What to Read When: A Holiday Book-Gifting Guide
’Tis the season to be gifting! We’ve compiled a list of our favorite 2021 releases to gift to friends and family—from books to keep us company on cold winter nights to books that challenge us to think beyond our own experiences, this list is sure to have something for every reader on your holiday shopping list.
And, thrill readers on your holiday shopping list with a Rumpus Book Club or Poetry Book Club subscription! Subscriptions come with a PDF you can print out and slip under the tree, so they also make a great last-minute gift. Give a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year, then package it up with one or two of the terrific selections below!
Girlhood by Melissa Febos
When her body began to change at eleven years old, Melissa Febos understood immediately that her meaning to other people had changed with it. By her teens, she defined herself based on these perceptions and by the romantic relationships she threw herself into headlong. Over time, Febos increasingly questioned the stories she’d been told about herself and the habits and defenses she’d developed over years of trying to meet others’ expectations. The values she and so many other women had learned in girlhood did not prioritize their personal safety, happiness, or freedom, and she set out to reframe those values and beliefs. Blending investigative reporting, memoir, and scholarship, Febos charts how she and others like her have reimagined relationships and made room for the anger, grief, power, and pleasure women have long been taught to deny.
I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness: A Novel by Claire Vaye Watkins
Leaving behind her husband and their baby daughter, a writer gets on a flight for a speaking engagement in Reno, not carrying much besides a breast pump and a spiraling case of postpartum depression. Her temporary escape from domestic duties and an opportunity to reconnect with old friends mutates into an extended romp away from the confines of marriage and motherhood, and a seemingly bottomless descent into the past. Deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up, she meets her ghosts at every turn: the first love whose self-destruction still haunts her; her father, a member of the most famous cult in American history; her mother, whose native spark gutters with every passing year. She can’t go back in time to make any of it right, but what exactly is her way forward? Alone in the wilderness, at last she begins to make herself at home in the world.
Goldenrod by Maggie Smith
Award-winning poet Maggie Smith returns with a powerful collection of poems that look at parenthood, solitude, love, and memory. Pulling objects from everyday life—a hallway mirror, a rock found in her son’s pocket, a field of goldenrods at the side of the road—she reveals the magic of the present moment. Only Maggie Smith could turn an autocorrect mistake into a line of poetry, musing that her phone “doesn’t observe / the high holidays, autocorrecting / shana tova to shaman tobacco, / Rosh Hashanah to rose has hands.” The poems in Goldenrod celebrate the contours of daily life, explore and delight in the space between thought and experience, and remind us that we decide what is beautiful.
Love Is an Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar
As an American raised for a time in Egypt, and finding herself captivated by the story of a celebrated Egyptian belly dancer’s journey across the United States in the 1940s, Randa Jarrar sets off from her home in California to her parents’ in Connecticut. Coloring this road trip are journeys abroad and recollections of a life lived with daring. Reclaiming her autonomy after a life of survival—domestic assault as a child, and later, as a wife; threats and doxxing after her viral tweet about Barbara Bush—Jarrar offers a bold look at domestic violence, single motherhood, and sexuality through the lens of the punished-yet-triumphant body. On the way, she schools a rest-stop racist, destroys Confederate flags in the desert, and visits the Chicago neighborhood where her immigrant parents first lived. Jarrar delivers a euphoric and critical, funny and profound memoir that will speak to anyone who has felt erased, asserting: I am here. I am joyful. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar
With formal virtuosity and ruthless precision, Kaveh Akbar’s second full-length collection takes its readers on a spiritual journey of disavowal, fiercely attendant to the presence of divinity where artifacts of self and belonging have been shed. How does one recover from addiction without destroying the self-as-addict? And if living justly in a nation that would see them erased is, too, a kind of self-destruction, what does one do with the body’s question, “what now shall I repair?” Here, Akbar responds with prayer as an act of devotion to dissonance―the infinite void of a loved one’s absence, the indulgence of austerity, making a life as a Muslim in an Islamophobic nation―teasing the sacred out of silence and stillness. Richly crafted and generous, Pilgrim Bell’s linguistic rigor is tuned to the register of this moment and any moment. As the swinging soul crashes into its limits, against the atrocities of the American empire, and through a profoundly human capacity for cruelty and grace, these brilliant poems dare to exist in the empty space where song lives―resonant, revelatory, and holy.
