We’re just about halfway through this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. 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, share new perspectives to consider, and offer us respite from reality.
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Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier (Doubleday, June 9, 2020)
Eighteen years old, pregnant, and working as a pizza delivery girl in suburban Los Angeles, our charmingly dysfunctional heroine is deeply lost and in complete denial about it all. She’s grieving the death of her father (whom she has more in common with than she’d like to admit), avoiding her supportive mom and loving boyfriend, and flagrantly ignoring her future. Her world is further upended when she becomes obsessed with Jenny, a stay-at-home mother new to the neighborhood, who comes to depend on weekly deliveries of pickled-covered pizzas for her son’s happiness. As one woman looks toward motherhood and the other toward middle age, the relationship between the two begins to blur in strange, complicated, and ultimately heartbreaking ways.
Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht (Tin House Books, June 16, 2020)
When ex-CIA agent Vera Kelly loses her job and her girlfriend in a single day, she reluctantly goes into business as a private detective. Heartbroken and cash-strapped, she takes a case that dredges up dark memories and attracts dangerous characters from across the Cold War landscape. Before it’s over, she’ll chase a lost child through foster care and follow a trail of Dominican exiles to the Caribbean. Forever looking over her shoulder, she nearly misses what’s right in front of her: her own desire for home, connection, and a new romance at the local bar. In this exciting second installment of the Vera Kelly series, Rosalie Knecht challenges and deepens the Vera we love: a woman of sparkling wit, deep moral fiber, and martini-dry humor who knows how to follow a case even as she struggles to follow her heart.
Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West (Park Row, June 16, 2020)
When Ruby King’s mother is found murdered in their home in Chicago’s South Side, the police dismiss it as another act of violence in a black neighborhood. But for Ruby, it’s a devastating loss that leaves her on her own with her violent father. While she receives many condolences, her best friend, Layla, is the only one who understands how this puts Ruby in jeopardy. Their closeness is tested when Layla’s father, the pastor of their church, demands that Layla stay away. But what is the price for turning a blind eye? In a relentless quest to save Ruby, Layla uncovers the murky loyalties and dangerous secrets that have bound their families together for generations. Only by facing this legacy of trauma head-on will Ruby be able to break free.
Unearth [The Flowers] by Thea Matthews (Red Light Lit Press, June 20, 2020)
In the wake of the Me Too movement, Thea Matthews’s debut collection provides a path to healing. Her empowering poems illustrate how survivors can find a safe place within themselves to reclaim their own identity and sexuality. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory (Berkley, June 23, 2020)
Dating is the last thing on Olivia Monroe’s mind when she moves to LA to start her own law firm. But when she meets a gorgeous man at a hotel bar and they spend the entire night flirting, she discovers too late that he is none other than hotshot junior senator Max Powell. Olivia has zero interest in dating a politician, but when a cake arrives at her office with the cutest message, she can’t resist—it is chocolate cake, after all. Olivia is surprised to find that Max is sweet, funny, and noble—not just some privileged white politician she assumed him to be. Because of Max’s high-profile job, they start seeing each other secretly, which leads to clandestine dates and silly disguises. But when they finally go public, the intense media scrutiny means people are now digging up her rocky past and criticizing her job, even her suitability as a trophy girlfriend. Olivia knows what she has with Max is something special, but is it strong enough to survive the heat of the spotlight?
Inconvenient Daughter by Lauren J. Sharkey (Kaylie Jones Books, June 23, 2020)
Rowan Kelly knows she’s lucky. After all, if she hadn’t been adopted by Marie and Joseph, she could have spent her days in a rice paddy, or a windowless warehouse assembling iPhones—they make iPhones in Korea, right? Either way, slowly dying of boredom on Long Island is surely better than the alternative. According to Marie and Joseph, being adopted means Rowan is “special,” but when she’s sent to kindergarten at an all-white Catholic girls’ school, she realizes that “special” means “different,” and not in a good way. It occurs to her that she’ll never know if she has her mother’s eyes, or if she’d be in America at all, had her adoptive parents been able to conceive. She sets out to prove that she can be someone’s first choice—that she isn’t just a consolation prize. After running away from home—and her parents’ rules—and ending up beaten, barefoot, and topless on a Pennsylvania street courtesy of Bad Boy Number One, Rowan attaches herself to Never-Going-to-Commit. When that doesn’t work out, she fully abandons self-respect and begins browsing the Craigslist personals. But as Rowan dives deeper and deeper into the world of casual encounters with strangers, she discovers what she’s really looking for. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope by Shayla Lawson (Harper Perennial, June 30, 2020)
Shayla Lawson is major. You don’t know who she is. Yet. But that’s okay. She is on a mission to move black girls like herself from best supporting actress to a starring role in the major narrative. Whether she’s taking on workplace microaggressions or upending racist stereotypes about her home state of Kentucky, she looks for the side of the story that isn’t always told, the places where the voices of black girls haven’t been heard. The essays in This Is Major ask questions like: Why are black women invisible to AI? What is “black girl magic”? Or: Am I one viral tweet away from becoming Twitter famous? And: How much magic does it take to land a Tinder date? With a unique mix of personal stories, pop culture observations, and insights into politics and history, Lawson sheds light on these questions, as well as the many ways black women and girls have influenced mainstream culture―from their style, to their language, and even their art―and how “major” they really are.
