Emily likes to read fiction that features sad women trying to pull their lives together with unhappy or unsatisfying endings and also short stories. When she's not reading, you can find her writing, drinking beer, trying to make dinner, or reading poetry.
Concept: Write a letter to a stranger. Maybe you caught their name, maybe they will forever be a mystery but essentially a person who passed by your life only fleetingly. Yet they haunt you, you've never forgotten them. What would that letter say?
Product: This book!
If you liked Arnett's first novel, Mostly Dead Things, you'll love this one! She does flawed characters so well - I'm able to hate them and feel for them depending on the page. As someone with two moms, I found it fist-pumpingly refreshing to see a very real, albeit not the most successful, depiction of lesbian parenthood. Our main character, ripped away from the impulse to make queer characters 'good,' is messy and brutal; I couldn't put her down!
Like any powerful woman in her position would do, Baer takes the criticism she gets from being a writer, a mother, a woman on the internet and makes it into art. On the left page are real messages and comments, positive and negative, Baer has received while the right page has an erasure (or blackout) poem taken from the message, blacked out to reveal only a few words and phrases. They are sparse and minimal but, with the origin in mind, they are beautiful and bold.
Muted watercolor illustrations paired with grade school cursive on grade school writing paper published from the Seattle small press, Fantagraphics, I was endeared to Mannie Murphy from the beginning. Genderqueer and a Portland native themself, Murphy illustrates the dark history of the Rose City as well as the life and death of their teenage adulation, River Phoenix. My only complaint is that I wanted more!
Dorothy is a fortysomething food critic that gives a whole new meaning to the word maneater. The descriptions of food are indulgent and decadent. Her tastes are highbrow but the fictional memoir style confessional brings you back down, in on the not-so-secret secret. Read it for the power and the quiet insanity, the tricks she pulls off and the ones she doesn't.
Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night kept me up at night! in a good way! because I had to finish it in one sitting! This is a reissue of her first poetry collection printed from the Portland small press, Tin House. Parker's words dance amidst pain and reality television, Gwendolyn Brooks and Jay-Z. My favorite: "The World Is Beautiful but You Are Not in It"
This is a read-in-one-day kind of book or stretch it out into two if you don't want it to end. Written in fragments but still stays whole, Offill outlines the very real thoughts and feelings of a wife and mother with a careful wit and quiet intelligence. One of my favorite books I will come back to again and again; you should probably just read it.
In the absorbing world of online dating, when ghosting is the all too easy and preferred exit strategy, Ghosts will sting but it'll also soothe. Alderton brings us her relatable, thirtysomething woes as Nina deals with her food writing career, her married-with-kids friends, her aging parents, and, of course, her love life. Everyone's disappearing but that's not stopping her from showing up. Set in the London city suburbs, you'll tuck right in and won't want to leave.
Abdurraqib masterly balances the informational and the personal in this exploration of black performance from the vaudevillian-turned-spy Josephine Baker to the vulnerability of Wu-Tang Clan to poem-like entries "On Times I Have Forced Myself to Dance." (Did you know, even after singing about wanting to dance with somebody, Whitney Houston couldn't really dance? Check out the 1988 Grammy's.) Anyway, check this out if you want a beautifully entertaining book on entertainment.
No wonder our black salesman that breaks the fourth wall has been widely likened to Sorry to Bother You and The Wolf of Wall Street what with Askaripour's regimen of two hours of movie trailers and music videos before writing. A very well-balanced satire that makes you laugh and cringe at our very own world he holds a mirror to. A very hard one to put down!
Easily combining the modern ways of standup comedy for Indigenous folks with the tragic history of their 'real estate problem' (as the great Charlie Hill puts it), Nesteroff does wonders in 270 odd pages. He flexes his wide knowledge of comedy and show business and is upfront in the Author's Note that he himself is not Indigenous so his goal was to highlight the voices in comedy and show business who are. And, in these short but comprehensive essays/chapters, I think he succeeds.
Tolstoy + Chekhov + Gogol + Turgenev + Saunders = a crash course in good writing! My favorite chapter was on "The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol for the pure absurdity of the story and the great clarity Saunders brought to understanding it.
