We’re halfway through another year, and still standing (if barely). How are we making it through while everything crumbles around us? Books.
So, we’ve asked Rumpus editors to share the titles forthcoming between now and the year’s end that they are most eagerly anticipating. These books transport us to different worlds, give us glimpses into lives we might never otherwise know, and offer us respite from reality.
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The Boy in the Labyrinth by Oliver de la Paz (University Of Akron Press, July 30, 2019)
In a long sequence of prose poems, questionnaires, and standardized tests, The Boy in the Labyrinth interrogates the language of autism and the language barriers between parents, their children, and the fractured medium of science and school. Structured as a Greek play, the book opens with a parents’ earnest quest for answers, understanding, and doubt. Each section is highlighted by “Autism Spectrum Questionnaires” which are in dialogue with and in opposition to what the parent perceives to be their relationship with their child. Interspersed throughout each section are sequences of standardized test questions akin to those one would find in grade school, except these questions unravel into deeper mysteries. The depth of the book is told in a series of episodic prose poems that parallel the parable of Theseus and the Minotaur. In these short clips of montage the unnamed “boy” explores his world and the world of perception, all the while hearing the rumblings of the Minotaur somewhere in the heart of an immense Labyrinth. Through the medium of this allusion, de la Paz meditates on failures, foundering, and the possibility of finding one’s way.
God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America by Lyz Lenz (Indiana University Press, August 1, 2019)
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.
Black Light: Stories by Kimberly King Parsons (Vintage, August 13, 2019)
In this debut collection of enormously perceptive and brutally unsentimental short stories, Parsons illuminates the ache of first love, the banality of self-loathing, the scourge of addiction, the myth of marriage, and the magic and inevitable disillusionment of childhood. Taking us from hot Texas highways to cold family kitchens, from the freedom of pay-by-the-hour motels to the claustrophobia of private school dorms, these stories erupt off the page with a primal howl—sharp-voiced, acerbic, and wise.
The Trojan War Museum: and Other Stories by Ayşe Papatya Bucak (W. W. Norton & Company, August 20, 2019)
In Ayşe Papatya Bucak’s dreamlike narratives, dead girls recount the effects of an earthquake and a chess-playing automaton falls in love. A student stops eating and no one knows whether her act is personal or political. A Turkish wrestler, a hero in the East, is seen as a brute in the West. The anguish of an Armenian refugee is “performed” at an American fund-raiser. An Ottoman ambassador in Paris amasses a tantalizing collection of erotic art. And in the masterful title story, the Greek god Apollo confronts his personal history and bewails his Homeric reputation as he tries to memorialize, and make sense of, generations of war. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott (Liveright, August 20, 2019)
Established by the leaders of the country’s only successful slave revolt in the mid-nineteenth century, Cross River still evokes the fierce rhythms of its founding. Among its residents―wildly spanning decades, perspectives, and species―are David Sherman, a struggling musician who just happens to be God’s last son; Tyrone, a ruthless PhD candidate, whose dissertation about a childhood game ignites mayhem in the neighboring, once-segregated town of Port Yooga; and Jim, an all-too-obedient robot who serves his Master. As the book builds to its finish with “Special Topics in Loneliness Studies,” a fully-realized novella, two unhinged professors grapple with hugely different ambitions, and the reader comes to appreciate the intricacy of the world Scott has created―one where fantasy and reality are eternally at war.
Hard Damage by Aria Aber (University of Nebraska Press, September 1, 2019)
In lyric and documentary poems and essayistic fragments, Aria Aber explores the historical and personal implications of Afghan American relations. Drawing on material dating back to the 1950s, she considers the consequences of these relations—in particular the funding of the Afghan mujahedeen, which led to the Taliban and modern-day Islamic terrorism—for her family and the world at large. Aber explores Rilke in the original German, the urban melancholia of city life, inherited trauma, and displacement on both linguistic and environmental levels, while employing surrealist and eerily domestic imagery.
Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin (Transit Books, September 3, 2019)
Drawing on nine years of research, Axiomatic explores the ways we understand the traumas we inherit and the systems that sustain them. In five sections―each one built on an axiom about how the past affects the present―Tumarkin weaves together true and intimate stories of a community dealing with the extended aftermath of a suicide, a grandmother’s quest to kidnap her grandson to keep him safe, one community lawyer’s struggle inside and against the criminal justice system, a larger-than-life Holocaust survivor, and the history of the author’s longest friendship. Tumarkin asks questions about loss, grief, and how our particular histories inform the people we become in the world.
A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib (Tin House Books, September 3, 2019)
Hanif Abdurraqib has written a book of poems about how one rebuilds oneself after a heartbreak, the kind that renders them a different version of themselves than the one they knew. It’s a book about a mother’s death, and admitting that Michael Jordan pushed off, about forgiveness, and how none of the author’s black friends wanted to listen to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It’s about wrestling with histories, personal and shared. Abdurraqib uses touchstones from the world outside―from Marvin Gaye to Nikola Tesla to his neighbor’s dogs―to create a mirror, inside of which every angle presents a new possibility. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis (Knopf, September 3, 2019)
In 1977 Uruguay, a military government has crushed political dissent with ruthless force. In an environment where citizens are kidnapped, raped, and tortured, homosexuality is a dangerous transgression. And yet Romina, Flaca, Anita “La Venus,” Paz, and Malena—five cantoras, women who “sing”—somehow, miraculously, find one another and then, together, discover an isolated, nearly uninhabited cape, Cabo Polonio, which they claim as their secret sanctuary. Over the next thirty-five years, their lives move back and forth between Cabo Polonio and Montevideo, the city they call home, as they return, sometimes together, sometimes in pairs, with lovers in tow, or alone. And throughout, again and again, the women will be tested—by their families, lovers, society, and one another—as they fight to live authentic lives.
SoundMachine by Rachel Zucker (Wave Books, September 3, 2019)
Through heartbreaking, often comic, genre-non-conforming pieces spanning the past ten years, Rachel Zucker trains her relentless attention on marriage, motherhood, grief, the need to speak, depression, sex, and many other topics. Part poetry, part memoir, part lyric essay—and not limited by any of these categories—SoundMachine is a book written out of the persistent feeling that the human voice is both a meaningless sound and the only way we know we exist.
Indelible in the Hippocampus: Writings From the Me Too Movement edited by Shelly Oria (McSweeney’s, September 10, 2019)
Among the first books to emerge from the #MeToo movement, Indelible in the Hippocampus is a truly intersectional collection of essays, fiction, and poetry. These original texts sound the voices of black, Latinx, Asian, queer, and trans writers, to name but a few, and says “me too” twenty-two times. Whether reflecting on their teenage selves or their modern-day workplaces, each contributor approaches the subject with unforgettable authenticity and strength. Together these pieces create a portrait of cultural sea-change, offering the reader a deeper understanding of this complex, galvanizing pivot in contemporary consciousness. Stay tuned for an exclusive Rumpus excerpt from Indelible in the Hippocampus in late August!
Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman (Alice James Books, September 17, 2019)
In this remarkable debut, Shira Erlichman pens a love letter to Lithium, her medication for Bipolar Disorder. With inventiveness, compassion, and humor, she thrusts us into a world of unconventional praise. From an unexpected encounter with her grandmother’s ghost, to a bubble bath with Bjӧrk, to her plumber’s confession that he, too, has Bipolar, Erlichman buoyantly topples stigma against the mentally ill. These are necessary odes to self-acceptance, resilience, and the jagged path toward healing. With startling language, and accompanied by her bold drawings and collages, she gives us a sparkling, original view into what makes us human. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Crossfire: A Litany for Survival by Staceyann Chin (Haymarket Books, October 1, 2019)
Crossfire collects Staceyann Chin’s empowering, feminist-LGBTQ-Caribbean, activist-driven poetry for the first time in a single book. According to the New York Times, Chin is “sassy, rageful and sometimes softly self-mocking.” The Advocate says that her poems, “combine hilarious one-liners with a refusal to conform” and note “Chin is out to confront more than just the straight world.”
Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco (Tin House Books, October 1, 2019)
Jeannie Vanasco has had the same nightmare since she was a teenager. She startles awake, saying his name. It is always about him: one of her closest high school friends, a boy named Mark. A boy who raped her. When her nightmares worsen, Jeannie decides―after fourteen years of silence―to reach out to Mark. He agrees to talk on the record and meet in person. “It’s the least I can do,” he says. Jeannie details her friendship with Mark before and after the assault, asking the brave and urgent question: Is it possible for a good person to commit a terrible act? Jeannie interviews Mark, exploring how rape has impacted his life as well as her own. She examines the language surrounding sexual assault and pushes against its confines, contributing to and deepening the #MeToo discussion. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (Simon & Schuster, October 8, 2019)
Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir 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 mother and grandmother, 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.
A Theory of Birds by Zaina Alsous (University of Arkansas Press, October 14, 2019)
The poems in A Theory of Birds draw on inherited memory, historical record, critical theory, alternative geographies, and sharp observation. In them, birds—particularly extinct species—become metaphor for the violences perpetrated on othered bodies under the colonial gaze. Putting ecological preservation in conversation with Arab racial formation, state vernacular with the chatter of birds, Alsous explores how categorization can be a tool for detachment, domination, and erasure. Stretching their wings toward de-erasure, these poems—their subjects and their logics—refuse to stay put within a single category. This is poetry in support of a decolonized mind.
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha (Ecco, October 15, 2019)
In the wake of the police shooting of a black teenager, Los Angeles is as tense as it’s been since the unrest of the early 1990s. But Grace Park and Shawn Matthews have their own problems. Grace is sheltered and largely oblivious, living in the Valley with her Korean-immigrant parents, working long hours at the family pharmacy. She’s distraught that her sister hasn’t spoken to their mother in two years, for reasons beyond Grace’s understanding. Shawn has already had enough of politics and protest after an act of violence shattered his family years ago. He just wants to be left alone to enjoy his quiet life in Palmdale. But when another shocking crime hits LA, both the Park and Matthews families are forced to face down their history while navigating the tumult of a city on the brink of more violence.
HoodWitch by Faylita Hicks (Acre Books, October 15, 2019)
In this collection about resilience, Hicks speaks about giving her child up for adoption, mourning the death of her fiancé, and embracing the nonbinary femme body—persevering in the face of medical malpractice, domestic abuse, and police violence. Exploring the intersections of Christianity, modern mysticism, and Afrofuturism in a sometimes urban, sometimes natural setting, Hicks finds a place where “everyone everywhere is hands in the air,” where “you know they gonna push & pull it together. / Just like they learned to.” It is a place of natural magick—where someone like Hicks can have more than one name: where they can be both dead and alive, both a mortal and a god.
Last of Her Name by Mimi Lok (Kaya Press, October 22, 2019)
Mimi Lok’s Last of Her Name is an eye-opening story collection about the intimate, interconnected lives of diasporic women and the histories they are born into. Set in a wide range of time periods and locales, including ’80s UK suburbia, WWII Hong Kong and contemporary urban California, the book features an eclectic cast of outsiders: among them, an elderly housebreaker, wounded lovers and kung-fu fighting teenage girls. Last of Her Name offers a meditation on female desire and resilience, family and the nature of memory.
This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession by Cameron Dezen Hammon (Lookout Books, October 22, 2019)
In this memoir of faith and faltering, musician Cameron Dezen Hammon finds herself searching for love, meaning―a sign. She’s led to Coney Island, where during a lightning storm, she is baptized in the murky waters of the Atlantic by a group of ragtag converts. After years of trying to make a name for herself as an artist, she follows her boyfriend and new God to Houston, Texas, the heart of American evangelical subculture. Her job at a suburban megachurch there has her performing on stage before crowds, awash in lights and smoke, yet grappling with outdated gender expectations and, ultimately, her identity as both a believer and feminist.
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz (Algonquin Books, October 29, 2019)
While growing up in housing projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, Jaquira Díaz found herself caught between extremes: as her family split apart and her mother battled schizophrenia, she was surrounded by the love of her friends; as she longed for a family and home, she found instead a life upended by violence. From her own struggles with depression and sexual assault to Puerto Rico’s history of colonialism, every page of Ordinary Girls vibrates with music and lyricism. Díaz triumphantly maps a way out of despair toward love and hope to become her version of the girl she always wanted to be.
