Growing up queer is a paradoxical experience, steeped in love as much as it is in pain. In this shattering, semi-autobiographical novel, Ocean Vuong sets forth a fraught life in elegiac, glancing prose. From his drug-addicted refugee mother to his repressed teenage lover, everyone who cares for Vuong has wounded him. Still, he goes on believing that life can be, well, gorgeous. This book holds great importance for me. Whether I am in despair or swept away on joy, Vuong’s steadfast longing for the beauty of things anchors me. I love this book, and I am in love with this book.
This often whimsical, always unexpected book begins at an alligator wrestling tourist-trap in southern Florida, and that may be the least weird thing about it. We follow Ava, the borderline feral child of the gator park’s starring couple, as she navigates a sudden family tragedy and the void that it has left in its wake, both within her and in the family that has been her world until it is suddenly ruptured. There is some tough stuff in Russell’s debut novel, so proceed with caution, but the reward at the end of Ava’s harrowing journey through the Everglades is a guileless yet profound coming-of-age that will stir its reader deeply
As a student of Latin in my younger years, I often felt a strong connection with the ancient. I could connect, through the written word, and in a way that felt almost magical, to the long-dead. Swerve gives this singular power of books a physical manifestation through the story of one errant copy of an epic poem. Unearthed after over a thousand years collecting dust in a monastery, the six-book epic De Rerum Natura shaped the modern world in ways that its first-century author could scarcely have imagined. There is fascinating history here, from a shrewd Renaissance book hunter to atomic physicists, but what makes me love it so much is the reverence it shows for the awesome power of language across epochs.
“The entire history of human desire takes about seventy minutes to tell.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of time.”
Love can have sharp corners, and the search for it is as likely to destroy as redeem us. This frightful truth is the rumbling hum under Richard Siken’s unflinching debut collection. Siken writes about queer desire in all its fearsome glory, weaving together joy, guilt, and self-realization in oscillating, hypnotic verse. This book is a punch in the gut, in the best, sexiest, and most soul-deep way.
In my previous career as a wine merchant, I read a whole lot of textbooks on food and beverage, some of them jaunty, some unapologetically dry. This learned yet approachable book was the most fun I ever had in the business. Standage plots the course of human civilization through its love of libations, fermented and otherwise, giving as much attention to archaeology and anthropology as he does to flavor and terroir. We learn about ancient Mesopotamian agriculture through the lens of early beer brewing, Persian trade routes as they follow the flow of arrak, and the bittersweet path of globalization through the reign of Coca-Cola. Standage’s writing style is engaging and fast-paced, and he manages to cover an awful lot of ground without losing his reader on the way. Whether you are a history buff, a wine nerd, or just someone looking for an engaging non-fiction read, this book will surely satisfy your thirst.
Quietly queer and erotic in a very early-1900’s way, the beauty of this classic novel lies in its deep care for all of life’s moments, whether dramatic or (seemingly) mundane. As we immerse ourselves in Clarissa Dalloway’s internal dialogue, she confronts love, repression, and suicide in terms somehow both bracing and delicate. This book makes me sad, but it makes me feel held, too, and less alone. Woolf’s most famous work is not only emotionally and existentially substantial - the prose is also the most beautiful that I have read. Pablo Picasso once wrote that an artist must find the meaning in “the sky, the earth, a scrap of paper, a passing shape”; in this chronicle of Mrs. Dalloway’s June day, the reader will find transcendence in events as large as a plunge from the rooftop, or as small as a trip to the flower shop.