Books to Watch Out For — March 2018

These books are hot looks this month. Carry them on your person — on the commute and on the court — and annotate wildly. Here’s our bracket for March Madness.

1. CALL ME ZEBRA, by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

THIRD COMMANDMENT: We Hosseinis — Autodidacts, Anarchists, Atheists — are expert connoisseurs of literature and therefore capable of taking a narrative apart and putting it back together faster than a wounded man can say “Ah!” This talent, passed on to you by your honorable ancestors, is your sword. Draw it anytime you need to strike stupidity in the face.

the gist: A hyper-literate, philosophical, and hilarious picaresque novel of exile that doubles as a paean to literature. You will cheer on Zebra’s global odyssey of mind and body.

the buzz: “Okay, not many authors are compared to Borges, Cervantes, and Kathy Acker all in one breath, but that is exactly what we’re dealing with here: Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is a twisted, twisty genius, whose latest novel is a wild, trippy ride across countries and, like, philosophies and intellectual theories.” NYLON

get it from: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

2. I THINK I’M READY TO SEE FRANK OCEAN, by Shayla Lawson

There ain’t no love songs for women. Only little boys
who shimmy out their father’s
vintage. They sing to wood-paneled living
rooms & masturbate harmonies on rehearsed vinyl
the thought of halter tops, ponytails, & tight jeans.

the gist: This poetry collection is more than a fan’s love letter to this generation’s defining musical artist. Each poem borrows its title from frank ocean’s tracks, then digs in past its grooves to distill an expansive and introspective ekphrastic remix.

the buzz: “I cannot pin this book down. I cannot easily categorize or articulate what this book is doing, or what it means. I cannot get to the bottom of the brilliance behind it, or the brilliance that brilliance makes. Sound familiar? Sound like the Ocean? Are you ready?” — Ross Gay, author of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

get it from: Saturnalia

3. HOUSE OF IMPOSSIBLE BEAUTIES, by Joseph Cassara

Life is a ferocious motherfucker, that’s what I always say. And it’s not death that you need to worry about. He always comes, and he’s usually quiet about it. But life, boy. She is loud and fast and — vicious.

the gist: Inspired by the House of Xtravaganza (yes, as captured by Paris Is Burning), this novel’s evocation of the 80s and 90s Harlem Ball culture is more than a backdrop. Cassara portrays the beauty of chosen family.

the buzz: “Joy and loss clutch hands in The House of Impossible Beauties. It is a tragic book, a lyrical book, a defiant book, and ultimately a loving book. The heroines and heroes hold fast to love and Cassara clearly has deep love for every character who struts across these pages.” — Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, author of Harmless Like You

get it from: HarperCollins

4. A MANUAL FOR NOTHING, by Jessica Anne

33) Plus, life is a laundry list of unrelated questions that may or may not ever be answered. And any female cat can plainly see through her two-dimensional eyes that it is, of course, the questions, not the answers to the questions, that ever count for anything when it comes time for your grief-strikcken friends to crack their winds and blow their amazing grace through out-of-une bagpipes as your cold and lifeless body drifts forevermore down a long and winding Lucky If You Left A Mark Drive.

the gist: An inventive yet inviting manual, a portrait of the artist coming into herself, a life made of lists, an experimental prose memoir (of sorts)… it’s hard to describe this sensational debut from Chicago writer/performance artist Jessica Anne.

the buzz:A Manuel for Nothing is an unclassificable and brilliant book, with a sharp sense of humor that reaches wonderful levels of cruelty. Jessica Anne is one of those writers you never want to stop reading.” — Daniel Saldana Paris, author of Among Strange Victims

get it from: Noemi Press

5. MEAN, by Myriam Gurba

Being mean isn’t for everybody.
Being mean is best practiced by those who understand it as an art form.
These virtuosos live closer to the divine than the rest of humanity. They’re queers.

the gist: Gurba’s first memoir is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in LGBTQ Nonfiction. Get ready: Gurba packs a lot feminist verve, plenty of laughs, and even more heart.