Self Care by Leigh Stein (Penguin Books, June 30, 2020)
Maren Gelb is on a company-imposed digital detox. She tweeted something terrible about the President’s daughter, and as the COO of Richual, “the most inclusive online community platform for women to cultivate the practice of self-care and change the world by changing ourselves,” it’s a PR nightmare. Not only is CEO Devin Avery counting on Maren to be fully present for their next round of funding, but indispensable employee Khadijah Walker has been keeping a secret that will reveal just how feminist Richual’s values actually are, and former Bachelorette contestant and Richual board member Evan Wiley is about to be embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal that could destroy the company forever.
Sensation Machines by Adam Wilson (Soho Press, July 7, 2020)
Michael and Wendy Mixner are a Brooklyn-based couple whose marriage is failing in the wake of a personal tragedy. Michael, a Wall Street trader, is meanwhile keeping a secret: he lost the couple’s life savings when a tanking economy caused a major market crash. And Wendy, a digital marketing strategist, has been hired onto a data-mining project of epic scale, whose mysterious creator has ambitions to solve a national crisis of mass unemployment and reshape America’s social and political landscapes. When Michael’s best friend is murdered, the evidence leads back to Wendy’s client, setting off a dangerous chain of events that will profoundly change the couple—and the country.
Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford (Grove Press, July 14, 2020)
It’s 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and fifteen-year-old Justine grows up in a family of tough, complicated, and loyal women presided over by her mother, Lula, and Granny. After Justine’s father abandoned the family, Lula became a devout member of the Holiness Church—a community that Justine at times finds stifling and terrifying. But Justine does her best as a devoted daughter until an act of violence sends her on a different path forever. Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine―a mixed-blood Cherokee woman―and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma’s Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn’t easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country. Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world―of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados―intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.
Inheritors by Asako Serizawa (Doubleday, July 14, 2020)
Written from myriad perspectives and in a wide range of styles, each of these interconnected stories is designed to speak to the others, contesting assumptions and illuminating the complicated ways we experience, interpret, and pass on our personal and shared histories. A retired doctor, for example, is forced to confront the horrific moral consequences of his wartime actions. An elderly woman subjects herself to an interview, gradually revealing a fifty-year-old murder and its shattering aftermath. And in the last days of a doomed war, a prodigal son who enlisted against his parents’ wishes survives the American invasion of his island outpost, only to be asked for a sacrifice more daunting than any he imagined. Serizawa’s characters walk the line between the devastating realities of war and the banal needs of everyday life as they struggle to reconcile their experiences with the changing world.
The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained by Colin Dickey (Viking, July 21, 2020)
In a world where rational, scientific explanations are more available than ever, belief in the unprovable and irrational—in fringe—is on the rise: from Atlantis to aliens, from Flat Earth to the Loch Ness monster, the list goes on. It seems the more our maps of the known world get filled in, the more we crave mysterious locations full of strange creatures. Enter Colin Dickey, cultural historian and tour guide of the weird. Dickey looks at what all fringe beliefs have in common, explaining that today’s Illuminati is yesterday’s Flat Earth: the attempt to find meaning in a world stripped of wonder. He visits the wacky sites of America’s wildest fringe beliefs—from the famed Mount Shasta where the ancient race (or extra-terrestrials, or possibly both, depending on who you ask) called Lemurians are said to roam, to the museum containing the last remaining “evidence” of the great Kentucky Meat Shower—investigating how these theories come about, why they take hold, and why as Americans we keep inventing and reinventing them decade after decade.
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey (Ecco, July 28, 2020)
At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.
The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes (Oneworld Publications, July 30, 2020)
It’s 2008, and the Celtic Tiger has left devastation in its wake. Brothers Hart and Cormac Black are waking up to a very different Ireland—one that widens the chasm between them and brings their beloved father to his knees. Facing a devastating choice that risks their livelihood, if not their lives, their biggest danger comes when there is nothing to lose. A sharp snapshot of a family and a nation suddenly unmoored, this epic-in-miniature explores cowardice and sacrifice, faith rewarded and abandoned, the stories we tell ourselves and the ones we resist.
Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno (TOPPLE Books & Little A, August 1, 2020)
In this debut collection of essays, Melissa Faliveno traverses the liminal spaces of her childhood in working-class Wisconsin and the paths she’s traveled since, compelled by questions of girlhood and womanhood, queerness and class, and how the lands of our upbringing both define and complicate us even long after we’ve left. Part personal narrative, part cultural reportage, Tomboyland navigates midwestern traditions, mythologies, landscapes, and lives to explore the intersections of identity and place. From F5 tornadoes and fast-pitch softball to gun culture, strange glacial terrains, kink party potlucks, and the question of motherhood, Faliveno asks curious, honest, and often darkly funny questions about belonging and the body, isolation and community, and what we mean when we use words like woman, family, and home.
Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots by Morgan Jerkins (Harper, August 4, 2020)
Between 1916 and 1970, six million black Americans left their rural homes in the South for jobs in cities in the North, West, and Midwest in a movement known as The Great Migration. But while this event transformed the complexion of America and provided black people with new economic opportunities, it also disconnected them from their roots, their land, and their sense of identity, argues Morgan Jerkins. In this fascinating and deeply personal exploration, she recreates her ancestors’ journeys across America, following the migratory routes they took from Georgia and South Carolina to Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California. Following in their footsteps, Jerkins seeks to understand not only her own past, but the lineage of an entire group of people who have been displaced, disenfranchised, and disrespected throughout our history. Through interviews, photos, and hundreds of pages of transcription, Jerkins braids the loose threads of her family’s oral histories, which she was able to trace back 300 years, with the insights and recollections of black people she met along the way–the tissue of black myths, customs, and blood that connect the bones of American history.
Being Lolita: A Memoir by Alisson Wood (Flatiron Books, August 4, 2020)
A lonely and vulnerable high school senior, Alisson finds solace only in her writing―and in a young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. North. Mr. North gives Alisson a copy of Lolita to read, telling her it is a beautiful story about love. The book soon becomes the backdrop to a connection that blooms from a simple crush into a forbidden romance. But as Mr. North’s hold on her tightens, Alisson is forced to evaluate how much of their narrative is actually a disturbing fiction. In the wake of what becomes a deeply abusive relationship, Alisson is faced again and again with the story of her past, from rereading Lolita in college to working with teenage girls to becoming a professor of creative writing. It is only with that distance and perspective that she understands the ultimate power language has had on her―and how to harness that power to tell her own true story.
Luster by Raven Leilani (FSG, August 4, 2020)
Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties―sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage―with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and invited into Eric’s home―though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only black woman young Akila knows. Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life―her hunger, her anger―in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent, and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.
The Unreality of Memory: And Other Essays by Elisa Gabbert (FSG Originals, August 6, 2020)
The Unreality of Memory collects provocative, searching essays on disaster culture, climate anxiety, and our mounting collective sense of doom. In this new collection, acclaimed poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert explores our obsessions with disasters past and future, from the sinking of the Titanic to Chernobyl, from witch hunts to the plague. These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it.
Finna by Nate Marshall (One World, August 11, 2020)
These poems consider the brevity and disposability of Black lives and other oppressed people in our current era of emboldened white supremacy, and the use of the Black vernacular in America’s vast reserve of racial and gendered epithets. Finna explores the erasure of peoples in the American narrative; asks how gendered language can provoke violence; and finally, how the Black vernacular, expands our notions of possibility, giving us a new language of hope.
Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses (Little A, August 11, 2020)
Matt Kim is always tired. He keeps passing out. His cat is dead. His wife and daughter have left him. He’s estranged from his adoptive family. People bump into him on the street as if he isn’t there. He is pretty sure he’s disappearing. His girlfriend, Yumi, is less convinced. But then she runs into someone who looks exactly like her, and her doppelgänger turns out to have dated someone who looks exactly like Matt. Except the other Matt was superior in every way. He was clever, successful, generous, and beloved—until one day he suddenly and completely vanished without warning. How can Matt Kim protect his existence when a better version of him wasn’t able to? Or is his worse life a reason for his survival? A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women by Lyz Lenz (Bold Type Books, August 11, 2020)
In Belabored, journalist Lyz Lenz lays bare the misogynistic logic of US cultural narratives about pregnancy, tracing them back to our murky, potent cultural soup of myths, from the religious to the historical. In the present, she details how sexist assumptions inform our expectations for pregnant people, whether we’re policing them, asking them to make sacrifices with dubious or disproven benefits, or putting them up on a pedestal in an “Earth mother” role. Throughout, she reflects on her own experiences of being seen as alternately a vessel or a goddess—but hardly ever as herself—while carrying each of her two children.
Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne (Crown, August 11, 2020)
In clear, lucid prose, Manne argues that male entitlement can explain a wide array of phenomena, from mansplaining and the undertreatment of women’s pain to mass shootings by incels and the seemingly intractable notion that women are “unelectable.” Moreover, Manne implicates each of us in toxic masculinity: It’s not just a product of a few bad actors; it’s something we all perpetuate, conditioned as we are by the social and cultural mores of our time. The only way to combat it, she says, is to expose the flaws in our default modes of thought while enabling women to take up space, say their piece, and muster resistance to the entitled attitudes of the men around them.
