NANO’s Summer Reading List
Summertime’s finally here, which means it’s time to lounge on the beach (or in an adequately air conditioned office space) with a good book. The options for summer reading are daunting, but we’ve got you covered with a list of recent releases from our much-beloved contributors. Spanning from ruminations on the state of race in America and elegies for wrestlers to dystopian novels and gender-interrogating collections of prose poetry, these works are as varied, textured, and wild as any summer should be.
Why God Is a Woman, a prose poetry collection by celebrated poet Nin Andrews, transports her readers into a counter-world in which women are the dominant sex and men have been subjugated to second class citizens. According to Denise Duhamel, the collection “explores a female utopia in which Friedan’s ‘feminine mystique’ would never have had to be contemplated. But on this island in which multiple orgasms, childbirth, and multitasking are prized and rewarded, what will happen to the men who ‘are designed for domesticity,’ spending countless hours ‘preening in front of the bathroom mirror’ dreaming of their wedding day, only to be stalked and harassed with predatory women trying ‘to get into (their) trousers?’ A revolutionary, Andrews writes a social satire that is magical, compassionate, and full of flight–with men and boys being judged by their ‘wingspan.’ Will God show true compassion? Andrews’ Why God Is a Woman is a tour de force by one of America’s leading poets.”
Matthew Saselesses’s Different Racisms: Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American Masculinity is a refreshing series of essays focusing on what, exactly, racism looks like beyond the black-and-white dichotomy, particularly for Asian American men. He details micro-and macroaggressions including the model minority myth, the impact of Jeremy Lin’s fame on Asian American representation in national media, and America’s perception of “Gangnam Style” singer and K-Pop sensation, Psy. Salesses’ essays (and his insightful and anecdote-filled footnotes) also give an honest and personal account of growing up as a Korean adoptee raised by white parents, all the while struggling with the many conflicts associated with double-consciousness, and reflecting on the common experience the adopted child has when he looks into the mirror and all of a sudden realizes that his skin color and subsequent personal experience is not the same as his parents’.
Perhaps most ethically read as an e-book, Edan Lepucki’s debut novel California offers a refreshing take on the environmental dystopian genre. Set in the early years of the latter half of this century, Lepucki’s work follows a young couple, Frida and Cal, as they adjust to the new restraints of life following the consequences of reckless environmental activity. As opposed to other books in the genre which focus more on external tensions and pressures, California instead succeeds in bringing readers close and intertwined within the relationship between its central characters. As Amanda Bullock wrote, “Unsettling, sly, and often very funny, Lepucki’s dystopia is all too familiar, and her characters wholly recognizable.California is an original dystopian/apocalypse novel, a commendable feat in an arguably over-saturated genre, and its version of the almost-end is captivating for how imminent and possible it is.”
Katie Jean Shinkle’s Our Prayers After the Fire follows a family enduring both immense and intimate disasters, ranging from a local girl’s disappearance to the the rapid personal breakdown of various family members, and is relayed through the narration of the clan’s youngest children. The gravity of the events seems recognizable, but not understandable, to the speakers, and therein lies the work’s tension and beauty. Kellie Wells raves that “Shinkle performs extraordinary feats of emotional and narrative funambulism in Our Prayers After the Fire. Her linguistic high-wire dexterity is gorgeous and devastating in equal measure. It is, in fact, the painful deadpan beauty of the prose that will knock you to your knees and allow you to feel things you may never have felt. Prepare to be happily shattered.”
Soft Threat shines as Alexis Pope’s debut collection of poetry, a group of poems which hit hardest as they reach for what is softest, most human, most real. Deemed a literal blessing by Mary Biddinger, the collection propels readers to feel as if “stepping into a dim parking lot, only to be astonished by the Northern Lights. Suddenly the prior darkness of our past and present is transformed into something shockingly luminous, surreal, and borderline divine.”
Winner of the 2014 Kelsey Street Press FIRSTS! Contest, Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s Rings ensnares readers in its language and its forms. Once described as a single organism with multiple voices, the Wagner’s poetry collection challenges us to bear witness to what we know and see through a frame of the alphabet–at once childlike and sinister–and to understand and reconsider how what we know evolves and involves us.
Jen Michalski’s short story collection From Here explores the dislocations and intersections of people searching, running away, staying put. Their physical and emotional landscapes run the gamut, but in the end, they’re all searching for a place to call home. The Baltimore City Paper hailed Michalski’s work for its “witty, on-point observation that populates all of the short stories in ‘From Here,’ which depict a huge range of characters and situations, all of them inspecting the ideas of dislocation, belonging, and the meaning of home from a different angle. While the perspectives vary, they’re all told through the lens of Michalski’s sharp eye for detail and beautiful prose.”
Through a deft mix of elegies and illustrations, W. Todd Kaneko’s The Dead Wrestler Elegies covers trials ranging from loss and remorse to life and redemption. Kaneko’s texts blend Charles Bukowski’ and Randy “Macho Man” Savage’s signature and annihilating elbow drop to both explore the history of professional wrestling and unweave difficult relationships between generations of men, of fathers and sons. Matthew Gavin Frank has offered that “more than a pack of wild horses, more than spray-tanned human biceps confusing themselves for pythons, more than any kind of mania, really, this book is gonna run wild on you.”
Matt Rowan’s Big Venerable, a compilation of stories the pages of the CCLaP Weekender hailed as surreal, dark, and hilarious, is masterful in its use of misdirection and misanthropy. The stories play with the dark, the shocking, and are driven by characters which, according to Curtis Edmonds “scuffle around in a world that God never made, but Matt Rowan did,” a world wherein “many horrible and painful things happen. The good news is that sometimes the horrible and painful things happen to the right person at the right time. Sometimes, that’s all you can really expect.” What’s not horrible? The collection is available as a free download from CCLaP! If you’re more inclined to financially supporting Rowan, the book can also be purchased here.