This National Book Award Finalist figuratively destroyed me when I first read it. One of the best story collections I've read in a long time. Campbell chronicles the desperate and proud lives of her native Michganders as they struggle in a modern American landscape that has all but rejected them. Meth addicts, mechanics, farmers, and fractured families all search for something resembling joy and redemption. Also, Campbell has a pet donkey name Don Quixote, which makes me smile.
One word to describe this novel: BRUTAL. Several more words to describe this novel: a terrifically violent and poetic artic odyssey that tests the moral and spiritual fortitude of a disgraced military surgeon as he journeys on a doomed and blood soaked whaling expedition, where reality and sanity fracture and shift beneath his feet like ice floes.
An underappreciated noir classic with a depth of character and sadness rarely seen in the genre. What starts off with a well crafted heist quickly and drunkenly swerves into a debauched journey through love, booze, and violence. Certain moments brought The Tell-Tale Heart and The Great Gatsby to mind. Or have you seen Terrence Malik's first film, Badlands? It's a lot like that. Like if star-crossed lovers decided to become unhinged at the same time and inflict their doomed existence upon the world.
Well, it's been 20 years. And after two readings (and I'll probably put in a third soon), Infinite Jest still remains one of my favorite novels. As Walt Whitman would say: It is large. It contains multitudes. Do not be put off by the page count. Do not be put off by Wallace's reputation or near sainthood or whatever preconceptions you may have. Just read it and let it speak for itself. It may feel like hard work at times but like all things in this world that are worth a damn, the greatest pleasures and rewards require you to put in work. But it is also, above all else, deeply, significantly entertaining. It is large. It contains multitudes.
There are some truths only a novel can tell. And there are even deeper truths only a satirical novel can tell. If you read the excellent race memoir Between the World and Me by Coates this year but were left with the nagging question, "Well, now what?", The Sellout offers answers to the question of Race in America. If you are ready to hear them, Beatty has some troubling and hilariously astute things to say about this complicated and wounded country.
The single most important book on the state of food and consumption to come along since The Omnivore's Dilemma. An informative and urgent manifesto. James Beard Award Winner.
My vote for Best Cookbook of 2015. With a conversational tone and unquenchable thirst for cooking knowledge, The Food Lab is at the forefront of nerd cookery. Throw out whatever it is you think you know about the holy space that is your kitchen because Kenji is here to educate your poor soul.
After a freak accident involving “something” falling from the sky and landing on him, our narrator is granted a ridiculous sum of money via lawsuit. He decides to use the money to re-create and re-enact certain moments from his life, both past and present, moments that he feels are "pure" and "true" and in turn, give him a sense of happiness. He feels that everyday life has become too staged and stilted and is tainted with people posing and being aware that they're posing...so naturally, in order to get around this, he hires "re-enactors" to help him stage these moments, creating "sets" down to the most miniscule detail. Then he decides to re-create a bank robbery and everything pretty much dissolves into glorious chaos.
Let me just say right away (so you'll keep reading) that A Naked Singularity is one of my favorite novels of the past ten years. Originally self published (and then later published by University of Chicago Press, which they don't normally publish fiction, that's how impressed they were) the novel details the life of Casi, a highly neurotic NYC public defender who has never lost a case, as he navigates the absurd world that is the American justice system. BUT, without giving too much away, it pretty much turns into a fantastic heist novel. It's also about boxing, television, esoteric philosophy, family, and intellectually disabled death row inmates. Fans of David Foster Wallace, Pynchon, Gaddis and Saunders will devour this book. One of the only books in recent memory I would love to re-read.
A mysterious, possibly extraterrestrial, event bestows public servant Mitchell Hundred with the ability to listen and “talk” to machines. After preventing the second plane from crashing into the Twin Towers, Hundred runs for and becomes the NYC mayor. Think House of Cards meets The Watchmen. Or West Wing meets…well, still The Watchmen. Insightful socio-political writing coupled with bad ass comic book action makes for some fine reading. And the stunning artwork by Tony Harris doesn’t hurt.
