I've never read a more immersive, captivating, or maddening book. By the time I finished it-- sitting in a candle-lit basement, combing through the book for hidden code-- it had become my favorite novel. In Borgesian tradition, House of Leaves is a book about a book (written by a blind man) about a film of a house that's slightly larger on the inside than on the outside. It's a prime example of experimental literature, with a secondary story in the footnotes, large swaths of character development in the appendices, text in multiple colors and typefaces, prompts to flip forward and back again, mazes through the pages, and yes, passages written in code. While this is all fun, and often highly academic, what makes this book great is Danielewski's masterful prose. From start to finish, every sentence hits. If you're in for a masterwork of weird, labyrinthine fun, and just-difficult-enough fiction, House of Leaves'll be your huckleberry.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a 400 page, or 16 year, hostage situation, with adversarial negotiations between a mother and son starting at little Kevin's birth. This beautifully written epistolary novel is told from Eva Khatchadourian's perspective, about her life as it relates to her son, Kevin. To call Kevin troubled would be a disservice to all of the actual troubled kids out there. The way Eva tells it, Kevin is the closest thing to evil she knows. But he's also her son. As much as this book is about Eva and Kevin's caustic relationship, it's also about their closeness, and Eva living with the son she created. We Need to Talk About Kevin isn't a light read, but it is a rewarding one that will move you, and move you, and move you again.
Toni Morrison is a beast. She may be the best living American author out right now. She writes in flowing lyrical prose so good that you feel privileged to be her reader. I love everything she's written, but my favorite book of hers is Song of Solomon. While this book still contains the usual gravity of her stories, there's a lightness and a fun in it that isn't often found in her work. The story follows the life of Milkman Dead through what I think best represents everything that Toni Morrison does. If you're looking for a fun and weighty, but not quite heartbreaking book, or just a smooth introduction to the best damn American author putting ink to page now, pick up a copy of Song of Solomon.
What!? You don't know Calvin and Hobbes? Alright, that's cool. As a quick introduction, Calvin is a highly imaginative only child with a stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who comes to life-- I'm sorry-- who is alive. Only, nobody but Calvin can tell that Hobbes is alive-- maybe alive. While Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip about the antics of a little boy and his (maybe) imaginary friend, it's also peppered with thoughtful philosophical musings. I have never met a child who has read a few strips of Calvin and Hobbes and didn't fall in love with it. And I've known very few adults who started a Calvin and Hobbes book and didn't finish the entire collection.
You know that nightmare you have where you’re suddenly struck blind, and you’re forced to live in a quarantined area with other people who are also newly blind, and the whole thing turns into a Lord of the Flies-esque filth-hole? No? You don’t have that one? I don’t either—that would be weird—but I read this great book about just that. The story that unfolds in Blindness is frightening and chaotic, and skates the edge of hopeless, but never quite goes over that edge. As harsh as the book is, I can’t recommend it enough, especially as a much darker pairing for Saramago’s delightful Death With Interruptions.
I’m not Thanos, or anything, but this book made me want to write love letters to death (yes, little “d” death). It made me want to send her flowers and make mixtapes for her to listen to on warm Sunday afternoons. Morbid subject matter aside, this book is intriguing and sweet, and a great read for one of those warm Sunday afternoons. It’s about an unnamed country in which people suddenly stop dying. As great as this may sound at first, it isn’t without its problems. This fun book pairs well with the equally fantastic but much less pleasant Blindness, also by Jose Saramago.
This is the most beautifully written book I've ever read-- a beauty that only helps mitigate the story's immense tragedy. I've never read a better balanced, or a more perfect book in my life. On her first and only foray into fiction, Roy proves she's a master of her craft. The biggest tragedy of this book, however, is her claim to never write fiction again after this book. At least she gave us The God of Small Things.
Have you even wondered how well you'd fare in a post-apocalyptic world? More importantly, have you ever wondered what you'd do for entertainment in a post-apocalyptic world? No more movies, no more recorded music, fewer artists and authors. No matter what disaster fiction says, the apocalypse is no friend of the arts. Except for this book, of course. Mendel's story follows the lives of a few loosely connected artists shortly before, and 20 years after an apocalyptic event. Station Eleven is a light and delightful read that will preserve your faith in the arts even after the apocalypse hits.
Following William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash comes Ernest Cline’s entry in virtual-world cyberpunk fiction. This time instead of the gloom and grit of its predecessors, Ready Player One is all bright and shiny nostalgia. If you enjoyed the video games, the movies, or the television shows of the 1980s (especially the video games) Ready Player One is for you. Along with an interesting look at the shift toward living our lives in a virtual world, Ready Player One is a rollicking ride into geekiness and digital swashbucklery.
