To buy a piece of furniture is to force lines and edges around amorphous aspiration.
Take the blue chair that lives next to the side table we inherited when Byron’s grandparents moved into independent, then assisted, living in the early aughts. It smacks of the ’90s, that side table does, now host to coasters, cheaters, and stacks of to-reads, but we can’t be bothered to switch its plain of wood on legs for another. It holds my whiskey sours well enough as it butts against the Prussian blue armchair that we bought as part of a much-discussed set at some point. I’d pinpoint when, but the years are mist.
We drove to another town for that chair. Arranged delivery. Demurred when pressed to accept a full-room vision including artfully placed basketry and ferns. We’ll take the couch, chaise longue, and chair, thanks — spare the interspatial embellishments.
When we drove across the bridge to the Wisconsin furniture store, everything in our living room had been handed down by older people hitting new milestones: Byron’s grandparents shedding suburban choices as they condensed into 500 square feet; my parents needing to see their mutual choices living on in and with a daughter after their divorce. It was time to claim our own taste. We wanted to see something of ourselves within our own home.
So we went to the store, nervously deflecting pressure to overspend, and some days later, men with braced torsos lugged our selections through the front door. Hey, blue couch. Ho, paisley settee. Hi there, new chair.
New Chair wasn’t immediately Third Child to us, but then, tick tick tick, the years passed, and sitting became not only a goal but a reality. Sometimes I’d cast an eye over there, and Byron — legs ninety degrees from hips — would be noodling through a crossword. Huh. We’d only ever known each other as parents, as breathless partners on the run for diaper snack sippy cup piano lessons playdate those jeans with butterflies on the pockets a push in the swing before dusk.
Eventually, New Chair became Blue Chair, a seat that caught me after surgeries, after painkillers failed to numb the spikes and fires, after I cried myself into vertical sleep. Eventually, Blue Chair became my safest space.
Then, this past year, that chair — lapis? lazuli? — propped me when the house became jarringly empty, echoing with the absence of where’s my glove can you hold this while I glue it why do we have worksheets can you pick me up at 6 what’s for dinner.
There was this virus killing people. Gingerly wading into the air it occupied, rightly really, were the kids. They launched, and, alone with the echoes, I realized: I’d been so foggy in 2020, not sure where to aim the firehose of anxiety next, that I’d stared into space during many of the hours I’d normally have been reading.
But now it was 2021, and that chair — let’s call the blue “beryl” this time because my god I’m here for endless riffing call me if you need an improv partner — knew the shape of me, hugged my hindquarters, absorbed my grief, encouraged my anger. Upholstery stapled to pine commanded: sit the fuck down, because why else am I here, and read.
So I did.
These books made me laugh and cry and marvel in a too-loud voice “I’ve never read anything like this.” My rear still feels the imprint of sitting on a pebble beach (regrets, Chelsea Blue Chair) during a sunlit June afternoon while tears leaked in response to Hanif Abdurraqib’s essay about Soul Train.
- No One Is Talking about This by Patricia Lockwood
- The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
- It Chooses You by Miranda July
- A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib
Most Exciting Author
Stephen Graham Jones’ books have me jumping inside my skin; turning back a few pages to parse out what the eff just happened; getting soppy-hearted at reverential depictions of traumatized teens; and mopping cheeks as I slam, exhausted, into a finish so heartful, so heart full, that my elbows shake.
- The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
- Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones
- My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
Reckoning with Reality
Gaht damn it, white people. Only when we face the truth of our history can we figure out how to disrupt its devastating trajectory. Enough with the mournful head shaking and I-think-it-gets-me-off-the-hook shrugs of “I don’t see color. I judge each person as an individual.” If you need help seeing color and its effects on lives, crack some of these covers.
- All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake by Tiya Miles
- The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea
- Kindred by Octavia Butler
- The Road back to Sweetgrass by Linda LeGarde Grover
- The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
- Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
- Lakewood by Megan Giddings
- Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
- The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha
- The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
- Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford
- A Measure of Belonging: Writers of Color on the New American South by Cinelle Barnes
- The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson
- Halsey Street by Naima Coster
- Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
- Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
- Sacred Smokes by Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
- Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey
- What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster
- Cheyenne Madonna by Eddie Chuculate
- Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
- Even as We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle
- Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 by Ibram X. Kendi
- How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
- The Ugly Cry by Danielle Henderson
Books by White Ladies for White Ladies
I enjoyed these some of these at the same time they felt like they could’ve shown up on my doorstep as part of a Book-of-the-Month Club shipment in 1994. When I bent over to pick up the box, I’d have been wearing something cropped and boxy, the curls from my latest spiral perm winking an invitation no member of Counting Crows could have refused.
- Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
- Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
- Grown Ups by Marian Keyes
- Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky
- Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
- Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism, and Treason by Gina Frangello
- The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
- The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Beloved by Throngs, but I Want to Hurl Them with a Tongs
I’m a crabby reader, and I’m stink-eyeing you, Jodi Picoult, when I create this category of books I want to fling.
- I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins
- The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling
- Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
- Sankofa by Chibundo Onuzo
The Time I Tried to Get Thrilled and Mysteried
With mixed results.
- We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz
- Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
- Force of Nature by Jane Harper
- The Dry by Jane Harper
- Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Desert Heat by J.A. Jance
- The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
- The Searcher by Tana French
- Mrs. March by Virginia Feito
- Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon
- Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
For Those Who Draw Comfort from Fictional Pandemics
- Blindness by Jose Saramago
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (This one also belongs on my White Lady and Hurl-with-a-Tongs lists)
- Severance by Ling Ma
I liked these books just fine — high praise from a crabby — and am glad to have read them.
- The Margot Affair by Sanae Lemoine
- The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelit
- The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee
- A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
- If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
- Dear Child by Romy Hausmann
- Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes
- Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang
- Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough
- XOXY, A Memoir: Intersex Woman, Mother, Activist by Kimberly Zieselman
- The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix
- Sound Like Trapped Thunder by Jessica Lind Peterson
The Time I Got Obsessed with Greek Mythology and Plowed through Some Cool Feminist Upgrades
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
- Circe by Madeline Miller
- The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
- A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Rereads, Just as Good The Second Time
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
- Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
I Cain’t Quit You
Then there are the books that have stuck with me, scenes flashing into my brain for months after the reading. Am I turning on the KitchenAid and thinking about a hundred-foot wave breeching the sand? Yup. Turning the corner from Rose Garden to Lakewalk and recalling all those mentally ill brothers? Do not doubt it. Buying cookies and feeling grateful I’ll never live off-grid with a lesbian-anchored trio who only allow store purchases if the dice roll correctly? INDEED.
Sometimes I can’t stop thinking about a book because the sentences are so glorious; sometimes it’s due to the original idea; and sometimes it’s because I learned so much there is brainy-hurty.
- Darryl by Jackie Ess – We don’t have enough cuckold storytelling outside of poorly lit porn.
- Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley – The setting is so perfectly drawn that I felt like I was in Michigan’s UP for at least a week after reading, and this heroine. This heroine.
- Stay and Fight by Madeline Ffitch – Do we need to talk more about remote-living lesbian-ish trios-ish? Probably, and we need to talk more about taking drastic action in the face of climate change. Win-win.
- What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arima – Two words: HAIR BABY.
- Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots – A young effort, but memorably original, and crikey but I appreciate an angry woman in the foreground.
- The Cold Millions by Jess Walter – History. Montana. A real Ivan Doig of a read.
- Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe – You know you’re into Keefe because of the Sackler brother book, but don’t sleep on this one. And you know you loved Derry Girls. The Troubles weren’t all neon clothes and Bill Clinton talking peace, my dudes.
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki — I have notes. But I’ve realized I’m a sucker for a story of humans connecting after natural disaster.
- Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of An American Family by Robert Kolker – Holy hell. Please become a brain scientist because we have some shit still needs unlocking. Thx.
- Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden – I would like to pull this book around in a Radio Flyer. Push it on the swings. Neither of these impulses has anything to do with the book itself; I just want it near me because it’s easy, and it aches, and I admire it so.
- The Five Wounds by Kirsten Valdez Quade – Big novel, grabs ya, takes ya to New Mexico. Good trip. Crucifixion moments for bonus.
- Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – Spare, rich storytelling. I might be ready to open a boarding house for robots.
- Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen – So there was the tsunami in Ozeki’s book, and there’s a hurricane in this one. Luminous writing. Immigrants weathering Katrina, finely wrought.
- What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J.A. Chancy – Oh, hi. There’s an earthquake in this oof of a novel, nicely rounding out Jocelyn’s perverse fascination with humanity being pummeled and sturdy.
My Actual Favorite Text of the Year, and I’m Not Even Joking
Love Island (UK), Season 7
I cannot explain this to anyone who hasn’t taken the journey, but trust.