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Disabled existence is a near-constant exercise in ingenuity. Writer and activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha calls it “picking the lock of our lives.” Sussing out where we fit, with whom and when we can finally just be is all part of our lifelong search for belonging, partnership and access that’s specifically cripped. 

Disability Intimacy: Essays on Love, Care, and Desire is the latest anthology edited by author and activist Alice Wong (Year of the Tiger). Its 40 contributors explore the myriad ways we disabled folks long for, cultivate and savor intimacy. Yep, it’s about sex. And friendship. And activism. And pets. And art. And the self. 

True to the principles of disability justice (a term coined by artist Patty Berne, creator of the disability justice-based performance project Sins Invalid), Disability Intimacy is intersectional and multifaceted, illuminating prismatic points where all the people, experiences and places we call beloved converge. 

In this memorable follow-up to her Disability Visibility anthology, Wong has curated a collection of essays from multiply marginalized disabled people, including writers and activists who are LGBTQ+, poor, multiracial and of color. In every case, Disability Intimacy contributors offer new ways to consider how the many facets of identity shape intimacy needs, desire and relationships. An essay by journalist s.e. smith meditates on the thoughts and emotions that come up during physical therapy; Rabbi Elliot Kulka explores the liberation found in rest while parenting; Piepzna-Samarasinha writes beautifully about longing and solitude. “My body is the oldest story in the world,” writes Naomi Ortiz. “Part broken, part brilliant, all nuance, disability offers a layer of perspective that is unique and profound.” 

Taken together, the perspectives in Disability Intimacy honor our collective grief over intimacy lost (or never shared). They celebrate the joy of found community and chosen family that comes with discovering similar lived experience. And they make you think about love, closeness and heartbreak in more complex and nuanced ways.

Disability is far from a monolith; readers may relate to and enjoy some parts of this collection more than others. That’s part of what makes Wong’s collections so affirming and real. This provocative, funny and insightful book will appeal to anyone looking for a deeper understanding of disabled identities, a greater appreciation for their own disabled ingenuity, or both.

In Alice Wong’s illuminating Disability Intimacy, writers explore the myriad ways disabled people long for, cultivate and savor intimacy.

With bylines in publications that include the London Review of Books, Harper’s and The New Yorker, Lauren Oyler has established herself as a cultural critic whose fresh, and often contrarian, assessments are well worth reading. Her first nonfiction book, No Judgment, comprises eight previously unpublished essays that will please Oyler’s admirers and serve as an excellent introduction to her preoccupations and literary style for those unfamiliar with her work.

Whether she’s writing a personal essay, journalism or criticism, Oyler brings to the task evidence of wide reading, thoughtful engagement and vigorous prose. All of those qualities, along with her willingness to confront conventional wisdom, are manifested in “The Power of Vulnerability,” an essay in which she registers her protest against the “tyranny of vulnerability in emotional life” sparked by bestselling author Brené Brown’s wildly popular 2010 TED Talk. The sources that inform Oyler’s blistering critique include Sigmund Freud, the Aeneid and the NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation,” among others.

Oyler demonstrates her facility for literary criticism in a lengthy essay discussing autofiction, a subject that’s of interest to her in view of some of the responses to her 2021 novel, Fake Accounts, whose protagonist’s life bears a certain resemblance to her own. When asked, she jokingly tells questioners, the work is 72% autobiographical. As she considers the works of contemporaries like Sally Rooney, Karl Ove Knausgård and Sheila Heti, Oyler deftly navigates the sometimes blurred boundary between fiction and nonfiction and the challenges facing those writing both.

The collection’s revealing personal essays include “Why Do You Live Here?”, a lively account of her decision to settle in Berlin in 2021, and “My Anxiety,” Oyler’s exploration of her struggles to cope with everything from bruxism (teeth grinding) to insomnia. Her journalistic explorations of gossip and of online reviews, especially those on Goodreads, are both enlightening and provocative.

Oyler is a writer who will have readers nodding in agreement on one page and shaking their heads vigorously on the next. Whatever the reaction at a given moment, one can rest assured that her writing is never dull.

The provocative No Judgment will have readers nodding in agreement on one page and shaking their heads vigorously on the next.
STARRED REVIEW

Our top 10 books for March 2024

The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
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Book jacket image for 49 Days by Agnes Lee

49 Days is an unusual, profoundly moving graphic novel whose elegance belies its complexity and whose emotional impact only grows upon rereading.

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Book jacket image for All That Grows by Jack Wong

In All That Grows, Jack Wong evokes the soft haze of childhood summers where a small stand of trees might be seen as a huge

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Book jacket image for Black Wolf by Juan Gomez-Jurado

The Antonia Scott series is hands-down the best suspense trilogy to come along since Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.

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A lushly crafted tale of a Maine fishing village cursed by a mermaid, The Moorings of Mackerel Sky is a debut to submerge yourself in.

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Book jacket image for Mrs. Gulliver by Valerie Martin

In Mrs. Gulliver, Valerie Martin offers us an idyll, perhaps even a comedy. All’s well that ends well. We hope.

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Book jacket image for The Phoenix Bride by Natasha Siegel

Natasha Siegel’s beautifully written The Phoenix Bride pushes readers to reconsider what happily ever after looks like.

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Book jacket image for Thunder Song by Sasha LaPointe

Thunder Song is an essay collection full of sensitive meditations and powerful observations from Coast Salish author Sasha LaPointe.

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Book jacket image for The Unclaimed by Pamela Prickett

Gripping and groundbreaking, The Unclaimed investigates the Americans who are abandoned in death and what they tell us about how we treat the living.

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Book jacket image for The Great Divide by Cristina Henriquez

Cristina Henriquez’s polyvocal novel is a moving and powerful epic about the human cost of building the Panama Canal. It’s easy to imagine, in these

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Novelist, essayist, humorist and critic Sloane Crosley shows a remarkable willingness to face the dark questions that follow a suicide.

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Recent Features

Recent Reviews

The best new books of the month include highly anticipated follow-ups from Sloane Crosley, Sasha LaPointe and Juan Gómez-Jurado.
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Shortly after 9/11, Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe’s great-grandmother, troubled by the state of the world, commissioned a symphony. A Coast Salish elder and Indigenous language activist, Vi taqʷšəblu Hilbert had no prior connection to classical music. Yet her belief that our broken world desperately needed healing resulted in “The Healing Heart of the First People of This Land,” which was performed by the Seattle Symphony in 2006. The work was built from the sacred “spirit song” of Chief Seattle, whose treaty with white colonizers resulted in the building of the city of Seattle on top of the ancestral estuaries and salt marshes of the Coast Salish people. Writer, poet and musician LaPointe believes that if her great-grandmother were alive today, she would say, “We need these healing songs again. We need to do something.”

Book jacket image for Thunder Song by Sasha LaPointeSasha LaPointe’s incandescent Thunder Song is shaped by Vi Hilbert’s life, work and legacy, as well as by the more complicated influence of Chief Seattle. LaPointe’s own connection to her hometown features in many of the essays collected in this volume: “I have this complicated relationship with Seattle,” the author tells BookPage, “[with] my experience of being enamored with the city and then realizing what it means to exist in [Chief Seattle’s] namesake city as a Coast Salish woman.”

While LaPointe’s 2022 memoir, Red Paint, focused more on her individual story of trauma and healing, Thunder Song turns her gaze outwards. “Out of the stormy sea of writing Red Paint, I felt better for the first time in many years,” she says. “But when it was all done, I washed up on the shore and looked around and was like, what is wrong with the world right now?” It was the summer of 2020, and among the Black Lives Matter protests, the severe wildfires in Washington state and the pandemic, LaPointe felt spurred to action: “None of this is good, none of this is right. The sky doesn’t look right. And I threw myself into examining these things I was deeply angry about and disturbed by.”

In the title essay, LaPointe considers Hilbert’s healing influence amid political chaos and Indigenous erasure. “There is this collective trauma and collective grief and collective anger,” she says. “And the thing that really grounded me emotionally was looking to all the amazing things that our grandmother did around that symphony.” Other essays in the book cover the colonial erasure of Indigenous identity, the loss of ancestral lands and the violence that has claimed the lives of thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Like her great-grandmother, LaPointe turns to music to alchemize grief and sorrow—in her case, the electrifying rage of punk.

“I threw myself into examining these things I was deeply angry about and disturbed by.”

In “Reservation Riot Grrrl,” LaPointe makes a pointed but ultimately loving critique of the whiteness of punk. Listening to Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna sing about assault and survival was a pivotal turning point for a young LaPointe, who left home at 14 to make her way to Seattle’s punk scene. “Finding that misfit chosen family absolutely saved my life,” she says. The Riot Grrrl movement in particular offered her strength and empowerment. But LaPointe grew to feel that her Native identity was “submerged” in the whiteness of the punk scene, a feeling brought to a head when two white punks questioned LaPointe for wearing the red paint of her Native ancestors while performing with her band. She writes that their assumption that she was not Native “rattled me to my core,” threatening her Indigenous identity in a venue meant to offer safe harbor for misfits of all kinds.

The concluding essay, “Kinships,” was one of the last essays that LaPointe wrote for this collection. “It really was the medicine that the collection needed and that I needed while writing it,” she says. “I was this charged ball of anxiety and anger and fear for the world, for our Indigenous people, for our sacred land.” As described in the essay, she learns that the antidote for these feelings is connection with other Indigenous writers and activists across the globe. She writes movingly of her friendship with Maori poet Tayi Tibble, with whom she bonds over the links between their canoe-based cultures, as well as through their shared work as emerging Native writers. With Julian Aguon, an Indigenous human rights lawyer and the author of 2022’s No Country for Eight-Spot Butterflies, she finds another important relationship, especially when he asks LaPointe to deliver a petition to save sacred Indigenous lands in South Africa from development by Amazon. In these kinships, LaPointe finds seeds of hope: “We can be connected across the globe as Indigenous people who are fighting for our land and fighting for water,” she says.

