Q: What does a family of booksellers read?
A: Lots of stuff, all the time.
This article is a continuously refreshed round-up of books that Booksweet co-owners Shaun and Truly (and sometimes their 13-year old Raymond!) enjoyed in 2023.
Curious to explore our favorite reads of 2022? We’e got you covered.
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
Successful podcaster Bodie Kane returns to boarding school of her youth to teach short between-term courses, leading her to reflect on the circumstances of her roommate’s murder during their junior year. As one of her podcasting students takes up the crime as a class project, Bodie begins to wonder whether an offhand comment she made during the police investigation may have sent the wrong man to prison – and whether the questions that were never asked might have instead implicated theatre teacher Dennis Bloch, to whom Bodie addresses her story. Makkai’s book explores the myriad ways young women and girls are exploited, and how both personal growth and changing societal attitudes alter how individuals view their own past.
After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz
Longlisted for the Book Prize, After Sappho is a lyrical novel in vignettes covering the history of women, literature, and women’s literature as embodied in the early twentieth century figures Rina Faccio, Romaine Brooks, and Virginia Woolf as they cast off names and identities that no longer suited them in order to simply exist as themselves. After Sappho is Schwartz’ first novel, but dance and theatre scholars on campus may also be interested in her previous book, The Bodies of Others: Drag Dances and Their Afterlives, published in 2019 by the University of Michigan Press.
History Smashers: Christopher Columbus and the Taino People by Kate Messner, Jose Barreiro, and Falynn Koch [preorder: August 8]
I love the History Smashers series, which blend text and comics to make accessible the “real” history many of us were and continue to be denied in school. I appreciate not only the debunking of Columbus’s myths but also the focus on the Taino people.
Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead [preorder: July 18]
I’m always excited for a new Colson Whitehead book. Continuing the adventures of Harlem Shuffle’s striving furniture salesman and petty criminal Ray Carney, Crook Manifesto is the best kind of sequel, as the stakes are raised in ways that are both over the top and wholly believable. As the story begins, Carney is retired from the shadier side of his business, but is soon swept up in the powerful cultural tides of 1970s Harlem. Who knew Jackson 5 concert tickets could lead to so much trouble!
Our Share of Night by Marina Enriquez
Twitching with the vivid details of horror, this witchy escape into the gruesome world of Argentinian occultists introduces us to Gaspar and his dad Juan, a medium under the service of Gaspar’s wealthy maternal grandparents. Juan has the power to unlock and channel “The Darkness,” fueling and cementing his in-law’s power and fortune. Before his powers drive him to madness and death, Juan tries to protect Gaspar from inheriting his powers (sure to be exploited in terrible ways), but Juan’s secretive approach causes an ugly and often violent strain on the relationship. This book is intense and nuanced, weaving together some truly demented creepy stuff, Gaspar’s difficult coming-of-age story, and the complex heartbreaks only family knows how to make. This was an escape read for me but like any good page-turning horror, I often left a chapter gasping for air.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
I revisited this book as part of the 2023 Washtenaw Reads program and I’m so glad that I did. I love spending time with Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old babysitter who–at the very top of the story–is accused of kidnapping the white toddler that she sits for while exploring the nut aisle of the local grocery store. While this is a story of race, privilege, and power, it’s also so incredible at holding space for the intensely awkward moments in life, especially through dialogue. There are a lot of “cringe moments” in this book and Emira takes stock of it all and moves forward with heart. Even reading this for a second time, I had a hard time putting this book down. I spoke out loud to its characters (“ugh!” “nooo!” “what?” “gross!”). I felt a bond to it, wanting it with me through my day to see what happens next, and next, and next for Emira as she comes into her own, on her own terms.
Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
You don’t need me to tell you that one of the most critically acclaimed books of the 20th century is an absolute stunner. Instead, I’ll offer some brief thoughts about how readers may (or may not) encounter Baldwin in U.S. public high schools. In the 60s and 70s, it was common to encounter James Baldwin within the context of a public high school education. During the 1980s, the book experienced challenges and bans. By the time I got to high school in the mid-90s, I don’t remember reading Baldwin at all. Instead, we read a steady diet of white male perspectives on existentialism. My lifelong reading journey has been informed by a deep need to read what wasn’t taught in school. I know I’m not alone in this kind of remediation. Aside from the joy of a breathtaking book, “backfilling” my education in this way helps me see the specifics of why and how curricular shifts occur–and the many impacts that this kind of educational deprivation can have on a person, on a community, and on our society. This is especially true in our current era of book bans that primarily focus on marginalized authors writing about their experiences. Relatedly: Go Tell It On the Mountain is a semi-autobiographical novel. This is not a new game book banners are playing, they just have the internet now so their agenda spreads quicker than it did in the 80s. To dive deep into the topic of book bans, challenges, and access (and find in-roads to advocacy!), join us for our next Banned Book Club session.
Even if you were lucky enough to encounter Go Tell It On the Mountain as a 9th grader, it’s likely worth a revisit with adult eyes and no deadlines. This is a demanding read. There are non-linear narratives that criss-cross time, radical perspective shifts, heavy servings of religious shame, and a truly toxic stepdad. There’s also transcendent poetry, structural genius, incredible dialogue, and characters who will live with you forever. Baldwin’s work invests fully in all the ways the past bleeds through to our present, connecting our fates and futures to one another in every way imaginable.
For those interested in diving deep into the work of James Baldwin, here are a few links that we shared as part of our 2/17 Booksweet Book Dive conversation led by U-M PhD candidate, LaTara McLemore:
VIDEOS: James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965) // Why Did the FBI Spy on James Baldwin?
PODCAST: James Baldwin’s Fire – NPR’s Throughline
ARTICLES: An Introduction to James Baldwin //James Baldwin: The Last Interview by Richard Goldstein //Additional context from Lambda Literary
BOOKS: Explore other books by and about James Baldwin at Booksweet
Illuminations by Alan Moore
Moore’s best-known works — among them the graphic novels Watchmen with artist Dave Gibbons, V for Vendetta with David Lloyd, and From Hell with Eddie Campbell — have earned him a reputation as an incredible mind with a penchant for exploring the darkest niches of the human psyche. His first prose collection kicks off with a short story in this vein. But readers unfamiliar with Moore’s broader work, like the farcical Bojeffries Saga, may be surprised to learn that he is also very, very funny, and most of the stories in Illuminations hew closer to this track. “Location, Location, Location,” set in the immediate aftermath of the Biblical Book of Revelation, finds the last real estate agent on Earth showing a Silicon Valley-styled Jesus Christ around His new home. Meanwhile, most of the volume is taken up by “What We Can Know About Thunderman,” a delightful satire of the American comics industry from its origins to the present. The story itself is wild, but sliding a 240-page novella into an ostensible collection of short stories is also just an extremely amusing thing to do. Illuminations will be a treat for fans of Moore’s work, but should also appeal to fans of Terry Pratchett.
How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
Siblings Louise and Mark haven’t spoken in years, but are forced together to sort out their parents’ estate when their mother and father die in a car crash near their home. Louise wants to handle her parents’ legacy responsibly, but Mark wants to clear everything in their house into the junkyard, especially their mother’s extensive collection of creepy dolls and taxidermy nativities. Hendrix once again offers his witty spin on familiar horror tropes to provide surprising insights into family dynamics.
Everyone in My Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson
Ernest Cunningham knows the rules of a good mystery novel, and promises to be a “reliable narrator.” Ern also comes from a family of criminals, and by the end of the novel, a family of killers. Three years after Ern gave testimony that sent his brother Michael to prison, the entire extended Cunningham family is gathering at a remote ski resort reunion to welcome Michael back into the fold. But with the discovery of a mysterious stranger’s lifeless body and cascading revelations about the Cunninghams’ shared past, it falls to the outcast Ern to protect his family, even from themselves.
Promise Boys by Nick Brooks
Urban Promise Prep School is praised for keeping the young men in its charge on the straight and narrow, but when its founder and principal is found murdered on school grounds, suspicion immediately falls on three students. J.B., Ramón, and Trey all tussled with Principal Moore the day of the shooting, and all had found ways to ditch their assigned detention which would have otherwise provided an alibi. Each student attests to his own innocence in alternating narrated chapters, careful to cast blame on the others while concealing details that would show themselves in a negative light. In the end, Principal Moore’s death uncovers the darker side of education reform as well as what –or who– is sacrificed to project success. Great for fans of Angie Thomas and Karen McManus.
Bad Cree by Jessica Johns
This book is an indigenous horror story that’s as much about the wendigo, the evil spirit that preys on and fuels insatiable greed, as it is a love letter to the fierce love of aunties, friends, siblings, and family. With great dialogue, characters who you’ll want to befriend, and gruesomely rendered scary stuff, I completely loved this book and I left it feeling inspired to give horror a try more often.
Ghost Music by An Yu
Yu’s story begins with the marriage of piano teacher Song Yan and BMW executive Bowen, disintegrating in real-time in-front of Bowen’s mom, who’s just moved into their Beijing apartment. As the couple acclimates to their new roomie, a mysterious mushroom delivery starts arriving daily, ushering in an era where everyday magic, conversations with ghosts, and talking mushrooms become the norm for Song Yan. This book is a stunner, with surreal surprises tucked neatly, expertly into every chapter.
The Call of the Wrens by Jenni L. Walsh
This is a tale of the Wrens, female members of the Royal Naval Service who served as motorcycle dispatch riders. Told in two narratives that criss-cross time, from WWI to WWII, Call of the Wrens offers a glimpse into the adventuresome lives of women determined to chart their own course, of the friendships that sustained them, and of the losses that reshape family and self.
Flamer by Mike Curato
:: cw – suicidal ideation ::
In the fall of 2022, the librarians, teachers, and students of the Dearborn Public Schools faced challenges fulled by anti LGBTQIA+ rhetoric to a number of books in the Dearborn Public School library, including Mike Curato’s graphic novel Flamer. Set at a scouting camp in the 90s, Flamer‘s protagonist Aiden feels at home in the great outdoors but still feels at times like an outsider. Through aggressions both micro and macro, Aiden is bullied for being overweight, biracial, and queer. A difficult story told with humor, compassion, and an incredible memory for the specifics of casual teenage hate speech, Curato extends a hand to queer kids who might be feeling alone, offering a critical message: You are wonderful. You are loved. And you’re going to be okay.
Interested in joining fellow community members in explorations and advocacy around book bans and challenges in U.S. public schools and libraries? Teens and adults are invited to join us for Banned Book Club! Season two of the club starts on February 10 with a discussion of What the Fact? Finding the Truth in All the Noise by Dr. Seema Yasmin.