We continue our “Best of 2019″ series curated by the entire Entropy community and present some of our favorite selections as nominated by the diverse staff and team here at Entropy, as well as nominations from our readers.
This list brings together some of our favorite nonfiction books published in 2019.
In no particular order…
1. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
Merge the house and the woman—watch the woman experience her own body as a haunted house, a place of sudden, inexplicable terrors—and you are reading the blazingly talented Carmen Maria Machado. —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
2. The Grave on the Wall by Brandon Shimoda (City Lights Publishers)
The Grave on the Wall is a memoir and a book of mourning, a grandson’s attempt to reconcile his own uncontested citizenship with his grandfather’s lifelong struggle. Award-winning poet Brandon Shimoda has crafted a lyrical portrait of his paternal grandfather, Midori Shimoda, whose life—child migrant, talented photographer, suspected enemy alien and spy, desert wanderer, American citizen—mirrors the arc of Japanese America in the twentieth century. In a series of pilgrimages, Shimoda records the search to find his grandfather, and unfolds, in the process, a moving elegy on memory and forgetting.
3. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang (Graywolf Press)
An intimate, moving book written with the immediacy and directness of one who still struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness, The Collected Schizophrenias cuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esmé Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the “collected schizophrenias” but to those who wish to understand it as well. Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life. In essays that range from using fashion to present as high-functioning to the depths of a rare form of psychosis, and from the failures of the higher education system and the dangers of institutionalization to the complexity of compounding factors such as PTSD and Lyme disease, Wang’s analytical eye, honed as a former lab researcher at Stanford, allows her to balance research with personal narrative. An essay collection of undeniable power, The Collected Schizophrenias dispels misconceptions and provides insight into a condition long misunderstood.
4. How We Fight For Our Lives by Saaed Jones (Simon & Schuster)
“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’” Haunted and haunting, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir. Jones tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his family, into passing flings with lovers, friends, and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.
5. The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture by Emanuele Coccia (Polity)
We barely talk about them and seldom know their names. Philosophy has always overlooked them; even biology considers them as mere decoration on the tree of life. And yet plants give life to the Earth: they produce the atmosphere that surrounds us, they are the origin of the oxygen that animates us. Plants embody the most direct, elementary connection that life can establish with the world. In this highly original book, Emanuele Coccia argues that, as the very creator of atmosphere, plants occupy the fundamental position from which we should analyze all elements of life. From this standpoint, we can no longer perceive the world as a simple collection of objects or as a universal space containing all things, but as the site of a veritable metaphysical mixture. Since our atmosphere is rendered possible through plants alone, life only perpetuates itself through the very circle of consumption undertaken by plants. In other words, life exists only insofar as it consumes other life, removing any moral or ethical considerations from the equation. In contrast to trends of thought that discuss nature and the cosmos in general terms, Coccia’s account brings the infinitely small together with the infinitely big, offering a radical redefinition of the place of humanity within the realm of life.
6. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (Bloomsbury Publishing)
This is a vast, arresting story. It’s a story of loving addicts. Of a queer sexual awakening. Of inhabiting a female body in America. Of biracial identity. Of obsessive, envy-fueled friendships. Of assault. It’s a eulogy and a love song. It’s about girls and the women they become. And it’s all compulsively readable, not just because of those big themes, but because of the embodied, needle-fine moments that make the stories sing. – New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice
7. The Crying Book by Heather Christie (Catapult)
Heather Christle has just lost a dear friend to suicide and now must reckon with her own depression and the birth of her first child. As she faces her grief and impending parenthood, she decides to research the act of crying: what it is and why people do it, even if they rarely talk about it. Along the way, she discovers an artist who designed a frozen-tear-shooting gun and a moth that feeds on the tears of other animals. She researches tear-collecting devices (lachrymatories) and explores the role white women’s tears play in racist violence. Honest, intelligent, rapturous, and surprising, Christle’s investigations look through a mosaic of science, history, and her own lived experience to find new ways of understanding life, loss, and mental illness. The Crying Book is a deeply personal tribute to the fascinating strangeness of tears and the unexpected resilience of joy.
