Monday, March 30, 2020

Our Spring Quarantine Reading Recommendations

Dear Essay Daily Readers,

Since many of us are going to be stuck inside for a while, and especially because we know many writers with new, exciting books of nonfiction whose book tours just got blown up by coronavirus concerns, we are inviting you to send us brief (or not-so-brief) riffs on the books (essays and cnf especially, 2019 and 2020 especially) that you're most excited about or are most looking forward to. We'd love to drive readers to new and notable books, and to get them to buy the books from their local retailer of choice. We'd particularly love to direct you to our favorite local bookstore, Antigone Books, who will ship or do curbside pickup! It costs a little more than Amazon, sure, but we need bookstores to survive the next 6 months or everybody loses.

So we'll be publishing a series of riffs and recommendations here over the next few months. Want to join us? Send us yours here.

Thomas Mira y Lopez's Recommendations
What I’m Looking Forward To: All coming a little bit later this year, but I’m excited to read Melissa Faliveno’s Tomboyland, Caryl Pagel’s Out of Nowhere Into Nothing, and Kati Standefer’s Lightning Flowers. I’m looking forward as well to what form Sarah Minor’s Bright Archive takes in the world.

What I Just Read: I tend not to read books as soon as they come out, but some 2019 titles that I’ve recently read that have stuck with me are: Andrea Long Chu’s Females, Andre Perry’s Some of Us Are Very Hungry Now, T Fleischmann’s Time is the Thing A Body Moves Through. Meghan O’Gieblyn’s Interior States is from 2018, I think, and remarkable. I’m still working through it, but have found Elissa Washuta’s and Theresa Warburton’s Shapes of Native Nonfiction valuable, particularly as a teaching resource.

What I’m Going to Read Next: Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House. Trisha Low’s Socialist Realism, which just won the Believer Book Award for Nonfiction (there’s a nonfiction category now!) and which I will most definitely use Coffee House Press’s March Badness discount (code: MBADNESS) to buy. And The Gnome Stories is down and, once the dust settles, Ander Monson’s I Will Take The Answer is next.


For any Cleveland folk, buy these from Mac's Backs!
Thomas Mira y Lopez is the author of The Book of Resting Places and an editor of Territory, a literary project about maps. He lives in Cleveland, where he teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Sejal Shah's Recommendations
I'm recommending my forthcoming book (first book!), This Is One Way to Dance which is a memoir in linked essays from UGA Press/Crux Series in Literary Nonfiction. These essays, written over many years, are about growing up Indian in non Indian places, movement, love, weddings, home, friendships, failing out of academia, and how to keep moving in the face of loss. Oh and about the time I went to Burning Man without a ride out. I'd also like to recommend Emily Arnason Casey's Made Holy (also from UGA/Crux, Sept. 2019) and Amy Long's Codependence (Cleveland State University Press, Sept 2019) and I'm looking forward to reading my fellow Rochesterian Sonja Livingston's newest collection, The Virgin of Prince Street(Nebraska, 2019), Elizabeth Kadetsky's new memoir in essays, The Memory Eaters (UMass Juniper Prize, out soon); and my former grad school classmate's Lisa Olstein's Pain Studies (book length lyric essay from Bellevue Literary Press).


Buy from Antigone Books!

Sejal Shah's debut essay collection, This Is One Way to Dance, (University of Georgia Press, June 2020, Crux Series) explores identity, culture, language, and place. Her essays have appeared in Brevity, Conjunctions, the Kenyon Review, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, and the anthologies, Strange Attractors: Writers on Chance (University of Massachusetts Press) and Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America (Seal Press). She is at work on a memoir about mental health. Shah's essay, "Even If You Can't See It: Invisible Disability and Neurodiversity" was a 2019 Editors' Pick at Longreads, and she has presented keynote addresses on this topic at Princeton University and UNC Charlotte. She lives in Rochester, New York. 

Eric LeMay's Recommendations

Hello friends of the essay,

I have a few quick things to say before I turn to a great collection of essays: Berry Grass’s Hall of Waters (Operating System, 2019).

I’m a host the New Books Network. In case you haven't heard of it, it's the largest educational podcast in the world: a public-spirited project aimed at spreading the word about serious books to a wide audience ( The network has numerous hosts, who interview authors with new books and then podcast the interviews through NBN's websites, Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, etc. NBN has been quite successful, with tens of thousands of listeners worldwide and about 35,000-40,000 interviews downloaded every day. In 2019, the NBN published 1,500 episodes and did 8.5 million downloads.

Recently I interviewed Berry about their new collection. In my introduction to our interview, I wrote: “Grass’s aim is nothing less than to demythologize the American Midwest. Grass wants us to see something like the true history of the land and the culture from which the Midwest arose, one built on systemic racism, exploitation, marginalization, and violence. At the same time, Grass tries to reckon with what it meant for them to grow up, as Grass puts it, 'queer and trans in such a toxic environment.' The result is a book that’s dazzling in its variety and steadfast in its vision: to see clearly how the white dominant culture of the Midwest obscures the land to which it laid claim and the nature of who and what it is, all in the hope of a clearer and truer vision of who we are and how we might, in the end, be accountable to ourselves and one another.”

Below is our interview. Berry has keen things to say about writing the essay and being an author in our moment.

I’ll also take this moment to extend an invitation to authors out there who might be interested in doing an interview. I’m especially interested in supporting first books, books from small presses, books by historically marginalized subject positions, and books that celebrate and shake up what the essay is and could be.

