Monday, April 6, 2020

Spring Quarantine Reading Recommendations & Riffs Part 2

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. Or ping back to Part 1!

Buy these books from Antigone Books!

Ander Monson recommends Three Books

Well, one of my new kittens totally barfed on my copy of A. Kendra Greene's The Museum of Whales You Never See in the night. Not sure if it was Frank or Jax, but whichever one was the barfer, he also winged Hanif Abdurraqib's Go Ahead in the Rain, which I was able to clean and which now holds only a memory of the incident, but Greene's book just got too fucked up to read, so I had to order another. However, as it was an ARC I'd been sent by the author, and the book's not even out until May, the barfing sucked doubly.
     In order to finish it I had to decide whether I would wait a month for its publication or keep going through its barfed on pages. I was already a third into Greene's fascinating tour of the weird museums and collections of Iceland so the decision wasn't an obvious one. I liked it enough that I kept reading, barf and all, which should tell you something. Recommend! This is a cool book especially for anyone interested in the nature of collections, libraries, museums, and collecting, and the people and places that abet these activities. I'm looking forward to getting my clean copy on its release in a few weeks.
    The cats missed Melissa Faliveno's Tomboyland entirely, so I didn't have to decide. I'd already finished it (I blurbed it) and it's great. A series of essays on growing up in Wisconsin and beyond it. Perhaps for obvious reasons I was particularly infatuated with her visiting Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, the "Troll Capital of the World." Tomboyland is an excellent series of meditations on the midwest, moths, Twister, gender, moths, loneliness, sports, and lots more. You should pick it up.
     I'll recommend a few more books your way in a couple weeks, but the last book I'm recommending here is Andre Perry's Some of Us Are Very Hungry Now, his first collection of essays, which was also not barfed on. Come for the wild formal experimentation, and stay for the intensity of Perry's thinking about music, self, race, the midwest and what it does and does not mean, and for whom. I've rarely seen vulnerability used as intensely in a book of essays. Unsparing is an accurate word to describe this book and the quality of his gaze, and that unsparingness is aimed at all involved, particularly himself. I was particularly moved by the scene with the spider in one of the later essays, which you'll understand when you read the book.

Buy from Antigone Books!


Ander Monson is the author of, among other things, two new books from Graywolf: I Will Take the Answer (essays) and The Gnome Stories (fiction).

Kristine Langley Mahler recommends Evidence of V

I recently finished Sheila O'Connor's hybrid book Evidence of V (Rose Metal Press, 2019), the sort of dream-book I feel like I've been needing to read but had no idea it was possible. In Evidence of V, O'Connor culls together erased-and-partial documentation from the 1930s on the little-known practice of incarcerating teenage girls for the crime of "immorality" in order to imagine into the slim case file kept on record for her grandmother, who was one of those girls. I'm overwhelmed by how flexible O'Connor makes facts, how insistently she reminds the reader that documentation is never complete, how many voices are erased even as they are "recorded" by others. Evidence of V is a wildly exciting book for the nonfiction/hybrid genre as it blurs facts into recorded fictions and reverses fiction into the closest we can get, sometimes, to facts.

Buy from Bookworm Omaha!

Kristine Langley Mahler is a memoirist experimenting with the truth on the suburban prairie outside Omaha, Nebraska. Her work was named Notable in Best American Essays 2019 and has been recently published/is forthcoming in DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Brevity, The Normal School, and The Rumpus, among others. She is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief at Split/Lip Press.

Paul Crenshaw recommends The Mysteries of Haditha

The Mysteries of Haditha, by MC Armstrong, Potomac Books, coming in Fall 2020. Gripped by the idea of seeing for himself the wars that had shaped America since 9/11, Matt Armstrong strapped on a bulletproof vest to embed with Navy SEALS in one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq. As a first reader of his book and a few of the essays that make it up, I can say it is as revealing as a bomb blast, not only of war and the past, but of the lies we tell ourselves as human beings. It's a deadly combination of experience and exposé, written by one who has seen war firsthand, and who works to uncover all its hidden secrets.

Buy from Antigone Books!


