Jeannie Vanasco interrogates her rapist, a man who had once been a long-time friend; One of Turkey’s most lauded authors pens a stirring and surprisingly uplifting account of being a casualty of Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s crackdown on freedom of speech; A memoir from Blondie that charts the dramatic highs and lows of a career whose creative and cultural influences are still felt today; And Ben Lerner returns with a deft exploration of adolescence, masculinity and violence.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl: A Memoir by Jeannie Vanasco
Jeannie Vanasco will be the first to admit that what happened to her is not uncommon. Another sexual assault statistic, she remained silent for fourteen years before doing the unthinkable, and that is where her story takes a rare and profound turn: Vanasco reached out to her rapist, once a long-time friend, and he not only admitted to what he’d done, he apologized. Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl chronicles this reckoning, and in doing so adds a different dimension to the #MeToo conversation—one more intimate, insidious, and full of improbable grace. There will be much debate about Vanasco’s decision to give her abuser this platform, something she openly struggles with in the pages of this powerful memoir. But if the root causes of sexual violence are not confronted, particularly from a perpetrator’s point of view, it will continue. One other fascinating element of Vanasco’s provocative, but cathartic account, is the interrogation of femininity itself, and how many women’s impulse to placate and praise puts them in vulnerable positions. With Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl Vanasco regains some of the power that she lost. Read it; talk about it. --Erin Kodicek
Prepare to have your mind gently cracked open by Ahmet Altan’s I Will Never See the World Again. After the failed coup in 2016, Turkish writer Altan was imprisoned via trumped-up charges and sentenced to life without parole. His self-reflective, short essays written from prison are deceptively graceful and often humorous even as they deliver a blow to the heart. Altan’s cellmates, his days in solitary confinement, and his childhood love of O. Henry’s stories provide glimpses of Altan’s hardships and the mental feats needed to stay engaged. Ultimately, Altan discovers that the power to survive his new reality has lurked inside him all along: “I am a writer. I am neither where I am nor where I am not.” Uplifting, often sharply funny, and poetic, I Will Never See the World Again will awaken readers to the luminous strength of creative passion in even the worst circumstances. —Adrian Liang
Face It by Debbie Harry
With many of the legendary punk rockers of the 1970s – the Ramones, Richard Hell, the Clash, et al. — what you saw was what you got; they wore their anger, disaffection, and alienation on their ratty sleeves. Not so much with Debbie Harry. The founder and singer for Blondie was striking and aloof, a persona more akin to Lana Turner than Lydia Lunch. The band’s music, a bit more polished and inquisitive than many of their peers’, encouraged the enigma. And it made Harry a bona fide star. So does her autobiography pull back the veils? Kind of. Face It has more than enough detail to satisfy any fan, from her New Jersey childhood, her early days in New York, and the rise and fall and rise of her iconic band, presented in a forthright, almost laconic style not unlike her controlled performance in the “Heart of Glass” video. On the other hand, there’s also an impressionistic element to her presentation — one chapter entitled “Close Calls” is a litany of near-death experiences, from birth to car crashes, told outside of the context of the rest of the book. Taken together, the multiple personalities of Face It gives readers the experience they want: All the dirt without sacrificing the art. Total punk. --Jon Foro
The Topeka School: A Novel by Ben Lerner
A high school debate champion growing up in Topeka, Kansas sounds like a fairly conventional character for a novel. But this is not a conventional novel—it builds through shifting points of view, and it is a book concerned with language and cultural expectation, and how one conveys the other. By the end, you begin to realize that it is a story about how we reached the national state of consciousness we inhabit today. The Topeka School is also autofiction: Lerner’s book tells the story of teenager Adam, the debate champion (as Ben Lerner was himself) and Adam’s parents, both psychologists (as were Lerner’s parents) living in Topeka (where Lerner lived). The entire family struggles at one point or another with success and privilege, something that opens up contradictions within each one of them, and the book itself is a bit of a contradiction—mixing the warmth of 90s nostalgia with the existential anxiousness we recognize so well today. There is a lot going on here, but the read is often mysteriously calming—due to Lerner’s deep relationship with language and subject matter—at the same time that he gives us a great deal to think about. Readers looking for a literary romp should probably search elsewhere. But if you’re looking to go deep, this is your guy. --Chris Schluep
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