All best wishes to you for wellness and safety,


Buy from Antigone Books!
Eric LeMay is an essayist and a host on the New Books Network:

Chris Cokinos's Recommendation: Peter Milne Greiner

Peter Milne Greiner's Lost City Hydrothermal Field is a brilliant cross-genre book of poetry, SF prose and essayistic SF prose. On the ancient end of the field, anything by Loren Eiseley feels just about right these days—moody, to say the least. A shout-out to Nina Boutsikaris's I'm Trying to Tell You I'm Sorry. Beyond books, I recommend the paintings of de Chirico and the film Perfect Sense first to convey mood and second to remind us to learn. Perfect Sense is THE perfect pandemic film, heart-breaking and ultimately uplifting.


Buy from Antigone Books, Book Stop (Tucson), or Ken Sanders Books!

Chris Cokinos writes stuff and is trying to pay attention.

Matthew Gavin Frank's Not So Much of a Review of Sarah Vap’s New Book-length Essay, Winter: Effulgences and Devotions, Exactly

Sarah Vap’s new book-length essay, Winter: Effulgences and Devotions (Noemi Press, 2019), is about the end of the world.

No: Sarah Vap’s new book-length essay, Winter, is about Late-stage Capitalism as a wolf; no: as a vulture; no: as an asshole buying up 17,700 bottles Purell, and then selling 2 fluid ounces of the shit for $70 or more.

No: Winter is about war, family, miscarriages actual and metaphorical, drones and contagions, the overlaps and disconnects between blood and motherhood, between the soul and snowmen and fucking and laughing and Mongols and Luke Skywalker, density and diarrhea.

No: Winter is about trying to write and re-write a single poem called Winter over a period of twelve years.

No: Winter is about good intentions: Searching for the invisible. No: The aria in the belly of silence. The noises we make that best trouble the hearts of the whales. The dolphins that can now rediscover the joys of the Venetian canals.

No: Winter is about failed starts, and the asshole.

No: Winter is about warming one’s children’s toes, about breast milk, Donald Trump, dead fish, Monsanto, big guns, big guns, about ExxonMobil reaching into its vagina until it bumps into its cervix, and there discovering the I.

No: Winter is about laying eggs as the ice overtakes the window.

No: Winter is about how even our taxonomic language strips certain animals of their rightful legitimacy; of their right to a non-violent communion. It’s about how, for instance, even though pigeons are egg-layers, we’ve excluded them from the linguistic generosity we lend to mammals who reproduce as we do—the group Placentalia, for instance; animals who, like us, carry their fetus in the mother’s uterus, nourish it via a placenta. Due to this important commonality, we’ve decided to include the “Placentals” in the Eutheria clade, Eutheria deriving from the Greek for “true beasts.” If they reproduce as we do, they are perceived as more actual, genuine. We eat them with heavier hearts.

No: Winter is about stopping, about wishing we could just stop.

No: Winter is about interrogating over-yessing. About scratching and scratching at yes until its inner holiness or horror begins to leak out onto the tile, becoming the swarm in which we seek consolation, to which we attach our anxieties, at which we throw all of our best dildos, tampons, scattershot love, hoping that this, this will keep the predators at bay.

No: Winter is about the bay—the things that, while making their plans, embrace and drown in it.

No: Winter is about so much more than what it’s about.

No: Winter is about right now. About screaming Get out of here. Right now.

No: Winter is about examining one’s genitals in a Venetian hotel bathroom at Christmas, and the lights are flashing and the salmon are trying to love one another amid the motor oil, and roses are falling past the window and are decorating the backs of no dolphins in the canal, because this is before the virus, and the dolphins haven’t dared to yet return to the city.

Buy Winter from Snowbound Books!

Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of the nonfiction books, The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food, Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer, Pot Farm, and Barolo; the poetry books, The Morrow Plots, Warranty in Zulu, and Sagittarius Agitprop, and 2 chapbooks. His forthcoming nonfiction book, Flight of the Diamond Smugglers (about, among other things, the ways in which carrier pigeons are used by diamond smuggling rings) is due out February 2021 from W.W. Norton: Liveright, provided our world is still in existence by then.

Joanna Eleftheriou's Recommendation: Beth Peterson's Dispatches from the End of Ice

I loved traveling with Beth’s narrative persona to places I’d never imagine going myself—a village in Norway, the Swiss Alps, and Wyoming. Following her mind inquire in each of these places about the meaning of things that disappear, Beth’s book taught me so much about science, climate, culture, and most of all … ice! I used to think of ice as the cubes that keep my drinks cold. After reading this phenomenal book, though, I see ice as an entire world, with a complex history and compound structure. I better understand the development of ecosystems around ice as well as ecosystems of knowledge and scientific classification. It’s brilliant!


Buy Dispatches from the End of Ice via Indiebound!

Joanna Eleftheriou is the author of the essay collection This Way Back. A fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Joanna’s essays, poems, and translations appear regularly in journals including Chautauqua, Arts and Letters, and The Crab Orchard Review. She contributes to Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies and a teaches Christopher Newport University and the Writing Workshops in Greece.

Jenny Spinner's Recommendation: Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young

I have been reading my way through New Zealand women essayists in preparation for NonfictionNOW. I love this collection. It feeds my determination to "globalize" my creative nonfiction syllabi and my own theoretical work in the essay. Read it, and dream like me, of NonfictionNOW in 2021.

Buy Can You Tolerate This? from Powell's!

Jenny Spinner is a professor of English at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where she teaching creative nonfiction and journalism and directs the university writing center. Her most recent book is "Of Women and the Essay: An Anthology from 1655 to 2000 (University of Georgia Press, 2018). 

Send us your riff or recommendation here for new (or new-to-you) books (especially essays or other sorts of creative nonfiction) that you're most excited about. We'd particularly love to highlight books out in the last 6 months or so and those coming out in the next 6 months, but anything's eligible. We'll be publishing a series of these riffs & recommendations over the following months. Here's the google form to submit yours!

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