Staff Picks

Here's what members of our staff have been reading lately.
ISBN: 9780374140342
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar Straus Giroux - February 3rd, 2015

An elegant, vibrant, startling coming-of-age novel, for anyone who's ever felt the shame of being alive.

Kenya Curtis is only eight years old, but she knows that she's different, even if she can't put her finger on how or why. It's not because she's black--most of the other students in the fourth-grade class at her West Philadelphia elementary school are too. Maybe it's because she celebrates Kwanzaa, or because she's forbidden from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Maybe it's because she calls her father--a housepainter-slash-philosopher--"Baba" instead of "Daddy," or because her parents' friends gather to pour out libations "from the Creator, for the Martyrs" and discuss "the community."
Kenya does know that it's connected to what her Baba calls "the shame of being alive"--a shame that only grows deeper and more complex over the course of Asali Solomon's long-awaited debut novel. "Disgruntled," effortlessly funny and achingly poignant, follows Kenya from West Philadelphia to the suburbs, from public school to private, from childhood through adolescence, as she grows increasingly disgruntled by her inability to find any place or thing or person that feels like home.

A coming-of-age tale, a portrait of Philadelphia in the late eighties and early nineties, an examination of the impossible double-binds of race, "Disgruntled" is a novel about the desire to rise above the limitations of the narratives we're given and the painful struggle to craft fresh ones we can call our own.

By Jennifer Cognard-Black (Editor), Melissa A. Goldthwaite (Editor), Marion Nestle (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9781479830213
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Published: New York University Press - August 2014

Organized like a cookbook, Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal is a collection of American literature written on the theme of food: from an invocation to a final toast, from starters to desserts. All food literatures are indebted to the form and purpose of cookbooks, and each section begins with an excerpt from an influential American cookbook, progressing chronologically from the late 1700s through the present day, including such favorites as American Cookery, the Joy of Cooking, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The literary works within each section are an extension of these cookbooks, while the cookbook excerpts in turn become pieces of literature-forms of storytelling and memory-making all their own.

By Lisa Factora-Borchers (Editor), Aishah Shahidah Simmons (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9781849351720
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Published: AK Press - February 25th, 2014

One quarter of the total female population of the United States will experience rape at some point in their lives.

ISBN: 9780385538138
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Published: Doubleday Books - August 19th, 2014

Finally a novel that puts the "pissed" back into "epistolary." 

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can't catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work "Accountant in a Bordello," based on Melville's "Bartleby." In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies. We recommend "Dear Committee Members" to you in the strongest possible terms.

ISBN: 9780822357797
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Duke University Press - October 31st, 2014

This important collection of essays expands the geographic, demographic, and analytic scope of the term genocide to encompass the effects of colonialism and settler colonialism in North America.

ISBN: 9781894037518
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Published: Arbeiter Ring - April 26th, 2014

The Winter We Danced is a vivid collection of writing, poetry, lyrics, art and images from the many diverse voices that make up the past, present, and future of the Idle No More movement. Calling for pathways into healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities while drawing on a wide-ranging body of narratives, journalism, editorials and creative pieces, this collection consolidates some of the most powerful, creative and insightful moments from the winter we danced and gestures towards next steps in an on-going movement for justice and Indigenous self-determination.

Royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

ISBN: 9780982879856
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Published: School of the Art Institute of Chicago - November 15th, 2014

When artists break boundaries of traditional forms and work outside of institutionalized systems, they often must create new infrastructures to sustain their practices. 'Support networks' looks to Chicago's deeply layered history of artists, scholars, and creative practitioners coming together to create, share, and maintain these alternative networks of exchange and collaboration. The contributors to this collection explore how the city continues to inform and shape contemporary cultural work and the development of informal organizations. Many of the authors are contributors to the scene themselves, having envisioned, founded, and activated these new ways of working. The unconventional systems explored in 'Support networks' call attention to stories and experiences often overlooked in this history. Ranging from artists' reflections to essays, interviews, and ephemera, these perspectives challenge existing narratives and foreground underrepresented voices. Through over twenty-five diverse examples of community building, activism, and catalytic projects, readers will find the inspiration they need to build their own counter-institutions.

By Daniel Tucker (Editor)
ISBN: 9780982879849
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Published: School of the Art Institute of Chicago - September 15th, 2014

Much ink has been spilled on how art intersects with the experiences of everyday life. But what about art grappling with how to live differently? The author talks to Chicago-based artists and authors about life as an art practice and art as a life practice.

