Cat Acree

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Christian mystics are a point of obsession for the hero of Tess Gunty’s debut novel. “They were spectacularly unusual,” Blandine gushes early in The Rabbit Hutch. They loved suffering, she says. “Mad for it.”

She’s especially interested in Hildegard of Bingen, an abbess, polymath, composer and doctor who constantly played up her femininity to make herself less of a threat to male members of the clergy. As the novel opens, we learn that Blandine, inspired by her 12th-century hero, will “exit her body.” 

But before readers fall in step with Blandine’s miraculous, possibly ominous ascension, Gunty first draws us into the years leading up to this event, and into the world of the Rabbit Hutch (officially called La Lapinière Affordable Housing Complex), an apartment building in Vacca Vale, Indiana.

A Midwestern crossroads that’s limping along after the collapse of the Zorn Automobiles empire, Vacca Vale is a fictional stand-in for South Bend. In a matter of decades, Midwestern gloom has slipped into doom, and like many small towns, Vacca Vale (which is Latin for “goodbye, cow!”) has been earmarked for a heavily marketed “revitalization plan,” which everyone knows translates to “demolishing your town’s one great thing and replacing it with luxury condos.”

Blandine is our guiding light as we navigate this darkening mood. A former foster kid who’s now living in the Rabbit Hutch with three roommates, Blandine is a daring, defiant young woman who’s searching for divinity with scorching ferocity. Despite her persistence, she has not gone unscathed: She dropped out of high school after a complicated, crushing relationship with her charismatic theater teacher, and Gunty’s navigation of this trauma is one of the novel’s quietest strengths. Blandine’s experience is nothing less than a catastrophe hemmed in on all sides by the forces of normalization. After all, as she points out, a 17-year-old girl is considered to be within the age of consent by the state of Indiana.

Blandine is the core of The Rabbit Hutch, but if she were a cathedral, her two flying buttresses would be Joan and Moses. Joan, a lonely older woman who also lives in the Rabbit Hutch, is employed by an obituary website. Her job is to delete comments that disparage the dead, so she must remove a response from Moses on his mother’s obituary. (“THIS WHOLE #OBITUARY IS A BOLD-FACED LIE,” his comment begins.) To punish Joan for this act of censorship, Moses flies to Vacca Vale to exact his special form of retribution: He will cover himself from head to toe in the goo found in glow sticks, break into Joan’s apartment and dance around in the dark to frighten her. 

Alongside these three characters, we hear from a bunch of additional folks, and as Gunty introduces each new voice, she makes storytelling seem like the most fun a person can have. She draws us along with rapturous glee while layering her symbolism so thick that the story should, by all rights, drown in it. But The Rabbit Hutch never loses focus thanks to Blandine, who has a kind of literary superpower: She’s aware of her place in the story, points out Gunty’s metaphors, arches a brow at the symbols and has something to say about all of it. This isn’t to suggest that the novel’s fourth wall is broken, but it does feel wafer-thin, just as the veil between the divine and the corporeal seem as gauzy as a worn T-shirt.

“We’re all just sleepwalking,” Blandine says to Joan. “I want to wake up. That’s my dream: to wake up.” As she moves toward wakefulness, Blandine becomes no less than a bona fide contemporary mystic, cultivating her own sense of belief and solidifying her existence as vital enough to subsist. Redemption is possible, and Gunty’s novel consecrates this noble search.

Despite its doomed Midwestern setting, Tess Gunty’s debut novel makes storytelling seem like the most fun a person can have.
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It’s rare for a novelist to read their own audiobook. Most authors who step up to the mic are recording nonfiction, with fiction audiobooks typically being performed by a voice actor or full cast. But Booker Prize finalist Mohsin Hamid possesses transportive powers as an audiobook narrator, and with new recordings of his first two novels, Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist (4.5 hours), he has now narrated all five of his books.

Told in a first-person monologue by a Pakistani man named Changez to an unnamed American at a cafe in Lahore not long after 9/11, The Reluctant Fundamentalist makes for an especially powerful listening experience as, over the course of one evening, a sense of dread builds and demands a reckoning. For his first ever interview on his work as a narrator, Hamid took a video call at his home in Pakistan to discuss this “one-man play.”

When writing The Reluctant Fundamentalist, how much did you think about what it would be like to step into the role of author-narrator-character?
I sort of wrote all of my books as audiobooks. I didn’t realize this until years later, but I really do think of literature or fiction as something we absorb through our aural circuitry more than our visual circuitry. Many of us read books with our eyes—some people read with their fingers or with their ears, as with audiobooks—but so many of us grew up reading with our eyes, so it’s a very visual experience, and the way things look should be important. But I tend to feel that the circuitry involved is still very much the circuitry of sound and language and rhythm and cadence. 

One of the formative moments for me as a writer was taking a creative writing workshop with Toni Morrison back in 1993 spring in college. . . . And one thing she did in her class is that she would read our work aloud back to us. She could make a Corn Flakes box sound like poetry. She was the greatest reader I ever encountered, and when she would read . . . I thought, “Wow, I can really write! I’ve got it!” 

She said things like, “You want to keep your reader a sort of half-heartbeat ahead of the action, so that what comes next can be a surprise, but it should feel like it was inevitable.” . . . One of the ways we do that in cinema, for example, is through the soundtrack, which suggests movements and motions and directions even while the visuals are doing something else. In written fiction, cadence and sound and rhythm can begin to establish these sorts of movements and directions, so that you have the chance of this feeling of inevitability.

“I’d always imagined it as this almost stage story, and suddenly I was on this stage, and it felt oddly like coming full circle.”

The Reluctant Fundamentalist wasn’t originally conceived as a 9/11 novel. You finished its first draft prior to that day, but as the world changed, so did your book. Now we have the opportunity to revisit your 9/11 novel with the gift of hindsight. What do you think is its place in our current reading environment?
It’s hard for me to answer that. I remember once being at this literary festival in Mantua, Italy. And as I say this, I should make clear that my life is not spent at literary festivals in Mantua, Italy. It was as exotic for me to be there as it is to say it to you now, but there I was under some clock tower in the open air, the stars above us, and Russell Banks was there. . . . I knew that a book of his had come out recently, and I had asked him if he was happy with how it had done and, you know, the usual chitchat you try to make with some literary icon when you’re this young kid who’s written a book or two. And he said something that stuck with me. 

