Alyson loves to read poetry, graphic novels, and contemporary literary fiction. When she's not reading or at the bookstore, she is busy baking cookies and watching bad TV shows.
This was my first time dipping my toe into Annie Ernaux's work, and I now feel I have to dive in headfirst to more. The Possession is a close, breathless, yet unashamed depiction of total obsession--specifically, intense fascination after the ending of a romantic relationship. There are so many things I could say about the points Ernaux makes about love, manic obsession, ownership, gender and competition in relationships...but it's only 60 pages, and I'd recommend just diving in.
All aboard the pain train!!!
Punpun's life is genuinely tragic--and no, it's not because he's a simplistic, tampon-shaped bird in a world full of uncanny humans. His home life is rough, his crush clearly has some issues of her own, and his friends get into some mischief that threatens to turn dangerous. Come along to root for this clear-hearted (if emotionally addled) little guy as he struggles to make it through with the help of his uncle and the shining face of his persoal God, who visits to yell at him periodically. Lean into the strangeness!
This brief novella is a shining example of how in great literature, less is often best. The emotional and phiosophical punch this book packs is not to be underestimated, though--Keegan's taut narration skips onto then out off "heavy" topics such as ethics, social responsibility, and the tragic history of Ireland's Magdalene Laundries like a stone over water. It's beautiful.
Rather than "poems," "a memoir," or the ever-present "a novel" on the cover, Maggie Millner's debut evades typical genre categorization and announces itself plainly as "a love story." This book is an incredible achievement; Millner drops us into her speaker's journey of self-discovery, using forms that appear familiar to bring the reader in before you realize that this is different from any other book in verse you've read before. It's vulnerable, self-aware, emotional, and cathartic. I want everyone to read this book.
I'm a huge lover of graphic short stories as a genre (hello Jillian Tamaki and Michael DeForge), so I was excited to learn that Megan Kelso's latest would mark her return to this format. However, the five sections of Who Will Make the Pancakes? do not feel short to me--despite their brevity, each one builds a kind of intimacy that isn't usually easy to access. Kelso quietly ushers us into each of these delicate worlds and trusts us to be respectful listeners to the problems that unfold there, from the silence surrounding a predator in a community of teenage PNW climbers, to a new mother's recontextualizing of her own mother's experience of pregnancy, to a family whose domestic labor is peformed by entirely by cats. Each story glows.
This was everything I loved about Sabrina and more. Drnaso's cast of characters are each intriguing and weird in their own ways, and the increasingly blurry line between reality and hallucination (or transcendence, or psychosis, depending on whose perspective we trust) felt like it was pulling me down into another world along with the "actors" as I read. There's a very similar quality in this book as in one of my all-time favorite graphic novels, Leaving Richard's Valley, but with a more twisted, melancholy tone. Acting Class proves yet again that Nick Drnaso is a heavy hitter.
A book I will definitely have to come back to! Reading about the Matsutake market in this book felt like a privileged glimpse into an unfamiliar world, one which exists outside the idea of scarcity. For example, I will be thinking about the image of a "pipe" of wealth waiting to be broken open for a long time.The idea of an almost playful economy based on work that defies our typical classifications for labor is fascinating.
Jet’s on their own for the first time, living in a boarding house among other young people and discovering their gender identity (along with Kurt Cobain and the lure of parties and impulsive tattoos). This quiet, heartfelt graphic novel envelops you, wrapping you in the soft, heady, if confusing feelings of its time. Jet is the kind of friend I wish everyone could have.
Ryann Stevenson's Human Resources is a cool exploration of technology, both as a force and an industry. The "protagonist" of these often story-like poems works in AI, and the juxtaposition between her humanity and the humanity she has been tasked with working on creates a fascinating (if uncomfortable) space for Stevenson to explore. This book often made me think of Franny Choi's Soft Science, which is a favorite poetry collection of mine.
The Adventures of China Iron far exceeded my already high hopes: for such a short book, this story feels like an epic one. This is a kind of retelling of an mythic tale, and the elements of the original that the author chooses to play with are inventive, alternately making fun of the source text and twisting it to craft a compelling adventure plot. I have to mention the stellar translation, as well: on a sentence level, this book is beautiful and clever.
