FICTION

Exhalation

“Do not be fooled by the labels of “short stories” or “science fiction”. This collection may well be the most fascinating and imaginative set of thought exercises you’ll ever read.

Ted Chiang’s masterfully crafted stories encompass humanity’s most pressing existential questions and draws on physics, history, and philosophy. Even Chiang himself humorously notes in the book’s concluding remarks that he is “generally incapable of writing a story on a specified theme“ – and this couldn’t be a better endorsement of his work. Dynamic, imaginative, and mind-opening, I couldn’t get enough of this collection.” – Julia

Circe

“I loved Greek mythology growing up and Miller’s retelling of the Odyssey’s classic tale didn’t disappoint! Circe herself is an underrated and often demonized character in these stories, but I believe Miller did her justice. This is the story of a woman with power in a world of men. It’s a story of strength, trauma, and raw emotion — and I loved every moment of it!” – Christine

The Vanishing Half

THE VANISHING HALF is a spectacular, beautiful book, and one of the most gorgeously intricate stories I’ve ever read. Bennet’s prose is transportive and suspenseful, drawing out tension in even the most mundane moments between characters. Most of all, I was mesmerized by the characterization of Desiree, Stella, and their daughters; the way two (really three) generations imitate and oppose each other at different points in time. There’s so many melting and interweaving layers to this story, and it’s one that will stay with me for a long time.” – Julia

Gods of Jade and Shadow

The Mayan God of Death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore. Mixing the excitement of the Roaring Twenties with Prehispanic mythology, Gods of Jade and Shadow is a vivid, wildly imaginative historical fantasy.

Mexican Gothic

“The premise? Mexican Gothic is about a debutante in 1950s Mexico braving a dreary mansion to save her cousin, who married into an English family that drains her both physically and spiritually. Things get spooky, then blood-curdling.

The high concept? What it says on the tin! Silvia Moreno-Garcia winks playfully at classic Gothic lit – storms! ghosts! fungus! – then twists beloved tropes into a haunted house story that transcends the sum of its parts.

What I love? Nobody can set the mood as quickly and decadently as Moreno-Garcia, and the atmosphere of this book held me totally captive. Grotesqueries abound, but it’s the prose itself that kept me hooked.” – Terry

Literally Show Me A Healthy Person

“‘Recently I’ve begun closing my eyes mid-sentence, as a nice little break for both parties’

If you value your sanity, I highly suggest you stop reading beyond this point. plz, I’m begging. Last chance. There are so many bad words—sorry, mom. r u OK? OK? I guess you could call this a novel? Here, insta user @cumcumcumcumcumcumcumcum (that’s cum x8, for the record) comes at you with the full raging id of Twitter. Only the hottest, most nihilistic content. God, this is like the perfect book for your asshole friends on Twitter. Maybe it’s written by them. Hi, Roi. nvm tbh they’re never going to read this jk, you’re a beautiful fucking angel Again, I’m so sorry for the swear words but I swear it only gets worse from Remember: “1 cat = 14 rats” or “Be the ‘crazy ex girlfriend’ you want ur ex’s new girl to want to be friends with” or “Sometimes my dad talks to me like I’ve never been retweeted by good charlotte” or whatever I’m so sorry” – Mason

Normal People

“An on-again, off-again relationship that haunts the characters as well as the reader in sparse prose and minute detail. Every element, from word choice to mannerism to subtle gesture, is wrung out of each character’s social interactions and placed on the page with precision. Rooney excels at charting the characters’ thoughts and subsequent actions without stating them outright; she conveys the near-misses, the blips in conversation that could fix everything if only they didn’t consistently go unsaid, with a nuance that is relatable rather than manufactured.

