The Coil editor dishes the best new books to read this month.
Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan
I’ve been excited for this book for a long time, and I’m even *more* excited for its release since reading it (which doesn’t usually happen). This is a charming little book. It’s part memoir, part nerdy superfandom, part literary criticism, and part biographical essay on the life of Jane Austen, written by the son of a devoted Austen scholar and professed “half-scholar,” himself. Scheinman creates a candid, yet approachable, look at the universe of Austen cosplay and fandom, and puts his own unique, humorous experiences in Austenworld into broader context alongside a biographical sketch of the mind and life of Austen and her work. From exploring the Juvenalia of Austen’s youth, to discussing film and theatrical adaptations through time, to dissecting the lasting appeal of Austen for readers, to counting off humorous mishaps with fallfront breeches, 90˚ heat, cotillion dance missteps, and gossiping ladies, Scheinman brings a delightful read to both loyal Janeites who have the canon memorized, and lay readers who maybe once read Pride & Prejudice in high school or saw Colin Firth in a wet white shirt and haven’t been the same since. A quick read of linked essays, the book is superbly charming (as it should, of course, be), and will appeal to those who adore the idea of superfandom and obsession as much as it will appeal to the hardcore Janeites of the world. If nothing else, you’ll gain a better appreciation for Austen’s works and will have yourself a chuckle at a man trying to lace a corset.
Eats of Eden
Blankenbiller’s foodoir is a series of linked essays that cover a year of her life trying to write a novel, and how that all relates to food, body image, sense of self, coming of age, and all the best and worst parts of life. Within these pages, she wrestles with past demons, shares recipes surrounding moments that brought the things she loved closer to her or took them further away, and reconciles long-lost friendships, writing rejections, and yet another stint at Weight Watchers. The book will make you laugh out loud on one page and reach for a Kleenex on the next, but Blankenbiller writes with the sort of humor and candor that quickly feels like you’re having a lunch date with an old friend.
Mel Bosworth & Ryan Ridge
Second Acts in American Lives
This collection of short-shorts slashed with hybrid prose poetry will catch you off guard. These two masters of the art play around with form, style, mouthfeel, beat, alliteration, and every other device you can think of, and they make bastards out of punchlines and rules. Humorous, dark, and witty, this collection is both poetical and political, nuanced and in-your-face. You’ll laugh. You’ll think. What more can you want from a book?
Gods of Howl Mountain
Brown is one of the best modern historical literary fiction writers we have among us, with his McCarthy-esque prose, his dripping descriptions of landscapes and atmosphere, and his attention to the details of history. I was so smitten with last year’s The River of Kings, and this year’s offering proves to be no less interesting. Reminiscent of Bull Mountain, Brown’s latest novel takes us into the gritty life of a family who rules a mountain, taking us this time to the backwoods whiskey-runners and folk healers of a 1950s North Carolina mountain clan. With the poetic prose for which Brown is (or will soon be!) famous, he weaves a tale of danger, misdeeds, deceit, bootlegging, witchery, and ambiance that will leave you dizzy.
Whiskey & Ribbons
Cross-Smith’s debut novel is getting wicked acclaim, and rightfully so. As genuine and kind a person as you will ever meet, her heart transcends to the page, and she simply captures you. Roping motherhood, fatherhood, and brotherhood into a story of grief, loss, and what happens after the unthinkable happens, Cross-Smith will drag your heart through the mud and teach you what it means to heal, or not to.
Warner is not only a tremendous poet whom I have had the utmost pleasure of seeing read his poetry live, but he is also one of the best literary citizens out there, rooting on the work of others with endless zeal and energy that can only come from someplace supernatural. This book is Warner’s third collection of poetry and first book in nearly a decade. Part travelogue and part identity-seeking, vinyl-squeaking inner monologues on being Filipino in the Rust Belt, it is sure to be a road-friendly traveling companion for your lost nights on long stretches of lonesome and crackling highways.
Ausubel is the author of some of the short stories that I most recommend to other readers, so how could I not be excited about a new book of her stories? This collection is a globetrotting exploration of love, identity, childhood, and parenthood, and is sure to contain her usual humorous melancholy, sharp intellect, mythology and lore, and attention to fine detail. From small-town America to sunny Caribbean islands to the Arctic Ocean and beyond, Ausubel hops us from land to land, centering us with a sense of place and the understanding that our stories everywhere are both unique and universal. (Besides, I recently learned that she lives in the same town as I do, so my let’s-be-besties game is on!)
Elizabeth J. Church
All The Beautiful Girls
Church’s previous novel, The Atomic Weight of Love, was one of the most surprising novels of 2016, full of sexiness and identity and science and characterization that I did not expect to sweep me off my feet the way it did. Church understands and can beautifully portray the inner struggles of women and relationships, and I’m so looking forward to diving into her new offering this month. All the Beautiful Girls follows the life of a gutsy 1960s Las Vegas showgirl as she conquers her troubled past, navigates the patriarchy, learns who she is, and finds unexpected fortune and friendship on the way.
John Edgar Wideman
American Histories: Stories
As a studier of American history and a writer of historical short stories, I’m so intrigued by and excited for this collection that blends the historical with the personal and political to explore stories of death, struggle, antislavery, what we owe to one another and to the past, and how we overcome all manner of losses. With characters ranging from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Nat Turner, the stories in this collection touch on the very definitions of what it is to be an American and to share a part of this history. Wideman, himself, is a genre-bending writer who challenges the boundaries of traditional form with rare emotion and precision, so this is sure to be an intriguing read.
This is apparently already being made into a TV series, and who could blame them? With the popularity of The Walking Dead, of course someone jumped at the chance for this one, a historical horror story that crosses zombies with the terror and limitations of the infamous (and far over-exaggerated-but-we-love-myths-nonetheless!) cannibalistic Donner Party. I hear that this book seamlessly combines the historical with the supernatural in an eerie way, and it dissects the violence and insecurities of human nature at its breaking point, so count me in!
I Was Anastasia
I’m always a sucker for historical conspiracy theories, alternative fictions, and romantic what-ifs, and the lives of the Romanov girls has always been a fascinating topic. While I personally believe they’re lying at the bottom of a well, I’m all for taking this journey that supposes the what-if of Anna Anderson. For 50 years, Anderson battled to be recognized as the survived and escaped Russian Grand Duchess, but was she just an imposter and identity thief? Or is there truth to the claim of this woman who was pulled from the freezing water in a Berlin canal? I’m listening. Intrigue me.
Girls Burn Brighter
It’s been so refreshing to see the amount of diverse stories coming out with female protagonists and writers at the helm, and Rao’s debut is no exception. Smashing against the patriarchy, arranged marriages, and the limitations of poverty, Rao’s novel talks about the bonds, independence, and ambitions of women facing odds and unfortunate circumstances. When two female friends are driven apart, one walks the darkest corners of India’s underworld to find the other, on a journey that eventually leads across continents and cultural divides.