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

He said, “You know, it’s too soon to say. . .  . It’s not until about 10 years after a book comes out that you begin to have a sense of what it’s doing. And the reasons why people are still reading it 10 years on are probably what you actually did. That’s what people got from it.” This is the kind of thing you go to literary festivals for, so that some much more experienced writer can unload this wisdom on you. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is now 15 years old, so it’s past the Russell Banks 10-year law, and I think people still seem to be reading it.

I wrote that book very much with the idea of the reader as a kind of character. Not that the novel is addressed to you, necessarily, but the book is a kind of half novel. We never hear half of the story; we never hear Changez’s interlocutor really say anything. Even more than most novels—or all novels, by virtue of being pieces of ink printed on paper that require a transmutation by the reader that makes them come alive—this book, because so much of it is missing, [forces the reader] to try and restabilize this narrative. The book was intended as a way for the reader to encounter how they feel about the story. What are the instincts that it provokes in them? What are their inclinations? Who do you think is threatening whom? Why? And it leads you, in a sense, to a position that isn’t quite resolved, and so you have to figure out either how to resolve it or what that unresolved state makes you feel. And I think it still does that, I imagine. 

The form of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is this dramatic monologue, is really akin to a one-man play. So in doing an audiobook, I was performing that one-man play. I’d always imagined it as this almost stage story, and suddenly I was on this stage, and it felt oddly like coming full circle.

Read our starred review of The Reluctant Fundamentalist audiobook.

That dramatic monologue is so effective as an audiobook. The listener is called upon in a very different way than with other novels. We feel like we’re being addressed.
That’s good to hear. It is a very direct form of address. It has to be. And in that book in particular, voice is so important because Changez, we learn, is ostensibly Muslim. But he doesn’t pray, he drinks, he has sex, he doesn’t quote the Quran or think about the doings of the Prophet. . . . His Islam appears to be a sort of tribal [affiliation]. It’s sort of “these are my people, I belong to something,” much more than it is an operating system, you know, like MacOS.

Some people might imagine that Islam has a kind of . . . rigidity or formality, that it has a kind of, you know, menace. I think these sorts of perceptions that many people do have about Islam—who are not Muslims or don’t know very many Muslims, particularly in that post-9/11 environment—the novel doesn’t give those attributes to Changez, but it does use a voice that can invoke those attributes. So you can end up believing things about this guy, not because he thinks in a certain way or even does anything, but just because it sounds like he might. 

And so the reading of that book was very interesting and actually fun because Changez speaks in this very formal, kind of anachronistic way, and that formality is also a distancing, and it builds to what feels like a kind of menace because, you know, so often we assume that a more colloquial, friendly form of address is not threatening, but Changez’s quite formal address [makes us wonder,] “Why is he keeping me at a distance? What does he intend to do to me? What kind of person speaks in this way? Why does he think like this?” 

I used to talk about The Reluctant Fundamentalist as a thriller in which nothing really happens. And I think that sense of thrill comes from the fact that we are already frightened of each other. There’s a preexisting thrill in the reader—whether it’s a reader who sympathizes with Changez and is frightened of the American, or sympathizes with the American and is frightened of Changez—and the novel tries to invoke within the reader a feeling of that discomfort that we were all encouraged to have in those years, that we belonged to these different groups and that we had to be in conflict.

And as audiobook listeners, we’re even more vulnerable to what the story wants to invoke in us. We’re passive receivers; we’re not even moving our eyes across the page.
Weirdly enough, it’s closer to the experience of Changez’s interlocutor in the book itself. The confined space of this conversation, where somebody is forced to listen to somebody else for hours, is more akin to an audiobook experience, where you’re sort of sitting there and this person is coming at you with their voice.

“I used to talk about The Reluctant Fundamentalist as a thriller in which nothing really happens. And I think that sense of thrill comes from the fact that we are already frightened of each other.”

Are you a frequent audiobook listener?
I tend to feel that the inbound-information-to-my-eyes thing is a little bit overloaded. Either I’m reading stuff online or I’m actually reading a book or I’m writing something, and then when I’m not, there’s a complex series of advertisements directed at me and my kids’ devices, and I think that I long to just have my eyes be free. And that’s when the idea of just listening to something becomes so attractive. My daughter does the exact same thing, but she listens to music for hours every day, and she’s dancing in her room by herself, and she has that relationship with music that teens and preteens sort of have had from time immemorial. It’s just ears. It’s ears and your body in space.

You know, I’m now reminded of this thing that Philip Gourevitch once said to me when he was editor of The Paris Review. He said, “It’s strange, but we get more short story submissions than we have subscribers.” . . . I feel a little bit like that, where I’ve recorded this handful of audiobooks these last few years, but how many have I listened to? I think I’m like the Paris Review submitter of audiobooks. I talk a good game, but I don’t really walk the walk as far as listening is concerned. So it’s a bit shameful, but anyway, I’m a writer, so I make the things. I don’t listen that much.

Photo of Mohsin Hamid by Jillian Edelstein

Fifteen years after its initial publication, The Reluctant Fundamentalist gets a haunting new audiobook recorded by its author.
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Whether fathers are superheroes or average guys, human or animal or even mechanical, Father’s Day is a day to celebrate dads of all kinds. These four picture books will enchant young readers and provide the perfect bedtime reading, any day of the year.

SUPER DAD?

He might not have a spandex uniform, and he might not have super powers . . . actually, there are lot of things this super Dad can’t do, and My Dad, My Hero by Ethan Long lists all of them. A little redheaded boy with a pet parrot follows his father through his day-to-day routine, watching him fumble and bumble through life. The boy catches a peek of his dad without super strength when Mom has to help him open a jar of pickles. His dad is definitely not invincible, since he cuts himself shaving three times. He doesn’t dress like a hero with a cape hiding underneath his clothes, but he does have a tiny bit of toilet paper trailing from his shoe. Dad’s foibles could have been a joke that kept on going, but the story takes a different direction. As he thinks back to throwing a baseball, playing Battleship and washing the car with his down-to-earth dad, the boy realizes “my Dad does spend a lot of time with me.” And that makes him both "super" and a "hero" in the eyes of his son.

My Dad, My Hero pokes fun at the big guys we love the most, but it also celebrates them in spite of their imperfections. The retro Ben-Day dot-style of illustration coupled with the comic book layout gives this picture book the nostalgic feel of an old-school superhero graphic novel. Dad's dialogue in every scene is limited to sound effects and grunts, which allows the little boy’s narration to say it all.

