Let’s face it: 2016 sucked. You can literally don a blindfold and throw a dart at a yearly calendar, then pick your tragedy from any month you hit. But people kept being people, and amazing minds kept sharing their incredible stories of resilience. As for me, I kept reading, and reading kept me sane. Now I’m passing the savings on to you! Here are my suggestions for the angry, intersectional feminist in your life from the depths of the year we’d all rather forget.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
It all started with the nightmare. In the midst of Kim Yeong-hye and her husband’s mediocre, middle-class marriage, the dream about blood and meat and carnage. To make the dream stop, Yeong-hye stops eating meat. Then all food. Eventually, she becomes more plant-like than animal to those around her. This book is about transformation: birthmarks bloom into flowers, trees alight with flames, arms stretch out into roots, a bird speaks with a mother’s voice, a piece of art transcends the piece itself to shatter several lives. Yeong-hye’s violent dreams are a product of a lifetime of internalized aggressions, microaggressions, and passive erasure. This book is about the violence that women hold onto inside themselves and the only way to let it go is to let go of the entire world. I’ve read this book four times. It gets harder with each revisit. Luckily, that happens to be my deal.
Seeing Red by Lena Meruane
While not exactly autofiction, the narrator is a Chilean writer named Lina Meruane, and the narrative is a fictionalized maturation of an event in the author’s own life. At a friend’s party in New York, aforementioned narrator Lina suffers a mild stroke that leaves her completely blind in one eye and partially blind in the other. Lina has to navigate through a few major life events which are difficult (but not impossible) and many small, daily life events which become more and more so. She not only has to learn for herself what it means not just to be blind, she has to teach her loved ones as well–when she literally and figuratively can’t see the future ahead of her. Lina is incapable of speaking the same emotional language of her loved ones. The prose is composed of short scenes, rather than chapters, with titles that are impressionistic rather than episodic. Entire sentences burn away rather than conclude. A searing view of the world through the disabled body is published by Deep Vellum–my new favorite publisher of international literary fiction in translation.
You Can’t Touch My Hair, and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
“Explaining your life to a world that doesn’t care to listen is often more draining than living in it,” is the central thesis of Phoebe Robinson’s first book. I have so many complicated feelings about this book. On the one hand, I hate that another black person has to explain black experience to white people. Of course we need to welcome to all experiences. But at the same time, I want Robinson to spend her time living her fullest life–being funny and getting the opportunity to showcase her hard-earned talent, instead of lecturing to white people about the history of black hair or critiquing casting calls for women and POC or writing an open letter directly to the next female President. But as I sank further into the book, I could tell that living her fullest life is exactly what Robinson is doing. She fills this pseudo memoir with her individual flavor of humor–both the racial commentary and her personal stories offer an intimate insight into Robinson’s mind: a place you’re going to want to grab a white wine or a nice rosé and tuck in, because this is your new home, girl.
Melancholy Accidents: Three Centuries of Stray Bullets and Bad Luck by Peter Manseau
First, I can only imagine the research Manseau had to undertake in order to locate newspaper clippings of accidental deaths by gunshot among all the news of intentional homicide. Give the man a research award (and probably a drink). Additionally, get all his archivists and research assistants drinks as well. Second, as a gun control advocate who lives in the middle of gun country Texas, I will happily hand over this book to anyone who casually begins the motto, “Guns don’t kill people…”Don’t tell me guns don’t kill people, here is 300 years of printed record–not counting the last 100 years–that says they do.
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” While that sounds like a perfect description of 2016, it is in fact the opening line of The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson’s 1959 National Book Award Finalist. For over half a century, Jackson not only delighted us, and terrified us, (mostly because she delighted in what she feared), but she also made us empathize with intelligent women trapped in domesticity. Through her autobiographical essays and fiction, Jackson tilted the perspective of suburban domestic life into the light and into the darkness. Ruth Franklin, with access to previously undiscovered correspondence, writes a compassionate look into the life and work of an American icon who could strike to the heart of loneliness.
BONUS HOLIDAY CATALOG PICK!