Ducks, Newburyport

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The Millions Top Ten: February 2020

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for February.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
3.

The Topeka School
5 months

2.
4.

Ducks, Newburyport
5 months

3.
7.

Trick Mirror
3 months

4.
6.

The Hotel Neversink

4 months

5.


The Resisters
1 month

6.
7.

Pieces for the Left Hand: Stories

6 months

7.
9.

Night Boat to Tangier
2 months

8.
10.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
2 months

9.


Interior Chinatown
1 month

10.


Fleishman Is in Trouble
1 month

To celebrate the ascension of Ducks, Newburyport to the second spot on this month’s Top Ten, this write-up will consist of a single sentence—in spite of the fact that Lucy Ellmann’s 1,000-page novel actually consists of eight—because, frankly, as the world of online books and culture has evolved, or more accurately contracted and rigidified, it remains the case that The Millions is a place where, although some might disagree, there is still room for playful displays of fanatical literary bombast (as, of course, evidenced by the fact that Ducks, Newburyport’s un-diagrammable heft was purchased by so many readers last month that it’s now been listed second only to Ben Lerner’s latest), and so with us agreed that this place can be fun, and funny and most of all filled with celebration, we must tip our hats to Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, and Inland by Téa Obreht, a trio of novels bound for our site’s hallowed Hall of Fame, and we must tip those very same hats—or, if you prefer, we can tip a new set of hats, because few things are more excessive and celebratory than spare hats, reserved specifically for fresh tipping—to The Resisters by Gish Jen, Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, and Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, the trio of novels filling the vacated spaces on the list this month, which advances us from February into March, a time of new beginnings and, in the mid-Atlantic, unseasonably warm temperatures, but that’s beside the point, which is of course that these three newcomers on our list are superb, the first two of which earning praise in the most recent installment of our annual Book Preview for being “a comprehensive yet disturbing picture of how totalitarianism speeds back to the center stage of human history,” and a “wrenching, hilarious, sharp, surreal, and, above all, original [novel],” respectively, while not to be outdone is Taffy’s debut novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble, which has been discussed the most on our site—earning two spots in our Year in Reading series courtesy of Hannah Gersen and Devin Lee Booker—and was mentioned most recently just three weeks ago when Anna Sims referred to it as “a book that offers a sharp critique of the lie fueling modern feminism and is brilliantly disguised as a book about a man,” before continuing on to describe it as not just a “very funny book,” but also a “very tired book,” which is a sentiment that, by now, the writer of this piece—to say nothing of the myriad readers of this piece—can completely understand.

This month’s near misses included: A Long Petal of the Sea, The Testaments, How to Be an Antiracist, Quichotte, and The Lost Book of Adana Moreau. See Also: Last month’s list.

Bonus Links from Our Archive:
A Year in Reading: Ben Lerner
A Year in Reading: Adam O’Fallon Price
The Best Book You’ve Never Read: ‘Pieces for the Left Hand’
Shifting Anxieties: On J. Robert Lennon’s ‘See You in Paradise
You Can’t Lie in Fiction: An Interview with Kevin Barry
I’m a Stained-Glass Guy: The Millions Interviews Kevin Barry
A Year in Reading: Kevin Barry
Memory Can Be a Second Chance: Ocean Vuong’s ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’
Modern Feminism’s Big Lie: On ‘Fleishman Is in Trouble’

Lucy Ellmann’s 45-Hour Audiobook

Lucy Ellmann’s Booker Prize-nominated novel, Ducks, Newburyport, is 1,030 pages of stream of consciousness writing narrated by an Ohio housewife—not exactly the kind of book one easily translates into the audio format. Yet actress Stephanie Ellyne was tasked with just that, as Laura Snapes at the Guardian explains. “For 45 hours and 34 minutes, Ellyne reads Ellmann’s text in a calm, bemused voice that recalls Laurie Anderson’s spoken-word work. During recording, she averaged 41 pages per hour, though the work continued away from the microphone. Every night, Ellyne would read and research the following day’s pages, working out how to pronounce the thousands of place names and obscure historical battles in US history. ‘My engineer and I wondered if some of them were fictional, but sure enough, they’re true,’ says Ellyne. ‘The violence in America—all these shootings—isn’t new.'”

The Millions Top Ten: January 2020

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for January.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
6 months

2.
2.

The Memory Police
6 months

3.
3.

