i write all the time, in a self-effacing way, about not having had very much classroom education. and usually whether or not i’ve retained any information about homeostasis learned in tenth grade biology doesn’t matter; for the better part of my adult life i worked hourly gigs that had zero prerequisites other than an agile brain and a pulse, and now i have a make-believe imaginary job writing about my feelings, so who fucking cares that i only graduated high school??? but then something will happen, like the entire country will collectively watch a human being murdered on the evening news, and i’ll think: damn i wish i knew things! and could write thoughtfully about this moment we’re living through!
this is a weird time (i mean, weirder than the rest of the time, which is extremely weird) to be a joke person. especially being a joke person who has never read a history book and doesn’t know anything she didn’t learn from primetime reality television. anytime there’s a big cultural shift i feel absolutely zero compulsion to add my wholly unnecessary fart jokes to the noise, so these past few weeks i’ve been like “is it socially irresponsible to keep writing about nonsense when there is an uprising happening?” and sometimes the answer is YES SHUT UP CLOWN but then other times my inner voice is like NO PEOPLE NEED TO LAUGH. and i can only do what i can do, you feel me? so just know that yes i am still over here talking about poop and butts and greg mathis’s haircuts but it’s only because i trust that you are getting real news from valuable and smart resources (i’m trying to, too!) while also being fully committed to providing some comic relief in this hellscape in which we are all trapped.
if this is where you expect me to tell y’all to read white fragility please immediately go throw your phone into the sea. what the fuck are you doing? a white lady wrote that fucking book! lmao read books by black people!!!!! anyway i mostly read fiction, and while i appreciate the many lists of scholarly books about history and violence that are populating our various newsfeeds, kirsten got a copy of stamped from the beginning the other day and...i’m not reading that??????? it’s like 900 pages long! i do not have a brain built for that much information! i just don’t. also, and i don’t have the words to properly articulate this so please forgive me: a list of educational books that feels like a social studies syllabus is great, please read them if that’s your thing, but i don’t ever want you to sleep on what can be gained from just reading black stories in general, especially when they highlight our joy and creativity. normalize reading contemporary black fiction! and poetry! and memoir! and essays!
anyway here is a list of black fiction books that i have gathered from my recently read and TBR piles that are/look good as hell, i’ll copy the synopses and link them all here so you can purchase them from the comfort and safety of your pandemic bunker and your homework is to read at least three (but hopefully all) over the course of this endless quarantine. you better do it, there will be a quiz!
1 luster by raven leilani a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life—her hunger, her anger—in a tumultuous era. it is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent, and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.
2 the vanishing half by brit bennett the vignes twin sisters will always be identical. but after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. the other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. what will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?
3 real life by brandon taylor almost everything about wallace is at odds with the midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. an introverted young man from alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. for reasons of self-preservation, wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. but over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.
4 catherine house by elisabeth thomas a gothic-infused debut of literary suspense, set within a secluded, elite university and following a dangerously curious, rebellious undergraduate who uncovers a shocking secret about an exclusive circle of students and the dark truth beneath her school’s promise of prestige.
5 queenie by candice carty-williams bridget jones’s diary meets americanah in this disarmingly honest, boldly political, and truly inclusive novel that will speak to anyone who has gone looking for love and found something very different in its place.
6 the coyotes of carthage by steven wright is a blistering and thrilling debut—a biting exploration of american politics, set in a small south carolina town, about a political operative running a dark money campaign for his corporate clients.
7 black card by chris terry in an effort to be "black enough," a mixed-race punk rock musician indulges his own stereotypical views of african american life by doing what his white bandmates call "black stuff." after remaining silent during a racist incident, the unnamed narrator has his black card revoked by lucius, his guide through richmond, virginia, where confederate flags and memorials are a part of everyday life.
8 lakewood by megan giddings on paper, her new job is too good to be true. high paying. no out of pocket medical expenses. a free place to live. all lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in lakewood. an eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away. the discoveries made in lakewood, lena is told, will change the world—but the consequences for the subjects involved could be devastating. as the truths of the program reveal themselves, lena learns how much she's willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family.