Also in “Kinships,” LaPointe found herself once again guided by her great-grandmother’s spirit. Hilbert spent time in Hawai‘i working with Indigenous language revitalization groups, and when LaPointe visits the islands with her partner, she finds herself coincidentally and profoundly retracing her elder’s footsteps. Indeed, both Red Paint and Thunder Song are powerfully animated by the “spirit songs” of LaPointe’s matrilineal line; her writing is both a celebration and continuation of the work of her foremothers, in a Native punk mode all her own.

“We can be connected across the globe as Indigenous people who are fighting for our land and fighting for water.”

When I asked LaPointe who she was writing for, she immediately thought about “14-year-old Sasha out on the rez who desperately needed this book.” The response to Red Paint from Native readers was particularly gratifying: “When I consider an audience, I think of the folks who have reached out to me from tribal communities saying that reading my book helped them in some way.” Although LaPointe is primarily focused on these readers “who motivate me and bring me to the page,” there’s a larger audience for LaPointe’s work as well. By transmitting the healing songs of her great-grandmother through her own creative work in prose and performance, LaPointe offers all readers a chance to acknowledge and be changed by Indigenous voices and values.

Photo of Sasha LaPoint by Bridget McGee Houchins

Read our starred review of ‘Thunder Song’ by Sasha LaPointe.

Sasha LaPointe’s memoir in essays, Thunder Song, continues the work of her foremothers, in a Native punk mode all her own.
Book jacket image for Slow Noodles by Chantha Nguon
STARRED REVIEW

March 14, 2024

Memoir March 2024

Literary luminaries unearth stories of family, food and grief in seven satisfying memoirs.

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Memoirs are expected to be intimate, laying the groundwork for an author’s backstory and how they got to where they are currently. But it is less common for a personal account to be rendered in a way that’s hilarious, clever, profound and poignant at the same time, particularly one with food as its focus.

Geraldine DeRuiter’s If You Can’t Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury provides all these elements and more. As the James Beard Award-winning blogger who penned a viral response to celebrity chef Mario Batali’s ill-advised #MeToo “apology” (in which he shared a recipe for cinnamon rolls), DeRuiter is no stranger to writing about culinary escapades. In this meaty series of essays, she travels from her childhood encounters with food to the present day, with many experiences in between that are as entertaining as her gifted voice and knack for description.

Subjects that she covers include religion, teendom, dating and marriage, all the while sharing life lessons that will resonate with many readers. The result is a memoir that is raw, revealing and relatable, with particular attention given to challenges women face in patriarchal society. For example, in a chapter hilariously titled “The Only Thing in My Oven,” she defends her decision not to have children and smartly draws parallels between what others call “maternal instinct” with her desire, since, childhood, to bake. As she explains, “I think a prerequisite to being a parent is that you should want to be one. And there’s a long diatribe here that I could go on about, but simply: parenthood should always be a choice. But baking didn’t feel like a decision. It was a calling.”

Her articulations are sincere and nostalgic, particularly in the story of how she learned about her past and ancestral roots, and how she has processed (and is still processing) what she has discovered. She doesn’t shy away from grappling with childhood trauma, but If You Can’t Take the Heat is by no means depressing. Quite the opposite. DeRuiter’s divulging is comforting and significant to both women and those who have made a similar culinary journey. Readers will find this witty series of vignettes humorous and enlightening.

Geraldine DeRuiter braids her love of food with feminist critique in her hilarious, relatable memoir If You Can’t Take the Heat.

To playwright and performer Susan Lieu, the woman she called M&aacute was “more mystery than mother.” In her deeply moving debut memoir, The Manicurist’s Daughter, Lieu excavates her family history and the painful narratives she’s stubbornly preserved over the years to answer the questions that emerged after her mother’s shocking death in 1996: How can you heal from intergenerational trauma if your family denies its existence?

When Lieu was 11, her family structure collapsed. Lieu’s mother, a dynamic 38-year-old Vietnamese refugee and successful nail salon owner in the Bay Area, went to a plastic surgery clinic for an operation that included an abdominoplasty, or “tummy tuck.” During the procedure, she lost oxygen to her brain, and 14 minutes passed before the surgeon called 911. She spent five days in a coma before flatlining. The surgeon, a white man who didn’t carry liability insurance, had been placed on probation four years before operating on Lieu’s mother, and remained on probation for years after her death. He specifically marketed his services to the Bay Area’s Vietnamese population.

Avoiding displays of grief, Lieu’s family refused to acknowledge the death of her mother, just as they refused to talk about their exodus from Vietnam. The emotional distance between Lieu and her father, who had suddenly become a widower with four children at 42, steadily grew as the years passed. As Lieu navigated adulthood, she struggled to make sense of her mother’s death, and her role as a daughter.

Lieu’s narrative provides a touching tribute to her mother and a probing investigation of destructive beauty standards. With considerable nuance and vulnerability, Lieu carefully deconstructs her own image of her mother as a victim without agency. Her journey to find closure is as vulnerable as an open vein, but eventually leads to a place of acceptance and forgiveness. To feel is to heal, and Lieu’s willingness to embrace emotional honesty, no matter how uncomfortable, is at the heart of The Manicurist’s Daughter.

