The best books to reimagine the present

Who am I?

How might we live and write otherwise? I am preoccupied by this question, and am fairly certain that at minimum we have to start by imagining it. As a culture worker and writer I hope my projects and experiments do just this. There is so much to reinvent, and so much that interconnects us. I am inspired by the ways the authors of these books take on their times and passions, and tell stories in ways I find unexpected. Their abilities to integrate divergent avenues of thought, deep research, and truly weird characters and circumstances has lit my imagination and I hope it does yours as well!

I wrote...

At the Lightning Field

By Laura Raicovich,

Book cover of At the Lightning Field

What is my book about?

An exploration of coincidences of history, light, space, duration, chaos theory, mathematics, memory, and Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field. The Lightning Field is an artwork comprising four hundred stainless steel poles, positioned two hundred and twenty feet apart, in the desert of central New Mexico. Over the course of several visits, it becomes, for me, a site for confounding and revealing perceptions of time, space, duration, and light; how changeable they are, while staying the same.

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The books I picked & why

The Faraway Nearby

By Rebecca Solnit,

Book cover of The Faraway Nearby

Why did I love this book?

All of Solnit’s writings have been an inspiration but this book’s oscillations between the intimacy of her relationship with her dying mother, the poignant degradation of apricots, and the many little-known and fascinating histories that she miraculously weaves into a truly magical book. Solnit has a way of offering hope in the darkness of some of life’s most challenging times, by swinging from details of her own life to those of others she knows or has studied. It’s a remarkable read as it takes you along on the nimble journey of her mind and heart.

By Rebecca Solnit,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Faraway Nearby as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of Orwell's Roses, a personal, lyrical narrative about storytelling and empathy-a fitting companion to Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

In this exquisitely written book by the author of A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination. In the course of unpacking some of her own stories-of her mother and her decline from memory loss, of a trip to Iceland, of an illness-Solnit revisits fairytales and entertains other…

Book cover of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals

Why did I love this book?

A dear friend recommended this book to me when we discussed how the fallibility of memory creates space for as-yet-untold or un-recorded histories. Hartman’s brilliant book levers open a treasure of Black women’s experiences; they are in charge of powerful, lived, realness. In this book, Hartman’s deep research and her enormous capacity for exquisite writing attends to the radical desires of young Black women, complicating received histories and claiming space for the re-inscription of these stories within the public imaginary. 

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship indifferent to the dictates of respectability and outside the bounds of law. They cleaved to and cast off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist, and revised the meaning of marriage. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading…

Book cover of Circus: Or, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes

Why did I love this book?

This is one of the first books I read by the prolific and gorgeous Wayne Koestenbaum. The novel encompasses the best of Koestenbaum’s passion for performance, his sense of humor and wit, and his poetic chops. We follow Theo as he plans his musical comeback through adventures in sex, obsession with 60s Italian circus star Moira Orfei, and various encounters with odd and uncanny characters. I loved it for the weirdness of the characters and their undying unreliability as they march across geographies and time. 

By Wayne Koestenbaum,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Circus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new edition of a “dazzlingly seductive” fever dream written in “brilliant poetic vernacular” (Bookforum) by a beloved poet and cultural critic, now with an introduction by Rachel Kushner.

For five years, concert pianist Theo Mangrove has been living at his family’s home in East Kill, New York, recovering from a nervous breakdown that derailed his career, and attempting to relieve his relentless polysexual appetite in the company of male hustlers, random strangers, music students, his aunt, and occasionally his wife. As he prepares for a comeback recital in Aigues-Mortes, a walled medieval town in southern France, he becomes obsessed…

Cobra and Maitreya

By Severo Sarduy,

Book cover of Cobra and Maitreya

Why did I love this book?

Two of Sarduy’s most extraordinary writings from the 1970s, these twin works chart a territory of radical transformation. In the first part of the book, Cobra makes their gender transition with the support of a slew of unusual characters who also shape-shift via the mysterious and violent rites of a motorcycle gang and a group of Tantric Buddhist lamas. Metamorphosis continues in the second half of the book, wherein a Cuban-Chinese cook reincarnates as the Buddha, in the midst of the Cuban revolution. The wild tales create a distinctive space for being otherwise.

By Severo Sarduy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cobra and Maitreya as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The late Severo Sarduy was one of the most outrageous and baroque of the Latin American Boom writers of the sixties and seventies, and here bound back to back are his two finest creations. Cobra (1972) recounts the tale of a transvestite named Cobra, star of the Lyrical Theater of the Dolls, whose obsession is to transform his/her body. She is assisted in her metamorphosis by the Madam and Pup, Cobra's dwarfish double. They too change shape, through the violent ceremonies of a motorcycle gang, into a sect of Tibetan lamas seeking to revive Tantric Buddhism.

Maitreya (1978) continues the…

Book cover of The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos

Why did I love this book?

I love this book. Dionne Brand conveys what it means to write through a crystalline web of ideas, poetry, and philosophy. Her profound, evocative, and real tale of imagined conversations between a poet and the clerk charged with dealing with their output is simultaneously familiar and fantastical. I got lost in the beauty of language only to be jolted into the realities of the world as it exists in all its beauty and awfulness. 

By Dionne Brand,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Blue Clerk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On a lonely wharf a clerk in an ink-blue coat inspects bales and bales of paper that hold a poet’s accumulated left-hand pages—the unwritten, the withheld, the unexpressed, the withdrawn, the restrained, the word-shard. In The Blue Clerk renowned poet Dionne Brand stages a conversation and an argument between the poet and the Blue Clerk, who is the keeper of the poet’s pages. In their dialogues—which take shape as a series of haunting prose poems—the poet and the clerk invoke a host of writers, philosophers, and artists, from Jacob Lawrence, Lola Kiepja, and Walter Benjamin to John Coltrane, Josephine Turalba,…

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