TWO SIDES TO THE STORY

Sadie and her dad are finally going to the zoo, and nothing—not an escaped tiger or even some rain—will stop them from getting there. Everything always gets in the way of the zoo, but Sadie is determined that today will be perfect. During the ride there, when Dad says, “Sadie, it’s raining,” Sadie is 100-percent positive that it’s not. When she looks out her window, the sun is shining and people everywhere are enjoying the beautiful weather. Dad’s side might be gloomy and raining, but Sadie sees sunflowers and people watering their lawns. They finally arrive at the zoo, but when Sadie gets out to inspect Dad’s side, she announces, “I don’t want you to get wet . . . We should come back to the zoo another day.” Then, just as they begin to head home, the sun comes out on both sides of the car. With huge eyes, Sadie announces, “We’re going to the zoo,” and away they go.

My Side of the Car is written and illustrated by father-daughter duo Kate and Jules Feiffer, who actually had this very conversation (and to this day, Kate is convinced she was right!). Drawn with watercolor and pencil, the loose-line illustrations show a wonky red car driving down a forest road with one side in puddles and the other in the sun. Both sides are created in wild scribbles, as though the illustrations themselves come straight from a child. Dad is wonderfully patient with the forgivably stubborn daughter, and his silence in the face of her unflinching optimism makes her perfect day seem possible. My Side of the Car is a funny book with a wonderful appreciation for a child’s perspective.

A PRIZE FOR DAD

Squirrels love their dads, too, and the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed squirrel in Blue-Ribbon Dad really loves his. The story begins at noon, announcing a countdown for the next five hours until Dad comes home from work. Between moments of the countdown, the little squirrel thinks of all the great things his father does for him, such as waking him up in the morning, helping with his homework and teaching him to tie his shoes. At hour four, Mom begins to bake a cake for the father’s return, while the little squirrel goes in search of his glue, glitter and clay. The two continue the countdown while hard at work, only stopping to think of how Dad reads bedtime stories and comes to swimming practice. Then—finally!—Dad comes home to Mom’s cake and the little squirrel’s homemade Blue Ribbon to celebrate just how great a dad he is.

Simple text and cuddly characters make Blue-Ribbon Dad an ideal book for fathers and new readers to share. Author Beth Raisner Glass tells the story in sing-song rhyme, perfect for sounding out letters and letting little ones everywhere fall in love with reading (“When it’s time for haircuts / My dad sits next to me. / We each look in the mirror, / As handsome as can be!”). Illustrator Margie Moore gives the story its traditional charm with black pen and watercolor squirrels on cold-press paper. Blue-Ribbon Dad loves dads so much, it includes a free punch-out blue ribbon for children to give to their own fathers.

ONE LAST LAP BEFORE BED

Mitchell will not go to bed—but when his dad surprises him with a very special driver's license, bedtime can’t come fast enough! His new car is up on his dad’s own shoulders, and after some quick inspections of the tires (feet), the engine (tummy) and the windshield (glasses), Mitchell and his dad are off! “VROOM!” says his dad as Mitchell hits the gas and (after ramming a wall and quickly hitting reverse) zips around the corner to bed. The next night, Mitchell loves to honk the horn (Dad’s nose) as they screech around corners with a red-dash trail behind them to reveal their wild route. When it’s time to refill the gas tank, Mitchell and his car have a bit of a disagreement on the fuel (cookies!) and soon it’s time for bed. Mitchell falls asleep and dreams of driving through a vibrant yellow field with a cookie gas station in the distance.

A fast-paced, laugh-out-loud book, Mitchell’s License is a great Father’s Day gift for the guys who know just how to keep their rambunctious drivers happy. Author Hallie Durand finds the funniest ways for Mitchell to drive his dad, such as backing him out of the garage by yanking on his ear and “[turning] on his headlights and [pulling] up to the cookie jar.” Illustrator Tony Fucile’s digital art has a pencil-and-marker look that captures a cool young dad with a soul patch who is a curly-haired ball of energy. For father-son car lovers everywhere, Mitchell’s License is just too much fun to read only once before bedtime—your little driver will want at least one more lap before he drops into bed.

Whether fathers are superheroes or average guys, human or animal or even mechanical, Father’s Day is a day to celebrate dads of all kinds. These four picture books will enchant young readers and provide the perfect bedtime reading, any day of the year. SUPER DAD? He might not have a spandex uniform, and he might […]
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The month of October is great for family activities, whether you’re carving pumpkins, picking apples or telling ghost stories over s’mores. It all leads up to one of the best nights of the year, filled with candy and crazy costumes (and the thrill of being just a little scared!). These four picture books run the gamut from heartfelt to hilarious to get kids into the true spirit of Halloween.

THE BONDS (AND BONES) OF FRIENDSHIP

Friendship conquers all in Bone Dog, the tender and spooky Halloween tale by Eric Rohmann. In the spirit of Día de los Muertos, this vivid picture book couples trick-or-treating with the powerful connection between a child and his lost loved one.

Gus and his bushy-tailed dog Ella are best friends, but one night, as they sit before a glowing full moon, Ella announces, “I’m an old dog and won’t be around much longer,” though she promises to always be with him. In heartbreaking comic book-style frames, Gus slowly moves on from the death of his dog.

On Halloween night, Gus finds himself surrounded by a rattling group of graveyard skeletons. They close in, threatening Gus with puns (“Bone appétit!!” and “You’ve got guts, kid . . . but not for long!”). Suddenly, skeleton Ella appears, and she and Gus howl at the moon until a parade of barking dogs run the spooks off the page. The last to be seen of the skeletons is a proud dachshund trotting away with a femur. And just before Ella disappears, she reminds Gus that she will always be with him.

Rohmann, winner of the 2003 Caldecott Medal for My Friend Rabbit, creates a funny, memorable ghost story while simultaneously addressing the loss of a pet. The chunky illustrations with thick black outlines, created with a hand-colored relief print technique, transform soft blue hues into a textured Halloween evening.

Particularly touching for young ones dealing with loss, Bone Dog is a Halloween book with heart.

A GROSS-OUT GUESSING GAME

What’s In the Witch’s Kitchen? invites young readers on a tour through the icky old witch’s toaster, teapot and other kitchen items. Nick Sharratt, prominent British children’s author and illustrator, makes learning fun with this touchable Halloween must-read.

