If there’s one thing that was certain about this year, it’s that nothing was certain. And yet, the impulse to make sense of our world and its persistent forms continued. Texts that critically surveyed our world—presented in varied genres and approaches—drew us in to consider—with hope, curiosity, dismay, and startling surprise—all that abounds. From questions of obsession to considerations of our inequitable present, here are just a few of the books that made us stop and consider.
Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg
By Emily Rapp Black
Notting Hill Editions
“I am one-legged, like Frida, but I am also unlike her,” writes Emily Rapp, ”and there in our essential difference is where my fascination lies…my devotion, my despair, my revulsion, my resentment, my desire.” In her attentive and moving book, Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg Black considers the contradictory desires and similar experiences that are shared between both artists. Through Frida Kahlo art, letters, and diaries, Black shares her own experience of living while hiding her disability as a child, her body dysmorphia manifested in an eating disorder, the loss of her infant son, falling in love and the celebration of being a parent. Beautiful lyric and exacting, Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg delivers a deeply personal commentary on disability, motherhood, art, loss, grief, feminism, and the continued power of art to represent and render visible lived experience.
The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture
By Mark Bould
Some questions are so obvious that we forget to ask them. This is indeed the interrogative approach Mark Bould takes in his incisive and provocative book The Anthropocene Unconscious. Exploring forms like television, film and novels, Bould points to the numerous instances of catastrophe and extreme weather inherent in these forms of storytelling and narrative making. This obsession with climate is more than just an anxiety; instead, it is, as Bould claims, the central subject of our collective unconscious. The question then becomes even more startling: are all the stories we tell ultimately about climate change?
By Paul A. Bové
Harvard University Press
“Melancholics,” writes Paul A. Bové in his impassioned Love’s Shadows, are “wrong conceptually, wrong historically.” It’s their cynicisms and resounding belief in abject that have, for far too long, governed the initial instinct within criticism to reject that which it adores. Love, Bové proffers, should be an alternative mode through which we choose to engage, read closely, and celebrate. In this three-part manifesto, Bové’s challenge is more than a revolutionary call to reimagine how humanists and critics alike engage: it’s a plea to wonder at the power of poetry, marvel at the rendering of human experience in language, and dwell in delight of it all.
Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change
By Anjali Enjeti
University of Georgia Press
An earnest desire to critically interrogate our world drives the heart of Anjali Enjeti’s debut essay collection, Southbound, which considers voter suppression, gun violence, the model minority myth, journalistic inquiry, white extremism, and the experience of living in the Deep South as a mixed-raced brown person. With acuity and nuance, Enjeti’s collection moves forward a central line of investigation around the role of activism and inheritance in engendering political and social movement. As Enjeti posits near the end of her collection, it is a confluence of perspectives and experiences that will support a more thoughtful engagement of how we might enact change; but, that change cannot be spurred unless it is also accompanied by an examination of our own complicity in its stagnation.
A Ghost in the Throat
By Doireann Ní Ghríofa
Poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s genre-blending work, A Ghost in the Throat, takes essay form, scholarship, autofiction, and lyric to consider the ways in which a life can be changed in response to the discovery of another’s. Considering translation, authorial voice, language, and honestly, Ghríofa moves forward an interrogation of an 18th century poem alongside a biographical investigation which pushes the boundaries of archive and, also, considers herself in the creation of a work that reaches both backwards and forwards simultaneously. Confident, poetic, artful and analytical, A Ghost in the Throat considered much to forward an exploration of past and present, discovery and poetry, homage and truth.
The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century
By Amia Srinivasan
Amia Srinivasan’s startling debut—The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century—asks questions of how we should think and talk about sex. By first considering the historic forms through which these seemingly fundamental questions around sex have been both interrogated and consecrated, Srinivasan’s collection forwards an urgency around the impulse to imagine a certain type of future for sex in which politics are absolute and exist without tension. Through a wide-ranging consideration of everything from “the politics of fuckability” to the intersectional feminist politics of the present to the contradictions inherent in ideas of sexual freedom, The Right to Sex proffers a future for sex that resists both state power and hegemony and, instead, clings to curiosity and query as part and parcel of a true politics of emancipation.
By Ayanna Thompson
The frequent repetition of history in the present is constant. Certain historical markers invade our everyday: nineteenth-century bureaucracy is enacted when we collect our paystubs; the impending winter break echoes the early christian to pagan celebrations; and our daily schedules are informed by medieval monastic conceptions of time. Yet, what of forms that we refuse to locate or even name? This is the interrogative line Ayanna Thompson picks up in her book Blackface. Naming blackface, its origin, and persistence in the 21st century, Thompson reveals a connection between the first performances of Blackness on English stages and the appearances of anti-black racism today. Blackface, as Thompson posits, is not simply a thing of the past; instead, it is deeply a part of the present American narrative.
Clancey D’Isa is a Daily Editor at Chicago Review of Books and the Director of Strategy and Development for the Seminary Co-op Bookstores.