Bookstore / Roundup

Bookseller Recommendations: February

Milkweed Staff — 02/03/2020

It’s almost eerie how much the books in this roundup overlap thematically, despite varying widely in genre. In some way, each of these books questions time, whether it be personal history, possible future, or national memory. What could tomorrow hold? What impact do we—as individuals—have on that holding? And how much of our collective past is buried by selective narratives? Read these books to navigate those questions—and perhaps even land on some answers.

Cannibal: Poems
by Safiya Sinclair

University of Nebraska Press | September 2016 | $17.95

I’m drawn to fleshy texts, to books that try to manifest an impossible physicality despite language’s fundamental intangibility as a medium. Cannibal does this and more. In Sinclair’s grasp, we experience language’s incredible tenderness, its violence—as the landscape shifts between the Caribbean and the United States, we feel the wet brush of memory on the speaker’s shoulder as well as the steel teeth of the present in skin. Sinclair, with liquid precision, lyrics the things to which we subject the body—particularly women’s bodies, particularly black women’s bodies—in a living, corporeal criticism of the lens through which we recall the many brutalities defining American history.

Cannibal feels heavy in my hand. Like a hand.

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers: A Memoir
by Jenn Shapland

Tin House Books | February 2020 | $22.95

Amongst the avalanche of advance reading copies we get, we often find the words “captivating, genre-breaking, singular” splashed across the jackets. This book is, indeed, all three of the aforementioned descriptors. Shapland has found a way to create a story about her own life and larger queer identity through the lens of McCullers’ loves, work, and letters. I’ve long admired Carson McCuller’s fiction but strongly believe this new look at her doesn’t require previous knowledge or fandom. Personal erasure through earlier biographies reminds us that history is won and told by the victors—we’re lucky to have a new voice, looking at the hard and fantastic life of a great writer we haven’t understood well enough.

The Shadowshaper Cypher
by Daniel José Older

Arthur A. Levine Books | June 2015 | $17.99

Depending where you are and who you are, it may have been a while since you last heard Carlos Santana play guitar. I know, this might not sound like a book rec but stay with me here for a second. Growing up, Santana was my first favorite Latinx artist. He played riffs where the steel of the guitar strings laughed like all my tias, sobbed like rain at the end of July, the guitar would cleave into the quiet of Midwestern winter and its story was a promise. Wordlessly, Santana’s guitar told a story of a summer surrounded by all my people, even and especially when they felt far from me, even and especially the ghosts.

In Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older has written the words to that melody I have been loving seemingly all my life; I hold this book and it feels like a promise fulfilled from page one. Set against the heat of a Brooklyn summer, Sierra Santiago must learn the ancient family tradition of Shadowshaping that allows her to summon the spirits of the dead and direct them through her art. The series is a triptych of the highest order and a siren song to anyone who has ever made art with an eye towards ancestry. Older is a writer of incredible verve, humor and daring; this book contains teens I could have met, have met, would be honored to meet someday. If you are a teen or love a teen this book is an absolute must read! It’s fitting that the series is not categorized as a trilogy but as a cypher: lush, circular, a guitar solo on a loop with hip hop in all the right places! Pick up this book, then the next, then the next; you won’t be sad that it’s over purely because in Older’s hands these books make you immediately want to reread and live again inside their masterful plotting, they’re a summer I can dance in for something like forever.


Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone
by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Black Lawrence Press | May 2016 | $16.95

This is a collection of short stories that encompasses a world like ours, yet entirely different, in contemporary Japan. The subjects range from folklore, monster movies, speculative sci-fi, case studies, notices for the dead and humans with demon companions. The depth of emotion in each of these stories highlights the immense power of genre fiction. Girl Zero, one of the stories in this collection, is the subject of his upcoming novel.

The Emissary
by Yoko Tawada

New Directions Publishing Corporation | April 2018 | $14.95

I don’t usually pick up apocalypse-type stories; there seems to be enough bleakness and doom to go around without seeking it out. And while “The Emissary” technically falls into this category, taking place in a future ravaged by pollution and climate change, it is set apart from other post-catastrophe tales by its distinct sense of hope. This new, post-disaster world is revealed by the experiences and reflections of a grandfather and his grandson, the former remembering a more bountiful world not shaped by toxic waste and isolationist politics, and the latter for whom these circumstances are normal. Life goes on. People adapt, go to work, cook supper, and care for one another, even after devastation. For a novel about a post-apocalyptic world, “The Emissary” doesn’t dwell on what once was, or what was lost—but rather people’s enduring spirit and the idea of what can still be.

World of Wonders: In Praise of Whale Sharkes, Fireflies, and Other Astonishments
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Milkweed Books | August 2020 | $24.00

We couldn’t help but sneak in a little holler of excitement for World of Wonders, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s upcoming essay collection. In this beautifully illustrated book, Nezhukumatathil honors more than just easy beauty; she honors the unglamorous, the difficult, and the dismissed denizens of our shared planet, unstitching the boundaries of the word “wonder” into something truly inclusive and entire. It isn’t easy to write authentic, tangible joy, but Nezhukumatathil makes it look that way. Pre-order today!

Thanks for reading, y’all! Mention our February recommendation list to get 10% off any one of the above titles. (One coupon per visit, please. Not valid with other offers.)


?If any of these books sound interesting to you, swing by the bookstore (or ?give us a call at 612-215-2540) to pick up a copy! Mention our February recommendation list to get 10% off any one of the above titles. (One coupon per visit, please. Not valid with other offers.)​

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