White Magic by Elissa Washuta
Throughout her life, Elissa Washuta has been surrounded by cheap facsimiles of Native spiritual tools and occult trends, “starter witch kits” of sage, rose quartz, and tarot cards packaged together in paper and plastic. Following a decade of abuse, addiction, PTSD, and heavy-duty drug treatment for a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder, she felt drawn to the real spirits and powers her dispossessed and discarded ancestors knew, while she undertook necessary work to find love and meaning. In this collection of intertwined essays, she writes about land, heartbreak, and colonization, about life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and about how she became a powerful witch. She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life—Twin Peaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.
Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke
There is a silent epidemic in America: loneliness. Shameful to talk about and often misunderstood, loneliness is everywhere, from the most major of metropolises to the smallest of towns. In Seek You, Kristen Radtke’s wide-ranging exploration of our inner lives and public selves, Radtke digs into the ways in which we attempt to feel closer to one another, and the distance that remains. Through the lenses of gender and violence, technology and art, Radtke ushers us through a history of loneliness and longing, and shares what feels impossible to share. Ranging from the invention of the laugh-track to the rise of Instagram, the bootstrap-pulling cowboy to the brutal experiments of Harry Harlow, Radtke investigates why we engage with each other, and what we risk when we turn away.
Tenderness by Derrick Austin
With lush language, the meditative poems in the Isabella Gardner Award-winning Tenderness examine the fraught nature of intimacy in a nation poisoned by anti-Blackness and homophobia. From the bedroom to the dance floor, from the natural world to The Frick, from the Midwest to Florida to Mexico City, the poems range across interior and exterior landscapes. They look to movies, fine art, childhood memory, history, and mental health with melancholy, anger, and playfulness. Even amidst sorrow and pain, Tenderness uplifts communal spaces as sites of resistance and healing, wonders at the restorative powers of art and erotic love, and celebrates the capaciousness of friendship.
The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy
Sasha Marcus was once the epitome of contemporary success: an internet sensation, social media darling, and a creator of a high profile wellness brand for women. But a confrontation with an abusive troll has taken a horrifying turn, and now she’s at rock bottom: canceled and doxxed online, fired from her waitress job and fortressed in her apartment while men’s rights protestors rage outside. All that once glittered now condemns. Sasha confides in her oldest childhood friend, Dyson—a failed actor with a history of body issues—who hatches a plan for Sasha to restore her reputation by becoming the face of his new business venture, The Atmosphere: a rehabilitation community for men. Based in an abandoned summer camp and billed as a workshop for job training, it is actually a rigorous program designed to rid men of their toxic masculinity and heal them physically, emotionally, and socially. Sasha has little choice but to accept. But what horrors await her as the resident female leader of a crew of washed up, desperate men? And what exactly does Dyson want?
Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu
Willa Chen has never quite fit in. Growing up as a biracial Chinese American girl in New Jersey, Willa felt both hypervisible and unseen, too Asian to fit in at her mostly white school, and too white to speak to the few Asian kids around. After her parents’ early divorce, they both remarried and started new families, and Willa grew up feeling outside of their new lives, too. For years, Willa does her best to stifle her feelings of loneliness, drifting through high school and then college as she tries to quiet the unease inside her. But when she begins working for the Adriens―a wealthy white family in Tribeca―as a nanny for their daughter, Bijou, Willa is confronted with all of the things she never had. As she draws closer to the family and eventually moves in with them, Willa finds herself questioning who she is, and revisiting a childhood where she never felt fully at home.
Negotiations by Destiny O. Birdsong
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.
Letter to a Young Female Physician: Notes from a Medical Life by Suzanne Koven
In 2017, Dr. Suzanne Koven published an essay describing the challenges faced by female physicians, including her own personal struggle with “imposter syndrome”—a long-held secret belief that she was not smart enough or good enough to be a “real” doctor. Accessed by thousands of readers around the world, Koven’s “Letter to a Young Female Physician” has evolved into a deeply felt reflection on her career in medicine. Koven tells candid and illuminating stories about her pregnancy during a grueling residency in the AIDS era; the illnesses of her child and aging parents during which her roles as a doctor, mother, and daughter converged, and sometimes collided; the sexism, pay inequity, and harassment that women in medicine encounter; and the twilight of her career during the COVID-19 pandemic. As she traces the arc of her life, Koven finds inspiration in literature and faces the near-universal challenges of burnout, body image, and balancing work with marriage and parenthood.
