The staff of Greenlight Bookstore (and our sister store Yours Truly, Brooklyn) read widely and passionately, and love to recommend books they've especially enjoyed! You can peruse and purchase current staff picks from the list below.
Josh: In the wake of tragedy, language often fails us. The world turns, but grief keeps us tethered to the past. In Ghost Of, Diana Khoi Nguyen abandons the common vocabulary of mourning and dips into the poetics of grief logic to find understanding in the wake of her brother’s “successful suicide.” Between these moments of grief logic, Nguyen emerges from the murky depths to offer narrative that spans from her parents’ immigration to America to the present. She draws upon Gyotaku (the Japanese art of printing fish) to repetitively stamp stanzas until they fade and presents us with triptychs in which grief logic fills the spaces of family photos where her brother should be: “Into the disordered evening my brother cut out only his face from every photograph in the hall.” Equal parts musical, chilling, and perhaps even comforting, Ghost Of is an essential reading to aid in our understanding of a classic human experience.
Jessica: The blurbs on this book will tell you it is an epic aviation adventure story, with gossipy Hollywood sideplots, and IT IS. It's also a slow-burn rage-inducing examination of the ways women are punished for their desires -- wanting too much, not enough, the wrong things/people, etc. -- and some of the best writing I've enjoyed in recent years. Read it for the brilliant, breathless storytelling that will take you far outside of your life, and the moments that are all too recognizable.
Maritza: I ate up this novella in which a woman heads out on vacation and dies by the end of the first day. A simple premise, an intriguing narrator, and an unpredictable protagonist make this little book absolutely wild, and a stunner that's worth reading in a sitting.
Jihye: An immense work that spans generations, this is a must-read for activists, social scientists, and compassionate citizens. Put together, the oral histories in RIKERS form an abyssal narrative of injustice and abuse. This book is a series of waking nightmares, a traumatic sequence of violence and deprivation--of bodily autonomy and psychological erasure. I couldn't put it down; it wouldn't let me go.
Alicia: Laughter is just a jumping off point, in Animal Joy, for Alsadir to think and feel into ideas. Alsadir follows the threads of her curiosity, leading us into discussions of embodiment, power, race, art, creativity, and what it means to be fully alive in this world. She talks a lot about interiors and exteriors as well, which I found to be particularly interesting. Our society's obsession with surfaces, our focus on exterior social approval (which often upholds the status quo), rather than the cultivation of our interiors. This was a life-altering and life-affirming book for me!
Jen: As whimsical as it is thoughtful, Jane Austen’s Emma tells the story of Emma Woodhouse, a young socialite whose charms, confidence, and beauty have absolved her of her ignorance thus far. After boasting the success of her “matchmaking skills” on behalf of her former governess, she attempts to arrange another match for a new friend of a lower rank. Her meddlesome and reckless behavior, however, seems only to serve one person—herself. In a society whose standards she sets, her only opposition comes from the kind and noble Mr. Knightley, and she’s not quite ready for his challenge to her character. Austen’s humorous and cautionary masterpiece draws attention to the aspects most important in our relationships to one another: respect, goodwill, and love. If only Emma cared.
Jessica: This sly mystery—almost a novel, almost a story collection—is a treat for both the avid mystery reader who knows every trope of the genre and for the occasional fan (though not for the squeamish, as there are some pretty grim deaths as part of the puzzle). Each of the mystery stories within plays with the notions of victims, suspects, and detectives in surprising ways, and the framing story (of the search for a lost mystery writer) offers the twistiest plot twists of all.
Kyle: When you hit rock bottom in Phoenix while writing your dissertation on Sappho, what's your next move? You go to LA and fall in love with a merman on Venice Beach, of course. Melissa Broder is a singular voice, leading the charge of dark humor in the contemporary fiction realm. The Pisces bursts at the seams with her wry, honest prose and begs readers to examine their own connections between intimacy and desire in this gender-flopped siren story. Broder examines topics like sexual addiction, identity, and depression in this salt-air romp for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh and Mona Awad.
Casey: Siken's poems are visceral, portraying the kind of emotions that give you a lump in your throat. His words capture a raw look inside queer love and lust, with vivid imagery - "The fact of his pulse, / the way he pulled his body in, out of shyness or shame or a desire / not to disturb the air around him. / Everyone could see the way his muscles worked, / the way we look like animals, / his skin barely keeping him inside."
