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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Recommendations from the staff at Seven Stories Press

For this episode of our self-titled Staff Picks Comeback Tour, all of our book recommendations (where possible*) link directly to our comrades at East Bay Booksellers. Next month, we'll link to another independent bookstore. And the next month, and the month after that. Perhaps until the end of time. 

We miss our bookstore friends so, so much, and we can't wait to see you soon.

*Where it's not available, we link to either Alibris or the book's publisher. 

 Can't and Won't: Stories Cover Image
Can't and Won't: Stories by Lydia Davis

Like everyone else, I've had a pretty bad week. The anniversary of COVID hitting NYC (and, well, the whole country — and world) has brought up a lot of terrible memories (are they memories if they're still technically happening?) and I really needed some literary candy. Enter Can't and Won't, a collection of stories mostly ranging from a paragraph to a few pages in length. This is my first rodeo with Lydia Davis, and it's been a total treat. Here are a few shorter ones that I especially enjoyed:

This morning, the bowl of hot cooked cornmeal, set under a transparent plate and left there, has covered the underside of the plate with droplets of condensation: it, too, is taking action in its own little way.

The Language of the Telephone Company
"The trouble you reported recently
is now working properly."

Wrong Thank-You in Theater
At the back of the auditorium, as the theater fills for the event, I stand up from my seat to let a woman get past me to her seat in the row.
"Thanks," she says.
"Mmm-hmm!" I say in acknowlegement.
But I have misunderstood. She was not thanking me, she was thanking the usher, who is standing a few feet behind me.
"No, I meant her," she says, without looking at me.
She just wanted to make that clear.


Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness Cover Image
Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne

In Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness, Simone Browne traces the history of surveillance of Black bodies beginning with chapters analyzing the horror of slave ships, the plight of fugitive slaves, and what happens when she files Freedom of Information Act requests for files on Frantz Fanon. She later investigates the experience of Black women going through airport security, the work of contemporary artists, and examples of “racialized surveillance” in popular culture from the actor Will Smith to the television show South Park. Browne also provides a new vocabulary for surveillance studies, and one of the phrases I learned from the book is her notion of “dark sousveillance” which draws from engineering professor Steven Mann’s term sousveillance—an inversion of the power structure inherent in the term surveillance in terms of who is watching who. A really interesting and important book that I hope to incorporate into my library school studies.


The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself Cover Image
The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Saint Teresa of Ávila

I read this sixteenth century autobiography as a coming-of-age novel that traces the growth of the spirit, not the body. There is a difference, “A child that has grown up and whose body has formed does not shrink and become small again. But this may, by the Lord’s will, happen to the soul.” She undergoes two return journeys, one to regain innocence and the other to return home. The autobiography begins and ends with an image of her as a child, one is a memory and the other an illusion of herself in heaven. The linear chronology of the autobiography becomes circular as the genre shifts to fiction, the protagonist imagines her afterlife. Obstructing the transition into adulthood by entry into the monastery allowed the mystic to develop a writing practice by escaping the responsibilities of women of her time.


Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone Cover Image
Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone by Sarah Jaffe

I recently picked up Sarah Jaffe's Work Won't Love You Back despite being on a self-imposed book-buying hiatus because I was too impatient to wait for a library copy. Sarah writes about the "labor of love myth" and the idea that if you "do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life," and how this affects workers in all industries, from the "coffee connoisseur" barista to the underpaid beat journalist. I still haven't finished it yet because I'm taking so many notes, and it's especially when reading alongside Marx's Capital, which I'm doing for a book club. It's extra relevant as the pandemic still rages on and the concept and boundaries of the office have changed the way we work and we're all just living from work now. 


Minari dir. and written by Isaac Lee Chung

I watched Minari one evening last week over a slightly-sodden plate of take-out nachos—to be fair, the restaurant warned me of the nachos' vulnerability to wetness, but sometimes the heart wants what it wants. Much more nuanced and delicately handled than my craving for cheese, Minari tells a story of yearning and family through director Isaac Lee Chung's semi-autobiographical tale of a Korean family who moves to Arkansas farmland to shape their own American Dream. The father tries to grow and sell Korean vegetables while he and his wife spend the days sexing baby chicks and caring for their children, one of whom has a heart condition. It's one of those movies whose plot fans itself out into innumerable branches, and I found myself worrying over each potential turn as it stacked concern after concern. I frantically downed nachos and asked questions of the TV screen, my own skepticism of the American Dream as a child of immigrants (as well as my stubborn optimism) only amplifying my anxieties. An exploration into religion, migration, and of hearts simply wanting what they want, Minari felt unfinished for me, but in the best way: it's a movie that I have to return to, to take in after having worried and asked so many questions. Now knowing how it ends, I need to go back to sate my own curiosity for the answers. So let me know if you watch it too—perhaps I'll join you! The music was also so beautiful, and that's always a winning point for me too.

(And if you just want a quick and tender cry, watch Minari actor Alan S. Kim's acceptance speech at the Critics' Choice Awards for Best Young Actor. He played the family's little son and it is the sweetest thing in the world.)


We Do This 'til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice Cover Image
We Do This ’Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba

When this book made The NY Times bestseller list on the week of its publication, my excitement didn’t just come from it receiving well-deserved attention but rather from the fact that thousands of people were taking seriously and critically thinking about abolition. Kaba’s collection of essays, interviews, and transcribed speeches is essential reading for everyone. While many knew before the uprisings in 2020, last summer made it abundantly clear that the police do not keep us safe and that we must radically reimagine our world and its institutions. This requires us to redefine safety, to build community, and to commit to the well-being and protection of ourselves and each other. It requires us to defund the police and invest in free healthcare, housing, education, childcare, rehabilitation and other life-affirming structures rather than invest in reforming violent, anti-Black, death-making institutions such as the police and prisons. Thoughtful, hopeful, inspiring, and deeply moving, Mariame Kaba deftly argues that abolition is not just necessary—it’s possible.


Moscow Stations Cover Image
Moscow Stations by Venedikt Erofeev

First circulated by hand among samizdat circles during the 1970s and 80s in Soviet Russia, Moscow Stations is a vodka-soaked perversion of the train novel. As soon as the hapless Venya steps onboard a train traveling from Moscow to Petushki, the peaceful village where his partner and child await him, he begins drinking himself into a stupor. What first begins as a dark, comical reflection on his past drunken escapades slowly unravels as Venya travels from station to station—blind drunk, his grip on reality loosening, he's no longer sure if he's headed home...


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