The Topeka School
4 months

4.
5.

Ducks, Newburyport

4 months

5.
4.

Inland
6 months

6.
7.

The Hotel Neversink

3 months

7.
9.

Trick Mirror
2 months

8.
6.

Pieces for the Left Hand: Stories
5 months

9.


Night Boat to Tangier
1 month

10.


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
1 month

The new year brings slight change to the top-half of our Top Ten. The books in fourth and fifth position swapped places, bumping Ducks, Newburyport up a spot, but otherwise 2020 begins just as 2019 ended: with Olga Tokarczuk in first place.

Elsewhere on the list, things get more interesting. Both Jia Tolentino and Adam O’Fallon Price saw their works rise a couple spots: Trick Mirror from ninth to seventh; The Hotel Neversink from seventh to sixth. Bravo, both.

Speaking of cheers, Colson Whitehead’s latest novel, The Nickel Boys, capped off six straight appearances on our Top Ten by ascending to our Hall of Fame. It’s the second time Whitehead has reached the Hall. The Underground Railroad made it in 2017. On the other hand, The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, dropped out of our list.

Filling the two free spots are Ocean Vuong and Kevin Barry, as On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous moves from perennial placement in our “Near Misses” to 10th position, and Night Boat to Tangier rides two mentions from our Year in Reading series into the ninth spot. Both Daniel Levin Becker and our own Bill Morris sung its praises. It “wrap[s] inventive thickets of idiom and fragment around affecting tales of parenthood and loss” wrote Becker. “It provides all the pleasures his fans have come to expect, including pyrotechnical language, a delicious stew of high lit and low slang, lovable bunged-up characters, rapturous storytelling, and a fair bit of the old U(ltra) V(iolence)” wrote Morris.

This month’s near misses included: Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, A Long Petal of the SeaHow to Be an Antiracist, and Quichotte. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: December 2019

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for December.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
5 months

2.
2.

The Memory Police
5 months

3.
3.

The Topeka School
3 months

4.
4.

Inland

5 months

5.
6.

Ducks, Newburyport
3 months

6.
5.

Pieces for the Left Hand: Stories

4 months

7.
9.

The Hotel Neversink
2 months

8.
7.

The Nickel Boys
6 months

9.


Trick Mirror
1 month

10.
8.

The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale
4 months

It’s an exciting month for Millions staffer Adam O’Fallon Price, whose novel The Hotel Neversink rose two spots in our Top Ten, and now ranks higher than Margaret Atwood’s latest novel on the list. Clearly, interests were piqued by Price’s entry in our Year in Reading series. (You can explore the entire series here.)

Meanwhile, the top half of this month’s list held steady month-over-month. Ducks, Newburyport cracked the top-5, displacing J. Robert Lennon’s short story collection, which moves to sixth place. For now, long sentences get the upper hand over the left.

Our lone newcomer this month is Jia Tolentino’s hugely popular essay collection, Trick Mirror. Tolentino’s book was named in no fewer than eight of this year’s Year in Reading entries, so its appearance on the list comes as no surprise. Millions readers can thank Mike Isaac, Kaulie Lewis, C Pam Zhang, Kate Gavino, Garth Risk Hallberg, Lauren Michele Jackson, Shea Serrano, and yours truly for the recommendations.

Speaking of recommendations, it seems that either Barack Obama is a devout Millions reader or Millions readers take their cues from him. It’s a bit of a chicken-egg situation. Either way, a full five of the books on this month’s Top Ten (and among the “Near Misses”) appeared on Obama’s year-end list of his favorite books—a Venn diagram overlap representing 36% of our total. Uncanny is another word for suspicious. Obama, since you’re clearly reading this, we invite you to share a Year in Reading entry in 2020.

This month’s near misses included: Night Boat to Tangier, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Trust Exercise, and How to Be an Antiracist. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: November 2019

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for November.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
2.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
4 months

2.
3.

The Memory Police
4 months

3.
6.

The Topeka School
2 months

4.
5.

Inland

4 months

5.
4.

Pieces for the Left Hand: Stories
3 months

6.


Ducks, Newburyport

2 months

7.
9.

The Nickel Boys
5 months

8.
10.

The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale
3 months

9.


The Hotel Neversink
1 month

10.


