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(Riverhead Books, 9780593087275, $27)"Reading Memorial is like sitting down with a dear friend, asking 'What's going on with you?' and settling in for much-needed catch-up on life, love, heartache, and family. Washington's writing is so intimate and direct that you feel the exhilaration, frustration, and uncertainty that Benson and Mike feel about their relationships, both with one another and with their families, which inspires a heart-felt connection to these characters that is hard to find in the world during socially distant times."
|(photo: Dailey Hubbard)|
Independent booksellers across the country have chosen Memorial by Bryan Washington (Riverhead) as their top pick for the November 2020 Indie Next List.
When Mike discovers his father is dying in Osaka, he flies across the world to say goodbye just as his mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit. While Mike cares for his father in Japan, Benson, Mike's boyfriend, is forced into an unconventional roommate situation with Mike's mother. What follows is a story of family, love, and becoming who you're supposed to be.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
It was originally a short story, and it was originally six pages. I was in the middle of writing something else that wasn't quite working, but I kept returning to the idea of these characters and the scenario in which they were placed--this notion of a book about trying to be okay, but didn't necessarily come to any conclusions. So, after friends encouraged me, my agent encouraged me, and my editor encouraged me, I really sat down and started trying to make it work, largely because I wanted to see what it would look like.
What was expanding it into a novel like?
It was fairly arduous. I wrote it with the understanding that the novel is three parts, and as a whole, each part is independent. I wrote the first part and then I immediately started the second, and then I edited the first in tandem with the second, and then I wrote the third part, and I immediately went back and edited the first in tandem with the second in tandem with the third. That would've constituted an "edit" for me, and the novel went through about 11 of those edits, between just myself, myself and my agent, and myself and my editor. It was certainly a process, but it was necessary for me to have an understanding of the world, how each of the characters saw themselves in that world, and how they ultimately chose to navigate it.
This book revolves around the relationship between Benson and Mike. How did you craft their characters? Their dynamic?
A lot of it was through just the drafting process. I plotted out each of their respective arcs; I wanted to get a good sense of who they saw themselves as, how they thought they were seen, and who they ultimately wanted to become. A lot of figuring that out was writing scene after scene after scene after scene. Most of those scenes, honestly, didn't make it into the book, but they were necessary for me in order to have an understanding of how they would be on the page. I was trying to give them as much humanity and as much of the benefit of the doubt as possible.
What made you choose Houston as the book's setting?
I'm pretty taken by Houston--it's a city that's so rife with narrative, just by way of its diversity but also the fact that you have so many different people from so many different places that have found a way to make it work with one another, which is a really rare thing anywhere, let alone in the States. It's a thing I'm always keen to write about. A lot of my concerns stem from this idea of community and found family and the forms they can take. It's always gratifying to get to write about it.
After Benson asks Mike's mother, Mitsuko, for another story, she tells him, "Stories are heirlooms." Do you feel this way?
I actually do feel that way about stories--you know, sharing a story is sharing a part of yourself with someone. And we're constantly negotiating the question of how much we'll share about ourselves with the folks around us, whether they're romantic partners or platonic relationships. This idea of sharing a narrative or a story with someone, and certainly a story that you hold dear, is an act of trust in a lot of ways because by way of telling it you're hoping it will be heard. And perhaps there's a way you're hoping it will be heard. I do think stories in their own way are gems, irrespective of whether they're massively instrumental as far as our respective arcs and who we ultimately are. You're just kind of hoping that you'll be heard with as little interference as possible, and people will see what you're trying to say.
This book focuses on both Mike and Benson's experiences with their sexualities. In his section, Mike mentions something that Benson called a "tiny earthquake"--a moment when someone says something about their gayness that they weren't expecting at all. Can you talk more about this?
