We editors love reading at HFR—and talking books, writing, and publishing around the clock—so we decided to catalog our selections every two months as the new feature “What We’re Reading.” Following are our recommendations for August 2020.
By Mona Awad
“Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort—a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other ‘Bunny,’ and seem to move and speak as one.
But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled ‘Smut Salon,’ and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door—ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus ‘Workshop’ where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.”
The Least of My Scars
By Stephen Graham Jones
“You haven’t heard of William Colton Hughes. Or, if you have, then you’re not telling anybody. Not telling them anything, ever. He’s not the serial killer on the news, in the textbooks. He’s the one out there still punching his card, and a few other people’s too. He is a nightmare come to life, waiting in his apartment for you to knock on his door. William Colton Hughes is living his fantasy: his victims are delivered to his apartment every few days. But when he’s suddenly alone, no visitors, nobody to talk to but himself, he begins to lose what little of his mind he has left. Has his benefactor, his employer, been his prison warden all along? His apartment complex a hospital? Is he going to have to go back to heaving dark plastic bags into dumpsters when nobody’s looking? Or will Dashboard Mary, a mysterious woman hell-bent on revenge, get to him first? This is William Colton Hughes. Come and knock on his door.”
The Only Good Indians
By Stephen Graham Jones
“Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.”
The Four Fingers of Death
By Rick Moody
“Montese Crandall is a downtrodden writer whose rare collection of baseball cards won’t sustain him, financially or emotionally, through the grave illness of his wife. Luckily, he swindles himself a job churning out a novelization of the 2025 remake of a 1963 horror classic, The Crawling Hand. Crandall tells therein of the United States, in a bid to regain global eminence, launching at last its doomed manned mission to the desolation of Mars. Three space pods with nine Americans on board travel three months, expecting to spend three years as the planet’s first colonists. When a secret mission to retrieve a flesh-eating bacterium for use in bio-warfare is uncovered, mayhem ensues.
Only a lonely human arm (missing its middle finger) returns to earth, crash-landing in the vast Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The arm may hold the secret to reanimation or it may simply be an infectious killing machine. In the ensuing days, it crawls through the heartbroken wasteland of a civilization at its breaking point, economically and culturally—a dystopia of lowlife, emigration from America, and laughable lifestyle alternatives.”
By Adam L.G. Nevill
“One million years of evolution didn’t change our nature. Nor did it bury the horrors predating civilisation. Ancient rites, old deities and savage ways can reappear in the places you least expect.
Lifestyle journalist Katrine escaped past traumas by moving to a coast renowned for seaside holidays and natural beauty. But when a vast hoard of human remains and prehistoric artefacts is discovered in nearby Brickburgh, a hideous shadow engulfs her life.
Helene, a disillusioned lone parent, lost her brother, Lincoln, six years ago. Disturbing subterranean noises he recorded prior to vanishing, draw her to Brickburgh’s caves. A site where early humans butchered each other across sixty thousand years. Upon the walls, images of their nameless gods remain.
Amidst rumours of drug plantations and new sightings of the mythical red folk, it also appears that the inquisitive have been disappearing from this remote part of the world for years. A rural idyll where outsiders are unwelcome and where an infernal power is believed to linger beneath the earth. A timeless supernormal influence that only the desperate would dream of confronting. But to save themselves and those they love, and to thwart a crimson tide of pitiless barbarity, Kat and Helene are given no choice. They were involved and condemned before they knew it.”
Storm of Locusts
By Rebecca Roanhorse
“It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Din monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.
Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.
Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.”
By Sabrina Orah Mark
“Wild Milk is like Borscht Belt meets Leonora Carrington; it’s like Donald Barthelme meets Pony Head; it’s like the Brothers Grimm meet Beckett in his swim trunks at the beach. In other words, this remarkable collection of stories is unlike anything you’ve read.”
