Jason is co-owner of The Book Table with his wife, Rachel.
I have read and loved every single book Ben Lerner has ever written, and his latest novel, a portrait of adolescence, masculinity, and cultural dysfunction in middle America in the 1990s (and essentially holding a mirror to today's societal ills), shows an author at the top of his game. Every sentence he writes is amazing and gorgeous, and his storytelling abilities here are unmatched.
I predict that in 100 years people will use the phrase Ellmannian America like we use Dickensian London because this novel perfectly captures the moment that we are presently living in. More importantly, it does it with a stream of consciousness writing style that is so inventive and brilliant that it will continue to show up on all the best of year lists.
This fascinating and thoroughly accessible book by an important scholar is full of details that will up-end everything you think you know about books and reading. It is nothing less than a complete reframing of books as an ever-changing cutting edge technology instead of as an outdated media.
This book is for those of us that are skeptical that billionaires and their philanthropic activities are as altruistic as they seem. It does a fantastic job of pointing out the endless hypocrisies of the 1% lobbying against changes that would help society as a whole while promoting their pet projects that would be paid for 100,000 times over if they would stop lobbying for their own self-interest. It exposes the myth that philanthropic capitalism can cure sociey's ails.
If this is your first Chris Ware book, this is the perfect introduction to his genius. If you already own every Chris Ware book, you'll find an enormous amount of material never before collected in book form. It not only brings together all of Ware's New Yorker covers, but also includes autobiographical details, juvenilia, photographs of his sculptures (yeah, he does sculpture), and real insight into his best known works.
I still can't understand how Rizzoli was able to do this book for less than $200. The sheer size of it is astounding, 18 inches high and weighing in at almost 9 pounds. The colors, the paper choice, and the printing quality match the perfectionist that is Chris Ware. The design is like nothing seen before in an artist's monograph and even includes multiple mini-comics throughout. This is the must-have book of 2017.
It's 2020, climate change has intensified. The novel starts at -6 degrees and gets much colder from there, but the two narrators have more important issues on their minds. Stella is a 12 year old trans girl worried about adolescent hormones that threaten her with facial hair, a deepening voice and other boy things she knows have no place in her body. Dylan has just lost his mother, grandmother, and the only place that he's ever called home. I loved Fagan's 1st novel, The Panopticon, and her sophomore effort shows that she will remain a major force in contemporary literature.
I didn't realize how tired and old-fashioned the drug novel genre was until I encountered the first real 21st version of it. Sharma's voice is original and uncompromising as she infuses her humor into this painful story of addiction.
Some days you don't want just one thing from a novel. You want your pulp to be literary. You want your pop culture references to be both mocking and respectful. And you want your action so over the top and your backstories so unreal, but you want it written by someone who clearly could be running a PhD seminar on the topic. Hey, you might even want a little fantasy mixed in with your science fiction, but have it set in the contemporary world. If today is that day, then this tale of bad-ass women is for you because today the Regional Office Is Under Attack!
This Chicago based novel is a fascinating study of four characters who are each given an amazing opportunity to change their lives. Chiarella shows great skill, rarely seen in a debut novel, delving deep into their psyches as each confronts the surprising ramifications of their choices.
The secret to making a big novel work is to find a perfect combination of plot and characters that each page is so engrossing, you forget about its length. 2015's most talked about debut novel is a perfect example of this. Yes, there is a giant canvas of NYC in the 70s (with a few flashbacks & flashforwards) with the art scene, the punk scene, revolutionaries, Wall Street, entitled families, fires in the Bronx, and the great blackout of 1977. Yes, there's a murder and a quest to find the killer. Yes, there are issues of class, race, sexual orientation, immigration, marriage, suburbs vs city, violence, and culture. But more than that, there are artfully created characters, flawed and imperfect, with rich back stories. And it's these characters that make this admittedly hefty novel feel wonderfully intimate and an immense pleasure to read.
VOTED THE BEST BOOK OF 2015 BY THE STAFF OF THE BOOK TABLE! You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is the most fun you'll ever have reading about the alienation of contemporary culture. Set in a much weirder version of our world of aggressive marketing, chemically created food, talk show freak shows, and reality TV, you'll go back and forth between thinking, "this is so weird!" and thinking, "but is it really any weirder than the way we live now?" Simultaneously creepy, hilarious, and mindblowingly brilliant, this book is the weirdest, wildest, best thing you'll read this year.