Danni: Keeping with the theme of my final staff pick of 2022, my first pick of 2023 is also about neoliberalism, capitialism, and, you guessed it, Work. A slim novel with Personality as well as Looks (you see that provocative red, standing over there at the wall? beckoning you with that come hither expression?), this was one of my favorite reads of last year. Lefebvre tells the story of a young poet, over-educated, perceptive, and not interested in working. In fact all the narrator wants is to write poetry and drink wine by the moonlight. In other words, wants to build a life of leisure and art. Who cannot relate? The novella is hilarious, astute, and a reminder that work is not liberation and in might not even be the greatest meaning in life.
Carlo: The Grishaverse is the fantasy world that you've been looking to escape into. If you're new to this high fantasy, welcome to a world loosely based off of 19th century Russia where a minority of people, the Grisha, are born with spectacular powers that make them a powerful and feared population. To those returning, the rule of King Nikolai was supposed to mean peace and finally rest for the battered nation of Ravka. But with religious radicals in Fjerda pushing for genocidal war against the Grisha, assassination attempts from Shu Han, and an unnatural blight that obliterates everything it touches, humans included; peace seems impossible. When every nation is set against Ravka and Nikolai's own claim to the throne is challenged, when war seems inevitable and destruction certain, Nikolai and all of Ravka will prove that cleverness and a little Grisha magic might be all they need.
K.: "How can I tell you everything that is in my heart? Impossible to begin. Enough. No. Begin." I absolutely adore everything Maira Kalman does. Do yourself a favor. Read her books. Her artwork takes up space rent free in my brain & I'm perfectly okay with that.
Claire: This slim but forceful book-length essay by Aisha Sabatini Sloan is many things at once: travelogue, art study, memoir. Sabatini Sloan recalls the summers she spent in Homer, Alaska and considers alongside these recollections the loneliness and discomfort of inhabiting a landscape where she was often the only Black person in figurative and literal sight. Glacier paintings, queer relationships, and political anxieties form the backdrop to this moving work on Sabatini Sloan's experience in the Alaskan outdoors, perfect for readers of Fred Moten, Gabrielle Civil, and Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi.
Liala: Flowers are Pretty Weird shows us that flowers are beyond beautiful—they’re also freaks of nature. Rosemary Mosco takes us on a cool and captivating journey into the world of unique flowers told from the perspective of the flower’s biggest fan—the bee. And after reading this book, I’m right there with the bee; flowers are interesting, funky, and full of surprises. What's not to like?
Danni: Last year's reading was outstanding. I'd say the median quality of books was higher than in previous years. This is one such book that made my reading year Excellent. Kelly delivers compelling narratives around lesser discussed workers in the history of the labor movement. I was RIVETED. I inhaled this history book with Gusto. I found myself gaining a better understanding about the current strikes that broke out over the past two years both in this country and in others like the UK. I highly recommend you pick up this book about the ways people came together to make their jobs more equitable and just not only for themselves but for future workers to come.
Claire: The third in Léger's triptych of books on women artists, The White Dress is an intense study of the Italian performance artist Pippa Bacca and her phantom in Léger's psyche. In 2008 Bacca was murdered on her international hitchhiking; she'd set out in a wedding dress and would wear it the whole time as she traveled in a declaration of her belief in world peace. Bacca's death and her work as an artist transfix Léger as she muddles through her own uncertainties in her relationship with her mother, scorned by her divorce with Léger's father and obsessed with retribution. The line between performance and reality blurs in this genre-bending work which will interest readers of Moyra Davey and Aisha Sabatini Sloan, and fans of Ana Mendieta and Marina Abramović.
David: "Todos los fuegos el fuego (All Fires The Fire) is a book of eight short stories written by Julio Cortázar." —Wikipedia
Matt: RIP Godard. It's a little hard to imagine jump cuts being shocking in the age of TikTok, but Richard Brody contextualizes Godard's innovations well while also going deep on his biography, politics, and, most fascinating of all, his artistic passion and method. I found this book inspiring.
Matt: Clean Hands is like Michael Clayton meets Uncut Gems. Drawing on his experience as a private investigator, Patrick Hoffman's crime novels always feel authentic, rich with detail, and thrilling.