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
By Michelle Alexander
“Seldom does a book have the impact of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Since it was first published in 2010, it has been cited in judicial decisions and has been adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads; it helped inspire the creation of the Marshall Project and the new $100 million Art for Justice Fund; it has been the winner of numerous prizes, including the prestigious NAACP Image Award; and it has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Most important of all, it has spawned a whole generation of criminal justice reform activists and organizations motivated by Michelle Alexander’s unforgettable argument that ‘we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.’ As the Birmingham News proclaimed, it is ‘undoubtedly the most important book published in this century about the U.S.'”
The Parapornographic Manifesto
By Carl-Michael Edenborg
“Edenborg’s manifesto shines brightly within a constellation that includes Bosch’s garden, Spinoza’s philosophy of immanence, Bataille’s essays, Duchamp’s artworks, Ballard’s Crash, and Acker’s mash-ups. Sexuality in the realm of parapornography is not a place of humanist truths and psychological meaning (a vision of sexuality that dovetails all-too-neatly with the neo-liberal vision of the atomized, rationalist self) but rather an event that destroys ‘meaning and identity through a mechanical repetition.’ What I like best about Edenborg’s brilliant and provocative book is that it brings into play, in an almost Blakean manner, so many seeming contraries: it’s both anti-utopian and thoroughly communistic, proletarian and ethereal, a paean to hate and shame and yet an argument for the revolutionary (and anti-social) possibilities of love, a nuanced historical overview of sexual imagery and also a glimpse into a future that seems only pulse-beats away.” —James Pate
This Young Monster
By Charlie Fox
“This Young Monster is a hallucinatory celebration of artists who raise hell, transform their bodies, anger their elders and show their audience dark, disturbing things. What does it mean to be a freak? Why might we be wise to think of the present as a time of monstrosity? And how does the concept of the monster irradiate our thinking about queerness, disability, children and adolescents? From Twin Peaks to Leigh Bowery, Harmony Korine to Alice in Wonderland, This Young Monster gets high on a whole range of riotous art as its voice and form shape-shift, all in the name of dealing with the strange wonders of what Nabokov once called ‘monsterhood’. Ready or not, here they come…”
Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World
By Timothy Morton
“Having set global warming in irreversible motion, we are facing the possibility of ecological catastrophe. But the environmental emergency is also a crisis for our philosophical habits of thought, confronting us with a problem that seems to defy not only our control but also our understanding. Global warming is perhaps the most dramatic example of what Timothy Morton calls ‘hyperobjects’—entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place. In this book, Morton explains what hyperobjects are and their impact on how we think, how we coexist with one another and with nonhumans, and how we experience our politics, ethics, and art.
Moving fluidly between philosophy, science, literature, visual and conceptual art, and popular culture, the book argues that hyperobjects show that the end of the world has already occurred in the sense that concepts such as world, nature, and even environment are no longer a meaningful horizon against which human events take place. Instead of inhabiting a world, we find ourselves inside a number of hyperobjects, such as climate, nuclear weapons, evolution, or relativity. Such objects put unbearable strains on our normal ways of reasoning.
Insisting that we have to reinvent how we think to even begin to comprehend the world we now live in, Hyperobjects takes the first steps, outlining a genuinely postmodern ecological approach to thought and action.”
The Most of It
By Mary Ruefle
“Fans of Lydia Davis and Miranda July will delight in this short prose from a beloved and cutting-edge poet. Here are thirty stories that deliver the soft touch and the sucker punch with stunning aplomb. Ducks, physicists, detectives, and The New York Times all make appearances.”
The Cinematic Body
By Steven Shaviro
“In The Cinematic Body, Steven Shaviro proposes a radical new approach to film viewing. Moving between Jerry Lewis and Andy Warhol, between Fassbinder’s gay sex icons and George Romero’s flesh-eating zombies, The Cinematic Body cuts across disciplinary boundaries and seeks to engage new currents in critical thought.
Shaviro radically critiques the Lacanian model currently popular in film theory and film studies, arguing that model’s obsessive emphasis on the phallus, castration anxiety, sadistic mastery, ideology, and the structure of the signifier. In this groundbreaking volume, Shaviro effectively communicates a sense of the inescapable ambivalences and intensities of contemporary culture, ultimately affirming a thoroughly postmodern sensibility.”