What did we read in the Obama era? Christian Lorentzen has some answers. Apart from individual books like The Flamethrowers and The Art of Fielding, he comes up with some genres that have dominated the past eight years, including autofiction, works of trauma and fables of meritocracy. (You can probably guess where Leaving the Atocha Station ends up.)
This morning, the longlist for the 2015 IMPAC Dublin award came out, and the nominees include some familiar names. Year in Reading alum Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah is on there, as is Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane (reviewed here by our own Tess Malone), Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch (which won this year's Pulitzer) and The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (whom you can learn more about in this essay by our own Bill Morris).
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for March. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. The Goldfinch 6 months 2. 2. Selected Stories 6 months 3. 3. The Flamethrowers 6 months 4. 4. The Luminaries 6 months 5. 5. Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment 6 months 6. 6. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose 4 months 7. 8. The Lowland 6 months 8. 10. Just Kids 3 months 9. - Beautiful Ruins 1 months 10. - The Circle 1 month The first six spots in the March Top Ten are unchanged from February, and only two newcomers — Beautiful Ruins and The Circle — managed to crack this month's list. Their arrival was made possible by the ascension of Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings and Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge to the hallowed ground of our Millions Hall of Fame. It may come as a surprise to faithful Millions readers that this is the first time Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins has made our Top Ten. First published in 2012, Walter's novel has been a mainstay in our Year in Reading series ever since. First came the estimable trio of Emma Straub, Roxane Gay, and Robert Birnbaum, who by turns referred to the book as "precise, skilled, quick-witted, and warm-hearted," "one of my favorite books of the year," and "especially special." More recently, Kate Milliken commented on how it seems the entire world has read the book already, and that she was late to the party when she got to it in 2013. Of course, that didn't stop her from diving in, later confirming what others have said all along: "Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is indeed bumpin’." (If you still need more convincing, then know this: the book is on its way to the big screen, too.) On the other hand, Dave Eggers's The Circle has hovered outside of the Top Ten ever since Lydia Kiesling identified it as "occup[ying] an awkward place of satire and self-importance." It wasn't the most positive review she's written, but it wasn't altogether negative, either: "There are noble impulses behind this novel — to prophesy, to warn, and to entertain — and it basically delivers on these fronts." And if nothing else, Kiesling notes that the book provides a reliable glossary of "awful techno-cum-Landmark Forum-cum-HR-cum-feelings-speak," which should prove useful for anyone hoping to understand the language of blog posts on TechCrunch, ValleyWag, and other sites devoted to the latest digital secretions from Silicon Valley. Stay tuned next month for the likely graduation of six titles to our Millions Hall of Fame. Which books will take their places? Will surprises emerge? As with March Madness, the only certainty is uncertainty, so we'll have to wait and see. Near Misses: Eleanor & Park, Bark: Stories, The Son, The Unwinding, Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction's Most Beloved Heroines, and The Good Lord Bird. See Also: Last month's list.
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for February. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. The Goldfinch 5 months 2. 2. Selected Stories 5 months 3. 3. The Flamethrowers 5 months 4. 4. The Luminaries 5 months 5. 6. Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment 5 months 6. 5. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose 3 months 7. 9. The Interestings 6 months 8. 8. The Lowland 5 months 9. 7. Bleeding Edge 6 months 10. 10. Just Kids 2 month No new titles were added to this month's Top Ten, and the four books in the top spots held onto their exact positions from last January. That's to be expected, I suppose, considering the fact that The Goldfinch is everywhere these days, and was also the subject of Claire Cameron's recent Millions piece, "How to Tweet Like Boris from The Goldfinch." Meanwhile, Alice Munro continues to ride her rightfully-deserved wave of post-Nobel Prize publicity, and her Selected Stories held onto her second-place spot in our list as a result. Still, it may behoove some readers to check out Munro's other works in the coming months, and for guidance in that department, look no further than Ben Dolnick's classic, "Beginner’s Guide to Alice Munro." In the event that you've exhausted her bibliography, or you're simply bitten by Maple Fever following Canada's hockey sweep in the Sochi Olympics, you might also want to check out Michael Bourne's essential "Beginner’s Guide to Canadian Lit." (The cure for Maple Fever, incidentally, is a serving of Timbits from any Tim Horton's establishment.) Another item of interest for avid Top Ten fans is the recent debut of Paper Monument's Draw it With Your Eyes Closed supplemental website of the same name, which was developed to “expand on the previously published content, allowing a broader range of teachers, students, and artists to access, share, and contribute to the project.” Rounding out this month's near misses is Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, which surely blipped onto some readers' radars after being nominated for the The L.A. Times Book Prize a few weeks back. That Prize will be awarded on April 11. Ozeki's novel was also featured prominently in our recent comparison of U.S. Vs. U.K. book covers. Lastly, I'd like to take this moment to announce that I'll be taking the Top Ten reins from now on. My hope is that I can use my experience with the Curiosities blog to supplement each month's list with as much recent news about the books as possible. See you in a few weeks! Near Misses: The Circle, Eleanor & Park, The Son, The Unwinding, and A Tale for the Time Being. See Also: Last month's list.
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for January. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. The Goldfinch 4 months 2. 2. Selected Stories 4 months 3. 3. The Flamethrowers 4 months 4. 4. The Luminaries 4 months 5. 6. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose 4 months 6. 7. Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment 2 months 7. 8. Bleeding Edge 5 months 8. 9. The Lowland 4 months 9. 10. The Interestings 5 months 10. - Just Kids 1 month Two books graduated to our Hall of Fame in January. We're very proud to bestow the honor on our ebook original The Pioneer Detectives by Konstantin Kakaes. The book, which debuted in July 2013, is an ambitious work of page-turning reportage, the kind of journalism we all crave but that can often be hard to find. Filled with brilliant insights into how scientific discoveries are made and expertly edited by our own Garth Hallberg, The Pioneer Detectives is a bargain at $2.99. We hope you’ll pick it up if you haven't already. Pioneer is joined in the Hall of Fame by another ebook orginal, George Saunders's $0.99 short story Fox 8, which returned to our Top 10 for a seventh month in January after missing the list in December and therefore qualifies for the Hall. Other than that, the list is positively gridlocked with several books staying put, including Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch atop the list. Our lone debut is unexepected: Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids. The National Book award-winning title has been popular among our readers for quite a while and was a "Near Miss" for several months on our list as recently as March 2011. The book likely got a boost thanks to Garth's mention in his Year in Reading in December. Incidentally, this also means that with the exception of Thomas Pynchon and the group-authored Draw it With Your Eyes Closed, our list is made up entirely of books by women. Near Misses: The Circle, Eleanor & Park, The Son, Night Film, and Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction's Most Beloved Heroines. See Also: Last month's list.
As we've done for several years now, we thought it might be fun to compare the U.S. and U.K. book cover designs of this year's Morning News Tournament of Books contenders. Book cover art is an interesting element of the literary world -- sometimes fixated upon, sometimes ignored -- but, as readers, we are undoubtedly swayed by the little billboard that is the cover of every book we read. And, while some of us no longer do all of our reading on physical books with physical covers, those same cover images now beckon us from their grids in the various online bookstores. From my days as a bookseller, when import titles would sometimes find their way into our store, I've always found it especially interesting that the U.K. and U.S. covers often differ from one another. This would seem to suggest that certain layouts and imagery will better appeal to readers on one side of the Atlantic rather than the other. These differences are especially striking when we look at the covers side by side. The American covers are on the left, and the UK are on the right. Your equally inexpert analysis is encouraged in the comments. So this is interesting. It would seem that us American readers require more orbs to get us interested in a novel of Victorian scope and heft. I like the slightly more subtle U.K. look The U.S. version is a little dull though it has a pleasing spareness to it and I like the vintage botanical illustration thing going on there. I far prefer it to the U.K. cover. I get that there's a handmade motif happening but the colors are jarring to my eye. I don't think you would ever see a cover that looks so "genre" on a literary novel in the U.S., and it kind of makes sense with Hamid's self-help-inflected title and the "Filthy Rich" in a giant font. The U.S. cover is aggressively boring. Both are bold, but I prefer the U.S. cover. The burnt tablecloth is a more original image than the lobster. I suspect I may be in the minority here, but I prefer the U.S. cover which seems to bank on the Lahiri name, rather than the U.K., edition which seems to telegraph the subcontinental content. Neither of these seems to be exerting much effort to break out of the Western-genre tradition, but the U.S. version's painterly affect at least gives it a little intrigue. At first glance, both of these appear to be going for the creative use of classic Asian motifs, but the British cover is actually pretty wild, using something called "Blippar technology" to produce an animated effect when you look at it with a smartphone. So, points for innovation in book cover design. Both of these are pretty great, but I love the U.S. cover. It's clever to have a YA book with a cover that looks drawn by the hand of a precocious teen. It kind of reminds me of the similar design philosophy of the 2007 movie Juno. Drawings inspired by vintage botany texts must be in this year. Here we have two different versions of the same idea, but the U.S. take is more lush and interesting. Atkinson is a superstar in the U.K. (as opposed to merely having legions of devoted fans in the U.S.) so that may account for the foregrounding of her name on the U.K. cover. Regardless, the U.S. look is far more intriguing. The Flamethrowers unaccountably didn't get a Tournament bid, but it should have, so we'll include it here, especially because it's a great example of some seriously bold cover design going on on both sides of the pond.
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for December. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 6. The Goldfinch 3 months 2. 1. Selected Stories 3 months 3. 2. The Flamethrowers 3 months 4. 5. The Luminaries 3 months 5. 3. The Pioneer Detectives 6 months 6. 7. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose 3 months 7. - Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment 1 month 8. 9. Bleeding Edge 4 months 9. 10. The Lowland 3 months 10. - The Interestings 4 months To start the new year, we've made some minor changes to how we calculate our list. Basically, we've added a slight penalty for lower-priced books because we were finding that spikes in sales of cheaper short-format books (e.g. "Kindle Singles") and aggressive promotional pricing of ebooks was skewing the list a bit. The change had no dramatic impact on the December list other than that it knocked George Saunders's $0.99 short story Fox 8 out of our top 10. The rest of the big changes were driven by our 2013 Year in Reading. Some books that were already popular with our readers got a lot of love in the series, including Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch which surged into the top spot after three contributors named the book as a favorite read of 2013. Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings was also a popular name in the series, and that helped return the book to the Top Ten after a few months off the list. Rachel Kushner was the runaway favorite in our series for The Flamethrowers, though the book dropped a spot to number three. Our lone debut is a very unusual title. Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment is a slim collection, the result of several art teachers being asked to contribute the best art assignments they've ever heard of. Hannah Gersen included the book in her list of offbeat gifts for writers last month. Finally, the contentious Taipei by Tao Lin graduates to our Hall of Fame. The book was the subject of a famously negative review here that perhaps not so paradoxically seemed to get a lot of people interested in the book. Near Misses: The Circle, Night Film, Eleanor & Park, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, and MaddAddam. See Also: Last month's list.
Another year has flown by and so has another Year In Reading. We thank everyone who participated and all who read and shared these wonderful pieces in our series. While we trimmed our contributor list slightly this year, they shared their thoughts on more books than our participants did a year ago. 2013 brought 68 participants (down from 74 participants in 2012) sharing 350 different books (up from 289 a year ago). We're happy to note that 11 of those authors highlighted in our series also submitted their own pieces in the series. The books selected run the gamut from nonfiction to poetry, short stories, essays, fiction, and even a zine and an interactive story. The oldest books selected were Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey by Kristopher Jansma. These slightly beat out (by a century or two) Michael Robbins's selection of Confucius's Analects. The youngest author selected was Gabby Bess. Her book Alone with Other People was one of several selected by Roxane Gay. Bess was born in 1992. This beats out the next-youngest author, Eleanor Catton (b. 1985), whose Booker-winning The Luminaries was a selection of both Garth Risk Hallberg and Janice Clark, by quite a bit. Finally, seven books were named by three or more Year In Reading participants, and six of those seven books were written by women. Rachel Kushner was the runaway favorite for her book The Flamethrowers, getting six mentions (picked by Garth Risk Hallberg, David Gilbert, Matt Bell, Bill Morris, Adam Wilson, and Elliott Holt.) Dave Eggers's The Circle was picked by Choire Sicha, Hannah Gersen, and Tess Malone. Alissa Nutting's Tampa was picked by Roxane Gay, Matt Bell, and Charles Blackstone. Renata Adler's Speedboat was selected by David Gilbert, Matt Bell, and Emily St. John Mandel. Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow was picked by Sergio De La Pava, Rachel Kushner, and Teddy Wayne. Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings was chosen by three staffers: Hannah Gersen, Edan Lepucki, and Janet Potter. And Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch was picked by Benjamin Percy, Edan Lepucki, and Janice Clark. We hope you enjoyed we had on offer this month, and we’ll see you again next year. P.S. Special thank yous are due to Ujala Sehgal and Adam Boretz, our tireless editors, who prepared every last one of our Year in Reading entries for publication. Also very deserving of thanks are Tess Malone and Thom Beckwith, both of whom have helped spread the word about our biggest Year and Reading to date, and to Nick Moran who oversaw their efforts and compiled the stats I used to write this very round-up. Thank you to our staff writers, whose pieces were some of the highlights of the series and who did wonderful work for us throughout 2013. And of course, thanks to all of you, our readers, and to all a Happy New Year! More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
I’ve always liked books about drugs; they’re a good substitute for drugs. This year I read Michael Clune’s White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, a memoir that reads like a lost modernist novel -- James Joyce as a junkie in modern day Baltimore. James Frey eat your heart out. I finally got around to reading Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose books. There was a lot of noise about the cycle’s most recent installment, At Last, but I preferred the earlier, druggier Bad News, a comic masterpiece about an upper class British twit trying to score heroin in 1990s New York that calls to mind one of the all-time great novels of excess, Martin Amis’s Money. Sam Lipsyte has always written wonderfully about substance abuse -- see his early story “Cremains,” in which a man mixes his mother’s ashes with morphine and injects them into his arm -- and his new collection The Fun Parts is no exception. Not all the stories are about drugs though, and my favorites cover fresh ground, from drone invasions to high school shot put competitions. No matter the subject, Lipsyte wins with his swervy sentences that can carry a reader from pants-pissing laughter to pants-shitting pathos in a just couple of comma-hinged clauses. Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers is like a drug cocktail -- equal parts Dexedrine and Viagra -- with its disarmingly brilliant depiction of woman named Reno who rides motorcycles, men, and the icy waves of the New York art world. Lots of praise has been heaped upon this novel, and, unlike most bags of overpriced cocaine, it actually lives up to the hype. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my father’s book, Kick and Run, a lovely and haunting memoir about his life as a soccer fan, player, journalist, and coach. The book begins with my father getting injured falling out of bed while scoring prescription drug-inspired goals in his middle-aged fever dreams, and also includes useful ruminations on the problem of playing soccer stoned -- sometimes the ball is big, sometimes it’s small. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