Each turn of the page reveals a new question, such as “What’s in the jar in the witch’s kitchen?” On the adjacent page is the item in question, with a flap that can be lifted in either direction to reveal two different answers. Kids can practice their directions as they guess which way to lift the flap (“Open it left or open it right. Will it be a nice surprise? Will you lose your appetite?”), exposing either “Lollipops!” or “Rabbit plops!” Little learners will squeal with delight as they discover snakes or cupcakes in the tin, and bats with fleas or tasty cheese in the fridge. It is not until the very last page that readers meet the purple-haired witch, who bursts through the back door with a pop-up “Boo!”

The neon-colored digital illustrations and kid-friendly paper engineering make What’s In the Witch’s Kitchen? a fun activity for learning directions and getting in the spirit of Halloween. The witch’s kitchen is decorated with classic Halloween images, perfect for recognizing moons, brooms and newts. This is a book that turns reading time into really big fun.

A TOOTHSOME TREAT

All the members of Gibbus Moony’s vampire family are nectarians—they eat only fruit—but when Gibbus grows his first set of grown-up fangs, he wants to bite “something big. Something that moved. Something that . . . noticed.”

And so the little vampire, in red overalls and a green cape, begins to stalk about, gnawing on toys and the ears of his slumbering grandpa. Gibb then heads outside to seek juicier prey, where he meets his new human neighbors, a boy named Moe and his biting little sister.

Gibb prepares to chomp, but freezes when Moe complains about his sister: “Biting’s for babies . . . Slobbery, stinky, diaper babies.” Suddenly, being a nectarian doesn’t seem so bad! Gibb shares an apple with his new human pal, who declares the fruit “totally toothsome!” The day ends with a promise of baseball and dinner with the whole vamp family—and some pineapple upside-down cake!

Jen Corace’s pen, ink with watercolor and acrylic illustrations are the true charm of this book. Corace’s fine art prints have gained a following online and her first book, Little Pea, captured the lovable rebellion of a little veggie. She brings Moony and his family to life with crisp, whimsical scenes that feel both uncluttered and fun. Along with Leslie Muir’s tooth puns (“Fangtastic!”), they make Gibbus Moony Wants to Bite You! totally toothsome indeed.

BEDTIME FOR LITTLE MONSTERS

Though Halloween tales and lots of candy may keep kids far from their beds, sleep must come eventually. There is no better way to wind down trick-or-treaters than with Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters by children’s book legend Jane Yolen.

The creepy-crawly rhyming lullaby follows monster kids as they rush out of school for an autumn afternoon (“Monsters run, Monsters stumble, / Monsters hip-hop, Monsters tumble . . .”). Some are as big as a whale (with three eyes!), some have horns (one, two or three!) some slither and some have tails—but they do the same things human kids do. After an afternoon of play, the rumpus disperses and two little monsters head home to begin their nighttime routine: a dinner of gruesome worm burgers, a bath and prayers, then to bed. The story winds down with a medley of monster growls, burps and snarls until trickling off into the perfect “zzzz.”

Illustrator Kelly Murphy (Masterpiece) was hand-picked by Yolen for this rambunctious read-aloud, and her soft oil, acrylic and gel medium illustrations transition from hues of gold and green to blue and purple, leading monsters and readers alike toward sleep. It’s the perfect end to a spooky October day.

The month of October is great for family activities, whether you’re carving pumpkins, picking apples or telling ghost stories over s’mores. It all leads up to one of the best nights of the year, filled with candy and crazy costumes (and the thrill of being just a little scared!). These four picture books run the […]
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It’s easy to love sweet teen stories filled with romance and hope, but young adult novels devoted to darker themes and harder struggles have the greatest power to change a young life. One narrative form that’s particularly effective in exploring tough teen stories is poetry—often overlooked, but nevertheless singular in its ability to explore surface and hidden emotions simultaneously. The following books, two wrenching novels-in-verse and one unconventional collection of fairy-tale poetry, seek out hope in the darkness, honoring not only the complexities of teen angst but also the strength required to take it all in stride.

NOT ALONE
New York Times best-selling author Ellen Hopkins shattered YA expectations with her debut novel-in-verse Crank, the fictionalized account of her own daughter’s addiction to meth. Her newest offering, Tilt, drops emotional bombs on three teenagers (inspired by characters from Hopkins’ adult novel Triangles) caught in the throes of love, sex, death and broken families.

Mikayla has found the boy she wants to be with for the rest of her life, but when she winds up pregnant, she discovers she must make the most difficult decision by herself. Shane struggles with what it means to be a man and, perhaps even more impossibly, what it means to be in love with a boy with HIV. Harley, the youngest of the three, is desperate to make the leap from child to young woman, always in a rush to gain male attention.

These three teens barely know who they are, let alone who they will become. At first glance, their hopes and fears—and those of their friends and family—are polarized and seem crushing to each individual. Perhaps the hardest part of being a teenager is feeling hopelessly alone with the weight of the world, but the verses in Tilt reveal the common ground of each teen’s problem, bringing them together until the crises overlap and are borne by all. Harley hits the crux:

“I Hate How Relationships / Are so fragile. How they / crack / shatter / fall to pieces. / And the hammer is / time / distance / moving forward. / Why can’t people grow / closer / tighter / welded together? / Instead they go / looking / for the next / frail connection. / There must be a way to / stay / in love / no matter what.”

Tilt creates a space where any troubled teenager can lay their fears, big or small, and find strength. With Hopkins’ poetry, they are not alone.

A LOST CHILDHOOD
With My Book of Life by Angel, Martine Leavitt swaps the spellbinding romance of her novel Keturah and Lord Death (a National Book Award finalist) for poetic fearlessness. After the death of her mother, 16-year-old Angel started stealing display shoes at the mall. There, she met Call, who claimed he loved her, doped her up with “candy” and sent her out to turn tricks. On the street, effervescent Serena takes Angel under her wing, guides her during her first months and teaches her to pray “angel, angel” when she’s afraid. When Serena disappears from her sidewalk, Angel feels compelled to help Call’s newest girl, an 11-year-old named Melli. Angel is ordered to show Melli the ropes, but instead she begins a desperate search to save the little girl, a quest she records through verse:

“When you write a poem / you get to be a baby god-girl /and in you is a tiny universe, a dollhouse universe / with planets the size of peas and suns like marbles / all inside you . . . // and if you write it good enough / you could maybe spin the world backwards / maybe I could watch myself walking backwards / walking away from Call and all the men / and putting the shoes back on the display shelf / and walking backwards until I was a dot / and disappeared.”

