A platform to get your cultural two cents out there.
Hard to pick what I loved most about The Bird King. Written by a Muslim woman with a strong, female protagonist, rich LGBTQ characters, brilliant historical context, chilling villains whose evil still affects us today, magical realism out the wazoo. Wilson has written an adventure tale for all ages that’s both a great read and a lesson in what was lost/found when the crushing dominance of Western culture came to full power in the 1400s.
I’m in love with The Carrying. Limon is poignant and lovely and needed in the way of all the best poets, and it’s a volume of poetry that will only grow more beautiful with time. Her experience of barrenness is made emotionally lush here, and there is much wisdom and humor and grace for anyone finding themselves in a withering season. This and Bright Dead Things are two of the best works of contemporary poetry I’ve read to date.
Marlon James is the twisted Tolkien of our time with Black Leopard, Red Wolf. He’s out here world building, demon chasing, and eye crushing while the rest of us are just trying to catch up and make sure we read him right. Still trying to screw my head on straight and forgive him for upending my previously conceived notions of what legend and myth can become. It’s a gruesome book, but boy it’s powerful too. Can’t wait for the next installment.
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive reveals the underbelly of poverty in America and the emotional/physical consequences it has for the people trying hardest to escape from it. For people who’ve been lucky enough to avoid living on state welfare programs, it’s a must-read before the next election!
There is no good place to begin speaking of a book cram-packed with proverbs, death, and trickery, because the end wraps around to the beginning like a snake eating its own tail, crushing you in its coils. Marlon James would tell you this himself; what you believe to be true is an illusion, and the illusion you see, well, it is a tale out for your blood.
Hilarious and painstakingly researched, Beautiful Country Burn Again is a phenomenal read by Dallas native Ben Fountain. Alternating chapters between political essays and unbelievable recounts of current events, Fountain weaves a tapestry of historical context and cultural insight that helps explain the events of the 2016 election with the panache and outrage of Hunter S. Thompson and Christopher Hitchens without losing his readers in a mire of despair. Democrat or Republican, it’s a must-read before your next vote.
Whether you’re a person of faith or just an amateur historian, Zealot by Reza Aslan is chock-full of insights about historical Jesus and how the modern church came to be. Focusing solely on the historical documentation and context of Jesus’ life brings both new perspective on the person and his ministry, as well as his disciples. Excellent food for thought for anyone curious about or impacted by the Christian faith.
The Overstory is the perfect book for a culture waking up to the environmental crisis. Richard Powers manages to make the narrative powerful but not preachy, intertwining characters with their environment in a way that radically changes each of their story lines. Saving the trees that literally form and allow their existence becomes not just a moral imperative, but a transformative one as characters discover who they really are by tuning into the natural, native story that surrounds and includes us all.
Elliot Ackerman turns the traditional war story on its head in Waiting for Eden with his focus on post-war injury and recuperation rather than the glories of battle. A returning solider clings to the last vestiges of life while the ghost of a former brother in arms narrates the events that led to his wounds as well as the family dramas unfolding around his recuperating body. Unique and tender, this is a war story for the Iraq-Afghan era where there’s no end to war in sight, not even after death.
Though it was written in the 60s, The Armies of the Night still shines with brilliant prose and wry humor. Mailer’s recounting of the March on the Pentagon is full of dark insight and cutting wit, and stands out as one of the first “I” novels to be published. Mailer uses himself as the central character in order to create a world in which fiction becomes history and history becomes fiction. This inverts our understanding of both current events and our role in them, pushing us to take a reckoning of what our country and our souls have become.
Intertwining cultures and fates works well for Tommy Orange in There There. Rather than focusing solely on the historical context of Native American culture, Orange brings their story to present day Oakland, where characters relearn what it means to be Indian in a world that has outlawed and ignored their heritage by turns. Updated to demonstrate modern Indian struggles, characters overcome poverty, crime, and identity confusion to discover who they can (and can’t) be when they come together in unity and pride.
Mary Beard’s new overview of classical art and the role of the viewer, How Do We Look, has us reconsidering our understanding of ancient art and the uses of propaganda in the modern era. We love how she incorporates a myriad of cultures in her survey, and that she turns her critical lens on the artist’s audience to reinforce how important cultural and political context are for the interpretation of artistic works. Being an observer suddenly feels more powerful.
Golden State keeps the noir in sci-fi as Speculative Service detective Mr. Ratesic enforces the law of the land: no lying, not ever. In the age of “post-truth”, this book confronts the power of fact and what happens when the government takes honesty into its own hands.Characters and readers alike must decide what is real and who to trust as the story goes on; good practice for today’s political climate and the upcoming 2020 election.
Educated is a memoir unlike others; raised by fundamentalist, doomsday-prepping Mormons, Tara Westover escapes her abusive environment by teaching herself not just academics, but redemption as well. One of @nytimes Best Books of the Year!
There’s no better novel to read in the middle of winter than one in which gloom transforms itself into an emotional Spring. Guadalupe Nettel’s After the Winter cuts through the fog by splitting her narrative into intimate, alternating perspectives which cross paths as the novel progresses.
Latin American literature is having its day in Dallas, Texas. This weekend on September 8th The Wild Detectives is bringing a portion of the infamous Hay Festival to Oak Cliff by hosting several panels of authors chosen from the festival’s literature anthology, Bogotá 39.
Everyone knows writers are depressed. As a species we are invariably portrayed as near suicidal heavy drinkers and odd, chronic overthinkers who tug at our hair, howl at the moon, and cover ourselves in proverbial ashes. The world of literary respect seems to honor this heritage by giving critical consideration and praise only to authors who possess a flair for the tragic, and who keep humanity’s dying ember held on their tongues. Happy writing is relegated to the likes of the commercially packaged, pastel drenched Nicholas Sparks or, at best, the demure Jane Austen who insists on a neat and satisfying ending. We all want our light romances to end well, but the preponderance of respected literature is dealt a much heavier hand; serious literature must be serious.
The world is hungry for magic. There is an enchantment in every recorded culture with the baffling and the unexplainable, an enduring search for whatever underlying hoodoo jives with and rearranges predictable existences. Well recorded responses to mysticism and the uncertain have ranged from stonings to developing cults to writing bestselling novels, but moderate responses to what we do not understand appear to be limited, or to not exist at all. In the realm of literature, what is confusing and, often, strange is bread and butter—the needed fodder for ideological exchange, for the development of assumption shattering introspection.
Reading the recommendations of established authors lets you look into the mind of an artist in a unique way; you don’t just see how they love to create, but the creations of others that they admire.
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