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon comes an exciting and thought-provoking science fiction epic—a grand story of annihilation and survival spanning five thousand years.
What would happen if the world were ending?
In these pages, Jonathan Galassi—the longtime publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux—gives us an extraordinarily sensitive, satirically sharp novel set in the world of books that he knows so well. At the center is Paul Dukach, editor-in-chief and heir apparent at Purcell & Stern, one of New York’s last great independent publishing houses.
Everyone's favorite anarcho-anthropologist is at it again. This time with a group of essays that serve as the beginning of a left-wing critique of bureaucracy.The man who helped coin the slogan, "We are the 99%," proves once again that he is one of the most original and necessary thinkers (and activists) of our time.
Satin Island may be a slim novel, but it is filled to the brim with big ideas. McCarthy, a writer on the forefront of the 21st century avant-garde, challenges the narrative form while simultaneously providing a critique of contemporary corporations, networks, culture, and criticism itself.
Reading an Amanda Filipacchi novel is unlike any other piece of literature. It's more like visiting an art museum with a mixture of small 2-3 page concept pieces buried in the midst of the larger themes of her books. This fable is incredibly funny with some scenes that in a lesser writer would be almost slapstick, but in Filipacchi's hands are elevated to performance art. One of my all-time favorite authors has produced one of my favorite novels of the year.
Told in the alternating voices of Theodore and Violet, this novel confronts big issues of depression, trauma, suicide, and love with characters that are so real that you feel you've known them your whole life and with more than enough humor to get you through the tough parts.
An amazing celebration of the power of reading and writing to confront the various problems that we all face. For the Sylvia Plath fan in all of us.
It's a mystery, but instead of a whodunnit, it's a whoisit as we move back and forth in time in order to understand who the main character is, where she comes from and who she should really trust.
Kolbert, a staff writer at The New Yorker, has written three books in one---a history of the concept of extinction, a great travelogue of her wandering the world meeting scientists, and a powerful call to action for humanity to change its ways. Any of these three would be an important book, but all together turns this into an instant environmental classic.
I've long named Richard Powers as one of my favorite writers, but Orfeo might finally move him to the top of my list of favorite living writers. Like many of Powers' novels, this one deals with music and science, but more than that, it's a powerful quest narrative of a hunted and haunted man. There's not a single sentence that isn't perfect.
A hilarious fictional skewering of the world of writers, examing three authors as they compete for a top prize in Italy. It's as if Malcolm Bradbury or David Lodge had decided to write a novel in Italian.
To be honest, I would probably read de Botton's philosophical musings about paint drying. That's how intereresting and inventive his mind is. Luckily though, this slim volume tackles a much more important subject and does so from a myriad of captivating angles.
I'm willing to admit that this novel has a few flaws, but it does so many things right that Eggers more than makes up for them. It's a manifesto in the guise of fiction and you will never look at the way you interact with technology the same way again.
The Panopticon is the story of a 15-year-old foster child and youth offender caught in a dystopian juvenile detention system. Though the Scottish vernacular the book uses can be off-putting at first, young Anaïs Hendricks is such a compelling character that you will quickly forget that early stumbling block. This coming of age story of a troubled young girl in a society hard-wired against her is a truly remarkable debut novel.
This is an incredibly impressive debut novel which takes place during the Chechen conflict of the 1990s. Both beautiful and harrowing, it is by far the best novel I have read this year.
The old writing adage, "Show, don't tell," should go double for political fiction where characters often launch into monologues filled with prose that is better suited to The New York Times Op-Ed page. And though this novel is about outsourcing, the decline of American hegemony, rising personal debt and the looming presence of China, Eggers never seems like he's writing a manifesto. Instead, by focusing on his 54 year old protagonist and his powerlessness, guilt, and worry tempered by humor, we get a slice of contemporary life that will be read for decades to come, helping us to understand the times in which we live. This multi-layered novel filled with pared-down prose is a remarkable work by an author at the height of his game.
This hilarious novel feels more like a radio play or a Flash Gordon comic from the 30s or 40s. There are automatons, an evil villain/despot, secret societies, a spunky sidekick, a doomsday machine, travels through London sewers, one of my favorite sexual fetishes ever in fiction and one serious badass tommy gun. It may all be wrapped up in a giant postmodern genre stew, but despite all the wacky adventures, at the heart it's a story of a man coming to terms with his father's past.
Ben Lerner is one of my favorite contemporary poets and in his VERY autobiographical first novel, he shows that a poet's touch can do wonders for prose. The novel's main character is an American poet in Spain on a Fellowship, but the plot is less interesting that the writing style, the musings on what art is and the showing how difficult translating can be. Forget Paris in the 20s and spend some time in Madrid in 2004.
Every once in awhile a character comes along that is so unlikable that you can't help but root for him. Enter Franklin W. Dixon, the main character of Ted Heller's Pocket King, whose satirical adventures in publishing and online gambling alternate between making you giggle wickedly and cover your eyes because you can't believe what you're going to read next.
David Lamb is a middle-aged man who befriends and then convinces an 11 year old girl to take a road trip with him. You would think that would be creepy enough, but the power of this debut novel is that at every juncture where Lamb could make a decision to do the right thing, he rationalizes why he shouldn't. In fact, you get so deep into his head that I found myself feeling as guilty for being a voyeur to Lamb's actions as Lamb should have felt about living them.
What could be a better setting for a meditation on boredom than an IRS examination facility in Peoria? David Foster Wallace's amazing powers of description are in full effect as he shows a wealth of characters so fully developed that you're sure you've been living inside their heads for years. There are passages of humor that will have you holding your sides and for those of you that love Wallace's digressions, my favorite is a 6 page description of traffic patterns to and from the facility that was so fascinating, I had to read it twice. The inevitable question with a posthumous novel is is it finished in the way that DFW would have wanted? The answer is no because that would be impossible, but there's no doubt that the novel that we get to read has section after section of one of America's most important post-WWII writers at his dazzling best. Is it the most important book of the year? (decade?) (millenium?) For me, on a personal level, as someone who has reread INFINITE JEST every year since it came out, I don't think there could be any denying it.
So, let’s get it out of the way. There is a love affair in this book between a chimpanzee and scientist, but I promise that by the time that you get to it, you’ll be so involved in this novel and thinking about what makes a human a human that you’ll be rooting for them. This is a novel about big ideas including the nature of language itself, but the narrator, a chimp taken from the Lincoln Park Zoo that learns how to speak, is so laugh out-loud funny and witty and the writer, a debut novelist, is so talented that it never feels like an intellectual chore and is instead an incredibly engrossing read.
This book is not for everyone, in fact it's probably not for most people. But, for anyone that's ever wanted to see someone out-Palahniuk Chuck Palahniuk or out-Vollmann William Vollmann, then this novel's meditations on violence is for you. It deals with everything from the Manson Family to September 11th to child sexual abuse. It's both frightening and brilliant.
I’m not a fan of reviews where someone just gushes all over the place, but...I could not have loved this book more. The subject material, the characters, the text and the images all come together in a way that makes this one of the finest graphic novels I’ve ever read.
A fascinating series of snapshots of the pre-recession contemporary art world: an auction at Christie's, a critique at CalArts, Art Basel, the Turner Prize, Artforum Magazine, a visit to Takashi Murakami’s multiple studios and the Venice Biennale. Thornton conducted over 250 interviews spanning 3 years, so there is a lot of information packed into each of the vignettes, but she has a very conversational writing style, so this work, created as ethnography, feels much more like a group of interconnected magazine articles.
What a pleasure to travel in time and land in an alternate universe where a novel can deliver playful humor, raw emotion and concepts that will blow your mind.
You would think a novel told from the perspective of a five-year-old would just be a literary device, but Donoghue never falters as you completely get immersed in the life of a child, from the everyday fascination and frustrations to the horrors stemming from his captivity with his mother in a room. It's one of the best novels of the year, relentlessly pummeling your emotions and making the readjustment to your regular life incredibly difficult.
