The bravest, most outlandish, I-don't-give-a-f*** work of satire I've come across in years. Beatty cuts straight to the core of America's disastrous relationship with race and eviscerates the disingenuous notion that we are living in a “post-racial” society with the most potent of weapons: humor. Political correctness is nonexistent. The narrator is a supremely likable and complex character, even if he is a slave owner/segregationist. The laughs are simultaneously gut-busting and thought-provoking; you laugh and then contemplate why exactly you're laughing in the first place. Superb.
There’s hardly a subject more universal than the loss of a loved one. One of the biggest challenges of literature is finding an approach that feels vital and new, a way of examining such a monumental topic without falling into the tired and the trite. Helen Macdonald’s incredible memoir, H IS FOR HAWK, feels like something new and important, and without even trying to be.
After the unexpected death of her father, Macdonald falls into a depression. She picks up falconry, a lifelong passion, is picked up again when she adopts Mabel, a young goshawk. Her own story is set against that of TH White (a falconer and author of THE SWORD IN THE STONE). I have little if any interest in hawks and falconry: the magic of this book is that it doesn’t matter. The language and intelligence of Macdonald’s writing sweeps the reader away. H IS FOR HAWK contains some of the most beautiful writing about nature I’ve ever read. It also describes depression, the English countryside, history and the unspoken relationship between human beings and nature. It is both an elegy and a celebration. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Ander Monson knows how to mess with our idea of what the word “book” means. LETTER TO A FUTURE LOVER is a series of essays that analyze the notion of the library. As such, Monson printed a limited number of copies of his book in boxes, each page printed on a separate card in random order, with a place for borrowers' names and due dates to be stamped at the end. How’s that for “book?”
If that sounds too complicated, we’ve got bound versions of LETTER TO A FUTURE LOVER at Brazos, and there’s nothing like settling into Monson’s brainy, observant, sometimes hallucinatory voice. Example: “When we listen to laugh-track laughter we listen to the dead.” And: “You too, bleached- blond forty-something DWF reading DFW in a major Texas airport, with fake boobs and too-tight tank. What are your needs?” Monson meets mine.
This collection taught me more about reading and writing poetry than any class I ever took. Initially published in 2000, SOME ETHER is Nick Flynn's stunning debut, a rumination on his mother's suicide, his father living on the streets, and Flynn's own misadventures with intimacy. It's the only book I've ever read that bleeds. (Just read it.)
When Suki Kim seizes the opportunity to travel to North Korea with a group of evangelical Christian missionaries (despite not being one herself), she has no idea how hard her next six months will be. Kim works teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s elite, and instantly becomes one of the country’s most-monitored and carefully-minded foreign visitors. Though Kim grows close to her students, it’s impossible to escape the government’s guard on her daily life. Everything she teaches must be approved; she has to constantly watch what she says, while her emails are monitored; even her students lie constantly for no reason, about something as small as a classmate’s absence. Kim’s memoir is a deeply interesting look at life under the watchful eye of the North Korean regime.