Summer Reads 2016: Helen

What I plan to read this summer in the park, by the pool, on the road!

Hot Dog Taste Test (Lisa Hanawalt)
Hanawalt can always be relied on to deliver the laughs out of left field. This new volume of short gags and longer narratives includes a visit to an otter-petting farm, a family trip to Argentina, and lots of jokes about breakfast, butts, and, yeah, hot dogs. I'm sure to engage in a lot of awkward public LOLing with this one.

Generous Bosom, Parts One and Two (Conor Stechschulte)
The first volume of Generous Bosom was entrancing: a dark, slippery story full of murky intentions and uncomfortable encounters. I will probably give it a reread to refresh my memory before diving into Part Two, which promises to complicate an already tortuous narrative. Stechschulte knows how to play with tension, and his drawings, beautifully risograph printed, serve sometimes to illuminate, sometimes to further confuse.

After Nothing Comes (Aidan Koch)
I can't get enough of Aidan Koch's work these days. After Nothing Comes, published recently by Koyama Press, is a selection of her zines, from between 2008 and 2014. I am drawn to her work the way I was drawn to Seiichi Hayashi's Red Colored Elegy; both artists are experts at portraying a fleeting gesture, and at subtracting elements until only the most necessary parts of an image remain. Fittingly, Koch recently did an illustrated version of Lydia Davis' short story "How Difficult" for the Paris Review. I couldn't think of a better match.

The Reactive (Masande Ntshanga)
London-born, Cape Town-based Ntshanga has already received the PEN International New Voices Award for this debut novel, now available in North America thanks to Two Dollar Radio. Set in the early 2000s, The Reactive follows Lindanathi, a young man in Cape Town, who struggles with the death of his younger brother, and his own HIV+ status in a country where antiretroviral drugs are in scarce supply.

Lagoon (Nnedi Okorafor)
Gotta have a little science fiction in my summer list! Praised by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o and Ursula Le Guin, among others, Lagoon chronicles the chaos that erupts when aliens land in the waters outside Lagos, the fifth most populous city in the world. A review over at Africa's A Country delivers high praise: "Lagoon isn’t merely Sci-fi with an African flavor — a foreign literary form dolled up with some local color. It is a bold, new reinvention of science fiction as a bonafide African form." Can't wait!

Ladivine (Marie Ndiaye, translated by Jordan Stump)
Ndiaye is a writer who, it seems, ought to be better known in English-speaking North America. Four of her books are now available in English, and she has won major prizes in her native France for her work, including the Prix Femina and the Prix Goncourt. Perhaps Ladivine will push her into the anglophone spotlight. This recent novel is no light summer read: it tells of trauma passed unknowingly and uncontrollably through three generations of women, who are all essentially estranged from one another. Ndiaye transmits the far-reaching psychological effects of colonialism, displacement and exile.

Little Labors (Rivka Galchen)
Having immensely enjoyed Galchen's fiction (Atmospheric Disturbances, American Innovations), I look forward this new non-fiction work of hers, a compendium of observations about childbirth, motherhood, babies and literature. I expect it will be surprising, ludicrous, and insightful.

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