Some Books I Have Been Reading Lately

Daphne Carr
Pretty Hate Machine
192pp. Continuum. 9780826427892

Daphne Carr's entry in Continuum's 33 1/3 series is a wickedly smart and tremendously insightful look at Trent Reznor's first studio album as Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine. Carr's book contextualizes the ways in which Reznor's entire oeuvre became a vehicle for suburban angst and post-industrial Rust Belt disaffection, and her respect for the band's fans is as evident as her love of the band itself. (Or himself, I guess.) Carr combines biography, oral history, and music criticism to dissect what it is exactly that made NIN such a fucking great pop band.Even NIN's most ardent fans, the working-class white male Rust Belt fans whose oral histories make up the central section of the book, acknowledge there is something fundamentally adolescent about the band ("The lyrics aren't very good on paper," observes one subject of the oral history section; "...if you weren't familiar with the album, you would think some fourteen-year-old had written [them]"). But for all of Trent Reznor's palpable misogyny and dopey suburban-goth affectations of torment, he figured out how to translate directionless adolescent rage into the best dance party ever, and Daphne Carr's smart and often very funny (the chapter on the combined rise of Nine Inch Nails and Hot Topic alone is worth the price of admission) short book is both a fantastic piece of scholarship and a heartfelt but clear-eyed tribute to a band that is still one of my favorites.

Nicole J. Georges
Calling Dr. Laura
288pp. Mariner. 9780547615592

As a child, Nicole Georges was told that her father had died of colon cancer when she was a little girl. When she was twenty-three, a psychic told her that her father was very much alive. This wistful, funny, and well-drawn graphic memoir is the story of what happens next, covering coming out, crazy families, big and little secrets, lesbian processing, and the care and upkeep of urban chickens. Oh, and Dr. Laura Schlessinger.

Mimi Thi Nguyen

It is not really a secret that Mimi Thi Nguyen is one of the smartest human beings alive, and everything she writes is so brilliant and insightful and well-thought-out and deeply grounded in both lived experience and an encyclopedic knowledge of critical theory. Slander #8 packs a tremendous punch in just a few pages, covering punk rock, punk studies, the death of Ronald Reagan, and what is very likely the greatest movie ever made, Times Square. Slander #8 also includes Golnar Nikpour's pointed and super-smart review of White Riot: Punks and the Politics of Race. Mimi Thi Nguyen is a writer whose work makes me glad to live in the world just to see what she'll write next.

Mia McKenzie
The Summer We Got Free
242pp. Black Girl Dangerous Press. 9780988628601

In the 1950s, Ava Delaney was a precocious, fiercely talented, and wild young girl; by the 1970s, she's a broken-hearted shell of her former self, forever altered by a violent event that tore apart her family. Trapped in her childhood home with her mother, her father, her husband, her sister, and the ghost of her twin brother, she is a woman indifferent to the world around her. And then one day her husband's estranged sister, Helena, shows up on her front porch, and her world changes again. McKenzie's prose is so rich it's almost edible, and her polyphonic narrative masterfully weaves together the present and the past to create a tapestry of a book that's unputdownable.

Imogen Binnie
250pp. Topside Press. 9780983242239

Maria Griffiths is a young trans woman living in New York, internal-monologuing her way through a shitty retail job, a dead-end relationship, and her (often hilariously) punk ethos. When her girlfriend tells her over brunch that she's cheated on Maria, Maria's barely-held-together life falls apart completely, and so Maria steals her girlfriend's car and takes off on a cross-country bender. As one does. Maria is by turns hilarious and poignant, and her razor-sharp self-awareness keeps this sometimes deeply sad story from ever taking a turn for the maudlin. PLus: road trips, knuckle tattoos, car-hotboxing, and really excellent fashion.