Annalia Runs Down Her Top Ten

Article by annalia

Prince died in April, and that was enough for me. Add to that the Orlando shooting and Christina Grimmie’s murder in June, plus three parts election-induced insomnia...This grief has long since been a fever that takes hold of everything.

In lucid moments, though, there have been books and friends and Twitter. This year, for my top ten list, I chose books by authors and activists that both challenge me to rise and remind me to rest.

The Queen of the Night Cover Image
ISBN: 9780544925472
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Mariner Books - November 1st, 2016

Many times, if there is hype about someone or something, I tend to fall back. When Alexander Chee came to the store in February, the buzz was that he has twenty thousand Twitter followers—and he does! Based on that data, I assumed that Chee did not require or desire our attention, that he would be contained and rescued from the oft-romanticized artist’s struggle.

Now, I have no idea how I could have thought this. When he read, his gentle tone and the decadence of QUEEN reminded me of when I was a girl and would listen to The Nutcracker on cassette tape. I’d imagine what it would be like to see the ballet—the ladies in their flowing costumes, the food and presents and candy, everything large, everything colorful.

After the event, when we were picking up chairs, Chee said hello and asked me how I was or thanked me for working. It’s a small thing but also something many authors do not do, and not the way he did. Leaning against the table at the front of the store where we stage our readings, Chee gave me a long look and listened to whatever it is I managed to chirp in his direction. He did not check his phone, ask about where to get a good drink. It had flipped somehow, where perhaps he had come to meet us rather than the other way round.

I added him on Twitter that night and have never regretted it.

The Surrender Cover Image
ISBN: 9781939781291
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Anomalous Press - March 31st, 2016

For many moons, I admired Scott Esposito not for his CV but for the way he handles himself on Twitter—enthusiastic about the good things, unapologetic about the bad things. There’s never the fear that his reputation could be ruined, or his brand disrupted, and I always liked that. Not knowing what he would say, I sent him a few questions for the Literary Hub feature I wrote about our break-in this past September. He sent answers back to me the same day. Since then, Esposito has remained a constant source of light in my world. He reminds me my weirdness is valid and beautiful.

Knives & Ink: Chefs and the Stories Behind Their Tattoos (with Recipes) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781632861214
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Bloomsbury USA - October 18th, 2016

On both his hands below the second knuckle, Isaac Fitzgerald has a tattoo that reads COME HOME. I saw it for the first time in maybe January or February, when Nick Flynn was telling me about a recent party in New York. He asked if we knew each other. We didn’t (and still don’t—hi, Isaac, if you’re reading this) but that was enough to convince me. Through Instagram, I discovered that the tattoo is a copy of one that belonged to a close friend of Fitzgerald’s that had passed away, which only added another layer to my admiration—grain upon grain. KNIVES & INK is Fitzgerald’s second book about tattoos. In this incarnation, chefs share stories about their ink alongside signature recipes. (It’s on my Christmas list.)

A Bestiary Cover Image
ISBN: 9780996316743
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Cleveland State University Poetry Center - April 15th, 2016

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that Lily Hoang and I are scab sisters. How it came to be that way is that we played phone tag while she finished her eleven-week escapade around Europe then ate dinner together over Skype. In Boston, she ordered so much Indian food that they gave her silverware for at least two people while I ate a personal pan pizza on a stool at my kitchen counter in Houston. Call it the jet lag, blame the comfort food—Hoang talked to me like we were old friends having a sleepover. (When we met in person two months later, she hugged me.)

The thing A BESTIARY showed me is how terrified I am of failing, and admitting when I do. Hoang, though, wears her shame like a tattoo—a symbol that is there and marks time and does not need to be explained unless you’re in the mood to tell. (I am trying to be better about it.)

Umami Cover Image
By Laia Jufresa, Sophie Hughes (Translator)
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9781780748917
Availability: Out of Print - Not Available for Order
Published: ONEWorld Publications - September 13th, 2016

Truth: UMAMI came to me by way of The Rumpus. I volunteered to review it on the basis of Sophie Hughes as translator. As has been well-documented, UMAMI became my favorite novel of the year. Yes, there’s a style; yes, there’s Mexico City. What I want to highlight here is Jufresa’s goal to write her female characters as fully-dimensional women, and the relief I felt as a female reader to see that embodied. In other words, sometimes the absence of something—in this case, the trope of woman as the whore or the mother—emphasizes how much pain it produces.

Prelude to Bruise Cover Image
ISBN: 9781566893749
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Coffee House Press - September 9th, 2014

The thing Saeed Jones taught (and continues to teach) me is that there are some things that I will never understand, that will never belong to me, and that a large part of being a decent human being includes finding ways to cope with that fact. I don’t get a cookie or a free pass from the black community for being Korean. No matter what, there is always more work that can be done.

Voyage of the Sable Venus: and Other Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101875438
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Knopf - September 29th, 2015

Like Saeed Jones, Robin Coste Lewis never needed your permission or the invention of a hashtag to write her pain. And it’s easy to acknowledge the work that went behind the title poem, a seventy-two page piece composed entirely of descriptions and captions of art about black women from international art spaces. What has always gotten me, though, is the way Lewis writes about black women who owned slaves. If that idea breaks your brain, that’s all the more proof that the system needs to change: slavery was always complex.

Odes Cover Image
ISBN: 9780451493620
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Knopf - September 20th, 2016

Sharon Olds was supposed to read with Tony Hoagland for Inprint earlier this year but then there was a flood in a series of floods that was so bad the mayor shut down the metro. At that time, I had not yet read any of her work but knew enough to attend because a legendary poet is a legendary poet. Then I read STAG’S LEAP. I wanted to include ODES here because it’s important to remember that everything—everything, even the worst things—is temporary.

Blackacre: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977504
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Graywolf Press - September 6th, 2016

If my e-mail interview with author Laia Jufresa and translator Sophie Hughes was the ideal composed interview, chatting with Monica Youn was the ideal phone interview. I asked her about BLACKACRE thinking she would teach me something about what it means to be a recovering lawyer. Instead, she told me about the five years her and her husband spent in fertility treatment hell. The hope? That sharing her story will allow other infertile women to feel less ashamed. I have nothing but respect for her.

The Pedestrians Cover Image
ISBN: 9781933517896
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Wave Books - April 1st, 2014

Even working at a bookstore, there’s no way to be familiar with everything by everyone. Rachel Zucker has written nine books but I discovered her through her brain child Commonplace Podcast. It’s pretty self explanatory—Zucker interviews poets and other artists. What makes it a stand-out production to me is that people talk to Zucker. Concrete example: since 2009, Nick Flynn has been part of my life in some form or another but the Flynn she conjures in the second episode is not the one I know. It’s true that you can never learn everything there is to know about a person, and that knowing it all doesn’t mean you understand them, but I liked the idea of taking someone I thought I knew and discovering how much there is left to be seen.


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