Novella’s Fall Book Preview

Novella’s given you, our faithful readers, a preview of upcoming movies and TV shows coming this fall. Now it’s time to shine our spotlight on books!

Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (pub date: Sept. 5th)

Tracing the past and the present of Mississippi, Ward’s upcoming novel follows a family – Jojo, his younger sister Kayla, and their mother Leonie – as they move toward the state penitentiary after hearing about the release of the children’s white father from prison. Exploring the love and limitations of family in the face of racism and poverty, Sing, Unburied, Sing parallels the likes of Toni Morrison.

Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere (pub date: Sept. 12th) 

Set in an idyllic Cleveland suburb, Ng’s latest novel centers on two mothers and their children: Elena Richardson, who parallels the suburb’s composed order, and Mia Warren, who resists the said order. Soon a divisive custody battle — a result of the Richardson’s family friends’ endeavor to adopt a Chinese-American baby — creates animosity between the two women. Described as witty and wise, Little Fires Everywhere traces the nature of secrets, art, and, above all, motherhood.

Sam Sax’s Madness (pub date: September 12th)

Sax’s debut poetry collection challenges notions of masculinity, sanity, heterosexuality, and normality. Writing about sex, hysteria and lobotomy, and his own experiences with mental health, Sax uses peculiarities in of the language to parallel and contemplate the peculiarities of the human mind.

Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead (pub date: Sept 5th)

Smith’s second poetry collection, like his previous work, discusses race, sexuality, power, and politics. It begins with imagining an afterlife for black men shot by the police and traces desire and mortality in relation to the body. A poet and an activist, Smith’s work has been celebrated for its innovative and political voice.

Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach (pub date: October 3rd)

Set in Brooklyn in the 1930’s, Pulitzer-winner Egan’s novel follows an 11-year-old Anna Kerrigan, her father, and a nightclub owner named Dexter Styles, whom Anna learns is critical to her family’s existence. Eight years later, America is in the Second World War and Anna’s father is missing. A chance meeting with Dexter, however, helps Anna trace the complexities and, ultimately, the truth of her father’s disappearance. Egan’s first historical fiction, Manhattan Beach explores the oppositions within and dualities of human existence.

Jermey Dauber’s Jewish Comedy: A Serious History (pub date: Oct. 31st)

Divided into what Dauber refers to as the seven strands of Jewish comedy, the book delves into the ways in which Jewish comedy has approached persecution and diaspora. Examining comedic archetypes along with major Jewish comedians (Philip Roth, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart), Dauber’s work has been described as funny and crucial scholarship of Jewish history.

Han Kang’s The White Book (pub date: Nov. 2nd) 

The White Book, described as “the most autobiographical and the most experimental to date” by Portobello Books, is Korean writer Han Kang’s third publication in English. Starting with a list of white things the author saw in Warsaw (where she completed her writer’s residency), the book centers on Kang’s older sister, who’d died two hours after birth. Paralleling and intertwining imagery of the city and a new life cut short, Kang creates a genre-defying piece of literature, reflecting on life and death and survival.

Hallie Lieberman’s Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy (pub date: Nov. 7th) 

Lieberman writes about the history of vibrators, tracing the changes in the ways in which it has been used and perceived. Starting with the lubricant in Ancient Greece all the way up to vibrators in present day, Lieberman discusses sex toys within the context of various attitudes towards sexuality, feminism, and LGBT issues, presenting sex toys in a new, less clandestine light.

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Novella’s March Reading Guide for the Avid and the Curious

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 Atlasthe 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.

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Novel Ideas: Fall Reading Guide

Say Goodbye to Summer and Hello to Fall (and the Autumn blues and family drama à la Thanksgiving) with These Ten Incredible Books. 

the-nix
Knopf

Nathan HillThe Nix (Knopf, Aug. 30th 2016) FICTION

In Nathan Hill’s debut novel, The Nix, Samuel Anderson-Anderson, a stalled writer, embarks on a long and winding journey in order to save his estranged mother who has committed a serious and much-broadcast crime. The panoramic novel spans from 1940’s Norway to 1968 Chicago riots to 2011, and explores the relationship between mother and son. And to oversell: there’s word that Meryl Streep and J. J. Abrams are to team up for a TV adaptation of the novel. It’s not everyday that a debut novel gets such a star treatment.

nutshell
Penguin Random House

Ian McEwanNutshell (Penguin Random House, Sept. 13th 2016) FICTION

An unborn baby is the chilling voice behind Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Nutshell. As Trudy plans the murder of her separated husband, John, with Claude, John’s brother (Hamlet, anyone?), the unborn baby bears witness to details of his father’s possible future from an unexpected inward vantage point. McEwan inverts literature’s long-standing trope of desperate and lost messages from fathers to sons and creates a chilling narrative of murder and revenge.

hag-seed
Hogarth Shakespeare

Margaret Atwood ­— Hag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare, Oct. 11th 2016) FICTION

Multiple award-winning author Margaret Atwood retells Shakespeare’s The Tempest in her much anticipated Hag-Seed. It revolves around Felix’s fall as an artistic director and his return as a vengeful mastermind behind a nearby prison inmates’ production of The Tempest. It’s full of enchantment, mischief, and grief, the stuff of Shakespeare’s and Atwood’s best.

shakespeares_kitchen_pb
The New Press

Lore SegalShakespeare’s Kitchen (The New Press, 2007) FICTION

Fall is an obstinately academic season and as such calls for a good academic novel. In Shakespeare’s Kitchen Lore Segal takes the reader to a quiet unnamed university town in Connecticut where Ilka Weisz — neé Weissnix in Segal’s seminal 1985 novel, Her First American — finds friends, love, gossip, death, and the persistence of communal memory. Those familiar with Segal’s earlier works will no doubt also find Segal’s narrative Easter Eggs.

monstress
Image Comics

Marjorie LiuMonstress (Image Comics, issue # 7 on Oct. 12 2016) GRAPHIC NOVEL

Marjorie Liu, writer for Marvel’s X-Men and Black Widow series, describes her series Monstress as “Game of Thrones meets Miyazaki meets steam punk meets Godzilla.” The original fantasy epic centers around Maika, who has survived a cataclysmic war, and her attempt to control her psychic link with a powerful ancient monster. Liu imbues the long male dominated medium with fresh approaches and strong female leads. Monstress not only partakes in comics’ long-standing history of using the Supernatural as the Outsider but also expands its boundaries.

the-making-of-donald-trump
Melville House

David Cay JohnstonThe Making of Donald Trump (Melville House, Aug. 2016) NON-FICTION 

Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is a fact of our cultural and political life today. David Cay Johnston’s The Making of Donald Trump, a culmination of over thirty years of covering Trump, chronicles Trump’s rise to power, history of litigations, and ties to organized crime. Backed by solid documentation, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist makes a searing and entertaining case against the Republican presidential nominee.

the-mothers
Riverhead Books

Brit BennettThe Mothers (Riverhead Books, Oct. 11th 2016) FICTION

In a small black community in Southern California, Nadia Turner, whose mother’s suicide looms over the seventeen-year-old beauty, becomes pregnant with a pastor’s son. The teenage romance and its secrets have consequences that span over their adult lives. Brit Bennett’s debut novel is to be published in October but it has already garnered much attention and many followers brandishing much-sought-after galley copies. From its first pages, Bennett’s lyrical prose justifies the hype, grabs your attention, and does not let go.

Eyes-on-the-street
Knopf

Robert KanigelEyes on the Street (Knopf, Sept. 20th, 2016) BIOGRAPHY

American-Canadian journalist and social activity Jane Jacobs is best known for her seminal work on urban planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), and her legendary opposition to Robert Moses’s destructive urban projects in Greenwich Village. Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street, new comprehensive biography of Jacobs, chronicles her life from her childhood to contrarian teenage years to a grass roots organizer and author. Kanigel has penned a book that shows Jacobs as the provocative, iconoclastic, mischievous, and complicated economic and urban planning theorist that she was.

running-in-the-family
McClelland & Stewart

Michael OndaatjeRunning in the Family (McClelland & Stewart, 1982) MEMOIR

There is nothing like other families’ history of instability and unhappiness to get one prepared for Thanksgiving’s headaches and disappointments. Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family is a fictionalized memoir that often tells stories that belong to the author only at an arm’s reach — stories of family and far removed relatives and their lives and deaths recounted by unreliable narrators. The book transports the reader back to Sri Lanka in the 70’s. The pleasure is in accompanying Ondaatje through the tremendous history of his sprawling family and also on his personal journey to reclaim his cultural and family roots. You will never forget Lalla, a shamelessly hilarious matriarch, or Mervyn Ondaatje, the author’s flamboyant dipsomaniac father.

a-manual-for-cleaning-women
Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Lucia BerlinA Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories (FSG, 2015) FICTION

Lucia Berlin wrote stories based on her own turbulent life. As such, the stories are full of incident —a child pulls out all of her grandpa’s teeth; an inflatable bra explodes midair; an alcoholic hides from her sons; an emergency nurse finds a battered jockey. Berlin’s humor is understated and her descriptions are detailed. It is only later, perhaps even after the story’s ended, that the one can fully appreciate the darker side of her humor and the details’ sinister links with troubled pasts of failed marriages, dysfunctional families, illness, and long term effects of loneliness. The collection is now available in paperback.