Take a big breath. Listen, you can dive into your local — but most likely Indigo — bookstore and browse their many but not-diverse-in-any-way-that-matters and suspiciously vanilla sections of suggested — apparently we’re to take Heather’s word for it — readings for days and still not come up with a gem you’ll cherish for years to come for a couple of reasons: a) books organized with the organizational skills of a five-year-old with a corporate mindset aren’t conducive to a good search; b) if you do make it down to a smaller independent bookstore, you’re busy deciphering Joseph or Karen or some Edward’s handwriting in the staff-recommended section, which is, not to mention the efforts at trying to also decipher their personalities and to see whether the mildly indie sounding playlist also belongs to J., K., or E., distracting; c) I have a personal problem with the databaselessness of BMV and their knack for ugly stickers and surprisingly short list of books; and d) new and contemporary books are often pushed aside when the reader in search looks at and is tugged by the poised and attractive cover of a Penguin Classic. If you’re thinking, ‘That’s what online book lists for!’ first, yes, you’re right, but second, they usually peddle the same stuff over and over again. The best way, in my not so humble opinion, to find a book that you didn’t know you were looking for is to spend an hour or two at a used bookstore. But who has time for that these days?
This list of ten books for March is less ‘You have to read these’ and more ‘Consider these books and books that are like these ones in spirit.’ You can easily find excellent essays or stories written by these authors online — I’ve included some links below for you convenience. Read those first before hitting the bookstores. Once there, maybe go straight for the titles mentioned here, or venture with them in mind. Ignore my haughtiness and really try this. It usually works. A reading guide must be a “DIY: Axe” to the frozen sea within us.
Anything by Rebecca Solnit
By this time, you’ve probably been ‘told’ to read Solnit’s excellent Men Explain Things to Me (2014) and frighteningly prescient and necessary Hope in the Dark (2004). Which, if you haven’t, you should. And more to the point, if you have, do continue with Solnit’s essays on diverse subject matters ranging from urban planning and politics to the economy, environment, and the arts. A good place to start is The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, a collection of her essays. Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, the latest in Sonlit’s series of atlases that reimagine American landscapes, is another excellent choice.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Perhaps this is my arrogance raised to a preternatural height speaking but I think the number of people who know George Saunders’s name are much higher than the number who have read and appreciate his works. Which is really a shame because Saunders truly tests our capacity for empathy and thereby extends, frustratingly and beautifully, its boundaries beyond what once seemed possible. Which, I must say risking being redundant, is really something we need today. If not convinced, turn to this. His debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, based on the story of Abraham Lincoln and the death of his child, Willie Lincoln, is told from multiple perspectives — including those of the ghost forms of Hans Vollman, a once stupendously well-endowed printer, and a once closeted and now multi-limbed Roger Bevins III. This stylistically unique and often hilarious novel is a good place to continue or start your relationship with Saunders’s works.
A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women by Siri Hustvedt
Siri Hustvedt’s new collection of essays is concerned with subjects ranging from art, the workings of the human mind, and writing to our capacity for and nature of imagination. One of the pleasures of reading Hustvedt, aside from her intellect, writing, and persistent curiosity, is the pleasure of reading someone who is incredibly well-read; her sources include Kierkargaard, Kant, Niels Bohr, and many more.
Autumn by Ali Smith
Dubbed ‘the first great Brexit novel’ by the New York Times, Ali Smith’s latest, Autumn, deals with loving and unusual friendship in tumultuous and uncertain times that was the political climate leading up to the Brexit vote and is still very much the case throughout the world. Daniel and Elisabeth, the central characters, meet when Elisabeth decides to take on the role of family for the dying, 101-year-old man. As an innovating novelist and a chronicler of our times, Smith depicts the two coexisting yet antithetical worlds of their friendship in the elder-care facility and the turmoil outside.
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
In Vivek Shanbhag’s novella, we meet a nouveau riche family in Bangalore, India, whose dynamic shifts and turns as its members adjust to a new life, a new perspective. The novella not only harkens back to the best of classic family novels — those of Edith Wharton and Tolstoy — but reaffirms the medium’s capacity to suck in and unsettle readers like a series of short, hard punches. Ghachar Ghochar is the first English language translation of the already acclaimed author’s works.
Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin
In a zeitgeist increasingly dominated by think pieces focused on ‘validating’ individual experiences and once again bringing to light the undertows of a TV show or a celebrity-instance, Jessa Crispin’s manifesto is refreshing and vital to not only thinking about feminism but making its principles and values into reality. The founder of Bookslut writes against a kind of social-media squabbling feminism that creates “not a more egalitarian world, but the same world, just with more women in it.” Crispin shows us a path to the radical space of feminism over the various obstacles and distractions generated by the mainstream.
Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama
Yoshinobu Mikami, a classic disgruntled investigator, and is wife’s search for their missing child, Ayumi is at the heart of Hideo Yokoyama’s international best seller, Six Four. But like the best of them, darkness or evil lies not solely on the circumstances surrounding the main case. In the process of unravelling the mystery, Mikami tugs at the undertows of the bureaucratic system and complicated and nuanced power relations that shape life, as it does elsewhere, in Japan. The crime is intriguing but the glimpses into the grid of unseen dynamics that flow underneath our daily lives is truly captivating.
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
Don’t read these stories before dinner. In fact, don’t read them before lunch or breakfast either. Try to find a sweet spot between meals where your mind is far from foods because Ottessa Moshfegh, to my and, soon, your, pleasure, writes often about throwing up — the physical act and the quiet, more frequent than one would like to admit, involuntary expulsion of our deepest, darkest, dirtiest thoughts and desires. The scenes come alive and it’d be a shame if you went without your food. But if you had to choose, choose to read this over a meal because stories like “Mr.Wu” and “The Beach Boys” will make you forget about everything outside of their worlds.
The Snows of Yesteryear by Gregor von Rezzori
The Snows of Yesteryear is the type of book one reads on a train going across the beautiful and sad landscapes of a romanticized Europe in between tea and cookies in the afternoon and champagne in the evening. Though the memoir often deals with hardly romantic or picturesque scenes of life, Rezzori’s beautiful writing conveys a feelings of comfort not unlike nostalgia for an imagined past. But behind the quiet misdirection of the narrator and beyond the windows overlooking a quaint town, treaties are signed, enemies are made, and wars rage on. Rezzori’s is a chronicle of the adventures and mishaps of innocence and growing up in times of warfare disguised as a memoir. Since the romanticized plains and mountains of the old countries are far, try it while on TTC. It’s definitely not the same but the writing is still very much excellent.
Citizen — An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
It’s hard to talk about Claudia Rankine’s book-length poem Citizen because it’s difficult — for many and different reasons for many and different people — to talk about race and what constitutes a person in America today. Short-listed for the National Book Award in 2014, Citizen is also an examination of the poetic form and its powers and limits in the world today. It rings true and beautiful and disabuses the reader of idyl perspectives. You can read an excerpt of it here.
Continue following our arts & culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.