This is the Tuesday edition of Bar\Heart, the newsletter from Amy Haimerl. You can read more about it here. Each week, I feature stories, conversations and dispatches from the American experience and contemplate what it means to belong here. Plus, on Friday, we enjoy Cocktail Hour. Cheers! 🥃
Happy Tuesday, y'all!
For all of you readers out there, this week’s post is for you. It's our first Bar\Heart book roundup!
The fall is always a busy time in the publishing world. This is when they put out their most serious titles in anticipation of our return to reading. Summer is for frivolity and ease — I love a good beach read and romance! — but the long, dark nights of winter call for heftier fare.
Because this newsletter thinks about places and how they define us — and how we define what it means to belong in America — I selected forthcoming novels and memoirs that reflect that mission. I also admit to an affinity for sweeping family epics and books that transport me. As a kid I would climb the weeping willow in our front yard and read for hours in its branches. Doctor Doolittle, Madeleine L’Engle and S.E. Hinton took me beyond tiny Fruita, Colorado, and helped me imagine a bigger life.
As an adult, I still want to go to those places. I want to be transported inside other people’s lives and choices and understand how outside forces shape the way we live and think. I believe in the power of stories to bring us together and bridge differences. If only we’ll go there … and listen.
I hope you find a story in this list that takes you somewhere new. To give you a flavor of each book, I’ve provided a brief description from the publisher and a key reviewer’s note. And because I have been known to judge a book by it’s cover, you got those as well.
Be sure to tell me which ones speak to you. Leave me a note in the comments!
Creative Types: and Other Stories by Tom Bissell
From the best-selling coauthor of The Disaster Artist and “one of America's best and most interesting writers" (Stephen King), a new collection of stories that range from laugh-out-loud funny to disturbingly dark—unflinching portraits of women and men struggling to bridge the gap between art and life.
Crossroads: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen
A tour de force of interwoven perspectives and sustained suspense, its action largely unfolding on a single winter day, Crossroads is the story of a Midwestern family at a pivotal moment of moral crisis.
I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness : A Novel by Claire Vaye Watkins
Leaving behind her husband and their baby daughter, a writer gets on a flight for a speaking engagement in Reno, not carrying much besides a breast pump and a spiraling case of postpartum depression. Her temporary escape from domestic duties and an opportunity to reconnect with old friends mutates into an extended romp away from the confines of marriage and motherhood, and a seemingly bottomless descent into the past.
Monster in the Middle: A Novel by Tiphanie Yanique
When Fly and Stela meet in 21st Century New York City, it seems like fate. He's a Black American musician from a mixed-religious background who knows all about heartbreak. She’s a Catholic science teacher from the Caribbean, looking for lasting love. But are they meant to be? The answer goes back decades—all the way to their parents' earliest loves.
My Monticello: Fiction by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
A young woman descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings driven from her neighborhood by a white militia. A university professor studying racism by conducting a secret social experiment on his own son. A single mother desperate to buy her first home even as the world hurtles toward catastrophe. Each fighting to survive in America. Tough-minded, vulnerable, and brave, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s precisely imagined debut explores burdened inheritances and extraordinary pursuits of belonging.
O Beautiful: A Novel by Jung Yun
Elinor Hanson, a forty-something former model, is struggling to reinvent herself as a freelance writer when she receives an unexpected assignment. Her mentor from grad school offers her a chance to write for a prestigious magazine about the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota. Surrounded by roughnecks seeking their fortunes in oil and long-time residents worried about their changing community, Elinor experiences a profound sense of alienation and grief. The longer she pursues this potentially career-altering assignment, the more her past intertwines with the story she’s trying to tell.
Our Country Friends: A Novel by Gary Shteyngart
A group of friends and friends-of-friends gathers in a country house to wait out the pandemic. Over the next six months, new friendships and romances will take hold, while old betrayals will emerge, forcing each character to reevaluate whom they love and what matters most.
Tell Me How to Be: A Novel by Neel Patel
Renu Amin always seemed perfect: doting husband, beautiful house, healthy sons. But as the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death approaches, Renu is binge-watching soap operas and simmering with old resentments. She can’t stop wondering if, thirty-five years ago, she chose the wrong life. In Los Angeles, her son, Akash, has everything he ever wanted, but as he tries to kickstart his songwriting career and commit to his boyfriend, he is haunted by the painful memories he fled a decade ago. When his mother tells him she is selling the family home, Akash returns to Illinois, hoping to finally say goodbye and move on.
The Days of Afrekete: A Novel by Asali Solomon
Inspired by Mrs. Dalloway and Sula, as well as Audre Lorde’s Zami, Asali Solomon’s The Days of Afrekete is a deft, expertly layered, naturally funny, and deeply human examination of two women coming back to themselves at midlife. It is a watchful celebration of our choices and where they take us, the people who change us, and how we can reimagine ourselves even when our lives seem set.
Concepcion: An Immigrant Family's Fortunes by Albert Samaha
Tracing his family’s history through the region’s unique geopolitical roots in Spanish colonialism, American intervention, and Japanese occupation, Samaha fits their arc into the wider story of global migration as determined by chess moves among superpowers. Ambitious, intimate, and incisive,Concepcion explores what it might mean to reckon with the unjust legacy of imperialism, to live with contradiction and hope, to fight for the unrealized ideals of an inherited homeland.
A courageous American story about justice and holding the powerful to account,The Farmer's Lawyershows how the farm economy we all depend on for our daily bread almost fell apart due to the willful neglect of those charged to protect it, and what we can learn from Sarah's battle as a similar calamity looms large on our horizon once again.
My Body by Emily Ratajkowski
One woman's story of what she's lost and gained from selling her image.
A Diary of the Plague Year: An Illustrated Chronicle of 2020 by Elise Engler
Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit
Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen
Sunbelt Blues: The Failure of American Housing by Andrew Ross
The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and the Cyanide Love Triangle That Shook America by Catherine Prendergast
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