Top 5 books of July ‘21

1. The Fire Next Time. Baldwin’s classic originally published in 1963 gets a new reprint by Modern Library. This reissue in hardcover came out July 6th and *disclaimer* I was fortunate to get a free copy from the publisher. Baldwin is a literary rock-star both for his fiction and non-fiction, and The Fire Next Time has inspired other explorations on race by media celebrities such as CNN’s Don Lemon’s This Is The Fire (2021) and Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time. I felt that in The Fire Next Time, part memoir, part letter, part essay, Baldwin opened the doors to his soul and his mind like in no other work. We get to learn what made him take the particular road that took him to us, and how he envisions America moving forward towards a more egalitarian place for all.

2. So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano.

Patrick Modiano does it again. In So You Don’t Get Lost In The Neighborhood (2014), the Nobel Literature Laureate shows us why (though European / White biased) they don’t hand them over to just anyone. He is a master of a suspense thriller done right. No clichés, no lengthy descriptions of woman’s breasts, no gold-digger widows. An elderly man is woken up from his nap by a mysterious phone call claiming to be a Good Samaritan trying to return his lost notebook. Is he being blackmailed ? That phone call will lead him to reckon with an event in his childhood which he had forgotten all about.

3. How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America

This essay collection was originally published in 2013, and Kiese Laymon painfully and expensively bought it back (along with his novel Long Division) from the publisher and reissued it revised and improved with 6 new essays in 2020. Laymon wrote the original essay collection shortly after his uncle died, and in this new edition shows his growth over those seven years. Laymon is unparalleled when it comes to stringing together beautiful sentences on painful subjects and does not shy to show himself to his readers as a Black man who has had his share of pain, has been terribly wronged by America and has wrong others in turn. Not for nothing he is one of the most celebrated American writers of our times. And he deserves all that.

4. Before by Carmen Boullosa

Part coming of age, part suspense-thriller and part ghost story, this novella packs a lot in just a few pages. Magical closets, mysterious and eerie noises that can make little girls disappear, peppered with autobiographical details and we have a spooky, addictive story of becoming a woman in Mexico City in the 1950s. Boullosa, with Before (1962) adds herself to the list of Latin American writers who are redefining horror in translation.

5. The Woman In The Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura

I have lately been very lucky to have loved every novel by a Japanese female writer, and The Woman In The Purple Skirt (2021) was no exception. This is the story of a mysterious woman who everyone calls The Woman in the Purple Skirt. She seems to be an introvert, super quiet and living in her own world. The story is told from the POV of The Woman In the Yellow Cardigan who is super obsessed with her, literally stalking her and green envy oozing (metaphorically) from every pore of her body. It’s so voyeuristic, quirky and creative. Another thriller perfectly executed.

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