This is a book for everyone who over-thinks and replays their own interactions with other people, with unextraordinary, and oftentimes infuriatingly normal, people.” – Miranda

Little Fires Everywhere

“Never before has a book been so true to its title. Little Fires Everywhere is the story of precision, and all the ways it fails us. The town is steeping in its own mystery, where some get caught up in others or trip over themselves. The story sways between two families with very different auras, only clashing at the very end as the final lines are drawn. Above all, LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE is a book of second chances — those that are given to us, and those we must steal.” – Niya

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

“One of the youngest Whiting Award winners for poetry (2016), Vuong will break your heart and teach you how to reconstruct it into a new organ: a novel. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter by Little Dog to his mother, explaining his American childhood, his art, his queerness, his brutal first love, his relationship to her intergenerational trauma, and so much more—all out of fear she’ll never understand him in her lifetime. Only thing is, as a first-generation immigrant from Vietnam, Little Dog’s mother never learned the English to fully understand his work. I don’t want to call this an autobiographical novel, but it feels as close to the bone as they come. I had to put the book down several times because I didn’t want to spoil it by gorging on it—and sometimes I needed pause to let the tears flow. Such a tough, lyrical book. But worth every word. I can’t wait to talk about it throughout 2019 and the years to come.” – Mason

Such a Fun Age

“This debut opens with an unnamed but nameable tension and closes with a fist raised high, the narrative as tight as clenched knuckles.

This is a deceptively quick read with a plot that will burrow into your psyche and stay there for hours, days, weeks. It will expand and force people’s understanding of what many believe to be small moments, innocuous events, to expand as well. Reid covers a number of Big Idea topics like classism and sexism with aplomb, cracking the mirrors of fully-developed characters and scenes with such precision you wouldn’t notice it at first glance, each fracture branching and forking until they no longer recognize themselves.

See also: an antidote to prevalent White Savior narratives.” – Miranda

Transcendent Kingdom

“A character study set at the intersection of seemingly disparate entities (faith and science, for example), this book is soulful, slow-building, philosophical literary fiction at its best.

Gifty is a reasoned woman of science, a child of Evangelicalism, and a person carrying the traumas of her family (addiction, depression, racism, abandonment, loss, etc) in her bones. Her research on addiction and reward unfolds alongside memories of her childhood and the crisis of her family as she attempts to distill each to a singular cause and effect.

The answer she seeks is to a question we all ask of our lives: why?” – Miranda

The City We Became

Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City.

The Nickel Boys

“Based on the chilling (though not as shocking as it should be) history of a reform school in Florida, Whitehead renders a powerful narrative about the cruel ways society not only fails but actively damages marginalized groups of people.

Profiled and sent to Nickel Academy for a crime he didn’t commit, Elwood is a brilliant and non-violent Black boy who witnesses and endures immeasurable abuse. Where this could have felt like a spectacle, Whitehead is never gratuitous in inflicting horrors on his fully realized characters and his masterful writing allows the reader to sit with the experience.

He allows space for the indictment of the less tangible horrors that make such brutality possible: the continuity of racist mindsets and the ways in which the minds that formed and upheld and enhanced Jim Crow laws still exist and even prosper today.” – Miranda

Luster

“By far the best book I’ve read all summer – LUSTER is in a league all its own.

Breathless, hilarious narration accentuates the themes Leilani explores: autonomy, casual violence, artistry, and self-preservation to name a few. It’s earnest, beautiful, urgent, sardonic, and captures the feelings of dangling-over-the-precipice that have epitomized my early twenties so far.

Our narrator Edie’s process of reckoning her art with her productivity and talent is achingly familiar, but what’s most striking is the accessibility of how Edie copes with trauma, loss, and marginalization. I was immediately engrossed by this story and this character, and couldn’t put the book down. i.e., Luster may be exactly what you need right now.” – Julia

Parable of The Sower

When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. This acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel of hope and terror from an award-winning author includes a foreword by N. K. Jemisin.

Dune

There is little I can say of DUNE that has not been already said. There’s a reason it has been loved, discussed, and debated over the decades of its publication. There’s a reason it has been, and is becoming, a film. It is a pillar of Science Fiction, world building, and literature itself that stands and shines throughout generations. Herbert truly crafted a classic, something every person should read at least once.” -Nik

Legendborn

“This book was everything. I finished it and immediately scoured Tracy Deonn’s Twitter to make sure there would be a sequel (there will). I’ve read a good number of books and this is the first time I’ve ever fangirled over an author directly to them while desperately asking if the sequel would be coming soon (not soon enough, but it is coming). Everything from the fantastic world-building on a university campus (I’m a UNC alumna and now see that campus with new eyes) to the incredible character development and twisty plot just leaves you constantly wanting more! Deonn even addressed and incorporated the university’s (and the South’s) racist history in a way that recognized the horror without losing the power of a Black woman’s story. I’m not a Black girl, but the Black Girl Magic interlaced in Bree’s story is undeniable. If I had it in my budget to gift this book to every one of my friends (*especially* fellow Tar Heels), I would! I cannot recommend it enough – whether you’re looking for an awesome new (sub)urban fantasy or a UNC student/alumnus just looking to find new magic on the campus you love – LEGENDBORN is perfect.” – Christine