Paul Crenshaw is the author of the essay collections This One Will Hurt You, published by The Ohio State University Press, and This We’ll Defend, from the University of North Carolina Press. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, Oxford American, Glimmer Train, and Tin House. Follow him on Twitter @PaulCrenstorm

Sarah Ruth Bates recommends Uncanny Valley

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see Silicon Valley from the inside, then thought, but whoever was inside it wouldn’t be able to see it critically, then thought, but whoever was outside of it wouldn’t be able to see it fully? Anna Weiner’s Uncanny Valley answers that nest of questions, in a nested book. From the first line, her narrator announces herself as both close enough and far enough from the tech scene to reveal and eviscerate it:

Depending on whom you ask, it was either the apex, the inflection point, or the beginning of the end for Silicon Valley’s startup scene—what cynics called a bubble, optimists called the future, and my future coworkers, high on the fumes of world-historical potential, breathlessly called the ecosystem.

Uncanny Valley has the lucidity and sharpness of parent-supported underpaid coworkers shittalking their bosses on a Brooklyn rooftop (which Weiner herself fully cops to being, and which I used to be the Boston analogue of). The book’s not bitter, though, not jaded, because the narrator is sweetly, even tragically, hopeful. Weiner depicts a self who believed, at least mostly, in the shared fantasy. That credulity allows self-deprecation and critiques of the book’s subject to converge. The result: a narrator we’d follow anywhere, taking us into boardrooms we wouldn’t usually get to see. In this moment when a lot is happening and it feels like maybe no one is positioned to watch all of it unfold and tell us about it later, Uncanny Valley gives a satisfying account of a similar previous moment. It’s also emotionally possible to read during quarantine: neither too depressing nor too Pollyanna.

And it’s a good read for Essay Daily’s regulars because the memoir grew out of a personal essay. Writer-readers can take notes.

Buy Uncanny Valley from Antigone Books!


Sarah Ruth Bates is a writer currently based in Tucson, AZ. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Essay Daily, Hobart, Outside, Boston Globe Magazine, Off Assignment, Appalachia Journal, WBUR Cognoscenti, and WBUR ARTery. She's a first-year in the nonfiction MFA program at the University of Arizona, where she serves as Managing Editor of the Sonora Review. Catch her at and @sarahrbates.

Cathy de la Cruz recommends Samantha Irby and more

I used to only listen to audiobooks while taking solo road trips. During my last big solo road trip (December 2018-January 2019 from San Antonio, TX to Los Angeles, CA and back), I listened to so many great nonfiction books: Brené Brown’s The Power Of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, and Courage (I learned so much and I left the audiobook with a friend who I thought I would appreciate it in Tucson, AZ), Patti Smith’s M Train (I had listened to Smith’s music all throughout my life, but never read one of her books and listening to this as an audiobook felt like I wasn’t alone for eight hours a day, but like I was having a conversation with a friend.), and Tara Westover’s Educated (I didn’t want to stop driving, I just wanted to keep listening! It was the scariest book I’ve “read” in forever—it’s like haunted nonfiction.).
     I hadn’t really listened to an audiobook since. I tried to listen to a novel that will remain nameless while driving around the Pacific Northwest in March 2019, but it turns out that fiction doesn’t work for me while driving. I’ve tried. Nonfiction and podcasts are the only things I like listening to while on the road.
     I am not on the road anymore. I don’t know when I’ll be on the road again. I am currently on day 23 of indefinite self-isolating in apocalyptic New York City. I work remotely every weekday from 9-5 in my quiet one bedroom apartment. The only things I hear while working are my upstairs neighbors who are either exercising or playing with their secret pet I have never seen, sirens, oh so many emergency sirens, occasional music blasting from cars (the other day I stood up and danced to The Notorious B.I.G. and I actually hoped someone saw me through the window because I wanted to have a real live connection with another human being that was something other than a delivery transaction, and sometimes I hear people asking for money outside…loudly.
     Guess what? All the isolation and silence became like a solo road trip, so I have started to listen to nonfiction again. I have been listening to Samantha Irby’s Wow, No Thank You. essay collection and I can’t stop laughing. Would this book have been a “comfort read” if I wasn’t scared I was going to get the plague just from walking outside? I do not know, but I am so glad it is here with me in my one bedroom apartment to comfort me. Irby is one of the funniest storytellers I have ever read/listened to. I can’t stop laughing and that’s very rare these days.

Buy Wow, No Thank You. from Antigone Books!


Cathy de la Cruz is a writer and artist from San Antonio, TX currently living in Brooklyn, New York. She works in publishing and has an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona.

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