A major preoccupation for me as far as narrative is concerned is the creases in between relationships, and the crevices between the major event that makes you realize the relationship. I knew that I wanted to write a love story, but I didn't want it to be a narrative of highlights, so to speak. Even if those highlights do occur, I don't know that necessarily means a character would recognize them as a major moment in the moment it's occurring. I feel like we as people will be in the midst of something and a week later, a few months later, even a year later, we'll realize it's pivotal as far as who we are at any given moment. Really trying to see if an accumulation of tiny moments could create a novel was important to me, and writing the book was, in a lot of ways, an experiment.
This book is also full of incredible food descriptions and scenes devoted entirely to cooking. These scenes are an opportunity for characters to connect, to argue, to share awkwardness. Why bring food into focus?
For Memorial,I was thinking about cooking and sharing a meal as a means of communication, and perhaps as a way to fill in some of the gaps when dialogue doesn't suffice or can't suffice or won't suffice. It was also important to me that each character have a cooking arc so to speak, a language they were trying to condense into the meals they were creating or the meals they were sharing. And I wanted that arc to expand, for there to be room for it to breathe across the novel. It was something that really preoccupied me--I went through and I charted what everyone cooked and the context behind how they're cooking it in that particular moment, and I wanted to have a clear sense of how that reflected against the scenes they were occurring around. This idea of what you turn to in the midst was really interesting to me.
What role do indie bookstores play in your life?
It is not hyperbole to say that I would not have written Memorial and I would not have written Lot if not for the indie bookstores in my community. Houston is not a city that is overly inundated with indie bookstores, yet each of them is a boon, and each of them is a source of community, and each of them is a space for narrative and for stories, for folks coming from all over the city. In a city as diverse as Houston is, you really do need those spaces. In a lot of ways, these spaces really are third places. You're able to be in communion with folks that are just interested in story and the different ways that story can hold importance in our lives. It's a really rare thing to have in general, especially in our moment when everything has to be monetized and everything has to have a tangible outcome--to have a space where you can just be and talk about narrative and not have to come to any hard conclusions.
(Harper, 9780062868084, $28.99)"The gorgeous writing, vivid setting, compelling characters, and engrossing story aren't even the best parts of this novel. Instead, I just keep marveling at how Jess Walter takes events from history to illuminate our present while keeping them rooted in their own time, from the labor movement to class, race, and gender equality and civil rights issues, to protests and freedom of speech. The northwest in 1909 has never been so relevant. Beautiful Ruins was a hard act to follow but, amazingly, Walter manages it with aplomb."
(Grand Central Publishing, 9781538746837, $29)"As much a journey for the writer as it is for the reader, this book solves a murder but leaves us with many unanswered questions. We Keep the Dead Close challenges us to question our assumptions as well as the paths we use to arrive at those assumptions. Delving into the academic culture of Harvard, the misogyny of the 1960s, and the burgeoning women's rights movement, the story follows several threads, all of which have a significant impact on the life of Jane Britton, whose story is told with empathy, compassion, and five decades of curiosity."
(Soft Skull Press, 9781593766900, $16.95, trade paper)"Where the Wild Ladies Are is a beautiful and haunting, modern and feminist reimagining of Japanese folklore and ghost stories. While it wears its inspirations on its sleeve, each of these enchanting and offbeat stories feels entirely original. Ethereal, quirky, and charming -- I loved it!"
(William Morrow, 9780062942852, $27.99)
"I have never read a book that was this much fun. This was a roller coaster of a read, hitting all the notes from beginning to end. Gothic elements intermingled with the current time period will keep the reader so engrossed that they won't realize they've stayed up all night reading this book, one that's the kind of book you don't want to read in the dark but you just can't put down. The ride through history that meets the present will keep you entertained, on your toes, and peeking between your fingers as you cover your eyes."
(Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, 9781982154615, $27)"I cannot recommend this book enough! Group reads like a novel while also being incredibly insightful. Christie Tate is able to articulate a reality that I, and I'm sure others, haven't quite been able to express to those closest to us. This book will help people realize that there are things they haven't let themselves face yet, but it will also show them that their feelings are normal and natural. I, for one, am going to recommend this from now on to anyone I think might benefit from Tate's journey, which I think will be just about anyone."