George Saunders cannot be denied. He is one of the (if not THE greatest) greatest living American writers. While all of his story collections (Civilwarland in Bad Decline, Pastoralia, In Persuasion Nation) are models of astonishing hilarious excellence, Tenth of December is another beast altogether. Saunders focuses all of his best qualities as a writer into these new stories: his wit, his inventiveness, his heart, his compassion, his morality, his kindness, his American-ness, and of course, his humor. Behold and take care: you are in the company of an immeasurable talent.
The single most useful writing book I've ever read. And I've read an embarrassing number of them.
Well, the Paul Thomas Anderson adaptation turned out to be cool as hell and it wouldn't have been possible without it having come from the brain of the great Thomas Pynchon. I would argue that this is the novel Pynchon was destined to write and very well may be his lasting literary legacy. Set in the dying days of the 60s, we follow Doc Sportello, a pot smoking, huarches wearing, private eye detecting gum shoe with a soft spot for his ex old lady, whose shown up at his surf side door in a bad and desperate way. "I need your help, Doc" are the only words Shasta Fay has to say and we are taken into the paranoid, absurd, foggy and half remembered world of L.A. A stylish noir coupled with a subtle critique of the Free Love/Nixon Paranoia era, Pynchon has cloaked his genius in a hilarious and strangely sad yarn.
Are you looking for one of the greatest road novels ever written? Well, it very well might be Americana. David Bell, a Don Draper-ish type ad man, abandons his opulent lifestyle for the chaos and violence of the open American road. Filled with lush prose and images only DeLillo can seem to conjure, his debut novel is arguably among his best (trust me, I’ve read them all). Read the opening paragraph to get a feel for his absolutely incomparable sense of rhythm and language.
For fans of soccer, yes, but probably more accurately, fans of crowds. Are their fans of crowds? Well, the psychology of crowds. When the human race gathers in large numbers, strange and terrible things can happen. Mob mentality is just the start of it. Bill Buford imbeds himself into the violent and irrational hive mind of English football "supporters" as they spend their weekends traveling from town to town, leaving a wake of destruction and unaccountability. A disturbing portrait of the power of the herd.
This deceptively simple book is one I can recommend to anyone with confidence. With these 100 very, very short stories/anecdotes (some only a paragraph long, most no longer than two pages) separated into seven sections (like Town and Country, Mystery and Confusion, Work and Money, Doom and Madness), a story of a small town in upstate NY begins to emerge that feels more real than anything I've read in a long time. And I'm not talking about believability, I'm talking about stories that you feel in your gut, that you can feel on your nerve endings. It's a book that can be read in one sitting or savored over the course of a month. Deeply satisfying and "unsettlingly brilliant."
FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a huge DFW fan. And as a fan, I always suggest that everyone start with his essays, not his fiction. His fiction requires a certain amount of trust of the Author and I think he gains that trust in his nonfiction. He is vulnerable, self-deprecating and laugh out loud funny, while maintaining an almost child-like curiosity about the world. Whether covering the porn awards for Premiere Magazine, following John McCain on the campaign trail for Rolling Stone, drifting on the open seas on a cruise ship or attending an Illinois state fair for Harper’s, or seeing the divine in the backhand of Roger Federer, Wallace reshaped the essay form in a way that is still imitated and admired to this day. Consider the Lobster is the most solid all the way through but A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again has some of his best pieces. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Just fun, excellent storytelling. Shades of Dickens but not nearly as boring (sorry Dickens). Set in a coastal gold mining town in New Zealand in the late 1800s, a mystery unfolds that involves a secret society, a hermits unearthed fortune, a opium-addicted prostitute with a heart of gold, a playboy real estate millionaire, and a pirate! An honest to goodness, vile scoundrel! Catton won the Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries (at 28, she was the youngest to ever receive the prestigious prize) and she damn well deserved it. The novel has imagination for weeks and I'm still trying to figure out the delicate plot and character structure (modeled on the phases of the moon and astrology and moon houses and stuff like that). I mean, she basically makes every contemporary writer look lazy as hell.