Thrown in the Throat by Benjamin Garcia (Milkweed Editions, August 11, 2020)
“Tongues make mistakes / and mistakes / make languages.” And Benjamin Garcia makes a stunning debut with Thrown in the Throat. In a sex-positive incantation that retextures what it is to write a queer life amidst troubled times, Garcia writes boldly of citizenship, family, and Adam Rippon’s butt. Detailing a childhood spent undocumented, one speaker recalls nights when “because we cannot sleep / we dream with open eyes.” Garcia delves with both English and Spanish into how one survives a country’s long love affair with anti-immigrant cruelty. Rendering a family working to the very end to hold each other, he writes the kind of family you both survive and survive with. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (Harper, August 11, 2020)
Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away. The smog and pollution of the City—an over-populated, over-built metropolis where most of the population lives—is destroying her lungs. But what can Bea do? No one leaves the City anymore, because there is nowhere else to go. But across the country lies the Wilderness State, the last swath of open, protected land left. Here forests and desert plains are inhabited solely by wildlife. People are forbidden. Until now. Bea, Agnes, and eighteen others volunteer to live in the Wilderness State as part of a study to see if humans can coexist with nature. Can they be part of the wilderness and not destroy it? The farther they roam, the closer they come to their animal soul. To her dismay, Bea discovers that, in fleeing to the Wilderness State to save Agnes, she is losing her in a different way. Agnes is growing wilder and closer to the land, while Bea cannot shake her urban past. As she and Agnes grow further apart, the bonds between mother and daughter are tested in surprising and heartbreaking ways.
A House Is a Body: Stories by Shruti Swamy (Algonquin Books, August 11, 2020)
Dreams collide with reality, modernity with antiquity, and myth with identity in the twelve stories of A House Is a Body. In “Earthly Pleasures,” a young painter living alone in San Francisco begins a secret romance with one of India’s biggest celebrities, and desire and ego are laid bare. In “A Simple Composition,” a husband’s professional crisis leads to his wife’s discovery of a dark, ecstatic joy. And in the title story, an exhausted mother watches, hypnotized by fear, as a California wildfire approaches her home. Immersive and assured, provocative and probing, these are stories written with the edge and precision of a knife blade. Set in the United States and India, they reveal small but intense moments of beauty, pain, and power that contain the world.
Black Bottom Saints by Alice Randall (Amistad, August 18, 2020)
From the Great Depression through the post-World War II years, Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson, has been the pulse of Detroit’s famous Black Bottom. A celebrated gossip columnist for the city’s African-American newspaper, the Michigan Chronicle, he is also the emcee of one of the hottest night clubs, where he’s rubbed elbows with the legendary black artists of the era, including Ethel Waters, Billy Eckstein, and Count Basie. Ziggy is also the founder and dean of the Ziggy Johnson School of Theater. But now the doyen of Black Bottom is ready to hang up his many dapper hats. As he lays dying in the black-owned-and-operated Kirkwood Hospital, Ziggy reflects on his life, the community that was the center of his world, and the remarkable people who helped shape it.
Anodyne by Khadijah Queen (Tin House Books, August 18, 2020)
The poems that make up Anodyne consider the small moments that enrapture us alongside the daily threats of cataclysm. Formally dynamic and searingly personal, Anodyne asks us to recognize the echoes of history that litter the landscape of our bodies as we navigate a complex terrain of survival and longing. With an intimate and multivocal dexterity, these poems acknowledge the simultaneous existence of joy and devastation, knowledge and ignorance, grief and love, endurance and failure―all of the contrast and serendipity that comes with the experience of being human. If the body is a world, or a metaphor for the world, for what disappears and what remains, for what we feel and what we cover up, then how do we balance fate and choice, pleasure and pain? Through a combination of formal lyrics, delicate experiments, sharp rants, musical litany, and moments of wit that uplift and unsettle, Queen’s poems show us the terrible consequences and stunning miracles of how we choose to live.
Hysteria by Jessica Gross (Unnamed Press, August 18, 2020)
In Hysteria, we meet a young woman an hour into yet another alcohol-fueled, masochistic, sexual bender at her local bar. There is a new bartender working this time, one she hasn’t seen before, but who can properly make a drink. He looks familiar, and as she is consumed by shame from her behavior the previous week―hooking up with her parents’ colleague and her roommate’s brother―she also becomes convinced that her Brooklyn bartender is actually Sigmund Freud. They embark on a relationship, and she is forced to confront her past through the prism of their complex, revealing, and sometimes shocking meetings. With the help of Freud―or whoever he is―she begins to untangle her Oedipal leanings, her upbringing, and her desires.
The Sprawl by Jason Diamond (Coffee House Press, August 25, 2020)
For decades the suburbs have been where art happens despite: despite the conformity, the emptiness, the sameness. Time and again, the story is one of gems formed under pressure and that resentment of the suburbs is the key ingredient for creative transcendence. But what if, contrary to that, the suburb has actually been an incubator for distinctly American art, as positively and as surely as in any other cultural hothouse? Mixing personal experience, cultural reportage, and history while rejecting clichés and pieties, these essays stretch across the country in an effort to show that this uniquely American milieu deserves another look.
Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky, translated by Jackie Smith (New Directions, August 25, 2020)
Each disparate object described in this book―a Caspar David Friedrich painting, a species of tiger, a villa in Rome, a Greek love poem, an island in the Pacific―shares a common fate: it no longer exists, except as the dead end of a paper trail. Recalling the works of W. G. Sebald, Bruce Chatwin, or Rebecca Solnit, Inventory of Losses is a beautiful evocation of twelve specific treasures that have been lost to the world forever, and, taken as a whole, opens mesmerizing new vistas of how we can think about extinction and loss. With meticulous research and a vivid awareness of why we should care about these losses, Judith Schalansky lets these objects speak for themselves: she ventriloquizes the tone of other sources, burrows into the language of contemporaneous accounts, and deeply interrogates the very notion of memory.
Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald (Grove Press, August 25, 2020)
In Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best-loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep. Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, Macdonald invites us into her most intimate experiences: observing the massive migration of songbirds from the top of the Empire State Building, watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary, seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes with heart-tugging clarity about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, and the unexpected guidance and comfort we find when watching wildlife.
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Ecco, August 25, 2020)
Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s own nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop. They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.
Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine (MIRA, September 1, 2020)
Wylodine comes from a world of paranoia and poverty—her family grows marijuana illegally, and life has always been a battle. Now she’s been left behind to tend the crop alone. Then spring doesn’t return for the second year in a row, bringing unprecedented, extreme winter. With grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, she begins a journey, determined to start over away from Appalachian Ohio. But the icy roads and strangers hidden in the hills are treacherous. After a harrowing encounter with a violent cult, Wil and her small group of exiles become a target for the cult’s volatile leader. Because she has the most valuable skill in the climate chaos: she can make things grow. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
A Girl Is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Tin House Books, September 1, 2020)
In her twelfth year, Kirabo, a young Ugandan girl, confronts a piercing question that has haunted her childhood: who is my mother? Kirabo has been raised by women in the small village of Nattetta―her grandmother, her best friend, and her many aunts—but the absence of her mother follows her like a shadow. Complicating these feelings of abandonment, as Kirabo comes of age she feels the emergence of a mysterious second self, a headstrong and confusing force inside her at odds with her sweet and obedient nature. Seeking answers, Kirabo begins spending afternoons with Nsuuta, a local witch, trading stories and learning not only about this force inside her, but about the woman who birthed her, who she learns is alive but not ready to meet. Nsuuta also explains that Kirabo has a streak of the “first woman”―an independent, original state that has been all but lost to women.
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, September 1, 2020)
Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, is looking more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Will she turn out like her despised Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father have spent their whole lives avoiding and deriding? There must be a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is. Giovanna is searching for her true reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: the Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and the Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves between these two cities, disoriented by the fact that, whether high or low, neither city seems to offer answers or escape.
Be Holding: A Poem by Ross Gay (Pitt Poetry Series, September 8, 2020)
Be Holding is a love song to legendary basketball player Julius Erving—known as Dr. J—who dominated courts in the 1970s and ‘80s as a small forward for the Philadelphia ‘76ers. But this book-length poem is more than just an ode to a magnificent athlete. Through a kind of lyric research, or lyric meditation, Ross Gay connects Dr. J’s famously impossible move from the 1980 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers to pick-up basketball and the flying Igbo and the Middle Passage, to photography and surveillance and state violence, to music and personal histories of flight and familial love. Be Holding wonders how the imagination, or how our looking, might make us, or bring us, closer to each other. How our looking might make us reach for each other. And might make us be reaching for each other. And how that reaching might be something like joy.
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang (One World, September 8, 2020)
One evening, Mother tells Daughter a story about a tiger spirit who lived in a woman’s body. She was called Hu Gu Po, and she hungered to eat children, especially their toes. Soon afterwards, Daughter awakes with a tiger tail. And more mysterious events follow: Holes in the backyard spit up letters penned by her grandmother; a visiting aunt arrives with snakes in her belly; a brother tests the possibility of flight. All the while, Daughter is falling for Ben, a neighborhood girl with mysterious powers of her own. As the two young lovers translate the grandmother’s letters, Daughter begins to understand that each woman in her family embodies a myth—and that she will have to bring her family’s secrets to light in order to change their destiny.
Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty (Alice James Books, September 8, 2020)
“This powerful and endlessly mysterious collection of poems is a book of fables, of spells, of revised narratives, and of realigned songs, brightly lifted above our bodies by music that is as unpredictable as it is marvelous. The lyricism is everywhere apparent as Sumita Chakraborty addresses us, our bodies and their stories, our planet, and our sense of time itself. How does she do it? Mad Ireland hurt him into poetry, W. H. Auden wrote about Yeats, and as the hurt enters Chakraborty’s language, we see that in speech violated, sounds and meanings—and even the oldest of human mysteries, like ‘the etymology of love’—are redefined. All one can do is repeat: this is an endlessly compelling book. Bravo.” – Ilya Kaminsky (author of Deaf Republic) A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Un-American by Hafizah Geter (Wesleyan University Press, September 8, 2020)
Dancing between lyric and narrative, Hafizah Geter’s debut collection moves readers through the fraught internal and external landscapes―linguistic, cultural, racial, familial―of those whose lives are shaped and transformed by immigration. The daughter of a Nigerian Muslim woman and a former Southern Baptist black man, Geter charts the history of a black family of mixed citizenships through poems imbued by migration, racism, queerness, loss, and the heartbreak of trying to feel at home in a country that does not recognize you. Through her mother’s death and her father’s illnesses, Geter weaves the natural world into the discourse of grief, human interactions, and sociopolitical discord
The Book of Old Ladies: Celebrating Women of a Certain Age in Fiction by Ruth O. Saxton (She Writes Press, September 8, 2020)
This is a book that champions older women’s stories and challenges the limiting outcomes we seem to hold for them. The Book of Old Ladies introduces readers to thirty stories featuring fictional “women of a certain age” who increasingly become their truest selves. Their stories will entertain and provide insight into the stories we tell ourselves about the limits and opportunities of aging. A celebration of women who push back against the limiting stereotypes regarding older women’s possibility, The Book of Old Ladies is a book lover’s guide to approaching old age and dealing with its losses while still embracing beauty, creativity, connection, and wonder.
Death, Desire, and Other Destinations by Tara Isabel Zambrano (Okay Donkey, September 15, 2020)
Death, Desire, and Other Destinations, Tara Isabel Zambrano’s debut short story collection, explores the rocky terrain of relationships and their fault lines, and unearths the boundaries between love, longing, and loss. Both real and surreal, lyrical and magical, sci-fi and speculative, these small stories shine a light in the darkness of seeking a human connection across space and time.
Exposition by Nathalie Léger (Dorothy, September 15, 2020)
Exposition is the first in a triptych of books by the award-winning writer and archivist Nathalie Léger that includes Suite for Barbara Loden and The White Dress. In each, Léger sets the story of a female artist against the background of her own life and research—an archivist’s journey into the self, into the lives that history hides from us. Here, Léger’s subject is the Countess of Castiglione (1837–1899), who at the dawn of photography dedicated herself to becoming the most photographed woman in the world, modeling for hundreds of photos, including “Scherzo di Follia,” among the most famous in history. Set long before our own “selfie” age, Exposition is a remarkably modern investigation into the curses of beauty, fame, vanity, and age, as well as the obsessive drive to control and commodify one’s image.
The Most Precious of Cargoes by Jean-Claude Grumberg (HarperVia, September 29, 2020)
Once upon a time in an enormous forest lived a woodcutter and his wife. The woodcutter is very poor and a war rages around them, making it difficult for them to put food on the table. Yet every night, his wife prays for a child. A Jewish father rides on a train holding twin babies. His wife no longer has enough milk to feed both children. In hopes of saving them both, he wraps his daughter in a shawl and throws her into the forest. While foraging for food, the wife finds a bundle, a baby girl wrapped in a shawl. Although she knows harboring this baby could lead to her death, she takes the child home. Set against the horrors of the Holocaust and told with a fairytale-like lyricism, The Most Precious of Cargoes is a fable about family and redemption which reminds us that humanity can be found in the most inhumane of places.
Girls Against God by Jenny Hval (Verso, October 6, 2020)
Welcome to 1990s Norway. White picket fences run in neat rows and Christian conservatism runs deep. But as the Artist considers her work, things start stirring themselves up. In a corner of Oslo a coven of witches begin cooking up some curses. A time-traveling Edvard Munch arrives in town to join a death metal band, closely pursued by the teenaged subject of his painting Puberty, who has murder on her mind. Meanwhile, out deep in the forest, a group of school girls get very lost and things get very strange. And awful things happen in aspic. Jenny Hval’s latest novel is a radical fusion of queer feminist theory and experimental horror, and a unique treatise on magic, writing and art. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Jubilee by Jennifer Givhan (Blackstone Publishing, October 6, 2020)
When Bianca appears late one night at her brother’s house in Santa Ana, she is barely conscious, though not alone. Jubilee, wrapped in a fuzzy pink romper, is buckled into a car seat. Jubilee, who Bianca feeds and clothes and bathes and loves. Jubilee, who Bianca could not leave behind. Jubilee, a doll in her arms. Told in alternating points of view, Jubilee reveals both the haunting power of our lived experiences and the surreal possibility of the present to heal the past. The first thread, “Before Jubilee,” follows Bianca in her girlhood home on the Mexicali border as she struggles with her high school sweetheart, Gabe, and a secret they’ve shared since she was fifteen. The second thread, “With Jubilee,” is told from the point of view of her new love, Joshua, who along with Bianca’s family helps her cope with a mysterious trauma by accepting Jubilee as part of the family. As Joshua’s love for Bianca grows, he fears that Jubilee has the power to tear his tiny family apart.