1. I went to the National Book Awards ceremony in New York last month for a very simple reason. I wanted to tell James McBride, in person, what I'm going to tell you now: his novel, The Good Lord Bird, one of five finalists for the fiction award, is the most astonishing book I read all year. It's one of the most astonishing, rollicking, delightful, smart and sad books I've read in all my life. "Why, thank you very much," McBride said from under the brim of his porkpie hat when I bumped into him at the pre-awards cocktail party and told him how I felt about his book. When I wished him luck at the awards ceremony later in the evening and told him I was pulling for him to win, he waved his arm at the cavernous banquet room and said, "At this point it doesn't really matter. It's all good." I didn't expect McBride to win the National Book Award that night because he was up against bigger names -- Thomas Pynchon, George Saunders, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Rachel Kushner -- and I long ago stopped believing that artistic awards are based solely on artistic merit. McBride obviously didn't expect to win, either, because when his name was called out as the winner for fiction, he stepped to the podium without a prepared speech, visibly surprised. "I didn't think I would win today," he told the crowd of 700. Then, echoing what he had said to me earlier at the cocktail party, he added, "If any of the others writers had won I wouldn't feel bad because they're all fine writers. But it sure is nice to win." And it sure is nice to see such a deserving winner. The Good Lord Bird is narrated by Henry Shackleford, a young slave in the Kansas territory who is freed by the abolitionist John Brown, then, passing as a girl, follows Brown on his various military and political campaigns, all the way to the disastrous raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, a major catalyst for the Civil War. (The book's title refers to the red-headed woodpecker, a bird whose feathers serve as charms, a bird so beautiful that when people see one, they cry, "Good Lord.") Henry, known as Henrietta or "Onion" to Brown and his ragtag army, narrates the story in a frontier vernacular that is by turns hilarious, bawdy, and wise. Her sharpest insights are on race and slavery, and they're as valid today as they were a century and a half ago. No one, black or white, slave or free, gets a free ride from Henrietta Shackleford, including Henrietta Shackleford. Here, for instance, are her thoughts on the lies black people tell themselves: "Fact is, I never knowed a Negro from that day to this but who couldn't lie to themselves about their own evil while pointing out the white man's wrong, and I weren't no exception." And here's Henrietta on what it means to be black: "Being a Negro means showing your best face to the white man every day. You know his wants, his needs, and watch him proper. But he don't know your wants. He don't know your needs or feelings or what's inside you, for you ain't equal to him in no measure. You just a nigger to him. A thing: like a dog or a shovel or a horse." The novel has obvious antecedents in the works of Twain and Cervantes, James Baldwin and William Styron. But its framing device -- even its opening lines -- owe a debt to another tall tale insinuated from American history, Thomas Berger's indelible epic of the Indian wars, Little Big Man. That novel purports to be the tape-recorded reminiscences of 111-year-old Jack Crabb, a white man who was snatched by Cheyenne Indians as a boy and grew up straddling the racial divide, living with both Indians and whites, finally fighting alongside Gen. George Armstrong Custer and becoming the only white survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The Good Lord Bird purports to be the reminiscences of 111-year-old Henry Shackleford, written down by a preacher in 1942, then locked away and finally salvaged from a church fire in 1966. Instead of straddling the racial divide, Henry crosses other lines -- between male and female, freeman and slave, country rube and city slicker -- and he winds up in the heat of battle alongside John Brown, becoming the only black survivor of the raid on Harpers Ferry. Here's the opening of The Good Lord Bird: "I was born a colored man and don't you forget it. But I lived as a colored woman for seventeen years." And here's the opening of Little Big Man: "I am a white man and never forget it, but I was brought up by the Cheyenne Indians from the age of ten." Even the climactic battle scenes share a chapter title: McBride's is "Last Stand"; Berger's is "The Last Stand." (In a follow-up e-mail, McBride acknowledged Berger's influence, adding that he also drew on the writings of Leon Litwack and Daryl Cumber Dance.) I don't buy books or movie tickets based on awards, and I'm proud to be able to say that I bought my copy of The Good Lord Bird before it was nominated for the National Book Award and I finished reading it before the awards ceremony. That's not to say I'm opposed to book awards. As they long as they connect readers with writers -- and sell books -- I'm all for them. McBride's publisher, Riverhead Books, announced that it was printing an additional 45,000 copies of The Good Lord Bird as soon as the award was announced, bringing the number in print to more than 82,000. I hope they sell like Krispy Kremes. James McBride is an important and thrilling writer, and he deserves to be widely read. 2. None of the above is to denigrate the other four fiction finalists for this year's National Book Award. As McBride put it, they are all fine writers. Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers, in particular, struck me as a book that announced the arrival of a major talent. The novel, which roams from the Bonneville salt flats to the downtown New York art scene of the 1970s to the political barricades in Italy, was a stirring expansion of the promise Kushner showed in her 2008 debut, Telex From Cuba, which was also a National Book Award finalist. Both novels exhibit Kushner's outsized gifts: her ambition, her narrative dexterity, her ability to paint complex characters and put them in motion in vividly imagined historical settings. Whether she's writing about the First World War, pre-revolutionary Cuba, or the 1970s art scene, Kushner succeeds because she understands how to handle her prodigious historical research. As she told an interviewer, "Just because something is true does not mean it has a place." 3. There were other delights this year. One of the chiefest, because it was so personal, was the publication of Keystone Corruption: A Pennsylvania Insider's View of a State Gone Wrong, a sweeping history of the chicanery that has been festering under the state capitol's green dome in Harrisburg, Pa., for more than a century. It was written by a veteran shoe-leather reporter named Brad Bumsted, who happens to be the man who took me under his wing and taught me the reporter's craft at the daily newspaper in nearby Chambersburg, Pa., back in the 1970s. As I wrote in my essay about Keystone Corruption, "Brad is an important reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Good journalism still matters, it still happens, and it is still built on what it was originally built on -- not technological innovations, but on the ability of dogged, savvy, intelligent reporters to gather information and quickly turn it into factual, even-handed, and engaging prose. Few people have done it longer than Brad Bumsted. Few do it better." 4. Though it was published late last year, I've got to mention a gem of a book that should burnish the reputation of a writer who has written five novels that are classics, even though too few people have read them. Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany, edited by Jay Jennings, is a great teeming smorgasbord of Portis's journalism, travel writing, short stories, drama and memoir. The book also includes a rare interview with Portis and tributes from admirers, including Roy Blount Jr., Ed Park, and Donna Tartt. In addition to its abundant wit and wisdom, this book is virtually a connect-the-dots diagram of how Portis the novelist was forged in newspaper city rooms in Tennessee, Arkansas and New York. I hope it will attract new readers to Portis's novels, Norwood, True Grit, The Dog of the South, Masters of Atlantis, and Gringos. 5. Another writer who deserves a wider audience is Nick Turse, who produced a magisterial work of history this year called Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Turse argues, persuasively and chillingly, that the mass rape, torture, mutilation ,and slaughter of Vietnamese civilians was not an aberration -- not a one-off atrocity called My Lai -- but rather the systematized policy of the American war machine. This book's lessons, like James McBride's insights on race, are as valid today as they were when America was blundering its way to a shameful military disaster four decades ago. 6. A pleasant surprise landed in my mailbox in April -- a handsome new paperback edition of They Don't Dance Much, the only novel James Ross published in his lifetime, now widely regarded as the progenitor of "country noir." This new edition, published by Mysterious Press, includes a foreword by Daniel Woodrell, a Ross acolyte who says he first read the novel in the 1970s because George V. Higgins "vouched for it as both literature and a good time." A funny, bloody, world-wise tale of violent doings at a North Carolina roadhouse during the Depression, the book was published in 1940 to high praise from Flannery O'Connor, among others, but it sold poorly and soon disappeared. A new edition appeared in the 1970s, attracting a new generation of fans, including Woodrell. And now, another three and a half decades after the second edition, we have a third. As Woodrell writes, "They Don't Dance Much, a novel that was often declared dead but has never been successfully buried, offers a persuasive portrait of a rough-and-ready America as seen from below, a literary marvel that is once again on its feet and wending its way toward the light." 7. Last but far from least, this year the Irish writer Kevin Barry followed up his blistering novel, City of Bohane, with an equally strong collection of stories called Dark Lies the Island. The man uses the English language like a musical instrument. I've said it before but I'll say it again: You must read Kevin Barry. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
Looking back at my reading list for 2013, two books stood above all the other new books I've had the chance to read: The first is Susan Steinberg's extraordinary third collection, Spectacle, which I've been obsessed with since it came out in January -- and really, since ever before. One of the book's stories appeared in American Short Fiction several years ago and that introduction to Steinberg set up some high expectations that were met then exceeded by the collection. In a year of great story collections, this is the one that stands apart for me. Smart and funny and brutally moving, it's the most aggressive short story collection I've read in a long time, one that forces emotional participation and moral complicity on its readers. The second book is Rachel Kushner's second novel, The Flamethrowers, which absolutely thrilled me as both a reader and a writer. Extraordinarily ambitious and well-shaped, I found it one of the biggest reading experiences I'd had all year, the kind of enlarged experience that seems rarer and rarer in contemporary novels. My admiration for The Flamethrowers also sent me back to Kushner's Telex from Cuba, which I hadn't read before but which now seems like a formal and stylistic prototype for The Flamethrowers, in addition to being an excellent novel on its own. I hope Kushner keeps pushing her form and her style forward so powerfully between books -- I can't wait to read her next novel to see where she takes us next. Some other great books from 2013: Tampa by Alissa Nutting. Red Doc> by Anne Carson. A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam. Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge by Renee Gladman. Some books published in years past that were an important part of my 2013: Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta. Kind One by Laird Hunt. Speedboat by Renata Adler. The Complete Tales trilogy by Kate Bernheimer. Light Years by James Salter. Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck. Some books I loved in 2013 but that won't be released until 2014: The Last Days of California by Mary Miller. Preparing the Ghost by Matthew Gavin Frank. Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
I read a lot of great books this year, including George Saunders’s Tenth of December, Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, Renata Adler’s Speedboat, and Shirley Jackson’s Hangsaman. And I reread three of my favorite Alice Munro collections: The Beggar Maid, Open Secrets, and The Love of a Good Woman. (She’s my favorite living writer, so I was thrilled when she won the Nobel Prize). But it was Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical My Struggle (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett) that most consoled me. My father used to say that my mother had “no sense of mortality.” When my mother regaled us with stories of jumping onto moving trains in Kenya, say, or being shot at in Sudan, he just shook his head. “No sense of mortality.” The irony is that it was my mother, who’d spent her life oblivious of death, who died of cancer at the age of 60. My father, now 78, continues to ruminate about mortality. And I am clearly his child: I’ve always spent a lot of time thinking about death. My paternal grandfather died in our house when I was 10. My grandmother died there nine years later, and then, when I was 31, my mother died there. I actually felt the warmth go out of my mother’s body while she turned into a corpse. I bring up this morbid history only because it may explain why Knausgaard’s My Struggle -- a book defined by its sense of mortality -- resonates so much with me. Book 1 is narrated by the 39-year-old Knausgaard, and I am 39 now. (Generation X will recognize themselves here: Knausgaard may be Norwegian, but he grew up on the same pop culture as a lot of his contemporaries in the States.) As a writer facing her mortality, how could I resist a novel about a writer facing his mortality? Reading Book 1 of My Struggle proved to be one of those serendipitous experiences: the right book at exactly the right time in my life. A few months ago, my father sold the house in which my sisters and I grew up. And this fall, we had to clear out the place, deciding what to keep, what to donate, what to sell. The process was daunting because the house was crammed with stuff, collected by my mother, father, and both sets of grandparents. We were burdened by history, and eager to get rid of things, but it was emotionally draining to watch our childhood get priced for an estate sale. I felt like we were saying good-bye to our mother all over again. And while my siblings and I were clearing out our father’s house, I was reading a book about adult siblings cleaning their father’s house. In the first book, Karl Ove and his brother, Yngve, go home to Kristiansand to the house where their father recently drank himself to death. The house is in a terrible state when they arrive: it reeks of urine, there is excrement smeared on the sofa, and the floors are littered with empty bottles. While describing the downstairs bathroom, a place that scared him as a child because it seemed haunted, Knausgaard writes: This particular evening, however, my unease with it rose again because my grandfather had collapsed here and because Dad had died upstairs in the living room yesterday, so the deadness of these non-beings combined with the deadness of the two of them, of my father and his father. So how could I keep this feeling at arm’s length? Oh, all I had to do was clean. Scour and scrub and rub and wipe. See how each tile became clean and shiny. Imagine that all that had been destroyed here would be restored. The Knausgaard brothers get to work cleaning the whole house. They are not daunted by smeared excrement or rotting food. It’s easier to confront shit, with its stench of life, than the abstractly terrifying “deadness.” And as a writer, Knausgaard hopes to leave more than shit behind when he dies: he wants to write something great before his time runs out. And so the thorough cleaning -- so vividly rendered, in every mundane detail -- is not just an attempt to grapple with grief. Knausgaard is trying to restore not only his grandmother’s house, but his own legacy. As James Wood put it in The New Yorker, “By the time [the book] is over, we have cleaned that house with these brothers; the experience is extraordinarily vivid and visceral and moving.” The efficient way that Knausgaard and his brother tackle the cleaning struck me as very Norwegian. My family has enough Norwegian friends for me to conclude that when you have a tough job, you need a Norwegian man to do it. In fact, a Norwegian friend helped us with all the heavy lifting as we packed up our family house. My sisters and I couldn’t have finished the monumental task without him. But Knausgaard’s sense of mortality -- and his exhaustive cataloguing of it -- is universal, and the book is compulsively readable. Knausgaard’s consciousness is so lucid on the page that his book feels fully inhabited and alive (no “deadness”). Yet we never forget that this is a text, aware of itself not just as a novel, but as a bid for its author’s literary immortality.  I also recommend Zadie Smith’s recent essay, “Man vs. Corpse,” in The New York Review of Books. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
I am not the first to say this, but let me say this nonetheless: Thank God for the NYRB series of reissued books. This year, I was blown away by the gnomic brilliance of Speedboat by Renata Adler, which reminded me of Nathanael West, whom I then re-read and re-loved all over again, which got me into a Stanley Elkin kind of mood, so hello to The Dick Gibson Show and its sneaky joy with that particular brand of American language, and speaking of language, the opening of The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner was like a fever dream of delight, so after that I had to dip back into Pafko at the Wall by Don DeLillo, the standard bearer of sustained openings, after which I wisely -- and in some cases unwisely -- read the first book of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard and I fear for its minute infections, unlike Stoner by John Williams, downed a month later, which is such a quiet yet profound thrill in its distillation of a nothing special life that it seems inimitable and totally beyond me, like William Maxwell's So Long, See You Tomorrow, which I should read again, maybe next year -- oh, and P.S. I watched my 11-year-old son take in 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King, pure delight, and my 10-year-old daughter puts in her vote for Wonder by R.J. Palacio. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
This August, not long before Labor Day, my wife and I packed the kids into the back of a rented car and left behind the garbage-smelling streets of New York for the comparative balm of Maine. For the second year running, we'd booked ourselves into a little bungalow about as far east as you can go before you drive into the ocean. This modest slice of paradise doesn't come cheap; a week's sublet costs only slightly less than our monthly rent. To my mind, though, it's worth it -- not least because the house's sun porch is my favorite place to read in the entire world. There, with the kids napping upstairs and the porch's old glass rippling the heavy-limbed spruces outside and the bees bumbling around in the hydrangeas and the occasional truck droning past on the two-lane, I can actually feel time passing. Moreover, I can choose to lavish a couple unbroken hours of it on a book, in a way life in the 21st-century metropolis (with small children!) renders vanishingly improbable. It's no surprise, then, that many of my best reading experiences of the last year were concentrated in that single week. Early on, I read for the first time Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and found in the wry lushness of its prose a perfect literary analogue for the sensory assault of high summer in a new place. In fact, the divide between the life of the senses and the life of the mind is one of the many barriers Woolf's intrepid hero/ine surmounts, "For it must be remembered that... [the Elizabethans] had none of our modern shame of book learning...no fancy that what we call 'life' and 'reality' are somehow connected with ignorance and brutality." I then devoured, in the course of two naptimes, Norman Rush's Subtle Bodies. Unlike its predecessors, Mating and Mortals, this novel has some glaring defects, and reviewers, by turns baffled and hostile, went straight for the invidious comparison. Yet what struck me was the through-line of Rush's sensibility. The supreme pleasures of all of his work (the characters, the loving irony, the human comedy) are present here, in spades, and that made Subtle Bodies feel like a gift. And just before returning to New York, I read, in a state of admiration bordering on envy, the brilliant first third of Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers. Probably the single most perfect book I encountered in 2013, though, appeared under completely different circumstances -- that is, in February, back in the city, amid the ice. Gertrude Stein's Three Lives didn't just reward my attention; it commanded it. To pick up the book was to be summoned away from the diced-up jumble of my own unfinished errands and brought into the presence of Anna and Melanctha and Lena. Reading Stein is like being brainwashed, but in a positive sense. It cleanses the windows of perception. It is Maine on the page. In fact, much of what moved me most in 2013 drew in one way or another on the Modernist legacy of "deep time," a countervailing force to the jump-cut, the click-through, the sample rate. I came to the reissue of Renata Adler's Pitch Dark, for example, expecting a kind of cool PoMo minimalism. Instead, I discovered a crypto-maximalist whose sentences, surfing along on volumes of unexpressed pain, are as perfect in their way as Woolf's. Péter Nádas's putatively maximalist Parallel Stories, meanwhile, offered the most miniaturist reckoning of behavioral psychology this side of...well, of Gertrude Stein. The erotic excesses everyone complains about -- e.g, the 300-page sex scene -- are in fact the opposite of erotic; they're a kind of clinical accounting of the physical side of human history, the flesh that has a mind of its own. "Unsubtle Bodies," would have been a good title. But in the end, I respected the hell out of Parallel Stories, and ended up despite myself -- despite, perhaps, even Nádas -- caring deeply about its characters. And then there was Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Where his first three novels to appear in English were dark, his latest, Seiobo There Below, is bright. Where they were terrestrial, it is astral. But in one important respect, it's just like them: it's a masterpiece. I know I tend to go on about the Hungarians, but this seemed to be a ridiculously rich year for American fiction, too. Fall, in particular, was a murderer's row of big books; I could talk here about Lethem, about Tartt, about Pynchon, about David Gilbert, about Caleb Crain, about James McBride's surprise National Book Award, but I'd like to put in a good word for a couple of books that came out in the early part of the year, and were perhaps overlooked. The first is William H. Gass's Middle C. Not only hasn't Gass lost a step at age 88; he's gained a register. One of Middle C's deep motifs involves an "Inhumanity Museum," but the surface here is warmer and funnier and more approachable than anything Gass has written since Omensetter's Luck. Fewer readers will have heard of Jonathan Callahan, whose first book, The Consummation of Dirk, was published in April by Starcherone Press. It's a multifariously ambitious story collection on the model of David Foster Wallace's Girl With Curious Hair. The glaring debts to Wallace and Krasznahorkai and Thomas Bernhard can be a liability, but in the longer stories here, including "A Gift" and "Cymbalta" and "Bob," and in the closing trio, Callahan uses the pressure of influence to form shapes entirely his own. On the poetry side, I adored Bernadette Mayer's rousing and funny collection, The Helens of Troy, New York. Meyer uses various quasi-Oulipian formal constraints to turn interviews with the titular Helens -- yes, every woman named Helen living in Troy, New York -- into poems. Both Helens and Troy emerge richer for the transformation. And while Patti Smith's Just Kids isn't technically verse, it makes good on every claim for Smith as one of the few true rock n' roll poets. (The late Lou Reed was another.) Not only is Just Kids an unmissable story; it attains the same purity of expression as Horses. Usually, rock writing is a kind of guilty pleasure. Unforgettable Fire, Glory Days... I feel absolutely no guilt, though, in recommending the English journalist Nick Kent's collection of rock profiles, The Dark Stuff. It's John Jeremiah Sullivan good. Gay Talese good. Sometimes it's even Joseph Mitchell good. I made it through a couple of other great works of narrative journalism this year, as well. William Finnegan, in addition to being one of my favorite New Yorker writers, has got to be one of the best reporters on earth, and his Cold New World, published in 1998, is like a Clinton-era companion to George Packer's The Unwinding. In it, Finnegan spends months with teenagers in four far-flung American communities, uncovering the frictions of the new economy long before it blew up in our faces. Robert Kolker's The Lost Girls, which came out this summer, similarly examines the effect of those frictions on young women drawn into prostitution -- specifically, five young women who would end up murdered by a serial killer out on Long Island. Kolker doesn't turn phrases with the acuity of Kent or Finnegan, but his patient unfolding of his story gives the reader room to become outraged. As usual, I find myself running on well beyond "Year in Reading" length. But in my defense: I hardly reviewed anything this year! This is my one chance to enthuse! And though I've talked about William Gass, and William Finnegan, what about William Styron's The Long March, or William T. Vollmann's Fathers & Crows? This is not to mention The Luminaries, which is currently sitting half-read on my nightstand, alongside The Cuckoo's Calling and The Bridge Over the Neroch and Teju Cole. My wife says it's starting to look like a hoarder lives here. How am I ever going to finish all this stuff? But I remain optimistic, against all the evidence, that life might offer a little more time to read in 2014. And if not, I suppose we'll always have Maine. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
Another year of living, another year of reading. And, if you're like us, when you look back, you'll mark out the year in books -- weeks, months, even whole seasons that will forever be wedded in the mind to a memorable reading experience. Each book put back on the shelf becomes a postcard reminder. And now, as we kick off another Year in Reading, we become the postcard collectors, learning where the minds of some of our favorite writers and thinkers traveled in 2013. For our esteemed guests, the charge was to name, from all the books they read this year, the one(s) that meant the most to them, regardless of publication date. Grouped together, these ruminations, cheers, squibs, and essays will be a chronicle of reading and good books from every era. We hope you find in them seeds that will help make your year in reading in 2014 a fruitful one. As in prior years, the names of our 2013 “Year in Reading” contributors will be unveiled one at a time throughout the month as we publish their contributions. You can bookmark this post and follow the series from here, or load up the main page for more new Year in Reading posts appearing at the top every day, or you can subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Facebook or Twitter and read the series that way. Stephen Dodson, co-author of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit, proprietor of Languagehat. Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs. Choire Sicha, co-proprietor of The Awl, author of Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City. Alice McDermott, author of Someone. Hamilton Leithauser, lead singer for The Walkmen. Sergio De La Pava, author of A Naked Singularity Dani Shapiro, author of Still Writing. Norman Rush, author of Subtle Bodies. Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure. Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon. Garth Risk Hallberg, staff writer for The Millions, author of A Field Guide to the North American Family. David Gilbert, author of And Sons. Sarah Waters, author of The Little Stranger. Jason Diamond, literary editor at Flavorwire, founder of Vol. 1 Brooklyn Mark O'Connell, staff writer for The Millions, author of Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever. Elliott Holt, author of You Are One of Them. Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, author of Brief Encounters with the Enemy. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun. Michael Nye, author of Strategies Against Extinction. Lydia Kiesling, staff writer for The Millions. Hannah Gersen, staff writer for The Millions. Thomas Beckwith, social media writer for The Millions. Edan Lepucki, staff writer for The Millions, author of If You're Not Yet Like Me. Nick Moran, social media editor for The Millions. Anne K. Yoder, staff writer for The Millions. Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Book of My Lives. Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light. Charlie Jane Anders, managing editor of io9. Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge. Scott Turow, author of Identical. Chang-rae Lee, author of The Surrendered. Janet Potter, staff writer for The Millions. Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers. Tom Drury, author of Pacific. Gabriel Roth, author of The Unknowns. Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. Paul Harding, author of Enon. Janice Clark, author of The Rathbones. Reif Larsen, author of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. Elizabeth Minkel, staff writer for The Millions. Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods. Caleb Crain, author of Necessary Errors. Mohsin Hamid, author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Roxane Gay, author of Ayiti. Emily St. John Mandel, staff writer for The Millions, author of The Lola Quartet. Bill Morris, staff writer for The Millions, author of Motor City. Tess Malone, intern for The Millions. Adam Wilson, author of Flatscreen. Michael Bourne, staff writer for The Millions. Sonya Chung, staff writer for The Millions, author of Long for This World. Kathryn Davis, author of Labrador. Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask. Marisa Silver, author of Mary Coin. Teddy Wayne, author of Kapitoil. Kelly Link, author of Monstrous Affections. Olivia Laing, author of The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking. Dara Horn, author of A Guide for the Perplexed. Kate Milliken, author of If I’d Known You Were Coming. Michael Robbins, author of Alien vs. Predator. Parul Sehgal, editor at the New York Times Book Review. Helen Oyeyemi, author of Boy, Snow, Bird. Kristopher Jansma, author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards. Kevin Barry, author of Dark Lies the Island. Kevin Hartnett, staff writer for The Millions. Bennett Sims, author of A Questionable Shape. Ann Hood, author of The Obituary Writer. Charles Blackstone, author of Vintage Attraction.
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for November. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Selected Stories 2 months 2. 2. The Flamethrowers 2 months 3. 3. The Pioneer Detectives 5 months 4. 4. Taipei 6 months 5. 5. The Luminaries 2 months 6. 8. The Goldfinch 2 months 7. 6. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose 2 months 8. 7. Fox 8 5 months 9. 9. Bleeding Edge 3 months 10. - The Lowland 2 months There wasn't much action on our list November as the top 5 stayed unchanged. Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch was the big mover, jumping from the eighth spot to the sixth. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson graduates to our illustrious Hall of Fame after a six-month run on the list that was initially spurred by the book's Pulitzer win earlier this year. That departure makes room for the return of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland Near Misses: Night Film, Visitation Street, The Interestings, MaddAddam and Dear Life. See Also: Last month's list.
This year’s New York Times Notable Books of the Year list is out. At 100 titles, the list is more of a catalog of the noteworthy than a distinction. Sticking with the fiction exclusively, it appears that we touched upon a few of these books as well: The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (A Virtuoso at Work: Joyce Carol Oates Turns 75) All That Is by James Salter (All You Have Is What You Remember: The Millions Interviews James Salter, James Salter’s All That Is: From Dream to Reality) The Circle by Dave Eggers (A Little Bit Beta: On Dave Eggers’s The Circle) The Color Master by Aimee Bender (Childish Things: Aimee Bender’s The Color Master) The Dinner by Herman Koch (After The Dinner: A Round Up of Newly Translated Dutch Fiction) Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem (Queens As a Metaphor for the World: On Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens) Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Everything I Know About America I Learned from Stephen King) The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver (The Life that Develops In-Between: On Elizabeth Graver’s The End of the Point) The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Rachel Kushner Is Well On Her Way to Huges) A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel (The Chemistry between Fiction and Reality: The Millions Interviews Ramona Ausubel, a Millions contributor) Half The Kingdom by Lore Segal (The Smile in the Bone: Lore Segal’s Half The Kingdom) The Infatuations by Javier Marías (The Darkness is Deep Indeed: On Javier Marías’s The Infatuations) The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (Sing It, Sister! On Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings) The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (When the Stars Align: On Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries) MaddAdam by Margaret Atwood (The Past is What Matters: On Margaret Atwood’s Vision of the Future) A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik (Something Stark and Essential: On Alexander Maksik’s A Marker to Measure Drift) Schroder by Amity Gaige (Living a Lie: The Millions Interviews Amity Gaige) The Son by Philipp Meyer (The Last of the Comanches: Philipp Meyer’s The Son, Delusion is Crucial: The Millions Interviews Philipp Meyer) Tenth of December by George Saunders (George Saunders and the Question of Greatness) Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (Peeling Back the Oprah Seal: Ayana Mathis’s Twelve Tribes of Hattie) Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel (Alienation for Two: Fiona Maazel’s Woke Up Lonely, a Millions contributor)
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for October. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. - Selected Stories 1 month 2. - The Flamethrowers 1 month 3. 1. The Pioneer Detectives 4 months 4. 2. Taipei 5 months 5. - The Luminaries 1 month 6. - The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose 1 month 7. 3. Fox 8 4 months 8. - The Goldfinch 1 month 9. 5. Bleeding Edge 2 months 10. 4. The Orphan Master's Son 6 months In October, we were in the thick of book prize season, and the announcements sent readers running to new books, resulting in a big shake-up on our list, led by new Nobel Laureate Alice Munro. Within minutes of the announcement, readers were finding our "Beginner’s Guide to Alice Munro", penned by Ben Dolnick, author of Shelf-Love, an ebook original about Munro. Dolnick called Munro's Selected Stories "the Munro book to read if you’re only willing to read one" and he singled out The Beggar Maid as "the Munro book to read if you’re only willing to read one but don’t like the idea of reading a literary greatest hits album." Many readers took his advice and the former landed atop our list, while the latter ended up in the sixth spot. Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers continued to win fans (here at The Millions, for example; we also interviewed her), but it was the book's landing on the National Book Award shortlist that rocketed it to the second spot on our list. There was also the Booker Prize. Fresh off a rave review here at The Millions, Eleanor Catton took home the Booker, and her big novel landed at #5 on our list. And the last of our several debuts is Donna Tartt's long-awaited The Goldfinch. No surprise there. All these new books bumped five names from our list, collected here as this month's Near Misses: Night Film, The Lowland, The Interestings, Visitation Street and MaddAddam. See Also: Last month's list.
Our own Edan Lepucki (who has a novel coming out soon, by the way…) interviewed four of the finalists for this year’s National Book Awards: Tenth of December author George Saunders, The Lowland author Jhumpa Lahiri, The Good Lord Bird author James McBride, and The Flamethrowers author Rachel Kushner. We reviewed both Saunders and Kushner’s works here and here, respectively, and you can also take a look at the rest of the NBA finalists over here.
The contenders for the 2013 National Book Award were pared down to a five nominees in each category today. Winners will be announced in New York City on November 20. Fans of Jhumpa Lahiri will be excited to know that after missing out on yesterday’s Man Booker Prize, the Lowland author is still squarely in the running for the National Book Award. Of course, in order to attain the honor she’s going to have to beat out former Millions Top Ten member George Saunders and Millions favorite Rachel Kushner – as well as previous NBA winner Thomas Pynchon. On the nonfiction list, Millions readers should recognize George Packer’s The Unwinding, which Chris Barsanti called an “awe-inspiring X-Ray of the modern American soul.” At the final awards ceremony on November 20, each finalist will receive $1,000, and each winner will receive an additional $10,000. Additional awards will also be goven to E.L. Doctorow and Maya Angelou, who will be receiving the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution to the American Literary Community, respectively. The National Book Foundation has also announced that free e-books will be released containing excerpts from each of the works on the shortlist. (We’ll have more on that when it’s available.) Edit: The new e-books are now available for the Fiction Finalists, Nonfiction Finalists, Poetry Finalists, and Young People’s Literature Finalists. (E-books for other platforms are available here.) Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available: Fiction: The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Millions review, Millions interview) The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (excerpt) The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (excerpt) Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (first page, excerpt) Tenth of December by George Saunders (Millions review) Nonfiction: Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore (review) Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer (Millions review) The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832 by Alan Taylor (review) Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (review, excerpt) Poetry: Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart (review) Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido (review) The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka (excerpt) Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen Incarnadine by Mary Szybist (review) Young People's Literature: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (review) The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (review) Far Far Away by Tom McNeal Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (review)
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for September. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 2. The Pioneer Detectives 3 months 2. 1. Taipei 4 months 3. 7. Fox 8 3 months 4. 5. The Orphan Master's Son 4 months 5. - Bleeding Edge 1 month 6. 10. Night Film 2 months 7. 8. Visitation Street 3 months 8. 9. The Interestings 3 months 9. - MaddAddam 1 month 10. - The Lowland 1 month This month our second ebook original The Pioneer Detectives moves into the top spot as the book continues to garner very positive reviews from readers. We hope you'll pick it up if you haven't already. Meanwhile, our list sees a big shake up as three books graduate to our Hall of Fame: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: Ben Fountain's book won the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award. Fountain appeared in our Year in Reading, and Edan Lepucki interviewed him in these pages last June. Stand on Zanzibar: Ted Gioia penned a very popular piece about the remarkably prescient predictions contained within John Brunner’s book and readers ran to check it out. The Middlesteins: Author Jami Attenberg made an appearance in our Year in Reading in December. These graduates make room for three heavy-hitting debuts, all of which appeared in our big second-half preview: Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon, MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (don't miss Atwood's appearance in our Year in Reading; we haven't quite tracked down Pynchon yet for this), and The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. Near Misses: Vampires in the Lemon Grove, The Flamethrowers, Life After Life, They Don't Dance Much and Telex from Cuba. See Also: Last month's list.