If you’ve ever felt conflicted about dropping off yet another load of old clothes at Goodwill, wondering if you’re just adding another stop before they end up in a landfill, this book is for you. Adam Minter’s investigation into all things sold secondhand is fascinating and energizing. He meets with people in the industry all over the world, from managers at giant thrift stores to consignment furniture buyers with niche markets to clean-out crews who endeavor to rehome items let go by downsizing seniors. If you stick with this book (not a difficult thing to do; Minter’s voice is funny and compelling), you’ll be rewarded with a renewed hope for the future of reuse.
I Who Have Never Known Men will stick with me for a long time. Though the premise of the novel is disturbing, I found that the narrator’s stoic demeanor made the most unnerving moments more clear and profound. As Sophie Mackintosh says in the afterword, this book's refusal to give its secrets up to the reader is unwavering and impenetrable, and this is part of what makes the writing so fascinating. One of the most exciting works of speculative fiction I've read, especially impressive given that it was originally published 27 years ago.
Evelio Rosero’s Stranger to the Moon is a likely timeless allegory of classism and the abuse these divisions allow. The narrow world of the story is divided into two groups: the clothed and the unclothed. The naked are hidden away and forced to work as slaves for the clothed, who revel in their power and mock the underclass. I found this concise, taut story to be equal parts disturbing and thought-provoking; a testament to the strength a novella can yield.
Of course, the world didn’t really stop shopping in March of 2020. However the dramatic shift in consumer habits that took place as an immediate byproduct of the pandemic provided the perfect jumping-off point for J.B. Mackinnon’s essential question: what would happen if we stopped shopping, or even reduced our shopping globally by 5%? I know this might seem like an odd book to display in a place dedicated to buying books, but MacKinnon offers many hopeful frameworks for recontextualizing our relationships to shopping and rethinking what it means to always be buying. This book doesn’t have all the answers, but it greatly helped me in creating a personal philosophy for consumption.
This beautiful book is full of cool and useful information about some of our favorite fruits, herbs, veggies, fungi, and flowers! Whether you want to grow your own kale or learn about the history of the pineapple, this is the book for you.
I’ll admit that Writers & Lovers was my first venture into Lily King’s work, but I loved it so much that I’m already itching to read more. This novel follows a 31-year-old writer struggling to support herself under the weight of student debt and to process her mother’s recent, unexpected death. She narrates her day-to-day life at a breathless pace with laconic, even descriptions of her surroundings and community unfolding as she goes. To me, the pivotal element of this book is how King crafts the protagonist’s fraught relationships with affectedly “creative” men: their desire to possess, consume, or control her, and their conceptions of love as compared with hers. Read this with a friend, as I did, as you’ll want to discuss it the moment you close the last page.
If you enjoyed Yrsa Daley-Ward's The Terrible, Rachel Long is the new poet for you. Each poem, and each group of cyclical poems, drops you into scenes from the story of the given speaker's coming of age. Rachel Long has an incredible sense of voice, and even as she inhabits multiple speakers, the images she’s able to cultivate with each are unique yet united. This was a difficult read at times as it dealt plainly with sexual abuse, but it was one of the most gripping books of poetry I read last year. She never tells us more than she needs to, and this results in the feeling that each of these poems could be its own story, if only the poet decides to reveal more precious details to us.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I initially bought this book for the cover--it’s a great design, and perfectly suited to the story. On the surface Love is about two men, friends since they were young, catching up over beers years after they have “settled down.” But the beauty of this story is in the intricacies of their communication. Roddy Doyle gestures at unspoken dynamics that most readers will immediately recognize: the alternating tension and softness between friends reconnecting after time apart. It’s a space that feels natural to linger in, a testament to the author’s ability to coax out feelings that would ordinarily go unnamed.
This was a very quiet story about family and mental health, but its power sneaks up on you. My favorite part of this book was watching the characters morph into their "feral" selves when they play with Ray's niece, Nessie. The art is fantastic in these parts, and there's something so true in this concept. Highly recommend.
Michael DeForge takes everything too far (in the best way). Each one of these stories begins with a simple idea: for example, in the first one, a person dealing with imposter’s syndrome. We then find out that this person is a surgeon, actually unqualified for their position, and is part of a global community of “imposters” working in jobs they have no training for. Each of these stories is similarly funny, inventive, and weird. They’ll make you laugh and then catch you off-guard with more tender, hopeful moments.
