What We’re Reading: September 2019

We editors love reading at HFR—and talking books, writing, and publishing around the clock—so we decided to catalog our selections every month as the new feature “What We’re Reading.” Following are our recommendations for the month.



Pax Americana
By Kurt Baumeister

“2034: Evangelical secret agents, fast food moguls, the voice of God in computer software, violence in the Bermuda Triangle! George W. Bush’s foreign policy vindicated by a quick victory in Iraq, lucrative invasions of Egypt and Syria followed, bringing unparalleled prosperity to America and setting off thirty years of right-wing rule. But when a war in Iran goes bad—and the resulting cover-up goes worse—the Democrats reclaim the presidency. This is the time of Pax Americana and its zealous anti-hero, government agent Tuck Squires.”


A Sick Gray Laugh
By Nicole Cushing

“Award-winning author Noelle Cashman is no stranger to depression and anxiety. In fact, her entire authorial brand, showcased in such titles as The Girl with the Gun in Her Mouth, Leather Noose, and The Breath Curse, has been built on the hopeless phantasmagoric visions she experiences when in the grip of paranoid psychosis. But Noelle has had enough, and, author brand be damned, has found help for her illness in the form of an oblong yellow pill, taken twice daily.

Since starting on this medication, Noelle’s symptoms have gone into remission. She’s taken up jogging. She’s joined a softball team. For the first time in Noelle’s life, she feels hope. She’s even started work on a nonfiction book, a history of her small southern Indiana town.

But then Noelle starts to notice the overwhelming Grayness that dominates her neighborhood, slathered over everything like a thick coat of snot, threatening to assimilate all.”


Our Lady of the Flowers
By Jean Genet

“Novel by Jean Genet, written while he was in prison for burglary and published in 1944 in French as Notre-Dame des fleurs. The novel and the author were championed by many contemporary writers, including Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Cocteau, who helped engineer a pardon for Genet. A wildly imaginative fantasy of the Parisian underworld, the novel tells the story of Divine, a male prostitute who consorts with thieves, pimps, murderers, and other criminals and who has many sexual adventures. Written in lyrical, dreamlike prose, the novel affirms a new moral order, one in which criminals are saints, evil is glorified, and conventional taboos are freely violated.” —The Merriam-Webster Encyclopeda of Literature


A Map of Home
By Randa Jarrar

“In this fresh, funny, and fearless debut novel, Randa Jarrar chronicles the coming-of-age of Nidali, one of the most unique and irrepressible narrators in contemporary fiction. Born in 1970s Boston to an Egyptian-Greek mother and a Palestinian father, the rebellious Nidali—whose name is a feminization of the word ‘struggle’—soon moves to a very different life in Kuwait. There the family leads a mildly eccentric middle-class existence until the Iraqi invasion drives them first to Egypt and then to Texas. This critically acclaimed debut novel is set to capture the hearts of everyone who has ever wondered what their own map of home might look like.”


By David Peak

“It’s been years since the groundbreaking debut of black metal band Angelus Mortis, and that first album, Henosis, has become a classic of the genre, a harrowing primal scream of rage and anger. With the next two albums, Fields of Punishment and Telos, Angelus Mortis cemented a reputation for uncompromising, aggressive music, impressing critics and fans alike. But the road to success is littered with temptation, and over the next decade, Angelus Mortis’s leader, Max, better known as Strigoi, became infamous for bad associations and worse behavior, burning through side-men and alienating fans.Today, at the request of their record label, Max and new drummer Roland are traveling to Ukraine to record a comeback album with the famously reclusive cult act Wisdom of Silenus. What they discover when they get there will go far deeper than the aesthetics of the genre, and the music they create—antihuman, antilife—ultimately becomes a weapon unto itself. Equally inspired by the fractured, nightmarish novels of John Hawkes, the blackened dreamscapes of cosmic-pessimist philosophy, and the music of second-wave black metal bands, author David Peak’s Corpsepaint is an exploration of creative people summoning destructive powers while struggling to express what it means to be human.”