Moon Trees and Other Orphans by Leigh Camacho Rourks (Black Lawrence Press, October 31, 2019)
Moon Trees and Other Orphans is a gritty collection of short stories set along the Gulf Coast, focusing on themes of desperation, loneliness, and love. Filled with hard-living characters who are deeply lonely, it tracks the ways they fight for survival, often making very bad decisions as they go. Populated by gun-toting women, ex-cons, desperate teens, and other outsiders, it is a collection about what life is like in hard places, both beautiful and dangerous. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press, November 5, 2019)
In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming. And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope―the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman―through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.
Feed by Tommy Pico (Tin House Books, November 5, 2019)
Feed is the fourth book in the Teebs tetralogy. It’s an epistolary recipe for the main character, a poem of nourishment, and a jaunty walk through New York’s High Line park, with the lines, stanzas, paragraphs, dialogue, and registers approximating the park’s cultivated gardens of wildness. Among its questions, Feed asks what’s the difference between being alone and being lonely? Can you ever really be friends with an ex? How do you make perfect mac & cheese? Feed is an ode of reconciliation to the wild inconsistencies of a Northeast spring, a frustrating season of back-and-forth, of thaw and blizzard, but with a faith that even amidst the mess, it knows where it’s going.
Shine of the Ever by Claire Rudy Foster (Interlude Press, November 5, 2019)
Shine of the Ever is a literary mixtape of queer voices out of 1990s Portland. By turns tender and punk-tough, fierce and loving, this collection of short stories explores what binds a community of queer and trans people as they negotiate love, screwing up, and learning to forgive themselves for being young and sometimes foolish.
Heed the Hollow by Malcolm Tariq (Graywolf Press, November 5, 2019)
Heed the Hollow introduces the work of Malcolm Tariq, whose poems explore the concept of “the bottom” across blackness, sexuality, and the American South. These lyrics of queer desire meet the voices of enslaved ancestors to reckon with a lineage of trauma that manifests as silence, pain, and haunting memories, but also as want and love. In bops, lyrics, and erasures, Heed the Hollowtells of a heritage anchored to the landscape of the coastal South, to seawalls shaped by forced labor, and to the people “marked into the bottom / of history where then now / we find no shadow of life.” From that shadow, the voices in these poems make their own brightness, reclaiming their histories from a language that evolved to exclude them. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (Hachette Books, November 5, 2019)
In a laugh-out-loud, incisive cultural critique, West extolls the world-changing magic of truth, urging readers to reckon with dark lies in the heart of the American mythos, and unpacking the complicated, and sometimes tragic, politics of not being a white man in the twenty-first century. She tracks the misogyny and propaganda hidden (or not so hidden) in the media she and her peers devoured growing up, a buffet of distortions, delusions, prejudice, and outright bullshit that has allowed white male mediocrity to maintain a death grip on American culture and politics—and that delivered us to this precarious, disorienting moment in history.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (Ecco, November 5, 2019)
Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help. Madison’s twin stepchildren are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. But there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband.
Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church edited by Lauren O’Neal and Chrissy Stroop (Epiphany Publishing, December 1, 2019)
In this necessary and revealing anthology, Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O Neal collect original and previously published pieces about leaving Christianity. Examining the intersections of queerness, spiritual abuse, loss of faith, and the courage needed to leave one’s religious community, these two social critics use a diverse collection of personal essays by apostates and survivors of religious trauma to boldly address the individual experiences and systemic dysfunction so common in conservative churches. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Dispatch by Cameron Awkward-Rich (Persea, December 10, 2019)
Set against the media environment that saturates even our most intimate spaces, Dispatch attends to, revises, and thinks adjacent to the news of racial/gendered violence in the US, from the nineteenth century to the present day. These poems ask: What kind of revisions will make this a world/a story that is concerned with my people’s flourishing? How ought I pay attention, how to register perpetual bad news without letting it fatally intrude? Cameron Awkward-Rich is among the most bracing voices to emerge in recent years, a dazzling exemplar of poetry’s (and humanity’s) possibilities. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!