Happy New Year!
This year is particularly exciting and also a little nerve-wracking for me: my fiction debut (Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil, Tor 2024), my weird baby I have worked on for so long, will be out in the world. It is a strange thing how time moves. I have been saying it, seeing the “forthcoming in 2024” in my bio, since 2022. It felt so far away then. And now here we are: 2024.
Pre-publication is an intense time of anticipation, hope, worry, and gratitude. It often feels like a dream. But there are also times when it is nice to take a break from thinking about logistics, book tour dates, and press kits (as fun as that can be, it can also be a very anxiety-inducing endeavor). It does me good to remind myself of the beauty and joy of words and literature, and that I am a reader, as well as a writer. Luckily, I have a wonderful cohort to get us through in 2024. Here are some of the books I think will bring us some respite, beauty, laughter, and joy in the New Year.
The Bullet Swallower (Simon and Schuster) by Elizabeth Gonzales James
I cannot wait for this book for so many reasons. But I will keep it to a couple for now. First, I love Elizabeth Gonzalez James’s work (it was such a joy to stumble upon her mesmerizing, smart, and experimental chapbook Five Conversations About Peter Sellers (Texas Review Press, 2023)). Second, I have been following with much interest a micro-wave of great innovative recent–ish Westerns. Third: a magical realism western family saga whose first line is “Alvarez Antonio Sonora was born with gold in his eyes”? Sign me up! (Luckily, I won’t have to wait for too long).
I have been a fan of Omotara James’ work since I first discovered it, when she won a prize at a Slice Magazine Conference (in 2016). Her poems combine a command of craft and language with compassion and understanding. They are loving, moving poems, even when dealing with painful experiences. When I saw the title of the collection, I found it so fitting to the work. There is this beautiful softness. Here is what James says of the title and of the collection in a conversation at the Six Bridges Book Festival: “It is, in many ways, an ode to softening, a song, but more than that, an archive of what it means to be soft.” I have been waiting for this one for a long time and cannot wait for it to be out in February.
I am always so happy to find bilingual books, and I was delighted to read that not only two but three languages meet in Yaguareté White: English, Spanish, and Guaraní (the latter being the language that structures the book). Language comes together to explore questions of identity, place, and belonging for a speaker who is in between languages and places (subjects close to my heart and experience). I am really looking forward to it. (And I love the cover too).
The Familiar (TRP: The University Press of SHSU/ Texas Review Press) by Sarah Kain Gutowski
In this collection, Sarah Kain Gutowski creates a brilliant central metaphor, splitting the speaker into two: an ordinary self and an extraordinary self. That idea is a vehicle to approach the multiplicity of the self: actual, and potential, in memory, dreamed, and the living-breathing writer, mother, and teacher. And so much more, that I feel I cannot find a way to say it in a paragraph: Gutowski’s poems are the way to capture it. I am so happy to find a book that (like Wayward by Dana Spiotta) handles the complexities of women approaching mid-life with such depth and intelligence. The book is out in February, but here is a reading of her wonderful poem “Daily Ghosts” while we wait for our pre-orders to arrive.
In the hands of a brilliant poet, even those little drug pamphlets (thin paper with tiny font, that come folded up in a box with your medicine) turn into beautiful poignant poems. Hadara Bar Nadav draws on pharmaceutical language, her experience working as a medical editor, as well as suffering from chronic illness, pain, and intergenerational trauma. From that, she create poems that are able to connect the personal intimate pain in a speaker’s body to our larger collective context and history and a marketplace that both temporarily alleviates and profits from that pain. The collection won the 2022 Levis Prize in Poetry, selected by Jericho Brown.
Women! In! Peril! (Bloomsbury) by Jessie Ren Marshall
This collection is a gift of humor and an extraordinary imagination combined with astute insight into the inner lives of characters and the social pressures that constrain them. Jessie Ren Marshall’s work shows a command of her craft but also a love of play, experimentation, fun, which I love as a reader. I cannot wait for these stories of ghosts, sex robots, Deep Space, queerness, parenting, divorce, and identity to be out in the world.
Black Bell (Copper Canyon Press) by Alison C. Rollins
This collection was inspired by an illustration of an enslaved woman wearing horns and bells (a contraption similar to the one shown on the cover), as a way to prevent her from escaping. Alison C. Rollins describes how she was working on research on fugitivity and, despite the horror the illustration represented, she also found beauty in it. The woman’s posture and gesture made her think of dance and music, which Rollins was also studying at the time. From that inspiration arose a collection very interested in sound, and performance art, as well as individual and collective memory and how that can be embodied by the poet. The collection is described as “a multimedia meditation on freedom seeking, furthering the possibilities of both the page and the canvas of the poet’s body.” I am very excited for it to come in the Spring.