(Harper, 9780062955456, $28.99)"Anthony Horowitz has done it again! With Moonflower Murders, he has crafted another superlative, page-turning, cunning, book-within-a-book mystery chock full of clues (and red herrings), featuring the appealing former editor Susan Ryeland from Magpie Murders. Terrifically engaging, smart, and fun, this book is practically impossible to put down. Don't miss it!"
(Atria Books, 9781982137335, $28)"Lisa Jewell has become one of my absolute favorite thriller authors. She's an automatic must-read for me and should be for everyone who loves dark, twisty thrillers. This latest is no exception. In fact, she just keeps getting better and better! If you haven't read her yet, start with Invisible Girl -- I guarantee you won't be able to put it down!"
(Simon & Schuster, 9781982100599, $26)"Ivy Lin's unassuming looks and demeanor hide a dark side. She is obsessed with the wealth and privilege she sees around her and will cross boundaries to get what she needs--most of all, the object of her teenage affection. Susie Yang crafts a brilliant and mesmerizing tale that gives readers an intimate look into the experience of immigrants. Well-written prose, excellent characters, and a surprising turn of events will keep readers hooked until the end--and it is a doozy."
(Harper, 9780062881922, $27.99)"A good-looking couple from New York City move upstate for a slower lifestyle, but things quickly take a turn when the husband goes missing. When Sam Statler, a therapist with a range of diverse clients, doesn't come home, his wife, Annie, is desperate to find him and begins to suspect one of his clients. As secrets unravel, Molloy keeps the reader excited and engaged in this intriguing thriller."
(Berkley, 9781984806130, $16, trade paper)"Alexis' life has been a bit crazy lately. In addition to uncovering a family secret, she owns a cat café, which has become a meeting ground for women who have experienced sexual harassment, and is in love with her best friend, Noah. Noah is also in love with Alexis and reluctantly receives help from the Bromance Book Club. Adams delivers a funny, romantic novel that touches on major issues, including the aftermath of speaking out about sexual harassment, forgiveness, compassion, and trust."
(Soho Press, 9781641292696, $27.95)"As a fan of her Maisie Dobbs novels, I couldn't wait to learn more about Jacqueline Winspear herself. This memoir takes the reader through the early and adolescent years of the author's life as well as the history of her parents. Winspear's memoir of an English country childhood is also a love letter to her parents, whose choices and outlook shaped her life. She paints a vivid picture of postwar England, and her story is engaging, vivid, and hopeful."
(Tor.com, 9781250767028, $19.99)"The emotionally charged, wild ride of Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark was one I did not want to end. Clark pulled me into the life of Maryse and her band of monster hunters and held me hostage. With beautiful language, deep characters, and a fully immersive world, this story of vengeance and self-forgiveness unfolds. By the end, I was in tears. Ring Shout perfectly takes on a dark, violent history, but also an uncertain, terrifying future. Everyone needs to read Ring Shout."
(St. Martin's Press, 9781250214430, $27.99)"Ellen Alpsten's debut is a riveting, delicious escape into the world of Catherine the I, Tsarina of Russia. My head is swimming with the sights and sounds of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Alpsten's fascinating account reveals the unforgettable woman who went toe to toe with her husband, Peter the Great. Exactly the kind of book I needed to read right now!"
(Redhook, 9780316422048, $28)
"Alix Harrow's The Ten Thousand Doors of January was my favorite book last year, so I had incredibly high expectations when I picked up The Once and Future Witches. This book is very different, but I adore it just as much! Set in the late 1800s in a world with a slightly alternate history from ours, women are fighting for the vote and losing. Three wayward sisters decide to challenge the patriarchy by bringing back witchcraft. Told through familiar stories twisted in new ways, this book is incredible. You will not be able to put it down, from the beautifully written introduction to the pulse-pounding ending!"
(Avon, 9780063000803, $15.99, trade paper)"This fake-dating, opposites-attract romance is simply perfect. A social media astrologer is set up with her new business partner's actuary sister. While the date goes terribly, how helpful it would be for both of them to have a date for certain upcoming events. The two leads are wonderful, flawed women with their own baggage and hang-ups (hello, family drama!), and it's a joy to watch them fall in love with each other in spite of everything."