9 we ride upon sticks by quan berry follows the 1989 danvers high school falcons field hockey team, who will do anything to make it to the state finals—even if it means tapping into some devilishly dark powers. in chapters dense with 1980s iconography, from heathers to “big hair,” barry expertly weaves together the individual and collective progress of this enchanted team as they storm their way through an unforgettable season.
10 memorial by bryan washington enson and mike are two young guys who live together in houston. mike is a japanese american chef at a mexican restaurant and benson's a black day care teacher, and they've been together for a few years ~good years~ but now they're not sure why they're still a couple. there's the sex, sure, and the meals mike cooks for benson, and, well, they love each other. both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together, or fracture everything they've ever known. and just maybe they'll all be okay in the end. memorial is a funny and profound story about family in all its strange forms, joyful and hard-won vulnerability, becoming who you're supposed to be, and the limits of love.
it’s 90 degrees around here so fuck an oven, babe. we’re a fancy salad only house from now until october. lately we’ve been eating this amended serious eats niçoise because it’s tasty as hell and requires v little prep work? i love tinned fish (seriously, i am your dad) so this is my fucking jam but if you hate that don’t eat this.
for the delicious vinaigrette, the best fucking part of the salad, you need:
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 small clove garlic, minced (about teaspoon)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
4 cured anchovy fillets, oil-packed, minced (about ½ teaspoon)
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
to make it:
combine shallot, garlic, mustard, anchovies, vinegar, and water in a large bowl and whisk to combine. whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in olive oil. season to taste with salt and pepper. try not to lap it up straight from the bowl because it is so delicious.
for the salad, you need:
¾ pound waxy fingerling potatoes
½ medium onion
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic
½ cup kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1 pound string beans, preferably french haricots verts, trimmed
4 large eggs
½ pound ripe cherry tomatoes, halved (i omit these, i hate a gloopy tomato in my already wet salad, ugh)
10 anchovy fillets, oil-packed, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 can oil-packed bonito tuna, drained
¾ cup pitted small black olives, such as niçoise or taggiasca, drained (i hate olives, so i omit them, blechhh)
2 tablespoons drained brined capers
20 torn fresh basil leaves
3 ounces (about 4 cups???) lettuce greens
freshly ground black pepper
put it together:
1 in a large saucepan, cover potatoes with at least 2 inches of water then add onion, thyme, and garlic. stir in ½ cup salt until dissolved. set over medium-high heat and bring just to a simmer. lower heat to just barely below a simmer and cook until potatoes are easily pierced by a fork, about 10ish minutes? drain potatoes and set them aside.
2 their recipe says to cook the beans in batches then transfer them to an ice bath, but who the fuck are you making this for, your bad-ass kids? you ungrateful-ass man??? you better blanch those beans for 4 minutes then drain them and keep it pushing. an ice bath? in this economy????
3 hard boil your eggs! okay maybe this should’ve been step one? but we always have hard boiled eggs in the fridge so i didn’t think about it and i’m not moving this shit around. if we’re being completely honest i don’t even put eggs on mine, because i don’t want anything to clash with my fishy fish fish. but everything looks fancier with an egg on top, so hard boil your eggs, cool them, peel them, then slice them lengthwise like they do in france.
4 in a large bowl combine the potatoes, green beans, tomatoes (no), anchovy fillets, tuna, olives (double no), capers, basil, and lettuce greens. shake or whisk vinaigrette, then drizzle a small amount over ingredients in bowl, tossing gently with clean hands and adding more vinaigrette as needed until everything is lightly coated. season with salt and pepper. transfer salad to serving bowls and garnish with eggs if you’re into that, which i am not.
i haven’t been interested in anything other than reading books, buying giant bags of ice from the gas station for jalapeño margaritas, my increased lexapro dosage, watching the fugitive on repeat, and bracingly cold showers. if you’re having a bad day, try any of those things. or, preferably, all of them.