Staff Picks
What our booksellers are reading and loving when they're not at the store. Featured in our e-mail newsletter.

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Amber's Pick: They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib. A brilliant collection of essays on music, race, and life in America, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib writes on what it’s like to be an African American Muslim living in the Midwest as a part of the punk scene. He so eloquently describes what it has been like to occupy that space as a person of color, and all space in America. A poet by trade, his style is poignant, thought-provoking, and completely beautiful. I had no idea I could have so many feelings about Migos, My Chemical Romance, Future, the list goes on and on. Throughout the entire book I was either laughing out loud, or wiping my tears. Hanif shows us that everything is political, especially music, and it is so important to pay attention. I want to give a copy of this to everyone I know. I loved it so much, when I was finished he felt like he a friend. No music has sounded the same since. Stunning.

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Ward's Pick: I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I’ve had to put this book down for an extended period twice while reading it Not that the writing isn’t beautiful and compelling, but this story of the Golden State Killer is really emotionally disturbing. That said, I still think anyone interested in true crime should read it! McNamara, who unfortunately passed away before the release of this book, is an incredible narrator, and the way she writes herself into the story and the care with which she discusses the victims deserves to be appreciated. Sure, I’ve been triple checking door and window locks and have become hyper-aware of my surroundings because of this book, but reading about the details of the hunt for the Golden State Killer makes his recent capture even that much sweeter.

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Amber's Pick: The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison. I know most reviews of recovery memoirs start with “This is so much more than a recovery memoir…” but really, this is! Leslie Jamison perfectly blends personal and academic perspectives of addiction, while consistently addressing the links between creativity and alcoholism. At times this feels like literary criticism, then she tells us a story to bring it back to her own life. It’s honest, painful and completely informative. After 500 pages I wanted more. I think she’s brilliant! Thankful for a book like this.

 
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Julie's Pick: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Ugh. This book. I want to read it again and again and again. Our nameless narrator moves through marriage, motherhood, and heartbreak with lyrical meditations, gorgeous facts, and poignant memories. This book will move you, shatter you, and (sort of) put you back together again.

 
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Amber's Pick: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele. As a white woman, it’s difficult for me to review this with justice. I expected an academic text about the Black Lives Matter movement, but this is a true memoir and complete poetry. Patrisse does write about the movement, but hearing her remarkable journey leading up to its foundation is what leads the reader to true compassion. She honestly shares with us the love, joy, triumphs, challenges, heartbreak and terror of black life. In spite of pain and suffering, there is hope and bravery. This what movements are built on. When They Call You a Terrorist is an extraordinary display of strength and resilience in community, it should be required reading for all.

 
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Julie's Pick: The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor. Sonya Renee Taylor, poet and social activist, has crafted a vital and brilliant guide that will carry you into the root of yourself. Each page offers insight and tools to understand our bodies in relation to both our own hearts, to the bodies of others, and to societal expectations and assumptions. In her words, “Radical self-love is indeed our inherent natural state, but social, political, and economic systems of oppression of have distanced us from that knowing.” If you’ve been oppressed, felt trapped in your own body, judged in your own body, or you’ve ever judged the bodies of others, this book is for you. BONUS: She’s scattered Unapologetic Inquiries and Radical Reflections throughout which function as life altering writing prompts and conversation starters.

 
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Amber's Pick: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Jesmyn Ward’s writing is a punch to the gut and a jab at the soul. Salvage the Bones takes place over the course of twelve days during Hurricane Katrina. By the end of the storm, you feel like the characters are a part of you forever. Less about the hurricane, more about about family, I couldn’t take my eyes off the pages until I devoured them all. (Same with her latest novel Sing, Unburied, Sing.) There is not beauty in poverty, motherlessness, or dog fighting, but Ward manages to turn these subjects into poetry. Visceral, brutal, beautiful. Cling to those you love – cling to this novel.

 
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Julie's Pick: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. This is the story of a marriage, but it’s also a story of incarceration in America, the bonds of family, the boundaries of love, and the winding paths of forgiveness. Roy and Celestial have been married a year when Roy is accused and incarcerated for a rape he did not commit. While Roy searches out meaning in this abrupt shift to his life’s trajectory, Celestial falls in love with her childhood best friend Andre. Told through alternating perspectives as well as through letters, this novel pulses with life’s difficulties, but also life’s hopes. By the end, you’ll wish you could call up all the characters and see how they’re doing and if they’d like to get together over some salmon croquettes.  (Side note: it’s both an Oprah and a Belletrist book club pick!)

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Amber’s Pick: The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson. Maggie Nelson (yet again) displays her absolute brilliance in this collection of essays on violence and cruelty in various forms of art. Using a wide span of examples, she makes art criticism accessible and comprehensible, especially for those (like me) that aren’t well versed on the subject. Poetic, personal, profound, what more could you ask for in a collection! Maggie is a genius, I would follow her to the end of the world. Prepare for a very long reading list after this one.

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Julie’s Pick: The Power by Naomi Alderman. This book won the Man Booker and is one of Obama’s favorite books of 2017. More importantly – it’s brilliant. The world is torn asunder when young girls suddenly acquire the ability to control electricity and to awaken that power in older women. What happens to society when women become a physically unstoppable force? How do men try to clutch the dying breath of patriarchy? Who makes history and who records that history? To be transparent, I’m only halfway through this novel, but am looking forward to my lunch break so I can dive back in. This alternate reality speaks to the horrors of a current (persistent) patriarchal society, but, more so, speaks to the strength of the people working to dismantle and redefine that power.

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Amber's Pick: Aliens and Anorexia by Chris Kraus. At this point, I'm going to read everything Chris Kraus has ever written. An amazing meditation on what it means to be a filmmaker, a philosopher, a sadomasochist. What it means to be a woman. She possesses intelligence and insight that I simply can't get enough of. 

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Julie's Pick: We Were Witches by Ariel Gore. Kind and good and smart and fierce and left me in positive tears and includes a phenomenal reading list. This novel recreates the tale of Ariel's life on the West Coast as a single mother and a queer woman discovering her identity. It spins literary tropes all around into one magical narrative full of heart and the power of resistance. We need more stories like this. (I read this in tandem with Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body which Ariel mentions in We Were Witches. If you haven't read Winterson yet, do it. Right now. It's a gorgeous gift you'll be giving yourself.)

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Julie's Pick: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot. Mailhot's memoir about being an indigenous woman working through family trauma, PTSD, depression, motherhood, and school is gut wrenching, eye opening, heart cracking. She shatters the confines of usual memoir narratives to craft an intimate, open, and stunning work. Mailhot's story and words will linger and live and bloom within you: "To ascend there must be a dark, a descent."

 
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Ashley's Pick: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Guys. GUYS. If I had a dollar for the number of people I have ZEALOUSLY told to read this series, I would have a shocking number of dollars. Listen. I don’t like fantasy. It is a glaring hole in my Nerd Card. But this series? Literally unbelievable. Featuring a chaotic neutral criminal mastermind who is planning the most METAL rebellion physically possible, and my personal favorite tiny unstoppable juggernaut who grows to love herself (her pretty dresses and her murder daggers) in such a believable way.  I just finished the last one last night and straight up sobbed so hard I gave myself hiccups. The characterization is so unreal. I would straight up die for these characters. Please for the love of god buy this book so we can talk about it.

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Ward's Pick: A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America by T. Christian Miller & Ken Armstrong. This incredible book is an expanded version of the Pulitzer Prize winning article originally published in ProPublica. It is such an important book, one which should be required reading for all law enforcement officers and, for that matter, men in general. Since there are so many twists and surprises to the story, I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you this: in 2008, an 18 year old woman living outside Seattle told police that she was sexually assaulted by a stranger in her apartment. Within weeks, the local police switched from investigating a crime to charging this woman with making a false report. With little evidence to back up her story, the woman admitted to lying to police and paid a $500 fine, narrowly escaping a jail sentence. A couple years later, two detectives in the Denver area began to investigate two separate rapes. Through an exhaustive and detailed pursuit, they tied these assaults to others across the Denver area… and beyond.

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Ashley's Pick: Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda.  This is a graphic novel series that is shaping up to be really promising. The art is UNREAL. This comic features a really beautiful, immersive world, a kickass heroine, super awesome magic powers, and an ability to weave real political commentary into a fantasy comic landscape. Maika is a seriously badass war refugee who fights racism, xenophobia and human trafficking all while housing the power of a literal god inside herself. I mean. Y’all. And did I mention the art? Imagine the love child of a full-color manga and Fiona Staples. It’s like that. Powerful as hell, a really great read.

 
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Ward's Picks: Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America by Beth Macy & All The Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire by Jonathan Abrams. I grabbed a copy of All The Pieces Matter right away when it came in. Not only would it help me to delay watching The Wire for a fifth time, it is a perfect behind-the-scenes oral history of the greatest show I’ve ever seen. And, as great as this book is, I easily put it on the back burner when I got an advance copy of Beth Macy’s upcoming Dopesick. I immediately dove into this tragic and exhaustive history of the opioid epidemic as it has played out in Southwest Virginia since Purdue Pharma introduced and overproduced OxyContin in the late 1990s. This is definitely a book to put on your radar (it officially releases in August, but you can pre-order a signed copy now!). There are so many important things to say about Dopesick, but it boils down to this: this book is a must-read for everyone! And, it is the perfect book to read in conjunction with All The Pieces Matter. Not only does the Baltimore heroin market play a significant role in the book, but one of the detectives who is championed for breaking up a heroin ring in Winchester repeatedly claims to feel like he’s in The Wire.
 

Ashley's Pick: Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi. I’m in the middle of this novel right now. This incredibly imaginative punch-in-the-gut follows the story of a junk trader called Hadi, who unwittingly creates a Frankenstein-esque  creature while he’s stitching together body parts in an attempt to give Iraqi war-ravaged corpses some semblance of rest. It’s a strange marriage of black humor and searing political commentary, a murder mystery, a look at everyday life in Baghdad in the shadow of devastating war, and a reimagining of Mary Shelley for the modern age. Featuring murder, car bombs, reanimated corpses, wandering spirits, and old cat ladies.  This story is fascinating, eye-opening, devastating and strangely funny. Also our Chop Suey Books Book Club pick for March!

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Ward's Pick: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. At the beginning of this fun, action packed novel, lead character Atticus Turner admits to being torn with the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, not able to make peace with his love of the novels and his disgust at Lovecraft’s vile moments of pure racism. After reading Lovecraft Country, it would seem that Ruff faced the same dilemma. If so, this novel is his perfect way of offering readers a fantastic peace of horror fiction that simultaneously recognizes and highlights the history of racism in America and American literature. Soon to be adapted into a TV series directed by Jordan Peele!

 
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Ashley’s Pick: The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson. Dear LORD, what an incredible gift Emily has given us. Intricate, beautiful, starkly colloquial. She captures everything the original epic was: a story meant to be sung, spoken, something lyrical and easy for the common people to hold onto. Not to mention the loveliest translator’s note of all time. Stunning.

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Ward’s Pick: Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. It comes as no surprise that Native Americans got a raw deal after the Europeans began settling on their land, but Grann’s history of the Osage murders in the 1920s blew my mind. The savagery of the killings, the complicity of Government officials, and the fact that these murders happened in the 20th Century makes this book both tragic and maddening. Combined with Grann’s expert retelling of the crimes and burgeoning FBI’s investigations, this book is a must read for all Americans. Plus, this book is the May selection for the Chop Suey Books Book Club. Read it and join us at Babes on Wednesday, May 30th at 7 pm to discuss!

 
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Ashley's Pick: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. This book was NONSTOP. It was one of the most fun and exciting books I read in the last year, and it is really quality sci fi. The science is awesome, and almost plausible, yet outlandish enough to seem almost close to magic. Particle physics, y'all. Multiverse. Quantum! Mechanics! Plus a wild freaking mystery/love story and a crazy plot twist! I really hope more sci fi like this follows. 

Ward's Pick: Reign of the Fallen by Richmond author Sarah Glenn Marsh. This book is totally off-genre for me (Young Adult Fantasy), but I"m so glad I ventured into new territory because I totally loved it! Odessa, also known as Sparrow for her ability to fly through the Deadlands, is a master necromancer who is pitted against a mysterious evil force after her boyfriend and and teachers are killed by powerful Shade. Her struggle is compromised by grief, addiction to a prescription drug, a collapsing government (sounds familiar), but this teenage necromancer proves strong and compassionate enough to triumph. Available for purchase on January 23rd or pre-order before for a 10% discount.

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Kelly's Pick: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Children of Blood and Bone is an astonishing debut novel, a fantasy deeply interested in the myths and customs of Western Africa. It’s also a book written explicitly in response to the reality and dangers of being black in America in 2018. Adeyemi channels her rage and pain through dark-skinned, white-haired Zélie, who was born into a tradition of gods and magic, only to have both ripped away by a ruling monarchy which viewed both as threats, evidence of Zélie’s people’s lack of humanity. It’s a smart, evocative story of power and oppression, one that has lingered with me since I finished it. This is far from the last we’ve heard from Tomi Adeyemi (not least because this is the beginning of a trilogy).

 
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Claire's Pick: Your Art Will Save Your Life by Beth Pickens. While I always want to love motivational books, I find that my inherently skeptical nature often holds me back from getting the full potential out of the genre. Your Art Will Save Your Life is the antidote to that problem. Instead of an idealistic artist’s manifesto, Beth Pickens offers practical, grounded advice for artists and writers who need to pursue their creative endeavors while still paying rent, socializing, and remaining politically engaged. She offers just the right amount of exercises and resources to be helpful but not overwhelming. If I was the kind of person who highlights books, I would have highlighted every page. That’s how necessary this book is.  

 
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Claire's Pick: Stray City by Chelsey Johnson. This book goes on sale 4/20, pre-order your copy and receive a 10% discount. The 1990s Portland of Stray City is a whirlwind of punk rock and lesbian drama worthy of the L Word, the perfect setting for Midwestern Andrea Morales to make a new family for herself. And she does, first with her “Lesbian Mafia” and then when she accidentally falls pregnant and decides to raise the baby herself. Andy is painfully easy to identify with, especially when she worries about the repercussions of making a bad decision for good reasons, or vice versa.  Stray City is the kind of book that sucks you in and makes you over while you’re reading it –you find yourself reaching for your jean jacket and combat boots when you get dressed, and start thinking that maybe it’s time to get back into zine-making.  This charming and deeply empathetic debut novel is perfect for fans of Justin Torres’ We The Animals or Ariel Gore’s We Were Witches. Join us at Babes of Carytown for a book reading with Chelsey Johnson on 4/24. Click here for more information.

 
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Claire's Pick: Up Up, Down Down by Cheston Knapp. This lovely, meandering collection of essays covers everything from drinking games to UFOs to youth groups. You might recognize Cheston Knapp as the managing editor of Tin House magazine, and I think it’s this lit mag experience that allows him to bring a different mode of self-awareness to the personal essay. “Beirut,” the second essay and my personal favorite, is a sparkling and hilarious investigation of fraternity culture. Knapp handles the sort of bittersweet nostalgia for memories that are objectively not good experiences very well. If you liked John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead or Kent Russell’s I Am Sorry To Think I Have Raised A Timid Son, you’ll love Up Up, Down Down.

 
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Claire’s Pick: Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso. Sarah Manguso is an extremely talented poet and essayist and Ongoingness is a great place to start in her work. She had been a compulsive diarist for years, but when her son was born she felt a huge shift in her practice. Ongoingness documents that shift. Manguso’s prose is beautiful, sparse, and evocative, and she perfectly captures longing of wanting to remember everything and knowing you’ll always fail.  

 
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Claire's Pick: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor is an unsettling, hypnotic read. Tudor’s debut novel is the story of a gang of childhood friends who discover a murder, and how that summer changes their lives. She weaves the story between 1986 and 2016 seamlessly, and does a great job of capturing the spirit of childhood friendship. While there’s no supernatural element to the story, I definitely got Stranger Things vibes from the way Tudor tells her tale.