First of all, don't be scared of its size. Because the novel takes places over four days and is told (almost entirely) from one voice, it's a much smaller and intimate novel than its girth would make you believe. I found it impossible to not be converted to the cause of the 10-year-old potential messiah as he justifies each of his seemingly unjustifiable actions. This is a novel about power and appalling violence, but it's filled with so many cute and tender moments and such a variety of humor, from a brilliant dissertation on the word "combover," to a hilarious response to the narrator's fan letter to Philip Roth, to several scenes of physical comedy that would make Laurel & Hardy proud. This is a masterly conceived debut and will be a topic of discussion for decades to come.
There are certain books that I reread every year and since 1999 this has been one of them. It’s a huge sprawling novel and to try to describe all of its plot lines would be an exercise in futility, but suffice it to say that in this multigenerational work are contemporary hackers, WWII code breakers, crusty treasure divers, psychotic marines and Japanese mine engineers. There’s plenty of math (which can be skipped if you desire), but the quality of writing, the richness of characters and the complexity of plot make this one of my all-time favorite reads.
In a world of too much TV and too many video games, this simply illustrated book shows the amazing power of imagination. Every kid knows how to turn a simple object into hours of fun with just their mind. It’s an added bonus that adults get to relearn the lesson as they read this book to their kids.
Nine Stories may be his greatest work, but this is my favorite of Salinger’s books. The religious themes can be a little heavy-handed, but these two short stories about Franny and Zooey Glass, two young adults trying to recover from being precocious children, are about as well-written as fiction can be.
I think this novel is the perfect blend of Murakami’s career--Japanese magical realism, pop culture references and sparseness in writing. What I like most about Murakami is that he’s an incredibly cerebral writer that is also incredibly readable and he wanders into the fantastic, but never crosses over into fantasy.
Though I applauded Powers’ 2006 National Book Award win for Echo Maker, this is still my favorite novel by one of my favorite authors. Corporations have long been treated like individuals under the law and in this book, Powers has done the literary equivalent--a corporation as a living breathing character. One plot line follows the corporation from its humble beginnings in 19th century Boston to a multinational conglomerate, and the other plot line is the painful story of Laura Bodey who is facing a terminal illness. You know how the stories will collide from the beginning, but you enjoy every second of the journey. The history of this fictional corporation is the history of this country, from cute jingles to advertising savvy, from family ownership to shareholder control, and the consequence of the shifts of American capitalism are written horribly on Laura’s life.
The best Caucasian writer to focus on the white supremacy that is still embedded in all aspects of American life is at it again with a great series of essays that deal with the issues of race that have come up around the election of Barack Obama. The book is filled with scary statistics, for instance, black high school graduates actually have higher unemployment rates that white dropouts, and white males with a criminal record are more likely than black males without one to be called back for a job interview, and black women are 9 times more likely to be searched for drugs coming through customs even though white women are twice as likely to be caught with drugs. Mostly though it focuses on the myth of meritocracy and the dangers of thinking that we’ve reached any sort of post-racial United States.
Though it won’t necessarily cause you to pick up a Molotov cocktail or an AK-47, this little book will cause you to at least question some of your assumptions about past successes from nonviolence movements. From Gandhi to MLK to the anti-Vietnam movement, there have always been more militant groups working at the same time. These more militant groups through either actual violent acts or through the threat of violence may have done as much to change policy as the nonviolent groups that we feel more comfortable focusing on. Plus as an added bonus, we guarantee an FBI file to be created with every purchase!
This is simply one of the greatest post-WWII American novels. The measure of its greatness to me is that I have very little interest in any of the big subjects of the book—tennis, AA and Quebecian separatists, but it just doesn’t matter. Unlike so many other novels that get labeled postmodern, the level of detail in the writing is phenomenal and the characters are so vivid that you truly believe that you’ve personally met them all.
“The literature of Juan Villoro…is opening up the path of the new Spanish novel of the millennium.” Roberto Bolano
Dodgers is a dark, unforgettable coming-of-age journey that recalls the very best of Richard Price, Denis Johnson, and J.D. Salinger.
“Ball has created a voice that echoes the beloved narrators of J. D. Salinger and John Green. . . . With her tragic past, brilliant mind and subversive potential, Lucia could be thought of as a young Lisbeth Salander, or a high-IQ, antiheroic Katniss Everdeen, but with a better sense of humor.” —Newsday
In a nameless suburb in an equally nameless country, every house has a room reserved for the president. No one knows when or why this came to be. It's simply how things are, and no one seems to question it except for one young boy.