I'll admit, before this book, I couldn't name one song by A Tribe Called Quest. Abdurraqib writes something and I read it, simple as that. Just like with his other work, he comes at Go Ahead in the Rain (a song by A Tribe Called Quest) wanting to geek out and back it up with a well-researched history. My favorite parts were, varied within the timeline of their illustrious career, Abdurraqib's personal letters to Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali that read equally like letters to friends and to great influences. The cover really says it all.
Danny Goldberg was more than a band manager to Nirvana but a friend and confidant, especially to Kurt Cobain, at the height of their career. He is able to share the good and the bad, without idolizing or demonizing Cobain, in this look behind the music scene of the early nineties punk rock and grunge surge. So sit back, maybe unplug with Unplugged in the background, and enjoy.
This has it all: an eating disorder, mommy issues, frozen yogurt, sex, the spirit of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, and lots more. The detail Broder brings to this story of appetite (that of spirituality, sensuality, and food) is magnificent. You feel like you're under the neon lights of the kosher Chinese Polynesian American restaurant in the middle of LA, rooting for Rachel as she starts feeding herself in more ways than one. Let me assure you that it's not for everyone, with a big trigger warning and explicit sex scenes, but it could be for you.
Perfect for those humor fans or non-pretentious movie buffs that want to weigh in on what other movie characters would be in Regina George's clique or who got it the worst in Kill Bill? Paired with Torres' fantastic illustrations, Serrano writes lovingly and analytically about movies from the 1980s to today with opinions that toggle between silly and serious. Because really which movie villain would make the best hang and how culturally significant was 1997's Selena? This is a great book to escape into with the kind of author that wouldn't leave you bored at a party.
Mediocre is anything but mediocre. Oluo lays out how we have perpetuated white supremacy and racism by celebrating the simple mediocrity of white maleness. With a seat at the table, she elbows room for other women and people of color, the biggest victims of this mediocrity, and unpacks the dangers of societal expectations. Well-researched and still accessible, this book will make you really angry but in a good way.
There's a reason why he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2020! These poems are lovely and devastating. Beautiful and heartbreaking, of course, with titles like "Bullet Points" as a black man in America and lines like "I love a man I know I could die" as an openly gay, HIV-positive man. Read this if you want something solid and good.
This short story collection was unlike anything I've ever read. I've never seen women and queerness so front and center in this way and Machado does it all with a breezy air of magical realism. From a retold fable with parenthetical asides to reimagined Law & Order plotlines to an inventory of lovers set against a global virus (which may hit close to home, eesh). I hope it sticks with you like it has stuck with me.
I'm a sucker for a novel in verse! For fans of Elizabeth Acevedo and Jacqueline Woodson, Mahogany L. Browne writes the story of a teenage girl just trying to play basketball without getting too cold in her best friend's shadow. Her words bite but her voice is delicate, letting me relish in that dichotomy of girlhood. Chlorine Sky feels like the chemicals from the community pool and the sun setting orange, your fingers are pruny but it's just so beautiful. Five more minutes
A perfect example of a book for children and adults alike; give this to everyone you know! Woodson writes in verse, beautifully combining prose and poetry, to tell the autobiographical story of a brown girl coming of age at the tailend of Jim Crow. She grapples with identity and the idea of home, growing up in South Carolina and New York, while still trying to be a kid with dreams of becoming a writer. It's powerful, it's beautiful, it's no wonder it was a Newbery Award nominee.
Told in sparse paragraphs but with full language, like only the best bits you underline in a book. Woodson weaves together the many stories of a multi-generational black family as, across time, everyone navigates their own relationship with identity, gentrification, parenthood, class, and that red-to-the-bone feeling that comes with love.
Essential for Palahniuk fans as well as writers wanting to learn from a seasoned pro. He gives you behind-the-scenes insight into his infamous story, Guts, his eventful book tours, and, of course, Fight Club. He also tells you how to write a damn good story, he should know. You don't have to take his word as God but you are guaranteed, regardless, to be entertained.
Listening to the audiobook felt like, hilarious comedian, Michelle Buteau was my best friend sitting in my passenger seat. What I liked was that, like everyone, she has insecurities (especially as a mixed race plus size woman in our society) but she doesn't dwell and then fully embodies confidence, not cockiness and not in a ra-ra-bumper-sticker way. Essays range from her early years in comedy to bumbling hookups that led to her Dutch husband to 9/11 and trying to get pregnant via IVF. If that didn't convince you, watch her minute-long scene in Someone Great on Youtube then read this book.