What more can I say about Chris Ware that hasn’t already been said? Okay, I’ll say a little bit more: He is not only one of my artists but also one of my favorite writers. He’s lauded plenty for what he says with images but I think because his artwork is so beautiful (and complexly structured and imaginative and groundbreaking) his text is given undue attention. Along with David Foster Wallace and George Saunders, the work of Chris Ware maps a historical and modern American terrain, articulating a particular loneliness and sadness which hangs over our daily lives. The quiet moments he’s observed and transcribed to paper are some of the most heartbreaking images and words I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
What happened to McCarthy? Where did the author of Suttree disappear to? I understand that writers/artists have a desire to evolve and in some cases move past the style that made them famous, but McCarthy left behind a true and beautiful thing. I had only read The Road and No Country for Old Men prior to this and while both of those are good, they pale in comparison to Suttree. I mean, wow. This novel is just devasting. And sad. And surprisingly funny but funny to McCarthy...well, that's some pretty dark humor indeed. But still funny. Also, Roger Ebert, who was a huge McCarthy fan, often cited Suttree as his favorite McCarthy novel. So there’s that.
I understand that the general populace considers "Cloud Atlas" to be David Mitchell's masterpiece BUT have you read his other, less showy masterpiece? The more I look back on it, the more I think it's one of the most well observed coming of age novels I've ever read. Mitchell packs away all of his literary fireworks for a subtle storytelling style, perfectly distilling the delicate, vicious, and profound moments of childhood into a single year in the life of 13 year old Jason Taylor and his small English town of Black Swan Green. Highly recommended.
Can a person have romantic, sentimental, complex feelings about a color? Maggie Nelson does and it's for blue. In these numbered vignettes, Nelson meditates on art, love, loneliness, sex, divinity, and old relationships, all in clean poetic prose. "Loneliness is solitude with a problem."
Let's be honest: bread making is scary. But I was determined to conquer my fear and after much research, I settled on "Flour Water Salt Yeast" to calm my bread-based anxieties. With these four humble ingredients (and a dutch oven and time) Ken Forkish maps out the techniques and knowledge needed to bake delicious artisan bread at home. And bonus: the same bread recipes and techniques can be used to make pizza! So it's basically two cookbooks in one.
If you're new to Wallace, I probably wouldn't start with his fiction (let alone with Infinite Jest, his best but also most demanding). I recommend starting with his essay collections. BUT if you're ready for his fiction, start with Brief Interviews. A highly non-traditional story collection, its notions and themes of human sexuality (particularly male sexuality) pivot on these "brief interviews" conducted by an unnamed character exploring the male psyche. In between these interview sections are unrelated (though thematically linked) stories in which Wallace explores all of his literary obsessions: textual playfulness, loneliness in the modern age, childhood and memory, storytelling and the role of the Author, and human folly. Wallace continues to be my favorite writer and one I return to again and again.
I've been on something of a chef-memoir bender lately and let me tell you, this was one of my favorites. I've long been fascinated with the mystique and lore of culinary schools and Ruhlman treats the reader to a highly detailed behind the scenes portrait of both students and teachers. And Ruhlman just isn't a fly on the wall. He is a student, attending courses in arguably the toughest culinary school in the country. He enters as a writer and exits as a chef. I'm constantly reading cookbooks and food blogs and food magazines and watching cooking shows, but the wealth of information in this memoir is massive. A must read for food and cooking lovers!
- This will go down as one of the greatest Sci-Fi novels of the past 30 years
- Recommended by four book sellers! (Javier, Jason, Paula, and me!)
- Suspense! Space Adventure! Meteor Mining! Orbital Mechanics! Human Genetics! Cannibalism! Strong female characters!
- "Seveneves" is a palindrome and that's cool.
- This is Neal Stephenson at his finest, combining "science, technology, philosophy, literature, and psychology" into a highly compelling story about the near extinction of the human race in the face of lunar annihilation.
- One of my favorite books of 2015. Hands down.
- "Seveneves" makes "The Martian" sound like it was written by a class of school children- quote from Javier
Shakespeare in the streets. If you read one Richard Price novel make it Clockers. Highly influential to David Simon as he wrote The Wire (in fact, Richard Price wrote for the The Wire), Clockers journeys deep into the heart of the heart of a city and the spoiled American dream.