Jonas Karlsson's amusingly Kafkaesque debut is a quick read which undertakes themes of success, conformity, and addiction in a most uncanny fashion. The novel's antihero, Bjorn, is an unapologetically neurotic bureaucrat who couldn't fit in any less at his mystifying new government job (where he conspires to someday become top dog). As he obsesses over the ineptitude of his colleagues, he becomes fixated on an inconspicuous room that offers an escape from the daily irritations of the workplace - a room that no one else seems to acknowledge. Bjorn's frequent visits to his seemingly private sanctuary become problematic to the staff, who believes that his unconventional retreats are disrupting the workplace environment. Will Bjorn's solitary behavior persist at the expense of advancing his career, or can he negotiate a compromise with those seeking to deprive him of his peace of mind? As the conflict intensifies, the tone deafness of this story's rather loathsome protagonist produces unforgettable moments that are as comical as they are awkward.
One probably wouldn't expect a horror novel to perfectly illustrate the confounding juncture that is preadolescence, but if you're looking for a much more profound alternative to the upsurge of Twilight-esque anecdotes, then this is certainly for you. Set in the 1980s, the story focuses on 12 year old Oskar, a lonesome and beleaguered outcast who finds an unlikely companion in the peculiar new neighbor Eli, whom he only sees at night skulking about their apartment complex in suburban Stockholm. Though they appear to be the same age, Eli possesses an enigmatic quality which suggests a heinous secret - one that becomes all too relevant for Oskar as the bodies of murdered townsfolk begin to turn up in macabre fashion. This is a story that remains respectfully within the bounds of its popularized source material while reaching beyond the inanity exhausted by its predecessors by embracing themes of isolation, bullying, and even transgenderism. Though tremendously explicit, Lindqvist's work manages to encompass an aura that is as innocent as it is morbid, making this a one of a kind tale of vampirism that definitely doesn't suck. (Terrible pun intended).
Mishna and her little sister Anora are the children of divorce. As if that itself isn't enough, their eccentric father is sincerely convinced that he is, and therefore lives as, a Black man. He proudly resides in an economically depressed Black neighborhood and constantly pressures his daughter to shed her timid temperament, unwind and learn to just be "down". Unlike the far more impressionable Anora, who finds her own niche within their world with relative ease, Mishna navigates her early life as a racial outcast, encountering disappointment and embarrassment despite her efforts to be accepted. She is often thought of by her Black peers as "too White" to socialize with and is thus looked upon with an eye of disdain by her father. When she finally does begin to assimilate, Mishna is transferred to an upper class all White school under her mother's orders, where she is once again ousted - this time for being a little too "urban". Though not masterfully written, Wolff's bizarre and comical circumstance is a unique premise which supplies a distinctive take on what it means in our society to be thought of as White, Black, both, or neither, as well as what such labels actually dictate in our society beyond just skin color.
Flowers for Algernon provides a peak into the world of Charlie, a gentle and well intentioned man whose developmental condition makes him a much maligned figure amongst his peers. When Charlie undergoes an experimental procedure which triggers a staggering growth in his cognitive abilities, he is suddenly gifted with an intellectual capacity which invites him into a brand new way of experiencing life. Unfortunately, the effects of the procedure begin to fade, dooming Charlie to consciously bear the slow loss of his own genius and nearly all the wonders it has brought him. What I admire most about this novel is Keyes' use of the first person perspective. The story is told through Charlie's journal writing, the quality of which endures a gradual progression, then an eventual waning, as it seamlessly reflects Charlie's shifting aptitude throughout the entirety of his journey as his intelligence increases and ultimately declines. Most importantly, this story comments on the very idea of intelligence as both a constructive tool and a sometimes divisive hindrance, as Charlie learns the hard way that extraordinary cognizance may not be too different of a social impediment than its opposite.
After an American bombing destroys a zoo during Operation Iraqi Freedom, a small pride of lions escape captivity and wander through war torn Baghdad in search of sanctuary. With the combination of freedom and newfound dangers brought on by the human conflict, the lions struggle to survive as they work out personal and philosophical concerns within their troupe. Pride of Baghdad serves as a thoughtful allegory which draws its influence from differentiating sentiments concerning war which, as we often fail to recognize, can affect more than just people. By granting his animal characters a voice, Vaughan is able to give light to a very prevalent debate in a way that is neither haughty nor ineffectual.