Exhibit (Riverhead) by R.O. Kwon
I love books about artists, with a soft spot for photographers, and I love R.O. Kwon’s beautiful prose. So I cannot wait for this novel about a photographer at a crossroads in her work and marriage, an injured world-class ballerina, a curse, art, and desire. Read a little more about the novel and the beautiful cover here.
I love the adventure and surprise of collaborative writing in this collection (not the first time for co-authors Simone Muench and Jackie K. White). And I love that this collaboration is expanded by engaging with the work of other writers. Muench and White use lines from other writers, and each other’s work to create self-portraits in an exciting variety of forms. The resulting poems are beautiful, surprising, and interrogate our notions about author, speaker, and self.
Mouth (Astra House) by Puloma Ghosh
Beautiful and unsettling, creepy and so deeply human: this collection delights with the unexpected, in the gorgeous prose, in the unbound imagination in the stories, and in the formal play. It presents us with ghosts, bottled infatuation, teen figure skaters with a necrophilic bend, a story in the form of an autopsy report. All while interrogating lies, truth, and what is real in the vivid description that brings the world Ghosh creates alive.
Five-Star Stranger (Scribner) by Kat Tang
The premise of this novel is unexpected, brilliant, and moving. In a gig economy world not far from our own, strangers are rented to act as a sibling, a spouse, or a friend, then reviewed and rated. The novel follows a five-starred rated man-for-hire, as he navigates real emotional bonds and how they are entangled with his own history and abandonment, when his role as a long-term stand-in father is threatened. I love Tang’s command of the sentences, her characters, and I am excited for this story, in her beautiful voice, to be out in the world soon.
Hum (Simon and Schuster) by Helen Phillips
Artificial Intelligence, Climate Change, addiction to devices, ubiquitous marketing, surveillance, debt, job insecurity: Helen Phillips tackles some of our biggest anxieties together in this novel. And I am looking forward to joining her world anyway. As much as I sometimes need breaks from these themes on the news, I love that I can navigate these themes in Helen Phillips’s capable hands. The novel follows a mother who loses her job (to AI) and decides to undergo a procedure to make her face undetectable by surveillance, also investigating marriage, motherhood, and self.
Blue Light Hours (Black Cat/Grove Atlantic) by Bruna Dantast Lobato
This is one to read with pause: pause to re-read a sentence out loud or underline, to absorb the gorgeous writing. And also pause for tissues. Bruna Dantas Lobato’s writing is delicate, careful, meticulously crafted. I wasn’t surprised to learn Dantas Lobato took up a hobby as a miniaturist. Also fittingly, she is a National Book Award winning translator. This is writing that is masterful at recognizing the full resonance and beauty of words, the small moments, and the moments in between, and allows each sentence the space to reach a reader deeply. It will be out in October, but you can take a glimpse of the main characters in this moving story in the New Yorker.
Brutal Companion (Barrow Street Press) by Ruben Quesada
This poetry collection has just been announced as the editor’s choice selection for the 2023 Poetry Book Prize. When Victoria Chang selected a poem by for the New York Times Magazine, she described his work as resembling “Edward Hopper’s paintings in their austere and mysterious scenes, leaving the viewer curious about the people in the paintings and the unspoken secrets of their lives.” The poetry in the collection focuses on social justice and mental health issues, emphasizing the voices of the impoverished, refugees, immigrants, and the misunderstood. I am very excited to be able to see this collection out in the world in October.
Ananda Lima is the author of Mother/land (Black Lawrence Press), winner of the Hudson Prize, and Craft: Stories I Wrote for the Devil (forthcoming with Tor in 2024), named a most anticipated debut by Debutiful, and described as “truly wondrous” (Kevin Wilson), and “an absolutely thrilling reminder that short stories can be the best kind of magic” (Kelly Link). Her work has appeared in four chapbooks, including Amblyopia (Bull City Press), as well as The American Poetry Review, Poets.org, Kenyon Review Online, Gulf Coast, Witness, Poets & Writers, and elsewhere. She has an MA in Linguistics from UCLA and an MFA from Rutgers University, Newark. Originally from Brasilia, Brazil, she lives in Chicago.