It is not the first but the second official Summer of Discontent here in America, and the reading lists of New York City’s independent booksellers combine that anger with some much-needed escapism.
In Prospect Heights, bookseller and poet Daniel Baker at Unnameable Books recommends Experience in Groups by the poet Geoffrey G. O’Brien. “It’s a book about possibilities of collective belonging in politics and in love,” Baker says. “There’s also a 21-sonnet sequence about the police killing black people, and a poem called Fidelio, which is a riff on Beethoven’s Fidelio, but about prison abolition.”
In Queens, the Astoria Bookshop’s event coordinator, Zora Shaw, is also thinking about power and structural oppression (can anyone figure out why?). She says Darnell L. Moore’s memoir, No Ashes in the Fire, “tracks these patterns and manifestations of racism, toxic masculinity, and homophobia not only on an external, macro level but in an internal, micro level as well.”
“There has been a new wave of emerging voices coming from men of color who examine their intersecting identities of race, gender, sexuality, and class in a way that acknowledges male privilege — this is not to be missed,” Shaw adds.
Helen Zuckerman at the Community Bookstore in Park Slope is looking forward to The Shutters by Ahmed Bouanani, a Moroccan poet who wrote about his country’s violent colonial history. “He didn’t want his work to be published during his lifetime, and a fire destroyed half of his unpublished work. These poems were salvaged and translated for New Directions,” Zuckerman says. She’s planning on reading the sixth and last installment of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle autobiographical series when it comes out in September, too — though, she notes, reading one doesn’t mean you have to read them all. “I’ll do the first, one in the middle, and the last.”
When it comes to beach reads, her colleague Rebecca McCarthy always comes back to Eve Babitz. “It’s the one thing that makes me permanently want to move to a hot climate,” she says. A new edition of Babitz’s 1993 story collection, Black Swans, is out, full of glitzy, tipsy portraits of Los Angeles. Also on McCarthy’s list are Asad Haider’s Mistaken Identity and Elizabeth Hardwick’s essays, along with Helen DeWitt’s “weird, funny” new collection of short stories, Some Trick, and The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, a novel about the AIDS crisis in 1980s Chicago.
Sam MacLaughlin, who runs McNally Jackson’s new Williamsburg outpost, recommends Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends, which is out in paperback in August. “I inhaled it, and was bereft I finished — I wanted more. It felt contemporary in a way that few ‘contemporary’ novels do,” MacLaughlin says. “And based on his funny-sad stories in the Paris Review, I’m excited to dig into Andrew Martin’s Early Work, which comes out in July and ought to be perfect for fans of Ben Lerner and Sam Lipsyte.” Martin will be launching his book at the shop in July.
Sarah McNally, McNally Jackson’s owner, says Tommy Orange’s novel There There, about Native Americans in Oakland, may well wind up being the book of the summer. She loves Rachel Cusk’s Kudos, the final volume in the author’s “hypnotic” trio, and Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a novel about an orphan who drugs herself into hibernation for a year. “There is cold wisdom and humor in depressive disengagement — male writers like Bukowski and Burroughs have built cults around it. This a womanly contribution to the genre,” says McNally.
Leigh Altshuler at the Strand is equally excited about Orange, who “redefines the power of a debut” with There There, and seconds McNally’s praise for Moshfegh’s latest. “You can expect to see this cover while riding the subway (or waiting for one) this summer,” she says. Altshuler is also thrilled that we’re getting a new release by Zora Neale Hurston. Barracoon chronicles the tale of the Atlantic slave trade’s last-known survivor; Altshuler calls it “powerful” and “necessary.” Finally, she says Air Traffic, poet Gregory Pardlo’s memoir about his father, is “unforgettable” and tells “an important and honest story of being a black male in this country.”
The Village Voice is celebrating the summer’s literary scene throughout the week. For full coverage to date, visit our Best of Summer Books page.