Have you ever wanted to know what Dave Eggers read when he was a kid? What is Louise Erdrich reading right now? Book nerds Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager (librarian/author and playwright, respectively) pick the brains of other book nerds (famous writers) about the books that made them who they are. If you want some good recommendations from authors you trust as well as insight into their writing and reading lives, this is the book for you!
Trethewey comes at writing a memoir like the poet that she is. Her words will break your heart almost as much as her story does, told from a daughter's perspective of her mother suffering through domestic violence. She really shows the thin line between love and hate, passion and anger, especially in the bone-chilling recorded phone calls between her mother and ex-husband. Through her efforts to learn more about the woman she lost when she was 19, Trethewey will take your breath away.
This is a must read. Abdurraqib combines the experience of music and culture through such an engaging lens, it's hard to put it down. He can talk about Carly Rae Jepsen, Fall Out Boy, Bruce Springsteen, being black, being Muslim, living in contemporary America all in one breath with such ease and such a command for language. Seriously, even his Instagram captions are well-written (you should follow him).
This book spoke to me like it had a bullhorn. Weird and, at times, disturbing but not just for the sake of being weird and, at times, disturbing. Mona has her heart broken by Mr. Disgusting then moves to New Mexico to become a maid and...dun dun dun...looks through her clients' stuff while also cleaning out some of her own skeletons. Goodreads touts her as a combination of Mary Karr and Miranda July which I wholeheartedly agree. It feels like hearing from a friend but one of those friends you're not totally sure you like but want to hear more from, you know? Read the sequel, Vacuum in the Dark, to see what happens next!
You have adventure, family drama, laughs! A comedian, upon her fortieth birthday, takes each of her family members on one-on-one vacations and chooses Grand Canyon whitewater rafting for her younger sister. With alternating chapters between treacherous days on the water and divulging her father's scandal that changed everything, it almost reads as fiction. She meets curious characters on her boat and faces some fears while also sharing the road to her comedy career and her struggles with religion and marriage. It tackles so much in such a digestible read!
I am neither a father nor about to become one but this book about a comedian fumbling his way reluctantly through fatherhood was a very enjoyable read. Fans of Birbiglia will recognize his humor and delivery as well as his poignant storytelling as he pairs his experience being a father with his wife's experience of being a mother through her poetry. Great insight into the other side of parenthood we don't see as much that will still have you laughing out loud.
The language in this is gorgeous!! In her debut collection, Parsons can write of the ugliest things we don't want to show a black light to like our secret longings, deep-seated self-loathing, or our bodies up close. Then she'll pull a: "Where I'm from, falling asleep is easy. You can hear your eyelashes swipe the pillow. There's so much nothing pouring in, you drift off listening to your choice." Or: "A girl like that can't last. A fleeting gleam. I don't know if there's a word for the ache of missing something when you still have it. I'd kiss her and taste my doom." Wow!
I read this for research (no, I don't want to fake my own death) but now I could totally fake my own death. If you've ever wanted to know more, or anything, about the hidden underworld of pseudocide, Playing Dead is a great place to start! Greenwood, loaded with student loan debt herself, investigates what it takes to leave everything behind for a new life.
Did you know, whilst on a train platform before he could fall to his death, John Wilkes Booth's brother saved Abraham Lincoln's son's life? It's interesting tidbits like this that you can pull out at parties or impress your friends with that you'll find in this book. Vowell, a history nerd at heart, travels to locations around the US immortalized by bloodshed, uncovering more about the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. And with her sharp wit and wisecracking humor, it makes you feel like you're being taught a history lesson but by the cool, hip teacher.
I go back to this book quite often. If I could underline the whole thing, I would. Carson reimagines an ancient Greek myth into a coming-of-age story told through verse, a combination of prose and poetry that lends itself perfectly to Carson's voice. Our main character, a red winged monster, deals with who to love, his brother and mother and the magnetic boy who takes him by the hand. A haunting and beautiful page-turner that at only 160 pages will make you pick it up again after you've just put it down.
Blanco was the first openly gay, Latino, immigrant, as well as the youngest person to be the US inaugural poet when he read for Obama's second term. He brings this energy with him in this collection, his beautiful language depicting such heartbreak toward America's tendency for gun violence, racism, and LGBTQ oppression. Throughout, you can see him struggling with the idea of nationhood, digging his way closer to the answer of how to truly love a country.