Cardinal by Tyree Daye (Copper Canyon Press, October 6, 2020)
Tyree Daye’s Cardinal is a generous atlas that serves as a poetic “Green Book”—the travel-cum-survival guide for black motorists negotiating racist America in the mid-twentieth century. Interspersed with images of Daye’s family and upbringing, which have been deliberately blurred, it also serves as an imperfect family album. Cardinal traces the South’s burdened interiors and the interiors of a black male protagonist attempting to navigate his many departures and returns home—a place that could both lovingly rear him and coolly annihilate him. With the language of elegy and praise, intoning regional dialect and a deliberately disruptive cadence, Daye carries the voices of ancestors and blues poets, while stretching the established zones of the black American vernacular. In tones at once laden and magically transforming, he self-consciously plots his own Great Migration: “if you see me dancing a two step / I’m sending a starless code / we’re escaping everywhere.”
Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith (Atria/One Signal Publishers, October 6, 2020)
When Maggie Smith, the award-winning author of the viral poem “Good Bones,” started writing daily Twitter posts in the wake of her divorce, they unexpectedly caught fire. In this deeply moving book of quotes and essays, Maggie writes about new beginnings as opportunities for transformation. Like kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics with gold, Keep Moving celebrates the beauty and strength on the other side of loss. This is a book for anyone who has gone through a difficult time and is wondering: What comes next?
That Was Now, This Is Then by Vijay Seshadri (Graywolf Press, October 6, 2020)
No one blends ironic intelligence, emotional frankness, radical self-awareness, and complex humor the way Vijay Seshadri does. That Was Now, This Is Then takes on the planar paradoxes of time and space, destabilizing highly tuned lyrics and elegies with dizzying turns in poems of unrequitable longing, of longing for longing, of longing to be found, of grief. In these poems, Seshadri’s speaker becomes the subject, the reader becomes the writer, and the multiplying refracted narratives yield an “anguish so pure it almost / feels like joy.” A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Negotiations by Destiny O. Birdsong (Tin House Books, October 13, 2020)
What makes a self? In this debut collection of poems, Destiny O. Birdsong writes fearlessly towards this question. Negotiations is about what it means to live in this America, about Cardi B and top-tier journal publications, about autoimmune disease and the speaker’s intense hunger for her own body—a surprise of self-love in the aftermath of both assault and diagnosis. It’s a series of love letters to black women, who are often singled out for abuse and assault, silencing and tokenism, fetishization and cultural appropriation in ways that throw the rock, then hide the hand. It is a book about tenderness and an indictment of people and systems that attempt to narrow black women’s lives, their power. But it is also an examination of complicity—both a narrative and a black box warning for a particular kind of self-healing that requires recognizing culpability when and where it exists.
Loved and Wanted: A Memoir of Choice, Children, and Womanhood by Christa Parravani (Henry Holt and Co., October 13, 2020)
Haunted by a childhood steeped in poverty and violence and by young adult years rocked by the tragic death of her identical twin sister, Christa hoped her professor’s salary and health care might set her and her young family on a safe and steady path. Instead, one year after the birth of her second child, Christa found herself pregnant again. Six weeks into the pregnancy, she requested an abortion. And in the weeks, then months, that followed, nurses obfuscated and doctors refused outright or feared being found out to the point of, ultimately, becoming unavailable to provide Christa with reproductive choice. By the time Christa understood that she would need to leave West Virginia to obtain a safe, legal abortion, she’d run out of time. She had failed to imagine that she might not have access to reproductive choice in the United States, until it was too late for her, her pregnancy too far along. So she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Keats. And another frightening education began: available healthcare was dangerously inadequate to her newborn son’s needs; indeed, environmental degradations and poor healthcare endangered Christa’s older children as well.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Milkweed Editions, October 13, 2020)
Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings―asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass―offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.
Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París, translated by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House Press, October 13, 2020)
Folding and refolding origami frogs, extracting the symmetrical veins from leaves, retreating to an imaginary world in his closet: after Teresa walked out the door one July afternoon in 1994, her son filled the void she left with a series of unusual rituals. Twenty-three years later, he lies in bed, reconstructing the events surrounding his mother’s disappearance. Did she actually join the Zapatistas in the jungles of Chiapas, as he was led to believe? He dissects his memories of that fateful summer until a startling discovery shatters his conception of his family. Daniel Saldaña París returns with an emotionally rich anti-coming-of-age novel that wrestles with the inherited privileges and atrocities of masculinity.