The Renunciations by Donika Kelly
The Renunciations is a book of resilience, survival, and the journey to radically shift one’s sense of self in the face of trauma. Moving between a childhood marked by love and abuse and the breaking marriage of that adult child, Donika Kelly charts memory and the body as landscapes to be traversed and tended. These poems construct life rafts and sanctuaries even in their most devastating confrontations with what a person can bear, with how families harm themselves. With the companionship of “the oracle”—an observer of memory who knows how each close call with oblivion ends—the act of remembrance becomes curative, and personal mythologies give way to a future defined less by wounds than by possibility. In this gorgeous and heartrending second collection, we find the home one builds inside oneself after reckoning with a legacy of trauma—a home whose construction starts “with a razing.”
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn’t hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Now Reese is caught in a self-destructive pattern: avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men. Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese—and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she’s pregnant with his baby—and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it—Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family—and raise the baby together?
Pop Song: Adventures in Art & Intimacy by Larissa Pham
Like a song that feels written for only you, Larissa Pham’s debut work of nonfiction captures the imagination and refuses to let go. Pop Song is a book about distances, near and far. The miles we travel to get away from ourselves, or those who hurt us, and the impossible gaps that can exist between two people sharing a bed. Plumbing the well of culture for clues and patterns about love and loss—from Agnes Martin’s abstract paintings to James Turrell’s transcendent light works, and Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet to Frank Ocean’s Blonde—Pham writes of her youthful attempts to find meaning in travel, sex, drugs, and art before sensing that she might need to turn her gaze upon herself. There is heartache in these pages, but Pham’s electric ways of seeing create a perfectly fractured portrait of modern intimacy that is triumphant in its vulnerability and restlessness. Pop Song is a book about all the routes by which we might escape our own needs before finally finding a way home.
The Vault by Andrés Cerpa
The Vault is a quiet and vulnerable sequence of ethereal fragments, letters, and poems that trace a narrative of love and healing in the afterlife of a parent’s death. Seasons turn and a life is built despite the ruin. Each poem is a music box of prayer, of the decisions made and yet to be made.
Milk Fed: A Novel by Melissa Broder
Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting. Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey. Pairing superlative emotional insight with unabashed vivid fantasy, Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we as humans can compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is a tender and riotously funny meditation on love, certitude, and the question of what we are all being fed, from one of our major writers on the psyche—both sacred and profane.
Doppelgangbanger by Cortney Lamar Charleston
With the wit and musicality fitting of a 90s baby raised during the golden age of hip-hop, Cortney Lamar Charleston grapples with the landscapes of Chicago’s South Side and surrounding suburbs, and the tensions that impact a Black boy’s struggle through self-destructive definitions of manhood. While the language in these poems is playful, Charleston’s vulnerability invites readers to intimately witness the speaker’s journey from adopted persona to an authentic self that defies traditional molds.
The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood by Krys Malcolm Belc
Krys Malcolm Belc has thought a lot about the interplay between parenthood and gender. As a nonbinary, transmasculine parent, giving birth to his son Samson clarified his gender identity. And yet, when his partner Anna adopted Samson, the legal documents listed Belc as the natural mother of the child. By considering how the experiences contained under the umbrella of motherhood don’t fully align with Belc’s own experience, The Natural Mother of the Child journeys both toward and through common perceptions of what it means to have a body and how that body can influence the perception of a family. With this visual memoir-in-essays, Belc has created a new kind of life record, one that engages directly with the documentation often thought to constitute a record of one’s life–childhood photos, birth certificates–and addresses his deep ambivalence about the before and after so prevalent in trans stories, which feels apart from his own experience.