This year the National Book Award finalists were released in a series of four longlists consisting of ten books apiece. Five finalists in each category will be selected by October 16, and winners will be announced in New York City on November 20. Last year, the fiction finalists included far more male authors than female, however the count is even in 2013. Millions readers will be delighted to find George Saunders’s latest story collection on the fiction list. The former Top Ten member was reviewed on our site last May. Saunders is joined by Rachel Kushner, whose second novel “operates outside — above? — many of the current arguments about the novel,” according to our own Bill Morris. Likewise, Millions readers should be familiar with George Packer’s “awe-inspiring X-Ray of the modern American soul” on the nonfiction list. Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available: Fiction: Pacific by Tom Drury (excerpt) The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver (excerpt) The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Millions review, Millions interview) The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (excerpt) A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (excerpt) The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (excerpt) Someone by Alice McDermott (excerpt) Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (first page, excerpt) Tenth of December by George Saunders (Millions review) Fools by Joan Silber (Millions interview) Nonfiction: Finding Florida: The True Story of the Sunshine State by T.D. Allman (excerpt, audiobook excerpt) Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami by Gretel Ehrlich (excerpt) The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA by Scott C. Johnson (excerpt) Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore (review) Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865 by James Oakes (review) The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer (Millions review) The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832 by Alan Taylor (review) Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington by Terry Teachout (review) Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (review, excerpt) Poetry: Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart (review) Bury My Clothes by Roger Bonair-Agard (excerpt) Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido (review) So Recently Rent a World, New and Selected Poems: 1968–2012 by Andrei Codrescu (interview) Seasonal Works With Letters on Fire by Brenda Hillman (author reading) The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka (excerpt) American Amnesiac by Diane Raptosh (excerpt) Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen Transfer of Qualities by Martha Ronk Incarnadine by Mary Szybist (review) Young People's Literature: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (review) Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (review) A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (excerpt) The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (review, excerpt, audiobook excerpt) The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (review) Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan Far Far Away by Tom McNeal Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (review)
I’ve admired Elliott Holt’s writing for years, ever since we were in graduate school together, and so I started reading her first novel as soon as the galley slid through my mail slot. I tore through it; I know I’ll want to read it again. You Are One of Them is a wonderful book, astute and mysterious, wry and true, about a friendship changed by the Cold War. Others have agreed. In the New York Times, for instance, Maggie Shipstead called it a “hugely absorbing first novel from a writer with a fluid, vivid style,” and, in Bookforum, Roxane Gay praised it as “both a compelling character study and a psychological thriller with a ferociously intelligent ending.” Elliott has received a Pushcart Prize and was the runner-up of the 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award. We talked online about the loneliness of writing, the uses and limits of social media, the evils of lunch, and the key to good fiction. The Millions: I think sometimes of a lunch we had in Chicago, when I asked how you’d finished your novel and you said you’d put a sign above your desk exhorting yourself to “make it happen,” and Lauren Groff noted she had a sign above her desk, and I thought, Aha! I need a sign. I went home and made one — “finish your novel” — and it’s helped. Can you tell me more about how you got yourself to finish your novel? Elliott Holt: It felt like a do-or-die moment for me. I'd just gone through this break-up and was feeling crushed and heartbroken, but I also felt suddenly like my writing was all I had. I had quit my salaried staff job in advertising (after saving up some money to write full time for a while) and I was running out of money/time, so I said, that's it. I have to do this. I have nothing else. I have to make this happen. I have to give it my all and actually finish this novel I've been toying with for four years. I was lonely and I was near broke, so I had nothing to lose! And I wanted to publish a book before I was 40. Which is a totally arbitrary deadline, since writers mature at totally different rates. But anyway, I finished the book a few weeks before my 38th birthday. And it was published when I was 39. A 39-year-old woman can't help but be aware of her waning fertility, but I made a conscious choice to focus on writing and not have children. So now I have to produce another book child. TM: I forget which writer said every baby is a failed novel, but I think of that sometimes when I get asked why I'm not having a child. How’d you know the novel was done? What did it feel like to finish it and send it off? EH: Some people will say it's still not finished! (I'm joking because so many people hate the ending.) TM: I love the ending, by the way. EH: Oh, thanks. I knew that the book would end with that letter (I hope I'm not giving anything away) and I was writing to that point, though there were plenty of surprises along the way. I can't really explain how I knew I was done. The same intuitive way I know I'm done with a story. It's usually about the beats, the tone. TM: I know we’ve talked in the past about how writing can crowd out most of everything else, especially social interaction. Sometimes I’ll realize I’ve gone all day without talking to anyone, and I think it helps my writing — at least, that’s what I tell myself — but sometimes I do get tired of the loneliness. How do you balance the two, the writer’s need for isolation versus the desire for human company? EH: Oh, man, I do a terrible job of balancing the two. The year I was finishing my novel was the loneliest year of my life. I hardly saw or talked to anyone. l find that I have to check out of socializing in order to work well — I can't just shift gears after a day of work and go to a cocktail party — but I'm single and I live alone so that means it's easy for me to go weeks at a time without spending time with other people. And that's not good. Everyone needs human contact and I don't get enough of it. I was at the Sewanee Writers' Conference this summer and I was so happy because I was surrounded by smart, fun, like-minded people. It had been so long since I'd had spent so much time with other people. And I was like, oh, right, I love people! I miss hanging out! I need to do a better job at balancing my writing life and my social life. TM: Exactly — it's hard, while working, to switch gears and go to a party. I once read a letter by Dickens in which he complains to a woman about her wanting to have lunch with him, how it's not “only” a lunch because the interruption will destroy his entire day's productivity. You're very active online, especially on Twitter — The Millions once called you a “fixture of the literary Twittersphere” — do you find that social media helps with the balancing act? EH: First of all, I'm with Dickens on lunch. I don't do lunch. And the virtual banter of Twitter can provide what I miss of office life (the random chats about TV shows, etc.). But when I'm composing new material, even Twitter is distracting. So I won't be on Twitter much for the next few months. I get tired of it. TM: I go through ups and downs with online interaction. I’ve read a couple of articles lately about how use of social media seems to add to people’s feelings of depression. One article suggested that a problem with online interactions is that people tend to present a more manicured, upbeat version of their lives, mostly or only discussing what’s going well for them. Part of what I like and admire about your online self is that you aren’t relentlessly upbeat. What has brought about or inspired your openness? EH: I can't say that I'm totally open. I'm actually a very private person. But I have a dark sense of humor and I appreciate the absurd aspects of life. I just can't help being irreverent. I guess I like social media that feels unfiltered, even though the truth is, it's all filtered through personas. TM: Have you ever found that, because of Twitter and whatnot, people think they know more about you than they really do? EH: Yes, all the time. But anyone who “knows” me from social media doesn't really know me. That's another reason I want to take a break from Twitter. Twitter is fun, but I'm a writer, not a tweeter, but a lot of people know me from Twitter, not from my writing. TM: You also wrote a great Twitter story that Slate, among others, praised. It was the first Twitter fiction I’ve seen that actually took advantage of the medium by making use of different feeds’ points of view. Can you talk about what it was like to write this story? How was it different from — or similar to — writing more traditional prose? EH: Writing that story for the Twitter fiction festival was a lot of fun. It was similar to other fiction writing in the sense that I was thinking a lot about beats, about voice, about pacing. But storytelling should adapt to its delivery system. We tell stories in films differently than we do in books, or on stage. So I wanted to use Twitter to tell that story. I wrote a story in tweets instead of tweeting lines of a story. TM: If I remember correctly, we started becoming friends when we realized we shared a love of Norman Rush. You often evangelize for books you’ve been enjoying — I can think of several books I’ve bought on your recommendation — and I wonder what makes you decide you’ll keep reading. What pulls you in? EH: Voice and tone. If I love the voice, I'm sold. And then, when I fall in love with a book, I tell everyone I know about it. I get very excited. TM: What are some books you've read recently that you've loved? EH: The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, & Sons by David Gilbert, Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman (it came out last year, but I just read it), and story collections by my friends Jamie Quatro, Ramona Ausubel, and Laura van den Berg. Also Hangsamen by Shirley Jackson. I've long loved Jackson, but didn't read that novel until this summer. And it is such a wonderfully unsettling portrait of existential loneliness. It's weird and brilliant. TM: I think I've only ever read Jackson's collected stories — now I'm curious. What’s one of the more astute things you’ve learned about your writing from one of your teachers, or a friend or editor, or from anyone else? EH: Hmm. I was in a workshop with Charlie D'Ambrosio (who is one of the very best writers working today, in my humble opinion) at the Tin House Writers Workshop and he told me that a story I'd written was constructed to avoid the one thing it most needed to confront. He said, this story is so well written, but you're avoiding the real issue. He was right. Charlie has no patience for cowardice on the page. But I've also been told that I create good details — and details are the key to good fiction, I think. The judges of the PEN Emerging Writers' Award in 2011 wrote this really nice thing in their citation: “The physical details Holt tosses down (so easily it seems!) do double duty, creating a rich sensory world while deepening and complicating character. She can’t be called a miniaturist, though her gaze on the details of family life is focused and keen. She strives for — and succeeds at — an admirable largeness, an emotional awareness that borders on uncanny. Her prose is a thrill to read.” And I really needed to hear that. It meant a lot to me. TM: I love that about the details. It's true — I remember vividly, for example, the shimmering chartreuse of the leaves in You Are One of Them, and the film burning on the projector. You've mentioned the Tin House and Sewanee writers' conferences, and you’ve been to Yaddo — have you found writers' conferences and colonies to be helpful to your writing? EH: Ah yes, I love having writer friends and I really value a sense of community with other writers. I loved being at Yaddo. I loved the Sewanee and Tin House conferences. The friends I've made in those places are some of my very closest friends and readers. TM: Part of what I love about your novel is its intelligence about friendship. I’ve been rereading Bellow’s Ravelstein and Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, and it’s occurred to me that there really aren’t enough novels addressing friendship, especially friendship between women and girls. Is this a lack that came to mind when you started thinking about your novel? EH: Actually, I wasn't thinking about the lack of fiction about friendship — though you're right that there are a lot more books about romantic love than about love between friends. It was an intuitive decision to write about a friendship (and its attendant rivalries). Maybe because all my most intimate relationships have been with friends, not lovers.
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for July. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 3. Taipei 2 months 2. 4. Stand on Zanzibar 5 months 3. 5. The Middlesteins 5 months 4. 7. The Orphan Master's Son 3 months 5. 8. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk 5 months 6. - The Interestings 1 month 7. 9. Vampires in the Lemon Grove 4 months 8. - Visitation Street 1 month 9. - The Pioneer Detectives 1 month 10. - Fox 8 1 month Big changes on our list this month as four titles graduate to our illustrious Hall of Fame. Let's run through new Hall of Famers quickly: Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever: As many of our readers are already aware, staff writer Mark O'Connell's shorter-format ebook was The Millions' first foray into ebook publishing. We have been thrilled by the great reader response. And, if you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, why not mark its graduation to the Hall of Fame by checking out this special, little book (for only $1.99!) Tenth of December: 2013 opened with the book world agog over George Saunders' newest collection. He famously graced the cover of the New York Times Magazine under the banner "Greatest Human Ever in the History of Ever" (or something like that) and the book figured very prominently in our first-half preview. Unsurprisingly, all the hype helped drive a lot of sales. It also led our own Elizabeth Minkel to reflect on Saunders and the question of greatness in a thoughtful essay. Building Stories: Chris Ware has reached the point in his career (legions of fans, museum shows) where he can do whatever he wants. And what he wanted to do was produce a "book" the likes of which we hadn't seen before, a box of scattered narratives to be delved into any which way the reader wanted, all shot through with Ware's signature style and melancholy. Ware appeared in our Year in Reading last year with an unlikely selection. Mark O'Connell called Building Stories "a rare gift." Arcadia: Lauren Groff is another Millions favorite, though it took a bit longer for her book, first released in March 2012, to make our list. Our own Edan Lepucki interviewed Groff soon after the book's release, and Groff later participated in our Year in Reading, discussing her "year of savage, brilliant, and vastly underrated female writers." That leaves room, then, for four debuts on this month's list: The Interestings: Though Meg Wolitzer is already a well-known, bestselling author, her big novel seems to be on the slow burn trajectory to breakout status, with the word-of-mouth wave (at least in the part of the world that I frequent), building month by month. That word of mouth was perhaps helped along the way by Edan Lepucki's rollicking review, in which, among other things, she posited what it means for a "big literary book" to be written by someone other than a "big literary man." Visitation Street: Ivy Pochoda's new thriller featured prominently in our latest preview and carries the imprimatur of Dennis Lehane. That seems to have been enough to land the book on our list. The Pioneer Detectives: As one Millions Original graduates from our list, another arrives. The Pioneer Detectives, which debuted in the second half of July, is an ambitious work of page-turning reportage, the kind of journalism we all crave but that can often be hard to find. Filled with brilliant insights into how scientific discoveries are made and expertly edited by our own Garth Hallberg, The Pioneer Detectives is a bargain at $2.99. We hope you'll pick it up. Fox 8: And as one George Saunders work graduates from our list, another arrives. This one is an uncollected story, sold as an e-single. Meanwhile, Tao Lin's Taipei easily slides into our top spot. For more on the book's unlikely success in our Top Ten, don't miss my commentary for last month's list. Near Misses: They Don't Dance Much, Speedboat, My Struggle: Book 1, The Flamethrowers and Life After Life. See Also: Last month's list.
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for June. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever 6 months 2. 2. Tenth of December 6 months 3. - Taipei 1 month 4. 4. Stand on Zanzibar 4 months 5. 5. The Middlesteins 4 months 6. 6. Building Stories 6 months 7. 9. The Orphan Master's Son 2 months 8. 7. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk 4 months 9. 8. Vampires in the Lemon Grove 3 months 10. 10. Arcadia 6 months We had one debut on our list this month, and it may come as a surprise for readers who have been following the site. Our own Lydia Kiesling read Tao Lin's Taipei and came away viscerally turned off by a book that has received quite a lot of attention both for its attempt to forge a new style and for the aura of its author, who has an army of followers and is, as New York once called him, "a savant of self-promotion." Despite Lydia's misgivings, the book has been on balance reviewed positively, including in the Times. Still, Lydia's review - negative as it was - was utterly compelling (Gawker thought so too), and because of that, as I watched the sales of Taipei pile up last month, I was not completely surprised. After all, the last target of a stirring and controversial pan (don't miss the angry comments) at The Millions was Janet Potter's fiery takedown of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, and two of those three of those books now sit in comfortable retirement in our Hall of Fame. In the case of Taipei, the lion's share of credit of course goes to Lin for writing a book that readers are evidently very curious to read, but I think it is also true that a well crafted, properly supported, and strongly opinionated review like Lydia's can have the odd effect of compelling the reader to see what all the fuss is about. In fact, this phenomenon has been studied and a recent paper showed that, "For books by relatively unknown (new) authors, however, negative publicity has the opposite effect, increasing sales by 45%." (I think in the context of this study, it is fair to call Lin "relatively unknown." While Lin may be well-known among Millions readers, he is not a household name outside of certain households in Brooklyn, and when readers flocked to read the review from Gawker and other sites that linked to it, they may have been compelled to check the book out for themselves.) As we have known for a while at The Millions, to cover a book at all is to confer upon it that we believe the book is important, and whether you believe the book is "good" or "bad," Taipei was certainly worthy of our coverage. Otherwise, June was another quiet month for our list with the top two positions unchanged, including Millions ebook Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever at number one, while An Arrangement of Light, Nicole Krauss's ebook-only short story graduates to our Hall of Fame. Next month, things will get interesting on our list as we may see as many as four books graduate to the Hall of Fame, opening up plenty of room for newcomers. Near Misses: Fox 8, The Interestings, All That Is, The Round House, and The Flamethrowers. See Also: Last month's list.
It’s rare for a writer of only two novels to get the critical acclaim bestowed upon Rachel Kushner. In 2005, her debut novel Telex From Cuba, about the Cuban revolution, landed the cover of The New York Times Book Review and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her second novel The Flamethrowers, published earlier this year, tells a sweeping story about the New York art world during the Italian factory protests of the 1970s. Both her novels are stylish and rigorously intelligent, as she describes characters and nations alike on the brink of collapse. She spoke with me over the phone from her home in Los Angeles, where, she says, her neighbors think she’s “a housewife who doesn’t sweep her porch enough.” The Millions: Both of your novels, Telex From Cuba and The Flamethrowers, deal explicitly with foreign politics. What is your relationship as an American novelist to political responsibility? Rachel Kushner: I don’t see the artist as necessarily political. I think if a novel is polemical, it’s prevented from doing its transcendent work as art. If it’s successful, it transcends the political. That said, you’re correct in pointing out that both novels deal with political material, but I think there’s a deep tradition of this inside of storytelling. If you look at the novels of Balzac and Victor Hugo, and even the moderns -- Proust, Céline, to name favorites -- the characters are always people situated inside the processes and effects of history. I guess I’m a writer who is interested in the way that the world and historical events and processes pressure characters, and the way characters interrelate and situate themselves in their social milieu, political milieu, and so forth. And whether I’m writing something contemporary or in the past does not change this -- it’s an outlook. A work of art can have a political emanation to it, but it cannot be the thrust or reducible point of the work. TM: For the Italian factory workers in The Flamethrowers, political protest is always potential for imprisonment. Meanwhile in America, what's most at stake for artists appears to be whether or not they'll get represented by a gallery. What do you think is politically at stake (if anything) for American artists today? Is it the same for writers? RK: The stakes in politics and art are obviously different. There is plenty at stake for writers and artists, politically, but as I said above, art, in my opinion, cannot be polemical. It can’t be reduced to political stakes. But by making art, the writer/poet/artist is choosing to do something special, which can possibly, I mean perhaps, speak outside the logical of the marketplace. About the artist just, you know, wanting a good gallery, in a sense I think it’s unfair to compare the stakes of art and the stakes of protest. The implication is that art is sillier, that the stakes are about ego and money and hierarchies, or about these kind of esoteric and febrile conceptual debates. But we are not choosing between a world without exploitation and a world without culture. They are not in a direct competition with each other, where one must be prioritized, and the other overshadowed or shamed for its insignificance. Anyhow, there may be many lines of connection between culture and questions of governance, of capitalism, violence, and so forth, that are worth exploring by putting those two different worlds of art and politics in play, side by side. TM: Your novel feels very rooted in today’s world, largely because of the way the Italian protests hover over the lives of your American characters in the way that the Arab Spring does so for Americans today. How do you think the Italian protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s compare to the Arab Spring? RK: When I was writing The Flamethrowers it wasn’t just the Arab Spring that loomed but Occupy, and aunt-austerity protests all over Europe and in Greece. Looting in London. There was a lot happening in the world, and the world is what I respond to, even if I am writing about Italy and New York in the 1970s. But those are really difficult things to compare, the Arab Spring, or so-called Spring, and the Autonomist movement in Italy in the 1970s. In Italy, there were various circles of philosophers who were writing political/theoretical texts in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and what they were writing, along a spectrum of militancy, streamed into and joined with a rejection of bourgeois values that occurred among very disparate groups of people, students, factory workers, and people from the south who were something like a sub-proletariat group. The movement had to do with, of course, history, and the economy, factory politics, a failed nationalism, and the culture of the time. I guess in merging various interest groups it does share something with what happened in Tahrir Square [in Egypt]. Some of the more striking arguments about why the revolution was successful -- to the degree that it overthrew Mubarak -- have been about the heterogeneity of the population that occupied the Square: all different kinds of people rejected the Egyptian state. In this sense something similar perhaps occurred in Italy, except it did not result in a revolution. The most significant gain from the Autonomist movement has probably been in the form of advances for women. Which might make it quite different from what ends up happening in Egypt. TM: Reno, of the novel The Flamethrowers, is hyper aware of her surroundings in the immediate present, yet she continually falls in love with the people, cities, and art around her in a way that has nothing to do with her naiveté. What is it about Reno that makes her so trusting? RK: I think that some people have no other choice than to be open; it’s just an instinctual manner of proceeding. Perhaps this is a fundamental division among people, a tendency to react to people and ideas and works of art without suspicion, a way of submitting oneself fully to other people’s codes, beliefs, modes of being, in order to understand them, and to have an experience. I think of it as a kind of enchantment with the world, rather than as naiveté, and to be honest, it’s an orientation that I relate to, personally. TM: James Wood compared your novel to Flaubert, who’s sort of credited as the father of modern realism. Your prose is realistic in the sense that it’s grounded in physical detail, though what happens in the novel isn’t always “true.” Do you consider yourself as working in a realist tradition? RK: I am still mulling the fact that Flaubert created a seminal mode of realism (emulated by most writers since), in order to skewer bourgeois values (a topic only taken up by some). I am also still grappling with the hallucinogenic effect of Salammbo. In any case, I probably do hew to certain key markers of realism. I don’t strive to create a sense of un-reality, and in that, I guess, I tend toward something that some people would call realism. But I don’t call it realism. I wonder, is Marguerite Duras a realist writer? In a way, yes? But what does that say about the category? To satisfy my own instincts, I need to have a form that allows me to incorporate writing that runs the spectrum between detailed and accurate renderings of spaces, places, moments that seem “real,” and a kind of poetic density or oddity. I like to be able to shift tones, and densities. I see the narrative strands of my own novel -- the opening sequence of with Valera, the sequences in which other characters speak, and the first person narrator as simply a recording witness -- all as having different densities. I’m interested in having a narrative through-line, but also in finding mischievous ways of disrupting that through-line. But I don’t know if that’s realism, or not. The term doesn’t enter my mind as something I need to either adhere to or disobey. TM: In addition to writing two acclaimed novels, you’ve also written for both BOMB Magazine and Artforum, which gave you an intimate understanding of both the contemporary worlds of art and literature. How do you think they compare with one another? RK: The truth is I know the art world much better than I know the “literary world” -- which, well, what is that? The publishing world? I don’t circulate in a social sphere of novelists, so much. But more importantly, I wish there were more intellectual crossover between the worlds of art and literature, which, historically, had been the case. If I have to compare, well, the art world is obviously more self-referential, in that you can’t really participate in the conversation of contemporary art unless you’re inside the discourse. Literature is not self-referential in the same way at all. Which makes it more open, less exclusive, but is deriving from the fact that it’s a more conservative and rigid form. They’re almost completely different. The art world has a lively and dynamic social component to it, whereas the publishing world is, er, not that dynamic of a place, and it doesn’t have to be, it’s not motored the same way. There are no biennials, and there isn’t an obscene pile of money at stake. And finally, maybe writers are less open to the culture than artists for some reason. Artists truck in culture. I don’t feel that’s necessarily the case with writers. Some are following the culture, of course, and their work is in response. But there are also these quiet psychological insights that writers pursue, which are different. TM: What do you think is the most interesting thing happening in American fiction right now? RK: I hope for a lot of possibilities with American fiction. There are some writers I really love. I was just on a panel the other night with Rivka Galchen and Hari Kunzru (who is not American, but he lives in New York City), and those are two writers I admire. Also Salvatore Scibona, whose novel The End stands out for me as a rare work of beauty and complexity. I think Bret Easton Ellis is a great writer -- a very different writer than myself -- but one who will have been a really important stylist, a singular American writer. DeLillo continues to produce good work -- I think Point Omega was a near-perfect novel. But in truth, I am not that knowledgeable about contemporary fiction. I read a lot of Europeans. Modernist ones. Among younger American writers, I read more poets. There are some smart and fearless and funny and insouciant poets out there. That’s maybe where the energy is for me right now.
Marisa Silver's third novel, Mary Coin, inspired by Dorothea Lange's iconic Depression-era "Migrant Mother" photograph, depicts three contrasting yet connected lives: the photographer, Vera Dare; the photo's subject, Mary Coin; and a professor in present-day California, Walker Dodge. The book manages to feel intimate and personal, even as it spans decades and takes on big subjects like history, motherhood and art. I loved this book; it's thoughtful and compassionate, and told with a graceful assurance I don't see very often in contemporary fiction. Reviewing the novel for The New York Times, Antoine Wilson called it "phenomenal." I concur. Ms. Silver was kind enough to answer my questions via email. The Millions: With a novel like this, with three different characters and story lines, I am always curious how it was put together. Was this a case of what Madison Smartt Bell calls "modular design" where you fit these pieces together, mosaic-like, discovering, as you went along, how they fit, working not off of linear cause-and-effect, but something more thematic and intuitive? Or did you always know what order the stories would be told in, and did you write them in that order? How did the shape of this book emerge over time? What are the benefits and challenges of this kind of storytelling? Marisa Silver: Structure is both an intuitive and an intellectual preoccupation for me, a tool of narrative propulsion as well as a fundamental aspect of the story itself. If I construct a piece of fiction correctly, the structure should, in a sense, tell the story. The three intersecting stories in Mary Coin, the story of Mary, the subject of the photograph, Vera Dare, the photographer, and Walker Dodge, the modern day historian, had to be interwoven in ways that not only created tension and movement, but that also reflected the overarching theme of the book, which has to do with how the historic moment changes over time, and how it is reinterpreted and repurposed to serve contemporary yearnings for the past. So, as I played around with the structure, I thought first about allowing the reader to settle into a story line so that he or she would feel invested in the character and in the drama. Then I thought about how to step away from that story at a moment when the reader would want to know what might happen next and yet not be disappointed to switch gears and points of view. And then I thought about how what comes before will impact the understanding of what comes next, even if what comes next takes place 50 years later or a 100 years before and focuses on a set of characters that might not be obviously related to those the reader has just read about. So it’s a question of collage -- two things contain their independent meanings when viewed separately. Yet when they are juxtaposed, something new is created, new emotions are stirred, and, hopefully, something greater than its component parts is created. Structure in and of itself can be used to create suspense and a sense of urgency on the part of the reader. What is left out is as powerful as what is left in. The tantalizing sense of absence can draw a reader through a novel just as much as a pounding plot might. Since the book is so much about history, it is also, necessarily, a book about time and the emotional ruptures created when time is broken up, when things are forgotten. A photograph captures a moment of time, but then time itself moves past that moment into the future. When we look at a photograph, we are looking at time stilled, at a moment that has died. And we are also looking at the space between things, between a moment past and the present moment we live in. And so a kind of emotional yearning is part of that experience, the deep desire for something that cannot be fully possessed. In the same way, a structure that moves around in time tells the story of that rupture and creates the experience of yearning that is also the subject of the text. My hope was the structural choices I made would be part of the experience of the novel’s central ideas. TM: How much of this book is based in the real-life stories of Dorothea Lange and the woman she photographed? I am curious about the research that went into the book, and how that balanced with your imagined versions of these lives. The book wrestles with notions of representation and exploitation in photographs, and Mary Coin and her family never benefit financially from the image Vera takes; it's both Mary and not-Mary in that image. I wonder, did you struggle with similar questions of representation in creating these fictive depictions of real-life people? What do you owe a real-life person, when creating narrative? MS: The issues surrounding appropriation and representation are central to the book itself and were, as you suggest, ideas I wrestled with as a writer. I began the process by doing a lot of research into the lives of Dorothea Lange and Florence Owens Thompson, the woman in the photograph. And, of course, I did more general research about the various time periods the book covers, wandering off into the eddies of subject matter that writing always leads me to explore. How was lumber cut and milled in the 1920s? What might a person’s hands look like if she pulled cotton eight hours a day? But I knew from the very beginning that my interest in taking on this subject was not about faithful recreation of the lives of the women who inspired the book. Rather, I was interested in the very idea of appropriation and how my own handling of the material would address that subject. I recognized early on that in fictionalizing this story, in layering onto the facts a kind of lyric inventiveness, I was doing exactly what any viewer of that photograph does: he brings his subjectivity to the viewing, along with the mores of the time he or she lives in, a social ethics and point of view that are formed by the now. In this way, the image viewed has as much to do with the actual documented moment as it does with reinterpretation and reinvention, the space fiction occupies. What do I owe the real people upon whom I based my characters? I think I owed them the seriousness of my purpose, a deep consideration, and clarity, suggested within the work, about the fact that I was not endeavoring or presuming to write their lives, but that I was using their fascinating examples as inspiration for fiction. And I think I owed them affection, which I felt and continue to feel. TM: All three of these story lines explore the pain, struggle, and rewards of parenting. Mary Coin has seven children to care for as a migrant farm worker and widow. The choices she makes in the book are heartbreaking -- and are they even choices? For years, Vera Dare puts her family before her work, and then, when money is tight, she and her painter husband send their two young sons to live with a babysitter so that they can continue to work to support them. Later, she travels to photograph poor farmers and doesn't see her sons for long stretches. Throughout, the making of photographs, and the life of a photo, are compared to parenting. In the modern-day storyline, Walker is a divorced father who struggles to see his two children for who they are, for who they're striving to be. This novel succinctly depicts the sweet pain of parenting, which I really connected with. I was also struck by how money and the harsh reality of the economy dictates parental choices in the novel. Can you talk a little bit about these themes? MS: The Lange photograph, "Migrant Mother," is powerful for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it evokes an image so embedded in our collective consciousness: Mary, the maternal ideal, holding infant Jesus while two angels look over her shoulders. I am fascinated by the tenacity of the ideal of the “good mother.” Despite the obvious ways in which a woman’s place in society has changed over the last half century, I think we still have a knee jerk notion that if a mother isn’t all-loving and all-caring, and if her decisions don’t always prioritize the child, then she is worthy of our judgment. When I started to engage with my characters as parents, and particularly Mary and Vera as mothers, I wanted to suspend judgment and simply look at the facts of their lives. Mary has seven kids. One could say that she is irresponsible having so many children when her situation is so dire. But it was less interesting to me to judge that choice than to think about why she makes that choice, and what her relationship is to her kids and to her idea of herself as a mother. In the same way, Vera sends her children to live away from her home so that she can work. The choice is a complicated one for her and I wanted to explore the ramifications for the character and for the story from her very subjective standpoint. All three parents in the story, Mary, Vera, and Walker, deal with the fact that, in various ways, they abandon their children. I think the idea of abandonment is central to the idea of parenting. Even if a parent doesn’t literally leave her child, there are other sorts of abandonments, ending with the final abandonment, which in most cases is the death of a parent. The idea of the missing, in both the sense of what is absent and what is longed for, is an underlying current that runs through the book. TM: I want to describe the prose in this novel as "clean," but that seems to barely capture what makes it so pleasing to read. The other word I want to use is "unsentimental." There is something so spare and well-here-it-is about your depiction of the world, particularly when describing Mary Coin's life of hardship. The moment when she tells Charles Dodge that she's pregnant is a great example: "She could tell by his reaction that although he was curious about the particulars of her past, he would not be interested in her future." The chapter ends there, like a knife in the gut. Can you talk about sentence-making and how it relates to the development of the story and your characters? MS: Writing a good sentence is having to hit the bull's-eye each and every time. A sentence has to serve so many purposes. It has to provide forward momentum. It has to tell us what we need to know. It has to suggest character. It has to stand at a correct distance from the characters in order to let the reader know the authorial attitude. It has to have within it a kind of kinetic energy that reflects the book’s or a character’s tone. Its construction has to illuminate the larger preoccupations of the book. It has to be disciplined and cannot be beautiful for the sake of beauty. The rhythmic interplay between sentences determines length and sound, smoothness versus percussiveness, which words end one sentence and which begin the next. I think it is my nature to subtract, to try to boil something down to its essentials so that only what needs to be said is said. I want to provide enough space around important words and ideas so that they have the impact I want them to have. I also think about a character’s behavior, or his actions, as being part and parcel of the sentence, and not simply because the sentence describes that action. In other words, what a character says and what he does have to be in dialogue with one another, hopefully a kind of itchy, incongruent dialogue. Then things get interesting. Do I write spare, unsentimental prose? I always remind myself that what I am doing is reporting on what is happening in my imagination. The facts, ma’am. Just the facts. TM: There's a lot of rich material in the novel about photography and the power, posterity, and myths of an image. You were a screenwriter and a director before you published fiction. How does that background come into play with this book? MS: When I was 20 years old, I made a film with the great documentary filmmaker, Richard Leacock, for PBS -- it was my first real job. We made a film about a family of fundamental Christians who lived in Indiana. The people Ricky and I filmed agreed to take part, and we tried to be as true to them as we could, but I understood that both of these propositions -- their agreement and our desire to film the “truth” -- were fraught. I think it is very difficult for anyone to understand just how exposing it is to be the subject of a film or a photograph. And the minute a filmmaker or photographer puts a frame around reality, chooses a particular composition, and makes editing choices of what to show and what to leave out, the truth becomes a casualty. That experience made me think about what both my characters, Mary Coin and Vera Dare, might have felt as the subject and maker of the photograph in the novel. Ricky died during the time I was working on the book. I thought so much about the film we made together and about the impact he had on my creative life. We’d be filming a scene and suddenly, I’d look over, and Ricky’s camera would have strayed from the overt “subject” of the moment in order to film something seemingly inconsequential that was happening “over there.” And that thing, whatever it was -- a cat dozing in the corner, or a kid stringing a lanyard -- would become the shot that exploded the scene and gave it dimension and resonance. He taught me that it was as important to look at what was within the frame as it was to look outside it, that what I think is the point of a scene may not be the point at all. He taught me to look askance. TM: Since this is The Millions, I must ask: What was the last great book you read? MS: The last great book I read was The Flamethrowers by my friend Rachel Kushner. Oh, and The Scarlet Letter. I read it again. I was amazed by it again.
Rachel Kushner is in her mid-40s, which means she has not yet reached full stride as a writer. Yet her first two novels have taken her a long way toward huge. How did she do it? How did she go so far, so fast? Turns out it was easy as one, two, three. 1. Kushner's first novel, Telex From Cuba, was a National Book Award finalist in 2008, and deservedly so. It had none of the flaws common to so many first novels -- the self-absorption, the navel-gazing, the precious prose and attenuated ambition. Written with great assurance, the novel teems with life, with voices, with real events, with historical, composite and imagined figures. It's set in Cuba in the last years of the corrupt Batista regime, as Fidel Castro and his rebels are rising in Oriente Province, on the eastern end of the island. It is there that two insulated colonies of Americans, in the neighboring towns of Preston and Nicaro, go about the business of extracting riches from the island's sugar crops and nickel deposits. These Americans, as portrayed by Kushner, are not cardboard villains; they're decent but naive people who are blind to the ways they're exploiting the Cuban, Haitian and Jamaican laborers. They're also clueless that their cloistered, artificial world is about to get swept away in a popular uprising. One of the novel's many narrative voices belongs to K.C. Stites, a son of the United Fruit Company's manager in Preston. K.C.'s youth allows Kushner to create a portrait of pre-revolutionary Cuba as seen through the non-judgmental eyes of someone who has not yet acquired an adult's experience, knowledge and prejudices. Here's K.C. on the condition of the cane cutters and the quandary of their American employers: Dirt shacks, no running water -- the way those people lived, it's just how life was to me. I was a child. Mother didn't like it, but Daddy reminded her that the company paid them higher wages than any Cuban-owned sugar operation. Mother thought it was just terrible the way the Cuban plantations did business. It broke her heart, the idea of a race of people exploiting their own kind...She was proud of Daddy, proud of the fact that the United Fruit Company upheld a certain standard, paid better wages than they had to, just to be decent. She said she hoped it would influence the Cubans to treat their own kind a bit better. When I was about halfway through the novel I happened upon an interview with Kushner, in which she revealed that she has a deeply personal interest in this material. Her grandfather was a mining executive in Nicaro, and her mother grew up there in the 1950s. As Kushner told the interviewer: My grandparents, dead for many years now, saved an incredible trove of stuff from their life in Cuba: every last receipt from the United Fruit commissary where my grandmother bought groceries, a mimeograph of every letter she sent, etc. I spent about three years going through this stuff, and interviewing my mother and her sisters and others they'd grown up with. Kushner also traveled to Cuba several times, walking the ground her mother had walked, talking to people who remembered the old days, discovering ghostly remnants of the American presence. It was only when Kushner started writing her book that she made a discovery that is vital to any novelist trying to spin fiction out of historical events: the great danger is emptying your notebook, becoming lulled by your research into forgetting that novels are, first and last, works of the imagination. Kushner said: I had to disconnect completely from all that (research) and build a fictional structure and then adhere precisely to its logic and requirements, which meant only using what served my story. Just because something is true does not mean it has a place. Often it turned out quite the opposite, that the people and characters and details I imagined were much more fluid and true-seeming, and it was the 'true life' detail that stuck out and seemed awkward. That said, by so thoroughly metabolizing the 'real' American colony, I was able to depict mine freehand..." Just because something is true does not mean it has a place. This realization is, I think, the key to this novel's success. So is Kushner's understanding that "real" is a word that must always appear between quotation marks. In the course of the novel we meet the usual suspects -- Raúl Castro, Fidel Castro, Batista, Ambassador Earl Smith, Henry Cabot Lodge, a somewhat under-drawn Hemingway. (For a more nuanced portrait of Papa in Cuba, see William Kennedy's latest novel, Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes.) We make the obligatory trip to the rebels' camp in the hills. But it is Kusnher's flights of imagination that breathe life into this deeply researched and thoroughly plausible portrait of the twilight of a surreal way of life. Another thing I learned from the interview was that one of Kushner's sources of inspiration was a documentary film called I Am Cuba, which was made jointly by Russian and Cuban filmmakers and released in 1964, before the revolutionary euphoria and the lovely buildings started to crumble. I set the novel aside, got a copy of the movie, and watched it. It is, as Kushner notes, "a piece of propaganda" about the ways the evil Americans exploited and corrupted the good Cuban people. Yet Kushner also noted that it is "one of only a handful of films that show you what pre-revolutionary Cuba might have looked like." The film opens with an astonishing piece of camera work -- a long tracking shot that starts at a raucous beauty contest on a luxury hotel's rooftop in downtown Havana, then slides down to the swimming pool deck, then takes you into the pool, then into a nightclub, where frenzied dancing eventually breaks out. It's breathtaking, and Kushner rightly likens it to the openings of Touch of Evil and Boogie Nights. After watching the movie, I returned to the novel and soon came to a thrilling set piece, a cocktail party for the mining executives and their wives thrown by a Cuban interloper named Lito Gonzalez, who is trying to horn in on the Americans' air-tight monopoly on the nickel mining operation. Told in omniscient third person, the narrative moves smoothly between conversations, dipping into the minds of the revelers, pulling back, sliding around the room, revealing the Americans' anxieties, petty jealousies, racism, lusts, snobbery, decency, and fears. Revealing, in a word, their humanity. It is magnificent polished writing, the literary equivalent of that seamless tracking shot that opens I Am Cuba. The novel carries other echoes of the movie, including an arson fire in a sugar cane field and the Christmas festivities in Havana, where the Stites family stays at a posh gated country club, goes to a Sugar Ray Robinson boxing match, attends a Xavier Cugat performance, eats lobster and flambe at the Floridita. These scenes reminded me that wise novelists like Kushner take their inspiration wherever they find it -- from propaganda films, letters, shopping lists, books, research trips, interviews, overheard conversations, and, above all, their own imaginations. And they never lose sight of the novelist's first commandment: Just because something is true does not mean it has a place. 2. They say the second novel is the hardest one to write, especially if the first one was as well received as Telex From Cuba. Obviously they forgot to tell Kushner. Her second novel, The Flamethrowers, has just been published, and it's even more capacious and ambitious than her debut. Instead of taking place in a hermetically sealed cloister on a Caribbean island, the new novel explodes in countless directions, in time and space, carrying the reader across continents and oceans, halfway around the world, and deep into the souls of vivid characters living in a darkly vivid age. That age is the 1970s, when the primary events are set, a time of political kidnappings and murders, blackouts and garbage strikes, minimalist art. At the center of it all is Reno, an unformed young artist and motorcycle racer with a "need for risk," who grew up fatherless and working-class poor in Nevada. While trying to break into the downtown New York art scene, she decides to try to set a motorcycle speed record on the Bonneville salt flats aboard a new Moto Valera, provided by her artist boyfriend's wealthy Italian family, manufacturers of motorcycles, tires and money. In a long opening sequence, Kushner cuts back and forth between Reno's rough childhood, her trip to the salt flats, and her life in New York, another seamless piece of writing that expands on the promise of that cocktail party for the mining executives in Telex From Cuba. Reno crashes the motorcycle but, as a consolation, gets to set a land speed record for women aboard the Valera company's rocket-powered vehicle, "The Spirit of Italy." She hits 308.506 miles per hour, making her "the fastest woman in the world." One of Kushner's most exciting developments in this novel is her deft handling of a complex narrative, her ability to loop backward and forward in time, to shift from the First World War to the '70s, from America to Europe and South America, to change points of view, all the while keeping the story flowing. She also imparts vast amounts of information -- about everything from motorcycles to tapping rubber trees and combat with flamethrowers in the First World War -- all of which gives the novel its rock-solid sense of reality. Kushner doesn't just write what she knows; she writes what she knows and what she is able to learn and what she is able to imagine truthfully from all of it. My favorite scenes take place in downtown New York in the '70s, when women wore see-through pants to gallery openings and everyone was, to some extent, nuts. Kushner paints a world of poseurs, strivers, squatters, punks, and epic talkers, people who were inclined to jump into bed together as soon as they'd finished shaking hands. The novel nails the giddy, unhinged euphoria of it all, a further credit to Kushner, who was a young girl and nowhere near New York at the time. But New York can't contain Kushner's imagination. She takes her lovers, Reno and Sandro, to Italy, where they visit his wealthy family at their villa above Lake Como while she gets ready to do a promotion with Valera Tires, cashing in on her notoriety as the fastest woman in the world. Here Kushner stumbles. For 45 pages she dwells on the inner workings of a paranoid, provincial, and obscenely rich Italian family. Worse, there's a gasbag American named Chesil Jones on hand to deliver windy monologues that bore everyone, including the reader. For all I know, Kushner has hung out with rich Italians in a villa above Lake Como, and they're every bit as cheap, condescending, and self-absorbed as Sandro's family and friends. But just because something is true does not mean it has a place. The novel's one truly bad moment arrives when Sandro's brother Roberto, who runs the family empire, rails against the Red Brigades and other activists for having the audacity to object to the fact that the Valera family built its fortune on slave labor and still operates sweatshops in Italy's slums: "Anyway, it's too late," he said. "Rome is ruined. Dirty and chaotic and there is the feeling of enemies, a population of people who are against you and for no reason. Hateful people who attack us because we are sane, and for order and work and all the good things that Italians once wanted. All the young people are on drugs," he said. "With long, ratty hair and stupefied expressions, like they've figured out how to empty their minds of thought. They have nothing to communicate but the cretinous message anyone can see: I have long hair." I'm sorry, but I doubt that even beleaguered Italian tycoons in the '70s uttered such inanities. I was almost willing to overlook this misstep when I read Reno's description of Sandro's and Roberto's mother: "It was obvious she had been beautiful when she was young, with eyes that were the splendid gold-green of muscat grapes. She was in her seventies now, her complexion like wet flour, clammy and pale, with the exception of her nose, which had a curiously dark cast to it, a shadow of black under the thin tarp of skin, as if her nose had trapped the toxins from a lifetime of rich food and heavy wines." The novel glitters with such gems. Fortunately, Kushner wrestles Reno away from the plush villa and drops her into the violent, chaotic streets of Rome, where the novel regains its footing and heads to a darkly satisfying conclusion, where Roberto gets his comeuppance, nothing is neat, and there are no answers, only the next question. The untidy ending might be unsatisfying to some readers, but the lives of these characters could not have played out any other way. The Flamethrowers, like Telex From Cuba, operates outside -- above? -- many of the current arguments about the novel, whether it needs to be more postmodern, more realistic, more experimental, more whatever. Kushner has proven, on the strength of just two novels, that those wearisome debates fade to nothing in the face of skillful storytelling, carefully made sentences and a lively, fact-fuelled imagination. Kushner's fiction is so stuffed with characters, events, stories, history, information -- it is so alive in its own specific imagined worlds -- that it seems to want to burst. But it never does. And that may be the main reason why Rachel Kushner is well on her way to huge. 3. The Guggenheim Foundation recently announced that it has awarded a fellowships, worth about $40,000, to Kushner and the writers Joshua Foer, Kiran Desai, Adam Johnson, Ben Marcus, David Means, Terese Svoboda, and Colson Whitehead, among many others. This was terrific news. It means that every writer's dream has come true for Rachel Kushner: she has the money to buy the time to produce another novel. I, for one, am waiting, impatiently.
2013 is looking very fruitful, readers. While last year offered new work from Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz, Michael Chabon, and many more, this year we'll get our hands on new George Saunders, Karen Russell, Jamaica Kincaid, Anne Carson, Colum McCann, Aleksandar Hemon and even Vladimir Nabokov and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as, beyond the horizon of summer, new Paul Harding, Jonathan Lethem, and Thomas Pynchon. We'll also see an impressive array of anticipated work in translation from the likes of Alejandro Zambra, Ma Jian, László Krasznahorkai, Javier Marías and Karl Ove Knausgaard, among others. But these just offer the merest hint of the literary plenty that 2013 is poised to deliver. A bounty that we have tried to tame in another of our big book previews. The list that follows isn't exhaustive - no book preview could be - but, at 7,900 words strong and encompassing 79 titles, this is the only 2013 book preview you will ever need. January or Already Out: Tenth of December by George Saunders: Tenth of December is George Saunders at his hilarious, heartbreaking best, excavating modern American life in a way that only he can. In "Home," a soldier returns from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a deteriorating family situation. In "Victory Lap," a botched abduction is told from three very different perspectives. Tenth of December has already prompted an all-out rave profile from the New York Times. And for those George Saunders super fans out there, yes, there is a story set at a theme park. (Patrick) Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright: While Wright was working on his 25,000-word take-down of the Church of Scientology for The New Yorker (where he is a staff writer), a spokesman for the organization showed up with four lawyers and 47 binders of documentation. “I suppose the idea was to drown me in information,” Wright recently told the Times, “but it was like trying to pour water on a fish.” The investigation has blossomed into a full-length book that’s shaping up to be as controversial as anything that crosses Scientology’s path: Wright has been receiving numerous legal missives from the church itself and the celebrities he scrutinizes, and his British publisher has just backed out—though they claim they haven’t been directly threatened by anyone. (Elizabeth) Umbrella by Will Self: Shortly before Umbrella came out in the UK last September, Will Self published an essay in The Guardian about how he’d gone modernist. “As I've grown older, and realised that there aren't that many books left for me to write, so I've become determined that they should be the fictive equivalent of ripping the damn corset off altogether and chucking it on the fire.” Umbrella is the result of Self’s surge in ambition, and it won him some of the best reviews of his career, as well as his first Booker shortlisting. He lost out to Hilary Mantel in the end, but he won the moral victory in the group photo round by doing this. (Mark) Revenge by Yoko Ogawa: English-reading fans of the prolific and much-lauded Yoko Ogawa rejoice at the advent of Revenge, a set of eleven stories translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder. The stories, like Ogawa's other novels (among them The Diving Pool, The Housekeeper and the Professor, and Hotel Iris) are purportedly elegant and creepy. (Lydia) Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra: Drop the phrase “Chilean novelist” and literary minds automatically flock to Bolaño. However, Alejandro Zambra is another name those words should soon conjure if they don't already. Zambra was named one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish Language Novelists in 2010, and his soon-to-be-released third novel, Ways of Going Home, just won a PEN translation award. The novel has dual narratives: a child’s perspective in Pinochet’s Chile and an author’s meditation on the struggle of writing. In Zambra’s own words (from our 2011 interview): “It’s a book about memory, about parents, about Chile. It’s about the 80s, about the years when we children were secondary characters in the literature of our parents. It’s about the dictatorship, as well, I guess. And about literature, intimacy, the construction of intimacy.” (Anne) Scenes from Early Life by Philip Hensher: In his eighth novel, Scenes from Early Life, Philip Hensher “shows for the first time what [he] has largely concealed in the past: his heart,” writes Amanda Craig in The Independent. Written in the form of a memoir, narrated in the voice of Hensher’s real-life husband Zaved Mahmood, the novel invites comparison with Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Described as a hybrid of fiction, history, and biography—and as both “clever” and “loving”—the inventive project here is distinctly intriguing. (Sonya) Exodus by Lars Iyer: Exodus, which follows Spurious and Dogma, is the eminently satisfying and unexpectedly moving final installment in a truly original trilogy about two wandering British intellectuals—Lars and W., not to be confused with Lars Iyer and his real friend W., whom he’s been quoting for years on his blog—and their endless search for meaning in a random universe, for true originality of thought, for a leader, for better gin. (Emily M.) February: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell: Russell’s short stories are marked by superb follow-through: many succeed due to her iron-clad commitment to often fantastical conceits, like the title story of her first collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which draws a powerful metaphor for adolescent girlhood in an actual orphanage for girls raised by wolves. Last year saw her debut novel, Swamplandia!, nominated for the Pulitzer prize; this year, her second short story collection—and another batch of fantastical conceits—finally arrives. Just imagine the characters in this title story, trying to quell their bloodlust, sinking their fangs into lemons under the Italian sun. (Elizabeth) My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak: When Maurice Sendak died last May he left one, final, unpublished book behind. It is, according to a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, a beautiful, intensely serious elegy for Sendak’s beloved older brother Jack, who died in 1995. The story, illustrated in watercolors, has Guy (a stand-in for Sendak), journeying down the gullet of a massive polar bear named Death- “Diving through time so vast—sweeping past paradise”- into an underworld where he and Jack have one last reunion. “To read this intensely private work,” writes Publisher’s Weekly, “is to look over the artist's shoulder as he crafts his own afterworld, a place where he lies in silent embrace with those he loves forever.” (Kevin) Benediction by Kent Haruf: Kent Haruf’s previous novels, which include Plainsong and Eventide, have all taken place in the fictional Colorado town of Holt, which is based on the real life city of Yuma. His newest work is no exception. It is a network of family dramas in a small town, most of which revolve around loss or impending loss, strained relationships, and efforts to grapple, together, with the pain the characters face in their own lives and feel in the lives of those around them. (Kevin) See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid: For See Now Then, her first novel in a decade, Jamaica Kincaid settles into a small town in Vermont, where she dissects the past, present and future of the crumbling marriage of Mrs. Sweet, mother of two children named Heracles and Persephone, a woman whose composer husband leaves her for a younger musician. Kincaid is known as a writer who can see clean through the surface of things – and people – and this novel assures us that "Mrs. Sweet could see Mrs. Sweet very well." (Bill) The Bridge Over the Neroch: And Other Works by Leonid Tsypkin: Like Chekhov, Tsypkin was a doctor by trade. In fact, that was all most people knew him as during his lifetime. At the time of Tsypkin's death, his novel Summer in Baden-Baden, one of the most beautiful to come out of the Soviet Era, remained unpublished, trapped in a drawer in Moscow. Now New Directions brings us the "remaining writings": a novella and several short stories. (Garth) How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields: Like his 2008 book The Thing About Life is that One Day You’ll Be Dead, which was nearly as much a biology text book as it was a memoir, How Literature Saved My Life obstinately evades genre definitions. It takes the form of numerous short essays and fragments of oblique meditation on life and literature; and, as you’d expect from the author of Reality Hunger, it’s heavily textured with quotation. Topics include Shields’s identification with such diverse fellows as Ben Lerner (his “aesthetic spawn”) and George W. Bush, the fundamental meaninglessness of life, and the continued decline of realist narrative fiction. (Mark) The City of Devi by Manil Suri: Manil Suri is perhaps best known for his first novel The Death of Vishnu, which was long-listed for the Booker and shortlisted for the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award. The City of Devi, his third novel, takes place in a Mumbai emptied out under threat of nuclear attack. Sarita, a 33-year-old statistician, stays in the city to find her beloved husband, who has mysteriously vanished. She ends up teaming up with a gay Muslim man named Jaz, and together they travel across this dangerous and absurd and magical landscape. According to Keran Desai, this is Suri’s “bravest and most passionate book,” which combines “the thrill of Bollywood with the pull of a thriller.” (Edan) Breakfast at Tiffany's & Other Voices, Other Rooms: Two Novels by Truman Capote: Holly Golightly is turning 55, and to mark her entry into late middle age, the Modern Library is reissuing Capote’s dazzling 1958 novella that made her and Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue showroom into American icons. The short novel is paired with Capote’s (also brief) debut novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, a strange and haunting semi-fictional evocation of Capote’s hauntingly strange Southern childhood. Modern Library will also reissue Capote’s Complete Stories in March. (Michael) Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash: Ron Rash has earned a spot as one of the top fiction writers describing life in Appalachia with his previous books, The Cove, Serena, and One Foot in Eden. His newest collection of short stories tells of two drug-addicted friends stealing their former boss’s war trophies, of a prisoner on a chain-gang trying to convince a farmer’s young wife to help him escape, and of an eerie diving expedition to retrieve the body of a girl who drowned beneath a waterfall. (Kevin) The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne: If you have ever wondered what, if anything, is going on inside the head of one of those kiddie pop stars who seem animatronically designed to make the tween girls swoon, then Jonny Valentine may be for you. Winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award for his first novel Kapitoil, Wayne has built a reputation for offbeat wit in his humor columns for Vanity Fair and McSweeney’s, as well as “Shouts & Murmurs” pieces in The New Yorker. Here, he channels the voice of a lonely eleven-year-old pop megastar in a rollicking satire of America’s obsession with fame and pop culture. (Michael) Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked by James Lasdun: English poet, novelist and short story writer James Lasdun’s new book is a short memoir about a long and harrowing experience at the hands of a former student who set out to destroy him and through online accusations of sexual harassment and theft. J.M. Coetzee has called it “a reminder, as if any were needed, of how easily, since the arrival of the Internet, our peace can be troubled and our good name besmirched.” (Mark) Fight Song by Joshua Mohr: Joshua Mohr’s previous novels—Some Things That Meant The World To Me, Termite Parade, and Damascus—formed a loose trilogy, each book standing alone but all three concerned with a mildly overlapping cast of drifting and marginal characters in San Francisco. In Fight Song, Mohr is on to new territory, “way out in a puzzling universe known as the suburbs,” where a middle-aged man embarks on a quest to find happiness, to reconnect with his distant and distracted family, and to reverse a long slide into purposelessness. (Emily M.) March: Middle C by William H. Gass: Not many writers are still at the height of their powers at age 88. Hell, not many writers are still writing at 88. (We're looking at you, Philip Roth.) But William H. Gass has always been an outlier, pursuing his own vision on his own timetable. His last novel (and magnum opus) The Tunnel took thirty years to write. Middle C, comparatively svelte at 400-odd pages, took a mere fifteen, and may be his most accessible fiction since 1968's In The Heart of the Heart of the Country. It's a character piece, concerning one Joseph Skizzen, a serial (and hapless) C.V. embellisher and connoisseur of more serious forms of infamy. The plot, such as it is, follows him from war-torn Europe, where he loses his father, to a career as a music professor in the Midwest. Not much happens - does it ever, in Gass? - but, sentence by sentence, you won't read a more beautifully composed or stimulating novel this year. Or possibly any other. (Garth) The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout: Maine native Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009 for Olive Kitteridge, her novel in the form of linked stories. Strout's fourth novel, The Burgess Boys, is the story of the brothers Jim and Bob Burgess, who are haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children in Maine. They have since fled to Brooklyn, but they're summoned home by their sister Susan, who needs their help dealing with her troubled teenage son. Once they're back home, long-buried tensions resurface that will change the Burgess boys forever. (Bill) The Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte: Sam Lipsyte returns to short stories with his new book The Fun Parts. The collection contains some fiction previously published in The Paris Review, Playboy, and The New Yorker, including his excellent "The Climber Room," which ends with a bizarre twist. Several of the stories, including "The Dungeon Master" and "Snacks," explore the world from the perspectives of misfit teens. As with all of Lipstye's stories, expect his absurdist humor and a just a touch of perversion. Get excited. (Patrick) Red Doc> by Anne Carson: It’s been more than a decade since Carson, a poet and classicist, published The Autobiography of Red, a dazzling and powerful poetic novel that reinvents the myth of Herakles and Greyon: hero and monster reworked into a story of violently deep unrequited love. Red Doc> promises to be a sequel of sorts, with “a very different style,” “changed names,” and the spare preview is incredibly intriguing: “To live past the end of your myth is a perilous thing.” (Elizabeth) A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee: Author of The Privileges, arguably the best novel about haute New York in the boom years of the past decade, Dee returns with another tale of family life in the upper reaches of New York society, this time post-recession. When her husband loses his job as a partner at a white-shoe law firm, Helen Armstead finds a job at a PR firm, where she discovers she has an almost magical, and definitely lucrative, gift: she can convince powerful men to admit their mistakes. But this is a novel, so her professional success does not necessarily translate into success in her personal life. (Michael) Speedboat by Renata Adler: This novel, first published in 1976, brings to mind the old saw about the Velvet Underground. Not everybody read it, but everybody who did went on to write a novel of his or her own. Adler is primarily known for her acerbic New Yorker fact pieces, but, like her omnicompetent contemporary Joan Didion, she is also a terrific fiction writer. This fragmented look at the life of an Adler-like journalist may be her Play It As It Lays. Writers still urgently press out-of-print copies on each other in big-city bars near last call. Now it's getting the NYRB Classics treatment. (Garth) Mary Coin by Marisa Silver: Following the success of her novel The God of War, The New Yorker favorite Marisa Silver returns with Mary Coin, a novel inspired by Dorothea Lange’s iconic “Migrant Mother” photo. The book follows three characters: Mary, the mother in the photograph; Vera Dare, the photographer; and Walker Dodge, a contemporary-era professor of cultural history. Ben Fountain says it’s “quite simply one of the best books I’ve read in years,” and Meghan O’Rourke calls it “an extraordinarily wise and compassionate novel.” (Edan) How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid: Hamid’s previous novels were The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Moth Smoke. His third borrows the structure of self-help books (chapter titles include "Avoid Idealists", "Don’t Fall in Love", and "Work For Yourself") to follow a nameless man’s ascent from a childhood of rural poverty to success as a corporate tycoon in a metropolis in “rising Asia.” (Emily M.) The Tragedy of Mr. Morn Vladimir Nabokov: I furrowed my brow when I saw Nabokov's name on the preview list, imagining a horde of publishers rooting through his undies for hitherto undiscovered index cards. But this is a very old play, in the scheme of Nabokov's life--written in 1923, published in Russian in 2008, published in English this spring. The play is about royalty, revolutionaries, allegories; "On the page," writes Lesley Chamberlain for the TLS, " the entire text creeps metonymically sideways. Its author weaves language into a tissue of reality hinting at some veiled, mysteriously interconnected, static truth beyond." I'm not sure what that means, but I think I like it. (Lydia) The Book of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon: Sarajevo-born, Chicago-based author Aleksandar Hemon—winner of the MacArthur “genius grant” and editor of Dalkey Archive’s stellar Best European Fiction series—abandons fiction for essay and memoir in his fifth book, The Book of My Lives. The title alludes to and, as far as we can tell, calls upon Hemon’s New Yorker essay “The Book of My Life,” about his former literature professor turned war criminal, Nikola Koljevic. Just as Hemon’s novel Lazarus Project straddled the fiction/nonfiction divide, The Book of My Lives isn’t strictly memoir, pushing boundaries of genre now from the nonfiction side. (Anne) The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma: Kristopher Jansma, academic and Electric Literature blogger, drawer of daring and controversial parallels on the digital pages of our own august publication (Is The Killing like or not like Kafka?), publishes his debut novel on the first day of spring. The novel features young writers, young love, artistic competition, girls, jaunts. I predict that at least one blurber will reference This Side of Paradise. (Lydia) A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal: In the 2003, "a young Oklahoman who work[ed] in New York" stole the eleventh issue of McSweeney's from the likes of Joyce Carol Oates and T.C. Boyle with a story - well, scenario, really - called "Weena." Maybe I only loved it so much because I, too, was from outlands like those it so lovingly described. Still, I've been keeping an eye out for that young Oklahoman, Benjamin Lytal, ever since. I assume that A Map of Tulsa, too, is about coming of age in Tulsa, a city that looks from the window of a passing car at night "like a mournful spaceship." (Garth) In Partial Disgrace by Charles Newman: Newman, the editor who put TriQuarterly on the map in the 1960s, was once spoken of in the same breath with the great dark humorists of postwar American writing. Even before his death, in 2006, his novels were falling out of print and his reputation fading. If there is any justice in the republic of letters (which is a big if), the belated publication of his incomplete masterwork, a sprawling trilogy set in a fictional Mitteleuropean nation to rival Musil's Kakania, should put him permanently back on the map. (Garth) The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee: J.M. Coetzee, Nobel laureate and two-time Booker Prize winner, continues to explore the plight of the outsider in his new allegorical novel, The Childhood of Jesus. It's the story of an unnamed man and boy who cross an ocean to a strange land where, bereft of memories, they are assigned the names Simon and David before they set out to find the boy's mother. They succeed, apparently, only to run afoul of the authorities, which forces them to flee by car through the mountains. One early reader has called the novel "profound and continually surprising." (Bill) April: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: The beloved author of Case Histories, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and Started Early, Took My Dog (among others) is out with the stor(ies) of Ursula Todd. In 1910, Todd is born during a snowstorm in England, but from then on there are parallel stories — one in which she dies at first breath, and one in which she lives through the tumultuous 20th century. As the lives of Ursula Todd continue to multiply, Atkinson asks what, then, is the best way to live, if one has multiple chances? (Janet) All That Is by James Salter: Upon return from service as a naval officer in Okinawa, Philip Bowman becomes a book editor during the “golden age” of publishing. The publisher’s blurb promises “Salter’s signature economy of prose” and a story about the “dazzling, sometimes devastating labyrinth of love and ambition.” In our interview with Salter in September, he told us it was “an intimate story about a life in New York publishing,” some 10 years in the making. From John Irving: “A beautiful novel, with sufficient love, heartbreak, vengeance, identity confusion, longing, and euphoria of language to have satisfied Shakespeare.” Tim O’Brien: “Salter’s vivid, lucid prose does exquisite justice to his subject—the relentless struggle to make good on our own humanity.” April will not come soon enough. (Sonya) The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud: The Emperor's Children, Messud's bestselling novel from 2006, did as much as anyone has to bridge the gap between the social novel and the novel of consciousness her husband, James Wood, has championed in his criticism. Now, Messud returns with the story of a Boston-area woman who becomes entangled with a Lebanese-Italian family that moves in nearby. Expect, among other things, insanely fine writing. (Garth) The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: In a review of her most recent book, 2011’s The Uncoupling, the San Francisco Chronicle declared that, “At this point in her career, Meg Wolitzer deserves to be a household name.” Wolitzer’s tenth novel begins at a summer camp for the arts in 1974, and follows a group of friends into the adulthood. They’re all talented, but talent isn’t enough, and as they grow up, their paths split: some are forced to exchange their childhood dreams for more conventional lives, while others find great success—and, as one might imagine, tensions arise from these differences. (Elizabeth) The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner: Rachel Kushner’s first novel, Telex from Cuba, was lauded for its evocative descriptions and its power of suspense. Kushner will surely call on both talents for The Flamethrowers, as her heroine first becomes immersed in a late ‘70s New York downtown scene peopled by artists and squatters, and then follows a motorcycle baron to Italy during the height of the Autonomist movement. Images are central to Kushner’s creative process: a ducati, a woman in war paint, and a F.T. Marinetti lookalike riding atop a cycle with a bullet-shaped sidecar were talismans (among others) for writing this book. (Anne) Harvard Square by André Aciman: In 1970s Cambridge, Massachusetts, a young Harvard graduate student from Egypt wants to be the consummate American, fully assimilated and ensconced in the ivory tower as a literature professor. Then he meets Kalaj — an Arab cab driver who denigrates American mass culture and captivates the student with his seedy, adventurous life. Harvard Square tells the story of this young student’s dilemma, caught between the lofty world of Harvard academia and the magnetic company of his new friend. (Janet) Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel: Woke Up Lonely is Fiona Maazel's first novel since being named a "5 Under 35" choice by the National Book Foundation. The book focuses on Thurlow Dan, the founder of the Helix, a cult that promises to cure loneliness. Ironically, Thurlow himself is profoundly lonely and longing for his ex-wife, Esme. The book has been compared to the work of Sam Lipsyte and Karen Russell, and if there's one phrase that continually appears in early reviews and press materials, it is "action packed." (Patrick) The Dark Road by Ma Jian: Ma Jian, whose books and person are both banned from China, published his third novel The Dark Road in June (Yunchen Publishing House, Taipei); the English translation will be released by Penguin. The story: a couple determined to give birth to a second child in order to carry on the family line flee their village and the family planning crackdown. At Sampsonia Way, Tienchi Martin-Liao described it as “an absurd story” that uses “magical realism to describe the perverse reality in China.” The publisher describes it as “a haunting and indelible portrait of the tragedies befalling women and families at the hands of China’s one-child policy and of the human spirit’s capacity to endure even the most brutal cruelty.” Martin-Liao tells us that the book’s title, Yin Zhi Dao, also means vagina, or place of life and origin. (Sonya) The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard: Stothard’s second novel (after Isabel and Rocco) follows an unnamed 17-year-old narrator as she flies from London to L.A. for the funeral of Lily, a mother she never knew, the proprietess of The Pink Hotel. While the hotel’s residents throw a rave in Lily’s honor, her daughter steals a suitcase of Lily’s photos, letters, and clothes. These mementos set her on a journey around L.A., returning letters to their writers and photos to their subjects and uncovering the secrets of her mother’s life. Longlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize, The Pink Hotel has been optioned for production by True Blood’s Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin. (Janet) Our Man in Iraq by Robert Perišic: Perišic is one of the leading new writers to have emerged from Croatia after the fall of the Iron Curtain. In this, his first novel to appear stateside, he offers the funny and absurd tale of two cousins from Zagreb who get caught up in the American Invasion of Iraq, circa 2003. Perišic speaks English, and assisted with the translation, so his voice should come through intact, and a blurb from Jonathan Franzen never hurts. (Garth) May: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: Few details have been released so far about the third novel from international publishing juggernaut Hosseini (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns). In a statement posted to Penguin’s website, Hosseini explains, “My new novel is a multi-generational family story as well, this time revolving around brothers and sisters, and the ways in which they love, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for each other.” (Kevin) My Struggle: Book