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
By Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born—a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam—and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.”


Short Stories

Not Everyone Is Special
By Josh Denslow

“A teen who can teleport just wants to make his mom happy. A midget working as an elf in a year-round Christmas-themed amusement park battles his archrival: a condescending Santa. You’ve heard of Fight Club, but have you been to the Underground Punch Market? Like the work of George Saunders crossed with Richard Linklater, Not Everyone Is Special is a collection of slacker fabulist stories that are at once speculative, hilarious, and poignant.”


Spectral Evidence
By Gemma Files

“For almost thirty years, Shirley Jackson Award-winning horror author Gemma Files has consistently served up tale after tale celebrating monstrosity in all its forms: the imperfect, the broken, the beautifully alien and the sadly familiar. Her characters make their own choices and take their own chances, slipping from darkness into deeper darkness yet never losing their humanity—not even when they’re anything but. An embittered blood-servant plots revenge against the vampires who own him; a little girl’s best friend seeks to draw her into an ancient, forbidden realm; two monster-hunting sisters cross paths with an amoral holler-witch again and again, battling both mortal authorities and immortal predators. From the forgotten angels who built the cosmos to the reckless geniuses whose party drug unleashes a plague, madness, monsters and murder await at every turn. And in “The Speed of Pain,” sequel to the International Horror Guild award-winning story “The Emperor’s Old Bones,” we find that even those who can live forever can’t outrun their own crimes ….”



Presence Detection System
By Nora Collen Fulton

Presence Detection System is a collection of presence detection systems written between 19015 and 19017 by my mother’s daughter. Its composition was marked by the many things we came to violently disagree about, and it was thought, back then, that an abandonment of comparison could be the only way out. For example, we disagreed and disagree about whether to call what we call ourselves ‘misprisions.’ We disagreed and disagree about where to drape our lone antimacassar, how to clean it, who made it, etc. We disagreed and disagree about what is and isn’t an instance of gambling, which itself is, my mother would joke, ‘a kind of wager labour.’ We even disagreed and disagree about love, even though we experience it, talk about it, act upon it and theorize it in exactly the same way. But we did and we do agree about you. In this way, Presence Detection System became a unanimous agreement about you.”


The Pollen Path
By Alex Gregor

“Don’t weep for the wineteeth wisteria or meat’s ponderous elevatoring down past the 13th floor of the body. Choose glee gush today. Snag a copy of Alex Gregor’s rollicking & effulgent The Pollen Path. A cottonwood will bellyache 25 million seeds into the skyways. On every page of Gregor’s pouring avowals you’ll hear easy 33 million seedlings crackle and upstart. Ah, the language sways with the promises of all the limbs & wings & waters to come. Frank Stanford had a grandbaby & his name is Gregor, Alex, Path, Pollen, The.” —Abraham Smith


Soldier On
By Gale Marie Thompson

“Fascinated by what emerges from unlikely sources when absorbed into memory, Gale Marie Thompson’s poems delight in what remains: John Wayne, Bewitched, turnip fields, camellias and canned figs, and—of course—kitchens. Soldier On uses the light of the kitchen as a starting (and ending) point to explore remembered spaces, which take on new facets and textures in a flood of associations and the mind’s endless cross-indexing. At the book’s core are questions we ask ourselves: Where can I place this memory? Why is one memory connected to other memories? To which time or object do I belong? Inside a world of objects, people, and artifacts, Soldier On constructs the language in which we love and lose love.”



The Undying: Pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, dreams, data, exhaustion, cancer, and care
By Anne Boyer

“A twenty-first-century Illness as Metaphor, as well as a harrowing memoir of survival, The Undying explores the experience of illness as mediated by digital screens, weaving in ancient Roman dream diarists, cancer hoaxers and fetishists, cancer vloggers, corporate lies, John Donne, pro-pain ‘dolorists,’ the ecological costs of chemotherapy, and the many little murders of capitalism. It excoriates the pharmaceutical industry and the bland hypocrisies of ‘pink ribbon culture’ while also diving into the long literary line of women writing about their own illnesses and ongoing deaths: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others.”


Between the World and Me
By Ta-Nehisi Coates

“In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?”


Hall of Waters
By Berry Grass

“To enter Berry Grass’ Hall of Waters is to agree to a deep-sea excavation through baths that are simultaneously familiar yet foreign. Grass is your guide—pen light in hand, illuminating darknesses that cause the light to refract back upon the reader and author. In Missouri, there are no natural lakes—instead, they are created by dam construction; the water cutting a swath through the trees. The springs, however, are believed to be true blue, as Grass says, ‘And it’s all so healthy, isn’t it? So restorative? To soak in our nature’s superior water and pretend that superiority is therefore our nature. To pretend that the concept of natural is natural.’ Hall of Waters is an examination of how America loves to be undisturbed after claiming what it believes to be theirs, and how Grass finds a way to reclaim identity while still carrying traces of the fountains of the past.” —Brian Oliu, author of So You Know It’s Me


Disaster Horse: Smol Essays
By Nooks Krannie

Disaster Horse: Smol Essays surrounds us with abundance, but this permeation requires us to be thoughtful about so much access. ‘i don’t expect the same from you, i expect more. our thoughts are random. you and i are random,’ writes one of the essays. The book dissects small instances in a material life—the body as it dreams, walks, gazes—and unfurling from each of these moments is an explosion of vivid memories, wry observations, and surreal parallel moments. Krannie refuses to be anchored by anything but the second-by-second potential of every physical act. The essays are confident with their vulnerability and disclosure, and though the worlds described are brimming and unceasing, they course straight past easy nostalgia or the overwhelm of present-time frenzy. These pieces are sure about the multidimensional reach of every person: our physical and emotional desires, our intergenerationally beholden relationships, and our daily contact with others. Disaster Horse also asks how we, the readers, have been changed by these essays. Read Krannie’s gorgeous writing and afterwards catch yourself walking through the world thinking, Where have we been, and where are we going?” —Ginger Ko, author of Motherlover


How I Became One of the Invisible
By David Rattray

“Since its first publication in 1992, David Rattray’s How I Became One of the Invisible has functioned as a kind of secret history and guidebook to a poetic and mystical tradition running through Western civilization from Pythagoras to In Nomine music to Hölderlin and Antonin Artaud. Rattray not only excavated this tradition, he embodied and lived it. He studied at Harvard and the Sorbonne but remained a poet, outside the academy. His stories ‘Van’ and ‘The Angel’ chronicle his travels in southern Mexico with his friend, the poet Van Buskirk, and his adventures after graduating from Dartmouth in the mid-1950s. Eclipsed by the more mediagenic Beat writers during his lifetime, Rattray has become a powerful influence on contemporary artists and writers.”


Graphic Novels

Hellraiser Omnibus Vol. 1
By Clive Barker, Mark L. Miller, et al.

“Clive Barker returns to tell a new chapter in the official continuity—a trajectory that will forever change the Cenobites … and Pinhead! Over 500 pages, collecting Clive Barker’s Hellraiser #1-20 and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser Annual #1. Clive Barker has managed to accomplish what may have been impossible for others. He, along with co-writer Mark Miller, has salvaged a formerly dying franchise and resuscitated it completely, taking it even beyond its former glory.” —Bloody Disgusting


Hellraiser: The Dark Watch Vols. 1, 2 & 3
By Clive Barker, Brandon Seifert, et al.

“The three people to serve as Pinhead—Elliott Spencer, Kirsty Cotton, and Harry D’Amour—have been thrown into various factions fighting a war between Hells that threatens to destroy all of humanity. As the divisions between dimensions dissolve, each of the Hell Popes must decide how far they are willing to go to win the war and to ensure their survival. Clive Barker and co-writer Brandon Seifert, with artist Tom Garcia, bring this epic Hellraiser saga to a thrilling conclusion.”




Image: pandora.com

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