8. A Cannibal Explains Himself to Himself by Will Alexander (The Elephants)
A Cannibal Explains Himself to Himself explores extra-dimensional states of being that put into the praxis of language a natural yoga. It is a meditation that seeks to alter planetary pressures that continue to accrue during this protracted stage of late capital. The essay form is a provisional structural device that ranges from supra-conscious descending from above mingling in one’s neural registration with energies that roil and ascend from subconscious states, so that the cognitive is magically energized as a contribution to an an overall accuracy via the history of ideas. One no longer registers oneself as an author that instigates text as delimited opinion. Therefore the reader by the very fact of his or her engagement with the text is invaded by an invisible current that supersedes quotidian context and its concerns via topical engagement. Such a state allows other considerations to transpire.
9. Animal by Dorothea Lasky (Wave Books)
Constellating four central topics—ghosts, colors, animals, and bees—in highly attuned prose, Dorothea Lasky explores the powers and complexities of the lyric, “metaphysical I,” which she exposes as one of the central expressions of human wildness. In deceptively simple language carrying profound insights—with a sense that is at once bold and subtle—Lasky serves as an encouraging guide through the startling, sometimes dangerous, always exhilarating landscapes of feral poetic imagination.
10. Motion Studies by Jena Osman (Ugly Duckling Presse)
In Jena Osman’s brilliant Motion Studies, you’ll find incisive focus—not despite—but because of alarm. A tour de force of documentary, speculative fiction, film criticism, and lyric jump cuts, Motion Studies plies surveillance, pseudoscience, and the commodification of the living into three long works that drive further Osman’s vital decade-spanning investigation of power, human displacement, and erasure. Like dead coral and wreckage sedimented on a seabed, a violent record is legible in this layering; Osman reminds us of this. Plus, she recasts a bird as the lead in Spielberg’s Minority Report. That’s got to move you. –Douglas Kearney
11. Entering the Blobosphere: A Musing on Blobs by Laura Hyunjhee Kim (The Accomplices)
Entering the Blobosphere: A Musing on Blobs boldly suggests blobs are the unsung, yet integral link in our language to build upon and describe ideas, culture, and knowledge. The common perspective of the blob is an amorphous form with an otherwise gooey texture, however, this is a gross undermining of the power of language and the vivacity of blobs. Fueled by the speculative ideology of blobs as both a theory and a practice, Kim illustrates the moldable and transcendent use of “blob” as a lens to understand the spaces lurking between life and art. Blobs aren’t solely a physical form. But what is a blob if not just a physical thing? The simple answer is: everything.
12. Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino (Random House)
Jia Tolentino is the best young essayist at work in the United States, one I’ve consistently admired and learned from, and I was exhilarated to get a whole lot of her at once in Trick Mirror. In these nine essays, she rethinks troubling ingredients of modern life, from the internet to mind-altering drugs to wedding culture. All through the book, single sentences flash like lightning to show something familiar in a startling way, but she also builds extended arguments with her usual, unusual blend of lyricism and skepticism. In the end, we have a picture of America that was as missing as it was needed. —Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me
13. I Am Yours: A Shared Memoir by Reema Zaman (Amberjack Publishing)
It is time. / It is time to free our voice. / To speak is a revolution. / For too long, through the most intimate acts of erasure, women have been silenced. Now, women everywhere are breaking through the limits placed on us by family, society, and tradition. To find our voices. To make space for ourselves in this world. Now is the moment to reclaim what was once lost, stolen, forsaken, or abandoned. / I Am Yours is about my fight to protect and free my voice from those who have sought to silence me, for the sake of creating a world where all voices are welcome and respected. Because the voice, without intimacy, will atrophy. We’re in this together. You are mine, and I am yours.
14. Good Talk by Mira Jacob (One World)
Like many six-year-olds, Mira Jacob’s half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything. At first they are innocuous enough, but as tensions from the 2016 election spread from the media into his own family, they become much, much more complicated. Trying to answer him honestly, Mira has to think back to where she’s gotten her own answers: her most formative conversations about race, color, sexuality, and, of course, love. Written with humor and vulnerability, this deeply relatable graphic memoir is a love letter to the art of conversation—and to the hope that hovers in our most difficult questions.
15. Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country by Pam Houston (W.W. Norton)
On her 120-acre homestead high in the Colorado Rockies, beloved writer Pam Houston learns what it means to care for a piece of land and the creatures on it. Elk calves and bluebirds mark the changing seasons, winter temperatures drop to 35 below, and lightning sparks a 110,000-acre wildfire, threatening her century-old barn and all its inhabitants. Through her travels from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska, she explores what ties her to the earth, the ranch most of all. Alongside her devoted Irish wolfhounds and a spirited troupe of horses, donkeys, and Icelandic sheep, the ranch becomes Houston’s sanctuary, a place where she discovers how the natural world has mothered and healed her after a childhood of horrific parental abuse and neglect. In essays as lucid and invigorating as mountain air, Deep Creek delivers Houston’s most profound meditations yet on how “to live simultaneously inside the wonder and the grief… to love the damaged world and do what I can to help it thrive.”
16. Joy Enough by Sarah McColl (Liveright)
Sifting gingerly through memories of her late mother, brilliant newcomer Sarah McColl has penned an indelible tribute to the joy and pain of loving well. Even as her own marriage splinters, McColl drops everything when her mother is diagnosed with cancer, returning to the family farmhouse and laboring over elaborate meals in the hopes of nourishing her back to health. In a series of vibrant vignettes—lipstick applied, novels read, imperfect cakes baked—McColl reveals a woman of endless charm and infinite love for her unruly brood of children. Mining the dual losses of both her young marriage and her beloved mother, McColl confronts her identity as a woman, walking lightly in the footsteps of the woman who came before her and clinging fast to the joy she left behind. With candor reminiscent of classics like C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, Joy Enough offers a story that blooms with life.
17. Dream of the Trenches by Kate Colby (Noemi Press)
Part autofiction, part sequential critical engagement, the eponymous essay in Dream of the Trenches investigates and builds upon narrative recursion, self-reflexivity and subjective treatments of time in modern and contemporary writing. Winding through the work of Ben Lerner, it also addresses Ashbery, Woolf, Stein, Lessing, Mathews, Knausgaard and others. An accompanying sequence of 20 micro-essays—each of exactly 150 words—explores the possibilities of formal constraint with torqued language ranging across topics from beauty to popular music to the senescence of lobsters.
18. We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan Edited by Ellis Martin, Zach Ozma (Nightboat Books)
We Both Laughed In Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan narrates the inner life of a gay trans man moving through the shifting social, political, and medical mores of the second half of the 20th century. Sullivan kept comprehensive journals from age eleven until his AIDS-related death at thirty-nine. Sensual, lascivious, challenging, quotidian and poetic, the diaries complicate and disrupt normative trans narratives. Entries from twenty-four diaries reveal Sullivan’s self-articulation and the complexity of a fascinating and courageous figure.
19. Socialist Realism by Trisha Low (Coffee House Press)
When Trisha Low moves West, her journey is motivated by the need to arrive “somewhere better”—someplace utopian, like revolution; or safe, like home; or even clarifying, like identity. Instead, she faces the end of her relationships, a family whose values she has difficulty sharing, and America’s casual racism, sexism, and homophobia. In this book-length essay, the problem of how to account for one’s life comes to the fore—sliding unpredictably between memory, speculation, self-criticism, and art criticism, Low seeks answers that she knows she won’t find. Attempting to reconcile her desires with her radical politics, she asks: do our quests to fulfill our deepest wishes propel us forward, or keep us trapped in the rubble of our deteriorating world?
20. Color Theory Edited by Maya Gomez and Vreni Michelini-Castillo (Wolfman Books)
COLOR THEORY brings together womxn and gender non-conforming working artists of color from four generations to explore the intersections of race, gender, class and labor in and around art institutions. Edited by Maya Gomez and Vreni Michelini Castillo, these reflections, stories, and remedies (through essay, image, and poetry) engage a multidisciplinary and intergenerational dialogue around ethical aesthetics, systemic oppression, and the ritual landscape. More than a simple indictment (though indict it, unabashedly, does), COLOR THEORY is a must-read collection of communal solidarity, critical resistance and creative healing. “We are not afraid of color,” the editors declare, “because we are the embodiment of color.”
21. Still Nowhere in an Empty Vastness by Roberto Tejada (Noemi Press)
Still Nowhere in an Empty Vastness is a collection of essays and manifestos engaging hemispheric desires and borderland eventualities in the geopolitical imagination of the Americas. The book enlivens a capacious Latinx poetics, spanning to include 16th- and 17th-century imperial accounts, 20th-century images of Mexico pictured by U.S. artists and writers, the neo-baroque pageantry of José Lezama Lima in post-Revolution Havana, as well as contemporary poets Reina María Rodriguez, from Cuba; Mexican fabulist Pablo Helguera; and Chicano multimedia wordsmith Harry Gamboa Jr., from Los Angeles. Explored also are many-sided masculinities, from conquistador castaway Cabeza de Vaca, stripped and disempowered in the New World; Lezama Lima’s “prison baroque” of syntactically queer desire; George Oppen’s craftsmanship manhood; Jay Wright’s Yoruba and Toltec body-doubles, hidden figures of exile and self-foreignness; and the man-child constructed in the media spectacle of modern castaway Elián González. These essays configure a poetics of the Americas, mirror-occasions for reflecting the fear and fantasies prompted by metaphors of occupation, displacement, and counter-conquest.
22. God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America by Lyz Lenz (Indiana University Press)
In the wake of the 2016 election, Lyz Lenz watched as her country and her marriage were torn apart by the competing forces of faith and politics. A mother of two, a Christian, and a lifelong resident of middle America, Lenz was bewildered by the pain and loss around her—the empty churches and the broken hearts. What was happening to faith in the heartland? From drugstores in Sydney, Iowa, to skeet shooting in rural Illinois, to the mega churches of Minneapolis, Lenz set out to discover the changing forces of faith and tradition in God’s country. Part journalism, part memoir, God Land is a journey into the heart of a deeply divided America. Lenz visits places of worship across the heartland and speaks to the everyday people who often struggle to keep their churches afloat and to cope in a land of instability. Through a thoughtful interrogation of the effects of faith and religion on our lives, our relationships, and our country, God Land investigates whether our divides can ever be bridged and if America can ever come together.
23. Me & Other Writing by Marguerite Duras (Dorothy, a publishing project)
The work in Me & Other Writing varies from essays to journalism to the beginnings of the autofiction she would make famous with L’Amant, for which she won the Prix Goncourt in 1992, but they are completely alike in their didacticism, humor, pessimism, and intelligence. Her voice is so strong that she dissolves boundaries to create a single oeuvre, a composite but unified body of work. – Natasha Boyd, Los Angeles Review of Books
24. The Skinned Bird by Chelsea Biondolillo (KERNPUNKT Press)
Sometimes when a human is truly an animal, their thinking patterns shift in fundamental ways, absorbing the color here and the systems within systems, to the point where they feel alienated from humans and the human part of themselves. The ache and dizziness of pulling these back into an integrated body and psychology is a story only a few of us can tell. Luckily, Chelsea Biondolillo is here to walk us through that process with no apology, only reverence. –Kristin Hersh, musician & author of Rat Girl
25. Psychopomps by Alex DiFrancesco (The Accomplices)
In 2010, Alex DiFrancesco had a different name and was a missing person. Alone in a mental hospital, they began to have fantasies of running away permanently, changing their name, growing a beard. In their journey to coming out as transgender, DiFrancesco moved from New York City to the Midwest. Psychopomps follows them on the search for family, marriage, relationships with other trans people, attempts to build community, and for the elusive link to ancient beliefs about the special spiritual role of the trans individual in society.
26. Codependence by Amy Long (Cleveland State University Poetry Center)
Fearless, haunting, and transcendently honest, Amy Long’s Codependence is a memoir of pain and its paradoxes. Long documents her coming of age as an ambitious young writer plagued by chronic headache and entangled with a boyfriend’s opioid addiction. The essays that result explore the complexities of care, hurt, and hope with elegance and precision. Long exposes her every nerve, crafting a story both intimate and deeply relevant. An essential book for the opioid era.