When a devastating plague inexplicably kills every other mammal with a Y chromosome, amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his capuchin monkey Ampersand find themselves the last remaining males on Earth. Setting off to reunite with his girlfriend in Australia, Yorick finds that his status as civilization's most sought after specimen is one which exposes him to peril at every turn in a new world dominated by women. Accompanied by a cagey government agent sworn to safeguard him and a geneticist seeking to determine the cause of the plague, Yorick eventually comes to understand that the future of the world (whatever that future may be) is largely dependent on his journey. Though an obvious commentary on gender politics, the plot of Y unravels at a even pace, allowing Vaughn to display his flair for deconstructing characters via the relationships they develop with one another, made all the more genuine by exceptionally sharp dialogue. Y: The Last Man is a remarkable feat in storytelling which blends themes of scientific innovation, human sexuality, and the role of the individual within a society in a superbly imaginative and engaging package.
Here is yet another riveting piece of work by the author of last year’s provocative Atlantic article The Case for Reparations. Employing personal accounts as well as recent high profile examples of racial injustice, Coates theorizes that the physical destruction and geographical restrictions of the Black body throughout American history are, by way of government policy, the very foundation on which the United States was built and persists today. Illustrating how forms of institutionalized oppression once thought dead have only been deceptively parlayed into more modern structures to sustain the so-called "American Dream", this book succeeds in echoing the likes of Franz Fanon and the even more contemporary work of Michelle Alexander in challenging conceptual “Whiteness” as not being able to exist without the democratically sanctioned policies which intentionally aim to define “Blackness”. Written in the form of a letter to his son, Coates’ beautiful prose seamlessly avoids much of the rhetoric that many times can become lost in the esoteric language of academia. I consider this to be somewhat of a layman’s assessment of race in America. And as the complexity of this issue increases all around us, I think we can all consider ourselves laymen in some respect. This is a must read!
Upon the discovery of a notebook that can cause the death of anyone whose name is written in it, genius high school student Light Yagami resolves to purge humanity of its criminal element, taking on the identity of “Kira”, a faceless entity who swiftly becomes infamous for a homicidal brand of judgment. When the world’s greatest detective, known only as “L”, launches a massive investigation into the Kira murders, a cat and mouse game of the highest stakes ensues in which two evenly matched prodigies set out to outwit one another in a passionate bid to define the true meaning of “justice”.
At first glance, The Umbrella Academy may appear to fall victim to the much acquainted “Wise old man recruits superhuman children to fight evil” trope (à la X-Men), but don’t let that familiarity dissuade you! Though certain elements of this ambitious narrative are not as cohesive as they might have been under a more seasoned writer, Gerard Way’s debut is very much a refreshing and turbulent foray into superhero mythology and science fiction, uniting some of the most electrifying components from each field respectively. Extraterrestrials, time travel, political conspiracies, and a talking ape! What more could you ask for? Much more you say? Well this series has it!
Welcome to a world in which robotics have been fully integrated into almost every facet of modern society and androids are marketed and sold as all-purpose servants to the human race. When lonely bachelor Alex receives an unexpected and unwanted birthday gift from his grandmother, he is forced to confront his own ideas of humanity and affection while trying to maintain his morality in a world ripe with technological gray lines. What Luna and Vaughn have constructed to drive this story is a thoughtfully detailed backdrop that impresses with a surprising amount of modesty. Whether you welcome this as an allegorical tale or simply a solid sci-fi venture, Alex + Ada will provoke you to question your own notions of what real connection is and what it means to simply “be”.
This particular representation of the “Clowned Prince of Crime” is a definite callback to Heath Ledger’s scarred, mobster-esque Dark Knight performance, which automatically qualifies it as worthwhile for me. Still, Brian Azzarello’s macabre entry breaks plenty of ground on its own, giving us a stylishly modernized adaptation of the classic villain as he returns from the infamous Arkham Asylum for a night of wicked undertakings fit only for a psychopath of the highest degree.
This Spanish cartoonist's bizarre and macabre graphics will either indulge the most forbidden and twisted depths of your imagination or leave you gawking blankly at the panels in bewilderment and discomfort. As brilliant as they are psychotic, these visual tantrums are surprisingly quite thoughtful in their hyperbolic depictions of simple "misunderstandings" (and certainly better suited for a mature audience!).
Chocky is light on its fantastical elements, making it the kind of quietly laid science fiction that favors simplicity in storytelling over the often times predictable flamboyance of spectacle. What begins as an eerie account of the barely welcomed arrival of a preadolescent’s would-be imaginary friend evolves into a subtly profound tale which emphasizes the importance of thinking outside the box and remaining receptive to all life’s possibilities – as well as its impossibilities.
