You’ve stumbled upon Bar\Heart — a weekly newsletter exploring what it means to belong in America. You can read more about it here. If you enjoy this, please consider subscribing. It’s free! And join me on Fridays for our weekly Cocktail Hour issue. Cheers. 🍸
Happy Wednesday, y’all! I hope you’re feeling fine.
This week, I’ve got some books for you. And I couldn’t be more excited. So excited, in fact, that I spent part of the week making an actual reading spreadsheet, plotting which new titles I’ll read, and when, so that I can share them with you. Yes, that’s exactly how much of a book nerd I am. And I’m gonna let my nerd flag fly.
I’ve come to realize that one of my absolute favorite things to do on vacation is sit and read in a park. I want to steal away, by myself, for an hour and let the sense of place and the story wash over me. Somehow, it combines into this really potent memory.
Lovey (that’s my husband, for new readers) and I recently went down to New Orleans and I had the most glorious afternoon reading in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s sculpture garden. You can’t imagine what a gem this place is, with 90 pieces of art spread across 11 acres. And it’s free; you can just wander in from City Park and spend an hour reading and contemplating the sculpture under the shade of live oak trees. Plus, there is a Cafe du Monde in the park, so you can get your beignet fix without having to suffer through the French Quarter chaos!
Even though I was reading the most insufferable book (Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart, which the literati loved, while I detested every character), sitting out there, listening to the breeze ruffle the Spanish moss hanging in the branches, created the most gentle, joyful memory of that afternoon.
I had the same feeling during a previous trip, when I read Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist, while sitting in Congo Square. It seemed fitting to read about her life and how it led her to help form the Black Lives Matter movement on a bench in the one place in New Orleans where enslaved Africans had been legally allowed to gather.
For all the great food I ate and music I heard on both of those trips – and there were a lot! – those gentle, joyful moments created my favorite memories. And in 2022, we need as many of those experiences as we can find.
We'll need a great book, so here’s my reading list for January. It doesn't include all books coming out this month. Instead, I focus on titles that somehow touch on Bar\Heart’s themes of belonging, place, community and cocktails!
I also skew toward emerging writers – the bestsellers will get enough press – who are women (including femme, trans and non-binary). I also love big, sweeping family epics but tend to stay away from genre fiction, mostly because of time, not judgement. Of course, I haven’t read these books yet – some aren’t even published – so I can’t yet “recommend” them. I’m just very excited by their potential.
The titles are ordered by genre and publication date, so you can create your own spreadsheet of exciting books to read in a park or cafe or wherever you can create some quiet, joyful memories of your own.
Leave a note in the comments about what types of books you like to read and which of these look interesting to you.
See you Friday for Cocktail Hour.
Random House; January 4, 2022
Notes: The New York Times calls Brown Girls a “daring debut.” This is a novel you come to for language and writing, not for plot. Although the plot does propel you through the lives of four young brown girls from Queens. “It’s a treat, always, to read language that’s excited about itself,” the reviewer writes. But they also warn: The chapters are short and this is more of a collection of vignettes – bold, beautifully written ones – than a full-throated novel. Still, I’m excited to read.
Publisher’s Summary: “This remarkable story brings you deep into the lives of a group of friends—young women of color growing up in Queens, New York City’s most vibrant and eclectic borough. Here, girls like Nadira, Gabby, Naz, Trish, Angelique, and many others, attempt to reconcile their immigrant backgrounds with the American culture they come of age in. Here, they become friends for life—or so they vow.”
Viking Books; January 4, 2022
Notes: If we started this list with brown girls in Queens, now we're heading to L.A. for the story of two young Asian women finding their way. “Jean Chen Ho’s debut collection…evokes a distinctive multi-ethnic Asian American experience coming of age in Los Angeles in the late 20th century: R&B mixtapes, Cool Water cologne, red faces drunk on soju…. Through shifting perspectives and evocative milieus (from night markets to seedy Korean bars and exclusive clubs, the assemblage comes as close to a primer on modern L.A. Asian American rites of passage as anything in recent memory.” — Lisa Wong Macabasco, Vogue
Publisher’s Summary: "In stories told in alternating voices, Jean Chen Ho’s debut collection peels back the layers of female friendship—the intensity, resentment, and boundless love—to probe the beating hearts of young women coming to terms with themselves, and each other, in light of the insecurities and shame that holds them back."
Flatiron Books; January 4, 2022
Notes: The New York Times review headline sums up this novel well: Daughter of a Revolutionary Becomes a Wedding Planner. Drama Ensues.” But the heart of this book is in the spaces between. In between the wedding planner and her secretly-gay brother City Councilman, there is a beautiful portrait of a part of Brooklyn that is quickly disappearing – adn the types of families who get to live there. The Times says: “Liberation is at the heart of “Olga Dies Dreaming.” The story’s driving tension derives from questions of how to break free: from a mother’s manipulations, from shame, from pride indistinguishable from fear, from the traumatic burden of abandonment, from colonial oppression, from corrosive greed.” But it’s also wrapped in a frothy package that is being turned into a new series on Hulu.