I have never read a voice more realistic, or relatable than the one Junot Diaz writes with. While he's easy and conversational, Diaz is also eloquent and poetic. In the same passage he writes for the everyman and the scholar alike. His short stories are real and fun-- so real Diaz has oft been asked if he's a character in his stories-- but his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is magnificence on every page. Oscar Wao, as both a character and a novel, is a wonderful example of what Diaz-- being a highly vocal champion of People of Color in literature-- speaks out for. If you want a poignant and endearing story that is sure to become part of the American literary canon, read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
The Raw Shark Texts is madness. The Raw Shark Texts is fear. The Raw Shark Texts is waking up from a bad trip with no recollection of your life before your trip started. The story is an adventure made of strangely familiar images living just as many steps away from your memory as Eric Sanderson, the story's protagonist, lives away from the ludovician-- a conceptual shark unrestricted by physics and hunting Sanderson. Steven Hall is a prose pro, writing with lightning in between each phoneme. This book is the nightmare of a book lover's dream. It hasn't been read enough.
Tired of your superpowers always coming in tights and capes? Not enough comedy in your sex? Want a drama that's more than mundane? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I've got the comic for you! Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's Sex Criminals! Hilarious writing, gorgeous art, realistic characters with supernatural powers, and a smattering of sex toys! Meet Suzie, mild mannered librarian who discovers that she stops time every time she has an orgasm! Follow her as she finds out her library is in danger of foreclosure. But wait! She meets Jon and soon discovers that he shares her powers! Jon also has an idea. Maybe they could use their powers to raise the money to keep the library open.
Join Suzie and Jon on their time-stopping sexy hijinks as they become Sex Criminals!!!
This book is where hip-hop and poetry meet. Saul Williams claims he found a mystical old scroll tightly rolled in a discarded can of Krylon in an abandoned New York subway tunnel. Those scrolls, which recounted the past and predicted the future, became this book. This book comes with no musical accompaniment, but it is written in a hard percussive rhythm that keeps fierce beat. Williams' words stay sharp from beginning to end, and in these scrolls he shows his poetry stands up on the page just as well as it does in his live or recorded performances. If you love Saul Williams' poetry, and you don't have this book, get it. You're missing out. If you don't know who he is, pick this up. If you're already browsing the poetry section and you don't know who he is, this is a great introduction to his work.
We got cheese in this piece! We got gruyere! We got Swiss! We got gorgonzola! We got Cheddar! We got feta! We even keep Havarti on deck! Keep the rotini and penne at home! It's all macaroni in here! We rock feathers in our caps!
Sorry. I get kind of excited about my mac and cheese. I should preface this recommendation by saying that cookbooks aren't really my thing. I like them and all, but I rarely ever make more than one or two recipes from any particular book. I do, though, have a strong love for mac and cheese. So this book, with its 50 interesting, creative, and delicious recipes, has remained something that I continually go back to. If you're new to the wild world of mac and cheese, this book offers general information on stuff like how different cheeses act when melted, and how to start a good sauce. If you're a mac and cheese pro, the book still offers lots of interesting new takes on the dish that are definitely worth checking out.
I'ma be real. I first picked this up because of the title and the cover. A badass little girl in bunny ears who kills giants with an enormous war hammer? What's not to love? While there's still a kid who kills giants at the center of the story, this graphic novel quickly exceeded my expectations on all fronts. The art is beautiful. The writing is poignant. The story is touching. This is easily one of the most elegant and potent graphic novels I've ever read. Pick this up. Take it with you. Open it for the girl who kills giants. I did. I also kept reading because it was a gorgeous and emotionally powerful tale. If any of this sounds good to you... know what? Read it anyway. It's that good.
Sure, Donna Tartt won The Pulitzer for The Goldfinch, but The Secret History is why she's known. To this day it still stands as a measure for the most ambitious literary works by new authors. In a time when minimalist writing is seen as good writing, Tartt's prose is pointedly baroque. She writes in flourishes and minute details that build to elegant payoff and unbelievable realism. In its most fantastic moments and its most romanticized features, this book is strikingly real. The Secret History is a magnificent celebration of storytelling.
The Dispossessed is exactly what speculative fiction should be. An exercise in perspective shift, world building, and an exploration of our culture and values. This book is made up of ideas expressed through story and character. While it is definitely sci-fi, it is also clearly rooted in the possibilities of our world. The simple premise is social anarchists colonize a desert planet, and after they are settled and stable they send an emissary back to their native planet, which at first, appears a lot like our own. As someone not sold on science fiction when I first read The Dispossessed, I was made a believer by Le Guin's work in this book.