Trashlands by Alison Stine
A few generations from now, the coastlines of the continent have been redrawn by floods and tides. Global powers have agreed to not produce any new plastics, and what is left has become valuable: garbage is currency. In the region-wide junkyard that Appalachia has become, Coral is a “plucker,” pulling plastic from the rivers and woods. She’s stuck in Trashlands, a dump named for the strip club at its edge, where the local women dance for an endless loop of strangers and the club’s violent owner rules as unofficial mayor. Amid the polluted landscape, Coral works desperately to save up enough to rescue her child from the recycling factories, where he is forced to work. In her stolen free hours, she does something that seems impossible in this place: Coral makes art. When a reporter from a struggling city on the coast arrives in Trashlands, Coral is presented with an opportunity to change her life. But is it possible to choose a future for herself?
Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping by Matthew Salesses
The traditional writing workshop was established with white male writers in mind; what we call craft is informed by their cultural values. In this bold and original examination of elements of writing—including plot, character, conflict, structure, and believability—and aspects of workshop—including the silenced writer and the imagined reader—Matthew Salesses asks questions to invigorate these familiar concepts. He upends Western notions of how a story must progress. How can we rethink craft, and the teaching of it, to better reach writers with diverse backgrounds? How can we invite diverse storytelling traditions into literary spaces? Drawing from examples including One Thousand and One Nights, Curious George, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and the Asian American classic No-No Boy, Salesses asks us to reimagine craft and the workshop. In the pages of exercises included here, teachers will find suggestions for building syllabi, grading, and introducing new methods to the classroom; students will find revision and editing guidance, as well as a new lens for reading their work. Salesses shows that we need to interrogate the lack of diversity at the core of published fiction: how we teach and write it. After all, as he reminds us, “When we write fiction, we write the world.”
Aftershocks: A Memoir by Nadia Owusu
Young Nadia Owusu followed her father, a United Nations official, from Europe to Africa and back again. Just as she and her family settled into a new home, her father would tell them it was time to say their goodbyes. The instability wrought by Nadia’s nomadic childhood was deepened by family secrets and fractures, both lived and inherited. Her Armenian American mother, who abandoned Nadia when she was two, would periodically reappear, only to vanish again. Her father, a Ghanaian, the great hero of her life, died when she was thirteen. After his passing, Nadia’s stepmother weighed her down with a revelation that was either a bombshell secret or a lie, rife with shaming innuendo. With these and other ruptures, Nadia arrived in New York as a young woman feeling stateless, motherless, and uncertain about her future, yet eager to find her own identity. What followed, however, were periods of depression in which she struggled to hold herself and her siblings together. Aftershocks is the way she hauled herself from the wreckage of her life’s perpetual quaking, the means by which she has finally come to understand that the only ground firm enough to count on is the one written into existence by her own hand.
Fire Is Not a Country by Cynthia Dewi Oka
In her third collection, Indonesian American poet Cynthia Dewi Oka dives into the implications of being parents, children, workers, and unwanted human beings under the savage reign of global capitalism and resurgent nativism. With a voice bound and wrestled apart by multiple histories, Fire Is Not a Country claims the spaces between here and there, then and now, us and not us. As she builds a lyric portrait of her own family, Oka interrogates how migration, economic exploitation, patriarchal violence, and a legacy of political repression shape the beauties and limitations of familial love and obligation. Woven throughout are speculative experiments that intervene in the popular apocalyptic narratives of our time with the wit of an unassimilable other.
Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James
When we find what gives our life meaning, will we be ready for it? Get ready to meet Mona Mireles, the infamous “Sad Millennial,” as she finds herself unemployed, living with her parents, and adrift in life and love. Mona is a perfectionist who fails upwards in the midst of the 2008 economic crisis. Mona walks a knife’s edge as she faces unemployment, underemployment, the complexities of adult relationships, and the downward spiral of her parents’ shattering marriage. The more Mona craves perfection and order, the more she is forced to see that it is never attainable.
Gumbo Ya Ya by Aurielle Marie
Gumbo Ya Ya, Aurielle Marie’s stunning debut, is a cauldron of hearty poems exploring race, gender, desire, and violence in the lives of Black gxrls, soaring against the backdrop of a contemporary South. These poems are loud, risky, and unapologetically rooted in the glory of Black gxrlhood. The collection opens with a heartrending indictment of injustice. What follows is a striking reimagination of the world, one where no Black gxrl dies “by the barrel of the law” or “for loving another Black gxrl.” Part familial archival, part map of Black resistance, Gumbo Ya Ya catalogs the wide gamut of Black life at its intersections, with punching cultural commentary and a poetic voice that holds tenderness and sharpness in tandem. It asks us to chew upon both the rich meat and the tough gristle, and in doing so we walk away more whole than we began and thoroughly satisfied.