The Female Persuasion

“This book hit me like a modern Bell Jar – it was real, honest, and unapologetic about being an adult in today’s world. I wouldn’t describe this book as action-packed, but whose life really is? Instead, Wolitzer covers the big things in life like grief, hope, ambition, love, power, loyalty, and womanhood through the lives of her characters. By the end of The Female Persuasion, I didn’t feel happy per se, but I did feel seen and comfortably at home in life, like I don’t need to worry about where I am and that somehow, it’ll all work out.” – Christine

The Office of Historical Corrections

“Every single one of these stories will leave you breathless, the air caught in your chest from the unexpected turn, the lurch that sends a story over the edge of greatness.

Blistering in their exploration of humanity, these stories explore the nuance of our modern world alongside the complexity of relationships between people and with ourselves. The protagonists are all women, every one of them a full human being who refuses to be different than who they are, even if doing so would please other people—especially if it would please other people. Even if they’re broken, Evans allows her characters to be unapologetically authentic.

This, alongside plots with verve and confidently nimble prose, is what makes Evans’s storytelling masterful.” – Miranda

Antkind

The bold and boundlessly original debut novel from the Oscar®-winning screenwriter of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York.

The Pisces

“Sexy? Yes. Disgusting? Yes. Astrological? Slightly. This is as dark a book as it is a funny one, and it’s hilarious. Full of WTF humor—y’all good with Gillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water?—and head-on confrontations with addiction, love, lust, and mental health, The Pisces is contemporary fiction at its best. A raw and beautiful book—but one to take slow! Like life, the answers aren’t satisfying. Think of some Fifty Shades-type stuff but from a philosophy student. Throw in some Zadie Smith wit and Lidia Yuknavitch’s edge and you get this deliciously grafted beast.” – Mason

The Overstory

The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world.

Ready Player Two

The highly anticipated sequel to the beloved worldwide bestseller Ready Player One, the “ridiculously fun and large-hearted” (NPR) near-future adventure that inspired the blockbuster Steven Spielberg film.

Sleepovers

“Y’ALL. (That is all.)” -Mason

POETRY

Hustling Verse

In this trailblazing anthology, more than fifty self-identified sex workers from all walks of the industry (survival and trade, past and present) explore their lived experience through the expressive nuance and beauty of poetry.

Latinext

Poets speak from an array of nationalities, genders, sexualities, races, and writing styles, staking a claim to our cultural and civic space. Like Hip-Hop, we honor what was, what is, and what’s next.

Bestiary

“Bestiary is a masterpiece, mythic and animal and all too heart-rendingly human. It is a book about traumas; it is a book about migration. But for all its sadness, Donika Kelly writes some of the best love poetry I’ve read in years. Maybe that’s because love is beastly by nature, a mish-mash of feelings, an emotional chimera. It’s complex and hard and thrilling and — sorry, I’m getting slightly carried away, this book’s just clocked me. The heart is a muscle the size of your fist, but Bestiary reminds us that it is also a labyrinth — and we are both Theseus and the minotaur.” – Terry

Homie

“You know that tweet that’s like “sometimes it’s so lit that you’re like wow glad i didn’t kill myself six months ago?” Yeah, that’s how My Nig (that’s Homie to you) feels to read. This is black queer poetry that explores ecstasy, tenderness, vulnerability, friendship, and bong water grins. This is the poetry I never knew I needed. My Nig is burned into my gray matter like a trauma or a holy text. Read it. Love it. If it’s not for you, learn from it. If it is for you? Welcome to the best club of all time.” – Terry

NONFICTION

How to Be an Antiracist

Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America—but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. In How to be an Antiracist, Kendi asks us to think about what an antiracist society might look like, and how we can play an active role in building it.

A Promised Land

A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making–from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy.

The Undocumented Americans

“Did you know undocumented workers made up the majority of 9/11 clean-up crews? Of course, and so few outlets reported on it. There’s no “faceless brown mass” here, no generalization or appropriation of experience. The only political commentator you’ll need on immigration issues, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio writes with a journalist’s accuracy and depth—if journalists shed the objectivity BS and said what they really meant to say. And damn, she can write a gorgeous sentence.