Much like Between the World and Me, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is an important book. It's a highly personal book. It's a book about race. It's a uniquely American book. It's a book about one man's experience, and it's a book that many others will be able to identify with. In it, Laymon presents a collection of short stories and essays that, together, have the cadence of an album. While this isn't filled with as much flourish as Coates' book, it's just as powerful. If you enjoyed Between the World and Me, you owe it to yourself to read this book as well.
This book? No. This book isn't for you. You can read it if you like. It's a good book. But this book is for that teenager you know. You know the one. Doesn't read much as of late. Frequently preoccupied with... whatever. Maybe broods just a little bit. Yeah. That one. They're gonna love it. This is the book that reinvigorates young people with a love of literature. Makes them go on to read more. Buy it for them. Spark that flame. Watch it spread.
Sweet, simple poetry in straightforward language, No Matter the Wreckage rocks enough depth to keep the strictest poetry aficionado afloat, but is accessible enough for those new to poetry. Sarah Kay is best known for her piece, "B (If I Should Have a Daughter)"-- a poem so damn good it was delivered as a Ted Talk, and then sold on its own as a complete volume-- but this very personal book puts "B" and the talented young poet herself, in context. If you're familiar with her spoken word, you already know how good she is. If you're not, feel free to let this be your introduction. Her words are just as wonderful read off the page.
What do you know about parallel universes? Quantum Superposition? Are you interested in these things? Because if you are (or even if you're not) then Dark Matter is the book for you! This book is smart, high concept science fiction wrapped in a fun and easily digestible adventure novel. Buried in all that adventure and sci-fi are questions about the relationships between choice and identity, happiness and accomplishment, and the possibilities of every potential decision one can make. Oh, and did I mention that this book is set in Chicago? Staff members here have questioned whether or not it is in the Chicago of this universe or another one. Give it a read and weigh in with your thoughts on the matter!
*Disclaimer: Dark Matter never mentions The Berenstein Bears. Wait. Did I talk about that in this universe, or another one? Either way, this is a great book.
S. is a celebration of the book as object, and a love letter to book lovers. Conceived by J.J. Abrams, and written by Doug Dorst, S. is just as much an event as it is a story. Besides the very well written and compelling novel, there is an entire story of discourse between two students told in the margins. The book, through which they communicate, is presented as an old library book filled with maps, newspaper clippings, handwritten letters, postcards, photographs, and other objects that help facilitate it's transcendence from a story of words, to a story of physical objects. If you were a fan of House of Leaves, Bats of the Republic, or any of Borges' works, give this a read. The experience alone, is worthwhile.
Quick warning. This is the only book I've ever been disgusted by enough to put down. It was also so good that I had to pick it up again an hour later. And yeah, it may take a quick minute to see how great the writing is. It'll come off a bit dry at first, but every word in this book is deliberate and carefully chosen, and once acclimated to its arid tone, the book is hilarious. Underneath the murder-- and there's lots and lots of that-- and vaguely defined psychosis, there is an absolute masterpiece. It's been said that this book is about the toxic excess of the 1980s, rampant consumerism, and social and legal immunity through wealth. While all of these things are very present in American Psycho, focusing on any one of them undercuts just how well constructed this book is. American Psycho is a damn good read. If you haven't read it yet, you're missing out.
Man, this coloring book is dope! The art in The Bicycle Coloring Book is fun and detailed and interesting, but it still gives the person coloring enough room to flex their creativity and find that medatative vibe. The mandalas and tight geometric lines that have become standard in other coloring books are nice and all, but this book was done in the spirit of Miyazaki filtered through cans of Krylon and sprayed onto walls made of solid dream. It feels like a little bit of anime, a little bit of graffiti, and a whole lot of wonder. Flip through a few pages of this book. You'll love it.
This is one of the less popular books of the Harlem Renaissance, but I'm not sure why. Cane is just as grand and revealing as anything from that period. Each of the book's three sections sketches a little piece of the relationship between urban and country life for Black men and women in the early 1900s. Though it takes place nearly a century ago, many of the ideas in this book feel contemporary, and the ones that don't certainly inform today's social climate. At the end of the day, every page of Cane is powerful. Passages of poetry peppered between the short stories share words and images and names with the rest of the book, creating a theme that makes Cane read like a symphony of lyrical prose. There are so many reasons to read Cain that it's hard to pick just one. How 'bout you read it and tell me what you liked most about Toomer's book.
I should hate this book. I'm not into magic and fantasy, I can't stand the love-conquers-all trope, and style at the cost of verisimilitude irks me to no end. But in this book, these things all work. Even with all of the stuff about this book I shouldn't like, I loved it. It's also one of the most visually striking and incredible books I've ever read. It's... well, it's magical. When I finished it, I immediately wanted it to be adapted to screen-- a rarity for me. If you're in for a good time, take Night Circus home.
If you don't want to commit to a whole novel, but you want to give Junot Diaz a try (and if you haven't yet, you really should), This is How You Lose Her is a great entry point. The world he creates is every bit as full, and his writing is every bit as rich as in his longer form work. When I found this book I read one passage and knew I was taking it home. At the bottom of page 50:
"Instead of lowering your head and copping to it like a man, you pick up the journal[.] You glance at the offending pages. Then you look at her and smile a smile your dissembling face will remember until the day you die. Baby, you say, baby, this is part of my novel.
This is how you lose her."
Read the first chapter of White Teeth.
Seriously. Read it right now. I'll wait.
Wasn't that great? Zadie Smith is a hell of a storyteller. But you recognized that before you finished the first page. The quality keeps for the rest of the novel. It's funny, too! Like, laughing-out-loud-on-the-L funny! If it wasn't so engaging I would have embarrassed myself more than once, reading it on the way home. And it's so well written! If I wasn't laughing or completely wrapped in the story, I was in awe of Zadie's sentences.
This book is why I read novels.
Natalie Diaz writes poetry that lives and breathes and feels. The power and beauty of her poetry is bolstered by a deeply intellectual sense of theme and construction. Which is to say Natalie knows her art. Don't sleep on her. Natalie Diaz is a monster.
Reading this is gonna hurt a little, but it'll be worth it. I promise. White Oleander is about a little girl, Astrid, and her odyssean journey through the Los Angeles foster care system while her mother serves time in prison. The story is as beautiful as it is compelling. It will wreck you and then it'll put you back together. This is a book that will stay with you.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a thing of legend. The true(ish) account of a journalist covering a motorcycle race and a national district attorneys drug convention in 1971 Vegas. It's largely known for the cartoonish antics and debauchery of counter culture icon, Hunter S. Thompson, but the greater value of the book is in the writing itself. Line after line of eloquent fury, intoxicated insight, and scenes so vivid they leave a grimy residue on your fingertips. Sure, Thompson was an outlandish guy who did a lot of drugs, but he's only remembered because he wrote like a mad genius, and this book contains what he feels is the best he's ever written.
I'm not one for gumshoe books, and when I first read The City & The City I wasn't really into sci-fi. Even still, I couldn't put it down. The star of this book is the setting. It takes place in two cities that occupy the same space, but can't be traversed between without first going to a border crossing. How this works is a complex process that's explored throughout the novel. What Mieville does with use of space is fascinating, and his slow, precise world building makes for a fun and thoughtful read. So much so that The City & The City made me decide to give genre fiction another shot. If you're into detective novels, or science fiction, or you just like well executed ideas in your books, give this a shot.
I love this book. I love this poet. Olena plays with her language. She bends it, chews it, twirls it around her finger and blows bubbles with it, then lets it burst, sticky, all over the page. Even though she's always playful, she isn't always fun. Just as often, her poems are brutal, challenging, and sexy. There is a weight to Davis' work, and reward to go with it.
Brian K. Vaughan is that dude! Now we loved Y: The Last Man, but Saga may be his best work yet. The series is a straight up space opera about a family that is caught between both sides of a racially motivated intergalactic war. The series is funny, insightful, and brimming with badassery. Whether the heroes, villains, or mercenaries in between, Vaughan’s characters are damn compelling. Embedded in all the space ships, ray guns, magic, ghosts, and swords is an adult story about family, and what we are willing to do for those we love. Fiona Staples’ striking imagery, attention to detail, and just all around incredible artwork make Saga just as much a joy to look at as it is to read. If you haven’t started Saga yet, catch up. You’re missing out.
I've met Stephen Florida. I didn't like him. At all. He's violent, spiteful, and constantly slouching into depravity. He's the most disturbed character I've read since American Psycho's Patrick Bateman. Only, Stephen is entirely believable, and if you've ever cared about anything, ever obsessed over a goal at all, you'll find yourself identifying with him. Cheering him on. Gabe Habash explores dangerous and frightening obsession in his masterwork of storytelling, form, and voice. Read Stephen Florida slowly. Read it twice. It's quite likely the best book I've read that was published in the last decade.
This little wisp of a thing, this slim, quick book calls itself a novel. And it is novel. Its disjointed chapters read like connected vignettes, its prose sings like lyrics, and its story leaves you raw, as if you were dipped in a tub of too-hot water. We the Animals, in all of its wild beauty, has the potency and depth of a book four times its size. You owe it to yourself to read this. Go ahead. You have the time.
Weil takes his time with these stories, the rich language whipped into stiff peaks. They feel complete, whole, standing on their own, instead of as the slices of time short stories often are. Read this book with a cup of black coffee, slowly after dinner.
Annihilation infects you, latches its hooks to your lungs, and sticks to your breath. Most harrowing is that in all of its weird, Annihilation is still believable. VanderMeer's talent for verisimilitude will have Annihilation leave its stain on your imagination.
This book is carved out of legend and written in magic. You can feel it as early as the first line. "Barrabas came to us by sea." It started as a letter to Allende's dying grandfather. Something to keep him as he went. It became her first novel. In a way that only a book that spans generations can do, it covers love and beauty and tragedy and wonder and anger and revolution, and every other thing that life brings. It's one of the best novels I've ever read. A gift of a book. The kind of story that would satisfy someone at the end of their life.
Sure, you read Sylvia Plath in your sophomore English class, but have you read her since? Everything poppin' in contemporary poetry is present in her work. As one of the progenitors of our era's free verse confessional poetry, she set a hell of an example. Her poetry isn't flashy, but she writes it with so much talent and skill it's no wonder she's so widely studied by budding poets. In a better world the turn of the century would have seen Plath as a 67 year old poet laureate.
The Crown Ain't Worth Much is poetry that moves at a furious cadence, with sentences barreling past line breaks, and images so detailed and vivid it's a surprise Hanif was able to stuff them into something as tight as poems. Those images, his words, are so familiar you'll swear you know them from your own memory. His poetry speaks of concrete, and ghosts, and house parties, and music and music and music, and pick up games interrupted by the police, and a natural fear of handcuffs on skin and bullets through it, and unquenched love, and fumbling lust, and in-between friends, and unapologetic Blackness. If you haven't read it yet, you're missing out.
Pick it up as a companion piece to Eve Ewing's Electric Arches. The two poets make up the entirety of the collective Echo Hotel, and their voices, their genius poetry, act as wonderful complements to one another.
Sandman is a masterpiece. Neil Gaiman’s best work. There's the sense that the format greatly limits his words per page, and he's forced to make sure they're all gold. And they are. Sure the series starts a little slowly, but stick with it and it becomes a titan of a story with a mythos that's both fresh and familiar. The series follows Morpheus, The Lord of Dreams, and his journey reestablishing himself after 70 years of imprisonment. The artwork is dreamlike and eerie, and if it needs to be said again, the story is the best damn thing Neil Gaiman has ever done. If you're a fan of Gaiman's work, pick this up. Pick it up now. If you're a fan of graphic novels, buy this monumental series. It sits with Watchmen, Maus, and The Dark Knight Returns in its cultural and genre relevance. And if you're a fan of fantasy and good mythos, then pick this up because it's nothing less than a treasure.
*And Death, Dream’s sister, is a full on delight!
Molly Millions is a superhero. Sure this is Henry Case's story, but he's the techy sidekick going on his little cyberpunk adventure while Molly is out there being a badass, doing hero's work.
All right, all right. For a techy sidekick Case is pretty cool. But man. Neuromancer. This book was The Matrix before The Matrix. It's an unpretentious Snowcrash. It's a smart, cerebral Ready Player One. It's what cyberpunk has been aspiring to for the last 35 years. You want sci-fi that's heady but still fun? What you want is Neuromancer.
This book is tough. At the first sentence you know what happens in the end. By the end of the first chapter you know who did it and why. What follows isn't a story about how we get to that end as much as a history of the opposing entities. A town called Ruby created as a Black haven by the descendants of freed slaves, and an old mansion 17 miles away called The Convent that acts as a haven for women in times of need. What makes it difficult is that after the brilliant opening until the very satisfying end, there is absolutely no payoff. None. Oh the prose is wonderful and feels like modern folklore. The characters you meet are interesting enough, but for the most part their story archs don't lead to much. Despite all this when I finally finished the book, and not a chapter before, I loved it. I saw its brilliance and beauty, and every last sentence of the book had proven its worth. Pick the book up. Trust Toni. Read all the way to the end. She'll take care of you.
Maryse Meijer's Northwood is incredible. It's a gorgeous object with white text on black pages all the way through. It appears at first as strong poetry-- and if broken up, the individual pieces do stand on their own as potent poems-- but as I read through the novella I saw that it was a cohesive story. The whole thing throws its middle fingers up at form, flirting with elements of fairy tale, poetry, and novella. A gorgeous horror about lust, violence, attachment, and love. The most horrifying part of the book is how relatable it is. Chances are you've had a relationship like the one in Northwood, and chances are you find it a difficult place to revisit. With Northwood breaking convention as well feeling like a modern myth, Maryse Meijer sits with greats like Anne Carson and Maggie Nelson with this one.