In her deeply moving memoir, Susan Lieu tries to find closure after her mother’s untimely death.

Until the publication of his raw 2011 memoir, Townie, Andre Dubus III was known exclusively for bestselling novels like House of Sand and Fog. The 18 emotionally generous and beautifully crafted essays in Ghost Dogs: On Killers and Kin are certain to please the fans of this empathetic writer’s fiction and nonfiction.

Though there’s no organizing scheme to Dubus’ book, the themes of money, family and the writing life predominate. He’s the son of esteemed short story writer and teacher Andre Dubus II, who abandoned 10-year-old Andre and his three siblings to the care of a devoted mother who struggled to provide for them throughout their childhood. His life was shadowed for decades by this impoverished past. This comes to bear on his essay “The Land of No,” in which he describes his challenging relationship with a girlfriend who was the beneficiary of a $2 million trust fund. In another essay, “High Life,” he reveals his ambivalence over a few days of profligate spending he indulged in as the organizer of a celebration for his aunt’s 70th birthday in New York City.

That essay also reflects the centrality of deep family relationships in Dubus’ life. He and his wife Fontaine, a dancer and choreographer, have been married since 1989, a union that’s produced three children. “Pappy” is a warmhearted tribute to his maternal grandfather, who introduced Dubus to the virtues of hard physical labor one steamy summer in Louisiana. In “Mary,” he offers an affectionate portrait of his relationship with his mother-in-law, who lived in an apartment at the Massachusetts home Dubus helped build until her death at 99.

Reflective of Dubus’ passion for writing is “Carver and Dubus.” It’s a touching story of the sole encounter between Dubus’ father and one of his literary idols, Raymond Carver, only a few months before Carver’s death in 1988, and at a time when the younger Dubus was emerging as a writer. As a whole, the essays plumb great emotional depths. Strictly speaking, Andre Dubus III’s estimable gift for words may not be in his DNA, but as this book reveals, it’s at the core of who he is as a human being.

Andre Dubus III plumbs emotional depths in his beautifully crafted memoir in essays, Ghost Dogs.

Sasha LaPointe’s 2022 memoir, Red Paint, offered readers a profoundly moving glimpse into trauma and healing through the Indigenous perspective of a Coast Salish punk. Now, in her powerful new collection of personal essays, Thunder Song, LaPointe expands her poetic lens to take in the collective healing needed in a world shaped by colonization, structural racism and a global pandemic. These vibrant essays are grounded in the personal but committed to the political, moving from grief to righteous anger and activism.

The essays in Thunder Song are shaped by the city of Seattle, built on top of the tidal lands that are the ancestral home of the Coast Salish people, and LaPointe’s beloved great-grandmother, a Coast Salish elder committed to preserving Indigenous languages. The central themes are entwined in the titular essay, in which Grandma Vi convinces a composer to write a symphony shaped by the orations of Chief Seattle, who witnessed the sale of Native lands to white settlers.

Like her grandmother, LaPointe believes in the healing power of music for a world in crisis, as seen in her work as a vocalist and lyricist in Seattle-area punk bands. In essays like “Reservation Riot Grrrl,” LaPointe offers a loving but necessary critique of the whiteness of the Seattle music scene. Her attentiveness to the erasure of Indigenous identity and landscape in the region acts as a corrective to colonialist histories of the Pacific Northwest; the essay “Tulips” is a particularly stunning revisionary reading of the flower as settler colonist.

“Swan Creek” and “Basket Woman” suggest that new growth may still emerge from the ruins of loss and violence. In the former, LaPointe’s sensitive meditation on miscarriage twines individual grief with creative expression, while her focus on the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the latter expresses a communal need for all Native women to believe themselves worthy of safety.

Thunder Song proves LaPointe is a dynamic emergent voice in Native arts and letters, arguing that collective art and activism, powered by love, among Indigenous peoples around the globe is the medicine this planet needs.

Read our interview with Sasha LaPointe on Thunder Song.
Thunder Song is an essay collection full of sensitive meditations and powerful observations from Coast Salish author Sasha LaPointe.

After Sloane Crosley’s apartment is burglarized, she’s unmoored. The thief stole handfuls of jewelry that once belonged to Crosley’s grandmother—a cruel woman whom she didn’t like, Crosley’s mom reminds her. But the jewelry was Crosley’s, and she wants it back. She also wants the sense of safety that fled with the burglar as he exited her bedroom window and descended the fire escape onto Manhattan streets. That isn’t so easy to recover, so instead Crosley channels her uncertainty into detective work.

Crosley wrestles with her feelings about the burglary, writing, “Grief is for people, not things.” And on the one-month anniversary of the incident, her grief finds a new object. Her best friend, Russell, dies by suicide. If the burglary unmoored Crosley, Russell’s death sends her out to sea.

