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My Poems Won't Change the World | Patrizia Cavalli
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Recommended by Clare Fentress
 
“Patrizia Cavalli's poems are about nothing less than the fullness of life, in all of its impossibilities, absurdities, and, yes, occasional joys. They revel in surprise without being naive, somehow maintaining a looseness that yields not flaccidity but sharpened perception. I feel a jolt every time I read them.
 
About the Book
 
Any hall she has ever read her poetry in is invariably filled to the gills. Women like her, girls like her, and men like her, too. In Italy, Patrizia Cavalli is as beloved as Wistawa Szymborska is in Poland, and if Italy were Japan she'd be designated a national treasure. The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben said of Cavalli that she has written the most intensely ‘ethical’ poetry in Italian literature of the twentieth century. One could add that it is, easily, also the most sensual and comical. Though Cavalli has been widely translated into German, French, and Spanish, My Poems Won't Change the World is her first substantial American anthology.
 
 

The Wildling | Maria McCann
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Recommended by Charlotte Shane
 
“Witches. Family secrets. A hot 26-year-old virgin who makes hard cider in the 17th century. Maria McCann is a genius whose books, tragically, tend to come packaged in insultingly bad covers. You can turn to The Wilding after your annual reread of her masterpiece As Meat Loves Salt, when you're craving more of her male narrators.
 
About the Book
 
A generation after the Civil War, Jonathan Dymond, a cider maker, has so far enjoyed a quiet life. But when he discovers a letter from his dying uncle, hinting an inheritance and revenge, he is determined to unravel the mystery in his family. Under the pretence of his cider business, Jonathan visits his newly widowed aunt and there meets her unruly servant girl, Tamar, who soon reveals that she has secrets of her own . . .
 

Summer Will Show | Sylvia Townsend Warner
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Recommended by Hannah Zeavin
 
“You would be forgiven for thinking, from its first pages, that Summer Will Show is some novel set on an estate where bad things happen to rich, if not bad, people. And they do: two children die in quick succession, a husband is off with another woman. And suddenly, the reproductive labor that has occupied our protagonist, Sophia Willoughby, no longer quite exists. After all, although she is head of her estate, she employs many, many workers who carry out its actual management. And so what does our protagonist do? She goes to get her husband back, so that she may start reproducing once more. Yet, rather than using the change of scene to have new clothes made and secure her husband once more, or not only, she falls in love with none other than her husband’s mistress Minna. I should now mention that, although the book was written in the interwar period, for Sophia the year is 1848 and her husband has traipsed off to Paris. I think this queer romance is one of the best novels to imagine the not-quite-revolution, centering on a fictional account of the June Days uprising.
 
About the Book
 
Sophia Willoughby, a young Englishwoman from an aristocratic family and a person of strong opinions and even stronger will, has packed her cheating husband off to Paris. He can have his tawdry mistress. She intends to devote herself to the serious business of raising her two children in proper Tory fashion. Then tragedy strikes: the children die, and Sophia, in despair, finds her way to Paris, arriving just in time for the revolution of 1848. Before long she has formed the unlikeliest of close relations with Minna, her husband's sometime mistress, whose dramatic recitations, based on her hair-raising childhood in czarist Russia, electrify audiences in drawing rooms and on the street alike. Minna, “magnanimous and unscrupulous, fickle, ardent, and interfering,” leads Sophia on a wild adventure through bohemian and revolutionary Paris, in a story that reaches an unforgettable conclusion amidst the bullets, bloodshed, and hope of the barricades.

All This Could Be Different | Sarah Thankam Mathews
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Recommended by Charlotte Shane
 
“Sorry to be That Person but I often don't trust things that are widely acclaimed, especially novels. And by the time you read this, Sarah Thankam Matthews's debut, after an avalanche of effusive reviews, might have won the National Book Award. (I hope it did; it deserves it.) I read it in a single Sunday sitting and felt renewed as a writer, a reader, and someone who longs for the world to be, well, different. It's a funny, wise, generous book about struggle. It made me cry a lot.
 
About the Book
 
Graduating into the long maw of an American recession, Sneha is one of the fortunate ones. She’s moved to Milwaukee for an entry-level corporate job that, grueling as it may be, is the key that unlocks every door: she can pick up the tab at dinner with her new friend Tig, get her college buddy Thom hired alongside her, and send money to her parents back in India. She begins dating women—soon developing a burning crush on Marina, a beguiling and beautiful dancer who always seems just out of reach. But before long, trouble arrives. Painful secrets rear their heads; jobs go off the rails; evictions loom. Sneha struggles to be truly close and open with anybody, even as her friendships deepen, even as she throws herself headlong into a dizzying romance with Marina. It's then that Tig begins to draw up a radical solution to their problems, hoping to save them all.
 

Praisesong for the Widow | Paule Marshall
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Recommended by Elias Rodriques
 
“A lesser known gem from a pioneering Black Feminist, this novel's tale of a late-in-life cruise through the Caribbean surprises at each turn, and its prose is as lucid as it is beautiful.
 
About the Book
 
Avey Johnson—a Black, middle-aged, middle-class widow given to hats, gloves, and pearls—has long since put behind her the Harlem of her childhood. Then on a cruise to the Caribbean with two friends, inspired by a troubling dream, she senses her life beginning to unravel—and in a panic packs her bag in the middle of the night and abandons her friends at the next port of call. The unexpected and beautiful adventure that follows provides Avey with the links to the culture and history she has so long disavowed.
 
