Top Ten Nonlocal Books of 2015

1. Maggie Nelson, "The Argonauts" (Graywolf Press) Part love poem, lit-theory crash course, and parenting guide, this memoir embraces fluidity and queerness along with Maggie Nelson's desire to exemplify—to the fullest extent—her identities as a lover, writer, and mother. When her partner Harry Dodge decided to start testosterone therapy, she was, at first, nervous about how it would change him (or their relationship), but she realized that this change is necessary for Harry. Then there were the challenges when Nelson was trying to get pregnant, as well as her anxiety about losing her sense of self once she became a mother. Carefully weaving in ideas from Lacan, Lorde, Barthes, Butler, and many others (and citing them in the margins), she builds out another aspect of her life—as a writer—and applies their theories to her life. Far from being any kind of guide to queerness (that would be impossible, given how open the word "queer" is, plus Nelson vehemently opposes speaking for anyone but herself), "The Argonauts" shows that "structure" and "stability" don't have to come from our identities, but from our love for and dedication to the people and things around us that matter. (Rebekah Kirkman)

2. Renata Adler, "After the Tall Timber: Collected Nonfiction" (New York Review Books) Former New Yorker staff writer Renata Adler had a much-belated Moment a few years ago when New York Review Books reprinted her elliptical novels. Now NYRB has done the even greater service of compiling her straightforward reportage and essays. "After the Tall Timber" displays the best of her contrarian, often bloody-minded intellect on subjects ranging from the Supreme Court to the movies, including her epic takedown of film-crit godhead Pauline Kael. Even more compelling, it captures Adler's gimlet-eyed accounts of the march to Selma, an African famine, and genial Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy's book tour. Expect the unexpected take. (Lee Gardner)

3. Jabari Asim, "Only the Strong" (Agate Bolden) Set in St. Louis in the years following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and the subsequent riots, though not strictly St. Louis, but rather, a kind of tweaked, toyed-around-with, and hyper-realized version called Gateway City—not unlike David Simon's collage of fact, fiction, and myth that makes up the Baltimore of "The Wire"—Jabari Asim cribs moves from Harlem Renaissance literature, folk tales, soul music, and noir and mixes them with the visceral, gutbucket snap and verve of street fiction, echoing everything from Donald Goines to James Joyce to Richard Price to Curtis Mayfield as he tells the story of three African-Americans between worlds and in transition: Guts Tolliver, former organized crime heavy trying to reform; Ananias Goode, a crime boss who wants to turn into a legit entrepreneur; and Charlotte Divine, an A-student type confronted with the complexities of young love and the whirl of ideas stemming from black power. Read this plain-spoken, sprawling historical novel before it gets turned into the next hyper-compelling HBO mini-series or a Small Press Expo-premiering graphic novel or a soul-jazz rap epic or something, who knows. This novel feels huge. (Brandon Soderberg)

4. Mary Gaitskill, "The Mare" (Pantheon) Mary Gaitskill slices into the female psyche like a surgeon exploring the body. Here she applies that incisive mind to understanding an abusive, Dominican single mom trying to raise her kids in Brooklyn, her 11-year-old daughter Velveteen, who finds out she may be a natural equestrian during a summer program upstate, and the couple Velveteen lives with during that time, a middle-aged academic and his recovering alcoholic wife. Yes, it's a riff on the adolescent girl comes of age via her relationship to a horse à la Enid Bagnold's "National Velvet," only Gaitskill's calm sentences shudder with fearless psychological complexity. (Bret McCabe)

5. William Finnegan, "Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life" (Penguin Press) Don't drop into "Barbarian Days" expecting a surf memoir full of sunny, hang-loose ruminations about tasty waves. Journalist William Finnegan's account lavishes detail on his exotic littoral adventures, which literally circled the globe, but it also serves as his book-length interrogation of why he has always felt compelled to ride waves, from his unsettled childhood to his headstrong young adulthood and on up to an age where his body begins to fight back against the rigors and dangers of his lifelong passion. Never sentimental, Finnegan's book should resonate with anyone who's ever grappled with an obsession, questioning it even as it gives your life shape. (LG)

