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Jesse's Picks

Jesse Hassinger (he/him/they/them) is the co-owner of the downtown Northampton restaurant Belly of the Beast, which opened in 2017 and has since been a strong community space for arts and social justice. 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. Jesse is also running for Northampton’s Ward 4 City Council seat this November. Some favorite reads of late include Ruth Ozeki’s newest (forthcoming) novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, anything by Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler, and everything by Danez Smith.

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A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance Cover Image
ISBN: 9781984801197
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House - March 30th, 2021

“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.

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Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts Cover Image
By Rebecca Hall, Hugo Martínez (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781982115180
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Simon & Schuster - June 1st, 2021

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.

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Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night Cover Image
By Morgan Parker, Danez Smith (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781951142568
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tin House Books - July 13th, 2021

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

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Rainbow Milk: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385547062
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Doubleday - June 8th, 2021

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.

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The Book of Form and Emptiness: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399563645
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Viking - September 21st, 2021

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.