Hinge by Molly Spencer (Southern Illinois University Press, October 20, 2020)
“Through legend and landscape, in her lush and razor sharp lines, Molly Spencer’s newest collection, Hinge, navigates mothering and the passage of time in the throes of chronic illness. Her poems illuminate what it means to inhabit a body turning on itself, to come to knowledge by loss and by absence. These are poems that exquisitely tend to the work of living.” – Lena Khalaf Tuffaha (author of Water & Salt) A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Jillian in the Borderlands by Beth Alvarado
Jillian Guzmán, who is nine years old at the beginning of the book, communicates through drawings rather than speech as she travels with her mother, Angie O’Malley, throughout the borderlands of Arizona and northwestern Mexico. Later she creates survival maps for border crossers and paints murals at the Casa de los Olvidados, a refuge in Sonora run by the traditional healer Juana of God. These darkly funny tales, focusing on Mexican-American, Euro-American, and Mexican characters, feature visionary experiences, ghosts, faith healers, a deer’s head that speaks, a dog who channels spirits of the dead—and a young woman whose drawings begin to create realities instead of just reflecting them. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Crushing It by Jennifer L. Knox (Copper Canyon Press, October 20, 2020)
The poems in Jennifer L. Knox’s darkly imaginative collection, Crushing It, unearth epiphanies in an unbounded landscape of forms, voices and subjects―from history to true crime to epidemiology―while exploring our tenuous connections and disconnections. From Merle Haggard lifting his head from a pile of cocaine to absurdist romps through an apocalypse where mushrooms learn to sing, this versatile collection is brimming with dark humor and bright surprise. Alongside Knox’s distinctive surrealism, Crushing It also reveals autobiography in poems about love, family, and adult ADHD, and Knox’s empathetic depictions of the ego’s need to assert its precious, singular “I” suggest that a self distinct from the hive, the herd, the flock, is an illusion.
The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories by Danielle Evans (Riverhead Books, November 10, 2020)
With The Office of Historical Corrections, Evans zooms in on particular moments and relationships in her characters’ lives in a way that allows them to speak to larger issues of race, culture, and history. She introduces us to Black and multiracial characters who are experiencing the universal confusions of lust and love, and getting walloped by grief—all while exploring how history haunts us, personally and collectively. Ultimately, she provokes us to think about the truths of American history—about who gets to tell them, and the cost of setting the record straight. In “Boys Go to Jupiter,” a white college student tries to reinvent herself after a photo of her in a Confederate-flag bikini goes viral. In “Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain,” a photojournalist is forced to confront her own losses while attending an old friend’s unexpectedly dramatic wedding. And in the eye-opening title novella, a black scholar from Washington, DC, is drawn into a complex historical mystery that spans generations and puts her job, her love life, and her oldest friendship at risk.
Inheritance by Taylor Johnson (Alice James Books, November 10, 2020)
Inheritance is a black sensorium, a chapel of color and sound that speaks to spaciousness, surveillance, identity, desire, and transcendence. Influenced by everyday moments of Washington, DC living, the poems live outside of the outside and beyond the language of categorical difference, inviting anyone listening to listen a bit closer. Inheritance is about the self’s struggle with definition and assumption.
The Freezer Door by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Semiotext(e), November 24, 2020)
The Freezer Door records the ebb and flow of desire in daily life. Crossing through loneliness in search of communal pleasure in Seattle, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore exposes the failure and persistence of queer dreams, the hypocritical allure of gay male sexual culture, and the stranglehold of the suburban imagination over city life. Ferocious and tender, The Freezer Door offers a complex meditation on the trauma and possibility of searching for connection in a world that relentlessly enforces bland norms of gender, sexual, and social conformity while claiming to celebrate diversity. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Systems for the Future of Feeling by Kimberly Grey (Persea Books, December 8, 2020)
These inventive and agonizing poems look, in heartbreaking paradox, to language to explore its efforts and inadequacies, as they grapple with disintegrating love and surging terror in modern society. Urgently, Kimberly Grey explores the need for empathy and consolation―our desire (and responsibility) as beings in the world to express the inexpressible, comprehend the incomprehensible, bear the unbearable. Communing throughout with literary forebearers―Anne Carson, Jack Gilbert, Sina Queyras, Gertrude Stein―Grey looks to build “language systems” in order to help us create relevant expressions for expressing awe, confusion, bewilderment, nostalgia, horror, and joy. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Wound from the Mouth of a Wound by torrin a. greathouse (Milkweed Editions, December 22, 2020)
”Wound from the Mouth of a Wound is a remarkable excavation, multitasking in the best and most unforgettable ways. This collection attends to both beauty and ’the ugly of my tongue / lolling serpent curled in the slick of my jaw,’—presenting visionary mediations and diagramming maps across the galaxy of a body, all while serving others as a guide or oracle. In these pages, the fragments and fusion of public and private desires dig into exhilarating terrain I didn’t quite realize I had been thirsty for all along. The everlasting and intimate result of this book feels like we’re holding a small thunderstorm in our hands.” – Aimee Nezhukumatathil A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!