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6 books to read after 'Chain-Gang All-Stars,' according to author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

These books use fantastical elements to better understand the real world.
TODAY

“Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is the May 2023 Read With Jenna pick. In this dystopian novel set within a corrupt prison-turned-entertainment system, two women gladiators need to fight for their freedom in front of a live spectatorship.

While reading the work of speculative fiction, Adjei-Brenyah told TODAY he hopes to leave readers with a few questions about the real world.

“Number one: Are you OK with this? Do you think this is humane? Do you think that our current system is not cruel? Do you think it has efficacy or utility? Do you think it's fair? Can we do something better? Are you willing to imagine something better?”

Here are six books author Adjei-Brenyah recommends next, in conversation with the book's themes of systemic racism, futuristic innovations and the intersection between state and person.

"Mumbo Jumbo" by Ishmael Reed

In 1920s New York, a joyful, Black dance trend called Jes Grew is everywhere. The craze that’s sweeping the nation is irresistible - and in danger. Higher powers are trying to stop it and the people that carry it - Black artists and musicians. Described as “part vision, part satire, part farce” by the New York Times, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Ishmael Reed’s work of literature.

"We Do This 'Til We Free Us" by Mariame Kaba

This collection of stories and essays explores the themes of abolition, organizing and liberation. Author Mariame Kaba approaches the world with an attitude that change can happen, and that people can be a force for good. These stories search for alternatives to how we punish people, looks at how we hold people accountable and how we maintain hope.

"Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel follows Billy Pilgrim, who starts as a WWII draftee and is eventually abducted by aliens. Vonnegut wrote this after his own experiences as a prisoner of war, inspired by what he had seen himself within the destroyed German city of Dresden.

"Stories of Your Life" by Ted Chiang

“Stories of Your Life” is a collection of short stories, including one story that inspired the movie “Arrival.” Chiang’s award-winning speculative fiction work looks at how people react to change in their lives, usually in the form of technological innovations (but in one story, aliens).

"The Association of Small Bombs" by Karan Mahajan

A finalist for the National Book Award, “The Association of Small Bombs” follows two brothers in Delhi as they go to pick up their family TV at the repair shop with their friend Mansoor. When a devastating bomb goes off without warning, it takes the lives of the brothers. The rest of the novel follows Mansoor as he deals with the aftermath. The novel also looks at the story of a bomb maker, weaving his tale into the narrative, and exploring the effects of terrorism.

"Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" by Zz Packer

This collection of short stories takes readers all over the world, looking at characters who are trying to figure out where they belong in it. We meet a girl from the streets of Baltimore, who wants to experience the world she sees on TV, a Brownie troop of Black girls confronted by a troop of white girls, a starving group of drifters in Japan looking for work, and more.