Two: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard: The first part of Knausgaard's six-part behemoth was the single most stirring novel I read in 2012. Or is the word memoir? Anyway, this year sees the publication of Part Two, which apparently shifts the emphasis from Knausgaard's childhood and the death of his father to his romantic foibles as an adult. But form trumps content in this book, and I'd read 400 pages of Knausgaard dilating on trips to the dentist. There's still time to run out and catch up on Part One before May rolls around. I can't imagine many readers who finish it won't want to keep going. (Garth) You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt: You Are One of Them is Pushcart Prize-winner Elliott Holt's debut novel. You might be forgiven for thinking she'd already published a few books, as Holt has been a fixture of the literary Twittersphere for years. Holt's debut is a literary suspense novel spanning years, as a young woman, raised in politically charged Washington D.C. of the 1980s, goes to Moscow to investigate the decades-old death of her childhood friend. (Patrick) The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien: In a letter to his American publisher two decades after abandoning The Fall of Arthur, Tolkien expressed regret that he’d left the epic poem unfinished (some suggest it was cast aside as he focused on writing The Hobbit, published in 1937). Nearly eighty years later, the work has been edited and annotated by his son, Christopher, who has written three companion essays that explore the text and his father’s use of Arthurian legend in Middle Earth. Tolkien fans will be grateful for the uncharted territory but unused to the book’s bulk, or lack thereof: in the American edition, poem, notes, and essays clock in just shy of 200 pages long. (Elizabeth) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The author of the critically acclaimed novels Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus, both set in Adichie’s home country of Nigeria, now turns her keen eye to the trials of cultural assimilation for Africans in America and England. In the novel, a young Nigerian couple leave their homeland – she to America for an education, he to a far more unsettled, undocumented life in England. In their separate ways, each confront issues of race and identity they would never have faced in Nigeria, where they eventually reunite. (Michael) Red Moon by Benjamin Percy: Percy, whose previous books include the novel The Wilding and the story collection Refresh, Refresh, imagines a world wherein werewolves have always lived among us, uneasily tolerated, a hidden but largely controlled menace, required by law to take a transformation-inhibiting drug. He describes his new novel as “a narrative made of equal parts supernatural thriller, love story and political allegory.” (Emily M.) A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel: A short story collection that includes the author's New Yorker debut, "Atria". If that piece is any indication, the book is more than a bit fabulist – the plot involves a girl who finds herself pregnant and worries she'll give birth to an animal. The specter of parenthood, as the title suggests, appears in numerous guises, as does the reinvention that marked the protagonists of her novel (the genesis of which she wrote about in our own pages). (Thom) The Hanging Garden by Patrick White: The last work of Nobel Laureate Patrick White gives his homeland an Elysian feel. At the beginning, we meet two orphans, Eirene Sklavos and Gilbert Horsfall, whose parents both died in separate conflicts early on in the second World War. They escape to a house in suburban Sydney and bond in a lush little garden. As with most things published posthumously, the story is a little bit scattershot, but early reviews out of Oz (and our own take) say the book is worthy of its author. (Thom) Love Is Power, or Something Like That by A. Igoni Barrett: Barrett’s middle name, Igonibo, means stranger, though he’s no stranger to all things literary: he chronicled his childhood bookishness in our pages last year, and his father is Jamaican-born poet Lindsay Barrett who settled in Nigeria, where the younger Barrett was born and still lives. The streets of Lagos provide the backdrop for his second story collection, Love Is Power, or Something Like That. His first was called From the Cave of Rotten Teeth, and rotting teeth seems to be something of a recurring motif. It’s picked up at least tangentially in this book with “My Smelling Mouth Problem,” a story where the protagonist’s halitosis causes disturbances on a city bus ride. (Anne) The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer: George Packer reveals the state of affairs in America in his ominously-titled new book, a history told in biographical inspections of its various residents (read about one, a lobbyist, in a truly riveting excerpt in The New Yorker). The bad news, probably, is that American is fucked. The good news, I learned from an interview in The Gunn Oracle, the paper of record at Packer's high school, is that Packer didn't become a proper journalist until age 40, which is sort of heartening, and may officially qualify him for Bloom status. (More bad news: no posted vacancies at The Gunn Oracle.) (Lydia) Pacific by Tom Drury: Drury’s fans will be ecstatic to learn that his new novel focuses once again on the inhabitants of Grouse County, Iowa, where two of his four previous books, The End of Vandalism and Hunts in Dreams, also take place. In this new novel, Tiny Darling’s son Micah travels to L.A. to reunite with his mother who abandoned him years before, while back in the Midwest, a mysterious woman unsettles everyone she meets. The novel tells two parallel tales, plumbing both the comic and tragic of life. Yiyun Li says that Drury is a “rare master of the art of seeing." This novel is sure to prove that—yet again. (Edan) Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers by Janet Malcolm: The title of this collection comes from a 1994 New Yorker profile of the artist David Salle, in which Malcolm tried in 41 different ways, without success, to penetrate the carefully constructed shell of an artist who had made a bundle during the go-go 1980s but was terrified that he was already forgotten by the art world, a has-been. Malcolm trains her laser eye on a variety of other subjects, including Edward Weston's nudes, the German photographer Thomas Struth, Edith Wharton, the Gossip Girl novels, and the false starts on her own autobiography. (Bill) June: Transatlantic by Colum McCann: Known for deftly lacing his fiction with historical events – such as the high-wire walk between the twin towers that opened his National Book Award-winning novel, Let the Great World Spin – McCann threads together three very different journeys to Ireland in his new novel, Transatlantic. The first was Frederick Douglass's trip to denounce slavery in 1845, just as the potato famine was beginning; the second was the first transatlantic flight, in 1919, by Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown; and the third was former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell's repeated crossings to broker the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. In an interview, McCann said it's the aftermath of such large historic events that interests him as a novelist: "What happens in the quiet moments? What happens when the plane has landed?" (Bill) The Hare by César Aira: A recent bit of contrarianism in The New Republic blamed the exhaustive posthumous marketing of Roberto Bolaño for crowding other Latin American writers out of the U.S. marketplace. If anything, it seems to me, it's the opposite: the success of The Savage Detectives helped publishers realize there was a market for Daniel Sada, Horacio Castellanos Moya, and the fascinating Argentinian César Aira. The past few years have seen seven of Aira's many novels translated into English. Some of them, like Ghosts, are transcendently good, but none has been a breakout hit. Maybe the reissue of The Hare, which appeared in the U.K. in 1998, will be it. At the very least, it's the longest Aira to appear in English: a picaresque about a naturalist's voyage into the Argentinean pampas. (Garth) Taipei by Tao Lin: Indie darling Tao Lin officially enters the world of big six publishing with his eighth published work, Taipei, an autobiographical novel beginning in 2009 and concerning a few years in the life of a 25-year-old protagonist moving from Taiwan to New York City and Las Vegas. In an Observer interview from 2011, Lin said that the book “contains a marriage, somewhat extreme recreational drug usage, parents, [and] a book tour” – all of which should be familiar subjects to people who’ve followed Lin’s exploits on Twitter, Tumblr and his blog over the past few years. (And especially if you’ve been one of his “interns.”) (Nick) In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell: Matt Bell’s novel is an exploration of parenthood and marriage, and it carries the premise and the force of myth: a woman who can sing objects into being and a man who longs for fatherhood get married and leave their hectic lives for a quiet homestead by the side of a remote lake. But as pregnancy after pregnancy fails, the wife’s powers take a darker turn—she sings the stars from the sky—and their grief transforms not only their marriage but the world around them. (Emily M.) His Wife Leaves Him by Stephen Dixon: Stephen Dixon, a writer known for rendering unbearable experiences, has built his 15th novel around a premise that is almost unbearably simple: A man named Martin is thinking about the loss of his wife, Gwen. Dixon's long and fruitful career includes more than 500 shorts stories, three O. Henry Prizes, two Pushcart Prizes and a pair of nominations for the National Book Award. His Wife Leaves Him, according to its author, "is about a bunch of nouns: love, guilt, sickness, death, remorse, loss, family, matrimony, sex, children, parenting, aging, mistakes, incidents, minutiae, birth, music, jobs, affairs, memory, remembering, reminiscence, forgetting, repression, dreams, reverie, nightmares, meeting, dating, conceiving, imagining, delaying, loving." (Bill) Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai: The novels of the great Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai have recently begun to break through with American audiences. Thus far, however, we've only glimpsed one half of his oeuvre: the one that deals (darkly, complexly) with postwar Europe. Krasznahorkai has also long taken an interest in East Asia, where he's spent time in residence. Seiobo There Below, one of several novels drawing on this experience, shows a Japanese goddess visiting disparate places and times, in search of beauty. (Garth) Carnival by Rawi Hage: True to its title, Carnival – which takes place in a city loosely based on the author's hometown of Montreal – takes the reader on a tour of a place well-populated with odd and eccentric characters. The protagonist, Fly, is a cab driver with a penchant for binge reading. We learn that he chose his name to draw a contrast with a group called the Spiders. The Spiders are a loose collection of predatory cab drivers, who choose to wait for their customers rather than to hunt them on the streets. Fly himself, too, is no slouch when it comes to weirdness – he says that his mother gave birth to him in front of an audience of seals. (Thom) Cannonball by Joseph McElroy: Of the American experimental novelists of the 1960s and 1970s, Joseph McElroy may be the most idiosyncratic. He specializes in what you might call information architecture, overloading his narratives with nonfictional data while strategically withholding the kinds of exposition that are conventional in fiction. The results speak for themselves: moments of startling resonance, power, mystery…and topicality. His work has previously tackled the Pinochet regime, artificial intelligence, and, in his terrific recent story collection, Night Soul, terrorism. Now he turns his attention to the Iraq War. (Garth) On the Floor by Aifric Campbell: Banker-turned-novelist Aifric Campbell takes on the testosterone of the eighties. At Morgan Stanley, she saw firsthand the excesses of the era, which drove young female analysts to develop “contempt” for other women. As a product of that environment, her main character, Geri, feels like a “skirt among men.” She lacquers her ambitions with conspicuously feminine gestures and modes of dress. In an interview with the Guardian, Campbell pointed out that she used to race greyhounds, which gave her a “certain logic” that helped her in banking and writing. (Thom) July: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff: Rakoff passed away last summer at the age of 47, shortly after completing this slender novel “written entirely in verse.” His previous books have been largely satirical, so this final work is a departure: stretching across the country and the twentieth century, the novel’s stories are linked by “acts of generosity or cruelty.” Ira Glass, who brought Rakoff to the airwaves for more than a decade, has described the book as “very funny and very sad, which is my favorite combination” (a fair descriptor of much of Rakoff’s radio work, like this heartbreaking performance from the live episode of “This American Life” staged just a few months before his death.) (Elizabeth) Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw: In his third novel, Aw writes about Malaysian immigrants to contemporary Shanghai, featuring an ensemble cast who hail from diverse backgrounds; their stories are interwoven, and counterpointed with the lives they left behind. Aw, who was a practicing lawyer while writing his first novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, won accolades for his debut: longlisted for Man Booker Prize, International Impac Dublin Award and the Guardian First Book Prize; winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award as well as the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel (Asia Pacific region). (Sonya) August: Night Film by Marisha Pessl: This much-anticipated, oft-delayed follow-up to Pessl’s bestselling Special Topics in Calamity Physics originally set to come out in 2010 is now scheduled – no, this time they really mean it – in the fall. The novel is a “psychological literary thriller” about a young New Yorker who sets out to investigate the apparent suicide of Ashley Cordova, daughter of a reclusive European movie director. (Michael) The Infatuations by Javier Marías: Javier Marías’s new book, translated by Marguerite Jull Costa, is his 14th novel to be published in English. It was awarded Spain’s National Novel Prize last October, but Marías turned it down out of an aversion to receiving public money. It’s the story of a woman’s obsession with an apparently happy couple who inexplicably disappear. It’s his first novel to be narrated from a woman’s perspective, so it will be interesting to see how Marias manages to accommodate his penchant for detailed descriptions of ladies crossing and uncrossing their legs. (Mark) Clare of the Sea-Light by Edwidge Danticat: My time at the University of Miami overlapped with Danticat’s, though unfortunately I never took her creative writing course. I did, however, see her speak at an event for the English department during my junior year. She was astounding. There are prose stylists in this world and then there are storytellers, and rare are people like Danticat who are both. She read from her memoir Brother, I’m Dying, which features one of the most devastating and personal depictions of our wretched immigration system ever written. Haiti has always been an remarkable place – a nation built with equal measures of hope, passion, charm, malfeasance and tragedy. In this forthcoming story collection, Clare of the Sea-Light – which draws its title from a piece she originally published in Haiti Noir – we can expect the prodigiously talented author to render each aspect of the place beautifully. (Nick) Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain: Caleb Crain’s debut novel, which concerns the topic of “youth,” borrows its title from W. H. Auden’s 1929 poem “[It was Easter as I walked in the public gardens]” and takes place in the Czech Republic during the last decade of the 20th century. Look for Crain, a journalist, critic and banished member of the NYPL’s Central Library Plan advisory committee, to use research and insight from his previous book – a provocative look at male friendship, personal lives, and literary creation – in order to give Jacob Putnam and the rest of the characters in Necessary Errors a great deal of interwoven influences, covert desires and realistic interaction. (Nick) September: Enon by Paul Harding: In 2009, the tiny Bellevue Literary Press published Harding’s debut novel, Tinkers, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Tinkers tells the story of George Washington Crosby, an old man reliving the memories of his life as he dies surround by family. Enon, named for the Massachusetts town where Crosby died, is about his grandson, Charlie Crosby, and Charlie’s daughter Kate. (Janet) October: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert: Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega-bestselling Eat Pray Love put her on Time Magazine’s list of most influential people in the world, and then Julia Roberts played her in the movie adaptation. What many fans of that memoir don’t know is that Gilbert started her career as a fiction writer, penning a short story collection, Pilgrims, and the novel, Stern Men, which was a New York Times Notable Book in 2000. Now, 13 years later, she returns to the form with the publication of “a big, sprawling, epic historical novel that takes place from 1760 to 1880, following the fortunes of a family called the Whittakers, who make their name in the early botanical exploration/proto-pharmaceutical business trade.” That description is from Gilbert herself, taken from this candid, illuminating and entertaining interview with Rachel Khong for The Rumpus. (Edan) Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem: Sunnyside Queens has long held a contrarian perspective. In the 1920s, as urban development projects washed over the outer boroughs, the folks in Sunnyside did all they could to keep the place from turning into a cookie-cutter suburb. Driveways were banned and garages were disallowed. Instead of lawns, the neighborhood’s designers recommended long courtyards that spanned the entire length of blocks – these were meant to encourage mingling and space sharing. It’s no doubt this spirit of dissent, skepticism and opinionated egalitarianism that’s drawn Jonathan Lethem to the neighborhood as the centerpiece for his new novel, a “family epic,” which focuses on three generations of American leftists growing up in the outer borough. (Nick) Unknown: Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon: Washington Post critic Ron Charles broke the news recently that Thomas Pynchon will have a new book out from Penguin this fall called Bleeding Edge. (Though Penguin says the book has not yet been scheduled). Charles said the news of the new book was confirmed by two Penguin employees and that "everything is tentative" at this time. More as we know it, folks. (Max) Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush: There's still not much to report on Rush's latest, a novel of love and friendship set in upstate New York on the eve of the Iraq War. In October, though Granta Books in the U.K. announced an autumn 2013 publication date, so here's hoping... (Garth) The Dying Grass by William T. Vollmann: The fifth of Vollmann's Seven Dreams books to appear, The Dying Grass will most likely not see print until summer of 2015, according to his editor. First up is Last Stories, a collection of ghost stories slated to hit bookstores next year. Assuming there still are bookstores next year. (Garth) Your Name Here by Helen DeWitt: Your Name Here seems to be stuck in a holding pattern at Noemi Press, befitting, one supposes, its tortured publication history. In a recent Believer interview, DeWitt suggested that the version that appears in print, if it appears in print, may not be the same as the .pdf she was selling on her website a few years back. Chunks may have been spun off into other works of fiction. Whatever the damn thing ends up looking like, we eagerly await it. (Garth) Escape from the Children's Hospital by Jonathan Safran Foer: Foer returns to childhood, to trauma, and to interwoven voices and storylines. The childhood here is Foer's own, though, so this may mark a kind of departure. We'll have to wait and see, as no publication date has been set. (Garth) More from The Millions: The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.