Well, readers, we’ve made it to the end of another year. As the holiday scramble commences and the cold winds blow, we hope you’re taking time to care for yourself along with your loved ones, and are settling down before a warm fire with a good book, or two. December is usually a quieter month for new releases, but there are still quite a few gems that will be worth adding to your to-read pile, or wrapping up to gift another lucky reader in your life. Below are twelve we particularly recommend.
By Harmony Holiday
“Maafa,” as the publicity materials for this immensely affecting book state, is Swahili for “catastrophe” or “holocaust.” Iowa-born poet and choreographer Harmony Holiday uses this word to interrogate our concepts of the Western hero through the epic story of a Black woman who bears that name. Etched with the same myth-making singularity as Odysseus before her while drawing on Afrofuturist traditions, it’s a bold, uncompromising, and unmissable work.
Vivian Maier Developed: The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny
By Ann Marks
Vivian Maier is one of the most intriguing figures in modern photography: having fled a tortured family life, she took jobs as a nanny and kept a secret portfolio of her photographic work, discovered years after her death in a Chicago storage locker. Now Ann Marks brings us the definitive biography of this uniquely gifted artist, based on unprecedented access to Maier’s personal archive and over 140,000 of her prints. It’s a work of unstinting reportage that reads like a great mystery.
They Can’t Take Your Name
By Robert Justice
Crooked Lane Books
Based on a real case of wrongful conviction and inspired by the politically-conscious poetry of Langston Hughes, Robert Justice’s debut crime novel sets out not just to be a page turner but a mind changer. Set in the author’s native Denver, it’s a taut and transfixing story told with a deep reverence for a place and its people, bolstered by a belief that miscarriages of justice can be righted by an informed and passionate citizenry.
Where You Come From
By Saša Stanišic; Translated by Damion Searls
Tin House Books
The acclaimed author of Before the Feast and How the Soldier Repairs the Gramaphone returns to American shores this month with a rollicking and shape-shifting story of a family of Yugoslavian refugees who find themselves unmoored, both figuratively and, sometimes, literally, in a new country. Part autofiction, part choose-your-own-adventure, this playful and restless novel is sure to delight and confound readers in equal measure.
Tell Me How to Be
By Neel Patel
Hometown (well, almost – he grew up in Champaign, IL) hero Neel Patel follows up on the success of his story collection If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi with this generous and soulful first novel about an Indian-American family struggling beneath the weight of its secrets. As enveloping and warm as a long-overdue hug from a loved one, and written in accessible, dynamic prose, it’d make a perfect last-minute holiday gift for any son to give a mother, and read for themselves, too.
Silence and Silences
By Wallis Wilde-Menozzi
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The author of the cult classic memoir Mother Tongue examines a more interior way of living with this wide-spanning and thoughtful meditation on what it means to inhabit silence, whether by choice or otherwise, and how we can center ourselves in tumultuous times by stepping back and examining our worlds more carefully. As graceful and piercing as the image on its cover, this polyphonic collection is a perfect winter read: inviting you to sink in and stay awhile.
Beasts of a Little Land
By Juhea Kim
Juhea Kim’s ambitious debut novel is an epic saga spanning fifty years of Korean history, beginning in 1917 with an incident with a tiger that has wide-ranging repercussions for a girl named Jade and the two men she’s torn between. Based on the stories of Kim’s own ancestors, particularly her grandfather, it’s a potent and immersive reading experience, alive to the particulars of its place and time. Intimate but politically resonant, it’s perfect for fans of Min Jin Lee and Isabelle Allende.
Mothers, Fathers, and Others: Essays
By Siri Hustvedt
Simon & Schuster
A new book from the prodigiously intelligent Siri Hustvedt is always something to celebrate and this new collection of essays builds on an already impressive body of work. Shifting effortlessly between feminist philosophy and family history, the pieces compiled here draw on psychoanalysis, literature, and art criticism to illuminate Hustvedt’s particular views of the world. Like having a long and dishy discussion with your smartest, most well-connected friend.
Sea State: A Memoir
By Tabitha Lasley
After quitting her job at a London magazine, journalist Tabitha Lasley moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, intending to throw herself headlong into a book project on the area’s oil rigs and the men who work them. Sea State is the unusual, relentlessly compelling memoir that emerged from that project, at once an unvarnished exploration of class and masculinity in crisis and a strikingly candid depiction of female loneliness and desire in hard places. Will toss you about like the waves referenced in its title.
You Never Get It Back
By Cara Blue Adams
University of Iowa Press
Winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, Cara Blue Adams’s keenly observed collection of linked stories is the perfect companion for long winter nights. Remarkably expansive within a limited space, the pieces here conjure such masters of the form as Munro and Beattie while staking out a territory all their own. Following the character Kate from her early days in Vermont through her struggles to define herself later in life, You Never Get It Back is a book you’ll want to hold onto.
In My Heart
By Sophonia Machabe Mofokeng; Translated by Nhlanhla Maake
The latest volume in the Elsewhere Texts series, which seeks a radical engagement with non-European literary cultures, In My Heart marks one of the rare translations of Sesotho into English. Originally written in the 1950s during the upheaval of the South African apartheid, this collection of essays from Mofokeng introduces Western readers to one of the country’s most significant thinkers, working outside the familiar colonialist frameworks to speak directly to his people. We’d do well to listen, too.
Awakening Artemis: Deepening Intimacy with the Living Earth and Reclaiming Our Wild Nature
By Vanessa Chakour
Author Vanessa Chakour has an enviably varied biography: through the years she’s worked as an herbalist, visual artist, rewilding educator, pro boxer, and environmental activist, and founded Sacred Warrior. She brings all these experiences to bear in her new memoir/spiritual resource that dives deep into the potential of the natural world to help us heal our traumas and discover new paths forward. Meditative and communal, it may just help you meet the challenges of 2022 head-on.