Beck's Staff Picks
'The way you live your life in our culture, without apology or shame, even if with sadness, makes you extraordinary and special, Nahr.'
Perhaps the most compelling figure I've encountered in literary fiction, Nahr—a Palestinian woman reflecting on her life from an Israeli prison—is neither a political mastermind nor swept up without agency, and her relationships with the women in her life are, for me, the beating heart of this story. The heavy sexual violence—much of which happens on the page—is modulated by moments of cathartic beauty and joy.
A passionate exploration of family and indigeneity, and a devastating indictment of patriarchy and settler colonialism.
I have long lamented not having truly loved a novel since Severance, so when I opened Luster for the first time, in the permanently mildewed bathtub of my 250 sq ft apartment, I knew: I need to read more books about the millennial condition. Just, only when they're like, this good.
This is a book about power. Race and sex and taboo and softness and desire. It is a thrilling, hot, deeply uncomfortable mess. 10/10.
The premise of Migrations dangled in front of me like the tastiest bait—an unreliable narrator, the inherent tension of the sea, a fool's errand to Antarctica, the birds, the birds—but ultimately, it was the sad, exquisite prose that swallowed me whole. A cold, lonely novel, absolutely wild with grief. Charlotte McConaghy has broken my heart. I'd let her again.
As a girl child who grew up reading The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Truth, A Song of Ice and Fire, et al. (c'mon, couldn't someone have slipped me Earthsea?!), Samantha Shannon's The Priory of the Orange Tree is the most beautiful gift—a sweeping high fantasy replete with magic and dragons and court intrigue and queer women at the center of it all. And you think that's exciting? It's an 800+ page standalone.
Some books break your heart, and some carefully reassemble it in their home workshop, piece by piece. Bursting with love for all creatures, a little spooky, and with beautiful LGBTQ+ rep (Snap's BFF comes out as a trans girl over the course of the story, and the old witch in the woods is queer, duh), Snapdragon is a remarkably wholesome, multigenerational story with a sweet, sweet ending that had me crying in the best way.
At the center of this tale is a drowned child, pulled from the river's icy waters and pronounced dead, until she miraculously awakens. It's the late 19th century, and the girl won't speak, so it's left to the cast of fascinating characters—from the scientifically-minded local nurse, to a couple grieving the disappearance of their own young daughter, to the River Thames itself—to make sense of who she is and how she survived, through religion, folklore, and emerging science. A quiet, atmospheric thriller that feels equally at home on a lazy weekend curled up with a cup of tea, and at 2am saying "just one more chapter."
N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy is set on an alternate earth called the "Stillness," where society is structured around surviving catastrophic climate events—earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes—and a deep hatred for Orogenes, individuals with the supernatural ability to control and manipulate geo-energy. This is epic sci-fi world building, profoundly informed by racial injustice and climate change, written by a Black woman. This is some god tier shit.
Severance, by Ling Ma, is a dark, deeply unnerving horror-satire with strong anti-capitalist currents. Set in present-day New York City, Candace Chen—a millennial working for a Bible production company—reflects on her past and present as Shen Fever devastates the city & the world beyond, turning the "fevered" into walking corpses doomed to endlessly cycle through their repetitive, menial tasks and lives until they rot. If you love Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam Trilogy and feeling ALL the stomach churning feels, this book is for YOU.
The deadpan, misandrist thriller of my dreams. Set in Nigeria, this debut novel moves at a breakneck clip as it explores the rivalry and bond of two sisters—Ayoola (who keeps murdering her boyfriends) and Korede (who keeps cleaning up the bodies)—and their distinct ways of navigating a deeply patriarchal society with a shared history of abuse at the hands of men.
I've seen this book summed up as "Harry Potter, if written by Leo Tolstoy" and y'all: so here for it. The Institute is no Hogwarts. On Sacco and Vanzetti Street, the mundanities of college life mix with flashes of deep undercurrents of magic—presented as a fascinating and miserable combination of metaphysics, mania, and delusion—in a way that borders on psychological horror. Fans of Russian literature, dark fantasy, and people who are really into that nagging feeling that there's a bunch of symbolism going right over their head (me, I'm talking about me) are all in for a treat.