3/22 Front Table Newsletter

March 22nd, 2024

On This Week's Front Table, journey into underground parties, pulsating with life and limitless possibility to unveil the unexpected revolution revitalizing urban nightlife; navigate the labyrinths of history, love, and ethics in a fractured American present; explore the astonishing science of bird life, an unexpected blueprint for muscular citizenship, powered by joy; and ask, when you have lived a life in flux, how do you find rest? Find these titles and more at semcoop.com.

You Get What You Pay For 
(One World) 
Morgan Parker 

Dubbed a voice of her generation, poet and writer Morgan Parker has spent much of her adulthood in therapy, trying to square the resonance of her writing with the alienation she feels in nearly every aspect of life, from her lifelong singleness to a battle with depression. She traces this loneliness to an inability to feel truly safe with others and a historic hyperawareness stemming from the effects of slavery. In a collection of essays as intimate as being in the room with Parker and her therapist, Parker examines America's cultural history and relationship to Black Americans through the ages. She touches on such topics as the ubiquity of beauty standards that exclude Black women, the implications of Bill Cosby's fall from grace in a culture predicated on acceptance through respectability, and the pitfalls of visibility as seen through the mischaracterizations of Serena Williams as alternately iconic and too ambitious. With piercing wit and incisive observations, You Get What You Pay For is ultimately a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness and its effects on mental well-being in America today. Weaving unflinching criticism with intimate anecdotes, this devastating memoir-in-essays paints a portrait of one Black woman's psyche--and of the writer's search to both tell the truth and deconstruct it.

Ghost Pains
(And Other Stories) 
Jessi Jezewska Stevens 

With her novels The Exhibition of Persephone Q and The Visitors, Jessi Jezewska Stevens has proven herself as our preeminent purveyor of comical, techno-millenarian unease. Now, with this first collection of her acclaimed short fiction--originally appearing in such venues as The Paris ReviewHarper's and Tin House--some of her very best work is at last readily available to readers. Stevens's women throw disastrous parties in the post-party era, flirt through landscapes of terror and war, and find themselves unrecognizable after waking up with old flames in new cities. They navigate the labyrinths of history, love, and ethics in a fractured American present, seeing first-hand how history influences the ways in which we care for--or neglect--one another. With each story exemplifying Stevens's ability to examine the big questions through the microscope of a shambolic human perspective, Ghost Pains is a triumphant statement of purpose from one of our greatest young writer-thinkers.

Long Live Queer Nightlife: How the Closing of Gay Bars Sparked a Revolution 
(Princeton University Press) 
Amin Ghaziani 

In this exhilarating journey into underground parties, pulsating with life and limitless possibility, acclaimed author Amin Ghaziani unveils the unexpected revolution revitalizing urban nightlife. Far from the gay bar with its largely white, gay male clientele, here is a dazzling scene of secret parties--club nights--wherein culture creatives, many of whom are queer, trans, and racial minorities, reclaim the night in the name of those too long left out. Episodic, nomadic, and radically inclusive, club nights are refashioning queer nightlife in boundlessly imaginative and powerfully defiant ways. Drawing on Ghaziani's immersive encounters at underground parties in London and more than one hundred riveting interviews with everyone from bar owners to party producers, revelers to rabble-rousers, Long Live Queer Nightlife showcases a spectacular, if seldom-seen, vision of a queer world shimmering with self-empowerment, inventiveness, and joy.

36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem 
Nam Le 

In his first international release since the award-winning, best-selling The Boat, Nam Le delivers a shot across the bow with a book-length poem that honors every convention of diasporic literature--in a virtuosic array of forms and registers--before shattering the form itself. In line with the works of Claudia Rankine, Cathy Park Hong, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, this book is an urgent, unsettling reckoning with identity--and the violence of identity. For Le, a Vietnamese refugee in the West, this means the assumed violence of racism, oppression, and historical trauma. But it also means the violence of that assumption. Of being always assumed to be outside one's home, country, culture, or language. And the complex violence--for the diasporic writer who wants to address any of this--of language itself. Making use of multiple tones, moods, masks, and camouflages, Le's poetic debut moves with unpredictable and destabilizing energy between the personal and the political. As self-indicting as it is scathing, hilarious as it is desperately moving, this is a singular, breakthrough book.

Birding to Change the World: A Memoir 
Trish O'Kane 

Trish O'Kane is an accidental ornithologist. In her nearly two decades writing about justice as an investigative journalist, she'd never paid attention to nature. But then Hurricane Katrine destroyed her New Orleans home, sending her into an emotional tailspin. Enter a scrappy cast of feathered characters--first a cardinal, urban parrots, and sparrows, then a catbird, owls, a bittern, and a woodcock--that cheered her up and showed her a new path. Inspired, O'Kane moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to pursue an environmental studies PhD. There she became a full-on bird obsessive--logging hours in a stunningly biodiverse urban park, filling field notebooks with bird doings and dramas, and teaching ornithology to college students and middle-school kids. When Warner Park--her daily birdwatching haven--was threatened with development, O'Kane and her neighbors mustered a mighty murmuration of nature lovers, young and old, to save the birds' homes. Through their efforts, she learned that once you get outside and look around, you're likely to fall in love with a furred or feathered creature--and find a flock of your own. In Birding to Change the World, O'Kane details the astonishing science of bird life, from migration and parenting to the territorial defense strategies that influenced her own activism. A warm and compelling weave of science and social engagement, this is the story of an improbably band of bird lovers who saved their park. And it is a blueprint for muscular citizenship, powered by joy.

The Varieties of Suicidal Experience: A New Theory of Suicidal Experience
(NYU Press) 
Thomas Joiner 

Mass shooters often display behaviors that strongly mirror the warning signs for suicide: lives led in isolation, intense personal suffering, disaffection, and struggle. Letters detailing why they did what they did paint pictures of intense misery and loneliness. As this book makes clear, private despair sometimes leads to social violence. In this groundbreaking work, Thomas Joiner offers a unified theory of suicide, making the case that many acts that appear homicidal are best understood primarily as suicidal. We must recognize that there are several forms of suicidal violence, some of which masquerade as other types of acts, including terrorism and murder. These include suicide-by-cop, suicide terrorism, murder-suicide, and running amok. Though there are obvious differences among these acts, Joiner argues that framing them as stemming from a common ideology of suicide is a crucial step in preventing these atrocities. By recognizing the desire to die--not to kill--as being at the heart of many of the acts of those who choose to kill their partner, shoot up their school, or terrorize their community, we can offer more effective measures of intervention. At a time when our nation is scrambling for solutions in the fight to end gun violence, this book presents a crucial component in the detection and treatment of unwell individuals.

The Moon That Turns You Back
Hala Alyan 

A diaspora of memories runs through this poetry collection--a multiplicity of voices, bodies, and houses hold archival material for one another, tracing paths between Brooklyn, Beirut, and Jerusalem. Boundaries and borders blur between space and time and poetic form--small banal moments of daily life live within geopolitical brutalities and, vice versa, the desire for stability lives in familiarity with displacement. These poems take stock of who and what can displace you from home and from your own body--and, conversely, the kind of resilience, tenacity, and love that can bring you back into yourself and into the context of past and future generations. Hala Alyan asks, What stops you from transforming into someone or something else? When you have lived a life in flux, how do you find rest?