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Jesse Hassinger (he/him/they/them) is the Assistant Manager, First Editions Club Coordinator, and Operations Manager at the Odyssey. Jesse has an MFA in Film/Video from the California Institute of the Arts where he focused in experimental film and cinematography. As a life-long lover of the arts in all forms, he is enthusiastic to be able to work at the Odyssey Bookshop and converse with guests about great reads as well as visiting authors. Some favorite reads of late include Ruth Ozeki’s newest novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, anything by Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler, and everything by Danez Smith.
To say that this might be the most important book to emerge about each of the twin emergencies of the climate and politics may sound hyperbolic, but what Stephen Markley has been able to accomplish with The Deluge is nothing short of brilliant. Opening in 2013 and setting a course over the next quarter century Markley traces seven characters (and a few dozen important additional players) as they attempt to turn the tide on the climate crisis, which also is inherently tied to the crises of democracy in the final throes of the carbon lobbying industrial complex (which, obviously, is purely directed by late-stage capitalism).
There are obvious real-world touchpoints to previous cli-fi books like Richard Powers’ The Overstory, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, but as I finished this book the most apt corollary that I could find was to Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. Like Moore’s text, The Deluge feels overwhelmingly prescient in detailing the collapse of a society on the edge and the rise and rise of fringe groups that run the gamut of extremes.
At times in this book the climate was a stand in for much of the current ills of humanity (sub in any topic making headlines from school shootings to racial injustice and it would be just as poignant); that Markley is able to make climate emergency both a metaphor and a pillar of the story is just one of many virtues of this powerful work and part of it’s staying power. It dives into the intricate workings of how the government, scientists, non-profits, the oil industry, and radical environmental groups all seemingly at times have the same end goal: curbing climate change, but beyond their differing approach, their methods are simply madness to each other’s points of view. The reason why no one can come together and agree on even the simplest of matters is a large part of what Markley is exploring here: how the Left does nothing better than eat its own and the Right can only foment violence to support its inherent goal of maintaining the “founders” vision of Christian white supremacy; meanwhile lobbying groups, Wall Street, businesses, and banking continue to veneer their image while creating an ever deepening well of indifference as long as the capital keeps flowing.
While reading this book you will think that Markley is exaggerating or being hyperbolic to make his point, and then you’ll spend five minutes doom scrolling social media and realize that he is not at all - that real life is just as much a nightmare as parts of this book depict. He is just allowing us to view into the future to see what will most likely happen in the next 15 years with increasing technological innovation feeding the polarizing attitudes of billions of people. And it’s not about “if we don’t do anything” because we’re already past the tipping point; it’s about how can we look beyond our own belief systems to see the larger problems looming on the horizon? The catastrophes he describes in The Deluge are already here for much of the world, it’s just a question of how long will it take us before we decisively act on what scientists have been forecasting since the 1970s?
Oscar Hokeah makes a stunning debut with this novel. It’s a story about four generations, covering almost forty years, in the life on one extended family. The main focus is on Ever Geimausaddle, a baby when the book opens, and his travails as he works his way through his semi-estranged families and cultures - his father is Mexican, his mother is Cherokee and Kiowa (which mirrors the author’s own heritage). Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of Ever’s relatives and in this way, this novel gives a beautiful platform for polyvocal stories to emerge. Hokeah calls this a “decolonization narrative”, and his approach to allowing for a dozen different narrators to tell the tale of Ever offers a wonderful opportunity for each narrator’s point of view to come forward, enriching the panoply of understanding - not only in understanding who Ever is, but also how unique and complex everybody is. This style of storytelling is not unique for Hokeah’s Indindengous upbringing, but it is a newer approach - in content more than style - to the historically narrow, white world of publishing. This is the Odyssey’s selection for August’s First Editions Club.
Ostensibly a catalog for a London exhibition of the same name featuring artists, including Nick Cave, Sedrick Chisom, Ellen Gallagher, Hew Locke, Wagechi Mutu, Kara Walker and others, though this show is a jumping off point for an exploration of cultural Afrofuturism from the life, style, and music of Sun Ra, George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic, and Flying Lotus to the writing of Octavia E. Butler and Ishmael Reed; the films of Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust), Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), and Jordan Peele (Get Out); the world of Beyonce, and so much more.
This is a perfect collection exploring the history, present, and future of creating worlds where Black people not only exist, but are centered. With gorgeous photographs and text layout this is a book that will serve equally as reference and display for years to come.
Saeed Jones calls upon his experiences of life in the modern era as a queer Black man navigating internal and external threats, historic as well as futuristic, in an attempt to place himself within the confines of the social structure. And at the same time examining those confines to explore their origin and why they continue to be upheld.
Whether writing about Paul Mooney on Saturday Night Live or Little Richard’s exploitation within the record industry, Jones finds humor in pain and grace in loneliness resulting in moments of love and exaltation that rise up without warning.
A formal masterpiece calling in ur-Afrofuturists of the past: Sun Ra, Jack Johnson, Alice Coltrane, James Baldwin, and others to weave beautiful and heartbreaking poems. Written in forms that draw on the ancient languages of classical poetry (calling in Sappho, Homer, Virgil, and Dante), Reeves’ enmeshing of the past and present in form and content create a ghostly world where myths creep along the edges of John Coltrane solos and darkness fills the void of a Jack Johnson KO. Utterly unique and gloriously present.
Franny Choi’s new collection explores the world as it really is - dystopic and apocalyptic - but also suggests that this is not new, and, indeed, even from the depths of disaster we can image a world that is better and work toward actively creating that world.
Whether talking about Japanese Imperialism (“Process Note”), the multitude of shooting massacres (“Good Morning America”), the American Empire (“Who Died and Made You American”), or the most banal dystopias that are experienced on a daily basis (“Science Fiction Poetry”), Choi shows compassion and realism in what the human will is capable of - namely: hope. As the book progresses through a beautiful litany of world endings we slowly emerge into a collection of world beginnings, with possibility and community as the central focus, and calling on Nina Simone to usher in the possibility of a better world: “Then I’d sing, ‘cause I’d know / I’d know how it feels / I’d know how it feels to be free” the hope remains that one day we can transform this world into a place of freedom.
The first reaction to nearly everyone who I have recommended this book to is: “Amish soul food?” It is both exactly what it says it is and at the same time a cuisine that is so underknown - though also at once familiar - that this text is a necessary addition to American cooking.
An amazing collection of recipes, photographs, and text that explore Chris Scott’s family heritage over seven generations - from his enslaved ancestors to his great-grandfather, who migrated to Pennsylvania after the Emancipation Proclamation, to his own childhood in Amish country and, ultimately, his successful restaurant career. Having grown up spending summers in central Pennsylvania, a lot of these dishes are familiar regional favorites (scrapple, p. 76; sweet-and-sour green and wax beans, p. 61; chicken-fried steak, p. 197) as well as Scott’s personal takes on southern and Amish favorites (see, especially, chicken and waffles “my style”, p. 188, to get a sense of Scott’s approach to his homage.
With this beautiful book Illyanna Maisonet traces the ways in which traditional Puerto Rican heritage foods have changed during the diaspora into the North American mainland. Both a beautiful honoring of original Puerto Rican dishes and its inhabitants from all areas of the island, and a thoughtful look at how the diaspora has changed and amplified the spirit of the Puerto Rican people and their ability to reinvent in the face of cultural difference.
All of the recipes within look tantalizing and make me want to dive into the kitchen and try Chicharron de Pollo (“You’re confused, I know,” Maisonet writes in her introduction to this recipe (p.103) and goes on to tell of the differences between what Americans call “chicharron” (pork rinds) and this dish made with whole pieces of chicken); Pernil (p.119), or a Puerto Rican inspired version of the classic Laotian dish, laap (p. 116 - Puerto Rican Laab), not to mention any number of the wonderful things that can be done with guineos (unripe green bananas) and platanos.
“Liberation Day”, the central story in this collection, is a distillation of everything “Saunders” but at a level above what he has been able to accomplish previously. He is able to marry his satire and absurdism to a reality that does more than just point out the strangeness of our times (or the speculative times of the story), but also allows for heart and soul to enter into it. He does not keep the reader at arm’s length as so much of his work does, but welcomes the reader into the world, showing humanity in the face of absurdity and ultimately addressing significant issues that beg to be acknowledged. If this is the future of George Saunders, readers everywhere have something to rejoice about.
