Kayla Williams Recommends:
1. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly. I’ve spent years fearing my anger and trying to bury it, then being surprised at the ways it leaked out around the edges of my control. This volume helped validate that not only are there plenty of things to be legitimately enraged about, but also the myriad ways in which suppressing that natural response is toxic. Trying to take the lessons to heart is changing the way I communicate with myself and those around me, as well as how I’m trying to raise my daughter.
2. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi. Dark, with unexpected twists of humor. Drew me into a world on the knife’s edge between familiarity and surreality. Great fiction in its own right, this book is particularly worth reading if you’re an American who has been in some way touched by the war in Iraq and want to engage with how its violence is affecting Iraqis.
3. The Lost Words: A Spell Book by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris. Is this a coffee table book or a children’s book? A book of poetry or painting? Mourning or celebration? Somehow it is all of these and more. My kids and I loved exploring this beautiful book together; it conjured wonder in us all while deepening our love for both the natural world and the power of language.
Kayla Williams is the author of Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army and Plenty of Time When We Get Home. Her fiction also appears in The Road Ahead: Fiction from the Forever War. She lives with her husband Brian and their two children in Virginia.
Katey Schultz Recommends:
The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies. How have I lived so long without reading this novel? If you don’t know Davies’ work, start reading now. The Fortunes consists of 4 novellas that will blow your mind not only for their smart, plot-advancing dialogue; their precise renderings of historically and culturally nuanced information; and their breadth of perspectives…but also for their page-turning quality. This is literary, historical (and contemporary) fiction at its finest.
Cold Snap by Thom Jones: When Thom Jones died in 2016, I started to reread his short stories and confirmed that this collection does indeed still hold its place on my “Top 10 story collections I’d save if my house were burning down” (okay, it’s a signed copy). Sassy, painful, brilliant, and broad in scope from both point-of-view and content, Thom Jones is one of those writers I cannot live without. His vision and unapologetic prose remind me of Denis Johnson, but there’s more meat here, and therefore more heart. A win-win.
Unforeseen by Molly Gloss: What could be better than reading fiction about empowered women, by an empowered woman, that carries all the intelligence, love, rage, and forward-thinking momentum anyone could ever need to believe that, one day, society might finally move past gender inequality? And what could be better than hot-topic fiction that doesn’t read like an agenda, doesn’t read like news, and, in fact, sweeps us away so that we see only its contemporary smarts upon reflection, weeks later? This collection is a retrospective of Gloss’s most important work, plus three new short stories. If you’re unfamiliar with her writing, start here. There’s no going back!
Katey Schultz is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection, and Still Come Home, a novel, both published by Loyola University Maryland. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, the Doris Betts Fiction Prize, IndieFab Book of the Year, a Gold Medal from the Military Writers Society of America, four Pushcart nominations, and writing fellowships in eight states. She lives in Celo, North Carolina and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network.
Susanne Aspley Recommends:
My first and true love has always been children’s books. My motto is, “Start them young and keep them going!” Here are my recommendations for reading gifts for the younger reading crowd.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi (Grade Level: Elementary School): Bao Phi started out as a slam poet in Minneapolis, and is now program director at the Loft Literary Center. His debut children’s book, A Different Pond was awarded the 2018 Caldecott Honor Book. It’s about Bao as a young boy, who wakes up early everyday to fish on a pond in Minneapolis for food. Bao’s dad then talks about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.
Dream Country by Shannon Gibney (Grade Level: Middle School): I had the pleasure to meet Shannon several years ago. This book blew me away- it’s about the dynamics and lives of teenaged African American immigrants and/vs American born African Americans- and goes about five generations back. Now throw in some white people, and you have a really intense YA (Young Adult) book.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (Grade Level: High School)
I haven’t read the book yet, but my 10th grade daughter read this book in her class. She said it’s like the modern-day version of To Kill a Mockingbird…which I thought was unfortunate…as if the justice system for people of color hasn’t changed much from 50 years ago. It’s also coming out as a movie December 2019, starring Michael B. Jordan. So if you don’t get the book, take your kid to the movie, as the story needs to be told!
Susanne Aspley is the author of Ladyboy and the Volunteer and Granola, MN. She has a new story, “Pass the Hot Sauce,” in the collection Incoming: Sex, Drugs, and Copenhagen. Aspley retired as a Sergeant First Class after serving 20 years in the US Army Reserve as a photojournalist with tours in Bosnia, Cuba, Kuwait and Panama. She also served in the Peace Corps, Thailand, 1989-1991. She then worked in North Yorkshire, England as well as Ra’anana, Israel. Aspley holds a degree in English Lit with a minor in Film from the University of Minnesota and is a graduate of the Defense Information School, Ft Meade, MD. Retired, she enjoys her kids, rescued pit bull, and surly cat in Minnesota. Follow her at www.aspleywrites.com.
Tiffany Hawk Recommends:
Barely Missing Everything, by Matt Mendez:
I’ve been recommending this book so often that I probably sound like I’m involved in a multi-level book marketing scheme. But seriously, Barely Missing Everything is phenomenal. I read it on a plane and ended up sobbing in my middle seat sandwiched between two probably-horrified travelers, but I just didn’t care. The book is set in El Paso and follows two Mexican-American teens and their families as they struggle to survive the gulf between their dreams and their regrets, their potential and their legacies. Although this has nothing to do with my choice to recommend the book, it’s a fun fact that author Matt Mendez also happens to be an aircraft mechanic for the Arizona Air National Guard.
I was a little embarrassed when I picked this book up and a clerk looked at me with compassion and said, “good luck.” I quickly assured him it’s a memoir my book club was reading, not a desperate cry for help. Ironically enough, even though the book was as fascinating as its hook suggests – a memoir by a therapist who was having her own breakdown – that book club meeting ended up being at least as valuable as an actual therapy session. There were tears and hugs and more laughs and honesty and connection than we’ve ever shared. Result: I won’t be embarrassed to admit it next time I really do need to talk to someone.
Panorama Journal and Off Assignment:
As a travel writer who got epically burned out on glossy-mag travel stories (think: “10 Trendiest Ways to Consume the Latest Culture”), I cannot get enough of the antidote: literary journals like Panorama and Off Assignment, which focus on people and connection over luxury and newness. The prose in Panorama might not always be as slick as what you’d find in CNT or T&L, but the international staff of writers and editors make up for it with freshness and energy. And what’s better than reading a story about treks through Nigeria written by…wait for it…a Nigerian? How cutting-edge! Over at Off Assignment, you’ll find pro travel writers telling the stories behind their stories, which are usually far more interesting.
The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele:
These days it’s probably not very hard for any of us to imagine a post-apocalyptic America, but few would conjure the hopeful landscape that Kimi Eisele renders in her debut novel. While her world is as challenging as any dystopian meltdown, she also very convincingly portrays the good in humanity – communities growing and sharing food, neighbors protecting each other, settlers helping travelers, national bicycle networks delivering letters (talk about snail mail), and at least one brave soul crossing the country by foot to find his beloved. It’s the perfect holiday read.