Full of voice, sass, wit, and bite, Villavicencio bares her own complicated humanness as she compiles the stories of undocumented Americans: the stories that go unpublished in the mainstream for fear of deportation. From workplace malpractices to the lengths people go to support their families and find healthcare, Villavicencio find the humor and heart in it all, despite the dark turns this book very well could’ve taken.

A mammoth of a debut. And just as hard and sharp (if not harder and sharper) as the edgy logic that immigration critics love so dearly.”– Mason

Thick

In eight highly praised treatises on beauty, media, money, and more, Tressie McMillan Cottom—award-winning professor and acclaimed author of Lower Ed—is unapologetically “thick”: deemed “thick where I should have been thin, more where I should have been less,” McMillan Cottom refuses to shy away from blending the personal with the political, from bringing her full self and voice to the fore of her analytical work.

Caste

The Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Warmth Of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.

Braiding Sweetgrass

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

all about love

With the warmth and intimacy of M. Scott Peck and in the intellectual tradition of Eric Fromm, bell hooks’ most popular and accessible work ever in which she shows us how to cultivate a love ethic that will heal us as individuals and as a nation.

Untamed

Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both an intimate memoir and a galvanizing wake-up call. It is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. It is the story of navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and discovering that the brokenness or wholeness of a family depends not on its structure but on each member’s ability to bring her full self to the table. And it is the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honor our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts so that we become women who can finally look at ourselves and say: There She Is.

Wow, No Thank You

A new rip-roaring essay collection from the smart, edgy, hilarious, unabashedly raunchy, and bestselling Samantha Irby about aging, marriage, settling down with step-children in white, small-town America, health food and skincare obsessions, money trouble, the real story of glamorous Hollywood life and more.

Me & White Supremacy

When Layla Saad began an Instagram challenge called #meandwhitesupremacy, she never predicted it would become a cultural movement. She encouraged people to own up and share their racist behaviors, big and small. She was looking for truth, and she got it…

Be Gay Do Crime

Among the discordant chorus of anons who penned the defining texts of the queer anarchist network Bash Back!, none was more fervent in its glorification of criminal desire, decadent hedonism, and social undoing than the Milwaulkee-based Mary Nardini Gang. Their fiery “Towards the Queerest Insurrection” still circulates as an integral manifesto of riotous queerness, while the “Criminal Intimacy” and “Whore Theory” have made their more subterranean way into innumerable conversations and correspondences.

So You Want to Talk About Race

Widespread reporting on aspects of white supremacy–from police brutality to the mass incarceration of Black Americans–has put a media spotlight on racism in our society. Still, it is a difficult subject to talk about. How do you tell your roommate her jokes are racist? Why did your sister-in-law take umbrage when you asked to touch her hair–and how do you make it right? How do you explain white privilege to your white, privileged friend?

Stamped

A timely, crucial, and empowering exploration of racism–and antiracism–in America

This is NOT a history book.

This is a book about the here and now.

A book to help us better understand why we are where we are.

A book about race.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

“I’m obsessed with this essay collection. Irby has to be one of the most hilarious storytellers I’ve read. Her perspective is refreshing and honest, but it’s particularly her descriptions of the most mundane activities that elicit – literally – uproarious laughter in myself and everyone I recommend her to. All of her collections are excellent, but in this one she taps into deeper vulnerabilities that I think many will relate to. Sam Irby’s writing makes me love myself more.” -Julia

Undrowned

A book-length meditation for social movements and our whole species based on the subversive and transformative guidance of marine mammals. Our aquatic cousins are queer, fierce, protective of each other, complex, shaped by conflict, and struggling to survive the extractive and militarized conditions our species has imposed on the ocean. Gumbs employs a brilliant mix of poetic sensibility and naturalist observation to show what they might teach us, producing not a specific agenda but an unfolding space for wondering and questioning.

The Book of Delights

“In 2019, Ross’ Gay’s Book of Delights is a breath of fresh air. In long, flowing lines that show the turning of his poet brain, Gay expands on a “delight” a day for a year to prove no matter how dire the news or circumstances may be, there’s always a small, beautiful thing waiting. Think joy as resistance. Seriously, Ross is everyone’s fave uncle. Both wholesome and edgy. Always uplifting. Passages to look out for include: 14, 20, 40, 46, 77, 83, 100, & 101!” – Mason

Trick Mirror

“Oof—this one hits hard as a twenty-something navigating a sense of identity in 2019. Excuse my analogy, but here, Tolentino holds a mirror to today’s social funhouse (or haunted house, more aptly): Instagram influencers, reality TV producers, media representations of femininity and survivor stories (I dread that those two are so linked), self-monetization, barre classes, and marriage capitalism. Here, the internet isn’t the solution to all our problems, nor is it a horrible existential void. One of the most thorough and absurdly witty collections of cultural criticism today! And if nothing else, it’ll get your inner nineties kid going.” – Mason

Colonize This!

In Colonize This!, Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman have collected a diverse, lively group of emerging writers who speak to the strength of community and the influence of color, to borders and divisions, and to the critical issues that need to be addressed to finally reach an era of racial freedom. With prescient and intimate writing, Colonize This! will reach the hearts and minds of readers who care about the experience of being a woman of color, and about establishing a culture that fosters freedom and agency for women of all races.

In the Dream House

“Written in the second person, this remarkable memoir of an abusive relationship breaks structural bounds and turns tropes and clichés inside-out, the beating heart of her story bare. The prose is like glass slicing into the reader’s softness, its structure sewing us back together, our psyches challenged and changed without a visible stitch. And yet – and yet – it is warm, a wildness contained and writhing.

It is an archive of love, of desire, of shock, of disappointment, of losing oneself in another person, to another person. It is an archive of the intricacies of abuse in a queer relationship where few have existed before it.” – Miranda

Evicted

“Need an eye-opening, page-turning, somehow-both-dark-and-brilliant experience? Something to ignite social activism? A good cry?

This is the book you need. Brutal, frustrating, and a work of staggering brilliance, Desmond puts his ethnographer’s eye to poverty in inner-city Milwaukee. What he lays bare is both hopeless and profound, a work that demands to be read, discussed, and acted upon.” – Miranda

My Own Words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Written in cooperation with RBG herself, this is the first full life—private, public, legal, philosophical—of the 107th Supreme Court Justice: one of the most profound and profoundly transformative legal minds of our time.

In this comprehensive, revelatory biography—fifteen years of interviews and research in the making—historian Jane Sherron De Hart explores the central experiences that crucially shaped Ginsburg’s passion for justice, her advocacy for gender equality, and her meticulous jurisprudence.

Mean

“We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would chop off our breasts…Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being rude to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being a bitch is more exhilarating. Being a bitch is spectacular” (17). Lyrical, choppy, blunt. Hilarious, absurd, horrifying. Brutal, bombastic, illuminating. A sideways how-to, if you will, for embracing the hard femme you’ve always wanted to be—then interrogating WHY you wanted to arrive there in the first place. Gurba juggles her PTSD with an urgency that reads as deft—her voice somewhere between twelve-year-old-boy and poet. But it’s all control. And perhaps, that’s exactly what this book is about. The control in detoothing rape, racism, misogyny, and homophobia. Like god damn, you’ll want to LOL and shout in the same line.” – Mason

The Argonauts

“Sure, it’s a memoir, but everything we write is autobiographical.

Sure, it’s social criticism, but there’s no axe to grind or party to support.

It could be poetry if it weren’t for all the prose, or philosophy if it weren’t so unsystematic.

Does it need a label? What’s in a name? “Label me and negate me, Kierkegaard wrote. Yet the desire to categorize reigns. If only it were possible to live without succumbing to the temptation to assimilate all experience to old classifications. Maggie Nelson knows that we can’t avoid using the old words but that we can make them new. She lovingly uses her own life to teach us differences, and the result is an inspirational ode to improvisation and recreation.” – Zach

Stamped from the Beginning

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. He uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to drive this history: Puritan minister Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and legendary activist Angela Davis.

As Kendi shows, racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. They were created to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation’s racial inequities

Selected Works of Audre Lorde

A definitive selection of Audre Lorde’s “intelligent, fierce, powerful, sensual, provocative, indelible” (Roxane Gay) prose and poetry, for a new generation of readers.

Our 50-ish Bestsellers of the Year (2020)

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