There are so many wonderful books in the world and with more published every week it can be hard to know where to start, especially on Mondays, when everything is ten times harder than it usually is. So let us do the work for you. Here are the three books you need to be reading this week. You’re welcome. This week it’s Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Florence in Ecstacy by Jesse Chaffe.
Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Image Via Bookish
A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.
Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.
Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires is an original and necessary voice in contemporary fiction. (Via Amazon)
Thompson-Spires’s debut short story collection looks at present day America from the perspective of ‘the only’ black people in certain situations. As noted by NPR in their review, “America has had its first black baseball player, its first black astronaut, its first black president — but after the firsts, the world is still full of onlies.” As Thompson-Spires has noted, this can be a difficult position, “because you are sort of a representative of what people see as black, by virtue of them not having had much exposure to it, there are all these additional pressures on top of the standard pressures of being black in a white world.”
Thompson-Spires says she would have liked to read something like her book when she was growing up, as though she read veraciously, she rarely if ever came across characters like herself. “I never saw black characters like me, dealing with being the only one. I didn’t even see a lot of black nerds, which in a lot of ways is what this collection is about — just black people who are into cosplay and into all kinds of stereotypically dorky things, and I wrote the stories I wished I could have been reading and seeing.”
This book is clearly a triumph for representation and has announced Thompson-Spires as a brave new voice in American literature.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Image Via WAMC
Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward—with hope and pain—into the future. (Via Amazon)
I first came across this book when I read an excerpt in Tin House and was extraordinarily impressed. USA Today called it “brilliant and heartbreaking . . . Unforgettable.” The Paris Review comments “Jones writes about people and the trauma they carry. She unpacks what it took to get them to their current moment and what it might take for them to be able to let go of the past. I found myself enthralled by how deftly she captures the emotions of her characters.”
Though she originally planned for the book to be about mass incarceration of people of color, Jones says she realized that “mass incarceration is not a story…it’s not a plot,” and that the intimate stories of the characters in her book came from an interaction she overheard in a mall in Atlanta. “The woman, who was splendidly dressed, and the man—he looked okay. But she looked great! And she said to him, “You know you wouldn’t have waited on me for seven years.” And he shot back, “This shit wouldn’t have happened to you in the first place.” And I was like, You know, I don’t know him, but I know she’s probably right. I doubt very seriously that he would wait on her for seven years, and he is probably right that this wouldn’t have happened to her. And I realized that they were at an impasse because she’s talking about the potential for reciprocity and he’s saying this is a moot point. I was intrigued by them, and so I integrated this very personal conflict with the research I had done.”
The book was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, so you know it’s got to be good!
Florence in Ecstasy by Jesse Chaffee
Images Via Amazon and SFGate
A young American woman arrives in Florence from Boston, knowing no one and speaking little Italian. But Hannah is isolated in a more profound way, estranged from her own identity after a bout with starvation that has left her life and body in ruins. She is determined to recover in Florence, a city saturated with beauty, vitality, and food―as well as a dangerous history of sainthood for women who starved themselves for God.
Hannah joins a local rowing club, where Francesca, a welcoming but predatory Milanese, and Luca, a seemingly steady Florentine with whom she becomes involved, draw her into Florence’s vibrant present: the complex social dynamics at the club, soccer mania, eating, drinking, sex, an insatiable insistence on life. But Hannah is also rapt by the city’s past―the countless representations of beauty, the entrenched conflicts of politics and faith, and the lore of the mystical saints, women whose self-imposed isolation and ecstatic searches for meaning through denial illuminate the seduction of her own struggles.
Both sides pull Hannah in: challenging her, defeating her, lifting her up. And when a figure from her past life in Boston reappears, threatening the delicate balance of her present, Hannah’s feverish personal excavation becomes caught up with the long history of women’s contention with body and spirit, desire and death.
A vivid, visceral debut echoing the novels of Jean Rhys, Elena Ferrante, and Catherine Lacey, Florence in Ecstasy gives us an arresting new vision of a woman’s attempt to find meaning―and find herself―in an unstable world. (Via Amazon)
According to National Book Award winner Alice McDermott, “There’s an absorbing story here, a love story, a coming-of-age story, a gorgeous portrait of the city itself, its beauty and its decadence, but there’s also the thrilling glimpse of a brilliant young writer just setting out.” For anyone craving the rustic beauty of the landscapes in Call Me By Your Name, this book, named one of the Books of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle, is calling to you.
Chaffee was awarded a 2014-2015 Fulbright Grant in Creative Writing to Italy to complete the novel, during which time she was the Writer-in-Residence at the Florence University of the Arts, and of her debut novel she has said “I think the content that we choose to write about is political. I think that choosing to write about women’s interiority in a way that isn’t easy or stereotypical is my way of pushing back.”
Featured Image Via Kitapcafe.com