|"The books that stay nearest to me are the ones that make me feel with a particular force. I grew up reading high fantasy, and now spend most of my time nestled around fiction, both long and short, that draws me both deeper into myself and further out into the world beyond me. Genre-busting essays and criticism also fire me up."|
Between Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, a poet named Ben navigates health scares, the prospect of fatherhood, and a few other quotidian existential crises. That’s the essence of the plot, but the essence of this invigorating novel is really everything that’s happening underneath, betwixt and between, inside. Lerner masterfully takes up the tools of autofiction to access his narrator’s mind—a mind that’s haunted by the legacy of Walt Whitman, by the inescapable truths of living within global capitalism, by compulsive dreams of an unknowable, brighter future. This is a book that makes you want to read more deeply, write more ambitiously, see more critically, think more generously, and live more dynamically.
In the heart of the jungle, in 17th-century Brazil, a Jesuit priest strives to keep his true identity hidden from the next wave of colonizers, until one of his slaves—whose own power is far greater than meets the eye—collapses the distance between them. This is but one of the historical re-imaginings Keene presents in this inventive book of (sometimes not so) short fiction. His settings range up and down the Americas, and stretch back to the times when this continent was first deemed a New World. Keene uses forms of primary text to wrench in reverse a critical gaze we only seem comfortable using in the present; he reminds us that questions of race and sexuality, power and memory, have always been urgent.
Do you like Cormac McCarthy? That’s to ask, do you enjoy desolation evoked in a mythic past and projected onto an inhospitable near-future? Then, boy, do I have a book of poetry for you. (For example: “Hear hovercrafts fizz along glass tunnels / rockets zip through skies like darning needles / do we possibly have such endless fuel, / why look at these pelicans.”) Split into a triptych—one part speaking from the West, another from industrialized China, the last from a vision of our technocratic tomorrow—Hong’s poems contain lucid narratives built from crystalline images, themselves just magnified and interpreted snippets of life. Hong’s language will enthrall you, then leave you thrumming with the unspoken range of humankind’s potential.
Nearing the end of his life, Reverend John Ames sits down to record everything his young son might ever need to know in adulthood. He writes the history of their hometown, Gilead, Iowa, and of their forebears, in turn evoking all the noble contradictions of this resonant strain of American heartland. Ames also tries to reckon with his regrets, which are tied to the very things around which he built his life: faith and community, friends and family. The result is an epistolary novel that the 2005 Pulitzer committee described as “a hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that Reverend Ames loves passionately.” More simply, this book might just be as close as we get to grace incarnate.
A dear friend recently read me my horoscope for the first time—sun and moon signs, ascendant and all. The last time I’d felt so seen, as the kids say, was when I ripped through the fifth book of this middle-aged Norwegian man’s six-part autobiographical novel. To find the universal in our personal particular is a project everybody shares, and I don’t know of another book that fulfills this mission so consistently. My Struggle repays your time and energy (yes, it’s a worthwhile slog) with comprehensive knowledge of two people: the author and yourself. Book 1 covers the author’s tempestuous relationship with his father, culminating in an indelible postmortem scene; Book 2 is about marriage, fatherhood, and divorce; Book 3 covers Knausgård’s early childhood, Book 4 his adolescence; Book 5 spans his years as a reckless student and struggling writer; in Book 6 he looks back on it all.
This book is daring and intelligent and generous—adjectives that also encapsulate Shields as a writer. Through a barrage of personal essays and vignettes of repurposed material, divided across five sections—Men, Women, Athletes, Performers, Alter Egos—Shields asks himself many hard questions that our culture is just beginning to consider. This is a consistently fun read, heady but rooted in popular culture. Particular gems include Shields’ correspondence with his father and an old girlfriend, a quote-collage on the subject of tattooed NBA players, and a study of Bill Murray’s role in the culture. A great read for fans of Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror who also have an appetite for lyric essay.
A memoir-of-sorts that elicited as many out-loud laughs as it did wistful smiles. (Don’t just take my word for it: Steve Martin called this “the funniest book” he has ever read.) Dyer writes of his writer’s block as he halfheartedly (read: quarter-heartedly) works on his biography of D.H. Lawrence, the writer who made him want to write. As Dyer trudges after Lawrence’s ghost, from Paris to Sicily to the dreary English countryside, we learn as much about the would-be biographer as we do about his tricky subject.
Written with an acute sensitivity for calamity at the individual scale, just as the Greek economy began to collapse at the start of the decade, this short story collection foregrounds the working class of the Athenian port of Piraeus. Although Ikonomou’s characters’ lives are bleak—and they are brutally bleak, ordered around a basic hopelessness that the author exposes to the bone—that doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful, or unworthy of study.
Ditto Mia's Recommendation!