What to Read When You Want to Feel Thankful
November is upon us, and whether the temperatures are dropping where you live or remaining unseasonably warm, Thanksgiving is just around the corner. At The Rumpus, we’ve decided to kick off the holiday season with a list of books that our editors are thankful for. Here are just some of the books that have taught us, inspired us, woke us up, offered us hope, gave us a glimpse at our possible futures, and so much more.
The Balloonists by Eula Biss
Walking a tightrope between poetry and memoir, Eula Biss’s wholly original debut collection addresses what it does and doesn’t mean to be of a family.
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
With bracing candor, vulnerability, and power, Gay explores what it means to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.
Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
An achingly beautiful and breathtakingly original novel about personal transformation that interweaves the stories of two disparate individuals—an older lawyer and a young novelist—whose transcendental search leads them to the same Israeli desert.
Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block
These postmodern fairy tales take us to a Los Angeles brimming with magical realism: a place where life is a mystery, pain can lead to poetry, strangers become intertwined souls, and everyone is searching for the most beautiful and dangerous angel of all: love.
An Elemental Thing by Eliot Weinberger
With the wisdom of a literary archaeologist-astronomer-anthropologist-zookeeper, Weinberger leads us through histories, fables, and meditations about the ten thousand things in the universe: the wind and the rhinoceros, Catholic saints and people named Chang, the Mandaeans on the Iran-Iraq border and the Kaluli in the mountains of New Guinea.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Jamison draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory—from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration—in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.
Four Year Old Girl by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
In this extraordinary collection, writing reflects human presence in the phenomenal world. Physical sensations of experience—a horizon, moisture, a child, a piece of quartz, a loss—become objects of focus and poetic elements. Her written lines, like strings of protein, both create and destroy bonds.
Rose by Li-Young Lee
In this outstanding first book of poems, Lee is unafraid to show emotion. The images Lee finds, such as the rose and the apple, are repeated throughout the book, crossing over from his father’s China to his own America. Every word becomes transformative.
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
At once a fearlessly vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity, Abandon Me draws on childhood stories, religion, psychology, mythology, popular culture, and the intimacies of one writer’s life to reveal intellectual and emotional truths that feel startlingly universal.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Maggie Nelson’s gorgeous exploration of the color blue renders the pain of being human into something meaningful. A book that reminds us to look carefully and thoughtfully at the world.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
Morgan Parker stands at the intersections of vulnerability and performance, of desire and disgust, of tragedy and excellence. Unrelentingly feminist, tender, ruthless, and sequined, these poems are an altar to the complexities of black American womanhood in an age of non-indictments and déjà vu, and a time of wars over bodies and power.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
This is the story of how a painful past, which Winterson thought she had written over and repainted, rose to haunt her later in life, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother. It is also a book about other people’s literature, one that shows how fiction and poetry can form a string of guiding lights, a life raft that supports us when we are sinking.
Selected Poems and Letters of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
Including both poems and letters, as well as the only contemporary description of Emily Dickinson, this is an excellent introduction to the work of a poet known for her originality of thought.
Let Me Clear My Throat: Essays by Elena Passarello
Passarello’s essays dissect the whys and hows of popular voices, making them hum with significance and emotion. There’s Dean’s scream, Brando’s “Stella,” and a yawp that has made cameos in movies from A Star Is Born to Spaceballs. The voice is thought’s incarnating instrument and Let Me Clear My Throat is the annotated soundtrack of us giving voice to ourselves.
Sleeping with the Dictionary by Harryette Mullen
With its arbitrary yet determinant alphabetical arrangement, its gleeful pursuit of the ludic pleasure of word games, as well as its reflections on the politics of language and dialect, Mullen’s work is serious play.
Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar
This debut collection boldly confronts addiction and courses the strenuous path of recovery, beginning in the wilds of the mind. Poems confront craving, control, the constant battle of alcoholism and sobriety, and the questioning of the self and its instincts within the context of this never-ending fight.
Split by Cathy Linh Che
In this stunning debut, we follow one woman’s profoundly personal account of sexual violence against the backdrop of cultural conflict deftly illustrated through her parents’ experiences of the Vietnam War, immigration, and its aftermath.
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
In a poor, remote section of Southern Mexico, the paramilitary group, the Red Shirts have taken control. God has been outlawed, and the priests have been systematically hunted down and killed. Now, the last priest is on the run. Too human for heroism, too humble for martyrdom, the nameless little worldly “whiskey priest” is nevertheless impelled toward his squalid Calvary as much by his own compassion for humanity as by the efforts of his pursuers.
