This fall, Jesmyn Ward followed up her 2011 National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones with Men We Reaped, a poignant memoir in which she reflects upon the untimely deaths of five men in her life over the course of five years. Our reviewer calls the book—which came in at #4 in our list of the Best Books of 2013"searingly honest and brutal." (Read our full review here.) We were curious about the books Ward has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites. She graciously agreed, sharing four recommendations, in fact:

sonofgunSON OF A GUN By Justin St. Germain

Justin St. Germain’s memoir Son of a Gun has stuck with me like few other books this year. He and I have both written about our losses, to understand them better, and so others will, too. Although the circumstances are quite different, we bonded over these shared experiences. Justin tragically lost his mother to murder, in 2001, just after the World Trade Centers came down. She was shot by Justin’s step-father, his mother’s fifth husband.  I remember that time clearly: a whole nation suffering from grief. I had recently lost my brother, so spent those days doubly reeling, as did Justin. We both began our books as Stegner Fellows and spent time talking about how to approach these challenging topics. Son of a Gun is not a who-done-it, and it’s more than simply a memoir of loss, although that would be enough. Justin looks at the wider context of guns and violence in the United States, particularly in the West, where he’s from. And he examines the terrible plight of women who are victims of domestic violence. In his careful telling, Justin helps us all understand not only his mother but the culture of violence that leads to stories like these.

thrallTHRALL: POEMS By Natasha Trethewey

I am a new mother and I teach, so poetry, which I’ve always loved, has real appeal for pleasure reading. Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall is among my recent favorites. Natasha was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, not far from where I grew up, and she and I have tread some similar terrain in our work, too, about race and history, complicated family, the South, but she does it with so much elegance! Her use of imagery, the precision and grace of her language, the overall craft of her work. She is rightly our Poet Laureate.


howtoslowlykillyourselfHOW TO SLOWLY KILL YOURSELF AND OTHERS IN AMERICA and LONG DIVISION By Kiese Laymon When I first read one of Kiese Laymon's essays, I was actually working on my memoir. I was stuck. I'd been fighting the memoir for months, writing it bit by slow bit, and then I read one of Laymon's essays from his collection, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and everything about my process changed. Suddenly, I didn't feel cowed or intimidated by the material that I was writing about. I saw truth and honesty and bold brilliance in what Kiese had written, and suddenly I was hungry to do that on the page again, to shine light on the grinding, relentless truths I saw and make them real for the reader. I wanted to make my reader feel as I'd felt when I read Laymon's work: vulnerable, awed, in love. longdivisionHis novel, Long Division, which came out earlier this year, made me feel the same. It follows a smart, funny boy named City south to Mississippi, and then that City finds another boy named City in a book, and then Kiese turns the world on its head. His novel does all the things his nonfiction does: it pinions the South and the country, merciless in its attention and its beauty, and amazes and seduces the reader all at once. I recommend and love his work. What do you think, readers? Will you be adding any of Ward’s recommendations to your TBR list? Check out all of our Best Books of 2013 coverage right here!

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