Book of the Week: Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay

This astute, witty collection of essays has had a gathering trajectory. In recent weeks I’ve had more and more requests for reads.  And publicity is emailing pretty much every day with new coverage commitments. If you’re interested in issues of race, class and feminism you’ve probably bumped across Gay’s work. She’s been published in the NYT, WSJ, the LA Times, the Nation and Salon. Her tumblr has 100,000 followers. She’s sharp, she’s funny, and the word’s getting out.

This is cultural criticism that doesn’t look down its nose at popular culture. Gay is working from inside the trenches. She live tweeting episodes of The Bachelorette and her essays cover subjects  as diverse as The Girls, Django Unchained, Jerry Sandusky, The Hunger Games, Chris Brown, Kanye West, Robin Thicke, Twilight, and (how could she not) 50 Shades of Grey. For a hint at her voice, check out this dating FAQ that she posted on tumblr last August.

Bad Feminist is an Indie Next Pick, has great advance reviews, and so far on-sale coverage includes USA Today, O, the Oprah Magazine, Vanity Fair, NPR, MSNBC, NYTBR, Buzzfeed, Deadspin.Com, WSJ, Elle.Com, New York Observer, Time, Time Out New York, The Week, Marie Claire, Mother Jones, Harper’s Bazaar, Ms., Cosmopolitan, Paste and The Believer.

This trenchant collection assembles previously published essays and new work by cultural critic and novelist Gay (An Untamed State). Even though she loves pink, feels nostalgic about the Sweet Valley High series, and lets degrading rap lyrics blast from her car stereo, Gay is passionately committed to feminist issues, such as equal opportunity and pay and reproductive freedom. Writing about race, politics, gender, feminism, privilege, and popular media, she highlights how deeply misogyny is embedded in our culture….Whatever her topic, Gay’s provocative essays stand out for their bravery, wit, and emotional honesty.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“One of our sharpest new culture critics plants her flag in topics ranging from trigger warnings to Orange is the New Black in this timely collection of essays.”
O, the Oprah Magazine, 10 Titles to Pick Up Now

 “A strikingly fresh cultural critic.”
— Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Gay’s essays are consistently smart and provocative. . . . Her essay collection will give you dinner-party conversation through September.”
USA Today, Jennifer Weiner’s 10 Best Beach Reads

Bad Feminist collects the very good essays of ‘It girl’ culture critic Roxane Gay.” — Vanity Fair, Hot Type

“Let this be the year of Roxane Gay.”

“Smart readers cannot afford to miss these essays…”
Library Journal

Bad Feminist (9780062282712) by Roxanne Gay. $15.99 trade paper original. 

Short Take: A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall – Will Chancellor

Rife with literary allusion, romance and comedy, this is a coming of age story of among the academics. 6’8” Owen Burr was bound for the Olympics until he was blinded in one eye. Seeking to redesign his destiny, he moves to Berlin intending to become an artist. That the only book he carries in The Odyssey is no coincidence. Sinister conceptual artists, the search for true love and a hilarious shadow plot about Owen’s classics professor father make for an engaging and energetic debut.

What Owen finds [in Berlin] is a monster as terrible as any encountered by Odysseus. Kurt Wagener is a wheelchair-bound shock artist who proposes to guide Owen toward celebrity. ‘Talent is a myth,’ he seductively counsels. ‘You have to have a brand before you have skill. First presence, then an audience, then change your skill set if you’re still not selling.’ In fact, Kurt is exploiting Owen for a grotesque photography project that he plans to unveil at Art Basel.

“Mighty deeds fill the rest of this delightfully bizarre and myth-drunk novel….Meanwhile, a parallel story maps the efforts of Owen’s father, a widowed classics professor, to locate his missing son. Posing as a fiery leftist radical on a barnstorming European lecture tour, he accidentally foments a student bombing on the Acropolis….

“[T]he story’s unflagging energy and dramatic battiness make it irresistible. Mr. Chancellor would probably call it Dionysian, and I wouldn’t disagree.”

“[A] ambitious book, one filled with Greek myths and art-world jargon, the type of stylistic siren song that could lure a writer into dangerous waters…. Chancellor never lets that happen; he shows great poise and command with this elegant and highly enjoyable first novel, which suggests that he has even more greatness to offer us.”

A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall (9780062280008) by Will Chancellor. $25.99 hardcover. 7/8/14 on sale.

Short Take: Further Out Than You Thought – Michaela Carter

This is poet and bookseller Carter’s first novel and an August Indie Next pick. The story of three young friends coming of age during the 1992 LA riots, this reminded me a little of Ten Thousand Saints in its evocation of time and place—and of young people on the fringes of society trying to find their way past survival and into adulthood.

The prize-winning poet Carter’s striking debut novel depicts 1992 Los Angeles around the time of the Rodney King riots, following aspiring writer–turned–stripper Gwendolyn Griffin, her deadbeat pot-smoking boyfriend Leo, and their mutual friend, HIV-positive crooner Count Valiant. At the outset of the story, the trio lives in a decaying, roach-infested complex called the Cornell. They are each poised for metamorphosis: Gwen has learned that she is pregnant, Leo is planning an absurd publicity stunt, and Count is mentally preparing for the end of his life. The brutality of the riots convinces them to leave the city: “That’s what you did when your city was burning, the city in which you’d lived and dreamed and loved; that’s what you did when you had just this night.” They embark on an impromptu road trip that forces them to confront hard truths about themselves and map out the future. Carter’s lyrical writing and cast of characters resonate with the backdrop of a city in flames.”
— Publishers Weekly

“This debut from award-winning poet Carter is an unexpected gift. . . . The author infuses her period piece with shades of post-punk cynicism and the caustic, abandon-all-hope vibe of the grunge years while drawing characters who fit well into the book’s gritty ambiance . . . a fable for those who remember the bad old days.”
Kirkus Reviews

Further Out Than You Thought (9780062292377) by Michaela Carter. $14.99 trade paper original. 8/5/14 on sale.

New in Paperback: The Illusion of Separateness, Lighthouse Island, The Skull and the Nightingale

A few reads that deserve a second shot at some display space…

This was an Indie Next Pick and Van Booy remains a bookseller favorite with good reason. His prose is lush yet economical, the story profound and imbued with a simple, poignant humanity. Inspired by true events, this is the story of six seeming strangers whose lives prove inextricably linked. A gorgeous story.

“The uncanny beauty of Van Booy’s prose, and his ability to knife straight to the depths of a character’s heart, fill a reader with wonder….There are so many wonderful sentences in this book, a reviewer groans for want of room to list them.”
   — San Francisco Chronicle

“Masterful prose….From minimalistic sentences he wrings out maximum impact, stripping away artifice and elaboration in favor of stark, emotional clarity and honesty.”
   — Boston Globe

“His writing is consciously poetic and at times aphoristic, and he deftly portrays his characters’ raw emotions.”
— Wall Street Journal

The Illusion of Separateness (9780062248459) by Simon Van Booy. $14.99 trade paper original 7/29/14 on sale.


This is a novel for those who like their dystopic fiction to lean literary. A paean to reading, narrative tradition and the power of stories to fuel imagination, it is also a story about the power of imagination to save lives. Nadia is a young orphan who travels through a new American Dust Bowl searching for a brighter future. If that recalls Steinbeck… well there you go. You’ll get a bracing dose of other literary echoes, too, in this story about stories and how they save our lives.

“Although the novel’s “Drought Age” sounds a serious Ancient Mariner warning, Lighthouse Island initially engages readers as a literary lark, with Nadia taking turns playing Alice exploring dry land, Huck lying his way out of tight spots and Isabel Archer searching for the fiction-based ideal. When life becomes too oppressive, Nadia listens to readings from classic authors on an anachronistic ‘Big Radio.’”

Lighthouse Island (9780062232519) by Paulette Jiles. $15.99 trade paper. 7/29/14 on sale.


Super reviews for this delicious historical thriller. Both literary and sexy, with nods to Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Clarissa, 18th century literary specialist Irwin offers up vivid, visceral, page turning suspense.

“Evokes Tom Jones, The Crimson Petal and the White, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. . . . Irwin has crafted a terrific historical novel, and an even better psychological thriller. A-”
— Entertainment Weekly

“Amid Irwin’s spot-on descriptions of 18-century England’s squalor and splendor, the masquerades and dinner parties, this passion play mostly rests between the sheets where Lust lies. . . . Irwin’s secondary characters also fascinate . . . A tale of morals, intriguingly told.”
   — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

The Skull and the Nightingale (9780062202369) by Michael Irwin.  $14.99 trade paper. 8/12/14 on sale.


“[A] provocative novel . . . This surprisingly dark story of twisted head-games and base instincts is, by turns, troubling and engrossing.”
— Booklist


“[V]ividly renders the darker side of the Age of Enlightenment. Readers who like their history served up with conquest and betrayal will enjoy this page-turner.”
   — Library Journal.”

August 2014 Indie Next Picks

Here are Harper’s August picks. As always, there’s a complete list here.

  • Bad Feminist (9780062282712) by Roxanne Gay. $15.99 trade paper original.
  • The Home Place (9780062323446) by Carrie La Seur. $25.99 hardcover. 7/29/14 on sale.
  • This Is the Water (9780062294906) by Yannick Murphy. $14.99 trade paper original. 7/29/14 on sale.


Now in Paperback

  • Lighthouse Island (9780062232519) by Paulette Jiles. $15.99 trade paper. 7/29/14 on sale

Book of the Week: This is the Water – Yannick Murphy

When I finish a book I am often in love with it–floating on the exhilaration of the experience the author has created for me. But there aren’t a lot of them I love with still-vivid recall a couple years later. Yannick Murphy’s 2011 novel The Call (9780062023148; $14.99 trade paper) is an exception. Time will tell if it ends up being one of my favorite reads ever. So far, though, this dark, sweet-hearted little novel is certainly in my top ten for this decade.

I mention this because my devotion to Murphy is now such that I would read her PTA meeting notes if I bumped across them. (I’m sure they’d be hilarious—and a tad sinister.) Instead, I had the pleasure of reading This is the Water. It’s infused with the kind of wry, quirky observation that marked the previous book but Murphy is clearly not interested in covering the same ground twice. This is a dark story involving a town haunted by a serial girl who is stalking its teenage girls. What’s fascinating about this book is the way it plays with point of view. As with The Call, this new novel plays with narrative perspective. Even more interesting to me is her choice to put the town at the center of the story rather than the killer.

Murphy is a bracingly original writer and it’s well worth picking up any project she takes up. Early reviews agree. Both Booklist and PW weighed in with starred reviews—and as you might expect it’s an Indie Next pick for August.

With her obscenely suspenseful latest, Murphy (The Call, named one of PW’s best books of 2011), who is known for her stylistic experimentation, tries out a second-person perspective and a continual this is’ structure that takes some getting used to, but that works thanks to the fact that the author breaks up the book into 48 short chapters. ‘You’ are Annie, a New England mom driving your two daughters to and from swim meets, married to an emotionally aloof husband whose encyclopedic mind and frequent recitations of factual tidbits drive you crazy. But you, the novel’s protagonist, don’t know everything that you, the reader, know—for instance, only the reader knows the identity of a serial killer scoping out potential next victims on the swim team. Therefore the book’s real tension centers on which of the characters will uncover the killer first, making this inverted murder mystery a ‘whogotit’ rather than a whodunit… [I]n Murphy’s hands, the structure becomes almost hypnotic—and when the story hits full speed in the final quarter, the suspense becomes almost excruciating.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Murphy’s latest propulsive, psychologically lush, witty, and unpredictable novel, a tale of young competitive swimmers and their parents. . . . Murphy’s evocation of feverish competition, stressed marriages, and the shocking banality of a serial killer’s inner life coalesce in a novel of acute observation, penetrating imagination, and rare agility that is capped by a resounding denouement.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Murphy seasons the rising tension with humor. . . . A different sort of murder yarn that boasts twists in both the style and the plot.”
Kirkus Reviews

This Is the Water (9780062294906) by Yannick Murphy. $14.99 trade paper original. 7/29/14 on sale.