When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
Diaz examines memory’s role in human identity. Each section filters memory through specific individuals and settings. Bigotry against Native Americans is confronted throughout the collection, and the speaker’s wrestling with identity is carefully woven into each poem.
The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton by Anne Sexton
From the joy and anguish of her own experience, Sexton fashioned poems that told truths about the inner lives of men and women. This book comprises Sexton’s ten volumes of verse, as well as seven poems from her last years.
The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans by Mary Jo Bang
With a bow to Beckett’s style and linguistic playfulness, Mary Jo Bang’s collection of poems deals compassionately and gracefully with the tangible world. Bang’s savvy alliterative insistence sweeps the reader along, as her poems collectively offer a world delicately structured from memorable fragments of experience, emotion, things, and places—inside and outside the human psyche.
thisconnectionofeveryonewithlungs by Juliana Spahr
These hypnotic poems wrap with equal, angular grace around lovers and battleships. They move through concentric levels of association and embrace, touching everything in between. The book’s focus shifts between local and global, public and private, individual and social. Everything gets in: through all five senses, through windows, between your sheets, under your skin.
Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
Examining the lives of ordinary Haitians, particularly those struggling to survive under the brutal Duvalier regime, Danticat illuminates the distance between people’s desires and the stifling reality of their lives. These stories inform and enrich one another, as the female characters reveal a common ancestry and ties to the fictional Ville Rose. Spare, elegant and moving, these stories cohere into a superb collection.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
A riveting work of historical detection revealing that the origin of Wonder Woman, one of the world’s most iconic superheroes, hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminism.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
At once vulnerable and redemptive, dreamlike and visceral, compassionate and unforgiving, these poems seek a myriad existence without forgetting the prerequisite of self-preservation in a world bent on extinguishing its othered voices.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
As the Binewskis take their circus act across the backwaters of the US, inspiring fanatical devotion and murderous revulsion, and as its members conduct their own Machiavellian version of sibling rivalry, Geek Love throws its sulfurous light on our notions of the freakish and the normal, the beautiful and the ugly, the holy and the obscene. Family values will never be the same.
Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón
This collection considers how we build our identities out of place and human contact—tracing in intimate detail the various ways the speaker’s sense of self both shifts and perseveres as she moves from New York City to rural Kentucky, loses a dear parent, ages past the capriciousness of youth, and falls in love.
e.e. cummings: A Selection of Poems by e.e. cummings
“This is the first book of poetry I ever bought and I still have it more than thirty years later. Made me want to be a writer. Took me a while to stop trying to write like him, but still thankful it exists.” – Rumpus Senior Poetry Editor Brian Spears
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Markham was the first woman to cross the Atlantic east-to-west solo, and the first person to make it from England to North America nonstop. She was celebrated as an aviation pioneer. Markham chronicled her many adventures in this memoir, published in 1942.
You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior by Carolina Ebeid
You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior emerges out of the ontological shock and double-bind of there being a world (rather than nothing at all), and inhabiting this world that “depends on violence.” The poems in this book move by way of metaphors and poetic turns that reveal and wound; they cover territories ranging from personal confession and diagnosis to political catastrophes such as war and exile.
Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey
Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South—where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey’s resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated—and, through Mick Kelly, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. And in the novella “Especially Heinous,” Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls-with-bells-for-eyes. Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction by Joan Didion
Joan Didion’s incomparable and distinctive essays and journalism are admired for their acute, incisive observations and their spare, elegant style. Here are the seven books of nonfiction that appeared between 1968 and 2003, together in one thrilling collection.
Meadowlands by Louise Glück
In an astonishing book-length sequence, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Louise Gluck interweaves the dissolution of a contemporary marriage with the story of The Odyssey.
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman
An intelligent and madly entertaining debut novel that is at once a missing-person mystery, an exorcism of modern culture, and a wholly singular vision of contemporary womanhood from a terrifying and often funny voice of a new generation.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Claudia Rankine’s widely praised, brilliant second book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seemingly slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive.
Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. An astonishing collection, one that confronts America where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.
The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra
Megan Stielstra tells stories to ward off fears both personal and universal as she grapples toward a better way to live. Whether she’s imagining the implications of open-carry laws on college campuses, recounting the story of going underwater on the mortgage of her first home, or revealing the unexpected pains and joys of marriage and motherhood, Stielstra’s work informs, impels, enlightens, and embraces us all. The result is something beautiful—this story, her courage, and, potentially, our own.
The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy.