It’s me Traci, host of The Stacks, a podcast all about books, with my monthly book pairing column. Every month I’m telling you about three brand new books, and I’m giving you two backlist titles that pair perfectly with them. This month we’re talking sexy essays, natural disasters, and short stories.
Let’s get to pairing.
Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkinns
Nichole Perkins is a cultural critic who writes about “the intersection of pop culture, sex, race, gender, and relationships” and this book is exactly that. A memoir in essays that has so much range. There is an essay about Janet Jackson and black clothing, one about Perkins’ admiration for her sister, and more than a handful about Perkins’ enviable sex life. Honestly, these essays on sex are my favorites in the book, and Perkins might be one of the best writers writing about sex right now. Perkins’ ability to discuss so many topics all while writing approachable and enjoyable essays (yes you will laugh, but no, this isn’t a comedy collection), is like catching up with an old friend.
If Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be sounds like your kind of book, check out
I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux
When we talk about personal essay collections with range, I can’t not think of Michael Arceneaux. In I Can’t Date Jesus Arceneaux finds a way to talk about many facets of his life with a confidence and intimacy that is rare. Like Perkins’ book, I Can’t Date Jesus is full of cultural references and the kind of humor that connects Arceneaux’s author with his audience. This book also has so much heart, you fall in love with Arceneaux almost immediately. And also, like Perkins’ work, there is no shortage of depth or forced sincerity, or attempts at emotional manipulation. This book is just conversational writing and good storytelling at its best.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Samantha Irby is hilarious, we all know that. She is also a hell of a writer and she is one of the best immersive storytellers writing today. While her work is written more for laughs than Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be, her style is similar to Nichole Perkins. They both center themselves and their cultural touchstones without much explanation. They both are willing to talk about the intimate stuff (for Irby it’s often GI related, and for Perkins it is a lot of oral sex) with their reader like they are old friends. That casual style and skill make any of Irby’s books an obvious pairing with Perkins’ work. If you’ve never heard Irby talk about herself and her work, you’ve got to listen to her episode of The Stacks, it is one of my favorites.
Paradise: One Town’s Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire by Lizzie Johnson
In November 2018, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, the Camp Fire, ignited near the town of Paradise, CA. In her book Paradise, Lizzie Johnson investigates the fire, the people whose lives were forever changed by it, and what factors led to this tragedy. This book is deeply researched and beautifully reported. It reads almost like a novel and is full of suspense (to the point that I had to put it down for a bit because I was getting a stomach ache). I love this kind of investigative journalism and combining that form with the current events, the uptick in climate change disasters, and government mistakes and negligence makes for an incredibly upsetting and readable book.
If you’re into books like Paradise you might want to read
Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed–and Why It Still Matters by Roger G. Charles and Andrew Gumbel
In Oklahoma City we learn about one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil and the people behind it. We also learn of the ways law enforcement failed during the investigation and why those mistakes are important. This book tells an interesting, if not enraging, story about white supremacy and the ways it has created a group of people who are willing to fight and die to perpetuate their ideology. Just like in Paradise, Charles and Gumbel take this devastating story and pull out important lessons and takeaways that help readers to better understand where we are now and how that has been impacted by recent history.
A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julia Scheeres
If you know me you know A Thousand Lives is one of my all-time favorite books (as is Scheeres’ memoir Jesus Land). It tells the story of the people of The Peoples’ Temple and their murder at the hands of Jim Jones at Jonestown in 1978. While the topics in Scheeres’ and Johnson’s books are very different, the care each author takes to make sure the reader feels connected to the people involved is similar. The ways the authors build up the suspense and walk the reader through the many layers of the events makes for an immersive and emotional reading experience.
Afterparties: Stories by Anthony Veasna So
A collection of short stories that center around Cambodian-American life. The collection is humorous and tender and illuminates nuances and intimacies of queer and immigrant communities. The stories are rich and specific and pinpoint the exact moment in these characters’ lives that we simply need to hear about.
Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington
The richness in this collection is rooted in the shared community of the characters, the city of Houston. Lot has both stand-alone and interconnected short stories that take the reader throughout the city of Houston and into the homes and businesses of the characters. Like Afterparties the writing is detailed and true and filled with a range of human emotions.
Survival in the Killing Fields by Haing Ngor
Normally I recommend a book I know, but after reading Afterparties I was struck that I couldn’t name another book that spoke to the experiences or history of Cambodians and/or Cambodian-Americans. That is obviously a huge gap in my own reading, so instead of sharing something that I know and love, I’m using this pick on a book I want to read to gain more perspectives that surround Cambodian experiences. Survival in the Killing Fields is by Haing Ngor, who is best known for his Academy-Award winning role in the film The Killing Fields (1984), the book is a memoir of his life in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge.