6 books recommended by Jenny Zhang
Jenny Zhang is the author of the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find and of the prize-winning 2017 story collection Sour Heart. Her new book of poems, My Baby First Birthday, is published by Tin House.
IRL by Tommy Pico (2016).
It's summer, and love is elusive; the past, unreckoned, unhealed, makes fun of the present. "I survive seven generations / into a post-apocalyptic America / that started 1492. Maybe / you'll live too?" IRL is epic poetry for everyone who's smart as hell but was made to feel dumb in school.
Magical Negro by Morgan Parker (2019).
In college, there was always that kid who spoke purely in academic jargon. If you were to ask them, "Wait, what are you actually saying?" there would be nothing. This book is the exact opposite! There is so much everything. These poems are unafraid of being understood and equally unafraid to challenge.
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong (2020).
To be minor has been the fate of Asian-Americans, but not so in these essays. Heavy is the head who writes about race without reduction, dogma, or fear. The burdens are many and the rewards few — thankfully, this book is up to the task. An original hybrid of damn good cultural criticism and engaging memoir that also happens to be compulsively readable and funny.
Last Words From Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin (1996).
In this epistolary story of queer love and heartbreak set in 1990s Paris, Tokyo, and Taipei, Miaojin's writing can be unbearably intense, swinging between worship and despair, having no patience for repression or withholding. It is an experience I would willingly have again and again.
The Green Hand and Other Stories by Nicole Claveloux and Edith Zha (2017).
The world is strange and our inner lives are even stranger. Nicole Claveloux's magnificent drawings and Edith Zha's wonderfully peculiar writing taps into the places we didn't even know we could go to.
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (2020).
The liberal fetish for undocumented immigrants revisiting their traumas in exchange for essentially nothing has no place here. Villavicencio reports without exploiting, inscribes poetry in prose, cracks so many good jokes, and shares her own story on her own terms. Not now more than ever, but always, I want to read a book like this, a book where subjects get to be subjects and the writing is sublime.
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