the buzz: “I am such a gigantic fan of Myriam Gurba. Her voice is an alchemy of queer magic, feminist wildness, and intersectional explosion. She’s a gigantic inspiration to my work and the sexiest, smartest literary discovery in Los Angeles. She’s totally ready to wake up the world.” — Jill Soloway, writer and director of Transparent

get it from: Coffee House Press

6. WHILE STANDING IN LINE FOR DEATH, by CAConrad

we are all 
falling in
love while
standing in
line for death
fuck this way we
slowly adjust to suffering
an ant finding her way home in
the downpour

the gist: CAConrad’s (Soma)tic poetry rituals and exercises have made him an endeared poet’s poet. Writing in grief and depression on the tails of the murder of his boyfriend, Conrad makes more urgent and personal rituals than ever.

the buzz: “Conrad may be our Ginsberg, as well as our Yoko Ono (whose work Conrad mentions), teaching us not so much how to write as how to live outside a great machine.” — Stephanie Burt, author of 
Advice from the Lights

get it from: Wave Books

7. EZILI’S MIRRORS: IMAGINING BLACK QUEER GENDERS, by Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley

Documented or not, the effluvia and refuse of same-sex loving, same-sex-fucking, gender-reworking, gender-reharmonizing bodies must be polluting these coastal waters, too. Drowning, we are drowning! Emily, if you see me in the water, pick me up.

the gist: A scholarly (yet also: shape-shifting, creative and accessible) meditation on the influence of Ezili, the Vodoun spirits of love, sexuality, creativity, and fertility. By looking at how contemporary queer Caribbean and African American writers and performers evoke Ezili, Tinsley finds new possibilities for decolonizing queer and feminist studies.

the buzz: “Challenging traditional reading practices so as to generate original and convincing comparative analyses, Ezili’s Mirrors is at once an extraordinary piece of scholarship and a true work of art.” — Kaiama L. Glover, author of Haiti Unbound: A Spiralist Challenge to the Postcolonial Canon

get it from: Duke University Press

8. LARGE ANIMALS, by Jess Arndt

In New York, when spring finally comes, you atomize. Your sense of containment, a survival mechanism in winter, dislodges, melts. At least, this is what I thought as I walked down North Sixth. I was sad, but the sadness had a wet, loose quality that broke my chest apart as I inhaled the weed. I stepped between the sidewalk’s gray meringues and stubborn plow-made bergs.

the gist: Buzzfeed picked Large Animals as a Best Fiction Book of 2017. And no wonder: the short stories in this electrifying debut understand something deeply moving and original about bodies and connection.

the buzz: “Jess Arndt’s Large Animals is wildly original, even as it joins the classics of loaded, outlaw literature. Acerbic, ecstatic, hilarious, psychedelic, and affeting in turn, this is an electric debut.” — Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts

get it from: Catapult

9. SPEAK NO EVIL, by Uzodinma Iweala

In my house. In this house, my father shouts. You want to bring this kind of sinful, satanic rubbish into my house. Tufiakwa. It can never happen. He takes two steps toward me with the phone in his right hand before he turns around and stomps into the family room where he closes his left fist around the thorny switch of a bougainvillea twisted across the mantel.

the gist: From the author of Beast of No Nation comes an complicated coming-out novel. A Harvard-bound track star faces the fallout that ensues when his conservative Nigerian parents find out he is gay.

the buzz: Speak No Evil is the rarest of novels: the one you start out just to read, then end up sinking so deeply into it, seeing yourself so clearly in it, that the novel starts reading you.” — Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killing

get it from: HarperCollins

10. CRUEL FUTURES, by Carmena Giménez Smith

I live on the corner of identity
and shadow, one true-false away 
from infiltration, grew up 
a sinkhole of envy and grunting 
want, grew up profligate, 
something of a gambler.
Knew when to hold them, when
to wink or stab.

the gist: The seventeenth book in City Lights’ beloved Spotlight series. Giménez Smith writes powerful lyrics of identity, especially gender roles.

the buzz: “Carmen Giménez Smith’s beautiful book, Cruel Futures is one of those rare books, rare pieces of art, that manages to be extremely intimate, vulnerable and close while also doing a kind of searing cultural critique. The poems can be tender or ironic, and sometimes a blending of the two, which is not easy, but occasionally yields lines like these, from the amazing and amazingly titled poem ‘Ravers Having Babies’: ‘So much to do so little skin / left for transformation . . .’ Somehow those lines for me get at the remarkable humanity in this book, the remarkable wisdom, which is ravenous, sorrowful, and dreaming. Like, probably, you are. Like me.” — Ross Gay, author of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.

get it from: City Lights

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.