If the title and cover haven’t tipped you off already, it is incumbent upon me to note that this is a book in which history’s most hated (and hateful) figure inexplicably "wakes up" to find himself alive and well in modern day Berlin, ready as ever to pick up exactly where he left off on his psychotic campaign for political dominance. However, in the ultimate bout of irony, the once terrorizing Führer is mistaken for his own impersonator, a misunderstanding which catapults him into a most unlikely career in satire. The result here is a clever and hilarious indictment of celebrity culture as well as the shortcomings of our understanding and appreciation of history.
I’m generally hesitant to read a novel if I’ve already viewed its film adaptation beforehand (Mistake!), however, the source material for Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is a notable exception – full of dicey double crosses and two-timing characters of both the polished and rash variety, each one a badass in their own right. Sort of a “heist within a heist” story, Rum Punch is sharp, fun, and just plain cool.
Lucia Stanton is an anti-hero you’ll not soon forget. The kind who gets dispatched from one school to another for stabbing a classmate with a pencil. The type who supposes we shouldn’t possess anything beyond need (she has almost nothing) and questions the practicality of detention (she’s a regular). Lucia is the brand of angst-ridden teen who does not want to simply sulk in her observation of life’s absurdities – pursuing a secret arson club and writing of an upheaval propagated by flame help with that. Her anarchic ambitions will rouse admirers of Tyler Durden. Her youthful introspection echoes the musings of our old friend Holden Caulfield. This is another noteworthy spark in the category of pariah-led coming of age stories. And, as Lucia imparts: “Each fire is a small thing.”
This is an exceptionally imaginative mystery that manages to epitomize so many things, making it impossible to focus praise on just one of its triumphs. At face value, it is a high concept thriller, of which there are enough narrative coils to keep you engaged throughout. It is just as well an enthralling work of sci-fi, revealing an alternative history wherein technology's symbiotic relationship to society has advanced human innovation in a disturbing direction. Even deeper lies a glimmer of some kind of horror story - one whose exploratory depiction of human suffering draws unnerving parallels from the reality that lies beyond its pages. At its most ambitious, what Winters has bestowed upon us is an incredibly reflective and edgy speculative tale about the obscurity of managing the idea of identity in a society which hardly has a grip on its own.
Karlsson's latest serves as a tender and whimsical reminder that, no matter what your burdens may be, there is usually someone out there with way worse fortune than yourself…usually.Though petite, this softhearted novel casts quite the thematic net, encapsulating ideas of privilege and perception, while charmingly satirizing the ever growing absurdity of debt culture. If you’re in need of something that will inspire you to see your own financial woes as a glass half full, this is definitely your cup of tea.
Citizen expertly documents the daily defeat of being juxtaposed as an "other" against a racial backdrop that frequently fails or refuses to recognize one’s humanity. In placing a vital emphasis on the common transgressions we habitually accept as routine, Rankine breathes visceral honesty into what could otherwise be the indescribable with passages and anecdotes that distress as well as impress.
An America void of prisons? Free of police? With universal healthcare and complimentary education for all? Are these goals we as a society can seriously conceptualize? Activist and educator Bill Ayers boldly asserts that we can and must take a step beyond the idealism of imagination and actually envision such a world. Though his proposals for change may have little new to offer as far as leftist platforms go, this manifesto still serves as a timely and appropriate reminder of something history has proven time and time again: The potential the future holds is not always indicated by the reality of the present.
Made up of selected interviews and speeches, Angela Davis' Freedom is a Constant Struggle expresses the need to recognize the anti-capitalist struggle as an unending process which unifies all oppressed peoples at all intersections of identity. More specifically, she draws compelling comparisons between Black Americans' campaign for civil rights in Ferguson (among other cities) to several ongoing struggles for political and social autonomy across the globe and how essential it is for all committed agents of change to see themselves not as separate sects of progressivism, but international comrades allied in a common cause to obtain equality and justice for all.
Rebecca Solnit begins this remarkable eye opener by dissecting a social discourtesy on the part of men ("Mansplaining") which is all too common in interactions with women. Ultimately, she imparts upon the reader a greater consciousness of the cultural denigration of the female gender – an actuality widely felt, though rarely given the attention it appropriately deserves. The statistical information in this book alone would be its most moving element, if not for the conveyance of the alarming complacency with which society concedes to normalizing the horrors it underscores. There is nothing I can say of the subject of male superiority that Solnit doesn’t more masterfully express with the faithfulness required to properly highlight such a detrimental reality. We as the audience must fully trust and invest in the acceptance and validation of her voice, whether or not we share her perspective or sense of urgency - though we very well should. That is exactly the point.
Though not quite as topically side-splitting as its predecessor Mox Nox, the unbridled insanity emanating from Zonzo further showcases Joan Cornella’s unique penchant for the exceptionally demented. With visuals as perplexing as they are uproarious, this vibrant and stylish endeavor truly embodies the concept of cartoonish violence.
Buckaroo, Oregon is the sort of small, rural community where just about everyone knows everyone. It’s also a town where every resident is either acquainted with, related to, or is themselves a serial killer, as this ill-fated town serves as the birthplace of 16 of the nation’s worst and most prolific murdering psychopaths. Is this unfortunate attribute a cruel curse of nature, or the product of generations of bad community nurturing?
Inquiring minds are DYING to know. Whatever you do, though…just don’t ask the Nailbiter.
The very nature of this brief, yet endearing Venezuelan novel mirrors that of its spotlighted figure - seemingly simple on the surface while at center harboring a hint of something more profound. A story of finding literacy through love quickly becomes a quest for purpose and redemption for a gentle giant with a kind soul whose unlikely and nefarious associations lead him down paths of remarkable discovery and coincidental tragedy.
Regarding the premiere installment of this time-travel adventure, we have something which beautifully bleeds 1980's nostalgia in delicious fashion. Cliff Chiang's illustrations pour over each panel with dreamy fluidity and lend themselves well to Vaughan's narrative coupling of youth in revolt with the archaic sensibilities of a bygone era. Every fantastical element introduced is done so with integrity and aids in driving a fast moving spectacle with lovable characters, indicating that this gem is likely already progressing in a very promising direction.
With the vast majority of its pages limited to just a few passages, the memories recounted in Camanchaca unwind like fragments of dreams. A road trip down coastal Chile allows for reflective pause, as a young boy recalls the uncertainties and tragic atmosphere that surround the history of his broken family. One side of the novel delves into the past, focusing on a complicated and damaging maternal bond, while the opposite side takes on the present, highlighting the paternal disconnect of an oblivious father. This produces a duality in the narrative in which both realities compliment one another without ever hinging on the emphasis of intersecting. The frequent shifting between tenses with such brevity prevents this one-day read from ever going stale. It even dares to leave some of its biggest questions unanswered in a way that dodges feeling incomplete. Most impressively, it is something that can potentially be read three different ways, as two equally solemn stories volley to make one emotionally cloudy journey through the desert fog.
I can always appreciate good nonfiction that isn't bogged down with an overabundance of graphs and charts, complex statistics, and academic jargon that makes it difficult (and sometimes impossible) for the general public to genuinely process. Tim Harford's efforts here are guilty of nothing of the sort. Any data conveyed through the concise narratives contained in this marvel of a study are presented in such a way that allow them to inspire the reader instead of burden them. It is something that begs one to endlessly ponder the origin and impact of all that we take for granted, all that makes the contemporary economic world exactly what it is. Furthermore, it reminds us that we can never truly foresee what our individual and collective impact on the fiscal future might be, despite our best and most assured intentions.
To suggest that this author's near maddening and mystic debut will "take you places" is an understatement. You may emerge from the gauntlet of its layered mysteries with a definite air of perplexity, though no more so than the narrator, an adventure journalist passionately chasing an ever elusive utopia of sorts. As his obsession with this location of wonders intensifies, so does his perception of its validity, leading him to scrutinize the very existence of everyone and everything around him. This novel meticulously shrouds its own destination in a provocative fog from the outset and, with casual finesse, pulls the reader into sharing the wonders and inevitable horrors of confronting the plasticity of reality.
This largely plot-driven tale begins, progresses, and concludes with the velocity of a film montage, maneuvering rapidly between the portrait of a would-be happy family and the parallel journey of a pariah whose very fate seems ripe for a foul end. What eventually transpires between these two worlds unravels in the way of a twisted parable, pulling absolutely no punches. First time author Matthew Weiner (of Mad Men and The Sopranos writing fame) does a notable job of manipulating archetypal conventions, making his characters’ moves and motives near incalculable, though uncomfortably honest.