6. Robin James, "Resilience & Melancholy: Pop Music, Feminism, Neoliberalism" (Zero Books) The rise-and-fall histrionics of electronic-infused pop music (all derived from dubstep's "the drop") correlate to the up-and-down insanity of late capitalism, the never-ending demands on women musicians and women in general, and the shallow rewards women receive via entry-level acceptance by patriarchy, says Robin James in this brilliant, bonkers book. As she explains early on, "Resilience discourse is what ties contemporary pop music aesthetics to neoliberal capitalism and racism/sexism." Then, she explores this idea through the work of pop stars (and smash-it-all techno punks Atari Teenage Riot) and the ways in which their works combat, confound, and yet feed what James calls "MRWaSP" ("multi-racial white supremacist patriarchy"). There's a lot going on for sure, but James takes dubstep-tinged production and EDM-infused pop music seriously, which is nice, and she's great at articulating complex concepts in just a few sentences. The best chapter focuses on Rihanna and specifically the critiques she received when following the rather public abuse she endured from Chris Brown, RiRi, our pop hero of #DGAF, didn't pen the soaring "fuck you" that capitalism demands—that is to say, she didn't render herself resilient and therefore useful to a common narrative of being a "strong" money-generating citizen—but rather deigned to focus on the messy, in between the melancholy. (BS)

7. Neil Gaiman, "Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances" (William Morrow) It's hard to say what one thing Neil Gaiman, known for his "The Sandman" comic book series and modern mythology "American Gods," does best because he does a lot of things well including world-building, parable-writing, dark humor, and more. In the collection "Trigger Warnings," Gaiman serves up a heart-warming tribute to Ray Bradbury, creates a new Sherlock Holmes tale, and takes on the "Doctor Who" universe. These stories are eerie and chilling at times and funny and thought-provoking as you might expect, but they are also diverse and eclectic that so if one doesn't grab you, just wait and the next will. (Athena Towery)

8. David Graeber, "The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy" (Melville House Books) Graeber, the anthropologist and activist whose "Debt: The First 5,000 Years" delivered a doorstop meditation on money, turns his mercurially incisive eye on bureaucracies in this book. Where "Debt" was a wide-ranging critique of economics' relationship to state power, "Utopia" is more a freewheeling exploration of neoliberal power's influence on social organization. Graeber mines the ever-evolving merging of corporate and state authority to show how the everyday paperwork processes we might take for granted as citizens of modern, 21st-century countries have deeply colored our political imaginations of what government should and shouldn't be able to do. (BM)

9. Jessica Hopper, "The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic" (Featherproof Books) In this collection of writing culled from big-deal music magazines and websites along with zines and blogs, music writer Jessica Hopper explores topics as dense as the misogyny inherent in emo (an essay that has spread across Tumblr over the past few years), Miley Cyrus ("what is there to 'review' when it comes to a Miley Cyrus album?" it begins), selling out, and recent knotty hip-hop sensations such as Chief Keef and Kendrick Lamar, among other things. Hopper does not suffer fools, especially if said fool is a self-satisfied music bro, but she's also one of most unencumbered and honest music writers around: A terse celebration of Van Morrison begins, "When the chasm of human experience feels unbridgeable . . ." which just like, wow; an essay about Dinosaur Jr. explores listening to music to impress boys (you impress them by letting them blather on and on and being mostly silent) and dovetails nicely with an inspiring piece on Bikini Kill. (BS)

10. Kim Kardashian, "Selfish" (Rizzoli) This reasonably priced, nicely designed collection of Kim Kardashian's selfies over the years could've, had its publisher Rizzoli chosen to go with, say, a more "tasteful" font for some of Kim's notes, received rapturous high-art praise (from someone other than Jerry Saltz, that is) or at least some pretension points, but it's all the better for falling in this strange interzone of self-help, art book, and totes unnecessary vanity project. Not that there's anything wrong with vanity, as the book's winking title already suggests while also unspooling a millennial brand of honesty that stands up to misogynist expectations for what constitutes "vanity." Consider a series of nude selfies which, Kardashian explains, are included in the book mostly because they were part of an iCloud hack and put on the internet—it is a brash way to reclaim your narrative and, um, your private fucking photos. "Selfish" is a 448-page hardback thesis on why and how the selfie is empowering and political and hey, as someone frequently outside of KK's core fan base but who is wracked with body-image issues and depending on the day, wish I were dead instead or a woman or just a brain in a jar, it's a book that is as inspiring for its ability to boost one's confidence as it is for the way it trolls art coffee-table-book culture. (BS)

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