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Four Books We Couldn't Put Down Last Month

Some recent faves, as recommended by the BuzzFeed Books newsletter.

Posted on December 9, 2019, at 10:35 a.m. ET

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Grove Press / Adam Shemper

Sarah M. Broom rarely references Hurricane Katrina by name in her bracing debut memoir about her family and the little yellow house they owned in New Orleans East. Instead she refers to Katrina as the Water, giving the hurricane — which killed more than a thousand people and displaced thousands more — an almost biblical weight. It’s fitting. Katrina was a life-altering event for her family; it created a Before and an After. Broom gives both of these halves equal weight in The Yellow House, starting with her grandmother, who was sent away to live in a boarding house in the early 1900s and continuing on until the present day. The youngest of 12 children, Broom excavates her family history, relying on interviews and historical records to create a compelling story about a black working-class family struggling to make ends meet.

Writing with extraordinary grace and thoughtfulness, she brings to vigorous life various members of her family — her fashionista sister, Lynette; her protective older brother, Carl; and her dainty mother, Ivory Mae. She also places her family history within the larger history of New Orleans, stripping the city of its mythos and thus making this memoir more ambitious, more definitive than most memoirs typically are.

“This is the place to which I belong,” Broom writes toward the end of the book, “but much of what is great and praised about the city comes at the expense of its native black people, who are, more often than not, underemployed, underpaid, sometimes suffocated by the mythology that hides the city’s dysfunction and hopelessness.” Get your copy now. —Tomi Obaro

“The internet was teeming with weirdos and extremists; I tried to keep up with most of them,” writes Andrew Marantz in his new book. The New Yorker staff writer has done more than keep up — since 2011 he’s capaciously chronicled a new generation of conservative extremists like Richard Spencer and the platforms like Reddit where their ideas have circulated. Now he’s assembled all the stories. And while Marantz occasionally traffics in condescension — bemoaning how little engagement an “intricate and poignant” New Yorker story receives on Facebook — the way he demonstrates how digital platforms helped inject far-right ideas into the center of American life is insightful. Especially useful is how he grounds his account in a wide range of philosophical works, showing, for instance, how the same group of continental thinkers like French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan inspired both BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti and right-wing blogger Mike Cernovich. “The postmodernists seemed to be arguing that there was no single, absolute truth,” writes Marantz about the origins of the insight that whoever garners the most pageviews wins. Built for lighter fare, the viral delivery system was also staggeringly effective at spreading alt-right ideas. It’s a sobering reminder, even if Marantz’s ultimate suggestion — to develop a new moral vocabulary to change the American conversation — seems a little thinly sketched. Get your copy now. — Scott Lucas

In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

Graywolf Press / Art Streiber

When I first read Carmen Maria Machado’s 2016 short story collection Her Body and Other Parties, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I foisted copies on friends and raved about its feminist, surrealist horror to anyone who would listen. Though Machado’s newest book, In the Dream House, is a memoir, it is a continuation of her signature fusion of folklore, gothic tropes, true crime, and the horrors of reality — this time, her own.

Told in fragments, vignettes, and shifting timelines, In the Dream House is Machado’s account of a dream relationship turned impossibly dark, devolving into gaslighting and domestic abuse. Machado’s never-named former lover is referred to only as The Woman in the Dream House, whose intense fixation on Machado brings both heaven and hell. Having spent a lifetime feeling at times marginalized and ostracized by her body, sexuality, and ethnic identity, Machado is intoxicated by the idea of being wanted and falls hard for The Woman in the Dream House.

Like the opening scenes of a horror film in which the happy family is blissfully unaware of the nightmare ahead, the shiny promises of the Dream House soon turn sinister as the woman within it reveals her true self. Machado leans into the tension and mounting dread by zigzagging through the timeline of her relationship like a shadowy haunted house, the ghosts of her relationship slowly making themselves known in short, discursive chapters.

Even when the truth of her experience finally comes out, Machado struggles to be believed, much less sympathized with, as a victim of abuse. She wonders whether her suffering would be more easily believed if she were a white woman, if her abuser were a man, if she bore the more visible hallmarks of abuse. Most of all, though, she still stings from the idea that her relationship with The Woman in the Dream House turned into a nightmare: “The whole world was out to get you both. You grieve from the betrayal.” Get your copy now. —Olivia Niland

Feed by Tommy Pico

Tin House / Niqui Carter

The poet Tommy Pico has published four poetry collections since 2016, each revolving around his alter ego Teebs, a junk food–loving, anonymous sex–having, queer indigenous guy (he's Kumeyaay) who grew up on a reservation near San Diego. Feed is his last entry and it’s as hilarious, moving, and irreverent as Pico’s other works. Opining in the casual, abbreviation-filled lingua franca of the text or the DM, Teebs is on book tour now, possibly depressed, pontificating on pop culture, cracking jokes (“Avoid making stupid thyme puns like thyme after thyme, or thyme is / on my side”) while also grappling with the influx of sobering news stories; they literally interrupt his train of thought on the page: “The problem / was people / GUNMAN FIRES INTO OKLAHOMA CITY RESTAURANT.”

Food is a constant recurring theme, both his love for it — “the basics are my revelation. / The andouille sausage, the bacon/ tips, the ham hock, the scallions" — and his complicated relationship with the cuisine of his people, irrevocably altered by colonization: “If the dish is, ‘subjugate an indigenous population,’ here’s an / ingredient of the roux: alienate us from our traditional ways of / gathering and cooking food.”

And he circles back over and over again to why he writes poetry. It saves him: “Poems light up corridors of the mind.” Get your copy now. —Tomi Obaro

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