In her article “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear”, penned for The Nation’s 150th Anniversary, author Toni Morrison recalls a conversation with an artist friend following the 2004 presidential election of George W. Bush. Morrison expressed her depressed mood and her perceived inability to work, or write in response to the election, to which the friend interrupts, saying “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!” Morrison explores various brokenness of our world, both past and present, while highlighting the force of artists during turbulent times. She concludes as she began, writing:
“No! This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”
2017 was, objectively, a hellish year for most; to unpack it all would be maddening and disheartening to say the least. With the words of Toni Morrison floating in the forefront of my mind, let’s take a look at some art—specifically books—coming out in 2018 that I’m excited and hopeful to read.
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (Jan. 16)
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is a posthumous short-story collection by Denis Johnson (Tree of Smoke, 2007) which finds him contemplating ghosts of the past and the elusive ways the universe asserts themselves, middle-aged life, and approaching death. Publishers Weekly calls this “An instant classic… A masterpiece of deep humanity and astonishing prose… These characters have been pushed toward the edge; through their searches for meaning or clawing just to hold on to life, Johnson is able to articulate what it means to be alive, and to have hope.”
Photo courtesy of Random House
Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee (Jan. 16)
Everything Here is Beautiful is Lee’s debut novel that follows the ebb and flow of a relationship between two sisters: Miranda, the older, responsible one who lives a contained life; and Lucia, the unpredictable, impulsive headstrong younger sister. After their mother dies, Lucia begins to hear voices but refuses to be defined by a doctor’s diagnosis. Lucia marries an Israeli man, leaves him suddenly, has a baby with a Latino immigrant, and moves to Ecuador. After Lucia’s life come crashing down, Miranda (who lives a quiet life in Switzerland) has to rescue her—but only Lucia can decide to save herself.
New York Times bestselling author Celeste Ng (Little Fires Everywhere) describes Lee’s debut novel as “a tender but unflinching portrayal of the bond between two sisters—one that’s frayed by mental illness and stretched across continents, yet still endures. With ventriloquistic skill, Mira T. Lee explores the heartache of loving someone deeply troubled and the unbearable tightrope-walk between holding on and letting go.”
Photo courtesy of Pamela Dorman/Viking
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (Jan. 16)
Seattle based writer and Editor at Large for The Establishment, Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race offers a contemporary and accessible take on the racial landscape of America including issues such as privilege, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N” word and how these issues relate to inequality, poverty, success, and more.
Comedian and activist Franchesca Ramsey says, “So You Want to Talk About Race strikes the perfect balance of direct and brutally honest without being preachy or, worse, condescending. Regardless of your comfort level, educational background, or experience when it comes to talking about race, Ijeoma has created a wonderful tool to help broach these conversations and help us work toward a better world for people of color from all walks of life.”
Photo courtesy of Seal Press
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins (Jan. 30)
What does it mean to “be”—to live as, to exist as—a black woman today?
In her collection of essays, Morgan Jerkins offers commentary on pop culture, feminism, black history, misogyny, and racism with her own experiences to confront the challenges black women face today. The book promises to “expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression” topics Jerkins has written about at length in publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and more.
Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist (2014) and Hunger (2017), has commented, “In Morgan Jerkins’s remarkable debut essay collection This Will Be My Undoing, she is a deft cartographer of black girlhood and womanhood. From one essay to the next, Jerkins weaves the personal with the public and political in compelling, challenging ways. Her prodigious intellect and curiosity are on full display throughout this outstanding collection. The last line of the book reads, ‘You should’ve known I was coming,’ and indeed, in this, too, Jerkins is prescient. With this collection, she shows us that she is unforgettably here, a writer to be reckoned with.”
Photo courtesy of Harper Perennial
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (Feb. 6)
Heart Berries is a powerful memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the PNW. Mailhot, who was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar II after surviving a dysfunctional upbringing, began writing to work her way through her trauma. The result? Raw and triumphant essays on motherhood, suffering, love, loss, absence, and survival.
Sherman Alexie calls Heart Berries “An epic take—an Iliad for the indigenous. It is the story of one First Nation woman and her geographic, emotional, and theological search for meaning in a colonial world… Terese is a world-changing talent, and I recommend this book with 100% of my soul.”
Photo courtesy of Counterpoint
The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara (Feb. 6)
Taking inspiration from the House of Xtravaganza (made famous in the documentary Paris is Burning), Joseph Cassara has crafted a novel set in the 1980s underground Harlem ball scene in New York City. The novel follows a group of gay and transgender teens as they navigate sex work, addiction, abuse, the AIDs crisis, and more within their patchwork family living in the House of Xtravaganza.
Nami Mun, author of Miles From Nowhere (2009), says “The House of Impossible Beauties is quietly about necessity and defiance, about love and death, about characters who ached to be alive and seen in a world that mirrors back nothing but rejection and violence.”
Photo courtesy of Ecco
Educated by Tara Westover (Feb. 20)
Tara Westover, born to a family of survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, didn’t attend school until she was seventeen. After years of herbalist treatments, isolation from mainstream society, and an eventually violent brother, Westover’s other brother got himself to college. He returned with news from the world and Tara decided to teach herself enough maths, grammar, and science to pass the ACT and attend Brigham Young University. Educated is a coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of the value of education and all it can offer. Some have described this memoir in similar terms as Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
Photo courtesy of Random House
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker (Feb. 27)
In his follow-up to The Better Angels of Our Nature (2012), Steven Pinker asks “Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete?” Pinker responds by urging us to step away from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play into our psychological biases, and instead focus on the data. Through seventy-five graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, happiness, knowledge, safety, and more are on the rise; not only in Western societies, but worldwide. Pinker argues that this progress is the result, and gift, of the Enlightenment. Reason and science can enhance human flourishing.
Bill Gates praised Enlightenment Now, saying, “If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be this—the most inspiring book I’ve ever read.”
That’s some high praise, if you ask me.
Photo courtesy of Viking
Happiness by Aminatta Forna (Mar. 6)
Happiness follows the path of two people—Jean, an American woman who studies the habits of urban foxes, and Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist specializing in refugee trauma there to deliver a keynote speech. They cross paths, by accident, on a bridge in London, and then again as Attila is searching for Tano, the son of a friend who has gone missing. Jean helps Attila and as the search continues, the friendship between the two deepens. Through her characters, Forna asks the reader to consider the ways in which our lives are interconnected, how our co-existence with each other effects another, and the nature of happiness.
The Kirkus Review calls Happiness, “Low-key yet piercingly empathetic, Forna’s latest explores instinct, resilience, and the complexity of human coexistence, reaffirming her reputation for exceptional ability and perspective.”
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Monthly Press
Wade in the Water: Poems by Tracy K. Smith (Apr. 3)
Wade in the Water is the most recent collection of poetry from Tracy K. Smith, the newest poet laureate of the United States. Smith expertly interweaves this nation’s fraught founding with contemporary American moments—what does it mean to be a citizen, a mother, an artist in a culture whose judgement is handed out through violence, wealth, and men?
Photo courtesy of Greywolf Press
The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery by Barbara K. Lipska (Apr. 3)
One day in 2015, Barbara Lipska, a neuroscientist and the director of the human brain bank at the National Institute of Mental Health, was astonished to discover objects in her right field of vision disappearing. As a prior cancer survivor—and an expert on brains—she knew a brain tumor was the most likely explanation for her symptoms, and a later MRI scan confirmed she indeed had metastatic melanoma. In the following months, Lipska endured brain surgery, radiation, and experimental immunotherapy. Overtime, it appeared Lipska was losing her grasp on reality, coming up with elaborate explanations and distorted reasoning for her actions and behavior. It’s not often a research scientist, especially one who studies mental illness and the brain, experiences their specialty first hand, and it’s even more rare with this sort of mental break, medical or behavioral. If you enjoyed My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor or Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, this is the memoir you want to read in 2018.
Want to read an extract from this memoir? Lipska published an article in the New York Times in 2016 with a summary of her experiences.
Photo courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison (Apr. 3)
By the author of the The Empathy Exams, a New York Times bestseller, Leslie Jamison has once again compiled a collection of essays that are not only personal, but seamlessly blend memoir, cultural history, literary criticism, and journalistic reportage into a narrative that flips our traditional ideas of sobriety and recovery on their heads. The Recovering offers Jamison’s own personal experience of alcoholism and recovery, as well as a larger history of the recovery movement and a look into literary and artistic figures whose work and lives were also shaped by substance dependency of some sort (Raymond Carver, David Foster Wallace, Billie Holiday, and more).
“Leslie Jamison writes about the highs of dependency and also about the highs of recovery. Her prose is so sharp and evocative that the reader feels the thrilling trickle of alcohol down the back of the throat, and breathes the struggle for health and freedom. Jamison demonstrates great wit, penetrating intellect, and an enormous heart. This strangely exhilarating book is about recovery, but it is more resonantly a book about desire, consciousness, kindness, self-control, and love—and hence a Tolstoyan study of the human condition.” – Andrew Solomon, National Book Award winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
Photo courtesy of Little, Brown and Company
Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen (Apr. 10)
Not Here is Hieu Minh Nguyen’s sophomore collection of poetry following This Way to the Sugar (2014), which was a finalist for both the Minnesota Book Award and a Lambda Literary award. The poems in Not Here drip with loneliness, desire, terror, and hope as Nguyen, a queer son of Vietnamese immigrants confronts whiteness, trauma, family, and nostalgia; a simultaneous plan for escape and a blueprint for navigating home.
“‘Sometimes, to avoid a catastrophe: the disappearance of a limb or relative, you must make sure everything burns,’ we are told in Hieu Minh Nguyen’s Not Here. These brilliant poems illuminate those spaces between sincerity and mischief, vulnerability and audacity. Nguyen’s irrepressible warmth is fueled by honesty, longing, and curiosity. ‘Everything burns’ in this amazing collection. Not Here blazes and enlightens.” – Poet and MacArthur fellow Terrance Hayes
Photo courtesy of Coffee House Press
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