Fatimah Asghar suffuses this novel with beautiful language in a heartrending story. When We Were Sisters is not a universal story, but it is not meant to be. Asghar writes for people who have not been seen, who have not been included previously in the Western canon: and this is important. This is a book of pain and grief and loneliness but as with poetry (Asghar’s first metier) it is not lost in these elements. The act of writing finds a way through the pain and reading this journey is a gift that one should not take too lightly. A key element for this text is to read the acknowledgements - it allows entry to places where the body of the book does not, intentionally so. Embrace the words and make room for them. Anything less is unjust.
Namwali Serpell’s new book is ravishing. This is truly an elegy worth diving into and getting lost in her language. I let the waves of emotion roll over me and was reoriented to a new point of view, a new way of seeing, with each passing chapter. This is a book about how one deals with trauma - Cassandra Williams, at twelve, loses her seven-year-old brother while alone with him. What follows is Cassandra’s remembrances and re-remembraces about what happened, what might have happened, what certainly did not happen but is emotionally equivalent to the trauma of that initial loss. Serpell explores mirroring narratives and being led by alternates through an eerily similar but extremely different reality, then moving on as the next wave crashes over you and changes your true north yet again. A stunning marvel.
I love when books are able to get better with each passing page. What begins as a beautiful story about the relationship between a boy, 11-year-old Kofi Offin, and his friends and family in a village in the Upper Kwanta, emerges by the end of this volume to be a soaring victory of form and content. As soon as I closed this book I wanted to immediately open the sequel (forthcoming), but instead I turned back to page 1 and found a new appreciation of the subtlety with which Alexander is able to tell his story. This is a necessary text for no other reason than it sheds the generalizations of what West African life under colonization might have been and refocuses it on the joys, dreams, and every-day-life of a boy on the verge of young adulthood and how those elements get upended when faced with the terrors of colonizing forces.
Sophie Lewis’ fantastic overview is an essential jumping-off point for how family abolitionism can begin to readdress how we view kithship and community support. This slim volume opens the door to a multitude of hallways down which we might explore how the family might not be the place of caregiving and love that we are taught (and some of us assume) is the case. Instead, Lewis argues for a centering of kithship, not kinship, so that the support that one needs can be met from a place of community support instead of potentially forced proximity. Both this text and her previous book, Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, open a dialogue about how we might want to start building a transformative future.
There is a moment in A Minor Chorus when the narrator is entering a prison and recalls a quote by James Baldwin: “I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.” Billy-Ray Belcourt’s brilliant book does just that: under the surface of its main narrative, it studies how different institutions (the American government, academia, prison, colonialism, settler-centered history, the white gaze) separate people. Belcourt does a fantastic job of abstracting the myriad of ways in which glass not only separates but also reflects one’s existence throughout this phenomenal book. There is so much happening between the sentences that it is difficult to even begin to parse everything out without further reflection.
It is a text that has seeped into my subconscious and one that will inform future reading. As much as Belcourt is looking back to Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Rachel Cusk, Roland Barthes, Maggie Nelson and others, he has created a text that joins those ranks for serious consideration of the human spirit trapped in late-stage capitalist/colonialist society.
A brilliant book about one family’s lineage as curandero/as in Colombia. But it is so much more than that. In its slim 320 pages it holds a family history that, as Contreras writes, is like holding two mirrors up to each other. Mirrors and mirroring are a constant theme in the text along with hauntings and grief. Contrearas has created, in The Man Who Could Move Clouds, more than a family history - the spirits that went into creating this book jump off the page. To read this book is to be haunted by it. The sharing of these stories is to imbibe them and to be able to call on these spirits to help inform one’s own understanding of the nature of grief, familial history, and colonial curses that are no less potent today.
An honestly frightening study of how free the border patrol is to police almost every citizen and visitor in the US today within a 100-mile radius of every land and sea border. This includes 2/3rds of the population of the US and a significant number of the major metropolitan cities in this country. With extremely few reigns and a carte-blanche decree from Supreme Court rulings from the 1970s to use racial profiling for stops and seizures - essentially making the Fourth Amendment irrelevant - the border patrol is increasingly becoming an unchecked national police force. In Nobody is Protected, Jones charts the history of the border patrol with fascinating examples as well as the Supreme Court rulings that led us to where we are today. Jones keeps things moving and taut, never getting bogged down in legalese though also never shying away from the intricacies of the law. Highly recommended; it will make you reassess your freedom of movement.