Angel’s poetry serves as both a record of life on the streets and a way to lift herself above the pandemonium of the world she now inhabits. One of her clients, a professor named John, asks her to read book nine of Paradise Lost when they are together, and her connections to angels grow as she learns about Eve and the creation of knowledge. She never writes of faith; the strength of her belief surpasses her ability to explain it. As Milton gave understanding to fallen angels, Leavitt gives a voice to a girl seeking salvation from an impossible cycle of drugs and violence.

WICKED TALES
Writers have long recognized the dark shadows between the lines of classic fairy tales: witches eating children, wolves eating grandmothers, curses, poisons. In contemporary retellings, such as those by Gregory Maguire, Jackson Pearce and Marissa Meyer, the simple construct of good vs. evil is replaced by muddier morals and more complex emotions.

Ron Koertge (Stoner & Spaz) goes beyond turning fairy tales upside down; in Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses, he forces them inside out, swapping Ever After magic for something sinister. Each of the 23 free-verse poems is darker than the last: Cinderella’s evil stepsisters garner pity for their loneliness; Thumbelina leaves death in her wake as she searches for love; Rapunzel silently misses her witch’s consuming devotion. Accompanying the poems are high-contrast black-and-white illustrations by Andrea Dezso that resemble Chinese papercutting. Many authors have hammered fairy tales into something wicked, but after reading this collection, the words “Once upon a time . . .” will never sound the same again.

It’s easy to love sweet teen stories filled with romance and hope, but young adult novels devoted to darker themes and harder struggles have the greatest power to change a young life. One narrative form that’s particularly effective in exploring tough teen stories is poetry—often overlooked, but nevertheless singular in its ability to explore surface […]
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In the art of the short story, every word is a nerve ending. In these four new collections of stories, words are put to their best use.

CALL TO ARMS

A foreign war buzzes constantly in the minds of the male characters in Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s first collection, Brief Encounters with the Enemy. Each of these young men is in a desperate place, working a dead-end job and trying to shake his stagnancy. By enlisting, they hope to align themselves with society’s central focus, to be the tip of the knife, but just as the weather in these stories is always out of season (it’s hot when it should be cold, cold when it should be hot), these expectations are never met.

In the crucial, climactic “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy,” a young soldier finds his deployment to be as pointless as the jobs back home. His restlessness becomes so unbearable that he kills a man, just for something to do. War offers the illusion of choice and action, but ultimately leaves the boys without the sense of purpose they so desperately desire.

And just when it seems that an entire generation is hopeless, the collection wraps with “Victory,” the story of a janitor who discovers happiness in the smallest, most harmless of rebellions.

Sayrafiezadeh first burst onto the literary scene with his 2009 memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free. Accelerating through the curve with characters who are colossally misguided and still likable—reminiscent of Junot Díaz’s Yunior—this is an astounding first collection.

THEY LOOK LIKE ANTS

In Bobcat and Other Stories, North Carolina writer Rebecca Lee expertly navigates the lives of characters—often academics—who are deeply and wonderfully flawed. Perception and desire—the kind of pure, single-minded desire Rilke wrote of—drive them, and they only gain control over their lives when given the opportunity to judge the lives of others. In these moments, Lee slows her pace to wade in the beauty and tragedy of it all, producing stories that are by turns languorous and unsettled.

In the subtly executed “Bobcat,” a hostess warily surveys her dinner party—wondering if one woman knows her husband is cheating on her, or if the guest who claims she was attacked by a bobcat is lying—yet never sees what is actually going on. In the bizarre “Slatland,” a creepy professor teaches a young girl how to exit her body—literally stare down upon herself—and this otherworldly trick morphs from a defensive tool to one that leaves her powerless.

Through these stories, the reader becomes a hunter, stalking the most dangerous sides of ourselves—often revealing something good underneath it all.

NEW MYTHOLOGY

The stories in Aimee Bender’s latest collection, The Color Master, are linked through a pervading sense of the writer’s experimentation. As with the works of Gabriel García Márquez, they render the phrase “fairy tale” forgettable: Bender approaches her strange tales with restrained, self-aware observation and looks upon her characters with as much wonder as the reader.

In the arresting “Mending Tigers,” two sisters travel to Malaysia, where tigers with great lacerations down their backs appear from the jungle and lie at the feet of women trained to sew them back together. In “The Color Master,” a protégé is tasked with making a dress the color of the moon. And in “The Red Ribbon,” a woman indulges in a prostitution fantasy with her husband, and afterward begins to imagine commodifying all elements of her life.

The wallop packed by each story begs for each one to be consumed individually, but though Bender’s natural prose makes for easy reading, these are not bite-sized tales. They are undeniably filling, with a wealth of imagination that transforms each one into a compact novel.

HOME IS NOWHERE

In the mind of Ethan Rutherford, there’s something ludicrous and sparkling to our existence. In his debut story collection, The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories, he reveals it has always been this way by exploring moments of isolation, loss and homesickness.

In “The Peripatetic Coffin,” young Confederates volunteer to man the submarine Hunley, fully aware that it is a doomed mission from the start. “The Saint Ana,” the story of a Russian ship locked in an Arctic sheet of ice, opens with a man shouting, “Who’s peeing on me?” And seemingly out of the blue comes “John, for Christmas,” the story of a couple dreading the return of their son, which unfolds with all the restraint of Raymond Carver.

Tempered by Rutherford’s humor in the face of unavoidable tragedy, these imaginative stories are vital, present and alive. Rutherford—who is also a guitarist for the band Penny­royal—hasn’t landed on the exact story he wants to tell, as demonstrated by the fact that these tales jump from sleepaway camp legends to whaling expeditions. It would be no surprise if elements from these stories worked their way into a larger work—so pay close attention and hope for a novel both great and hilarious.

In the art of the short story, every word is a nerve ending. In these four new collections of stories, words are put to their best use. CALL TO ARMS A foreign war buzzes constantly in the minds of the male characters in Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s first collection, Brief Encounters with the Enemy. Each of these […]
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“High priestess of fashion” Diana Vreeland may have transformed Vogue into the bible of contemporary American style, but she is also known for her way with words. In Diana Vreeland Memos, Vreeland’s grandson Alexander has collected more than 250 memos and letters from her nine years as Vogue editor-in-chief to reveal the woman through her own voice. Nine chapters focus on Vreeland’s strengths and passions, from her management style to her vision of the future. Each chapter opens with notes from Vogue editors who worked with Vreeland, and images from Vogue complement the text. There is humor here, as in one particularly concerned note: “The sticky situation with fringe is, of course, extremely serious.” There is poetry as well, as in a short memo on the world’s “hidden anger,” manifesting itself on our skin and in our hearts. Who would have thought that glorified Post-Its would be this interesting? Memos is surprisingly appealing as an intimate look into the frivolity, vision and creativity of Vreeland’s Vogue.

NOT SUGAR AND SPICE

From the “shiny happy ladies” of Jezebel.com comes The Book of Jezebel, an encyclopedic guide to “lady things,” providing insightful and hilarious commentary on pop culture, politics, history and just about everything relating to women. This A-to-Z compendium of feminist “fact and opinion” contains more than a thousand entries ranging from abortion rights to zits, and is accompanied by funny, often shameless photographs and illustrations. There are also full-page taxonomies of nice guys and famous spinsters, the Periodic Table for your period, a brief history of pants and quite possibly the most accurate depiction of a tube top in all of recorded history. This book is serious fun, whether you’re flipping quickly for a snort-worthy one-liner (from the definition for librarian: “[I]n popular culture, a quiet brunette with glasses, hiding a slammin’ body and a libido set to eleven under that cardigan and tweed skirt”) or want to dig into the bio of a fearless performance artist.

HOMESPUN TALES

Knitting is no longer Granny’s game. Writes Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle and editor of Knitting Yarns: “Knitting is hot, and shows no signs of cooling.” During a period of great loss, Hood found a way to cope with her grief through knitting’s calming, steady rhythm. But that’s only Hood’s story, and in Knitting Yarns, she has collected original essays (and one poem) from 27 best-selling and beloved writers. Some are practical, like Sue Grafton’s “Teaching a Child to Knit,” while others tell stories of pain and hope, like Ann Patchett’s “How Knitting Saved My Life. Twice.” Others trace the bonds between mothers and daughters, as with Joyce Maynard’s “Straw into Gold.” And after reading, you can knit some super-cute fingerless gloves using one of the six knitting patterns included in the book.

LADIES OF LITERATURE

We all remember the first time we read about Catherine Earnshaw falling irreparably in love in Wuthering Heights or about Edna Pontellier approaching the water in The Awakening. We remember how our favorite female characters transformed us, terrified us and enchanted us. Painter Samantha Hahn shares her own vision of 50 of literature’s most beloved heroines in Well-Read Women. Hahn’s watercolor paintings, each accompanied by hand-lettered quotations, evoke the tragedy, fierceness or innocence of characters ranging from Anna Karenina to Jane Eyre. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables holds the reader’s gaze, while Little Women’s Jo March couldn’t be bothered to put her shoes on. Other women nearly vanish into the soft bleed of watercolor, as with Middlemarch’s Dorothea Brooke, who is little more than the silhouette of her chin and one clever eye. Both a collection of striking artwork and classic quotations, Well-Read Women is a visual and literary delight.

AT HOME WITH LAUDER

Luxury and comfort blend perfectly in the gorgeous Beauty at Home. Aerin Lauder, granddaughter of Estée, takes readers into her office and her homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons to share classic inspiration from every inch of her life. Books this beautiful often feel dominated by the fantasy—who has the time or the money? But with Beauty at Home, Lauder tempers her extravagance with down-to-earth suggestions for mac’n’cheese and hostess gifts. Her boys’ rooms look refreshingly livable, with their artwork proudly displayed on the walls. After all, Lauder is a working mom, and while she clearly lives in a dream world, she still provides readers with the sense that clean simplicity can be incorporated into any woman’s life, no matter how busy. Lauder is as inspiring and savvy as her grandmother, but with a contemporary twist.

DANGEROUS HOUSEWIVES

The original bad girls of psychological suspense come together in Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, an anthology of 14 short stories edited by Sarah Weinman. From the 1940s through the ’70s, long before thriller fans fell in love with haunting tales by Gillian Flynn and Tana French, a generation of now-unknown female writers turned the male-dominated crime fiction genre into a stomping ground for stifled wives exploring their desperate domestic situations. Weinman introduces the stories with a fascinating history of female mystery writers and their connections to both the feminist movement and the evolution of the genre. These writers transformed ordinary life and “pesky women’s issues” into slow-burning thrillers that not only entertained but also announced a voice for the women of the mid-20th century.

This holiday season, make her laugh, make her cry or make her think. But certainly make her curl up with a great book.
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Though it evolves constantly, fashion would grow stagnant without personal flourishes like a favorite pair of lived-in jeans. “The best things in life are free,” Chanel famously said. “The second best are very expensive.”

TASTEMAKERS
Fashion can be considered trivial or superficial, and in many ways this is true. But at its best, fashion can incite, even disturb, the imagination. Between the pages of W magazine, with its commitment to pushing boundaries and fostering the art of long-form photography, it thrives. Editor-in-Chief Stefano Tonchi collects 10 of the magazine’s finest productions from the past two decades in W: Stories, allowing an unexpected peek behind these remarkable, avant-garde editorials with outtakes, inspiration boards and brief essays from photographers, designers and more. Steven Meisel’s first shoot with W raised questions of beauty and gender with aggressive, androgynous models sprawling up and down half-lit urban alleys. Actress Tilda Swinton recalls her and photographer Tim Walker’s pilgrimage to Iceland, where they shot alien, forbidding images that at times look like stills from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Photographer Alex Prager describes assembling a lovely and gloomy cast of characters to portray a Hitchcockian day at the races. This is fashion at its most provocative, a necessary book for minds that require a little disturbance.

Tilda Swinton in W magazine, August 2011. From W: Stories, reprinted with permission.

CLOTHES HORSE
From fantasy we move to reality, and no book better captures the relationship between real women and their clothing than Women in Clothes. The truly stylish—or even those who have given the slightest thought to their style—aren’t taking their every cue from glossy magazine spreads, so editors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton set out to discover just what women think about when they put themselves together. The result is a truly all-encompassing (but never overwhelming), contemporary “philosophy of style,” a collection of interviews and surveys of more than 600 artists, writers and other women. It’s like a massive conference call with all your friends and everyone else’s friends, too. As Heti writes, “The most compelling women are the ones who are distinctive, who are most like themselves and least like other women.” It’s nice to feel that your idiosyncracies and influences can be considered as important as good tailoring, and you may find yourself polling your friends, looking at other women differently or at least feeling a little better about owning 10 gray sweatshirts.