Publisher’s Summary: “Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife, and the very notion of the American dream—all while asking what it really means to weather a storm.”
Simon & Schuster; January 4, 2022
Review: “The School for Good Mothers picks up the mantle of writers like Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro, with their skin-crawling themes of surveillance, control, and technology; but it also stands on its own as a remarkable, propulsive novel. At a moment when state control over women’s bodies (and autonomy) feels ever more chilling, the book feels horrifyingly unbelievable and eerily prescient all at once.” – Vogue
Publisher’s Summary: “A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages.”
MCD; January 25, 2022
Review: “Morgan Thomas is an artist of landscape, from the humid peculiarities of the American South, to the bodies and imaginations of these urgent, searching characters. I was awed by the kinetic, alive, innovative, and spell-casting stories in Manywhere, a debut collection that reads like a magnum opus.” -- Laura van den Berg, author of I Hold a Wolf by the Ears
Publisher’s Summary: “The nine stories in Morgan Thomas’s shimmering debut collection witness Southern queer and genderqueer characters determined to find themselves reflected in the annals of history, whatever the cost.”
Dutton; January 25, 2022
Notes: The author isn’t exactly emerging – The Lions of Fifth Avenue was a bestseller – but each list needs a little something delicious. So I’m breaking my “emerging” rule for this historical fiction that seems spot-on for January nights curled up on the couch.
Publisher’s Summary: “Fiona Davis returns with a tantalizing novel about the secrets, betrayal, and murder within one of New York City’s most impressive Gilded Age mansions. … a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.”
Crown; January 11, 2022
Review: “We now inhabit a liminal status that scholars call “anocracy.” That is, for the first time in two hundred years, we are suspended between democracy and autocracy. And that sense of uncertainty radically heightens the likelihood of episodic bloodletting in America, and even the risk of civil war. … Walter made it clear that she wanted to avoid “an exercise in fear-mongering”; she is wary of coming off as sensationalist. In fact, she takes pains to avoid overheated speculation and relays her warning about the potential for civil war in clinical terms. Yet, like those who spoke up clearly about the dangers of global warming decades ago, Walter delivers a grave message that we ignore at our peril.” – David Remincik, The New Yorker
Publisher’s Summary: "Over the last two decades, the number of active civil wars around the world has almost doubled. Walter, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, reveals the warning signs—where wars tend to start, who initiates them, what triggers them—and why some countries tip over into conflict while others remain stable. … In this urgent and disturbing book, Walter redefines civil war for a new age, providing the framework we need to confront the danger we now face—and the knowledge to stop it before it’s too late."
Ecco; January 25, 2022
Notes: Is there anyone you'd want to blurb your book more? I was excited about this without Isabel Wilkerson's endorsement, but that really puts this book at the top of my TBR pile. “An elegant meditation on the complexities of the American South—and thus of America—by an esteemed daughter of the South and one of the great intellectuals of our time. An inspiration.” — Isabel Wilkerson, New York Times bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns
Publisher’s Summary: “Weaving together stories of immigrant communities, contemporary artists, exploitative opportunists, enslaved peoples, unsung heroes, her own ancestors, and her lived experiences, Imani Perry crafts a tapestry unlike any other. With uncommon insight and breathtaking clarity, South to America offers an assertion that if we want to build a more humane future for the United States, we must center our concern below the Mason-Dixon Line.”
Henry Holt; January 18, 2022
Notes: I do like a good mystery, but I'm not much for thrillers. They are usually too violent or gory. But this book got the trifecta… starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal. So I'm tempted enough to include it on the list for for those of you who love the genre. “Rutkoski’s writing…emphasize[s] a larger point: that even in ugliness, loss, and tragedy, there is humanity. Though the killer is unmasked, the takeaway is much more universal―and satisfying―than just finding out whodunit: This is a story about flawed people just doing the best they can to live their lives and find love. Vulnerable yet steely, this thriller rises above the rest.” ―Kirkus
Publisher’s Summary: Drawing on her experience as a former dancer, Marie Rutkoski immerses us in the captivating world of the strip club, which comes alive with complicated people trying their best to protect themselves and those they love. Character-driven and masterfully plotted, Real Easy gets to the heart of the timeless question: How do women live their lives knowing that men can hurt them?
💌 Got questions? E-mail email@example.com
💬 Got something to share? Leave a comment! I will respond.