The Coil dishes the best new books to read this month. Nonfiction to hurt you, poetry to take you home, & diverse fiction.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays
Chee is an author for whom I will stand in line. His books are always rich in detail, thoughtful, and important, and he’s a literary citizen of the highest degree. It goes without saying, then, that I have been salivating for this collection of essays since I first heard about it last fall. It’s an instructional memoir of sorts about what the author has learned from his life of writing and reading, how this all has changed him, and his entanglement with the topics of politics, identity, activism, underrepresentation of marginalized voices, and what it means to be constantly creating and recreating one’s self. I simply can’t wait to dive in.
After nearly two decades out of fiction’s limelight, Offutt has returned with a helluva dark, moody, emotional bang. Country noir is a hot topic right now, and Offutt brings us his best with a veteran returning from the Korean War, falling in love, starting a family, and then doing his damnedest to protect that family come what may. The book handles topics like PTSD, physical handicaps, and poverty with tenderness, juxtaposed against a violent and brooding background of country dark. Read our review.
New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Tano)
We’ve been fans of James’ work since we discovered this amazing poem, which won third place in our annual Luminaire Award for Best Poetry. Her limited-edition chapbook was selected by Kwame Dawes, Chris Abani, and the African Poetry Book Fund, in collaboration with Akashic Books, for the 2018 New Generation African Poets Box Set, and I am tickled pink for its release this month. James’ voice is so unique and genuine; she’s definitely a poet to have on your poetdar, and I’m sure this whole collection will be stellar.
A post-apocalyptic story that manages to stay on the ground, Harmer’s time-traveling port robs the world of most of its population and leaves the survivors wondering where loved ones have gone, if they can return, and how to deal with the sudden departure and loneliness of it. The story proves to be a gripping one that wrestles with the ideas of grief and identity in a shifting world.
Hieu Minh Nguyen
The child of Vietnamese immigrants, Nguygen talks about family, home, trauma, history, and being queer and Asian American in the Midwest. He fearlessly dissects whiteness and connection, nostalgia and loneliness, with a poetic voice that is powerfully and necessarily now.
Voices from the Rust Belt
Various Authors, ed. Anne Trubek
I’m from a smidge west of the standard Rust Belt border and spent several years of my life living in its western corner, a native of one of the states included in the loose boundaries of the Post-Industrial Midwest. I know that we’re complicated folk, and it’s easy not to see us that way. This collection of essays addresses the differences of the region with a human heart, from lead poisoning to segregated schools to opiate addiction to the joys of family, nuanced and complex. The collection includes Flint, where, if I were still living in my old $150 apartment, I’d still be drinking lead-contaminated water. I feel this essay collection 100 percent.
In this “funny, angry, touching, and ultimately deeply inspiring” novel — so the jacket promises — a young man just out of high school is fired as a lawn boy at a landscaping outfit and has to make something of his life to figure out who he really is. Along the way, we get a funny, vibrant look at social class distinctions, overcoming cultural discrimination, and coming into one’s own.
The Female Persuasion
This seems like a novel for our times — a story of female empowerment and finding one’s direction in life, despite what was originally sought. A novel about “power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition,” this story promises to be a compelling one for women on the up and up, women who’ve put career before all else, and people who just need some extra influence to find their way in the world.
Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution
Todd S. Purdum
Heeeey-o! Calling all you Broadway fans! This is shaping up to be one of the most eye-opening and revolutionary new looks at how Rodgers and Hammerstein shaped Broadway for a new generation, and further shaped us to be ready for today’s modern Broadway reimagining. There’s no way around admitting what a Broadway nerd I am, but I must also admit that, when I was younger, I loathed R&H. They were boring, old, stuffy, moral — all the things that Rent wasn’t. It took many years to learn how utterly revolutionary they were at their onset, how people used to find their shows offensive, and how much the duo changed the face of Broadway as we know it today. I’m wise enough now to know that this look at their Great White Way shakeup is going to be a smash.
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership
I know, I know; no one actually wants to read this, but we’re all still going to, right? Or at least, anyone politically engaged is going to, right? I don’t really think there’s much I can say about this that you haven’t already figured out; former FBI Director James Comey shares his experiences in some of the tensest, most important cases of our time. I’m guessing it’s a pretty dry read that even my father couldn’t sit still through, but I admit that I’m curious.
Civil War, zombies, protagonists of color, badass fighting women, and a darkly subversive narrative “at the explosive crossroads where race, humanity, and survival meet.” This seems like a fun, lively read that will also be deeply reflective of the race, class, education, and economic divides of this country, historically, presently, and for the foreseeable future.
Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots
Royal women messin’ some sh*t up? Where do I sign? This is the true story of the four daughters of Elizabeth Stuart, the granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots, and goddaughter of Queen Elizabeth I. When Stuart’s father ascends the throne, marries her to a German count beneath her rank, then betrays a promise to help the count achieve the crown of Bohemia, a war is launched that lasts for 30 years and forces the Winter Queen into exile in Holland during the Dutch Golden Age. Her daughters are raised into this enlightened world to be scholars, philosophers, painters, and heroines of their own lives at a time when women were excluded from these higher achievements. A fascinating feminist story that is “brilliantly researched”? I’m here. Talk to me.
Phillips’ third collection of poems tackles female body image, mental health, and the culture of violence in America, from illness-driven suicidal thoughts to childhood abuse memories to the anger that one can often find in self-love. Phillips dives deep inside herself to hit massive topics both personal and universal.
My Dear Hamilton
Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Despite my eye-rolling at the overabundance of all-things-Hamilton (Where were all you people when I had to explain who he was on the $10 bill for half my life?), I loved America’s First Daughter, so I’m ready for this one. Eliza Hamilton was a powerhouse, and her fight for Alexander’s legacy is the only reason he’s still *on* the $10 bill. I think Dray and Kamoie could be just the ladies to do Eliza right, although I must confess … coming in at 700 pages? Ooof. We could be here awhile.
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath
Books like this eat away at me, but I think they’re important, especially when they focus so fully on the human condition, cultural history, and bucking traditional narrative to tell the real story underneath. I feel like I’ve spent most of my life recovering from something that other people have not stepped through with me, and it’s the standing up and walking away and gaining back the strength that chips away at me a little at a time. So I’m kind of terrified of this book, but I think that it’s speaking to me. And it’s probably speaking to you, whether you like it or not.
Paper Girls, Volume 4 (Trade)
Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang, et al.
For those comic nerds among us, the new tradepaper of collected Paper Girls drops this month and is another awesome collection of the time-warping feminist Vaughan story and killer Chiang/Wilson art we’ve come to love. We go from the Prehistoric past to a cataclysmic Y2K to maybe getting saved by a girl from 1988.
Tunsiya / Amrikiya
Tunisian American poet Chatti explores separation, the search for belonging, and what it means to have a multicultural identity and to be a female navigating these two mixed worlds on both sides of the Atlantic. Chatti’s is a voice of longing, empowerment, coming of age, and the endless learning of the true self.
Picture Us in the Light
Kelly Loy Gilbert
I had the best interaction with this author from out of the blue, when she introduced me to her agent on a whim, showed her insanely big heart, and gained a loyal fan. For the young readers in your life, this is the one. Family secrets, a teen torn between following his dreams or exploring a friendship that has him questioning relationship roles, the crumbling of carefully constructed family façades — it promises to be moving, tender, honest, and intense.
Where the Light Falls
Allison Pataki & Owen Pataki
Give me any book about the French Revolution — any book at all — and I will devour it. Give me Allison Pataki, and at least I’ll know it’s going to be good before I devour it. Her sweeping epic is sure to be an intense, bloody ride that casts a love story against the violence and class divisions of the Terror. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the tale of how that all went down, but I’m always excited to see who will survive through it this time! Kudos for including legendary figures such as the Black Count, and I’m interested to see her take on a cameo of a personal favorite (tragic) historical figure of mine, King Louis XVI.
Heads of the Colored People
Thompson-Spires examines the concept of black identity, gun violence, and the modern middle class in this poignant, often satirical, collection of “moving, timely, and darkly funny” literary vignettes. From topics of suicide to identity politics to grief, Thompson-Spires’ stories defy genre and avoid simple answers, but give us a necessary, refreshing voice in the conversation.
The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives
Various Authors, ed. Viet Thanh Nguyen
Featuring powerhouse writers such as Porochista Khakpour and Aleksandar Hemon, this collection of writers commenting on the experiences of refugee lives is edited by Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen and is sure to be an emotional destroyer of the heart. These stories of displacement, trauma, resilience, and identity reach us at a time when we need them most — when the current Administration wants these voices silenced. The stories are more necessary and more powerful now than ever.
Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion
This book seems to be exactly the rally cry we need for this day and age — the story of 10 opinionated, smart women smashing down the patriarchy and breaking through the culture of sexism to have their voices heard and to change the course of history. In the face of adversity, these women prevailed against the patronizing forces of the male-dominated institution: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm. This is their empowering tale.
LEAH ANGSTMAN serves as Editor-in-Chief for Alternating Current Press and The Coil magazine, and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Her work has appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, Tupelo Quarterly, Electric Literature, Slice Magazine, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. You can find her at leahangstman.com.