This is one of those special books that appeared in the store with little fanfare but has become one of my most favorite craft books. I've owned this book for months and every time I open it I still find something new to love. Yes, this is an instructional, useful book that gently teaches you basic stitches and techniques for mending all kinds of clothing, but more than anything this book is a meditation on care. The illustrations, stories, and sentiments in this book are created with immense care. The Montenegro sisters make a compelling case for slowing down and taking care of ourselves and our surroundings in many ways, including (but not limited to) our clothes.
Happy National Poetry Month! Space Struck is a lovely collection. I read this book after listening to a podcast featuring the poet, in which Lewis's voice and presence were so unique that I felt I had to read their written work, just to see how this would translate to the page. The way the poems deal with nature, especially, is really satisfying. Nature is a complicated and cruel character in its own right. Each poem is clever, understated, tight, a little funny, and often sad.
Please be forewarned—if you do not like cows, you will not like this book. However, if you do love cows (even as a general concept, as I do), look no further for a book to satisfy all your cow knowledge needs. I picked up The Farmer's Son as I was looking for a little escapism, and Connell's personal story of returning to his family farm during calving season certainly provides that. Life on the farm is not portrayed as idyllic here, but Connell illustrates the richness of the farming tradition with its due respect.
This book begins as a dedicated ode to Dr. J (Julius Erving, a basketball great). However, in a fashion that is now recognizable to most of Gay's readers, the poem flows and expands, seeping into disparate ideas and gathering them together gently. It follows the motions of Dr. J's famous move in a kind of soaring flight, one sweeping sentence instead of one leap. Ross Gay never disappoints.
Franny Choi's ideas are rooted in science fiction but stretch into fully human ideas of gender and identity. Cyborg and human speakers morph into each other as you progress through the poems, creating a new framework for understanding the self through technology. Eventually, these cyborgs sound more like humans, insecure and sheepish (try page 19 for "Turing Test_Emotional Response" if this interests you). I imagine this book would be even more fun to read if you were more well-versed in science fiction than I am; the poems are often laden with references. There's a lot going on in this book, but Choi finds balance: for every cleverly robotic turn of phrase, there's a heady sensory description.
It's not easy to do surrealism in YA, but A.S. King excels in this space. Her free floating narratives feel natural and true, despite their changing relationships to reality. Each of the five stories told in The Dig are odd, interesting, and often magical in their own right, and they slowly come together to create a fascinating full picture in a reveal that genuinely surprised me. I should also note that the book is not only magical. The characters in this book are young adults dealing with fully adult, real problems: racism, chronic illness, and family estrangement, among others. King's treatment of these topics is deft, and the five characters parse systemic issues with impressive complexity.
The past seven months have proven how vital it is for us to care for each other. Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha was my first real introduction to disability justice and activism, and it feels like a necessary read for the current moment (and all other moments). Care Work covers the history and dynamics of disability justice, with a constant eye toward a more compassionate future. This book does cover some sensitive topics, but the author treats the subject material with honesty and transparency.
Cameron Awkward-Rich's second poetry collection covers a lot of ground, and does so with intensity and efficiency. As the title suggests, each poem is a compact delivery. Some feel like news briefs, as they speak to social issues of violence and racism, as well as a growing disappointment in the world. Others are glimpses into more personal and intimate moments. I recommend taking an extra moment to be still with "Meditations in an Emergency" (22), a poem that has come back to me with regularity since reading Dispatch several months ago.
Heather Christle is extremely good at gently reminding us of things we know but don't verbalize often enough. Even the observation that crying is the first thing we ever do helps to reframe an activity that most of us don't actively enjoy. I appreciate this book because it treats crying with nuance: not simply glorifying it as cathartic, or focusing on the discomfort in crying. Unsurprisingly, this book is often sad, but also scientific, oddly funny, and sweet.
Saeed Jones's memoir is my favorite fall book so far. Expanded from an essay (entitled How Men Fight For Their Lives) he originally published on The Rumpus in 2012, How We Fight For Our Lives exposes intersections of racism and homophobia in moments of intensity as well as moments of quiet. Jones lets the reader know him--his vulnerability is at the forefront as he details his coming of age, his relationship with his mother, and his understanding of the world and how to survive in it. I read it in one sitting.
Kaminsky's poems are meant to be read aloud, specifically by the poet himself (if you're not familiar, I would highly recommend looking up videos of his readings on YouTube). However, these poems, especially with their small illustrations, are equally beautiful on the page. This book is at once political and personal--Kaminsky introduces empathy to a desolate setting and tells the story of a community under military occupation through careful focus on a few intimate moments.