Bookseller Recommendations: August
Hello again, book friends and family! We’re back with an all new round of book recommendations. From divine quests in Jazz Age Mexico to an examination of the “model minority” myth to an Eyre-esque romance, we’re covering a lot of topical ground this month. Read on to find your next favorite book, and don’t forget that you can order any of these titles via Bookshop, call us (612-215-2540), or send us an email.
Aspect | April 1997 | $16.99
It sure took me long enough get around to reading this book, one of the most definitive texts in sci-fi history from arguably the genre’s most significant author, the one and only Octavia Butler … but I did it, and wow. What a journey! Dawn is surprising, uncomfortable, intriguing, and stunningly relevant a whopping thirty-three years after its original publication. Is human viciousness congenital? Can it be isolated, lacerated, and removed? Is doing so itself a viciousness of sorts? Lilith, the protagonist of this first novel in the Xenogenesis series, asks this of herself and her extraterrestial hosts (captors?) time and time again while navigating her own feelings about being human post-humanity. Eerie bio-science, dire questions of agency and consent, and the ambient hum of something entirely inhuman resonate throughout this book. Read if you’re ready to be unsettled.
Marlena: A Novel
Picador | April 2017 | $16.00
Marlena has been on my TBR list since it first came out in 2017, and I’m so glad I finally picked it up this summer. It captures everything terrifying, tender, fearless, and vulnerable about teenage girlhood. Cat, now an adult living in New York, remembers her adolescence in a desolate part of Michigan, where she developed a formative bond with Marlena, who died under mysterious circumstances when they were still young. The novel opens with one of the most confident first lines I’ve read in awhile: “Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.” The book dares you to look—or to look away?—and immediately you know it will ruin you. I was captivated. (Psst, tune in to Julie’s conversation with Milkweed author Makenna Goodman on August 17th.)
Behind the Scenes at the Museum / Fingersmith
Kate Atkinson / Sarah Waters
Picador | November 1999 | $17.00 / Riverhead Books | October 2002 | $18.00
One of my favorite fiction genres is the long, pseudo-Victorian novel, and I’ve read two great ones so far this year. Behind the Scenes at the Museum is set in the middle of the twentieth century, not the nineteenth, but it has a boisterous, Dickensian cast of characters and a wry, affecting narrator. I loved Life After Life and this is my second-favorite book of Atkinson’s now. And Fingersmith is a lush and somewhat oppressive romance about treachery and forgiveness that owes much to Jane Eyre as well as Dickens.
Gods of Jade and Shadow
Del Ray | February 2020 | $16.00
Gods of Jade and Shadow was such an insanely fun, creative, and unique read. Silvia Moreno-Garcia crafts one of the best quest-driven stories I’ve read this decade by building off the foundational stories of the Ki’che creation stories in the Popol Vuh (which Milkweed has published a translation of in our Seedbank series—and I highly recommend reading that epic tale as well) and shifting the setting to Jazz Age Mexico. With a strong female lead—Casiopea Tun, encountering the God of death and setting off on an epic journey to escape her small-town life—this book was a one-sitting read. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a sense of adventure in this time of quarantine.
The Making of Asian America
Simon & Schuster | September 2015 | $22.00
The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee is an incredible resource that, amazingly, doesn’t feel like homework. I picked this up from the library a couple of years ago, wanting to learn more about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and I was surprised to find myself reading it more quickly than any other book on my bedside table at the time. Reading this book opened my eyes to the mutability of racism over time, and how the stereotypes that are used as foundations for racist policies can evolve more rapidly than I’d imagined. For example, the “model minority” myth, as described here, is not only a flattening of the range of experiences of the diverse people grouped together as simply Asian American—it’s also a very new invention, reminiscent of earlier campaigns to create a singular, superior white identity from a range of European ethnicities. But, as we saw in the early months of the pandemic in the U.S., that veneer of acceptance for Asian immigrants and descendants is thin, conditional, and can be rescinded at any time. I’d say this is essential reading for understanding the mechanics of racism in this country.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor
Dutton Books | July 2020 | $27.00
You may recognize Hank Green as the dude who helped you pass Chemistry, but he’s also a full blown ~professional Internet person~ who loudly criticizes influencers, the culture of monetization, and flawed platform over-reach from the inside-out. He wraps up these internet hot takes in the story of April May—a twenty-something who becomes the most famous face on Earth after making first contact with an alien race she dubs the “Carls,” i.e., funky 10 feet tall robots. (This recommendation is a two-for-one if you haven’t yet read An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.) A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor continues the story of April and the gang as they take on technological obsession, corruption, isolation in the time of social media, and of course, the mysterious alien race plotting to control the future of humankind. Green’s writing is quippy, self-aware, hopeful, and captivating. You’ll come out of it with an inspiration to look on the bright side every once in a while, and with a reminder of the power humanity holds when it works together for the better of all. The title says it all— the book takes on serious toxic cultural topics with sweet scoops of silliness and foolishness on top.
Milkweed Editions | August 2020 | $15.00
Makenna Goodman’s debut novel has haunted me since my first reading. Slick and indulgent, I tore through The Shame in a couple days and in doing so, I surprised myself. I am a slow reader and haven’t been so deeply entranced by a book in a long time. We begin as our protagonist, Alma, is fleeing from her family in the middle of the night, speeding along an East Coast highway, thinking back on what brought her to this moment. In brilliantly built flashbacks, Goodman reveals the cracks in Alma’s idyllic life as a stay-at-home mother raising children and chickens in rural Vermont. We learn Alma once wanted to be a novelist, and at home, she begins writing a book and bases her main character off a Brooklyn social media influencer, who seems to have it all. That’s all I’ll reveal … no spoilers! I love this book’s pace, humor, sharp turns, and lush scenes. Goodman dismantles capitalism, art as currency, motherhood, and our warped sense of selves in such a tactful way that when I reached the end, I found myself wrapped in a sort of ouroboros with Alma—I wasn’t sure where she began and I ended.
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