27. Rerun Era by Joanna Howard (McSweeney’s)
Rerun Era is a captivating, propulsive memoir about growing up in the environmentally and economically devastated rural flatlands of Oklahoma, the entwinement of personal memory and the memory of popular culture, and a family thrown into trial by lost love and illness that found common ground in the television. Told from the magnetic perspective of Joanna Howard’s past selves from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Rerun Era circles the fascinating psyches of her part-Cherokee teamster truck-driving father, her women’s libber mother, and her skateboarder, rodeo bull-riding teenage brother. Illuminating to our rural American present, and the way popular culture portrays the rural American past, Rerun Era perfectly captures the irony of growing up in rural America in the midst of nationalistic fantasies of small town local sheriffs and saloon girls, which manifested the urban cowboy, wild west theme-parks, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Written in stunning, lyric prose, Rerun Era gives humanity, perspective, humor, and depth to an often invisible part of this country, and firmly establishes Howard as an urgent and necessary voice in American letters.
28. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (Melville House)
Approachable and incisive. . . . The book is clearly the work of a socially conscious artist and writer who considers careful attention to the rich variety of the world an antidote to the addictive products and platforms that technology provides. . . . [Odell] sails with capable ease between the Scylla and Charybdis of subjectivity and arid theory with the relatable humanity of her vision. —Nicholas Cannariato, THE WASHINGTON POST
29. How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (One World)
Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At it’s core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilites—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their posionous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves. Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.
30. Fragments from a Mobile Life by Margaret Sullivan (Red Mountain Press)
The reader of FRAGMENTS FROM A MOBILE LIFE is carried along on a remarkable journey. You will want to read passages out loud and share with friends and family. Here is a life of adventure, love, and sadness, but always lived to the fullest with keen insight and deep observation. It is an American life, but one that draws on the wonder and variety of the world. Margaret Sullivan evokes the universal while regaling us with the particular. Whether raising children, making friends in a strange place, or planning for a new school amidst the destruction of earthquake and tsunami, each will see a part of him or herself here in the essence of life’s experiences. One can read straight through, as I did, although even best perhaps is to browse from subject to subject. Whichever way one begins, I can guarantee you will return often and keep this book well thumbed and handy on the shelf. —Ambassador Robert G. Rich, Jr. US Foreign Service, Ret.
31. The Undying by Anne Boyer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The Undying is a startling, urgent intervention in our discourses about sickness and health, art and science, language and literature, and mortality and death. In dissecting what she terms ‘the ideological regime of cancer,’ Anne Boyer has produced a profound and unforgettable document on the experience of life itself. —Sally Rooney, author of Normal People
32. The Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith (Knopf)
Elegant, poetic, wildly entertaining, touching—a beautifully realized and unique memoir that chronicles a transformative year in the life of one of our most multi-talented creative voices. Part travel journal, part reflexive essay on our times, and part meditation on existence at the edge of a new decade of life . . . Effortlessly weaving together fiction and nonfiction, Smith takes readers on two unique journeys: one that can be traced on a map and one, infinitely richer and more complex, that takes place inside her head and heart. Smith’s musical career sometimes threatens to overshadow her accomplishments in other creative fields—but every page in this book is packed with enough outstanding prose to constantly remind readers that Smith is an accomplished novelist, essayist, and poet who won the National Book Award in 2010. In her capable hands, a simple look at New York City in winter becomes a flash of beautiful poetry. Smith’s approach to nonfiction is unique and brave: It counts as true if it happened, if she imagined it, and if she felt it. This is a book about Smith and the world all around. And that is just one more reason why everyone should read it. —Gabino Iglesias, NPR
33. The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet by David Carlin and Nicole Walker (Rose Metal Press)
“A” is for Australia and “A” is for Arizona, over 9,000 miles apart but sharing the same Earth. In this eccentric, intimate compendium of short environmental and personal essays, David Carlin (in Melbourne) and Nicole Walker (in Flagstaff) engage in a long-distance dialogue between two writers, creating an improvisational subversion of the encyclopedia, a witty-yet-serious send-up of the concept of a survival guide. In this era of interconnected ecological, political, and human rights catastrophes, these two whimsical, elegiac, and intellectually questing voices contemplate the role of the individual in the midst of increasingly inescapable collective action crises that call the very concept of survival into question. Refusing equally to find solace in false hopes and to give in to murky despair, Carlin and Walker deftly use the flash nonfiction form to wonder and worry their way through the alphabet in search of a path forward. With meditations on topics ranging from bitumen to plasmodia, elephants to xeric, The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet collects an A to Z of people, places, and phenomena to marvel at, to kick against, to let go, and to fight for.