(Doubleday, 9780385546553, $26.95)
"Not since Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin have I so enjoyed the page-turning yarn of a New York private detective and a wisecracking sidekick! Stephen Spotswood simultaneously nails the tone of classic detective stories and stands them on their head--because the brilliant gumshoe is Lillian Pentecost, a middle-aged woman with a disability, and her sidekick Willowjean 'Will' Parker, a gender-bending young circus performer with a sweet spot for the ladies. A delight from start to finish. Dare I hope this is the beginning of a series?"
(Erewhon, 9781645660071, $25.95)
"If you had to decide between your magical ability and love, which would you chose? Of course, it's not that simple when your marriage will save your family from bankruptcy, but also take away more freedoms than you know. Sorcery, historical romance, feminism, female friendships, and reproductive rights--this enjoyable novel had everything I needed. Readers of Gail Carriger and Naomi Novik will gobble this up."
(Tin House Books, 9781947793781, $25.95)
"An extraordinary novel of quiet turmoil, filled with the clash of generations, beliefs, and realities. A beautiful tale of the strife of traditions in a changing Ireland, woven together with the threads of a modern-day mystery. Perhaps the most elegant bit is the underlying story of a girl trying desperately to hold together the traditions of men. Impossible to put down and harder to forget, this novel lingers and feels like fog."
(Riverhead Books, 9781594487330, $27)
"I have been holding my breath for Danielle Evans' next book of short stories since Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, and The Office of Historical Corrections was worth the wait. She delivers the same great storytelling, insight, and sharp cultural commentary. Her touch on themes usually associated with older people, such as redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation, moved me. I read the whole collection in two days."
(Tin House Books, 9781947793804, $15.95)"This is an absolutely striking collection that brims with life. Many of the poems inspired visceral reactions from me, and the poems themselves are often concerned with viscera and the body as a physical site. Queen reckons with her family's history and her own place in it in a manner reminiscent to the work done by Beyoncé in Lemonade. Her work deals with the past, present, and future in equal measure simultaneously. She 'resurrect[s] the excised archive of [her] relatives' and uses it as the skeleton of her writing, writing that will linger in the reader's thoughts for months."
(City Lights Books, 9780872868281, $14.95)"Juan Felipe Herrera upholds and elevates the great ancestral lineage of our Mexicano/Chicano world. The Border lives in this man. The Border(s) will never leave him. He is the son of soul anarchy, the lost stories of my America. He is the trickster magician who lifts the mirror to our faces and allows us to see truth. When he breaks stride in this great walkabout of his, he tumbles the false world down while showing us the Better Way. These poems are fierce and compassionate. His journey has served him well."
(Harper, 9780062993083, $24.99)"Kingsolver writes poetry that is both accessible and profound. This is the kind of collection you'll loan out to a friend or relative and never get back. You should probably go ahead and buy two or three all at once!"
(Graywolf Press, 9781644450215, $30)"Claudia Rankine really steps up the moment with this book. She invites readers to join a conversation that helps us think through uncomfortable parts of American history. The poems, essays, and images in the book allow for a conversation that opens your eyes and enriches your understanding of our time. Readers will be excited to pick up this wildly creative and powerful writing on race, difference, and politics in America."
(William Morrow, 9780062995285, $19.99)"I would not call myself a poetry reader, but there is something about Nikki Giovanni's poetry that speaks to me so deeply. Sentimental and comforting, Make Me Rain covers a wide range of topics, from quilts and rising bread to the social change we so desperately need in our world. Giovanni's wisdom and understanding once again prove why she is such a poetic powerhouse and leave the reader wanting to explore her past work again, too."
(W. W. Norton & Company, 9781324004615, $16.95, trade paper)
"This stellar selection of the wonderful Audre Lorde's work is a must-have. These powerful words deserve a wider audience, and it is wonderful to see Lorde's work introduced to a new generation by the excellent Roxane Gay."