Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Aleksandar Hemon, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Geovani Martins, Mona Awad, and more—that are publishing this week.
Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: “Bob-Waksberg, creator of the subversive cartoon series BoJack Horseman, hones his wonderfully absurd and unexpectedly moving style in this selection of stories about love. ‘A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion’ pokes fun at the arbitrary absurdity of wedding traditions and expectations by introducing a world in which engagement rings are replaced by expensive ‘promise eggs’ and goats are routinely sacrificed at ceremonies. During a family vacation in ‘These Are Facts,’ a girl bonds with her bratty older half-brother, who uses sarcasm to hide the bitterness he still feels toward their father. Sometimes the author’s premises go on a beat too long, as in ‘Missed Connection—m4w,’ in which two mutually attracted subway riders stay on a train for years but never get up the nerve to talk to each other, or ‘Rufus,’ told from the viewpoint of a small dog and peppered with cutesy nomenclature. But mostly Bob-Waksberg successfully tempers the ridiculous with a sharp tug at the heartstrings. ‘Rules for Taboo,’ in which avoiding certain words during a board game triggers a string of pleasant and unpleasant truths, is a prime example of this skill, and a highlight of the collection. These stories are at times poignant and triumphantly silly, but always manage to ring true.”
The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins (translated by Julia Sanches)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Sun on My Head: “Young men contend with the violence and corruption of Rio de Janerio in this tantalizing debut from Brazilian Martins. The characters in these stories represent a full spectrum of favela life, from the aspiring graffiti artist, Fernando, who longs to give his son a better childhood than his father offered him (‘The Tag’) to the drug pusher forced to dispose of the body of a customer he kills in a fit of pique (‘The Crossing’). In ‘Spiral,’ a student who commutes to a tony neighborhood becomes obsessed with its residents, ‘who inhabited a world unknown to me’; he stalks one for months before he sees in his subject’s ‘eyes the horror of realization.’ Martins’s characters and the situations they navigate grab the reader’s attention, but he often shies away from offering a resolution. ‘TGIF’ defies this tendency, accompanying its protagonist on a harrowing subway ride to score drugs in a distant favela and ending in a confrontation with a crooked cop. In Martins’s Rio, every interaction is a negotiation, and everyone is ‘in the same boat: hard up, dopeless, wanting to chill beachside.’ This is a promising work from an intriguing new voice.”
The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The History of Living Forever: “The search for an eternal life potion weaves through raw emotion, scientific curiosity, and heartbreak in Wolff’s intoxicating debut. On the first day of his senior year of high school in Maine in 2010, 16-year-old Conrad learns his chemistry teacher and secret lover Sammy Tampari has died in an apparent suicide. Conrad comes home from school dazed, only to find a package from Sammy that contains journals and a key to storage unit. He discovers that Sammy has long been testing an immortality elixir on himself. Conrad enlists best friend RJ to duplicate the substance in hopes of healing his father’s fatal liver disease and RJ’s sister’s muscular dystrophy. Conrad reads, in Sammy’s journals, about Sammy’s depressed childhood and globetrotting search for ingredients first with his overly forgiving girlfriend Catherine and then with boyfriend Sadiq. Wolff blends the journal entries and other flashbacks with ease, incorporating vignettes of historical figures who were drawn to the search for eternal life, as well as the future, and of Conrad’s 40th birthday and his husband’s brain cancer diagnosis. The epic sweep and sly humor in the midst of enormous anguish will remind readers of Michael Chabon’s work as they relish this heady exploration of grief, alchemy, and love.”
My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You: “MacArthur fellow Hemon (The Lazarus Project) recounts his Bosnian family’s journey from hopeful progress to exile in this richly reflective two-volume memoir. My Parents follows his father and mother as they rose from impoverished rural backgrounds to enjoy the communist ‘Yugoslav Dream’—good jobs, a nice apartment in Sarajevo and a vacation house—until the 1992 Bosnian war forced them to flee to Canada and start over in their 50s. Hemon sets the tender and often funny story of his quirky parents against the vivid background of their nurturing (though dour and sexist) peasant culture, woven from epic war stories, food rituals, and folk songs. This Does Not Belong to You is an impressionistic, darker-edged sheaf of Hemon’s boyhood memories (after his grandfather’s death, ‘he was no longer there at all; just, where he used to be, a void’), more about writerly individualism than tribal solidarity. A lonely boy given to writing poetry on toilet paper and compulsively hunting flies (they ‘rubbed their little legs gleefully while I strived to catch them with a quick forehand’), Hemon weathered bullies and mooned over unattainable girls. Sometimes lively and sensual, sometimes bleakly ruminative, Hemon’s recollections unite his dazzling prose style with a captivating personal narrative.”
Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Song for the Unraveling of the World: “In the title tale of this collection, the main character identifies the mood of disorienting uncertainty that pervades all 22 unsettling stories when he ponders a world ‘that was always threatening to come unraveled around him.’ In ‘Line of Sight,’ one of three stories that juxtapose movie make-believe to everyday life, an actor on set is startled to glimpse something peering out at him through ‘a seam where reality had been imperfectly fused.’ The viewpoint characters of ‘The Glistening World’ and ‘Wanderlust’ are disturbed by their paranoid perception that they are being followed by persons with inscrutable motives. ‘Sisters’ is a ghoulish lark about a strange family whose exploration of ordinary Halloween traditions reveals their own Addams Family–like proclivities. Most of these stories are carefully calibrated exercises in ambiguity in which Evenson (Windeye) leaves it unclear how much of the off-kilterness exists outside of the deep-seated pathologies that motivate his characters. His work will hold great appeal for fans of subtly unnerving dark fantasy.”
Writing to Persuade by Trish Hall
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Writing to Persuade: “Hall (A Little Work) delivers an instructional guide to writing the sort of persuasively argued think pieces she oversaw during her four years as editor of the New York Times Op-Ed page. Writing broadly rather than in bullet points, and illustrating her observations with examples of submissions she handled during her tenure, she addresses the many aspects of writing that distinguish an exercise in expository writing and make it attract attention, such as drawing on a deeply personal experience to crystallize a generally relevant concern (she cites Angelina Jolie’s column on her double mastectomy to raise breast cancer awareness) and playing on feelings to connect emotionally with one’s audience. Some of her insights will seem obvious, if useful: don’t make readers defensive by arguing, enliven a theme with storytelling, and prune one’s prose of clichés and jargon, to name a few. Others are profound in their clarity: speaking about the different moral values to which people cling, she writes, ‘You can’t expect someone to change their basic values, so you have to make your argument in a way that fits with their values.’ This book offers sound, well-reasoned advice that will benefit any writer.”
Bunny by Mona Awad
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bunny: “Awad’s outstanding novel follows the highly addictive, darkly comedic tale of sardonic Samantha Mackey, a fiction MFA student at a top-tier New England school. There, four of her fellow writers are a ghoulish clique of women who cryptically refer to each other as ‘Bunny.’ To outsiders, the Bunnies come across as insipid with their colorful, patterned dresses and perfect hair. Samantha feels more grounded after her first year and after meeting Ava, who becomes her only friend, over the summer break. Samantha dreads the Bunnies’ return upon learning the four of them are the only other participants in her writing workshop; once in class, they dismiss her work while praising their own. The trajectory of Samantha’s life alters after she receives an unexpected invitation from the Bunnies to join them. Samantha’s desire for acceptance leads her down a dangerous path into the Bunnies’ rabbit hole, which begins with them drinking weird concoctions and reading erotic poetry together in sessions they call the ‘Smut Salon.’ Soon, though, Samantha begins to believe in the Bunnies’ views, becomes unreliable as a narrator, and willingly participates in their increasingly twisted games. Awad (13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl) will have readers racing to find out how it all ends—and they won’t be disappointed once the story reaches its wild finale. This is an enchanting and stunningly bizarre novel.”
Also on shelves: Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod.
This year was unlike any other year in my life, to put it mildly. I was lucky enough that people wanted me to travel to their cities and talk about my book (and, I’m sorry to say, myself) for the better part of this year. Friends, I am here to tell you that there is nothing more soul-deadening than talking about yourself for weeks and months on end — or talking about a book that lives in amber, while your brain (ideally) does not. Grateful as I was for every last opportunity, the lack of a normal routine or schedule was upending in every way. For much of the year, I worried I’d lost the power (or will) to do any of the things that I knew would make me feel more like pre-publication me: read for pleasure; cook a proper meal; sleep peacefully; put in an honest day writing; exercise; pretend to meditate. All of my non-work reading this year was an effort to remind myself of my stay-at-home, solitary self. Although I have an e-reader for travel, I found I wanted physical books more than ever. I needed ballast but couldn’t afford too much extra weight. I needed slender volumes I could tuck into a purse or a coat pocket and take out during a flight delay, a train ride, or while having many a solo drink in many a hotel bar. Some on this list are old favorites I grabbed on impulse as I was leaving the house; some I acquired along the way. All have one thing in common — they are light in weight, but not in substance. So, in no particular order, here are some of the books I carried in 2016.
John Berger’s About Looking and Susan Sontag’s On Photography I reread for a project that might not live but who cares when the reading is that great. Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety also belongs on that pile. I don’t think I’ve had a nonfiction book recommended to me more by so many fiction writers than Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, which I loved as much as the rest of the non-physicist world. Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the City was an excellent reminder to turn off HGTV (Dear Ladies of Say Yes to the Dress, if an item of clothing moves you to tears you need to get out in the greater world a little more) and leave my hotel room and walk, walk, walk no matter where I was. One of my favorite literary magazines is One Story, perfectly pocket-sized, and I always had a few with me, old and new. Somewhere (Seattle? Portland?) I picked up Meghan Daum’s excellent essay collection The Unspeakable. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen went into the bag after Wimbledon, specifically so I could reread the Serena Williams parts, but of course I reread all of it. Missing Elena Ferrante, I packed what might be my favorite, if forced to commit at gunpoint, The Days of Abandonment. How have I never read The Lover by Marguerite Duras? An embarrassing confession, but I was so happy to have it with me as I waited out weather in some airport somewhere only to be told later that flights were grounded because Air Force One was landing; my irritation at that political inconvenience feels laughably (tragically?) quaint now. At the Mississippi Book Festival, I picked up Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn and Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time (after the powerful panel of the same name) and devoured both. My well-thumbed copy of Laurie Colwin’s Another Marvelous Thing lived in my carry-on for a few months because I never get tired of dipping in. On a train ride from Paris to Frankfurt, I read the beautiful and devastating The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam. An advance copy of the always great Tessa Hadley’s Bad Dreams and Other Stories fit my page requirement. Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different did not, but I packed it anyway because I didn’t want to wait. On a muggy, rainy afternoon in Cincinnati, I popped into a bookstore and am so grateful I bought Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers and Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. I woke up in Germany on November 9th to discover the unthinkable had actually happened and was too busy — and too rattled — for most of that trip to read anything but election news when I could get the Internet to cooperate. But the following week in Barcelona, I pulled from my suitcase Eric Puchner’s new story collection Last Day on Earth. The book is out in February and it’s marvelous. What a relief to be reminded of the vital importance of books when it feels like the world around is crumbling. Worth remembering as we stumble together into 2017.
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