I had planned to write a long and rambling post about all the delicious books I’ve read over the last few months, but in the end decided to focus on just four: three coming out very soon (next week! next month!) and one that was published late last year just as Covid was surging, election-related horrors were gearing up, and everyone and everything was embittered, embattled, and battened down tight.
Golem Girl, Riva Lehrer (Oct 6 2020)
I’ll going to start with the book that’s already published: a debut, a memoir by friend, fellow crip, and portrait artist Riva Lehrer. First-time authors did not always fare well in the time of Covid, and October/November last year were a particular horror show, so I wanted to give this important book another shoutout. (Also, it gives me a chance to gloat and croon yet again over the marvellous portrait Riva made of me ten years ago as part of her Mirror Shards series.)
Riva is an artist with a particular focus on portraits, more particularly on portraits of disabled artists: writers, painters, sculptors, choreographers, dancers and more. Her work is brilliant. Her canvases hang all over the world, including the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian.
Golem Girl is an artist’s memoir. It was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. Riva is a disabled artist. Golem Girl was the inaugural winner of the Barbellion Prize, a new book prize “dedicated to the furtherance of ill and disabled voices in writing.” The prize will be given every year to “an author whose work has best represented the experience of chronic illness and/or disability.” That description doesn’t specifically demand that the writing be Own Voices so I’ll be interested to see how the prize and its prize culture develops. This year the judges and prize advisors were a stellar crew including Tom Shakespeare, Stevie Marsters, and Shahd Alshammari. Let’s hope they continue to set ambitious goals.
Here’s what I said a year ago:
“With deft painter’s prose, Riva Lehrer helps us discover what it is to be human when others see us as broken. Lehrer gives us the gift, at long last, of our own crip beauty.”
I meant every word. Disabled people are rarely portrayed as beautiful in and of ourselves; Riva absolutely smashes that box. Buy it here.
Things We Lost to the Water, Eric Nguyen (out May 4)
Eric was one of the Emerging Voices Fellows in my Fiction Workshop when I taught for Lambda Literary 11 years ago. He was very young—not nearly old enough to drink—but even then his talent was startling. People often talk of prose that so sharp it glitters, or limpid prose (I seriously hate the word limpid), but Eric’s prose is so clear and clean and candid that as you read you barely notice it—only to put the book down at the end and find you understand the world differently. I am filled with pride that I helped to make work like this possible.
This is not autobiography but it is a work of fiction written from an understanding of the queer experience, Vietnamese immigrant experience, and how it is to feel different in the world.
Here’s what I said about it:
“In Things We Lost to the Water, Eric Nguyen not only uses water to great effect but the prose itself feels like water: clear, powerful, and life-giving. While reading we believe that being loved and being flawed are not incompatible, nor belonging and being estranged. Nguyen helps us understand that we can all float if we let go of having to swim the same way to the same rhythm—we will find our own level in our own time. This is a beautiful book!” Buy it here.
Sorrowland, Rivers Solomon (out May 4)
I’ve never met Rivers, but I know of their work (An Unkindness of Ghosts, The Deep), and was delighted when their latest book was acquired by FSG, my publisher. I agreed to read the novel without having a clue what it was about, or even what genre. I was expecting anything—and even so I was surprised, delighted, and amazed by it. If you ever want to see what it looks like for a woman, with everything in life arrayed against her, simply blow through obstacles like a hurricane through a drift of spores, then you should read this book. It will give you confidence that whatever life throws at you there’s always a way to handle it and find the joy.
Here’s what I said about it:
“Sorrowland is a raw, powerful, and visceral read. With Vern, Rivers Solomon has created a woman who simply side-steps her damage, and level after level of difficulty―young, Black, queer, blind, alone in the woods with two newborns and pursued by monstrous government agents―to assume her own power. Nature, joy, science, belonging, human metamorphosis, generational oppression, strength, and sheer lust for life: if Toni Morrison, M. Night Shyamalan, and Marge Piercy got together they might, if they were lucky, produce something with the unstoppable exhilaration of this novel. Sorrowland is sui generis.” Buy it here.
One Two Three, Laurie Frankel (out June 8)
Laurie is a writer right here in Seattle. We’ve known of each other for a while—it’s a small city that way—but we had never met when I got email from her out of the blue one day in 2019. She offered to buy me lunch in exchange for picking my brains about something. We met, had a wonderful conversation about disability, norming the Other, representation and pity porn, and after that met up every month or two for lunch until Covid shut everything down—at which point we swapped to Zoom Happy Hour. Laurie is smart, warm, generous, and a very, very good writer with a particular flair for characters who feel simultaneously real, different, and unexpected. (If you haven’t yet read This Is How It Always Is, you should.) Her latest novel is One, Two, Three, a tale of ecology, adversity, capitalism and greed, disability, and triumph. There are no miracle cures; there are no suicides; there is no pity or inspiration porn. I read a very early draft and then the final draft. Here’s what I had to say:
“One Two Three is a powerful and nuanced novel about hope, human frailty, and love. Laurie Frankel takes a clear-eyed look at the mess we make of the world when we privilege profits over people and, brilliantly, without flinching from the truth, allows no hint of contempt, disgust, or hatred to enter the conversation. Three sisters, Mab, Monday, and Mirabel, understand that you can’t fight old problems with traditional tools. Their gifts and differences and love for each other help them to understand that their mother―and by extension our mothers―can’t make the change the world needs. It’s up to the daughters to act, to move us forward, to tell a different story. It is the daughters who will save us. One Two Three is the blueprint for a true revolution.”
Watch for an event with me and Laurie for Brookline Booksmith sometime in summer. Meanwhile buy it here.