In every issue, BUST‘s book review section is full of interesting and unique books by and about women — here, we’ve rounded up the 10 best-reviewed books from our August/September 2016 issue. Most of these books are out RIGHT NOW, so zoom down to your local indie bookstore and pick up these gems from Anuradha Roy, Michelle Tea, Katrine Marçal and more.
Sleeping On Jupiter: A Novel
By Anuradha Roy
In this stunning novel about suffering and healing, author Anuradha Roy explores the dark layers of life we try to keep hidden. The fates of a young documentary filmmaker named Nomi, her coworker, three elderly women on vacation, and a tour guide intertwine in mesmerizing ways as their troubled pasts, uncertain futures, and desires are slowly revealed. The story takes place in Jarmuli, India, a tourist town with a dark history of violence. This setting, full of idyllic beaches, beautiful temples, and hotels full of people seeking escape, is the perfect backdrop for Roy’s characters’ stories to unfold.
Through it all, Roy’s poetic prose adds to her novel’s suspenseful atmosphere. Nomi reflects in the very beginning, “Like fungus that takes birth in warm and wet places, memories ooze from the crevices of your brain…,” a sentence that oozes over the page much as the memories it describes. Transitions between first and third person and different characters’ perspectives are seamless and delicate. Ultimately hopeful despite the tragedies it depicts, Sleeping on Jupiter is a breathtaking read that will transport and haunt you. – Ann Mayhew
Behold The Dreamers: A Novel
By Imbolo Mbue
In a debut novel earning comparisons to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Amy Tan, and Jhumpa Lahiri, Cameroon-born, New York-based author Imbolo Mbue takes on the American dream and the immigrant experience. Readers follow a young Cameroonian couple, Jende and Neni, and their children as they try to make ends meet in New York. The family members soon find their fates intertwined with a wealthy, white Wall Street exec, his socialite wife, and their children. And instead of setting up a straightforward conflict, Mbue finds surprising and touching resonances between the two families.
Mbue opens her novel in 2008, when Obama is campaigning for president and the economic crisis is not yet at its peak. By focusing on this particular point in recent history, she’s able to tease out striking observations about race, gender, and wealth in the U.S. Although they begin as a perfect team, Jende and Neni soon find themselves at odds, both changed by their surroundings. At one point, Mbue describes the new Jende as “a grotesque being created by the sufferings of an American immigrant life.” Though certainly not subtle, this story is one that needs to be told. – Erika W. Smith
By Michelle Tea
(The Feminist Press at CUNY)
Black Wave begins as a novel exploring the lives of queer women living in San Francisco in the ’90s. At the center of the story is Michelle, a woman who insists that she’s not a drug addict even as she experiments with heroin and the habit begins to spill into all aspects of her life.
Author Michelle Tea’s prose is lyrical but blunt, capturing her narrator’s duel hopelessness and genuine desire for a life full of love and promise. At one point, however, the novel veers from straight narrative into a meditation on what can and can’t be included in a memoir. It’s a peek behind the curtain into what aspects of the story Tea pulled from her own experiences, which characters from her life had to be deleted or combined, and which bits of action had to be reordered so she could tell the story she wanted to tell. In Black Wave’sCalifornia, nature is always breaking down and coming back together to create new life forms. Similarly, this book exists in a new kind of literary ecosystem—one that doesn’t need to fit neatly into the structures of an older era. – Molly Horan
Florence! Foster!! Jenkins!!!: The Life of the World’s Worst Opera Singer
By Darryl W. Bullock
(The Overlook Press)
A wealthy New York socialite with big dreams of being a famous singer but absolutely zero talent, Florence Foster Jenkins used her money and influence to shove her way into show business. Her unlikely career culminated in a sold-out 1944 engagement at Carnegie Hall. And her efforts are now about to be immortalized by none other than Meryl Streep, who will be playing Jenkins in a film biopic out August 12.
Just in time for the Hollywood blitz, author Darryl Bullock’s biography of “the world’s worst opera singer” digs into Jenkins’ ancestry, marriages, social life, opera career (which she didn’t launch until age 62), and her hilariously scathing reviews. “Florence made her debut as a singer in April 1912,” Bullock writes, “fittingly, the same year the Titanic sank.” Inspired by this bio I sought out recordings of Jenkins and it’s true; she sounds like a piano falling down the stairs. But what she lacked in talent, she made up for with moxie. And thanks to the support of her family and friends, she had one of the most unusual vocal careers in history. – Whitney Dwire
I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her
By Joanna Conners
(Atlantic Monthly Press)
At one point in her life, journalist Joanna Connors was fearless. But then a brutal rape stripped her of her confidence and left her on a “secret island of fear.” For two decades, she lived with countless phobias, delusional worries, and thoughts of suicide. I Will Find You recounts her unusual quest to move past her trauma by learning more about the man who raped her. She explains her unorthodox method of healing by writing, “I wanted to do what human beings have done for thousands of years—tell the stories that help us understand who we are and what happened in our lives to shape us.”
