Southwest Contemporary’s staff, Natalie Hegert, Steve Jansen, Angie Rizzo, and Lauren Tresp, pick their favorite reads—and one podcast—of 2022.
Over here at Southwest Contemporary, we somewhat pride ourselves on being a group of inquisitive minds, engaging not only in the arts but taking interest in a wide variety of topics and genres. In the holiday spirit of the year-end listicle, our staff members have put together some of their favorite reading picks—and one podcast—from the last year. If you feel inspired to read these books or others, we recommend shopping at your local bookstore or bookshop.org, an online retailer that lets you select a local bookstore to support with your purchases.
Steve Jansen, news editor
by Mieko Kawakami, Europa Editions, 2021
Japanese author Mieko Kawakami slims the scope of her acclaimed novel Breasts and Eggs and focuses on a teenage boy who bonds with a fellow mysterious loner over their shared experience of bullying. The 2021 English translation of Heaven is a depressing and touching story that doesn’t trivialize or romanticize adolescent violence. Somehow, through the two victims’ philosophical musings on abuse and loneliness, the book inspires strength through vulnerability.
Pity the Beast
by Robin McLean, And Other Stories, 2021
This book by Nevada-based writer Robin McLean was recommended to me by Southwest Contemporary contributor Brent Holmes and turns the so-called American West narrative upside-down and inside-out. McLean’s debut novel, a feminist revenge plot, makes dark and depraved souls feel whole and nurtured with its suspenseful gothic brutality.
DJ Screw: A Life in Slow Revolution
by Lance Scott Walker, University of Texas Press, 2022
This book is an intoxicating oral history (with both archival and new interviews) of the late Robert Earl Davis Jr., AKA DJ Screw, who popularized a chopped-and-screwed deejay and music-making technique in Houston that has influenced hip hop, electronic music, pop, and rhythm and blues.
Angie Rizzo, associate publisher + photo editor
A Children’s Bible
by Lydia Millet, W. W. Norton & Company, 2020
A Children’s Bible is an apocalyptic tale that grapples with climate change, privilege, and ambivalence through youthful eyes. The main characters are comprised of a gang of children and teenagers who step up in the wake of a climate disaster. Through their efforts, they begin to question the values of generations that came before them (i.e., their parents).
Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving What Isn’t Ours
by Sarah Sentilles, Random House, 2022
Sarah Sentilles’s memoir explores the concept of loving what is not yours through her experience navigating the foster care system. The writer makes parallels to her observations of examples of love and loss found in nature, which connect her complicated emotions to a larger ecosystem. This book is at once heart-wrenching and hopeful.
Natalie Hegert, arts editor
A Good Map of All Things: A Picaresque Novel
by Alberto Álvaro Rios, University of Arizona Press, 2020
A secret cow, also the town confidante. A competitive Lent, bested, ironically, by the man who “[gave] up the giving up of things.” The town doctor and the curandera, whose Western medicine and Indigenous remedies complement and enhance each other. These are a few of the picaresque stories from poet Alberto Álvaro Rios’s debut novel, all connected by place—a nameless northern Mexican town—and community. A charming read, filled with humor, eccentricity, and warmth.
Site Fidelity: Stories
by Claire Boyles, W. W. Norton & Company, 2021
A collection of short stories by Colorado-based author Claire Boyles, Site Fidelity begins with an ornithologist studying the tendency of birds to return to the same breeding grounds, or their “site fidelity,” and ends with a chicken farmer hiding free-range hens from a government inspector in the midst of a bird-flu epidemic. The stories, all grounded in the landscape of the Mountain West, center women’s narratives and explore their strong connections to land amid the precarity of the environment.
curated and edited by San Antonio-based Xicana feminist zine-maker and punk musician Daisy Salinas
Muchacha Fanzine is a zine featuring themes like environmental justice, collectivity, and Indigenous resistance, and showcases art, poetry, and essays from marginalized voices worldwide. Support them as a patron on their Patreon and receive a copy of the zine of your choice, a grip of guerrilla stickers and badges, and their e-newsletter, including pop-culture digests and incisive commentary on today’s social issues.
Lauren Tresp, publisher + editor
Death of an Artist
by Helen Molesworth, Pushkin Industries, Somethin’ Else, and Sony Entertainment, 2022
You would think the marriage of two of my favorite genres, true-crime reporting and art history, might have been a happier one. But Death of an Artist, a podcast by curator and former director of MOCA Los Angeles Helen Molesworth, was devastating. The series revisits the death of artist Ana Mendieta, who fell to her death from a thirty-fourth-floor window in New York in 1985, perhaps at the hands of her husband, sculptor, and “father of Minimalism” Carl Andre. Molesworth reports on Mendieta’s death and Andre’s trial (he was acquitted), delves into how these events divided the New York art world, and grapples with how this dark episode’s emanating ripples—including continued institutional support of Andre’s career—have yet to be reckoned with today.
Fire Season: Selected Essays 1984–2021
by Gary Indiana with an introduction by Christian Lorentzen, Seven Stories Press, 2022
Criticism becomes an art form in the hands of critic and novelist Gary Indiana—not only for his erudition but also his ability to smartly annihilate idiocy. (See, for instance, his infamous Harper’s takedown of Blake Gopnik’s biography Warhol, in which he refers to Gopnik’s writing as “squirmy, sophomoric prose that deadens everything it touches.”) This collection of thirty-plus reviews, essays, and travel stories spans topics from artists Barbara Kruger and Louise Bourgeois to Disneyland Paris, films by Pier Paolo Pasolini, and historical events such as the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. It’s an invigorating and delectable read, especially for lovers of art and language.