I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat by Christopher Gonzalez
Long nights, empty stomachs, and impulsive cravings haunt these stories. A college grad reunites with a high school crush when invited to his bachelor party, a lonely cat-sitter wreaks havoc on his friends’ apartment, happy hour french fries leave more than grease on lips and fingers, and, squeezed into a diner booth, one man eats past his limit for the sake of friendship. Exploring the lives of bisexual and gay Puerto Rican men, these fifteen stories show a vulnerable, intimate world of yearning and desire. The stars of these narratives linger between living their truest selves and remaining in the wings, embarking on a journey of self-discovery to satisfy their hunger for companionship and belonging.
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
A few weeks shy of her twenty-third birthday, Suleika Jaouad received a diagnosis: leukemia, with a 35% chance of survival. Just like that, the life she had imagined for herself went up in flames. She would spend much of the next four years in a hospital bed, fighting for her life and chronicling the saga in a column for The New York Times. When Jaouad finally walked out of the cancer ward—after three and a half years of chemo, a clinical trial, and a bone marrow transplant—she was, according to the doctors, cured. But as she would soon learn, a cure is not where the work of healing ends; it’s where it begins. How would she reenter the world and live again? How could she reclaim what had been lost? Jaouad embarked on a 100-day, 15,000-mile road trip across the country. What she learned on this trip is that the divide between sick and well is porous, that the vast majority of us will travel back and forth between these realms throughout our lives.
Justine by Forsyth Harmon
A debut illustrated novel, Justine is a sharp, intimate portrayal of girlhood on the edge of adulthood, and the thin line between friendship and obsession. When Long Island teenager Ali visits the local Stop & Shop, she finds herself powerfully drawn to a cashier, the seductive and troubled Justine, who’s so tall and thin she looks almost two-dimensional. Intrigued, Ali applies for a job on the spot. During the ensuing sizzling weeks of summer 1999, Justine takes Ali under her wing, and Ali’s fixation on Justine grows. But even as Ali reshapes herself in Justine’s image—unsure of whether she wants to be with her or be her—their inability to truly connect leads to a series of events that spiral from superficial to seismic.
Waterbaby by Nikki Wallschlaeger
In her astounding third collection, Nikki Wallschlaeger turns to water―the natural element of grief―to trace history’s interconnected movements through family, memory, and day-to-day survival. Waterbaby is a book about Blackness, language, and motherhood in America; about the ancestral joys and sharp pains that travel together through the nervous system’s crowded riverways; about the holy sanctuary of the bathtub for a spirit that’s pushed beyond exhaustion. Waterbaby sings the blues in every key, as Wallschlaeger uses her vibrant lexicon and varied rhythms to condense and expand emotion, hurry and slow meaning, communicating the profound simultaneity of righteous dissatisfaction with an unjust world, and radical love for what’s possible.
Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger
Despite her parents’ struggles with addiction, Lilly Dancyger always thought of her childhood as a happy one. But what happens when a journalist interrogates her own rosy memories to reveal the instability around the edges? Dancyger’s father, Joe Schactman, was part of the iconic 1980s East Village art scene. He created provocative sculptures out of found materials like animal bones, human hair, and broken glass, and brought his young daughter into his gritty, iconoclastic world. She idolized him—despite the escalating heroin addiction that sometimes overshadowed his creative passion. When Schactman died suddenly, just as Dancyger was entering adolescence, she went into her own self-destructive spiral, raging against a world that had taken her father away. As an adult, Dancyger began to question the mythology she’d created about her father—the brilliant artist, struck down in his prime. Using his sculptures, paintings, and prints as a guide, Dancyger sought out the characters from his world who could help her decode the language of her father’s work to find the truth of who he really was. Featuring Schactman’s artwork throughout, Negative Space explores Dancyger’s grief, anger, and artistic inheritance as she sets out to illuminate the darkness her father hid from her, as well as her own.
Go Home, Ricky! by Gene Kwak
After seven years on the semi-pro wrestling circuit, Ricky Twohatchet, aka Richard Powell, needs one last match before he gets called up to the big leagues. Unlike some wrestlers who only play the stereotype, Ricky believes he comes by his persona honestly—he’s half white and half Native American—even if he’s never met his father. But the night of the match in Omaha, Nebraska, something askew in their intricate choreography sets him on a course for disaster. He finishes with a neck injury that leaves him in a restrictive brace and a video already going viral: him spewing profanities at his ex-partner, Johnny America. Injury aside, he’s out of the league. Without a routine or identity, Ricky spirals downward, finally setting off to learn about his father, and what he finds will explode everything he knows about who he is—as a man, a friend, a son, a partner, and a wrestler.
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Coming of age as a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson was all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, had a vision for their future together: Libertie would go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.
Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism, and Treason by Gina Frangello
Gina Frangello spent her early adulthood trying to outrun a youth marked by poverty and violence. Now a long-married wife and devoted mother, the better life she carefully built is emotionally upended by the death of her closest friend. Soon, awakened to fault lines in her troubled marriage, Frangello is caught up in a recklessly passionate affair, leading a double life while continuing to project the image of the perfect family. When her secrets are finally uncovered, both her home and her identity will implode, testing the limits of desire, responsibility, love, and forgiveness. Blow Your House Down is a powerful testimony about the ways our culture seeks to cage women in traditional narratives of self-sacrifice and erasure. Frangello uses her personal story to examine the place of women in contemporary society: the violence they experience, the rage they suppress, the ways their bodies often reveal what they cannot say aloud, and finally, what it means to transgress “being good” in order to reclaim your own life.
Water I Won’t Touch by Kayleb Rae Candrilli
Both radically tender and desperate for change, Water I Won’t Touch is a life raft and a self-portrait, concerned with the vitality of trans people living in a dangerous and inhospitable landscape. Through the brambles of the Pennsylvania forest to a stretch of the Jersey Shore, in quiet moments and violent memories, Kayleb Rae Candrilli touches the broken earth and examines the whole in its parts. Written during the body’s healing from a double mastectomy―in the wake of addiction and family dysfunction―these ambitious poems put new form to what’s been lost and gained. Candrilli ultimately imagines a joyful, queer future: a garden to harvest, lasting love, the insistent flamboyance of citrus.
No One Is Talking about This: A Novel by Patricia Lockwood
As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats—from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness—begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. “Are we in hell?” the people of the portal ask themselves. “Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?” Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: “Something has gone wrong,” and “How soon can you get here?” As real life and its stakes collide with the increasingly absurd antics of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
Requeening by Amanda Moore
Engaging the matriarchal structure of the beehive, Amanda Moore explores the various roles a woman plays in the family, the home, and the world at large. Beyond the productivity and excess, the sweetness and sting, Requeening brings together poems of motherhood and daughterhood, an evolving relationship of care and tending, responsibility and joy, dependence and deep love. The poems that anchor this collection don’t shy away from the inevitability of a hive’s collapse and consider the succession of “requeening” a hive as “a new heart ready to be fed and broken and fed again.” The collapse is both physical—there are poems of illness and recovery—and emotional, as the mother-daughter relationship shifts, the daughter becoming separate, whole, and poised to displace. The liminal spaces these poems traverse in human relationships is echoed in a range of poetic and hybrid form, offering freedom and stricture as they contemplate the way we hold one another in love and grief. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
We Are Watching Eliza Bright by A.E. Osworth
Eliza Bright is living the dream as an elite video game coder at Fancy Dog Games, the first woman to ascend that high in the ranks—and some people want to make sure she’s the last. To her friends, Eliza Bright is a brilliant, self-taught coder bravely calling out the misogyny that pervades her workplace and industry. To the men who see her very presence as a threat, Eliza Bright is a woman who needs to be destroyed to protect the game they love. When Eliza’s report of workplace harassment is quickly dismissed, she’s forced to take her frustrations to a journalist who blasts her story across the internet. She’s fired and doxxed, and becomes a rallying figure for women everywhere. But she’s also enraged the beast comprised of online male gamers—their unreliable chorus narrates our story. Soon, Eliza is in the cross-hairs of the gaming community, threatened and stalked as they monitor her every move online and across New York City. As the violent power of the angry male collective descends upon everyone in Eliza’s life, it becomes increasingly difficult to know who to trust, even when she’s eventually taken in and protected by an under-the-radar Collective known as the Sixsterhood. The violence moves from cyberspace to the real world, thanks to a vicious male super-fan known only as The Inspectre, determined to exact his revenge on behalf of men everywhere. We watch alongside the Sixsterhood and subreddit keyboard warriors as this dramatic cat-and-mouse game plays out to its violent and inevitable conclusion in this thrilling story of resilience and survival.
Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night by Morgan Parker
Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night is back in print, featuring a new introduction from Danez Smith. The debut collection from award-winning poet Morgan Parker demonstrates why she’s become one of the most beloved writers working today. Her command of language is on full display. Parker bobs and weaves between humor and pathos, grief and anxiety, Gwendolyn Brooks and Jay-Z, the New York School and reality television. She collapses any foolish distinctions between the personal and the political, the “high” and the “low.” Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night not only introduced an essential new voice to the world, it contains everything readers have come to love about Morgan Parker’s work.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food. As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band—and meeting the man who would become her husband—her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.
Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives edited by Bruce Owens Grimm, Miguel M. Morales, and Tiff Joshua TJ Ferentini
This one-of-a-kind collection of prose and poetry radically explores the intersection of fat and queer identities, showcasing new, emerging, and established queer and trans writers from around the world. Celebrating fat and queer bodies and lives, this book challenges negative and damaging representations of queer and fat bodies and offers readers ways to reclaim their bodies, providing stories of support, inspiration, and empowerment. In writing that is intimate, luminous, and emotionally raw, this anthology is a testament to the diversity and power of fat queer voices and experiences, and they deserve to be heard.
Migratory Birds by Mariana Oliver, translated by Julia Sanches
In her prize-winning debut, Mexican essayist Mariana Oliver trains her gaze on migration in its many forms, moving between real cities and other more inaccessible territories: language, memory, pain, desire, and the body. With an abiding curiosity and poetic ease, Oliver leads us through the underground city of Cappadocia, explores the vicissitudes of a Berlin marked by historical fracture, recalls a shocking childhood exodus, and recreates the intimacy of the spaces we inhabit. Blending criticism, reportage, and a travel writing all her own, Oliver presents a brilliant collection of essays that asks us what it means to leave the familiar behind and make the unfamiliar our own.
Once I Was Cool: Personal Essays by Megan Stielstra
Once I Was Cool contrasts past aspirations with the mess and magic of the present. In her younger days, essayist Megan Stielstra saw Jane’s Addiction at the Aragon Ballroom and fantasized about living on the same block, right in the thick of music and revelry. As an adult, she lives in a turreted condo across the street, with her husband, a child, and an onerous mortgage. It’s just the home her young, cool self imagined. And it isn’t what she expected, either. With conversational flourishes and on-the-mark descriptions, Stielstra’s essays evoke the richness of her everyday life and the memories that are never far away. She remembers learning how to shoot a gun, a cancer scare, and—in a piece that was anthologized in The Best American Essays 2013—the time she eavesdropped on another new mother using her son’s baby monitor. “I shouldn’t have listened,” she writes. “But it was the first time since my son was born that I didn’t feel alone.” Combining footnotes, electric sentences, and uproariously funny anecdotes (have you ever run into an ex while rolling on ecstasy?), Stielstra shows us that maturity is demanding, but its rewards are a gift.
Everyone Remain Calm: Stories by Megan Stielstra
The stories in Everyone Remain Calm reveal landscapes where the surreal and the familiar clash, to visceral effect. A woman yearns for—and dreads—the snowfall that arrives whenever her ex-boyfriend returns to the home she shares with their son. Another character reassures herself after breakups by seeking out the monster under her bed, the Incredible Hulk himself, for rebound sex that can be hot, heavy, and unnerving. Marching bands blare all the way from New Orleans to the Midwest. There are wild shootouts, rising tides, and perils embedded in the act of storytelling itself. “There are words that can kill you if you’re not careful,” Stielstra writes. And the stories we tell ourselves are the most fantastic tales of all. Everyone Remain Calm is eerie, hilarious, moving, and down-to-earth, even as its characters defy the rules—sometimes in the ways we wish we could.
