What We’re Reading: March 2020

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.

 

Novels

Belfie Hell
By Shane Jesse Christmass

Belfie Hell is anti-roman … anti-novel … anti-anti-novel … I awoke wrong … incorrect … nightmarish … scared … drained from a blessing … hounded by pig cops … held in riots not anticipated. My shipmates began to read my mind. I bathed in a parody of my real self. I was shrewd … inept … but I was calculating pride … thus I had to speak … put word down.”

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?
By Philip K. Dick

“By 2021, the World War has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remain covet any living creature, and for people who can’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacra: horses, birds, cats, sheep. They’ve even built humans. Immigrants to Mars receive androids so sophisticated they are indistinguishable from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans can wreak, the government bans them from Earth. Driven into hiding, unauthorized androids live among human beings, undetected. Rick Deckard, an officially sanctioned bounty hunter, is commissioned to find rogue androids and ‘retire’ them. But when cornered, androids fight back—with lethal force.”

 

The Cipher
By Kathe Koja

“Nicholas, a would-be poet, and Nakota, his feral lover, discover a strange hole in the storage room floor down the hall—‘Black. Pure black and the sense of pulsation, especially when you look at it too closely, the sense of something not living but alive.’ It begins with curiosity, a joke—the Funhole down the hall. But then the experiments begin. ‘Wouldn’t it be wild to go down there?’ says Nakota. Nicholas says ‘We’re not.’ But they’re not in control, not from the first moment, as those experiments lead to obsession, violence, and a very final transformation for everyone who gets too close to the Funhole.”

 

The Bluest Eye
By Toni Morrison

“Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.”

 

White Teeth
By Zadie Smith

“At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith. Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.”

 

Short Stories

The Complete Stories
By Leonora Carrington

“In both her prose and her visual art, Carrington dissolves the borders between human and inhuman, fantasy and reality, death and life. In The Complete Stories we meet a mad queen who uses squirming live sponges to wash herself; a corpse that casts a circle of light in the forest; and a horse-woman who lives among plants and animals because humans won’t accept her hybrid state. Whenever Carrington’s heroines are forced to pledge allegiance, they always choose the company of beasts.” —Joy Press, Los Angeles Times

 

Flowers of Mold
By Ha Seong-nan (Translated by Janet Hong)

“On the surface, Ha Seong-nan’s stories seem pleasant enough, yet there’s something disturbing just below the surface, ready to permanently disrupt the characters’ lives. A woman meets her next-door neighbor and loans her a spatula, then starts suffering horrific gaps in her memory. A man, feeling jilted by an unrequited love, becomes obsessed with sorting through his neighbors’ garbage in the belief that it will teach him how to better relate to people. A landlord decides to raise the rent, and his tenants hatch a plan to kill him at a team-building retreat. In ten captivating, unnerving stories, Flowers of Mold presents a range of ordinary individuals—male and female, young and old—who have found themselves left behind by an increasingly urbanized and fragmented world. The latest in the trend of brilliant female Korean authors to appear in English, Ha cuts like a surgeon, and even the most mundane objects become menacing and unfamiliar under her scalpel.”

 

Nox Pareidolia
Edited by Robert S. Wilson

“From the Bram Stoker Award-nominated editor of the 2018 This is Horror Anthology of the Year, Ashes and Entropy, comes a new vision of weird and horrific ambiguity. Nox Pareidolia is fully illustrated by Luke Spooner and includes stories by Laird Barron, S.P. Miskowski, Brian Evenson, Kristi DeMeester, Michael Wehunt, Gwendolyn Kiste, Zin E. Rocklyn, Christopher Ropes, Doungjai Gam, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Carrie Laben, Kurt Fawver, David Peak, Don Webb and Duane Pesice, Paul Jessup, K.H. Vaughan, and more.”

 

Poetry

A Treatise on Stars
By Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

“Berssenbrugge’s lines—saturated with the hallucinatory speed of thought—have the urgency of a manifesto; she consistently calls attention to the interrelatedness of all things. Few living poets are as able to enter headlong into the spiritual state of our environment and its endangerment: one of the best minds in modern poetry.” —Major Jackson

 

Mouth: Eats Color—Sagawa Chika Translations, Anti-Translations, & Originals
By Sawako Nakayasu with Sagawa Chika

“Ten poems by Sagawa Chika are conveyed into English and other languages through a variety of translation techniques and procedures, some of them producing multilingual poems. Languages used include English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese.”

 

Apostasy
By Katy Mongeau

Apostasy is a becoming and a deathwish—bloom, raunch, wilt, and rot. Ecstatic and erotic, mythic and mystical, fecund and feculent, Katy Mongeau’s debut collection of poems expresses at once the delight and despair of discovery and renunciation with ballads to burning horses that drag behind them a deeply fraught and frantic love, galloping us to the gallows by the rhythm of a flame and the withering of a flower. Reminiscent of Acker and Bataille, Apostasy is the wheat field we visit to die.”

 

Death Industrial Complex
By Candice Wuehle

“Candice Wuehle’s Death Industrial Complex is a meditation on the cultural obsession with the bodies of dead women and an occult invocation of the artist Francesca Woodman. Like Woodman’s photographs with their long exposures and blurred lenses, this book is haunted and haunting, hazy yet devastatingly precise. These are poems as possessions, gothic ekphrases, dialogues with the dead, biography and anti-biography, a stunning act of ‘cryptobeauty.’”

 

Nonfiction

AIDS: The Burdens of History
Edited by Elizabeth Fee & Daniel M. Fox

“The AIDS epidemic has posed more urgent historical questions than any other disease of modern times. How have societies responded to epidemics in the past? Why did the disease emerge when and where it did? How has it spread among members of particular groups? And how will the past affect the future—in particular, what does the history of medical science and public health tell us about our ability to control the epidemic and eventually to cure the disease?

Historical methods of inquiry change, and people who use these methods often disagree on theory and practice. Indeed, the contributors to this volume hold a variety of opinions on controversial historiographic issues. But they share three important principles: cautious adherence to the ‘social constructionist’ view of past and present; profound skepticism about historicism’s idea of progress; and wariness about ‘presentism,’ the distortion of the past by seeing it only from the point of view of the present.

Each of the twelve essays addresses an aspect of the burdens of history during the AIDS epidemic. By ‘burdens’ is meant the inescapable significance of events in the past for the present. All of these events are related in some way to the current epidemic and can help clarify the complex social and cultural responses to the crisis of AIDS.

This collection illuminates present concerns directly and forcefully without sacrificing attention to historical detail and to the differences between past and present situations. It reminds us that many of the issues now being debated—quarantine, exclusion, public needs and private rights—have their parallels in the past. This will be an important book for social historians and general readers as well as for historians of medicine.”

 

Social Poetics
By Mark Nowak

Social Poetics documents the imaginative militancy and emergent solidarities of a new, insurgent working class poetry community rising up across the globe. Part autobiography, part literary criticism, part Marxist theory, Social Poetics presents a people’s history of the poetry workshop from the founding director of the Worker Writers School. Nowak illustrates not just what poetry means, but what it does to and for people outside traditional literary spaces, from taxi drivers to street vendors, and other workers of the world.”

 

 

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Image: nature.com

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