mean that as a compliment).”

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

38606192This book just made me happy. Naomi Novik just has a way of capturing that fairy-talesque feeling that I have loved since I was a child.

“This is a very loose retelling of Rumpelstilzchen which incorporates parts of other fairy tales as well – so I was always going to love it. I am such a huge fan of books written in this fairy-talesque manner and if they than are set in snowy, frozen parts of the world I am in reading heaven. The book’s atmosphere of winter and rural communities and fairy tale was just executed brilliantly and the hints of other stories made me very happy. The prose is stunning and fluid, the world imagined is vivid and wonderful, and the main three characters were absolutely brilliant.”

What was your favourite book of the year so far?

Review: Ayiti by Roxane Gay

36739756Verdict: I was always going to love it. I mean, it’s Roxane Gay.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Short Stories, General Fiction

Published by Grove Atlantic, June 12th 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

In Ayiti, a married couple seeking boat passage to America prepares to leave their homeland. A young woman procures a voodoo love potion to ensnare a childhood classmate. A mother takes a foreign soldier into her home as a boarder, and into her bed. And a woman conceives a daughter on the bank of a river while fleeing a horrific massacre, a daughter who later moves to America for a new life but is perpetually haunted by the mysterious scent of blood.

Surprising absolutely no-one, I loved this. I am a huge Roxane Gay fan and I love her short fiction nearly as much as her non-fiction. This collection of short stories showcasts Gay’s tremendous talent and her brilliant voice. While this cannot quite reach the highs of her second collection (very few things do), I still adored this.

Gay’s stories center around pain. There is no way around that. These stories are grim and dark and very depressing. But she also, always, adds some hope, some light, and does so expertly and brilliantly.

There was not a single story in this collection that I didn’t like, which is very rare for me when it comes to short story collections. I do admit to finding the collection overwhelming in parts because of the grim subject matter and had to take frequent breaks after particularly grueling stories – but never for long because Roxane Gay has a very distinct, very brilliant voice and I cannot imagine a world where I won’t read every single thing she produces. Her observations are sharp and her thoughts on identity and pain and family and loyalty and living are important and necessary and so very very brilliant (I cannot help but speak in superlatives; after all Roxane Gay is one of my very favourite authors).

I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review.

Wrap Up: May 2018 or Finally.

I had a really good reading month, especially compared with the last two. I read 10 books which I mostly enjoyed.

Books read in April:

  1. An Abbrevitaed Life by Ariel Leve: 2,5 out of 5 stars
  2. Not That Bad eNotificationsdited by Roxane Gay: 5 out of 5 stars
  3. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh: 4 out of 5 stars
  4. Florida by Lauren Groff: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor: 3 out of 5 stars
  6. The White Book by Han Kang: 4 out of 5 stars
  7. Women & Power by Mary Beard: 3 out of 5 stars
  8. Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha Wells: 4 out of 5 stars
  9. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferries: 4 out of 5 stars
  10. Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2) by James S. A. Corey: 3 out of 5 stars

Continue reading “Wrap Up: May 2018 or Finally.”

Try A Chapter – May 2018 or books I have been excited about for too long.

I am not really doing all that well on my resolution to read the books that I owned before the start of the year. So I figured, I would pick a few books off my shelves and read the first chapter to see which one I want to read. I have seen this tag around and always wanted to try it.

I chose mostly fiction because I am currently reading a whole lot of genre fiction and need to diversify again. I also picked books that I am in theory super excited about, mostly by authors whose work I have enjoyed before. I am for some reason not that good to actually pick up a favourite author’s other works.

Book 1: number9dream by David Mitchell (on my shelf for 1 1/2 years)

975186Why I own it: Because I love David Mitchell and want to read all his books; this is one of two of his novels I haven’t read.

Thoughts after one chapter: That was a long chapter that should have been annoying: mixing dream sequences with Michtell’s trademark unpleasant young men does not sound appealing. But somehow it is and by the end of these 40 pages I a) want to know more and b) feel really sorry for Eiji.

Book 2: The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks (on my shelf for 6 months)

32869842Why I own it: It was nominated for the Costa First Novel Award and I love that title.

Thoughts after one chapter: I don’t know. I found it clumsy in its foreshadowing and maybe a bit too vague (and I do enjoy vagueness in my fiction). This does not quite grab me yet.

 

Book 3: An Untamed State by Roxane Gay (on my shelf for 1 1/2 years)

26029800Why I own it: It’s Roxane Gay.

Thoughts after one chapter: That book starts with a bang. I am not sure I can deal with this much darkness at the moment but on the other hand I love the way Roxane Gay’s language flows.

 

 

Book 4: Arcadia by Lauren Groff (on my shelf for over 1 1/2 years)

30621334Why I own it: I loved Fates and Furies when I read it a few years ago and bought this one and then never got around to reading it. Story of my life. I did recently read her new short story collection Florida and enjoyed that as well, so now I really want to read everything Lauren Groff has written.

Thoughts after one chapter: Very interesting. I love Lauren Groff’s straightforward prose and I do want to see where this goes. (This does not have chapters, so I read 15 pages.)

Book 5: The Book Of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch (on my shelf for 6 months)

30653706Why I own it: I am a huge fan of Lidia Yukanvitch’s writing (her memoir was by far my favourite book of last year) and want to read everything she has ever written. And then I don’t read her books.

Thoughts after one chapter: I love this. Lidia Yuknavitch is a hero. This first chapter gives a dizzying insight into the book to come and I am so here for this weird dystopian tale.

 

So, yes, this was a success. I am excited for all these books (except maybe the Xan Brooks which is just straight up weird and somehow not hooking me at all). I will be reading the David Mitchell first and then Lidia Yuknavitch’s book (second only because I am currently already reading a few sci-fi-ish books).

Have your read any of these books? What were your thoughts? Which one would you have chosen?

Review: Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay

35068524Verdict: Brilliant. Needed.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Published my HarperPerennial, May 1st, 2018

Genre: Non-Fiction, Essay Anthology, Political Non-Fiction

Find it on Goodreads.

In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, and Claire Schwartz. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, Not That Bad will resonate with every reader, saying “something in totality that we cannot say alone.”

Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.

Sometimes, when a book speaks deeply to me, I have problems putting into words what my thoughts are. This is one of those cases. Roxane Gay has built an anthology so strong, both in subject matter and in style, that I am feeling inadequate talking about it. I will try though, so bear with me while I work through my feelings.

It comes as no surprise that Roxane Gay is my hero. When this anthology arrived on my doorstep (I had preordered it months ago), I could not wait to start reading it. And I read it breathlessly, taking breaks in-between when the essays became too much, but adoring every minute of it.

The essays are not grouped together but rather all stand on their own while building a crescendo of voices. Because they are not thematically grouped together they always met me unawares. Every single voice is needed, every single voice adds something to the conversation. I have not read an anthology that I found this strong, ever. The essays are all perfectly structured and wonderfully realized. There is not a single weak essay in here but there were some that spoke to me even more than the rest did.

The anthology starts of beyond strong with Aubrey Hirsch’s Fragments and Jill Christman’s Slaughterhouse Island. Both essays different in tone and style but each beyond accomplished. My personal favourites of the book were Lyz Lenz’ All the Angry Women and Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s Knowing Better spoke to me in a way that I cannot just yet put into words; especially not in a forum that is by design public.

Do you do that thing were you need to take a break from a book but clutch it to your heart because it is so important and brilliant? I did that here, multiple times. Do read this.