ISBN: 9781552452974
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Published: Coach House Books - October 7th, 2014

A twenty-five-frames-per-second look at the kinetic, cinematic self by a master poet.

ISBN: 9780141002323
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Published: Penguin Books - December 2001

Russian novelist Victor Pelevin is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most brilliant young writers at work today. His comic inventiveness and mind-bending talent prompted Time magazine to proclaim him a "psychedelic Nabokov for the cyber-age." In his third novel, Buddha's Little Finger, Pelevin has created an intellectually dazzling tale about identity and Russian history, as well as a spectacular elaboration of Buddhist philosophy. Moving between events of the Russian Civil War of 1919 and the thoughts of a man incarcerated in a contemporary Moscow psychiatric hospital, Buddha's Little Finger is a work of demonic absurdism by a writer who continues to delight and astonish.

ISBN: 9781469614663
Availability: Special Order
Published: University of North Carolina Press - March 2014

During the Cold War an unlikely coalition of poets, editors, and politicians converged in an attempt to discredit--if not destroy--the American modernist avant-garde. Ideologically diverse yet willing to bespeak their hatred of modern poetry through the rhetoric of anticommunism, these "anticommunist antimodernists," as Alan Filreis dubs them, joined associations such as the League for Sanity in Poetry to decry the modernist "conspiracy" against form and language. In "Counter-revolution of the Word" Filreis narrates the story of this movement and assesses its effect on American poetry and poetics. 

Although the antimodernists expressed their disapproval through ideological language, their hatred of experimental poetry was ultimately not political but aesthetic, Filreis argues. By analyzing correspondence, decoding pseudonyms, drawing new connections through the archives, and conducting interviews, Filreis shows that an informal network of antimodernists was effective in suppressing or distorting the postwar careers of many poets whose work had appeared regularly in the 1930s. Insofar as modernism had consorted with radicalism in the Red Decade, antimodernists in the 1950s worked to sever those connections, fantasized a formal and unpolitical pre-Depression High Modern moment, and assiduously sought to de-radicalize the remnant avant-garde. Filreis's analysis provides new insight into why experimental poetry has aroused such fear and alarm among American conservatives.

By Spalding Gray, James Leverett (Afterword by), Roger Rosenblatt (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781559362542
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Published: Theatre Communications Group - April 2005

This title is the re-issue of a cult classic 20 years after first publication - a soul-baring monologue inspired by The Killing Fields. Hired as an actor in Roland Joffe's extraordinary film, The Killing Fields, Spalding Gray turned his experiences into a monologue which he performed all over the world and which, since it was subsequently filmed on its own account, has acquired more than cult status. Originally published by Picador in the UK but now out of print, Swimming to Cambodia is re-issued twenty years after first publication and two years after the death of the author. As well as offering an eloquent anatomy of South-East Asia, Swimming to Cambodia is laden with movie gossip. Names are dropped, marijuana is smoked, the bordellos of Bangkok are visited. But behind it all lies the genocide that claimed two million lives under the Pol Pot regime. Famed for a kind of emotional exhibitionism that would put Woody Allen to shame, Gray uses himself as raw material.

ISBN: 9781623658441
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Published: Maclehose Press Quercus - October 7th, 2014

In" Roads to Berlin," Nooteboom's reportage, "from a 1963 Khrushchev rally in East Berlin to the tearing down of the Palast der Republik, brilliantly captures the intensity of the capital and its 'associated layers of memory, '" The Economist said. The book maps the changing landscape of post-World-War-II Germany, from the period before the fall of the Berlin Wall to the present. Written and updated over the course of several decades, an eyewitness account of the pivotal events of 1989 gives way to a perceptive appreciation of its difficult passage to reunification. Nooteboom's writings on politics, people, architecture, and culture are as digressive as they are eloquent; his innate curiosity takes him through the landscapes of Heine and Goethe, steeped in Romanticism and mythology, and to Germany's baroque cities. With an outsider's objectivity he has crafted an intimate portrait of the country to its present day.

ISBN: 9780807003527
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Published: Beacon Press (MA) - October 7th, 2014

An unflinching look at nineteenth- and twentieth-century African American leaders and their visionary legacies. 

In an accessible, conversational format, Cornel West, with distinguished scholar Christa Buschendorf, provides a fresh perspective on six revolutionary African American leaders: Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida B. Wells. In dialogue with Buschendorf, West examines the impact of these men and women on their own eras and across the decades. He not only rediscovers the integrity and commitment within these passionate advocates but also their fault lines. 
West, in these illuminating conversations with the German scholar and thinker Christa Buschendorf, describes Douglass as a complex man who is both ""the "towering Black freedom fighter of the nineteenth century" and a product of his time who lost sight of the fight for civil rights after the emancipation. He calls Du Bois "undeniably the most important Black intellectual of the twentieth century" and explores the more radical aspects of his thinking in order to understand his uncompromising critique of the United States, which has been omitted from the American collective memory. West argues that our selective memory has sanitized and even "Santaclausified" Martin Luther King Jr., rendering him less radical, and has marginalized Ella Baker, who embodies the grassroots organizing of the civil rights movement. The controversial Malcolm X, who is often seen as a proponent of reverse racism, hatred, and violence, has been demonized in a false opposition with King, while the appeal of his rhetoric and sincerity to students has been sidelined. Ida B. Wells, West argues, shares Malcolm X's radical spirit and fearless speech, but has "often become the victim of public amnesia." 

By providing new insights that humanize all of these well-known figures, in the engrossing dialogue with Buschendorf, and in his insightful introduction and powerful closing essay, Cornel West takes an important step in rekindling the Black prophetic fire so essential in the age of Obama.

ISBN: 9781590302583
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Published: Shambhala Publications - April 12th, 2005

Part spiritual pilgrimage, part historical epic, the folk novel "Journey to the West ," which came to be known as "Monkey," is the most popular classic of Asian literature. Originally written in the sixteenth century, it is the story of the adventures of the rogue-trickster Monkey and his encounters with a bizarre cast of characters as he travels to India with the Buddhist pilgrim Tripitaka in search of sacred scriptures. Much more than a picaresque adventure novel, "Monkey" is a profound allegory of the struggle that must occur before spiritual transformation is possible. David Kherdian's masterful telling brings this classic of Chinese literature to life in a way that is true to the scope and depth of the original.

ISBN: 9780316126670
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Published: Back Bay Books - May 2012

An expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment--to oneself and to others in a baseball story that goes beyond the sport and into hearts and minds.

By Robert Seydel (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780979956256
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Published: Siglio - May 31st, 2011

Robert Seydel's "Book of Ruth "presents an assemblage of collages, letters, journal entries and other artifacts from the life of Seydel's fictional alter-ego, Ruth Greisman--spinster, Sunday painter and friend to Joseph Cornell. Drawing on the inherent seductiveness and intrigue of archives, the volume is conceived as a gathering of fragmented materials by Greisman unearthed from a storage space in the Smithsonian and a suburban family garage, which are presented as a mosaic portrait of a reclusive artist. The" New Yorker" described the project thus: "Burrowing into the pop-detritus archive somewhere between Ray Johnson's mail art and Tom Phillips' "Humument" project, Seydel's serial collage "Book of Ruth" describes an allusive fantasy about his aunt and alter ego Ruth Greisman, her brother Saul, and their escapades with Joseph Cornell... unfold[ing] in novelistic rhythms." Over the past decade or so, working almost exclusively in notebook form, Seydel has produced hundreds of works in multiple ongoing and interrelated series that move freely between lyric and narrative modes. (Poet Peter Gizzi notes that "so many of his tools are a writer's: whiteout, pencil and pen, erasers, tape, type and newsprint.") "Book of Ruth" constitutes his masterpiece to date. In Seydel's hands the detritus from which Ruth makes her art and narrates her inner life shines like pages from an illuminated manuscript.

ISBN: 9781400079742
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Anchor Books - July 10th, 2007

Award-winning author Jennifer Egan brilliantly conjures a world from which escape is impossible and where the keep -the tower, the last stand -is both everything worth protecting and the very thing that must be surrendered in order to survive. 

Two cousins, irreversibly damaged by a childhood prank, reunite twenty years later to renovate a medieval castle in Eastern Europe. In an environment of extreme paranoia, cut off from the outside world, the men reenact the signal event of their youth, with even more catastrophic results. And as the full horror of their predicament unfolds, a prisoner, in jail for an unnamed crime, recounts an unforgettable story that seamlessly brings the crimes of the past and present into piercing relation.

ISBN: 9780312429966
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Published: Picador USA - January 31st, 2012

This single volume brings together the first four Patrick Melrose novels by Booker Prize Finalist Aubyn. The collection includes "Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope," and "Mother's Milk."