Connors interviews siblings and friends of David Francis, the man who was convicted of her rape and died in prison while serving his sentence. Their accounts suggest that in his own way, Francis, too, was a victim; his upbringing ripe with violence, abuse, poverty, and racism. In the process of learning about her rapist, Connors heals her wounds and creates an inspirational and captivating memoir. – Helen Matatov
Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating
By Moira Weigel
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
It’s no mystery that dating is hard. Actually, it’s downright terrifying. We all know the thrills and chills of cruising bars — or Tinder and Grindr — hoping that “I” will one day turn into “we.” Historian Moira Weigel’s new book, Labor of Love, helps demystify this tender topic by introducing readers to how our modern courtship rituals began. From shop girls to gay clubs, Weigel explores it all, with each brief chapter revealing a different piece of the love puzzle.
Much juicier than your average history book, Labor of Love offers up little-known tidbits about the Lower East Side’s evolving bar scene in N.Y.C., the stereotypical hookup culture of college campuses, and advice on testing your own limits when searching for “the one.” Weigel’s narrative might even change the way readers see the politics of romance (yes, that really is a thing). Overall, the book reads like a documentary about something you never knew could be so interesting. After taking it all in, you’re bound to whip out a few of the tastiest bits of trivia on your next first date. – Madison Nunes
Land Of Enchantment: A Memoir
By Leigh Stein
Author Leigh Stein frames her briskly paced, page-turning memoir around her complex relationship with her ex-boyfriend Jason, who (not a spoiler) dies in a motorcycle accident soon after stabbing a man. Stein was with him the day he bought the motorcycle. They even had matching jackets. Though she sensed doom from the start—“There must be something horribly wrong with him I haven’t discovered yet,” she writes of their early dating—she finds herself consumed by his charisma. But after they move to New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment,” his darker side emerges.Stein’s story will resonate with anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one with whom they had a tumultuous relationship. And she powerfully explores the way death causes one to question what they thought they knew. It’s easy for critics to target the so-called “millennial memoir,” but Stein shows precisely why young people should write this form—one experience on a theme. Stein’s focus stays razor sharp as she describes her journey of loving someone who is wrong for her, getting away, and coming back stronger after her dream crumbles around her. – Liza Monroy
By Jade Sharma
(Emily Books/Coffee House Press)
You might roll your eyes at the jacket copy of Problems, which describes the gutsy novel as “Girls meets Trainspotting” (because young women can’t write anything these days without someone stamping an analogy on it involving the HBO series). But don’t judge this book by its back cover. Problems follows 30-year-old Maya, an Indian-American New Yorker who is so cripplingly self-aware that she’s maintained a part-time heroin addiction for years in order to manage her anxiety.
There is nothing romantic or cliché about her dependence on dope; this is a novel about self-delusion and control. It’s about feeling like an outsider as a non-white American, the raw deals of womanhood, and the family-brewed poisons that seep their way into one’s romantic relationships. Maya’s story, told in the first-person, is so uncomfortably piercing that it would be hard to read if author Jade Sharma didn’t write with such charisma. Problems is a book that wrestles with you; you will try to put it down but you’ll be unsuccessful. And when you finish reading, it will feel like a masochistic act. But like any great character, Maya will linger with you, so you can struggle together. – Maura Hehir
Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud
By Elizabeth Greenwood
(Simon & Schuster)
Staring down six-figure school debt with no hope of paying it off, and inspired by a friend’s snarky solution, intrepid author Elizabeth Greenwood decided to investigate the question, “Just how hard is it to disappear?” The result of her inquiry is this tragicomic study of the world of “pseudocide,” and the creeps and weirdos who inhabit it. En route to obtaining her own Philippine death certificate, Greenwood spends time squeezing insurance-fraud investigators for tips and chatting up characters like the notorious Canoe Man of England (a former teacher who turned up five years after he was believed to have died in a canoe accident).
Full of sound advice on every aspect of how to play dead, this book is genuinely informative as well as entertaining; but its finest moment is the sad chapter devoted to the loved ones left behind. Faking one’s death is a remarkably common idea in popular culture from Dickens to Don Draper, and—despite fantasies about Michael Jackson, Elvis, Tupac, et al.—we’ll never know how many people actually got away with it. – Fran Willing
Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?: A Story About Women and Economics
By Katrine Marçal
Economist and philosopher Adam Smith, the father of the free market, created a system dependent upon unwavering self-interest to motivate all of a person’s actions—but he never acknowledged the unpaid labor of wives, mothers, and daughters. Author Katrine Marçal’s tirelessly researched book, Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, sheds light on this appalling oversight, while highlighting the stark difference in value still assigned to the intangible, cyclical, unpaid work of self-sacrificing women versus the quantifiable, production-based labor of “the economic man.”The systemic injustices deeply rooted in the all-encompassing “free” market come to life in this clever manifesto, and reading it will ignite flames of feminist rage. In the immortal words of Beyoncé, women today “bear the children, then get back to business.” But with the modern woman expected to not only pop out kids, but also hold down a job and care for the home, why is her work still assigned less economic value overall? Marçal points out the inherent sexism in our economy with a surprisingly sarcastic style that transforms economic theory into something actually interesting to read. – Maggie Stamets
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2016 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
Top photo: Eartha Kitt reading
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