I adore Janelle Monae's musical career but I didn't know what to expect in her first novel. I enjoyed The Memory Librarian immensely. Her vision is speculative, rooted in science fiction, but it is also hopeful.
The beating heart of The Memory Librarian is an exploration of technology and artificial intelligence as limitations on individual bodies and as liberation from governmental bodies. Co-written with celebrated and emerging black novelists, in the titular story as well as the four other connected tales that follow, Monae challenges the notion of "dirty" and "deviance" and "abnormal". She gives space to the "othered" and offers a vision of found family--places that are built by community and dreams alike, full of artists and creators and healers and humans who need space to be, just as they are.
These stories are a beautiful and haunting peak into life in New Orleans. These are mostly character driven stories with some exceptional flash fiction pieces. So many of these characters have stuck with me. A must read if you love short stories.
Abdurraqib masterly balances the informational and the personal in this exploration of black performance from the vaudevillian-turned-spy Josephine Baker to the vulnerability of Wu-Tang Clan to poem-like entries "On Times I Have Forced Myself to Dance." (Did you know, even after singing about wanting to dance with somebody, Whitney Houston couldn't really dance? Check out the 1988 Grammy's.) Anyway, check this out if you want a beautifully entertaining book on entertainment.
I'll admit, before this book, I couldn't name one song by A Tribe Called Quest. Abdurraqib writes something and I read it, simple as that. Just like with his other work, he comes at Go Ahead in the Rain (a song by A Tribe Called Quest) wanting to geek out and back it up with a well-researched history. My favorite parts were, varied within the timeline of their illustrious career, Abdurraqib's personal letters to Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali that read equally like letters to friends and to great influences. The cover really says it all.