Reading can be such a relief in such strenuous times. As presidential candidates battle it out for delegates and many of us are self-isolating in the face of the Coronavirus, knowing that books are still there for us to escape into whenever and wherever we are can help us in times of uncertainty. Our list of books to read in March, which includes a combination of fiction and nonfiction from smaller and larger publishers, was designed to both educate and comfort: There are books about facing mortality and handling sudden grief, navigating social networks, and exploring video games that intentionally move away from the masculine approach to both designing and playing them. As always, we hope these books provide solace during a difficult season.
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Fearing death is normal, and in some ways, it’s to be expected. After all, it’s the one part of life’s journey that we’ll all experience and it’s also the part we know the least about. Memoirist Sue William Silverman’s goal, however, is a bit different: She wants to outwit death long enough to escape it, and she believes she’s figured out how to do so. By creating recordings that will outlive her, reliving a youth where she was less concerned about mortality, and caring much less about how she will die than how she’s lived her life, Silverman aims to cheat death. Though a book about death should be morbid and depressing, Silverman takes an unusual approach, packing both humor and wit into more than a dozen entertaining essays that may offer comfort to those dealing with death anxiety.
Many children of immigrants—to the United States and elsewhere—have expressed the feeling of being caught in-between the culture of their parents and the one they currently inhabit. Some of these first-generation immigrants come to appreciate that duality, while others struggle with it, but Kara—the protagonist in Reid-Benta’s debut novel—is simply trying to figure out where she fits within her family and her community so that she can make better sense of who she is. Through 12 linked stories that traverse various parts of Kara’s childhood and young adulthood, Reid-Benta takes us on journey to understand what it means to be ensnared in a seemingly unforgivable triangle between the cultural expectations imposed on Kara by her mother and her grandmother and those imposed by her peers in Toronto’s “Little Jamaica” neighborhood. Frying Plantain is an exceptional collection that doesn’t feel disjointed, unclear, or exploitative; it just captures the heart of a real-life experience.
Marginalized communities have long been the pulse of social media, particularly Twitter. Black Twitter users have become a force of humor and social change, leveraging the 280-character format to share intercultural jokes and create trending hashtags, including #JusticeForTrayvon, #BlackLivesMatter, and #MeToo, that raise awareness for and organize around social injustice. In #HashtagActivism, communication studies professors Sarah J. Jackson and Brooke Foucault-Welles and Cultures, Societies, and Global Studies professor Moya Bailey examine how a series of hashtags, including #GirlsLikeUs, #SayHerName, and #Ferguson, became the epicenters of larger movements for equity.
Sparks fly between high schoolers Ollie and Will during the summer between junior and senior year, but their relationship—if it can be called that—is supposed to end when Ollie and his family return to San Jose, California, at the end of the summer. But when a tragic turn of events forces Ollie’s family to permanently move to Collinswood, North Carolina, and he’s forced to attend school with Will, a closeted varsity basketball captain, their relationship becomes more than a fling. Only Mostly Devastated is an emotional but entertaining romance novel about two teens navigating unexpected circumstances and feelings about themselves and each other.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is a cultural staple: After 12 seasons, more than 140 episodes, and two networks, the popular competition series has brought a subculture to the mainstream. With guest judges ranging from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Christina Aguilera and a dedicated fandom—that’s unafraid to hold the series and its namesake accountable for a number of missteps—RuPaul’s Drag Race has become an essential touchpoint for those following and documenting the LGBTQ rights movement. Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez, the pair behind the widely read blog Tom + Lorenzo, situate the show within that larger movement, showing the drag history that preceded the show, what the show has meant to the LGBTQ rights movement, and how it has benefited from this larger struggle for equality.
Sara Rauch (who has contributed to Bitch) is skilled at nonfiction, but in her debut collection of short stories, it’s clear that she’s also adept at fiction, crafting new worlds where girls and women are constantly breaking themselves and then putting themselves back together. Across 11 distinct stories, Rauch introduces us to a number of characters, including Samantha, the narrator in “Secondhand,” whose drug-dealing boyfriend, Jacob, doesn’t feel her urgency to purchase a bed for their small apartment. There’s also Carmen, the narrator of “Kitten,” who’s worried about her husband, Eddie, because he’s a veteran and amputee who wants them to take in a stray kitten. All of these women characters want to be whole—sure of themselves and their lives—but as Rauch’s collection shows, that’s a difficult goal to achieve in a world that purposely breaks women and leaves them to repair themselves.
