Off the Shelf: Looking backwards, looking forwards, and just looking for good stuff to read

Our revamped reading column has got your free time on lock.


Forsaken by Ross Howell, Jr.

In April 1912, Virginia Christian, a teenaged Black maid, is on trial for killing her older, widowed, and White employer. By 1917, Virginia Christian would become the first and only juvenile female executed in an electric chair in Virginia history. In Forsaken, Ross Howell, Jr. delves into this bleak moment in history through the fictionalized narrator of Charles Mears. A young white reporter working his first murder case, Mears soon begins to realize scope of the rampant and destructive racism around him. To facilitate change, he begins to pursue controversial news stories, and soon his own life becomes threatened. The vital importance of historical fiction shines forth in Howell’s take on this moment in our history–we must see the past in order to see the present. Deep wounds, and the complex gauze we spin around them, deserve our attention and hard work to create much needed healing and change. Ross Howell, Jr. will be reading at Chop Suey Books on May 11th at 6:00 PM with Kristen Gree1n.

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Prince Edward county

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County by Kristen Green

If you haven’t read this history book meets memoir by beloved local author Kristen Green yet, it’s probably because the waitlist at the library is still too long or the fact that you prefer the pliability and softness of a paperback book. Luckily for you, Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County was just released in paperback! In 1959, following the landmark court case, Brown v. Board of Education, Prince Edward County Schools decided to shut down their public school system instead of integrating their classrooms. Black children and poor White children were left without accessible education while wealthier white students went to the newly formed private school Prince Edward Academy. Green dives into this dark moment in her hometown’s history, giving voice to the repercussions of this decision while also exploring her family’s own difficult legacy within this moment. Repeat: we must see the past in order to see the present. So go get your easy to carry and comfortable to hold paperback, read it, talk about it, and pass it on. Kristen Green will be at Chop Suey Books on May 11th at 6:00 PM with Ross Howell, Jr.

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Patient right off Amelia Street.

Patient right off Amelia Street.

Patient by Bettina Judd

In this collection of poetry, Bettina Judd explores medical history and her own experience as a patient to unravel the trauma put upon the bodies of Black women. She gives voice to Anarcha Westcott, Betsey Harris, Lucy Zimmerman, Joice Heth, Saartjie Baartman, Henrietta Lacks, and Esmin Green–all Black women poked, prodded, abused, and/or ignored by the medical industry. Her poems confront the horrors of procedure, of mistreatment, of death, and, ultimately, Judd creates a space both of and for healing.

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The Weight of Things in Maymont's Japanese garden.

The Weight of Things in Maymont’s Japanese garden.

The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz

In postwar Austria, Berta must face the loss of her first lover, the scorn of her older sister, the distance of her husband, and the ceaseless needs of her two children. This domestic drama quickly evolves into a quick-witted horror story as Berta experiences severe nightmares that merge into reality. (Think The Yellow Wallpaper meets The Turn of the Screw.) This slim first novel of Marianne Fritz examines how the tragedy of the Great War impacted both a nation and its individuals. Fritz herself is a fascinating experimental writer lost in the land of the untranslatable and, perhaps, denied her due by gendered concepts of “genius.” Thanks to Dorothy, a publishing project, we all now have the good fortune of reading this delightfully terrifying and deeply thought-provoking tale.

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All the Birds in the Sky at Shields Lake.

All the Birds in the Sky at Shields Lake.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Are you anxiously scouring the internet for any progress on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman or American Gods actually coming to the big (or small) screen as soon as possible? Even sooner than that? Charlie Anders’s science fiction-fantasy mash up is the perfect salve for your anxiety. As an editor at io9, Anders deftly handles this genre with a fresh contemporary spin. Two middle school outcasts, Patricia and Laurence, bond over, well, being outcasts. They learn they each have a secret skill–Patricia is a witch who can talk to animals and Laurence is a tech genius with a time machine wristwatch. Fate tears them apart, but then throws them back together in a very hip San Francisco. Just as they become friends again, earthquakes and floods begin to tear the earth apart at the seams. Patricia and Laurence are forced to let their moral views collide at the literal end of the world. It’s a rollicking journey and a tear-inducing ending. After this read, you will look at your dating apps differently, find yourself having a weird soft spot for professional assassins, be (more) worried about climate change, and feel a whole new anxiety wondering when Anders’s next book is coming out.

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Julie Glover

Julie spends every day surrounded by books and cats. She’s fairly convinced her life is a dream, and she’s always accepting book recommendations to add to her ever-growing to-read pile.

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