34. People I’ve Met From The Internet by Stephen van Dyck (Ricochet Editions)
Stephen van Dyck’s PEOPLE I’VE MET FROM THE INTERNET is a queer reimagining of the coming-of-age narrative set at the dawn of the internet era. In 1997, AOL is first entering suburban homes just as thirteen-year-old Stephen is coming into his sexuality, constructing selves and cruising in the fantasyscape of the internet. Through strange, intimate, and sometimes perilous physical encounters with the hundreds of men he finds there, Stephen explores the pleasures and pains of growing up, contends with his mother’s homophobia and early death, and ultimately searches for a way of being in the world. Spanning twelve years, the book takes the form of a very long annotated list, tracking Stephen’s journey and the men he meets from adolescence in New Mexico to post-recession adulthood in Los Angeles, creating a multi-dimensional panorama of gay men’s lives as he searches for glimpses of utopia in the available world.
35. All My Cats by Bohumil Hrabal, Translated by Paul Wilson (New Directions)
36. I’m Trying to Tell You I’m Sorry: An Intimacy Triptych by Nina Boutsikaris (Black Lawrence Press)
No one is safe from Nina Boutsikaris’ gaze in this book—she looks at the world and people around her just as intensely as she turns her gaze inward, questioning her desires, her actions, and asking what it means to see something for what it truly is. I’m Trying to Tell You I’m Sorry pairs art with experience, youth with introspection, and gender with power—the dance between these topics makes for an utterly absorbing read. —Chelsea Hodson
37. Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib (University of Texas Press)
How does one pay homage to A Tribe Called Quest? The seminal rap group brought jazz into the genre, resurrecting timeless rhythms to create masterpieces such as The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. Seventeen years after their last album, they resurrected themselves with an intense, socially conscious record, We Got It from Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service, which arrived when fans needed it most, in the aftermath of the 2016 election. Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib digs into the group’s history and draws from his own experience to reflect on how its distinctive sound resonated among fans like himself. The result is as ambitious and genre-bending as the rap group itself. Abdurraqib traces the Tribe’s creative career, from their early days as part of the Afrocentric rap collective known as the Native Tongues, through their first three classic albums, to their eventual breakup and long hiatus. Their work is placed in the context of the broader rap landscape of the 1990s, one upended by sampling laws that forced a reinvention in production methods, the East Coast–West Coast rivalry that threatened to destroy the genre, and some record labels’ shift from focusing on groups to individual MCs. Throughout the narrative Abdurraqib connects the music and cultural history to their street-level impact. Whether he’s remembering The Source magazine cover announcing the Tribe’s 1998 breakup or writing personal letters to the group after bandmate Phife Dawg’s death, Abdurraqib seeks the deeper truths of A Tribe Called Quest; truths that—like the low end, the bass—are not simply heard in the head, but felt in the chest.
38. When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back by Naja Marie Aidt, Translated by Denise Newman (Coffee House Press)
There is no one quite like Naja Marie Aidt. She’s comparable only to things like sequoias, whale song, desert thunderstorms, or wolves. The depth of her emotional world and the diaphanous, often brutal clarity with which she understands the human soul beckon us to pause, breathe, think. Here, she takes us on a journey into death and loss, and then thrusts us back out—back into life—more awake, more ready to embrace it as it comes. —Valeria Luiselli
39. Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays by Leslie Jamison (Little, Brown and Company)
Razor-sharp…Leslie Jamison has been hailed as the newborn lovechild of Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. Even for a writer without Jamison’s generous helpings of talent and success, it can’t be an easy thing to live up to. And yet, she does, and then some…The essays are reported, but also confessional, weaving the realities of disparate others onto Jamison’s own experiences to create something rich, human and, at moments, so smart and revealing the reader finds herself gasping. ―Samantha Shoech, San Francisco Chronicle
40. What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence by Michele Filgate (Simon & Schuster)
As an undergraduate, Michele Filgate started writing an essay about being abused by her stepfather. It took her more than a decade to realize what she was actually trying to write: how this affected her relationship with her mother. When it was finally published, the essay went viral, shared on social media by Anne Lamott, Rebecca Solnit, and many others. The outpouring of responses gave Filgate an idea, and the resulting anthology offers a candid look at our relationships with our mothers… As Filgate writes, “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them.” There’s relief in breaking the silence. Acknowledging what we couldn’t say for so long is one way to heal our relationships with others and, perhaps most important, with ourselves.