Soap operas have long been ripe for exploration by feminists. These series, which have been airing in the United States since at least 1949, attract a sizable, loyal audience every afternoon, and have become the focal point of conversations about everything from racial representation onscreen to the evolution of rape culture. Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies professor Elana Levine is a longtime fan of soap operas, so in Her Stories, she merges personal experience with extensive research to examine how the genre has shaped our understanding of gender and predicted the potential decline of broadcast network television.
When Palm Beach Post columnist Leslie Gray Streeter was 44, her husband, Scott, died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack. Scott’s death sent Streeter into a tailspin: They’d decided to adopt a child, so now she was going to be a single mother. Her husband was Jewish while she’s Baptist, so she had to plan a funeral that respected their cultural differences. And through it all, Streeter had to adjust to a new life without the partner she’d planned so much of it with. In Black Widow, Streeter brings humor to a humorless scenario that forever changed her life.
At this point, most people in the United States know these women by name: Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley—the first-year members of Congress known collectively as “the Squad.” We’ve watched them publicly navigate life on the national stage, from beating a surefire incumbent and finding apartments in D.C. to facing racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia with an unshakable grace. New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer followed these women through their first year of Congress and documented all of the challenges they faced. The result is an in-depth reported book for those who are both interested in running and just fascinated by politics.
By this point, most of us are familiar with the tragic tale of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, which was captured in a viral 2016 BuzzFeed News article, a subsequent 2017 HBO documentary, and a disturbing 2019 dramatized Hulu series. Gypsy Rose’s boyfriend, who she met online, killed Dee Dee because her mother had been purposely sickening her for years—leaving her helpless and infantilized. Induced Illness by Carers (formerly known as Munchausen by Proxy) has been springing up a lot in pop culture, but Stephanie Wrobel’s debut novel, Darling Rose Gold, which isn’t about the family mentioned above, takes a different approach: When Patty is released from prison for sickening her daughter Rose Gold, her daughter decides to taken her in, with the knowledge that the cycle may soon start again. Darling Rose Gold is a haunting book about trauma, scars, and how far people will go to survive abuse.
Savannah Rose, whose family and close friends call her “Sparrow,” is a talented ballerina with a bright future—and a secret that threatens to derail her emerging career. When Rose begins dating Tristan King, the neighborhood bully who used to torment her and her friends, her friends are worried his bullying tendencies will escalate into abuse, but she’s determined to prove them wrong. Sparrow chronicles Rose and King’s relationship—from both her and her best friend Lucas’s perspectives. As King becomes increasingly more controlling and abusive, Rose tries to hide the reality from her family and friends. Sparrow offers a compelling account of teenage domestic violence that is difficult to shake.
Bonnie Ruberg, a film and media studies professor at the University of California, Irvine, is one of the foremost video-game researchers. Since the 2017 publication of Queer Game Studies, an anthology they coedited with Adrienne Shaw, Ruberg has been furthering our cultural understanding of video games, and more specific, the indie game makers and artists who are queering the gaming industry. The Queer Games Avant-Garde features in-depth interviews with 22 game creators, including Nicky Case, Mattie Brice, and Dietrich Squinkifer, about their approach to creating games, the obstacles they’ve encountered, and the benefits of creating outside of the mainstream gaming industry.
Thanks to the rise of Thirst Aid Kit, the podcast cohosted by Nichole Perkins and Bim Adewunmi, we’re all having more conversations about sex and desire in pop culture. That comes in myriad forms: Twitter threads devoted to lusting after both dead and alive film stars, such as Paul Newman and Winston Duke; lengthy cultural criticism exploring the evolution of desire onscreen; and even moviegoers, myself included, calling out to the screen when a gorgeous person does something that heats us up from the inside out. In this entertaining anthology, cultural critic Christina Newland brings a number of talented writers together to examine how movies have depicted desire and the influence these films have had on our personal appetites.