Rachel's Pick: Tell Me Everything is the rare true crime book that resists lurid voyeurism in favor of a more nuanced, memoir approach. The author, Erika Krouse, is a woman who stumbled into a career as a private investigator simply because she has “one of those faces,” the sort of face that causes random strangers to confess their secrets to her. Her first big case is a landmark Title IX lawsuit against a Colorado university and their Big Twelve football team for their “deliberate indifference” to the rape culture they nurtured, resulting in countless sexual assaults and gang rapes on campus by players and recruits. Herself a victim of sexual abuse, Krouse becomes entangled in the case, dredging up her own demons along the way. Skillfully weaving in her own story, she shares her ambivalence of encouraging women to come forward at the risk of destroying their already frayed lives. Like the strangers who are drawn to her and tell her their deepest secrets, Krouse is fearless in her own confessions: every bit of inner conflict, every dark thought, the shame of the high she gets from investigating others’ pain. Wise, eloquent, and self-aware, Tell Me Everything is a memoir that you shouldn’t miss.
Jason's Pick: We're all actors creating a persona that we share with the world. Some are so wrapped up in it that we forget who we are. Some are so aware of it that we consciously compete with the mask that we show society. Case Study tackles identity, 60s London, the anti-psychiatry movement, multiple suicides, and so many layers of unreliable narrators that fact and fiction become impossibly tangled. It's a wickedly funny novel, but Burnet's prose is so sharp and smart that it never feels like a farce. Told through five notebooks written by an unnamed narrator interspersed with five sections of a biography of a fictional character sandwiched between short pieces by yet another narrator, the form is as complex and entertaining as the people we meet on the pages, but the pace is so energetic and unrelenting that it never feels academic. It is my favorite book of the year and is a showcase for a writer with remarkable agility and talent.
"Human beings seem to have an almost unlimited capacity to deceive themselves, and to deceive themselves into taking their own lies for truth." R. D. Laing
Alex's Pick: This book is the best twisted pandemic novella. Everyone on Goodreads says it’s full of perfect sentences and it’s true. A quick read but not actually. How would you explain life on earth to an alien? Pondering the meaning of her name, the protagonist (Bird) observes, “Events happen without necessary detail and pass immediately out of view.”
Ben's Pick: Harm reduction as a practice originated with sex workers, substance users, people in poverty, Indigenous peoples, Black community workers, and other “others”-—people who understand from their lived experience that judgment and punishment can only further marginalize those already in crisis. While some non-profit orgs and government programs have mimicked or adopted some practices of harm reduction, their conditional, recovery-centered efforts—while better than nothing—allows too many to fall through the cracks. Instead, an unconditional peer-to-peer approach is a vital end goal. This fact is something I personally know too well, and while it is supposedly better “to have loved and lost,” I’d prefer to have my loved ones here and imperfect than dead in pursuit of a forced abstinence that would grant them access to housing, respect, a place in society. Hassan has not only laid out the intricacies of this practice but gathered testimony, strategy, history, and wisdom from people who have created, worked in and lived by the principles of liberatory harm reduction. Everyone who seeks a more compassionate society, but especially folks who work in public health or medicine, please heed this gift of a book.
Eddy's Pick: This book made me homesick. It reads like Alaska. It's beautiful, and dark, and harsh, and everyone in it is closely connected. I don't tend to like books about Alaska--all inspirational wilderness survival crap on a scale between Jack London and Cheryl Strayed. But this book, even in its road trips or adventures, is always tethered to Anchorage, a place where people actually live. It's the closest thing I've read to the Alaska I know. But even if you've never been and you're not interested in ever going, it's still a book of beautiful, dark, harsh stories connected by some very real characters.
Lynda's Pick: Base Notes by Lara Elena Donnelly dances along the fine line that separates mystery from horror as we share the thoughts, and what passes for the feelings, of Vic, an impoverished craft perfumer who finds a terrible but highly profitable alternate revenue stream. Despite my being a jaded, old reader there are times I find a book that gives a short, sharp shock to my brain and this is one of the sharpest. Like a cocktail tossed in your face by a beautiful creature, Base Notes is an icy, messy, visceral thrill.
Nick's Pick: I have a tendency to fall into the habit of reading a never-ending string of novels, and on so many levels, picking up Budi Darma's People from Bloomington - a short story collection - was a breath of fresh air. Set in Bloomington, Indiana, these stories give an often chilling voice to characters on the fringes of a college town, people who lack a bond to the glories of the community (or what they imagine those "glories" to be) and are determined to produce those bonds whether they are reciprocated or not. These are stories of longing, stories of loneliness, and often stories of horror. In the end, People from Bloomington is, quite simply, the best book of short stories I've read in a long time, and one that reminded me how great the form can be.
Patrick's Pick: What makes Abreu's embodiment of the youthful perspective unnervingly appealing is the sharpness and bareness with which she cuts through the painful, curious, and complex anecdotes that highlight the relationship between two so-called friends. It has echoes of a John Knowles' A Separate Peace, amplified by the cultural zest that beautifully illustrates the Canary setting. An engrossing exploration of obsession and why we sometimes love the things that seem to hate us.