Megan: This book reads like a curling up to watch your favorite historical k-drama and I loved every second of it!
Morgan: Bring out the relaxer and flat iron! Or maybe not? This graphic novel tells the story of young Marlene who's always been told her hairs too wild. In it she learns the weight of loving her own hair and deciding if she'll let it be her burden or her strength. Honorable mention—there's a wash day scene that's way too relatable, in the best way possible.
Rich: This haunting and electrifying debut novel by Erika T. Wurth is many things – a playfully modern homage to Stephen King’s horror classics, a gritty tale of a young indigenous woman’s attempt to discover the truth about her mother’s disappearance and a heartbreaking exploration of the histories of indigenous displacement and survival. Wurth’s vivid, terrifying imagery will make you want to seek out the nearest dive bar, take a shot of whiskey to calm your nerves and shake off the feeling that someone or something might be following you. This is not a book for those seeking a “feel-good” or “light read.” Wurth's novel is dark, spine chilling and effortlessly cool.
Bria: Lonely is a word that's said in hushed tones, if it's said at all. I adore this book for many reasons. Laing is a writer's writer, and uses prose to talk about loneliness and New York City in such a beautiful way. Through artists like Warhol and Hopper, she explores how connection and the lack thereof affected these artists and their work. She details walking through an earlier version of New York, and her own experiences with loneliness and longing for connection. It's a lonely experience, being lonely.
This book made me feel a little less alone.
Ikwo: When Eli Roebuck is 9 years old, he witnesses his mom walk off into the forest with Sasquatch. What follows is a life spent in pursuit of the truth, however Eli's hunt takes not only him but his father, two wives, children, and colleagues along for the ride. If you're worried about the upcoming family dinners and gaiety, temper that with this book. Shields does something I have rarely seen done in "literary fiction"--she takes the magical and blurs the line so finely, you may find yourself as lost as Eli as he lives a truly long, heartbreaking, and astonishing life. There are books that when they're finished, you stand back in horror or reflection (or both)--this book is one of those.
Ikwo: June is 14 years old, precocious, isolated, and grieving the loss of her Uncle Finn who she loved more than anything. Her mother and older sister are cagey to say the least about how he died. Something to do with AIDS, something to do with Toby, Finn's "special friend." When Toby begins reaching out to June (and she responds--both in an attempt to keep the memory of Finn near), a questionable, but lovely friendship forms. For over half the book you're not sure exactly where anything is headed, and that's okay. With Tell the Wolves I'm Home, Brunt makes you feel all the things you're suppose to feel with good fiction, and reminds you of all the warmness and love that can emerge from a single page.
Shanni: Tender, tender, tender. Stories you'll think about long after you finish. Pick this up if you wanna get wrecked, but, like, in a good way. An exploration of all the different types of love, with others and ourselves.
Dante: Do we take it for granted or is it just boredom? By "it" I mean democracy. Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy traces within our expansive world's past and present the cyclical tendency of leadership to toss away morality and common sense, by embracing a base ignorance to consolidate power for perceived loyalty to their nationalistic ideals. Or maybe it isn't a cyclical tendency of doing away with democracy, but it is always never ending with seemingly infinite cadre of options to create polarization especially with the advent of social media by "grown ups" in the room. I hope you will embrace this title as a time capsule of our current clusterf**k.
Mustafa: What if the legendary Comic Book artist Jack Kirby could paint like the phenomenal Norman Rockwell and he had to illustrate a story that combined the hopefulness of Classic Star Trek with the surreal Art of Victor Moscoso, what would you get? Answer: Alex Ross’ incredibly engaging new Graphic Novel FANTASTIC FOUR: Full Circle.
A romp, for the girlies. Straight people wedding nonsense dialed up to a million. Ellie and robin are childhood best friends who have drifted apart. now Ellie is engaged and begging Robin to be her maid of honor. She eventually gives in so long as Ellie promises to not to be a complete maniac of a bride. . . . Seems simple enough. Things, of course, go off the rails. Crimes committed, murders attempted, animals . . . sliced open. A dark, funny, and easy read. My favorite quote: "He had a face like he had drunk a glass of milk everyday of his life." Need I go on?
A perennial favorite and one of the sources of our name, Fitzgerald's masterpiece is always a staff pick at Greenlight Bookstore.