In her memoir Grief Is for People, Crosley attempts to write her way through the five stages of grief, which provide the book’s structure. Russell’s death trumps Crosley’s missing jewelry, but the two incidents are intertwined in both her psyche and her experience. She and Russell—a former boss from when she worked in book publishing—would spend hours at flea markets in search of treasures. The spice cabinet the jewelry was taken from was one of Russell’s finds, and a missing ring was one of the identifying factors Russell noted on Crosley’s resume during her job interview (“Long brown hair. Square ring”).

Crosley’s work is often praised for its humor, whether in her essay collections (I Was Told There’d Be Cake, How Did You Get This Number) or novels (Cult Classic, The Clasp). But Grief Is for People places at the forefront a remarkable willingness to face the dark questions that follow a suicide. Crosley began writing one month after Russell’s 2019 death in an attempt to convince herself that he was really gone (a conclusion she accepts, inconveniently, during the COVID-19 pandemic). Her search for acceptance is an impulse that readers who have mourned a loved one may recognize—an effort to map a new emotional landscape on what looks, to a non-mourner’s eye, like the same old world.

In Grief Is for People, Sloane Crosley shows a remarkable willingness to face the dark questions that follow a suicide.
Review by

After fleeing Cambodia during the brutal regime of Pol Pot, Chantha Nguon spent decades in increasingly desperate poverty, first in urban Vietnam, then the squalor of Thailand refugee camps and finally in the malarial jungles of Cambodia. Through it all, Nguon relied on the delicious food of her childhood for comfort. In her heartbreaking, exquisitely told memoir, Slow Noodles: A Cambodian Memoir of Love, Loss, and Family Recipes, Nguon tells her story with co-author Kim Green.

At the end of each chapter, Nguon shares a recipe; some are delicious and intricate (sour chicken lime soup, village style), others bittersweet (silken rebellion fish fry or as Nguon’s subtitle calls it, “How to Make Unfresh Fish Taste Rather Delicious”). Most of these she learned sitting in her prosperous childhood kitchen, watching her mother and older sister create magical dishes they shared with their less wealthy neighbors.

That generosity got Nguon through her years in exile. She writes of sharing resources when she had so few, and making friends who would find and carry each other again and again. In the Thai refugee camps, where Nguon and others waited years for even an interview, they found a chosen family. “We refugees had nothing,” she writes, “but many of us drew close, and found ways to ease one another’s suffering. . . . Here in camp, we were all poor and full of loss. Often, that united us.”

Throughout Slow Noodles, Nguon returns to that theme: loss and despair giving way to strength. While this is a war memoir, it also is ultimately a story of hope. Despite the decades of horror the Khmer Rouge inflicted on millions of Cambodians, Nguon infuses her memoir with a spirit of persistence and defiance. Even in the face of evil, she continued cooking her childhood dishes, speaking her childhood language and slowly, slowly making her way home again.

“When you have nothing, weakness can destroy you,” Nguon writes. “No one would carry me out of the jungle. I would have to carry myself.”

In her memoir, Slow Noodles, Cambodian writer Chantha Nguon survives the terror of the Khmer Rouge and keeps her family recipes intact.

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Recent Features

Literary luminaries unearth stories of family, food and grief in seven satisfying memoirs by Sloane Crosley, Andres Debus III, Leslie Jamison and more.

Until the publication of his raw 2011 memoir, Townie, Andre Dubus III was known exclusively for bestselling novels like House of Sand and Fog. The 18 emotionally generous and beautifully crafted essays in Ghost Dogs: On Killers and Kin are certain to please the fans of this empathetic writer’s fiction and nonfiction.

Though there’s no organizing scheme to Dubus’ book, the themes of money, family and the writing life predominate. He’s the son of esteemed short story writer and teacher Andre Dubus II, who abandoned 10-year-old Andre and his three siblings to the care of a devoted mother who struggled to provide for them throughout their childhood. His life was shadowed for decades by this impoverished past. This comes to bear on his essay “The Land of No,” in which he describes his challenging relationship with a girlfriend who was the beneficiary of a $2 million trust fund. In another essay, “High Life,” he reveals his ambivalence over a few days of profligate spending he indulged in as the organizer of a celebration for his aunt’s 70th birthday in New York City.

That essay also reflects the centrality of deep family relationships in Dubus’ life. He and his wife Fontaine, a dancer and choreographer, have been married since 1989, a union that’s produced three children. “Pappy” is a warmhearted tribute to his maternal grandfather, who introduced Dubus to the virtues of hard physical labor one steamy summer in Louisiana. In “Mary,” he offers an affectionate portrait of his relationship with his mother-in-law, who lived in an apartment at the Massachusetts home Dubus helped build until her death at 99.

Reflective of Dubus’ passion for writing is “Carver and Dubus.” It’s a touching story of the sole encounter between Dubus’ father and one of his literary idols, Raymond Carver, only a few months before Carver’s death in 1988, and at a time when the younger Dubus was emerging as a writer. As a whole, the essays plumb great emotional depths. Strictly speaking, Andre Dubus III’s estimable gift for words may not be in his DNA, but as this book reveals, it’s at the core of who he is as a human being.

Andre Dubus III plumbs emotional depths in his beautifully crafted memoir in essays, Ghost Dogs.

Sasha LaPointe’s 2022 memoir, Red Paint, offered readers a profoundly moving glimpse into trauma and healing through the Indigenous perspective of a Coast Salish punk. Now, in her powerful new collection of personal essays, Thunder Song, LaPointe expands her poetic lens to take in the collective healing needed in a world shaped by colonization, structural racism and a global pandemic. These vibrant essays are grounded in the personal but committed to the political, moving from grief to righteous anger and activism.

The essays in Thunder Song are shaped by the city of Seattle, built on top of the tidal lands that are the ancestral home of the Coast Salish people, and LaPointe’s beloved great-grandmother, a Coast Salish elder committed to preserving Indigenous languages. The central themes are entwined in the titular essay, in which Grandma Vi convinces a composer to write a symphony shaped by the orations of Chief Seattle, who witnessed the sale of Native lands to white settlers.

Like her grandmother, LaPointe believes in the healing power of music for a world in crisis, as seen in her work as a vocalist and lyricist in Seattle-area punk bands. In essays like “Reservation Riot Grrrl,” LaPointe offers a loving but necessary critique of the whiteness of the Seattle music scene. Her attentiveness to the erasure of Indigenous identity and landscape in the region acts as a corrective to colonialist histories of the Pacific Northwest; the essay “Tulips” is a particularly stunning revisionary reading of the flower as settler colonist.

“Swan Creek” and “Basket Woman” suggest that new growth may still emerge from the ruins of loss and violence. In the former, LaPointe’s sensitive meditation on miscarriage twines individual grief with creative expression, while her focus on the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the latter expresses a communal need for all Native women to believe themselves worthy of safety.

Thunder Song proves LaPointe is a dynamic emergent voice in Native arts and letters, arguing that collective art and activism, powered by love, among Indigenous peoples around the globe is the medicine this planet needs.

Read our interview with Sasha LaPointe on Thunder Song.
Thunder Song is an essay collection full of sensitive meditations and powerful observations from Coast Salish author Sasha LaPointe.
Review by

Morgan Parker, acclaimed poet and winner of a 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for her collection Magical Negro, marries memoir with cultural critique in an unsparing, intimate and provocative book of essays, You Get What You Pay For, which infuses the titular idiom with the perspective of her wronged race. “Becoming a person,” she writes in the first essay, “forming an identity, had been a sham assignment from the start—for an African American person, there is a multistep process of backtracking and reinterpreting hundreds of years of American history, peeling apart film from adhesive to hold under the light and make out a cloudy reflection.”

Parker was named after a minor character in “The Cosby Show,” who, in her single appearance, comically eats olives despite knowing she’s allergic to them. Parker writes: “I come from . . . self-destructive impulses, swallowing what I shouldn’t, becoming a punchline.” Later, writing for the feminist platform Lenny Letter, she attended Cosby’s trial for sexual assault. “I’m one of maybe three Black women in the room . . . wrestling with that familiar triple-consciousness chicken or egg. Am I Black today or a woman? Where do I pledge allegiance? Which injustices should I fight first?”

Parker tells of her depression, anxiety and self-hatred, which she describes as “something palpable, something ugly and inadequate and all wrong.” She interrogates the relationships between Black people and treatment for mental illness, citing her father’s assertion that “Black people don’t go to therapy.” Eventually, she did. When a white therapist admitted she knew nothing about the rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown’s death, Parker moved on. With time, she began to link her mental illness to that of her ancestors’ experience as slaves and the century-and-a-half of racism that has followed, “finally com[ing] to understand [self-hatred] as extension of the white supremacist ideologies permeating and governing the nation of which I am a citizen.”

The 22 essays in You Get What You Pay For cycle through Parker’s urgent concerns about white supremacy, police brutality, her often tenuous mental health and her ongoing search for love. She handles these heavy issues with incisive humor and a poet’s eye for detail. The “you” in that titular idiom becomes “we.”

Morgan Parker examines how racism and intergenerational trauma can affect mental health in her provocative, incisively humorous debut essay collection.
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Brandon Stosuy is a master of pulling together the inspiring words of artists: He has gifted us with the stellar online magazine of interviews The Creative Independent, and three elegantly designed creativity guides. Now he returns with Sad Happens: A Celebration of Tears, a book of reflections, illustrated by Rose Lazar, about the experience and catharsis of sadness and weeping, a “collective, multifaceted archive of tears.” As in his previous books, Stosuy sources from his vast artist network: Many contributors here are music-biz folks, including The National’s Matt Berninger and the ultimate #sadgirl Phoebe Bridgers. “The shared emotion of Sad Happens has real power,” writes Stosuy. “It gives us permission to open up, let down our guard, embrace those things that make us feel vulnerable. By sharing, we see that crying is universal, and that tears should, in fact, be celebrated.” Tears come when they will, like it or not: during the “emotional exorcism” of massage for writer Nada Alic, while singing for Gelsey Bell, and while flying for Hanif Abdurraqib. The effect of reading these candid takes on sadness may elicit your own, and maybe that’s a good thing. While paging through the book, I remembered once texting my teenage daughter to see what she was doing, and she said, “Listening to the boygenius album and crying. Don’t worry, I’m making the conscious choice to cry.” And I felt a little sad, then, that I rarely cry. I used to, a lot; but now an SSRI suppresses the tears. There should be a word, I think, for “feeling like crying, but thanks to medication, you can’t.”