Or perhaps you have 12 pairs of red shoes or too many wrap dresses—no judgment either way. That being said, you’re likely to have one pair of red flats you love more than any other. Based on Emily Spivack’s blog of the same name, Worn Stories eschews the beautiful side of fashion for the pricelessness and singularity of that one favorite thing. More than 60 cultural figures and celebs, many of whom reside in New York, reveal their personal connections to just one item of clothing, from fashion designer and self-declared “total dork” Cynthia Rowley’s Girl Scout sash to John Hodgman’s Ayn Rand dress. One piece of clothing can tell quite a story, and this book is delightful proof of that.

PEARLS AND FLATS
Time and time again we return to Coco Chanel (1883-1971), the patron saint of classic, feminine style and a cultural force unlike any before or since. Though we recreate her image with our cardigans and taupe flats, biographers who have attempted to capture Chanel are more often than not thwarted by their own subject. Chanel notoriously tried to block anyone from writing her story and repeatedly obfuscated fact with fiction. According to Rhonda K. Garelick, author of Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History, the gaps in Chanel’s story are as essential to her persona as her stylistic revolution. So rather than “pinning down a ghost,” this new bio explores Chanel’s story (as we know it) in relationship to the vast theater of European history. Garelick—who was granted unrestricted access to the Chanel Archives in Paris and to the diaries of Chanel’s lover, Grand Duke Dmitri Romanov—has produced an epic, well-researched balance of historical resonance and breathless admiration.

TIMELESS ARCHIVES
Fashion on its grandest scale lies within the pages of Vogue and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. The Met’s Costume Institute (reopened this year as the Anna Wintour Costume Center) houses more than 35,000 costumes and accessories from the 15th century on, and has been funded since 1948 by the yearly Costume Institute Benefit, an evening of pretty people dressed in pretty things. This book looks back on the exhibitions and galas of the 21st century, beginning with 2001’s “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years” and ending with the architectural feats of high-glamour ball gowns in 2014’s “Charles James: Beyond Fashion.” Featuring Vogue editorials and essays by Hamish Bowles, this is where art, fashion and history collide, where creativity meets—and manipulates—our culture. It might be frivolous, but it’s far from trivial.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Though it evolves constantly, fashion would grow stagnant without personal flourishes like a favorite pair of lived-in jeans. “The best things in life are free,” Chanel famously said. “The second best are very expensive.”
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FALLING FOR FASHION
Why do we love the way we do? And how? And who? In The Looks of Love: 50 Moments in Fashion That Inspired Romance, Hal Rubenstein, author of 100 Unforgettable Dresses and co-founder of InStyle magazine, approaches this timeless topic through movies, television, music, fashion, politics and advertising, revealing how style can forever alter our notions of gender roles, sexuality and what love should look like. Rubenstein discusses influences like John Galliano, Nancy Reagan and grunge darlings Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, but his sweet spot is film, which he explores with infectious enthusiasm. Consider how Flashdance’s sliced sweatshirts resonated with a new generation of sexually independent young women. And where would trench coats be without Casablanca? Rubenstein’s prose is romantic, wry and even a little bit wicked; he knows what makes us tear up and when we want to laugh (kindly or not). Love can sour as quickly as the appeal of shoulder pads, but if you’re lucky, it can last a lifetime.

COSMETIC LEGACY
In the early ’90s, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth insisted that wearing makeup was a “violent backlash against feminism.” Professional makeup artist Lisa Eldridge offers the ultimate counterpoint with Face Paint. Makeup can be playful and creative, and while Eldridge has plenty of fun discussing beauty pioneers such as Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Grace Jones, she considers makeup with an anthropological eye: “[T]he freedom and rights accorded to women during a given period are very closely linked to the freedom with which they painted their faces.” Beginning in ancient Egypt and moving through the golden age of Hollywood, Eldridge traces the vast history of cosmetics, explores the evolution of materials and techniques, and delves into the intrinsic ties between women’s history and the way we embellish our skin and lips. Makeup is what you make of it, Eldridge insists. It can make you part of the tribe, or it can set you apart from it.

PEOPLE, PARTIES, PLACES
Where’s Waldo? meets Perez Hilton in the hilariously illustrated Where’s Karl?: A Fashion-Forward Parody by Stacey Caldwell, Ajiri Aki and Michelle Baron. Fictional fashion blogger Fleur takes readers to the trendiest places around the world, from a photoshoot in Marrakech to Art Basel Miami. Our mission is to locate Karl Lagerfeld amid the riotous, flamboyant crowd, but you’ll also spot style crushes like Tilda Swinton and the Olsen twins, plus other members of the fashion elite, or as Fleur calls them, “mostly undiagnosed lunatics and megalomaniacs with highly covetable outfits.” Go ahead—obsess.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Explore the illustrious history of fashion through these stylish new books—and have a bit of frivolous fun while you’re at it.
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LITTLE GOLDEN BOOK
Two classic fairy tales combine with a trademark Neil Gaiman twist in The Sleeper and the Spindle. Originally published without illustrations in the anthology Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt, Gaiman’s tale melds the darkest elements of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White for something familiar yet wickedly updated. Warrior queen Snow White (though she’s not named outright) has just survived her yearlong sleeping curse and is preparing to marry a man she’d much rather not. When three dwarfs warn her that a sleeping curse spreads toward her lands, she and her short-statured companions take off to save Sleeping Beauty and the many, many people who have fallen victim to the curse. While Gaiman’s short tale offers moments of whimsy and humor, the black-and-white illustrations by Kate Greenaway Award winner Chris Riddell, gilded here and there with metallic details, make this book worthy of any bookshelf. From the delicate spiderwebs that spread over the sleeping citizens to the sagging, loose skin of a creepy old woman who guards Sleeping Beauty, Riddell’s illustrations elevate The Sleeper and the Spindle to nothing less than an object of art.

WOMEN OF SCIENCE
Women have more access to education and career advancement than ever before in history. However, they certainly haven’t achieved parity with men, with women making up only a third of scientific researchers worldwide. And all too often, the scientific contributions of women throughout history have gone unacknowledged. Following up the award-winning Magnificent Minds, Pendred E. Noyce’s Remarkable Minds spotlights 17 more pioneering women in science, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Spanning seven countries and three centuries, the brilliant heroines of Remarkable Minds are forgotten no more, from a French noblewoman to the granddaughter of slaves, from women who hesitated to call themselves scientists and those who became winners of the Nobel Prize. For all the many advancements highlighted here, perhaps what readers will remember best of all is the stories of women helping women, advising and advocating for each other and celebrating each other’s achievements.

ROOKIE’S SENIOR YEAR
Rookiemag.com is an online, independent magazine written by young women, for young women, and Rookie Yearbook Four is the latest compilation of the very best art, essays, photographs, playlists, DIY tutorials, guides and interviews from June 2014 through May 2015. In the tradition of yearbooks, this is also the last in the series, as editor and founder Tavi Gevinson grows up, graduates, moves out and waves goodbye to this format of Rookie—while promising that the mag and its community will continue. In Rookie’s senior yearbook, readers explore essays on rape culture, heartbreak, humility, role models, college admissions, sex, crushes and love; on honoring yourself, your body, your BFF and your creativity; on transitions big and small. There are themed playlists with power anthems, poetry and photography by teens, interviews with Donna Tartt, Laverne Cox, FKA twigs and Genevieve Liu (the founder of Surviving Life After a Parent Dies, or SLAP’D), plus so much more. In Yearbook Two, Tavi wrote that “the closest thing I have to the sense that someone, somewhere is watching over me is the knowledge that everything I could possibly feel has been articulated by another human being in art.” Here it is, as powerful as it is playful—everything a teen girl’s heart has ever felt and may ever feel.

Do you have a teen on your gift list whose bookshelf holds their most prized possessions, who has crushes on fictional characters and who seems more interested in make-believe lands than the real world? You’re in luck: These three new books make ideal gifts for the book-obsessed teen.

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As I’m writing this, the online style community is rightfully pitching a fit over the smug comments by Vogue.com editors about “desperate” bloggers attending Milan Fashion Week. Such comments reflect the arrogance of those who fail to recognize today’s real fashion influencers. Fortunately, three of this year’s best style books know what an influencer looks like.

GO AHEAD AND COVET
When TheCoveteur.com launched in 2011, it was little more than a handful of profiles of the “unsung heroes of the [fashion] industry,” like makeup artists and stylists, individuals who guide our cultural aesthetic without our even knowing. Today, the website receives over four million visitors each month. The Coveteur: Private Spaces, Personal Style assembles 43 models, designers and style icons who have invited the Coveteur squad into their homes to photograph the contents of their (multiple) closets and the objects that fill their personal spaces. 

The book moves alphabetically, from Jessica Alba to Japanese DJ Mademoiselle Yulia, in a ravenous mural of curated excess. Each tastemaker’s section opens with a gushy essay from Coveteur cofounders Stephanie Mark and Jake Rosenberg about the experience of making these private spaces public, followed by photos that are simultaneously blown-out and wonderfully oversaturated. Some profiles are an amuse-bouche, as with designer Alice Temperley, whose mansion sits atop an ancient Tudor bear-fighting pen. Other profiles feel gluttonous, like Linda Rodin’s—creator of “cultish elixir” Rodin Olio Lusso—whose over-the-top piles of “thingamabobs” look like the Little Mermaid’s collection of souvenirs. 

In the Coveteur world, decadence is synonymous with compulsive hoarding, and “excess” is the dirty word you can’t stop saying.

SNEAKERHEADS
The museum exhibition “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture” is currently touring the United States, hopping from Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum to its current placement at Kentucky’s Speed Art Museum. From an 1860 spiked running shoe to original Air Jordan 1s, the 150 iconic sneakers included in the show represent the shoe’s cultural evolution from physical fitness tool to status symbol. There is a book associated with this show, Out of the Box by Elizabeth Semmelhack, which includes interviews, essays and ad campaigns. But for a comprehensive encyclopedia to sneakers, add Mathieu Le Maux’s 1000 Sneakers: A Guide to the World’s Greatest Kicks, from Sport to Street to your collection. It’s a fully loaded catalog for sneakerheads, with side-by-side comparisons of all the sneakers that matter most, from groundbreaking designs by Nike and Adidas to luxury styles from Yves Saint Laurent and Lanvin. It’s bright and bold, with need-to-know facts, quick stats and anecdotes about sneaker superstars like Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith. Did you know “Asics” is an acronym for the Latin phrase anima sana in corpore sano, meaning “a healthy soul in a healthy body”? And because it’s (arguably) impossible to determine which sneaker is the best, there’s a section dedicated to the top shoes in a variety of categories: the most expensive, the top sneakers in movies, top Kanye, even the best for babies. See which sneakers are hottest in 2016, check out the glossary in the back for any further questions, and your education is complete.

GIRLBOSSES
Does anyone else get tired of dwelling on how hard it is to be a girl? Don’t get me wrong—give me any opportunity to honor the powerhouse women who blazed the trail, who inched us closer to equality in the face of sexism, and I’ll take it. But for those who need an exit strategy for the conversation, there’s Nasty Galaxy by Sophia Amoruso, entrepreneur and founder of fashion retailer Nasty Gal. Following her bestselling #GIRLBOSS, it’s a baby-pink compendium of Amoruso’s personal brand, filled with music, movie and book recommendations, profiles of “Bad Bitches” like Betty Davis, Grace Jones and Meiko Kaji, interviews with “Girlbosses” like filmmaker Alex Prager and Man Repeller founder Leandra Medine, and absolutely zero fashion advice. Alternately philosophical and frivolous, Amoruso shares her struggles with professional networking, quotes Gertrude Stein and offers some of the most hilarious advice that I’ve ever seen in a fashion book, with varying levels of usefulness (How to Go Commando; How to Check Out of a Fancy Hotel). In the Nasty Galaxy, style inspiration is infinite: Amoruso’s flawless bedroom was styled after a pair of vintage suede shorts.

Equal parts bad behavior and modern-day class, Nasty Galaxy is a glut of cool.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

As I’m writing this, the online style community is rightfully pitching a fit over the smug comments by Vogue.com editors about “desperate” bloggers attending Milan Fashion Week. Such comments reflect the arrogance of those who fail to recognize today’s real fashion influencers. Fortunately, three of this year’s best style books know what an influencer looks like.

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