With Teeth by Kristen Arnett
If she’s being honest, Sammie Lucas is scared of her son. Working from home in the close quarters of their Florida house, she lives with one wary eye peeled on Samson, a sullen, unknowable boy who resists her every attempt to bond with him. Uncertain in her own feelings about motherhood, she tries her best—driving, cleaning, cooking, prodding him to finish projects for school—while growing increasingly resentful of Monika, her confident but absent wife. As Samson grows from feral toddler to surly teenager, Sammie’s life begins to deteriorate into a mess of unruly behavior, and her struggle to create a picture-perfect queer family unravels. When her son’s hostility finally spills over into physical aggression, Sammie must confront her role in the mess—and the possibility that it will never be clean again. Blending the warmth and wit of Arnett’s breakout hit, Mostly Dead Things, with a candid take on queer family dynamics, With Teeth is a thought-provoking portrait of the delicate fabric of family—and the many ways it can be torn apart.
Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri, translated by Mary Jo Bang
Award-winning poet Mary Jo Bang’s new translation of Purgatorio is the extraordinary continuation of her journey with Dante, which began with her transformative version of Inferno. In Purgatorio, still guided by the Roman poet Virgil, Dante emerges from the horrors of Hell to begin the climb up Mount Purgatory, a seven-terrace mountain with each level devoted to those atoning for one of the seven deadly sins. At the summit, we find the Terrestrial Heaven and Beatrice—who will take over for Virgil, who, as a pagan, can only take Dante so far. During the climb, we are introduced to the myriad ways in which humans destroy the social fabric through pride, envy, and vindictive anger. In her signature lyric style, accompanied by her wise and exuberant notes, Bang has produced a stunning translation of this fourteenth-century text, rich with references that span time, languages, and cultures. The contemporary allusions echo the audacious character of the original, and slyly insist that whatever was true in Dante’s era is still true. Usain Bolt, Tootsie Fruit Chews, the MGM logo, Leo the Lion, Amy Winehouse, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, and Gertrude Stein are among those who make cameo appearances as Bang, with eloquence and daring, shepherds The Divine Comedy into the twenty-first century.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So
Seamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, balancing acerbic humor with sharp emotional depth, Afterparties offers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian Americans. As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family. A high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner tries to relive his glory days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers attend a wedding afterparty and hatch a plan to expose their shady uncle’s snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair sparks between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a “safe space” app and a disillusioned young teacher obsessed with Moby-Dick. And in the sweeping final story, a nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter.
A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib
At the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker was fifty-seven years old, well beyond her most prolific days. But in her speech she was in a mood to consider her life, her legacy, her departure from the country she was now triumphantly returning to. “I was a devil in other countries, and I was a little devil in America, too,” she told the crowd. Inspired by these few words, Hanif Abdurraqib has written a profound and lasting reflection on how Black performance is inextricably woven into the fabric of American culture. Each moment in every performance he examines—whether it’s the twenty-seven seconds in “Gimme Shelter” in which Merry Clayton wails the words “rape, murder,” a schoolyard fistfight, a dance marathon, or the instant in a game of spades right after the cards are dealt—has layers of resonance in Black and white cultures, the politics of American empire, and Abdurraqib’s own personal history of love, grief, and performance.
The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado
What does it mean to be other? What does it mean to love in a world determined to keep us apart? These questions murmur in the heart of each of Brenda Peynado’s strange and singular stories. Threaded with magic, transcending time and place, these stories explore what it means to cross borders and break down walls, personally and politically. In one story, suburban families perform oblations to cattlelike angels who live on their roofs, believing that their “thoughts and prayers” will protect them from the world’s violence. In another, inhabitants of an unnamed dictatorship slowly lose their own agency as pieces of their bodies go missing and, with them, the essential rights that those appendages serve. “The Great Escape” tells of an old woman who hides away in her apartment, reliving the past among beautiful objects she’s hoarded, refusing all visitors, until she disappears completely. In the title story, children begin to levitate, flying away from their parents and their home country, leading them to eat rocks in order to stay grounded.