Brandon Stosuy collects candid takes on sadness from Phoebe Bridgers, Hanif Abdurraqib and a bevy of other luminaries in Sad Happens.

For much of her career, Nell Greenfieldboyce has written about science for NPR, reporting on a range of topics, among them a giant collective of octopuses, asteroid dust, the color of dinosaur eggs and signs of life on Mars. In Transient and Strange: Notes on the Science of Life (Norton, $27.99, 9780393882346), Greenfieldboyce adds the personal to the scientific, threading the two together to create a memoir in essays.

In the book’s opening essay, “The Symbol of a Tornado,” Greenfieldboyce recounts a phase that most parents will recognize: the quest to calm her preschool-age son’s nighttime fears. When he first asks her about tornadoes, she eagerly lays out the facts—a misstep that only intensifies his anxiety. The essay braids substantial reporting on the history and science of tornadoes with her earnest fumbling as she tries to help her kids feel secure in an insecure world.

Some of Transient and Strange’s essays hew closer to science writing—in one, she charts the scientific community’s resistance to accepting black holes—while others go more deeply into personal essay territory, excavating pieces of her youth. The sweet, quirky “Automatic Beyond Belief” ties an ancient toaster to her parents’ faith, the stability of her childhood and her predictions about what her children will remember about their younger years. The 50-page essay that closes the book, “My Eugenics Project,” is a standout. It describes Greenfieldboyce’s strategies for coping with the knowledge that she and her husband might pass a devastating genetic mutation on to their children, her obsessive quest to solve this problem and how it has affected her marriage and family.

Throughout, Greenfieldboyce doesn’t spare herself or put on a wise affect; we see and relate to her foibles and fumbling. Transient and Strange is a book that you can read as the memoir of a woman who’s measuring the shape of life at its midpoint, and also as a series of essays riffing on a range of science-related topics. Either way, it’s a thoughtful, heartfelt and idiosyncratic collection.

Nell Greenfieldboyce’s thoughtful, idiosyncratic memoir in essays twines the personal with the scientific.
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In The Book of (More) Delights, poet and essayist Ross Gay continues the practice of recording everyday pleasures that made his 2019 volume, The Book of Delights, an award-winning bestseller. In Gay’s hands, the habit has become an exercise in ecstasy, a way to cultivate gratitude and develop a spirit of inquiry.   

Gay’s guidelines for compiling delights—“write them daily, write them quickly, and write them by hand”—has resulted in a collection of 81 essays that span a year. His newest enthusiasms (yellow jackets, Snoopy, paper menus) may seem simple at first glance, but they yield arresting complexities under his observant eye. Each piece in the book is a snapshot moment of relished experience that emphasizes discovery and revelation. 

Gay’s images are precise and poetic (garlic sprouts look like “little green periscopes”; a favorite spoon has “a slight impression—as though touched by an angel—on the handle”), and his reflections on aging, relationships and the passage of time are heartening. Informal yet inspired, off-the-cuff yet beautifully composed, his essays reveal the riches hidden in quotidian experience. With a reading list of works that have influenced Gay’s process, The Book of (More) Delights provides abundant avenues to appreciate our world.  

In his gem of a memoir, Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener, Gay Talese takes stock of his working life as a journalist and author—a remarkable run of roughly seven decades. Now 91, Talese entered the business as a copy boy at the New York Times. Over the course of his career, he helped define contemporary nonfiction narrative through innovative magazine pieces and books like Honor Thy Father (1971), which featured the novelistic techniques of New Journalism. 

Bartleby and Me finds Talese focusing on his early years and inspirations, most notably his fascination with the “nobodies” of the world—figures reminiscent of Herman Melville’s reticent character Bartleby, who toil in obscurity and usually never make the news. These unassuming yet oddly intriguing individuals (to wit, “a seventy-eight-year-old grandfather’s clock of a man” named George Bannon, who rings the bell during boxing matches at Madison Square Garden) have long served as subject matter for his work.  

Talese also shares anecdotes related to writing and research and reconsiders classic works like his 1966 Esquire profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” For the most part, his backdrop is New York, and the volume reads as a tribute to the city as a place of endless evolution. Wistful, understated and urbane, Bartleby and Me is vintage Talese—the exemplary work of a gentleman journalist. 

Fans with an insatiable appetite for the mysteries of Martin Walker will savor Bruno’s Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions from a French Country Kitchen. Bruno Courreges, the clever, self-possessed hero of Walker’s popular series, serves as police chief for St. Denis, a rustic village in the Périgord region of southwestern France. Bruno is an exceptional detective and accomplished cook, and in each book in the series, the ritual of mealtime, whether it be a leisurely lunch or convivial dinner, proves to be an important component of his daily routine. 

