Bookstore / Roundup

Bookseller Recommendations: January

Milkweed Staff — 01/07/2020

Our January picks blur the line between real and unreal, guide us through grief, and push us to consider the moral implications of participating in established systems of power. Read these books if you’re ready to enter the new decade with a careful, observant mind!

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky: Stories
by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Riverhead Books | April 2018 | $16.00

Aside from clocking several of my thematic bullseyes (mother troubles, fabulism, fabulist mother troubles), there’s tons to celebrate in Arimah’s stories. In settings both realist and fantastical, Arimah explores the ways trauma can breach generations, familial fractures carving through time like fault lines. Alongside Nigeria and the United States, Arimah writes in worlds just this side of our immediate one, imagining what life might be like if, say, mothers literally shaped their children out of their own chosen materials, or if there existed a mathematical formula that could solve utterly for grief. Her worldbuilding is as compelling as her prosody is enchanting (seriously, Arimah wields refrains like a champion fencer her foil), and she’s a master at packing both tension and love into tight, fierce coals, fixing these coals in her characters’ living chests, and letting what will burn do precisely that.

PS: This book comes doubly recommended, because fellow Milkweed bookseller Michelle is the one who suggested it to me. Read Arimah now—and know (among other things) the distinct spookiness of a child made of hair.

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir
by Anna Wiener

MCD | January 2020 | $27.00

With some trepidation, and a decent amount of self-loathing and shame, Wiener left her work in big-house publishing (and zero financial stability) for the wilds (and relative riches) of technology. What follows is a few years of her bouncing through several start-ups. The work itself is fairly difficult to comprehend and seems, mostly, like an alternate universe filled with initial influxes of cash, energy drinks, and workplace yoga. This memoir takes a look at our cultural obsession with gadgets and fast money and the trade offs someone in Wiener’s position is willing and unwilling to make.

The Astonishing Color of After
by Emily X.R.Pan

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | March 2018 | $10.99

Beyond my window, and maybe beyond your window too, there’s the unending monotony of white snow, white skies making whiter streets. In many ways it can feel like a canvas, how it can make one desperate for color. Look no further than Emily X.R. Pan’s superb YA debut The Astonishing Color of After, a novel steeped in grief if only to make its writing all the more urgently alive. The story follows Leigh, a 17-year-old aspiring painter whose mother suffers from treatment resistant depression and tragically commits suicide while Leigh is out of the house sharing a first kiss with her long time best friend. Beyond anything else, this is a book that delivers some of the most deft, tender and overwhelmingly needed writing I have ever seen on the subject of what happens when a loved one leaves us this way.

While Leigh has a painter’s eye for color, in Pan’s capable hands she could easily pass for a prodigiously talented poet. Each chapter in this gloriously constructed book of learning how we look forward and look back all at once is full to the brim with sentences of astounding beauty and devastating precision. I won’t spoil it but the means by which we learn the story of Leigh’s life is still one of my favorite world building moves ever. It makes grief on the page what it has been for me in my real life, a process of experimentation to try and touch the hem of memory, to try and understand someone we can no longer speak to. Spiritual, wracking and hopeful The Astonishing Color of After is a story of diaspora, healing and the many colors love takes. Read it in the winter, then again in Spring, then in Summer and then in Fall; let the colors sink in. Hopefully this book will do for you what it has done for me; made me grateful, truly, to be alive.

I’m Trying to Tell You I’m Sorry: An Intimacy Triptych
by Nina Boutsikaris

Black Lawrence Press | May 2019 | $16.00

Nina Boutsikaris is intimate and lyrical in this debut essay collection. She writes in a way that illuminates feelings I’ve always had but never knew how to express. Her essays bend the form of the creative nonfiction essay to her distinct voice with observations and experiences that feel familiar yet are uniquely her own.

Transit: A Novel
by Rachel Cusk

Picador | December 2017 | $17.00

As someone who believes you should absolutely judge a book by its cover because that’s exactly what it’s there for, I picked up Rachel Cusks’ Transit on the sole basis of thinking the cover was extremely cool. I’ll admit I am often led astray by those preliminary judgments, but in the case of this book the insides are absolutely as slick, modern and inscrutable as its art-house outsides.

This is the second book in Cusk’s outline trilogy, a series of novels all told through the opaque narrator’s recounting of conversations she’s had with the various people she encounters. There’s some really interesting story-telling techniques at work here, and I really enjoyed reading a New Yorker interview with Cusk about her intentions in writing them. Transit’s drifting, unmoored qualities allow the mundane to serve as a gateway to the profound.

Maps and Transcripts of the Ordinary World: Poems
by Kathryn Cowles

Milkweed Books | March 2020 | $16.00

We’re super excited about this forthcoming title from Milkweed Books, so even though it’s not out yet we couldn’t resist adding it to our recommendation list! Pre-orders are live now for this incredible collection of poems that “both puzzle over and embrace the valley between literature and lived experience.” Mosey on over here to pre-order your copy today!


As always (but especially now), we’re grateful to you and yours for supporting independent publishing and independent bookstores. Thank you for helping us thrive in 2019! In the next year, we hope to continue greeting you enthusiasm, sincerity, and ample delight. Mention our January 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; they’re all in stock! Mention our January recommendation list to get 10% off any one of the above titles. (One coupon per visit, please. Not valid with other offers.)​

?To see more reading suggestions from bookstore staff and from some of the bookstore’s favorite authors, click here.

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