The Grape‘s Winter Reading List

I asked the members of the Grape’s editorial staff to write a little blurb about the books they’re reading, the books they love, the books they recommend, and the books they want people to think they’ve read. Read up, fuckers! 

“God I Feel Modern Tonight,” a collection of poems by Catherine Cohen

I read it all in one sitting and then immediately started reading it again. It’s so unique and funny but also vulnerable. very ~of the times~. can’t recommend it enough. —Kate Ali, Visual Arts Editor

“The Garden of Forking Paths,” by Jorge Luis Borges

I’m finding myself with a pretty heavy workload this semester, and consequently very little time to dedicate towards much independent longform reading. To make up for this, I’ve spent most of my free minutes with short story collections. The best of these has undoubtedly been Jorge Luis Borges’s “Ficciones”, which- if you do have the time -I would encourage you to read in full. I don’t recall any being more than 15 pages in a length, but despite their brevity each is incredibly rich in not only its language (Borges strikes a perfect balance between academic investigation and poetry), and in its exploration of philosophical, religious, and literary  themes.

But if you really are strapped for time- I understand this completely -I would nonetheless suggest you find the least grade-impacting, most labor intensive assignment of your worst course, strike it from your schedule, and spend a good 45 minutes with arguably the best story of “Ficciones”, “the Garden of Forking Paths”. Although not as intellectually excellent, perhaps, as “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote”, or “The Library of Babel”, the garden reveals a compelling story of time that feels hypnagogic enough to be quintessentially Borges, though not so estranged from reality that an unfamiliar reader will find themselves lost in both his penchant for labyrinthian ideas and labyrinths themselves. It’s also easily accessible in PDF format via google search. —Joshua Bowen, Staff Writer

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

This was my favorite book of 2020. It follows the parallel stories of two sisters over the course of about forty years (1950s-90s). Desiree and Stella Vignes are born in a fictional town called Mallard that’s designed exclusively for light-skinned Black people. They run away at a young age, but are eventually separated. They build entirely different lives for themselves—one returns to Mallard with her daughter, the other secretly passes as white on the other side of the country. I loved this novel so much—it’s thrilling, completely immersive, and populated with fully realized, complicated characters (all of whom, even the most flawed, are treated with compassion and understanding). It also deals with issues of race, family, and trauma in really nuanced and inventive ways. I’d recommend it to anyone! —Nell Beck, Managing Editor

Nothing But the Music, by Thulani Davis

Thulani Davis wrote the introduction to Black Case, a collection of Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonist Joseph Jarman’s writings. Reading made me curious about what else she’d done, and it turned out the same publisher, Blank Forms Editions, was putting out a collection of her work. I pre ordered it and read it pretty quickly, it’s a very short book. People think of poetry as an abstract thing but all of her poetry immediately transports me to wherever she’s writing from. This is no small feat considering she was bearing witness to some of the most revolutionary Black art of that time, from Cecil Taylor to Bad Brains. The community aspect of the music is communicated really vividly, so considering how much I miss experiencing live music with other people, this book was much needed. I’d recommend this book to anyone and everyone. —Levi Dayan, Staff Writer

Poem and Songs, Leonard Cohen,  ed. Robert Faggen 

This book has become really important to me in the last few months. I have always been vaguely familiar with Leonard Cohen’s discography, but after reading this book of poems and songs, I discovered my fascination with his writings. I was so impressed with both the quantity and the quality of his work. This book contains one hundred and thirty eight poems, addressing themes ranging from the complexities that accompany a relationship to God, longing, lust, brokenness, betrayal. Cohen could write on a similar theme dozens of times, and still find a way to present a different perspective with each poem. I never get tired of this book! —Izzy Halloran, Staff Writer

Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo 

I read this book over break and it’s one of the best I’ve read in awhile. It follows the lives of 12 (or so) characters in the UK most of whom are Black or biracial as they grapple with their experiences of race, gender, and sexuality. Not only is the book incredibly well written and captivating as it paints the story of each character in exceptional detail, but it’s also super informative regarding the UK’s history and current racial and gender disparities. I had spent the summer reading a lot of scholarly and fiction pieces on race within the US but my knowledge of race relations abroad, particularly in the UK, was/is not nearly as informed and I found this book taught me a lot. The novel does a really fantastic job of seamlessly weaving the UK’s history into the characters’ narratives in a way that’s accessible, interesting, and appropriate to the storyline. I don’t know if this is necessarily a spoiler or not, but I think the best thing about this book is that it’s one of those in which the characters all end up being intertwined on some level. There’s nothing better than that. Anyways, really great book. I highly recommend it.—Maddie Shaw, Visual Arts Editor

Luster by Raven Leilani

I have nothing new to add to the conversation about this book and how good it is, but i will just say that i strongly agree with the many glowing reviews it received! If you haven’t heard of it, Luster is about Edie, a 23 year old Black woman who gets involved with a forty-something white guy in an open marriage. After she loses her shitty publishing job, she ends up living in his house with his wife and daughter, and things get really complicated! This book is so riveting and also bleak and uncomfortable and funny! Leilani really captures how Edie struggles to navigate the intersecting forces of capitalism, racism, and sexism, intergenerational trauma , and the sense of (pre-covid) doom and dread that is part of the millenial and gen z experience.—Zoe Jasper, Bad Habits Editor

Glitch Feminism, Legacy Russell 

Legacy Russell is an associate curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem. I really like this book because it deals with existentialism, perception, and identity in the digital world. She explores how social media even in the earliest stages (myspace, chat rooms, etc) allowed for Black queer and non-binary people to create space and new realities online that are otherwise not present in the real world! —Courtney Brown, Staff Artist

Neuromancer, William Gibson

Neuromancer is a ‘80s sci-fi novel about a computer hacker who’s tasked with infiltrating a computer system that contains a powerful AI. In many ways, though, the exact details of the plot—and it’s not a very good plot—are beside the point. Its value comes, I think, in how the future it imagines is both wildly speculative yet also very intimately related to our current lives as individuals enmeshed with technology. In the book, characters weave in and out of a virtual simulation of consciousness, implant themselves with prosthetic body enhancements, and go through life always connected to various data and algorithms. I picked this up at the library on a whim over break because I’ve heard so much about how it “offers a grim vision for the future” or whatever, but I think it’s much more of a diagnostic of our present reality: we’re already people that are heavily influenced by and entwined with the technologies we think of ourselves as distinct from. —Cameron Avery, Editor-in-Chief

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Hey guys! Priya here! I read this book recently and I found it fun to read. Mostly I read it in the living room but sometimes I read it in the bedroom as well (never in the dining room). I’d say I read it in the morning, but I have to admit that there were a few times when I picked it up in the afternoon. Just trying to be transparent with everyone about this.  It was a very quick read so just a few days of my life is when I was thinking about this book. Not many times since finishing it have I thought about it again. Thank you everyone for reading what I think about this one! Text me….I miss you….—Priya Banerjee, Staff Artist

Midnight Cowboy, by James Leo Herlihy

At the end of January, I decided to read the original novel the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy was adapted from as I had just finished Don DeLillo’s Underworld and needed something much lighter after that hefty book. The film has become one of my all time favorites, and thought it was only fitting to revisit the source material the 3 time oscar winner was based on. Turns out, the film is pretty close to the original text, but we do get to dive deeper into Joe and Ratso’s backgrounds, which added more to my viewing experience and appreciation for the film upon revisiting the movie after finishing the book!—Sam Blieden, staff writer

Utopia Avenue, by David Mitchell

Published in the memorable (or forgettable) summer of 2020, Utopia Avenue was a great quarantine read for me. If you’re at all interested in the music of the 1960s (and if you’re as intensely knowledgeable and curious about the finer details of the music and culture of this era as I am), then this is a great book for you. I’ll concede that some of the fictional songs Mitchell dreams up are a bit cheesy, but I think he does a nice job of letting you into the inner lives of what, in an alternate universe, could have been one of the great folk-psychedelic-blues-rock bands of the late ’60s.—Wyatt Camery, Staff Writer