Inspired by his gastronomic passion, Bruno’s Cookbook, which was co-authored by Walker and his wife, Julia Watson, has more than 90 recipes neatly categorized according to the suppliers of the ingredients, from the winemaker (le vigneron) to the fisherman (le pecheur). The volume is packed with handsome photos, insights into the food culture of the Périgord and dishes to please every palate, including intriguing menu items like Snails in Garlic and Butter, Bruno’s Meatballs with Garlic-Roasted Tomatoes and A Most Indulgent Chocolate Cake. (Of interest to the canine diner: a recipe for Balzac’s Best Dog Biscuits.) Easy-to-follow cooking instructions and copious Bruno-related anecdotes make this a delicious gift for the well-read epicure.

Transporting readers to the green moors of Yorkshire, The Wonderful World of James Herriot: A Charming Collection of Classic Stories provides a detailed portrait of the beloved veterinarian and author.

Herriot, whose real name was James Alfred Wight, published his first book, If Only They Could Talk, in 1970. In that volume, he adopted the narrative approach that made his work so popular, writing from a first-person perspective that blended fact and fiction as he detailed his rounds as a country veterinarian, all in a voice that was poetic, affable and expert. His subsequent books, including All Creatures Great and Small, served as the basis for two PBS TV series of the same name.

The Wonderful World of James Herriot is a sampler of stories from Herriot’s works with lively supplementary text by his children, Jim Wight and Rosie Page. Featuring chapters on Herriot’s career, family life and the Yorkshire region, it offers fresh perspectives on the man and his work. Herriot aficionados needn’t fret—Siegfried and Tristan Farnon put in plenty of appearances. Brimming with personal photos and enchanting illustrations, it’s a perfectly cozy collection from start to finish.

We’ve collected a quartet of treats for the bibliophiles on your list.

One recent morning, before I left home to plant white oak trees in a nearby park, I turned to Margaret Renkl’s The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year. As often happens, a passage from the New York Times columnist grounded me and pulled my vision forward: “Planting a tree is a gesture of faith in the future,” writes Renkl. She continues later in the essay, “I think of what we are losing from this world and of what we will leave behind when we ourselves are lost. The trees. The stories. The people who love us and who know we love them, who will carry our love into the world after we are gone.”

These personal reflections on the natural world, often as observed from her suburban half-acre in Nashville, abound in The Comfort of Crows and throughout Renkl’s writing. Essays in her sparkling 2019 debut Late Migrations offered glimpses into loss and living as they toggled between Renkl’s past and present across the Southern U.S. Her 2021 book, Graceland, at Last, collected dozens of essays from her Times column. A handful of the essays in The Comfort of Crows appeared in the Times, too, but this book takes a different approach. 

“Planting a tree is a gesture of faith in the future.”

Renkl crafted an essay for each week of the year and paired them with 52 original collages by her brother, artist Billy Renkl. For the 11th week in winter, she uses a tree’s knothole as a metaphor, linking the decay of the natural world to the changing patterns of her life. She admires the greenery sprouting from the hole and notes the space where animals may have sheltered. It is a place where “radiant things are bursting forth in the darkest places, in the smallest nooks and deepest cracks of the hidden world.”

Renkl processes change and tragedy: the deaths of her ancestors, aging, becoming an empty nester, the COVID-19 pandemic, encroaching development in her neighborhood and, inevitably, climate change. Longer essays are interspersed with “praise songs,” short poetic observations on the natural world. The book can be read straight through or stretched across the calendar as a weekly literary devotional. Billy Renkl’s stunning collages provide an invitation to meditate, to pray, to breathe.

Infused with empathy, The Comfort of Crows reminds us to treasure the living beings who surround us with each breath we take. Renkl’s insights root us within our world. “I’ll gather acorns to plant here and there at our house—in enough different places, I hope, for a few to escape the blue jays,” she writes. “With any luck, some autumn in a year I may not live to see, there will be many acorns.”

Margaret Renkl’s The Comfort of Crows is a shimmering weekly devotional that praises living beings great and small.
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For My First Popsicle: An Anthology of Food and Feelings (7 hours), actor Zosia Mamet (“Girls,” “The Flight Attendant”) has gathered a who’s-who of creative folks, including fellow actors like Busy Philipps, musicians like Patti Smith, writers like David Sedaris and chefs like Kwame Onwuachi. Each contributed an essay about food or a food-related memory, and the collection of nearly 50 essays offers a veritable smorgasbord of cuisines and emotional resonance. Some essays are funny and sweet, while others engage with more serious subjects, such as depression or disordered eating. Because the essays are short (most run well under 10 minutes), listening to the collection feels like browsing a gourmet buffet. Many contributors read their own works; others are read by notable audiobook narrators or actors, including Mamet herself. The audiobook comes with a PDF of recipes associated with each essay. 

If you’re the kind of person who likes to pop on an audiobook or podcast while you’re cooking, My First Popsicle might be just the thing for dinner tonight. 

If you're the kind of person who likes to pop on an audiobook or podcast while you're cooking, My First Popsicle might be just the thing for dinner tonight.

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