41. Experiments in Joy by Gabrielle Civil (The Accomplices)
Gabrielle Civil’s Experiments in Joy celebrates black feminist collaborations and solos in essays, letters, performance texts, scores, images, and more. Following her explosive debut Swallow the Fish, Civil now documents her work with From the Hive, No. 1 Gold, and Call & Response—whose collaborative Call inspired the title. The book also features her solo encounters with artists and writers, ancestors and audiences. Here you will find black girlhood, grief, ghosts, girls in their bedrooms, lots of books, dancing, reading, falling in love, fighting back, and flying. With lots of heart and the help of her friends, Civil keeps reckoning with performance, art and life.
42. Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz (re-issued) (Nightboat Books)
Tender Points is a narrative fractured by trauma. Named after the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia, the book-length lyric essay explores sexual violence, chronic pain, and patriarchy through lived experience and pop culture. First published in 2015, this new edition includes an afterword by the author.
43. Dr Space Junk vs The Universe: Archaeology and the Future by Alice Gorman (The MIT Press)
Alice Gorman is a space archaeologist: she examines the artifacts of human encounters with space. These objects, left behind on Earth and in space, can be massive (dead satellites in eternal orbit) or tiny (discarded zip ties around a defunct space antenna). They can be bold (an American flag on the moon) or hopeful (messages from Earth sent into deep space). They raise interesting questions: Why did Elon Musk feel compelled to send a red Tesla into space? What accounts for the multiple rocket-themed playgrounds constructed after the Russians launched Sputnik? Gorman—affectionately known as “Dr Space Junk” —takes readers on a journey through the solar system and beyond, deploying space artifacts, historical explorations, and even the occasional cocktail recipe in search of the ways that we make space meaningful.
44. Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez (Chatto & Windus)
Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economic development, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives. Celebrated feminist advocate Caroline Criado Perez investigates the shocking root cause of gender inequality and research in Invisible Women, diving into women’s lives at home, the workplace, the public square, the doctor’s office, and more. Built on hundreds of studies in the US, the UK, and around the world, and written with energy, wit, and sparkling intelligence, this is a groundbreaking, unforgettable exposé that will change the way you look at the world.
45. Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers Edited by Elissa Washuta, Theresa Warburton (University of Washington Press)
Just as a basket’s purpose determines its materials, weave, and shape, so too is the purpose of the essay related to its material, weave, and shape. Editors Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton ground this anthology of essays by Native writers in the formal art of basket weaving. Using weaving techniques such as coiling and plaiting as organizing themes, the editors have curated an exciting collection of imaginative, world-making lyric essays by twenty-seven contemporary Native writers from tribal nations across Turtle Island into a well-crafted basket. Shapes of Native Nonfiction features a dynamic combination of established and emerging Native writers, including Stephen Graham Jones, Deborah Miranda, Terese Marie Mailhot, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Eden Robinson, and Kim Tallbear. Their ambitious, creative, and visionary work with genre and form demonstrate the slippery, shape-changing possibilities of Native stories. Considered together, they offer responses to broader questions of materiality, orality, spatiality, and temporality that continue to animate the study and practice of distinct Native literary traditions in North America.
46. Almonds are Members of the Peach Family by Stephanie Sauer (Noemi Press)
Imagine air composed of salt and the opposite of salt: someone who can no longer excrete, weep, kiss, or vomit. Who is dead? “The air is composed of saline and the once living,” writes Stephanie Sauer, writing the brink-verge of an impossible city, a city (Rio) that “has no regard for survival.” Entering the work through this magnetizing and umcompromising “day,” the book’s morning or start, the reader is soon breathing night: Judith Herman’s concept of trauma, of what it will take to recover ideals of family or psychological life in the time that follows an atrocity; the “bruised little girl flesh,” and the encroaching violence of an authoratarian regime. Almonds Are Members of the Peach Family is adept at turning this narrative over to show us the “back-stitch,” the parts of living like this (with others) that we rarely get to see. I was very touched by Sauer’s precision and sweetness as she decocts the lineage story of the grandmother, in particular. The weight and sorrow of elegy are performed in a non-dominant verse that has enough space in it for other worlds, other languages and new sounds. Because: “I am unable to fill in the ligaments. I am working with bones and a superficial filling would be untrue.” There’s information, here, about what it would take to discharge something long held or contained in somatic memory. Tell the truth about what happened to the body, this book seems to say. Tell the truth about the time in which the body got to be a body, and make it real. All of this feels like brave and vital work for a poet to be attending to. Stephanie Sauer has written an important book. –Bhanu Kapil
47. White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination by Jess Row (Graywolf Press)
White Flights is a meditation on whiteness in American fiction and culture from the end of the civil rights movement to the present. At the heart of the book, Jess Row ties “white flight”—the movement of white Americans into segregated communities, whether in suburbs or newly gentrified downtowns—to white writers setting their stories in isolated or emotionally insulated landscapes, from the mountains of Idaho in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping to the claustrophobic households in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Row uses brilliant close readings of work from well-known writers such as Don DeLillo, Annie Dillard, Richard Ford, and David Foster Wallace to examine the ways these and other writers have sought imaginative space for themselves at the expense of engaging with race.
48. Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson (Scribner)
This dynamic book explores gangs and guns, near-death experiences, sex work, masculinity, composite fathers, the concept of “hustle,” and the destructive power of addiction—all framed within the story of Jackson, his family, and his community. Lauded for its breathtaking pace, its tender portrayals, its stark candor, and its luminous style, Survival Math reveals on every page the searching intellect and originality of its author. The primary narrative, focused on understanding the antecedents of Jackson’s family’s experience, is complemented by poems composed from historical American documents as well as survivor files, which feature photographs and riveting short narratives of several of Jackson’s male relatives. The sum of Survival Math’s parts is a highly original whole, one that reflects on the exigencies—over generations—that have shaped the lives of so many disenfranchised Americans. As essential as it is beautiful, as real as it is artful, Mitchell S. Jackson’s nonfiction debut is a singular achievement, not to be missed.
49. Decolonizing Research: Indigenous Storywork as Methodology Edited by Jo-Ann Archibald, Jenny Lee-Morgan, Jason De Santolo (Zed Books)
From Oceania to North America, indigenous peoples have created storytelling traditions of incredible depth and diversity. The term ‘indigenous storywork’ has come to encompass the sheer breadth of ways in which indigenous storytelling serves as a historical record, as a form of teaching and learning, and as an expression of indigenous culture and identity. But such traditions have too often been relegated to the realm of myth and legend, recorded as fragmented distortions, or erased altogether. Decolonizing Research brings together indigenous researchers and activists from Canada, Australia and New Zealand to assert the unique value of indigenous storywork as a focus of research, and to develop methodologies that rectify the colonial attitudes inherent in much past and current scholarship. By bringing together their own indigenous perspectives, and by treating indigenous storywork on its own terms, the contributors illuminate valuable new avenues for research, and show how such reworked scholarship can contribute to the movement for indigenous rights and self-determination.
50. On the Mystery of Being: Contemporary Insights on the Convergence of Science and Spirituality Edited by Zaya Benazzo, Maurizio Benazzo (Reveal Press)
In this glorious compendium of thinkers who live and work on the frontiers of the art and science of consciousness, we have a book that opens portals to worlds that astonish while advancing the human mind and spirit. For in these pages, we are met with numinous knowledge and priceless wisdom from those who have ‘been there.’ Here, too, is the paradox of living in a biodegradable space-time suit and being the universe in miniature. Ultimately, these essays constitute a kind of a text for those who have ‘consciously’ enrolled in God School! Thus, what you read here both inspires and signals a new and possibly saving agenda for the human species and the Earth we dwell upon. —Jean Houston, PhD, chancellor of Meridian University, chairman of the United Palace of Spiritual Arts