I read the first story in this collection, and then I put the book down. I needed time to process what I'd read. The next day I picked it up again, and read the next story, and then put the book down for another day. And then repeated this process until I finished the book. Lahiri's stories left me stunned, needing a day to process and recover from their weight and beauty. And they left me hungry, always wanting to rush in to the next one the moment I was able. Lahiri's stories are marvelous works. It would be your privilege to read them.
I opened this book, and it was everything. It's intelligent and accessible. In juxtapositions of Borges and OutKast, Kendrick Lamar and T.S. Eliot, it demands to be read slowly, like good poetry should. It tore me up from start to finish.
I'm not going to say anything new here. Lolita is a work of genius. It's a lyrical masterpiece in saturated prose. It's a book that's as beautiful as it is uncomfortable. And like a masterpiece, like a work of genius, everything here is here for a reason. Awful as its protagonist may be. It's one of the most impressive novels I've read. None of this is new. Which is a testament to how great a book this is.
There are authors I love, but don't write recommendation cards for. A highly skilled set who focus so much on their prose and the process of storytelling that if you read their work too quickly, if you don't read it like poetry, you'll miss what's so great about it. "Writer's writers," I call them. At the top of my list of writer's writers is Amy Hempel. Her latest is a little easier to get into, but still something I suggest you read slowly. There's music in its phrases, and an elegant profundity in its simplicity. This is a great entry point for Amy Hempel's work if you're not familiar with it, and if you are, you're already excited for this book.
One of my New Years resolutions was to get better at drinking. I can mix a good Cuba Libre or Dark and Stormy, but not much more. So I bought the Cocktail Codex. Most of the cocktail books I see are far too simple to need to keep on your shelf, or far too complex to even look at if you're not already a mixologist. This book is accessible enough for a novice to pick up, but deep enough to keep around after you've settled in behind your home bar. It's also a great way to explore drinks. Each one of the big six cocktails branches into a family tree of variations that are sometimes close and obvious, or other times more distant and seemingly only loosely related. The raw formulas that start each chapter really let you feel comfortable experimenting with ingredients and finding your own balance. And the recipes in the book let you actually taste the alcohol, instead of covering up the flavor with sugar.
And the thing is gorgeous. Did I mention that? Because it damn well is. It's perfect for anyone who enjoys a good mixed drink at home.
Phil Kaye's poetry is a marvel in its range of emotion, its nuance, and its depth. Phil manages to show that he's a master of his craft without being pretentious. Instead his work is playful and relatable and heartfelt. Fun as it is, his work is weighty and strong. He's as great for someone new to poetry as he is for someone long-steeped in verses.
I don't know what to do with this book. You see, it's funny but there are no jokes. Instead, the humor is in how it takes its own ridiculousness so seriously. Its dryness. But then it isn't really dry, either. There are stories about werewolves, and unicorns, and zombies, and assassins. But I wouldn't call it genre fiction. The attention to detail, the style of writing, the way the stories unfold, it's all purely literary. It's like if Borges decided to reboot Buffy The Vampire Slayer. If Guillermo del Toro decided to write "Serious Fiction." It's H.R. Giger doing cartoons in the Louvre. So, yeah... I don't know what to do with this book, but I kinda love it.
We didn’t have a word for it then. At least I didn’t know it. Nobody said “AfroFuture” to me until I was well into my 30s. We had Moonwalker, and P-Funk, and OutKast, and Kool Keith, and Deltron 3030, and Jet Set Radio Future, and J*Davey, and some of Erykah Badu, and Janelle Monae, and Octavia Butler, and Afro Samurai, and Bobby Digital, and Lando Calrissian, and Geordi La Forge, and Pitch Black, and Lupe Fiasco rapping about robots, and Barret from Final Fantasy, and Jet from Cowboy Bebop, and we recognized it. And then we had a poet laureate. And for the AfroFuture, Tracy K. Smith's Life on Mars is everything.
A Fortune For Your Disaster is all that a great sophomore project can be. It's comfortable enough to experiment a bit, like ATLiens. It's a more mature project, like Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them. It's more focused on its theme, like The Cool. It's more refined, like Demon Days. If you're not familiar with Hanif Abdurraqib's poetry, this book is a great entry point, like The Score, God Loves Ugly, The Low End Theory, or Discovery. And if you are familiar with his work, it's got more of what you love, like Portishead. But really, if you were up on Hanif's first book of poetry you already know you're getting this one, like The New Danger.
The Summer Demands is a slow, hot book. It's lazy days in a canoe with the object of your unrealized affection, and your bare foot dipped into a cool lake. Its close narrative and graceful sentences build tremendous beauty and precise emotion. Deb Shapiro did her damn thing with this book.
Go Ahead in the Rain is a different book to everyone I've spoken to who has read it. To some, it's a book of essays on A Tribe Called Quest. To others, it's a book of chunky poems written to the beat of old hip-hop records. To me, it's a time machine made up of lyrical prose instead of gears and wires and science fiction. A book that took me through my own childhood and adolescence by the tune of my old Sony headphones. Everyone I know who has picked it up, or even just heard an excerpt, calls it moving. Hanif Abdurraqib's personal essays are so much more than pieces about music. He talks about violence, and youth, and sugar, and love, and a time and place that you'd swear you knew just by his words. Go Ahead in the Rain is a thing of magic. What will it be to you?
It isn't so much that it's a great novel. In its own words, The Sellout is a book of "essays passing for fiction." It's an insightful work unconcerned with the liberal white people who relegate Black artists to commentators and tour guides to Black culture. It's a book about Blackness from a Black perspective, that purposefully ignore the white gaze. It's a love letter and a fuck you. It's a book of loving unkindness. It is exactly the kind of book we didn't know we needed until it was published. It's a tremendous work that's already left a lasting impression in Black literature around the world.
When I read this book, this celebration of Blackness through the lens of performance, I thought ‘can’t we keep this one for ourselves.’ This book about us and what we do, the triumph of our performance, a love letter to us about our culture and the way we show up and show out was surely written for us. Right? But that’s not what this is. This book, dressed in black, is the big outing with a major publisher, and center stage for everyone to see and praise. Itself a triumph of Blackness through performance, Little Devil In America reads like poetry, the essays informative and impassioned, talking about the moonwalk, Whitney Houston, games of spades, Soul Train, and so much more. If you haven’t read Hanif yet, get this book. It’s beautiful work from a brilliant writer. And if you already know, you know.
Everything Must Go is a book of poetry that reads like a novel. With a clear narrative arc, a setting, and cast of characters, it's an ode to the Wicker Park of the 1990s in verse. A lovingly written and sharply illustrated story of a time and place and the people who once lived there.
Max Barry (see: Javier's Picks) is the AP class clown. His works are never quite brilliant, but they're always smart and they're always a good time. Lexicon is his ode to the power of words wrapped up in an adventure novel that comes complete with a magic school (see: Lynda's Picks) and a secret agent conspiracy. With a little bit of The Magicians (see: Ben's Picks), a little bit of Neal Stephenson (see: Jason's Picks), and a little bit of The Regional Office is Under Attack (see: Jason's Picks) Lexicon is a clever idea and a great ride.
In an exploration familiar to any first generation American, Gogol (Nikhil) Ganguli considers his heritage, his identity, his ability to assimilate in both his and his parents' countries (and how necessary it is to do either), his name's legacy, and its impact on all of that. The Namesake had me consider my own names. Both my Igbo name and my American one. And of course, Jhumpa Lahiri's prose and storytelling are masterful here, as always.
Can we all finally admit we have crushes on Donna Tartt? No? Just me? Whatever. You know who you are. And even still, you may have missed The Little Friend. Donna's entry in the tradition of stories about precocious children solving mysteries in the adult world. It isn't the easiest book. It assumes its reader's trust, moving slowly and taking its time building a thick, rich world. It rewards its reader, though, with marvelous prose and sharp storytelling that builds to a devastating crescendo. By the end you'll remember, again, why you had that crush on Donna Tartt in the first place.
It's in the title. "The Inevitable." As sure as we're alive we are going to die. Neither good or bad, that just is. It's in choosing to die that we apply moral or ethical value to our own death. This book explores the stories of six people who have chosen to die, and the issues they face with their friends, their families, and the law. Ultimately, "The Inevitable" asks the question, "when is it okay to choose to die?" Long after I finished reading it, the book has stayed with me, and I'm still trying to figure out my answer to its question.
This story is ultimately one of love. A family and their struggles to cope when they find that one of the children is somehow special. That same child and his struggle to find out what it means to be so, or even if he is. Washburn's skill as a writer is on full display as he builds a myth in lyrical prose from five distinct voices. Not since White Teeth have I read a debut novel so full, with characters so bright. Sharks in the Time of Saviors will leave you awed and in love with each of the characters of the book. It would be a fool mistake to skip this book.
This book made me homesick. It reads like Alaska. It's beautiful, and dark, and harsh, and everyone in it is closely connected. I don't tend to like books about Alaska--all inspirational wilderness survival crap on a scale between Jack London and Cheryl Strayed. But this book, even in its road trips or adventures, is always tethered to Anchorage, a place where people actually live. It's the closest thing I've read to the Alaska I know. But even if you've never been and you're not interested in ever going, it's still a book of beautiful, dark, harsh stories connected by some very real characters.
There's no trick here. No dark and secret Jim Henson scandal to be uncovered. This book is exactly as bright and delightful as you initially assumed. Jones' writing is dense and painstakingly detailed, but it's also smooth and accessible. The story told, Henson's life, is both inspiring and heartbreaking. It's a moving story. If you're a fan of Jim Henson or one of his many works, pick it up. If you're interested or just curious about what a creative life could look like, get the book. It's wonderful. Jim Henson was one of the 20th century's creative geniuses.
You know what it is. You saw it in the title. This book doesn't spend time trying to convince you that niggas can be nerds too, and it doesn't capitalize on Black pain. It's a fun book that nerds out on comics, movies, TV shows, and anime from a Black perspective. The comfort in the book comes in how conversational the essays are. As in any good talk between friends, there are poignant moments and jokes and shared frustrations and a lot of joy. If you saw yourself in the title, then yes. It's worth it. Just go ahead and take this one home.
This celebratory sendoff for fans of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics opens with a mystery: Who is the last remaining turtle? From there it's a ride. This end to the original comics is no victory lap, though. There was a lot of care and work put into the story, the art, and the fate of the turtles. It's not just a solid arc, but a standout in the series. If you've ever been a fan of Ninja Turtles comics, this is a treat.
A quick warning, though. This is a continuation of the original gritty, bloody, relentlessly violent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If you're only familiar with the Nickelodeon cartoon fare, this is something else.
If you've read Friday Black (The Book Table staff's Best Book of 2018) you're excited for this. Or you should be. Nana's debut novel, about prisoners who sign up for death matches to have their sentences commuted. This book is written with all of the passion and creativity and empathy that Nana applies to his short stories, but it's an idea that deserves the time and length of a novel. If you haven't read Friday Black, go ahead and read that story collection. And then when you come back to thank me for putting you onto it, you can pick up a copy of Chain Gang All-Stars.
Scott Pilgrim is stupid. Both the character and the book. It's okay because the stupidity is endearing. In the narrative's case there's a depth and gravity beneath the stupid that make for a striking level of maturity and nuance. And yes, the defeat-the-evil-exes metaphor is obvious, but it's a good one that's well utilized and works as a theme for both Scott and Ramona instead of just Scott's burden to "get the girl." If this is all too serious for you, don't worry. It's still stupid fun with robots and girlfriends and ninjas and rock stars and video games and boyfriends and sushi and sex and violence and superpowers.
I grew up on tights and capes comics. I will argue all day about why Spider-Man is the best superhero, why Batman is the least interesting character in Batman, and which X-Man has the coolest powers. Invincible is all of this. At first it looks like a generic superhero comic, but it grows into a love letter and critique of all of those same tights and capes books. It isn't just tribute or thought exercise, though. Robert Kirkman (of The Walking Dead) writes memorable characters and interesting stories that stand next to any of the superhero books you grew up with. If you're in for a brutal (very, very brutal), practical, and philosophical superhero comic, or just an alternative to the big titles, Invincible is what you want.
A friend once called Only Revolutions "unreadable." I didn't disagree with him. And I won't argue that it doesn't feel like gibberish for __ pages, or that flipping the book over every 8/16/32 pages (it's a whole thing) isn't ridiculous, but once things click, and you can see the story through the gibberish and you fall in love with the characters and you see that this book is more of an epic poem than a novel, it's fucking beautiful. Listen. It isn't House of Leaves, and if you don't have time for whatever postmodern bullshit this book is, I understand. I've been that person. But I've also been the person moved to tears by the beauty of Danielewski's expressionist mural in Only Revolutions.
Lemme go head and try to get in a two for one here. Five people independently told me that Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was one of the best novels they'd ever read. I was annoyed with them when I picked it up, but reader, they were right. It's that damn good.
The Tsar of Love and Techno might be a fuller book than Marra's debut. Its tightly interconnected stories hold the same harshness of war and slow-walk you through the same Eastern Bloc tragedies, but this time around Anthony's got jokes. This book is funny, somehow. And because each story is meant to stand on its own, his already rich prose feels concentrated until the pages are sticky saturated with it. It's a beautiful read.
Constellation is a brilliant dinner, and Tsar is its complex dessert.
It feels like something you'd find in the dirty slush and snow. Like you took it home and rinsed off its opalescent oil slick coating, like you scratched at the hard parts with a safety pin until you got to the hurting red wet tender underneath. This nasty, sexy, violent fright of a book. It's pretty, too.
Is this book a piece of sharp criticism of utopian sci-fi? Is it a psychedelic cautionary tale about what happens when one man has too much power? Is it just Ursula taking us on a wild trip? I mean, the answer is clearly "yes," but read it. Tell me what you think. No matter which answer you pick, the book is dope.