 
 
 
 

Country Women: A Handbook for the New Farmer | Sherry Thomas & Jeanne Tetrault
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Recommended by Sarah Resnick
 
Country Women was published in 1975, at the height of the commune movement in the United States. With beautiful illustrations by Leona Walden, this handbook for the end of the world tells you how to: speed compost, castrate sheep, trim hooves, attend to a goat’s prolapse (!), use a two-women saw, negotiate a land purchase, dig a well, build a fence, skin a lamb, and raise a flock of egg-laying hens, ‘all at the least possible expense and with minimum reliance on outside and professional help.’ At once an artifact for a bygone era and a blueprint for the future.
 
About the Book
 
This classic reference, which has informed two generations of women, is taken from the original homesteading publication Country Women. Written from the perspective of women learning and sharing all manner of farming knowledge on a small scale, it remains an invaluable guide. Encouragement and practical information infuse the reader with a deep respect for the land and personal journal entries throughout inspire a sense of self-sufficiency rooted in the earth. Born of the "back to the land" movement, this handbook chronicles the aspirations of tireless women seeking a new life on small farms around America. Authors Jeanne Tetrault and Sherry Thomas lived this philosophy and lifestyle as they eventually networked with like-minded women to share ideas, stories, and knowledge.
 

A Severed Head | Iris Murdoch
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Recommended by Ari M. Brostoff
 
“Iris Murdoch was interested in the question of what it means to be good in a world shaped by amoral desire, and A Severed Head—a very funny and also deadly serious philosophy joke barely disguised as a comedy of manners—is a deeply provocative, and truly bonkers, attempt at an answer.
 
About the Book
 
Martin Lynch-Gibson believes he can possess both a beautiful wife and a delightful lover. But when his wife, Antonia, suddenly leaves him for her psychoanalyst, Martin is plunged into an intensive emotional reeducation. He attempts to behave beautifully and sensibly. Then he meets a woman whose demonic splendor at first repels him and later arouses a consuming and monstrous passion. As his Medusa informs him, "this is nothing to do with happiness."
 
 
 
 

Stranger Faces | Namwali Serpell
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Recommended by Hannah Zeavin
 
“Earlier this year I asked Twitter (who else) what were the best book-length essays. On this rare occasion, Twitter didn’t disappoint. I’ve made my way through a small fraction of all the books suggested, but my favorite remains Namwali Serpell’s Stranger Faces, which I love down to the syntactical level. Written for Transit Books’ Undelivered Lecture series (all fantastic), Serpell takes us away from “The Ideal Face”—site of truth, relationality, and beauty—to those titular stranger faces. From the Elephant Man to Psycho to the emoji, Serpell offers a theory and reading of their uncanny likeness, their doublings, their meanings. Along the way, Serpell quietly provides a correction to our pervasive cultural emphasis on empathy. For as she argues, via the stranger face, it is precisely in granting humanity to the other that we know how to humiliate them.
 
About the Book
 
If evolutionary biologists, ethical philosophers, and social media gurus are to be believed, the face is the basis for what we call humanity. The face is considered the source of identity, truth, beauty, authenticity, and empathy. It underlies our ideas about what constitutes a human, how we relate emotionally, what is pleasing to the eye, and how we ought to treat each other. But all of this rests on a specific image of the face. We might call it the ideal face.
 
What about the strange face, the stranger's face, the face that thwarts recognition? What do we make of the face that rides the line of legibility? In a collection of speculative essays on a few such stranger faces—the disabled face, the racially ambiguous face, the digital face, the face of the dead—Namwali Serpell probes our contemporary mythology of the face. Stranger Faces imagines a new ethics based on the perverse pleasures we take in the very mutability of faces.

Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through | T Fleischmann
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Recommended by Alexander Chee
 
“T Fleischmann’s Time Is A Thing The Body Moves Through is an elegant long meditation on desire, queerness, trans identity, art, New York roof parties, the guy who won’t come closer and won’t go away, the way love can be like a hangnail or an opera. Smart, smart fun, and a fine example of the long essay, lately in resurgence.
 
About the Book
 
How do the bodies we inhabit affect our relationship with art? How does art affect our relationship to our bodies? T Fleischmann uses Felix Gonzáles-Torres's artworks—piles of candy, stacks of paper, puzzles—as a path through questions of love and loss, violence and rejuvenation, gender and sexuality. From the back porches of Buffalo, to the galleries of New York and L.A., to farmhouses of rural Tennessee, the artworks act as still points, sites for reflection situated in lived experience. Fleischmann combines serious engagement with warmth and clarity of prose, reveling in the experiences and pleasures of art and the body, identity and community.

Meatless Days | Sara Suleri Goodyear
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Recommended by Ken Chen
 
“One of the greatest essayists of the 20th century died recently and no one except for the South Asian literati noticed. Sara Suleri was a professor at Yale who in addition to writing a book on Colonial English, wrote this insanely dense book of essays. Often strangely structured, quietly sensuous, and provocative, what is magical is her layered sense of memory and narration, which has led her to be described as a South Asian Proust. I've spent many rewarding moments looking at her paragraphs line by line, trying to understand how she can condense so much density into so little space.
 
About the Book
 
In this finely wrought memoir of life in postcolonial Pakistan, Suleri intertwines the violent history of Pakistan's independence with her own most intimate memories—of her Welsh mother; of her Pakistani father, prominent political journalist Z.A. Suleri; of her tenacious grandmother Dadi and five siblings; and of her own passage to the West.
 
 
 
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