Here at The Common, we’re gearing up to celebrate our 10th anniversary with the release of our fall issue. In this installment of Friday Reads, we’re hearing from some of our Issue 20 contributors on the books they’ve been enjoying. Keep reading for their recommendations—from a Portuguese classic to a reflection on male friendship in New York City—and don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Issue 20 today.
Recommendations: Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda; A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
This is the fifth in a series of features highlighting the Black writers our editors and staff have been reading. To read The Common’s statement in support of the nationwide protests against anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and police brutality, click here.
It’s not as though the military fiction canon ignores social commentary; books like Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22 certainly have a lot to say. But while many celebrated works in the genre feature criticisms of war and the armed services, water & power is the first of them I’ve encountered whose critiques discuss the racism, sexism, and homophobia running rampant in military culture. (At least in Navy culture, which the book focuses on.) The most climactic moments are not just battles and bombings—they’re also things like the Tailhook Scandal, a three-day symposium after which eighty-three women and seven men reported sexual misconduct. “A group of up to two hundred men who lined the corridor outside the hospitality suites around 10:30 each night” engaged in behaviors ranging from “consensual pats on the breasts and buttocks to violent grabbing, groping, clothes-stripping, and other assaultive behavior.” Steven Dunn, a Black West Virginia native, experienced Navy culture close up during his ten years of service.
In this month’s Friday Reads, we’re hearing from our volunteer readers, who consider submissions for print and online publication. Their book recommendations range from poetry collections to recent novel debuts and Flannery O’Connor short stories revisited through the lens of anti-racism. Read on for new quarantine entertainment and keep an eye out for a second round of recommendations from our volunteer readers, out later this fall.
Recommendations: Thin Girls by Diana Clarke; Shiner by Maggie Nelson; Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor; Cherry by Nico Walker, Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano.
Chinga la Migra. Fuck ICE. So begins Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s The Undocumented Americans, a book that is equal parts curse words and incantation, burn it all down and bleeding heart, punk rock and very good girl. The literary nonfiction book that unfurls from this epigraph—and that interlaces autobiographical essay and anti-impersonal investigative journalism—is heavy and gorgeous and astoundingly humane.
To write the book, Cornejo Villavicencio spent time with Spanish-speaking immigrants living in cities across the eastern United States. What she created from those interviews is a gut-punching, many-peopled portrait of undocumented Latinx working-class life. Not what it looks like, what it feels like.Don’t come here looking for DREAMers and sweet dreams. The Undocumented Americans is a book sleepless with the knowledge of how racialized divisions of labor are actually lived: as trauma and as slow death, unspooling in real time. If you’re going to tell this story, Cornejo Villavicencio writes, you “can’t be enamored by America, not still.” That “disqualifies you.” So she begins by giving ICE the finger—a brown middle finger with a snake tattoo undulating up to its knuckle and ending with a gold-painted aqua-tipped fingernail.
Review: Dispatches from the Land of White Noise—The Undocumented Americans
Early in quarantine, I subscribed to the Criterion Channel with the optimistic thought that I would have more time to watch old and obscure movies. But it took me a while to turn away from the news and Netflix’s latest offerings. At some point, however, a nostalgic desire for the past crept in. I started perusing Criterion. Losing Ground wasn’t the first thing I watched, but it was the movie that got me hooked on the channel, for the way it brought me into what felt like a lost world.
This is the fourth in a series of features highlighting the Black writers our editors and staff have been reading. To read The Common’s statement in support of the nationwide protests against anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and police brutality, click here.
Recommended by W. Ralph Eubanks, Contributing Editor
The first chapter of Natasha Trethewey’s memoir Memorial Drive is called “Another Country,” a title that mirrors James Baldwin’s novel of Black alienation of the same name. Baldwin’s other country was Greenwich Village, while Trethewey’s is Mississippi. While these two places could not be more different, the feeling of isolation elicited by both is the same.
Welcome back to Friday Reads! After a brief hiatus, we are returning with books that have educated and entertained our former TC interns during quarantine. To find out what our former editorial assistants have been doing to pass the long days inside, read on.
Recommendations: The Tree and the Vine by Dola de Jong; Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid; Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
This is the third in a series of features highlighting the Black writers our editors and staff have been reading. To read The Common’s statement in support of the nationwide protests against anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and police brutality, click here.
Renee Gladman’s Newcomer Can’t Swim is a sort of linguo-geographical exploration of place (cityscape, restaurant, beach, etc.,) and of the characters, the voices that populate these places, that move through, and act or are acted upon within each scene.
The events of Clare Beams’ debut novel, The Illness Lesson,start with the founding of a school for girls in 19th-century New England, but the novel begins just before that with an omen. A flock of mysterious red birds visits the Massachusetts estate of Samuel Hood for the first time since the collapse of his previous social experiment decades earlier, a failed agricultural commune called the Birch Hill Consociation. Some find the birds beautiful, but to Samuel’s daughter, Caroline, their “shape might be a red so bright and so unexpected, so unlike the colors of her life, that it held a violence.” Samuel is a noted idealist in the tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he, Caroline, and his acolyte David live off the income of his Transcendentalist essays. The girls’ school is an attempt to prove his latest hypothesis: that girls can be ushered into the world of ideas as easily as boys.