I enjoy fiction and nonfiction with clear and engaging language, but with a sense of strangeness beneath the surface. In fact, the more unsettling the story, the better! I enjoy tales of obsession and anxiety, and I prefer characters that feel flawed and honest over those that are admirable or inspiring. It's hard to sum up my taste in a couple of sentences, so please take a look at my staff picks below!
This is an ugly, pulpy, noir masterpiece, unrelenting in its violence, plot twists, and red herrings. All the delicious genre trappings, balanced with moments of searing psychological insight. In fact, these pages contain one of the most existentially terrifying scenes I've ever read. Thompson, whom I discovered through this novel, might be up there with my favorite crime/thriller writers: Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy B. Hughes. I'll be reading more of this prolific writer to find out.
“. . . I mourned not only for Japan. I mourned, I grieved, for landscapes with distinctive faces — faces marked by the singularity of their histories — that were vanishing moment by moment from the Earth.”
When Minae Mizumura was twelve years old her family moved from Japan to the United States. Twenty years later, after twenty years of an American education, she wants to write a novel — in Japanese. The “why” of this decision — Japanese rather than English — is the core of this brilliant auto-fiction, which was translated into English after 15 years.
I am gobsmacked by the brilliance of this novel, which is also the story of two sisters uprooted from their native land, and the story of race in America, written not with an American audience in mind — let alone a white one — but a Japanese audience. To get to read this in English is a privilege, and I’m still riding high from the experience.
Linda Ronstadt’s big, brown eyes beseeched me to pick this up-- admittedly, I hadn’t heard too much of her music-- and I’m so glad I did. Ronstadt is a down-to-earth tour guide through a long and diverse career, and along the way I got to eavesdrop lightly on the lives of musicians I admire, including Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, and Neil Young. (I say “lightly” because Ronstadt does not go too deeply into any one subject, or probe too intimately into any personal lives, including her own.)
This read led me to purchase a couple of her CDs, and now I am officially a fan of not only this cozy musical memoir, but of Linda’s lovely singing voice.
This story of a young woman’s courtship is very funny, until suddenly it is not. The 1949 film, The Heiress, is a wonderful and true adaptation, with the biggest difference being that it gives the characters orbiting the young woman, Catherine, some humanity. Washington Square, on the other hand, is almost grotesque in its sick comedy, and the characters orbiting Catherine began to feel to me like mutants. Doctor Sloper with his sarcasm, Mrs. Penniman with her meddling. Morris Townsend with his vanity-- all seem bent on destroying Catherine’s dignity with their careless idiocy, and in some ways they succeed. I laughed out loud at the schemes, speeches, and antics of these three characters, but the final chapters silenced me. This is a heartbreaking read, with a unique and quietly marvelous heroine at its center.
This is an intensely cerebral and elegant novel, with little action on the surface, propelled by an undercurrent of mystery, urgency, and rage that matches the inner tumult of its teenage narrator, Giovanna. It is a novel for obsessives, those who analyze and re-analyze, and are content never to reach ultimate conclusions. I followed Giovanna’s surprising thoughts and actions throughout, not sure where we were headed or why, and I closed the book feeling I’d read someone supremely whole and meaningful.
"Even Einstein wasn't an atheist . . . Now, he didn't believe in a god that was concerned with human behavior . . . "
That comment gave me a jolt when it showed up in "How to Make Love to a Physicist". It's an ingenious comment to include in the middle of a collection about a god who is VERY concerned with human behavior, in the middle of a collection about the mothers and grandmothers who enforce this god's petty will, and the daughters who suffer for it. The comment implies a new approach to living. It provides a moment's relief from the nosy, censorious god who unifies these stories and controls these lives (in particular, these sex lives). But this isn't the only bright spot in Philyaw's collection. Far from it. There is a coziness inherent in her sensual storytelling that made me live completely inside of her writing, that made it impossible to set the book aside. However heavy, reading these stories was pure pleasure. I'd finish one, and immediately need to start the next.
I have never read a writer so capable of transporting me to another city, another psyche, the way Dorothy B Hughes does. In her novel In a Lonely Place, she had me prowling around Los Angeles at night in the mind of a serial killer. I still think of those dark, twisted streets sometimes. I picked up The Expendable Man because I needed to get out of Tucson, get out of my own head, and I knew Hughes would deliver the goods. This time, I entered a mind plagued by an "innocent guilt." The guilt and fear and regret of a completely innocent man. Hugh Densmore. Not a killer at all. Just an upstanding man driving from Los Angeles to Phoenix for a family wedding, who makes what turns out to be a terrible mistake when he picks up a teenage girl on the desert road outside Indio . . .From the moment she gets in his car, the tension is at once breakneck and silently stifling -- excruciating, claustrophobic. But it's well worth the stress, to experience such literary magic.
This book is inspiring for kids + adults alike. All dancing is GREAT dancing-- as the book says: "Let it get weird."!! The last page sent little shimmies of delight through my bones!
White Ivy is a very modern novel -- that reads like the meatiest, yummiest 19th-century social striving EPIC. Like many a resourceful heroine before her, Ivy Lin uses her self-reliance and cunning to not only survive, but to set her sights on the very tippy-top of the social ladder. The top for Ivy is wealth, class, white America ... and something elusive she cannot quite pinpoint but that she senses in generic golden boy Gideon Speyer. This novel is ugly, brilliant, and assured, and it moves at an INSANELY entertaining clip.
You will glide through this beautifully written memoir about two aspiring young writers and their intense and complex friendship.
The Red Parts is both a contribution to and critique of the true crime genre. Maggie Nelson's prose is sharp and clean; her ability to interweave her aunt's murder, her father's death, her mother's grief, and her own turbulent romantic past into a narrative that is clear, intuitvely logical, and downright entertaining is a wonder. Nelson is honest. She is relentless with her questions, but would rather leave these questions unanswered than jump to shallow conclusions. The Red Parts is a contribution to what might be the most popular genre in America -- and yet it will be unlike anything you've ever read.
If I Had Your Face is a stunning portrait of four friends in modern day Seoul struggling to make ends meet in a society with an increasingly impossible standard of living. Its marriage of old world customs with K-pop surreality give it a speculative, otherworldly feel. And the advanced facial surgeries undertaken by some of the characters seem like something out of a sci-fi universe (they aren’t — these surgeries are real). I loved this strange, beautiful novel -- its characters; its straightforward, engaging prose; its (at times brutal) honesty -- and I hope Frances Cha finds the wide readership she deserves.
Well, I feel a bit Filthy now, because I've just engaged in some pretty petty celebrity gossip. And I feel Inspired, because I've just read one of the most creative approaches to biography likely in existence. And I feel Charmed: by Craig Brown's humor, self-effacement, and imagination. This book is just All The Things, and whether you care about Princess Margaret, or even know who she is, might be irrelevant. Though, I have to say, I do care NOW, because I've just seen 99 glimpses of her. [Glimpse being the key word. Says Brown: "Biography is at the mercy of information, and information about the Royal Family is seldom there when you want it. Or rather, there is a wealth of information, but most of it is window-dressing: the shop itself is shut, visible only through the front window, its private offices firmly under lock and key."]
Of all the Patricia Highsmith thrillers I've read, this one has the lowest body count. And yet, it is the most terrifying. Highsmith turns Edith's workaday, domestic reality into the stuff of nightmares. Her home is a horror-scape, her mind a twisted kind of refuge, but can this even be called a thriller? On the surface, little is happening. It is the slowest, slowest of burns. Each time you close the book, you'll turn away from Edith with feelings of pity and intense unease, and a strong desire to close your eyes to your own life's failings and regrets. These characters will be a long time leaving me. Actually, I think it's a masterpiece — if a bit of a nasty one — and for those who like to be unsettled it is a true pleasure to read.
I approached this book as someone with zero interest in the tech world, but no matter. It is a classic outsider-looking-in tale, and that will get me every time. Anna Wiener leaves the publishing world in New York to navigate— with dark humor, winning self-awareness, and seemingly incongruous sensitivity— Silicon Valley and Big Data. It is a memoir that strikes the perfect balance. There is enough of the narrator to give the book a stakes, and soul, but really her role is to guide us, the laymen, through a world we engage with every day, that collects data on us every day, but that we may barely understand, and may not have thought we cared to... Truly, Uncanny Valley is fascinating and alarming, and you should take the tour.
Read this, and you will learn so much — about American politics, Black activism, literary criticism, and one woman at the helm of it all in the 1950s and 60s. If you are like I was, anything you think you know about Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun is a flattened and incomplete portrait, stripped of the radical spirit that defined its author. Hansberry was an incredible person — the inspiration for Nina Simone's "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" and close confidante of James Baldwin — and Imani Perry captures her here with an elegant balance of a biographer's reserve and distance, and love.
Normally, I'm turned off by the use of second-person narration, but Heike Geissler uses it to entertaining and engaging effect! In Seasonal Associate she guides you — yes, you! — through a seasonal position at an Amazon warehouse, where, for a creative and sensitive soul like yourself, things are as bleak and existentially wretched as you might have guessed. The novel is set partly in Germany, partly in the homogenized setting of Capitalism, partly in Geissler's philosophical & sharp-witted mind. Truly, hers is a unique approach with great emotional depth and many musings on the nature of work, dignity, and mortality worth underlining. Experimental, yes, but not alienating. Quite the opposite!
A quiet novel, with a precision— towards language; towards the movements, habits, and emotional nuances of its characters— that I found utterly addicting. And, actually, it's very funny. The pages glide by.
Mitsuki Katsura is the self-proclaimed "offspring of a serial novel," and quite the fairy tale heroine for our day -- when money is more desired than Prince Charming. Inheritance from Mother is a measured and meditative study of the relationship between Mitsuki and her "outrageous" mother, Mitsuki and her "pampered" sister, Mitsuki and her "philandering" husband ... oh yes, and the relationship between Romance & Reality, East and West, the Old World and the New....
Well, gee. Who knew one woman's life could contain such incredible depth?
With its intricate plot, patient storytelling, and clever admixture of literary allusion, Inheritance from Mother, originally serialized in a Japanese newspaper in 2010, is a friggin masterpiece, and certainly up there with my favorite books of all time.
Basically, a masterpiece. One of those books that make you think "what's wrong with them? Why didn't they make us read THIS in school?" The saddest, strangest, most transcendent characters you'll ever meet, in the saddest, strangest, most transcendent setting. (And, bonus, the freshest take on baseball, especially the Negro Leagues, you'll ever read).
An invaluable portrait of a young woman's coming-of-age. Equally fascinating for what we now know of its critical reception 20 years ago. Joyce Maynard's 1998 memoir tells the story of how a teen girl with ambition and talent in the 1970s evolved as a writer over the course of decades— how her voice was shaped early on by the voice of her mother, then, later, by the voice of J.D. Salinger, with whom she had an intense emotional and sexual relationship. This memoir is clutch-to-your-chest Intimate. People and places come to absolute life on the page. It is relevant to the discussions we are having right now about gender and power. I also simply loved reading the story of a writer: from her first assignment, to her first book deal; through it all, seeing how her perspective shifts, her voice matures. Fortunately for us all, Maynard comes to the understanding that the story of her relationship with Salinger (a man 35 years her senior, and a powerful, cult-like figure in the literary world she hopes to occupy) is her story, too. In this memoir, she tells it.
State is an excellent work of women's history, sports journalism, and personal memoir. By its end, you will be convinced that basketball is everything. For Melissa Isaacson and her fellow high school teammates in the 1970s, basketball means the difference between living as a hapless "tomboy" and someone strong: an Athlete. Isaacson will make you feel the power of this distinction. A love-letter to team sports, while about so much more than "just" sports, I cried about seventeen times.
Such a Fun Age is a bright, fresh take on modern-day race and class relations in an American city, a take both deliciously entertaining and mercilessly cynical. The characters are at once so archetypal and so alive— their dialogue rings as true as if they were standing in the room with you— that this would make an excellent movie. It is already a movie in my mind (an Adam Driver/Justin Long mash-up plays Kelley). Such a Fun Age is that marvelous balance of fun and smart that makes you wonder why you'd ever bother reading a dull book in your life.
Mannered and fussy. Spooky and savage. Rebecca— a decadent, slow-burn Gothic from the 1930s— is not an eat-your-vegetables Classic. More like an eat-your-crimson-cherries-by-guttering-candlelight Classic. Eat it! I mean, Read it! It's delicious.
This intensely intimate work of nonfiction is comprised of three entertaining— yet often painful— portraits of three American women, who generously invited journalist Lisa Taddeo into the privacy of their romantic and sexual lives. Taddeo miraculously captures what is unique in each woman's voice, and yet it is her own voice— direct, engaging, nonjudgmental— that unifies this collection into something undeniably whole.
“Certainly, it’s good to have a premise of love.”
Strange Weather is a novel about two unlikely drinking buddies and the singular relationship that develops between them, both within and beyond Satoru’s Tokyo bar. This is a book that will engage all of your five senses - especially your palette - and make you wonder at how silliness and absurdity can squeeze your heart with such delicacy. In other words, read it to laugh, and to feel, and have some delicious cuisine — preferably Japanese — near at hand!
A hilarious (& sweet) emotional rollercoaster for Pigeon, who has to go to school— Relatable for any of us, at any age, who stress out when confronted with the unknown. You will love Pigeon & definitely laugh out loud!
Prince Bertram is BAD. He throws spiders in the soup! He breaks all his toys!
Don't worry. He gets in trouble.
You'll love this moral tale featuring a dragon, a witch, charming illustrations, and a sweet, but not cloying, message.
Pure fun. A total "beach read" of a novel, and I'd venture to say a pretty clever reimagining of Austen, too. I love Sittenfeld's writing, which propels me forward with delicious ease. Gossipy, frothy, and funny. Read this when you feel like relaxing.
I had tears standing in my eyes for practically the duration of this novel. Not because it's "sad" or "depressing," nothing as simple as that. (There is nothing simple about the infinitely complicated dilemmas these characters face). Just because it made me FEEL, constantly. Magnificent book, just beautiful.
This novel is Hip. Sally Rooney has written a fascinating and hugely entertaining social drama based in today's anti-establishment attitudes & advanced understanding of human sexuality. That's what makes her novel fun, and current. What makes this novel, I think, very, very brilliant is how it feels like a natural step in a timeless literary conversation about women's physical bodies and emotions ... I thought of lonesome and alienating Jean Rhys novels, I thought of the physical wretchedness of The Bell Jar, I thought of the claustrophobically intimate, "spinster-ish" Anita Brookner novels I so adore... I was reminded of all of this while reading something undeniably Now, undeniably fresh and unique and entertaining as hell. Very, very excellent. I finished it on 1st of March, but I already know it will be the best book I read this year.
Unique and meditative, full of sadness and love. For readers of all ages.
Gripping beginning, astounding ending. Compelling narrative voice throughout. I thought it was quite masterful, with a satisfying, moral gut-punch of a conclusion.
On the Come Up is a fantastic novel with entertaining, endearing and beautifully-drawn characters living in Garden Heights, the fictional neighborhood first introduced in Thomas's debut The Hate U Give. This novel explores similar themes of power, race, and self-expression, this time through Bri, an aspiring rapper and all-around cool teen. I loved Bri. Witnessing how she puts together rhymes, constructs music, and handles the misinterpretation of her words was compelling stuff -- and should especially appeal to aspiring writers and lovers of language. I cannot praise this novel enough. Better than The Hate U Give!
This was a beautiful, moving, stirring epic, about an immortal goddess who, in the thousands of years of her existence, faces many heartbreaks, triumphs, and very dull days, too. Reading the adventures of gods, monsters, and mortals— and learning the who’s-who of the heavenly realm— was a blast. But what I truly loved about this novel was Circe’s development from naive river nymph to self-possessed witch of Aiaia.
It might take an eternity of living to realize the loveliness of human mortality— Circe, in her eternal wisdom, had me convinced by the end of 400 pages.
I have zero interest in The Beatles, even less in tales of male bonding at sea. It’s a testament to this novel’s narration that I 100% loved this book. I’ll follow a compelling voice anywhere, and I followed Anton Winter, fictional son of a 1970s talk show host, to the Dakota Apartments in NYC, to Ted Kennedy’s campaign, John Lennon’s assassination, and broader explorations of fame, wealth, ambition, obsession, celebrity, and privacy. With warmth and casualness, Winter invited me into a glamorous and entertaining world, one I eagerly dived into every morning when I woke up. A treat to read!
I re-read Anne of Green Gables last winter and was struck all over again by Anne's magnificent imagination, intelligence, and bravery. Recent adaptations of the book have brought into starker focus the violence and trauma of Anne's past, but something else -- something fun -- that struck me as an adult reader is how hilarious this book is. The banter between Anne and her adoptive mother, Marilla, is comic gold.
An intelligent, elegant page-turner laced with a central mystery throughout – what happened between the narrator and her once-friend L.? French author de Vigan masterfully balances insights on writing, reading, and identity with a truly thrilling plot. I loved every line and would venture to call this a perfect novel.
Eileen immerses you completely in the perspective of its title character Eileen Dunlop, a prissy, perverse, socially-strange, and desperately lonely prison worker, who seems at once seventeen and sixty-five, but is, in fact, twenty-four. Loving Eileen the novel means loving Eileen the character, and I did. I found her both frightening and endearing. And Moshfegh’s incredible structure is such that interlaced within the bleak comedy of Eileen’s life is a sense of hope, and of mystery.
This is a story about the stories we write for women and girls -- stories of violence, abuse, victimhood, sex, and misconduct -- and how all stories, no matter how close they hope to get to the truth, are made up. When I started The Burning Girl, I was struck by how different it was from Messud's last book, The Woman Upstairs. Where that book is cynical and chic, this one is earnest and suburban, almost YA in its affect. But like Nora in that other book, Julia is an analytical, voyeuristic narrator, who desires to be seen, understood, and loved -- even while failing to fully see or understand the one she's fixed her own gaze on, her beloved Cassie.
This was my first novel by Baldwin, the book that introduced me to his incredible sensitivity and ability to take on multiple human perspectives. A gorgeous, moving soap opera of a novel set in New York City in the 1950s.
Shirley Jackson has a knack for turning domestic spaces into bizarre and wondrous realms. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle she creates an entire universe from the most domestic of spaces -- the kitchen. Literally an entire universe for the Blackwood sisters, whose dark past, fear of the outside, and simple self-sufficiency drive them to a smaller and smaller existence not only in their community, but in their own home.
I think it has a happy ending, but not everyone agrees. Judge for yourself.
This is a novel to be read with all of the attention and appreciation you might give to a particularly rich and expensive bonbon, placed whole on your tongue. It is a portrait of Isadora Duncan at a moment of specific loss -- a moment Amelia Gray has rendered with humor and tragedy, silliness and beautiful sentences.
A deliciously creepy novel – perfect for Halloween, or any time you’re looking for a spook – that dramatizes the ghastly consequences of eternal youth. Read this, be transported by a story like you haven’t been since you were a kid, and be glad the journey back to childhood goes no further than that…
Cake Time follows a young woman through her relationship history, from her teen years through her mid-30s, in an era of “hookups,” when no one is “settling down”. The main character serves as both participant in and witness to a bizarre – at times brutal –sexual landscape A risqué, honest book that manages to portray graphic sex in a way that never feels crass or indulgent – in part thanks to the book’s sensitive and insightful narrator, whom I loved.
The Door begins with a shocking confession of murder. Magda, a writer - and the narrator of this story - claims responsibility for the death of her housekeeper Emerence. The novel that follows isn't a traditionally plotted murder mystery, but instead a quiet and existential tale of mortality, guilt, and personal privacy. Fans of Ferrante's Neapolitan series will be drawn to the volatile yet deeply loving bond between Magda and Emerence.
Atmospheric and cerebral musings make up this melancholy and often humorous exploration of solitude. Pond's narrator is a woman with very specific ideas on how to arrange flaked almonds in a bowl of porridge, who throws a dinner party because she has "so many glasses after all." Set against the changing seasons of a small village in rural Ireland, Pond is a pleasurable meditation on the self at home.
I adore everything about this book, from the pretty cover and prim prose to the bizarre— yet infinitely reasonable— actions of Frieda and Christina. There is nothing precious about this portrait of two 20th century American women who follow their own self-created codes of living. These ladies are strange, hilarious, and— above all— dead serious.
In Williams's stories, young girls spout worldly wisdom while grown women languish in gin-soaked passivity. Everyone is distinctively dressed, and there is always food, but no one is ever eating. I can't quite sum up forty-six stories spanning an entire, brilliant career - I highly recommend reading them.
A warm, humane little book about the brutal coldness of bureaucracy. The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a stylish and witty celebration of love and family . . . and a frightening portrait of what happens to our skin and eyeballs when we are stranded in tiny rooms, in hateful jobs.
After Birth is at once an intimate and original tale of new motherhood, and a larger, highly vitriolic critique of the birth industry. It is an exploration, too, of the sometimes tragic failure of female friendship. Ari is a narrator full of rage - at times difficult to love, but always very, very funny and insightful.
Intense, and very moving. A Little Life is a fascinating contribution to the great epics of friendship, romance, and family. Very very dark, yes -- but also compassionate, earnest, and stylistically original.
Excellent, excellent, excellent. In The Story of A New Name, the stakes are raised on themes introduced in the first novel -- friendship, female agency, the acquisition of weath & power, creative endeavor -- yet the ever-forward momentum that made My Brilliant Friend so addicting never ceases. The relationships between characters old and new are, as ever, ever in flux, and increasinly complicated. Elena & Lila's worlds expand, yet their core concerns -- of friendship, romance, and personal striving -- remain.
Wow. People kept recommending Shirley Jackson to me, and I can see why. Here, the fantastical becomes the everyday, the everyday fantastical. Hilarious, often unsettling. A wonderful introduction to this important and prolific writer.
Lydia Davis is a master stylist. In Can't & Won't she has written strange, irreverent little tales honoring our everyday fears & anxieties.
What I love about working at Antigone is coming across an author like Liliana Heker, whom I never may have discovered otherwise. Please Talk to Me is a sampling of Heker's work published in her native Argentina between 1966 & 2011. This collection is rife with twists, existential insight, and some delightfully creepy -- yet sympathetic -- narrators. Each story is unlike the last. Highly recommended.
A series of vivid & terrifying images make up this tale of suburbia— Duplex is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Allow yourself to be swept up— lost, even— in the strangeness, and you will adore this novel as much as I did.
What can you say about a woman who won the Nobel Prize for her fiction? Just that, yes, you really should get around to reading her, because her stories are stranger and more unsettling that you might have imagined… And, of course, beautifully crafted. Fiction at its most empathetic and original.
I'll read almost anything with a pink cover. Usually it pays off, certainly in the case of this slim volume of stories by Danish writer Dorothe Nors. This collection contains psychological portraits of great depth and humor, with acts of violence and desperation so stealthily rendered you'll hardly realize they've crept upon you.
This compact novel features a dinner party hosted by an eccentric, a zombie apocalypse, and a complicated mother/son relationship. Sophisticated and ridiculous. Erudite and very funny. Cesar Aira is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors!