Happy August! Since we’re eight months into this year and four months away from the end of it, now seems like a great time to reflect on all of the books we’ve read and begin to pick what we’ll be reading between now and the end of the year. Here are 13 selections—including two poetry collections, an anthology, and two novels about revenge—to get you started.
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We’re in the age of women killers, with Villanelle (Jodie Comer), Killing Eve’s entertaining and emotionless assassin, and Jane, the self-described sociopath at the center of Victoria Helen Stone’s novel, filling a hole in storytelling that we’ve long been waiting for. After Jane’s friend and college roommate, Meg, dies by suicide, she decides to enact revenge on Steven, the abusive boyfriend who significantly contributed to Meg’s sense of hopelessness. Jane is a complex character who kills for the joy of it and a delightful narrator who really draws the reader into this cat-and-mouse game of revenge.
Hate crimes are on the rise, which, according to human-rights lawyer Arjun Singh Sethi, can be directly credited it to Donald Trump’s refusal to denounce oppressive language and behavior. In this powerful compilation, 13 contributors offer firsthand accounts of the violence they have encountered during and after the 2016 presidential election. Whether it’s Taylor Dumpson discovering nooses and bananas on her college campus after being elected student government president or Destinee Mangum and Walia Mohamed surviving a white supremacist’s attack on a train, these jarring stories are mere a snapshot of the hatred bubbling in America.
Fatimah Asghar is a rare talent, and that shines through in her debut poetry collection about coming of age as a Pakistani Muslim woman in a world that wields violence against those perceived as different. After writing the Emmy-nominated web series Brown Girls and selling the show to HBO, Asghar turned her keen eye inward to explore how she navigated identity after being orphaned. In exploring violence at the hands of men, colonialism, or family, Asghar achieves a transformative rawness that will surely resonate with those who read the book.
Twenty years ago, Lauryn Hill shook up the music world when she released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She became the first female rapper with a number one album and single, won five Grammys after being nominated for 10, and created an indelible body of work that has influenced a generation of artists, including Beyoncé and Janelle Monáe. In her sharp and comprehensive book, award-winning journalist Joan Morgan explores how Hill’s magnum opus came to be and why it’s still so beloved.
Thomas Page McBee has written extensively about masculinity, including in Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness, and Becoming a Man, his 2014 memoir about transitioning into manhood. In his follow-up collection of essays, McBee explores the rigorous training he endured to become the first trans man to participate in a boxing match in Madison Square Garden. McBee also uses boxing as a lens to explore the violence often associated with masculinity and how he’s begun shaping a different kind of manhood that isn’t predicated on domination.
Scarlett Chen grew up poor and works in a factory in China. When she becomes pregnant by her married boss, Boss Yeung, he sends her to Los Angeles to live in a home for expectant mothers so that his first and only son will have American citizenship. While there, she realizes that she’ll never be free from other people’s expectations. She has to take freedom for herself. So Scarlett and Daisy, another pregnant woman staying in the home, escape to San Francisco’s Chinatown to start over and try to establish themselves outside of the men intent on controlling them.
Publisher’s Weekly described Ada Limón’s newest collection of poems as “gorgeous” and “thought-provoking” for good reason. The Carrying is one of her best. Even in poems about racism, misogyny, violence, and the darkness that often accompanies life, Limón’s resiliency shines through.
There’s no denying that fatphobia is pervasive. While feminism has focused on racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other social ills, fat-acceptance writer and activist Virgie Tovar argues that “we have been living out woman-hating methods of control via our dinner plates.” In You Have the Right to Remain Fat, Tovar interrogates the billion-dollar dieting industry that has convinced people that fatness is something to be feared and derided. She also brings it to the interpersonal level by exploring how “health” is used as a framework to control women’s lives and their bodies. If you want to expand your understanding of fat activism, you should definitely read Tovar’s book.
Since George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in a Florida suburb in 2012, there has been a groundswell of activism centered on raising awareness about and ending both state-sanctioned and vigilante violence against Black people. Through her concise and clear analysis of Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives, award-winning historian and activist Barbara Ransby shows how this new Black freedom movement came to be and offers clear guidance for how the movement can be sustained.
Gross Anatomy is a hilarious collection of essays about all the ways we police women’s bodies for operating exactly as they’re supposed to. Whether focusing on our cultural insistence that feminine bodies should be hairless or our cultural obsession with “camel toes” and the size of a person’s labia, Mara Altman reveals all of the things we think about privately, but never really discuss. She combines humor with sharp interviews and cultural analysis to deliver one of the most delightful books of 2018.
Imagine a world where fundamentalists have taken over the federal government and outfitted all girls and women with a wristband that counts every word they speak. If they say more than 100 words in a single day, the wristband emits an electric shock for each word over the government-mandated count. This new world is unbearable for Dr. Jean McClellan, a cognitive linguist who was close to formulating a cure for damage to the Wernicke’s area of the brain before the Pure Movement forced her to leave her job. After the president’s brother is stricken by a Wernicke’s area injury, McClellan is allowed to return to work to finish the cure, but she soon discovers that her work might be used for a sinister reason. If you enjoy reading dystopian novels, Vox should definitely be in your must-read pile.
In Everyday People, an array of writers of color such as Alexander Chee, Brandon Taylor, and Jason Reynolds “speak to experience, loss, fulfillment, and also being at that fork in the road where decisions must be made yet are not always pursued due to moral fortitude.” There’s no one theme in this collection, which is what makes it special. It’s an opportunity for writers, both emerging and established, to flex their muscles and show their mastery of the short-story form.
Praise Song for the Butterflies is a heavy and stirring book about the violence inflicted on girls—and the revenge that some of them are able to enact. Abeo Kata is living a comfortable life with her parents and younger brother in West Africa until her father sends her to a remote shrine to become a trokosi, or female slave, as a sacrifice for his own sins. Once there, Abeo and other enslaved girls are subjected to physical and emotional torture, including being starved and raped. When she’s released 16 years later, Abeo embarks on an unbelievable journey to forgive and make herself whole.
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