Our Winter Book Swap is this Thursday, December 19th at the Phillips Collection. We love this event because we love (LOVE!) books over here at BYT. Things we don’t love: anxiety, constant sense of dread and chaos, and other things of similar ilk that seem to a built-in part of living in the 2000s (especially the 2000teens, and especially this year).
So, to get us in the mood for book swapping, and prep us for the final survival push of 2019, here is a seemingly random, completely subjective list of books (essays! novels! cookbooks! but NO self-help books OR political books – you’re welcome) to help you make sense of the end of 2019, and this godforsaken decade in general. MAYBE. Let’s dig in.
If we were to elect a patron saint of sanity in this past decade, our vote goes to Roxane Gay – feminist, cultural powerhouse, queer iconoclast, social media game changer, Bentzen Ball alum and great interviewee. Bad Feminist came out pre-Trump/pre-Me Too and is still, the ultimate feminist culture sanity check, meaning that it helps us remember that, well, feminists are people too. Gay loves pink, reads Vogue, grew up reading Sweet Valley High and is not afraid to admit it. She is also not afraid to call anyone out on their bullshit (or whatever is worse than bullshit) but is also there to listen and every-so-often remind us to make light of dark situations. If we could ALL be a little more like Roxane, we’d all be in a better place.
You life feels like a mess, but feeding yourself in a way that is both GOOD and FUN is a great place to start turning things around. And Alison Roman is here to help you with that + make sure you surround yourself with people you love, hang out and take time to enjoy yourself and all that other good stuff you sometimes don’t prioritize. “Dining In”, her first cookbook outing is as close to a crossover phenomenon cookbook could be – from “the cookies” to “the stew”, her seemingly simple, definitely genius, crazy intuitive way of cooking took all of us by storm and we haven’t look back since. “Nothing Fancy” the next chapter in her mission to make “unfussy, good vibes food” the new normal is as much of a winner, but it is always good to start at the beginning. Now, if we could all just apply these unfussy, good vibes strategy to the rest of our lives, we’d be well on our way.
Roxane Gay called this collection “sad and uncomfortable and their own kind of gorgeous” and, well, we are here for it. Being “ON” constantly is one of the hardest requirements of modern life, and things like depression, low self esteem, addiction, loss and the high drama of “waiting for the universe to text you back” are often in the way. Broder, who may very well be a unicorn (she is a novelist, a poet, an essayist and a social media sensation – and equally fantastic at all of it) is there to help you feel LESS alone in your journey through the trashfire of your existence. Thank you!
Every woman in their late 20s or early 30s living on either of the American coasts read this book this Fall in their bookclub and for good reason. These “reflections on self-delusion” address some very particular points of being alive right now (the internet! the scams! the reality of reality TV!) but the “Always Be Optimizing” essay is going to change your life if you are a woman in your 20s or 30s. What ARE WE doing to ourselves? Why? What for? The end of the year is a perfect time for a self-realization triggered re-set.
One of the pinacles of my professional self-satisfaction was when we, over here at lil ole BYT, got to interview Tamar Adler. The reason why, of all the things we’ve done, I think of this moment especially fondly is that Tamar’s “Everlasting Meal” book nothing short than changed my life. I originally stumbled upon it when Sheila Heti recommended it in some book round up or another, and since I tend to do whatever Sheila Heti tells me to do, I bought it. It has since been the #1 book I’ve given to people as a present. A treatise on “cooking with economy and grace” (which translates into “living with economy and grace”) “Everlasting Meal” is a meditation on forgotten, underappreciated skills of boiling, frying and baking (among others), as well as enjoying the products of your labors. Recipes are sprinkled throughout, allowing you to never stop seeing the possibilities of even the humblest ingredients, the simplest of rituals, and feeling grateful for the the things you have, on your plate and in your life. She is also funny and real and very talented in the kitchen (Alice Waters hands her sign of approval, by writing the foreward)
BONUS: Tamar also does the food column for Vogue, if you are interested in MORE of her (which you will be)
A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, and a (heaping) spoonful of humor makes activism seem like the most normal thing around (which, lets face it, it should be). DC’s own Baratunde Thurston’s memoir is a national treasure: tracing “coming-of-blackness from his early childhood raised by an Afrocentric single mother, through his education at The Sidwell Friends School and Harvard and into his first job making PowerPoint presentations in a field known as “consulting.”” Sprinkled throughout are useful “HOW TO” chapters such as ““How To Be The Black Friend,” “How To Speak For All Black People,” and “How To Be The (Next) Black President.” Published during Obama’s first term, it is definitely a product of a more hopeful time, but no one since has quite figured out how to discuss race in a way that is both pointed AND accessible and that is what we all need in order to further the conversation on race in America, instead of just dancing around each other, without making eye contact.
Currently “Girl, Woman, Other” is mainly known as “the other Man-Booker prize winner this year” (the other being Margaret Atwood’s “The Testaments”) which is a shame because the book should be known as “a miracle”. A “fusion novel”, it follows the lives of twelve very different people in Britain, predominantly female and black. Ranging in age from 19 to 93, they span cultural backgrounds, sexualities, socioeconomic classes and mental states as they tell the stories of themselves, their families, friends and lovers across space and time. The level of empathy and understanding is unmatched, and a lesson to us all at the end of the terrible teens of 2000s.
There is a number of Bentzen Ball alums on this list (Roxane, Baratunde) but Jenny is the maybe unexpected wild card here. But, by the time you’re done with it – you’ll feel ashamed for underestimating this funny girl’s fully grown observations and imaginations. Impossible to categorize, Little Weirds is a reminder that life is beautiful and painful, and often magical, if you just let it be all that it can be. For a sample of her mind – please read “Going To A Restaurant”, published in the New Yorker in September this year. It is hands down, the most sobering-yet-life-affirming piece of writing (and it clocks in at under 500 words, natch) I’ve had the pleasure to experience this year (decade?)
Cost of Living is a slim tome (144 pages) but it contains multitudes. A “living biography” it critiques the (gender driven) roles that society assigns to us, and reflects on the politics of breaking with the usual rituals that tend to accompany them. You will find yourself maddened, energized and ready to “live with pleasure, value, and meaning” by the time you’re done with it.
What started our as a web project in 2002 (full disclosure, I was in art school that year and very susceptible to web projects by my favorite artists at the time, but unlike most things I liked in 2002, this one has stood the test of time), this book offers sixty assignments that can be completed by anyone, anywhere, that will help you feel MORE connected, and appreciative of the people/space/everything around you. Whether it is ‘Write the phone conversation you wish you could have’ or ‘Draw a constellation from someone’s freckles’ or ‘Take a flash photo under your bed”, it doesn’t matter – each activity helps a little, I promise. Miranda July has a big deal retrospective coffee table book coming out in April 2020 (thank you Prestel!) which I will 150% be purchasing the day it is out, but this early-in-the-game gem is still the best medicine for modern malaise around.
Samantha Irby has not had an easy go at life, but she emerges triumphant and hilarious. We’ve talked this book up before so I won’t waste precious internet space (?) on it but with a new essay collection (another magical title alert!) “Wow, no thank you” coming our way in March 2020, it is a great time to revisit (or visit for the first time) all your Irbys. A particularly fitting stocking stuffer, her vintage short “New Year, Same Trash: Resolutions I Absolutely Did Not Keep” will put the end of 2019/start of 2020 into refreshing perspective.
KNOW MY NAME (2019) – CHANEL MILLER
The girl formerly known as Emily Doe, a victim of campus sexual assault with a viral Buzzfeed letter, emerges this year, as a piercing new voice – out here not to make us feel bad about herself but to challenge our notions of acceptance and healing, hope and courage. This book is everything you think it will be (heartbreaking and frustrating) but also, most importantly, VERY HOPEFUL.
We interviewed Liz Plank about her journey to try and help us all figure out what we are, as a society, going to do about toxic masculinity so I recommend you read that whole thing, and then buy the book, which is refreshingly meant for both women looking to guide the men in their lives and men who want to do better and just don’t know how – expanding the conversation and including ALL THE SIDES, that’s what 2020 should be all about. Good luck!
Hilton Als is probably the smartest person in any room he finds himself in. This collection, which applies the moniker “White Girls” to characters as varied as Truman Capote and Louise Brooks, Michael Jackson and Flannery O’Connor will help you feel like you understand, culturally, everything happening around you a little more. Which, I think, can only be a good thing these days.
The most beautiful, of-the-moment novel this year.
We live in a disillusioned, broken times (sorry to remind you of that). This collection of essays (by a photographer, and a 80+ year old one no less) advocates for importance of art in the current state of our society. Art, after all, “encourages us to gratitude and engagement, and is of both personal and civic consequence.” Fight despair with art.
Nothing is more soothing than flower arranging. It is, quite possibly, the cure for everything. Never mind the drugs, pass the flowers. This selection of “lessons from and accidental florist” is gorgeous, meditative, healing, and will make you, literally, stop (whatever stressful thing you’re doing) and smell the roses (and peonys, and tulips, and…).
“Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing.” In a world where our worth is determined by productivity, and measured in things like social media engagements and big data analysis. . . doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance. Odell sets out to help you RESIST in this refreshing, timely and very persuasive tome, and holiday season is a great place to start implementing it into your real life. I, for one, am all in.
Because, in the end, we all need something that makes us just FEEL GOOD. And Guillory’s fresh, fun, smart, sexy romance novels that are ALSO ACTUALLY GOOD are the most perfect holiday companion (the latest one, is after all, called “A Royal Holiday”). Roxane Gay is a fan. Mari Andrew is a fan. Oprah is a fan. Reese is a fan. I am a fan. This year has been stressful, you deserve a treat.
That’s all we got for you, for now. We you have other recommendations? TELL US! (plus, keep an eye on the rest of the amazing end-of-decade round-ups on BYT)