A compound flurry of assured prose and truly marvelous conceptualization positions this tenacious assembly of stories as something to be lauded. Each segment casually exceeds its predecessor - the sum total culminating in a deft exploration of the idiosyncrasies circling identify, fate, and circumstance. The final and most enchanting entry, "Mr. P and the Wind", is nothing short of phenomenal, and will nestle itself in your favor long after you've turned the final page. I smiled my way through it's entirety, impressed by the depth of its thoughtfulness. That's not to underplay the remainder of the work here. The aforementioned is simply a platinum piece within a narrative gold mine, to which an uncanny wit is ascribed throughout. The ingenious tonal shifts showcase a pointed balancing act between humor and solemnity from a writer who undeniably has genuine love and respect for the lives he constructs on the page. This will at times inspire awe, and will steadily leave you yearning for more.
"This story is not for the faint of heart." - Such a customary note from the author prefaces this nightmare ordeal, and it is delivered justifiably. What follows will pulverize your sensibilities into near oblivion and have you actually quite relieved to reach its end. Thus, as a horror novel, I would say it more than does its job. At play here is a mad and unforgiving world, collaboratively foreclosed on by heaven and hell, left to the vile whims of a feral deity whose pleasures lean heavily toward the macabre. After a grieving couple enters into an ill-fated pact, they are cast into the tortuous "Black Farm" to experience firsthand the ghastly machinations of its malevolent warden. Be warned - little of what takes place is easy to digest. Trekking through this purgatorial perdition is a taxing journey, albeit a fascinating one. What makes it actually worth reading is the vision applied to shaping the logistical ambiguity of the Farm itself, an environment with far more to it than advertised, its only guarantees being unending chaos and incomprehensible violence. Reader Beware.
“Who can I complain to, if I don't like the shape of the globe?”
With spirited candor, Daniel Handler breathes color into his portrait of an oversexed adolescent whose impulsive appetite for gratification is both his joy and his burden. Cole may not be a dependable lover, but he sure as hell is a reliable narrator - recanting his seemingly empty high school exploits with matter-of-fact indifference, inflated with a wisdom and naiveté that is often contradictory, though always worthy of examination. His words are indulgent, poetic even. Every thought and utterance is a brief testimony to an internal fire that illuminates his life and threatens to burn a few bridges along the way. Confronting issues of internet pornography, commitment, sexual identity, and consent, this half coming of age tale, half erotic exposé is in an engaging, chapter-less rendezvous told with remarkable honesty and welcoming wit.
Henry King performs one particular task with great frequency and consistency....dying. His episodic confrontations with his own mortality show no lack in variety, as the manner of his demise toggles between quiet profundity and deadpan inanity. This is an easily digestible read, with vignettes that are sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and consistently thought provoking.
This novel is a fine and fitting reflection of the ever morphing landscape of human relationships, and the difficulty of navigating its nuances as well as transcending the stigmas of its taboos. Perrotta ascribes a convincing amount of naiveté to each of his subjects, allowing their journeys to blossom (for better or worse) with an allure that borders pure magnetism. Their every victory and failure are in some way enlightening, particularly when their supposed principles are in direct conflict with their behavior. Perrotta also gives the impression that he shares some of the curiosity and vulnerability he so eloquently infuses into his characters, which invites us to grow and learn, triumph and fail right alongside them as we contrast their development against our own presumptions. This is a story rich in discovery, and an exemplary tale of people exploring the best and worst parts of themselves, enigmatic though their actual selves may be.
Virginie Dispentes, who describes herself as “more King Kong than Kate Moss”, kicks in the door of male chauvinism with a heavy foot and trains a proverbial pistol on our most fragile sensibilities, embodying an unapologetic feminist bullet. This bodacious autobiographical manifesto translated from the French aims to obliterate traditional conventions of sex and gender and rebuild them anew - upon the foundation of a middle finger nonetheless. From dismantling the institution of marriage as a weaponized construct for controlling female autonomy to approaching (from quite a radical perspective) the subjects of prostitution and pornography, Dispentes applies captivating anecdotal evidence to make very impactful feminist theory, sans any euphemistic subtlety that might render this as unnecessarily digestible. Not a single thought here is designed to pacify, nor should it be. Oppression is never a polite affair, and this juggernaut responds to such a truth with a riveting level of intensity.
If you can imagine how Bukowski might have written under the influence of hip hop culture, then it won't be difficult to see Jude Angelini’s painfully candid memoir as somewhat of a Ham on Rye with an Ice Cube sandwiched in (see what I did there?). With little sign of shame or reserve, Angelini accelerates us through one sex, drug, and violence infused anecdote after another, seemingly only recanting the darker elements of his life - a stark contrast from this book's inviting title and cover. Reading Hummingbird is like tuning into a very explicit and personal rap album. The experience is at once pretty ugly, seriously funny, and all around entertaining.