It may seem strange to say given the topics addressed, but this is a delightful book in which I completely lost myself. Albert creates a character in Aviva Rosner that I both want to be best friends with and at the same time know that I probably would hate her in real life. This, however, provides continual interest in her thought processes. Whether she is exploring the meaning behind her latest flirtation - though happily married - or diving into the depths of bewilderment at the concept of how technological conception could affect the cisgendered female body - more specifically her own. Finding a spiritual and artistic allegiance with Amy Winehouse, Aviva deconstructs her four albums and public performances through the nine month journey of the narrative, finally finding a balance between the awesomeness of Winehouse's legend and the reality of her musical iconoclasm.
An unabashed story of the life of a Jewish musician/mystic in the early 21st century facing eternal questions and all-too-human reality. From the get-go it draws a familial connection to "Russian Doll" and "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" - so much so that while reading I was envisioning Natasha Lyonne starring in the adaptation by Amy Sherman-Palladino.
Brutal, honest, and delightful.
Eve Fairbanks' investigation about apartheid in South Africa told through the stories of two families - one Black, one Afrikaans - who are each affected in different - and surprising - ways by the change in governments and dissolution of apartheid. More than a simple history, this book uses the first-hand accounts of these two families to show how a changing government not only necessarily leaves people in the dust, but also can guide how individuals can approach these changes. More than anything The Inheritors draws engaging comparisons with the moment that we find ourselves in, on the cusp of a potential change in the U.S. and how we can learn from the missteps and successes of a country who has embraced a power shift.
Author JES creates an alternate world where the looming terror of a newly emerged volcano in New York's Central Park is at once a metaphor for the looming 2016 election (though never mentioned) as well as a literal doorway to Mt. Fuji and, perhaps, an alternate dimension.
Writing in a cyclone of temporal inversion and expansiveness, JES creates worlds that jumps off the page to inhabit our own world as well as other books'. I have found myself continually referencing back to events that take place throughout My Volcano while reading and thinking about other novels. This type of inception hasn't happened since Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, which is both an apt reference point and one that is completely inaccurate.
Susan Straight has created a California that exists under the glam and glitz of what we think of as Los Angeles - one that is closer to the real life of living in that metropolis and its always extending 'urbs where non-white individuals are both the engine that makes the city run and its most detested inhabitants. Mecca is filled with a bevy of complex characters that are written so well that one feels that they exist and could be visited were one to drive the highways and walk the sidewalks of their neighborhoods and places of employment.
The complexities of racism, classism, and living in the time of COVID are explored in rich detail throughout the multiple storylines that coexist in Straight's novel. Highly recommended.
The parallels to Animal Farm are unavoidable - and on some level accurate - but at the same time doesn't do justice to what NoViolet Bulawayo has been able to accomplish with Glory. Yes, this world is populated with talking animals and it focuses on the hierarchy of the land, but where Orwell's exploration ended at the confines of the farm, Bulawayo has created a nation, Jidada - “with a da and another da” - that has fought for its independence so that its animal inhabitants can freely live without human colonizer influence.
What this means, however, is that Jidada has also been under the rule of Old Horse for decades, since gaining its independence. Knowing no other leader, the majority of the population seem to be okay with life as it always has been - though there is a faction that feels that it is time for a change. How will Jidada emerge from a dictatorship that began as a fight for freedom? Will the next leader be just as tyrannical as Old Horse?
Partially inspired by the unexpected 2017 coup that unseated Robert Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe, Glory examines what it means to fight for freedom only for it to never materialize. A more apt exploration of the continual struggle for freedom from tyranny could not come at a better moment in time.
Bulawayo's debut novel, We Need New Names, was a finalist for the Booker Prize and won the PEN/Hemingway Award, among others; Glory builds on Bulawayo's already illustrious standing in literature by providing insight into a world that Americans rarely see.
With The Book of Form and Emptiness Ruth Ozeki has created an original take on an already fantastic bildungsroman. The central story - of the troubles that a mother and son go through after the tragic (and morbidly comedic) death of the patriarch - is rich in its development of characters and relationships as well as the subtle evolution of the neuroses that the characters develop after their tragic loss. Had this been the book it would have been a fantastic read and highly recommended. What Ozeki does, however, beyond the simplicity of the story is integrate the reader into what is happening by making the book, itself, a character that is occasionally in conversation with the reader as well as the main character, Benny - the boy who lost his father. This framing technique is no mere postmodern, large "I", Idea, rather it is a genuine part of the story that slowly develops over the course of the book. I cannot recommend this book more highly - it made me rethink the approach of fiction writing AND reading.
This is the reissue of celebrated poet Morgan Parker’s first collection of poetry, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night, via Tin House and with a new introduction by fellow poet Danez Smith. In this collection Parker has already formed her mix of personal and political commentary that she continued to explore in her other collections, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce, and Magical Negro. These titles suggest Parker’s wordplay and attitude towards her outlook on life, which is so beautifully exemplified by her first poem in Other People’s Comfort…:
There Are Other Things I Want to Explain but They Are Mysteries
What is usually said about love I ignore
worship instead the wilted flowers gleaming
in our throats what you don’t know if
I envy this world and I want to save it
squeeze its bloodied hand like so
saying this will sting but only for a minute
our primary concern will always be
the gnawing feeling like when I wake up
to wonder how many serial killers have entered
my life how the truth can feel like
ant hills their sandy curves their tiny crests
like nipple what I really want to ask is
what do you think of the idea of progress
and is it an injury I can fix
With Rainbow Milk, Paul Mendez shows us an all-too-real side of Black queer life: parental rejection, having to live alone, without funds, without friends, and without a safety net in an unknown city. Mendez brilliantly exposes the racism, colorism, homophobia, and religious persecution that is at the heart of his main character's journey. We join Jesse McCarthy as a 19-year-old rising star in the Jehovah's Witnesses in the Black Country, a once highly industrial section of central Britain. He is the only child of his mother and an unknown (to him) father, but lives with younger step-siblings who are the product of his current mixed race family. Already an outsider with his stepfather, Jesse becomes an outcast when he begins to follow his awakening sexuality and escapes to London to be free from the oppression of the Witnesses. Told in a brilliant mix of English and Jamaican patois, this is an unforgettable novel with a lingering impact.
This amazing non-fiction graphic novel by Dr. Rebecca Hall and illustrator Hugo Martinez defies what it means to be a graphic novel. It is part memoir, part personal history, part correction of the Euro-centered history that we are ill taught as kids; Wake begins with a pre-title sequence about a women-led slave revolt at sea in 1770 on the British ship The Unity. We then jump to 1999 New York City where Rebecca Hall is working on her dissertation about why there are practically no mention of women-led revolts among the hundreds - if not thousands - that happened throughout chattel slavery. The text and images enmesh time periods and follow Hall on her journey deep into the historical documents which are frequently contained behind the walls of racist institutions that restrict her access. She dedicates the book to her grandmother, born into slavery, and to all women who fought slavery, and for everyone living in its afterlife. This is an amazing feat, and one that more people should be aware of.
“A people cannot only see themselves suffering, lest they believe themselves only worthy of pain, or only celebrated when that pain is overcome.”
The new collection of essays by Hanif Abdurraqib, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, ostensibly focuses on touchstone Black singers and dancers of the twentieth century (such as Whitney Houston and Josephine Baker, to name two) who shaped musical eras. Beyond these subjects, however, Abdurraqib centers much of these essays on his own experiences growing up in the 80s and early 90s discovering these performers, using their inspiration to learn how to dance, to learn how to code switch around genres, and how the infiltration of these artists’ music alter his own life: how Aretha Franklin’s hours-long homegoing united all those who watched on television around the world into one family in mourning and celebration; how the moonwalk became a touchstone of the pinnacle of performance decades before Michael Jackson renewed it in the 80s, and how sometimes growing up in one location can become both an Albatross and the seeds of love. Abdurraqib’s writing flows between prose and poetry as he directs our attention through the multi-layered journey of how Black performers co-exist (very tenuously) in a white-centered society, especially as it gives life to Abdurraqib.