Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg is an essay collection by Emily Rapp Black that follows two female artists for whom “create or die” and “laugh or die” are important mottos. These artists, Frida Kahlo and Rapp Black herself, live through their share of heartache. They know that art is survival, especially after several “crucible experience[s].” For Kahlo: polio, a “philandering husband,” miscarriages, and a street car crash that is followed by thirty-two operations, including one that leaves her an amputee. For Rapp Black: five surgeries during her childhood (a birth defect requires that, at the age of four, her left leg be amputated), two divorces, and the loss of her first child—her nearly three-year-old son, Ronan—to a terminal illness, Tay Sachs disease.
This collection of microreviews is a little more eclectic than usual. But these books, which range from history to YA to literary fiction and beyond, share a common thread: the way they ask readers to see the world in new ways. These books offer fresh perspectives through reinvention and retelling, but also by simply narrating from points of view that are rarely heard or respected. This month’s books include a stunning queer retelling of the Peter Pan myth, a genre-bending memoir-cum-historical-treatise on slave revolts, a graphic novel for kids that tackles chronic illness, race, and Latinx culture, and much more. In each story, we are asked to reconsider our old ways of knowing, and make space for new narratives.
“When you don’t understand the meaning of something you read, whose fault is it? Yours or the writer’s? It has to be someone’s fault. Everything does. Anyway, I just ask because this is my book. Do you think I understand everything in this book? If I don’t, can you?” (Epigraph Footnote #4)
When members of a beehive are diseased—when their temperament changes or the queen is unable to lay eggs–– beekeepers use a practice called requeening, in which one queen is substituted for another to disrupt the current patterns in the hive and create new healthy patterns that will allow its members to grow and thrive. It is impossible not to notice the irony: the queen has an important role in keeping the hive actively developing and yet, once her “usefulness” has passed, she is discarded.
Everyone love a good puzzle–but in this collection of mysterious microreviews, there’s more to the story than just a carefully woven plot. These four titles take the mystery genre and use it to explore class, gender, race, and revolution. From a man who is searching for the literal woman of his dreams to the subtle tensions between two families–one Black and one white–in apocalyptic Long Island, these stories make you reconsider what the mystery novel can do.
My mother kept secrets and spoke to me in a kind of code. Nothing was straightforward. From childhood, I had to figure out how to read her mind, to intuit the contours of her reality. If I developed empathy, at first, it wasn’t so much a way to find a connection as a survival strategy. (xx)
Secrets, taboo topics, and mystifying family tensions set the stage for Sherry Turkle’s memoir, The Empathy Diaries. Her memoir is a transformational journey from an anxiety-infused childhood to an adulthood devoted to psychological insight and excellence in scholarship. Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Professor of Social Studies, Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her highly regarded books, especially Reclaiming the Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age and Alone Together, probe the psycho-social impact of the digital world.
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos (Carolrhoda Lab 2019)
Reviewed by Kathryn Leonard-Peck
In this hybrid review, Leonard-Peck combines poetry and critical reading to map the emotional landscape of this stunning YA novel, which as a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection and a 2018 New York Public Library Best Book for Teens. For more reviews that challenge the form, click here.
In this round of microreviews, we’re focusing on feelings, from one author’s illustrated year with Seasonal Affective Disorder to the complex emotions contained with three generations of an Indian family. These books focus on the emotional landscapes of their subjects–and ultimately advocate for a world in which art, and the complex experiences and emotions it evokes, is inherently valuable.