Trove Vol. 3: Slightly Feral
March 2021's backlist book recommendations
On the heels of a devastating winter storm in Cristina’s city of Dallas, Texas, Emma’s home in Providence, Rhode Island saw its first warm-enough-to-read-outside days. Then in what seemed like the blink of an eye, this month marked our one-year lockdown anniversary. The beginning of quarantine is a bit of a blur. Collectively we were all unshowered, slightly feral, outfit-repeating miscreants who were unable to figure out our Zoom settings or convert time zones. Some of us got it together and established healthy routines, others continued to day drink, and together in solidarity, we all found a stress hobby to pass the time as we descended into pandemic madness. While we could have given up on reading entirely (a valid response to global catastrophe), we decided instead to turn our quarantine neuroses and bookselling talents into this little newsletter that you’re reading right now.
So in a nod to the past year, and to happily leaving it behind, here are some of our favorite backlist titles that welcome incessant sadness, celebrate existence, and cling to the idea of hope.
Emma & Cristina
Lorna Simpson Collages (2018) | art,
Lorna Simpson Collages is a celebration of Black women’s hair in 150 collages made between 2011-2017. Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Lorna Simpson cut out portraits of women (and sometimes men) from vintage Ebony and Jet magazine advertisements, replacing their hair with gemstones, rock formations, and images of outer space in “Earth and Sky,” and with rich watercolors and ink wash swirls in “Ebony” and “Jet.” In “Riunite & Ice,” the same image of a woman’s face is paired fourteen times with various found images and artistic creations, her identity eluding us at every turn. Simpson’s collages juxtapose the past and the present, the material with the ethereal. Poet Elizabeth Alexander writes in the book’s introduction, “Black women’s heads of hair are galaxies unto themselves, solar systems, moonscapes, volcanic interiors.” Simpson exploits the collage form to the fullest in its ability to obfuscate, recreate, and repudiate. These collages are mesmerizing, these women are captivating, their hair cosmic, their inner lives a mystery as Simpson explores the complexity and power of Black hair and its inextricable link to Black identity. For those who want to bask in the beauty of art and the genius of women. —ER
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Megan Backus (1993)| fiction,
Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, composed of the titular novel and the novella Moonlight Shadow, is a quiet wonder. Simplistic in their narratives, both texts are told through the perspective of young female narrators as they navigate overwhelming grief and the interpersonal relationships that manage to sustain them through it all. “Everyone we love is dying. Still, to cease living is unacceptable,” the protagonist Mikage muses in Kitchen. The novella explores the compromises of modern life and the troubled interactions it entails. We watch as these characters grapple with the reality that sadness is inevitable and death is right around the corner, and as they try to figure out what must be said or done before it’s too late. Through dreams, lush landscapes, and enticing descriptions of food, what makes Yoshimoto's writing exceptional is her ability to render the mundane magical. This book centered on loneliness manages to make the reader feel less alone, proving sentimentality can forge connection. For fans of the movie Amélie, Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, and people who listen to sad songs to make them feel even sadder. —CR
Class Trip and The Mustache by Emmanuel Carrère, translated by Linda Coverdale and Lanie Goodman (2003)| fiction,
Emmanuel Carrère is a master of atmosphere. From nearly the first page of the long short story “Class Trip,” we know something is very wrong. Nicolas’s father drops him off at a school ski trip nearly three hundred miles from home, but forgets to unload his suitcase, and Nicolas is left with no appropriate clothing, no toothbrush, no clean underwear, nothing. He is instantly a burden to everyone around him. How could his father not have come back by now with his suitcase? There is an uneasiness in the air that subtly, almost imperceptibly, turns sinister. “The Mustache” begins with a man deciding to play a joke on his wife by shaving off the mustache he’s had since before they met. When she doesn’t seem to notice, he imagines she’s playing her own joke on him as revenge. When their friends don’t seem to notice either, he assumes they must be in on it. But when will it end? “The best jokes are the shortest ones,” he pleads with his wife, but in vain. Has he gone mad? Has she? Soon everything flies off the rails. These two stories are deeply unsettling, deliciously psychotic, tremendously paced and perfectly designed to make us question just how well we can ever trust our own perceived realities. For those who like gripping reads that push stories to their very limits. —ER
Divorcer by Gary Lutz (2011) | fiction,
A bookseller once told me that you either “get” Garielle Lutz’s prose, or you don’t. I didn’t fully understand the comment in the moment but I took it as an insult. In actuality, it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with Gari Lutz’s body of work. Lutz has a cult following, but a reputation for being dense and inaccessible. Strange syntax, unexpected wordplay, and idiosyncratic descriptions make up a majority of her prose, resulting in an off-balance but thrilling reading experience. For those still on the fence, Divorcer is a perfectly digestible short story collection to ease you into the deftness of Lutz’s sentences. Written in fragments, the seven-story collection examines a series of failing marriages and the aftermath of their dissolution. I may never “get” Lutz in the way my bookseller friend intended, but that has yet to stop from me from reading her. For those who enjoy non-traditional narrative devices and believe the perfect sentence is attainable. —CR
Women by Chloe Caldwell (2014) | fiction,
Short Flight/Long Drive
This month’s lost treasure—a book that is out of print or otherwise difficult to find—is Chloe Caldwell’s Women. One day about a decade ago, I was walking through McNally Jackson and saw a slim, plain-covered book on display. There was no description on the back cover, I didn’t flip through it, I knew nothing about it except that it was called Women and I had a hunch I would like it. I brought it with me from apartment to apartment over the years knowing I would eventually find the right time to read it. Turns out the right time was at the peak of a pandemic while quarantining alone in the American epicenter. From the minute I opened the book, I knew it was exactly what I wanted it to be: a sexy, thoughtful, painful, thrilling little trip through the stages of obsession and desire. In fragments, the author describes falling in love with a woman named Finn, and the way a violent crush can slowly subsume our entire life—especially when we want it to. We read their notes to each other, we are given full access to their love and their lust. The narrator compares Finn to a narcotic, and this book is equally addictive, all the more so because this relationship is clearly doomed. Not a word is wasted in this concise, explosive book, and every sentence is tainted with the exquisite sadness that stems from ill-fated passion. For fans of Douglas A. Martin’s Outline of My Lover, the movie Cold War, and all of us suckers for love. —ER