The Need
2 months

After six months of smashing success on our list, The Practicing Stoic surely becomes the first philosopher’s resource to grace our Hall of Fame. (Although maybe you could make a case for Marie Kondo’s book, which made it in 2015.) This is the second time author Ward Farnsworth has reached the Hall: in October 2011, he did so with Classical English Rhetoric. Don’t call it a comeback.
Joining Farnsworth in the Hall of Fame are two novels: Halle Butler’s The New Me and Sally Rooney’s Ordinary People. It’s the first appearance for each author.
Filling two of those spaces is a pair of books that had been on our list previously, but fell off between then and now. These ones, you can call comebacks. Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport made the list in September after being shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize. It’s back in sixth position this month. Likewise, Helen Phillips’s The Need returns to our list after taking a two-month hiatus among the “near misses.”

Meanwhile a Millions staffer joins our list as this month’s true newcomer. Adam O’Fallon Price’s novel The Hotel Neversink holds ninth position. Fellow Millions staffer Lydia Kiesling called Price’s book “a gripping, atmospheric, heart-breaking, almost-ghost story,” and added that, “Not since Stephen King’s Overlook has a hotel hiding a secret been brought to such vivid life.”

Next month, after our Year in Reading concludes, we’ll likely see a whole batch of new books on this list. Budget accordingly.

This month’s near misses included: The Golden State, The Water DancerHow to Be an Antiracist, Quichotte: A Novel, and The Dutch House. See Also: Last month’s list.

A Year in Reading: Merve Emre

I have a hard time remembering the books I have read without also remembering who I have read them with or where. Increasingly, since so much of my reading is done out loud to my children, it seems natural to me that all reading should be shared reading of one sort or another. Sifting through text messages, chats, emails, and the letters and envelopes scattered around my office, I have pieced together a calendar of the books I have read and the people who made them matter.

January, February: The Collected Stories of Diane Williams, “stories that show how the momentary convergence of yearning and surrender can make time hang still,” I shout first at Stephanie, then at the bartender serving us, before putting the thought in an essay on Williams; Helen Garner’s The Spare Room, Monkey Grip, and The Children’s Bach (“one of the best novels of the twentieth century,” Len writes to me after reading a draft of my essay on Garner)—novels built out of beautifully Brechtian tableaux. My calendar reminds me that most of February was spent at festivals and talks, reading on freezing trains. On a train to Harrogate: Dasa Drndić’s Doppelganger, which features an old lady giving an old man a hand job beat out to a Nazi alphabet primer. On a train to Cambridge: Lydia Davis’s The End of the Story, the best anatomization of how one person can colonize another’s thought after a break up. During a long weekend in New York: Drndić’s Belladonna, EEG, and Trieste for an essay about Drndić’s novels of unsuccessful self-annihilation. On a flight to Glasgow, Brigid Brophy’s Flesh, about an inexperienced, neurotic, young man seduced by a wry, charismatic, older woman.

March, April: Nightwood, The Sound and the Fury, Lolita, Giovanni’s Room, Housekeeping, Beloved, novels I re-read during the term with my students. (“Is modernism inherently depressing or do you just like depressing modernist novels?” one asks.); Siri Hustvedt’s fine and predictable Memories of the Future for a review. Obsessed with telescopes and other instruments of sight after scientists release the first image of a black hole, I read Margaret Cavendish’s mind-blowing The Blazing World and Poems and Fancies and Danielle Dutton’s enchanting novelization of Cavendish’s life, Margaret the First. I chase down some seventeenth century scholars, all of them named Katharine (why?), so I can learn how old telescopes work.

In mid-April, my friend Sarah comes to visit Oxford. A sense of civility and calm descends on my loud, disordered home. She airs out the cottage, opens a bottle of wine, roasts a chicken, and makes a salad, the likes of which my children have never seen before because I feed them only frozen peas, still frozen. We read together. The kids—The Jolly Postman, Each Peach Pear Plum, Julián Is a Mermaid, Tiny T-Rex and the Impossible Hug. She—Sally Rooney’s Normal People, interrupting her reading every ten minutes to groan at me. (I prefer Conversations with Friends.) Me—The Last Samurai, the pages of which have stiffened into little waves after I laughed so hard at DeWitt’s mad, philological genius that I dropped the book into the tub. To make Sarah happy again, I take her to Blackwell’s and make her buy her own copy of The Last Samurai, which has a nicer cover than mine because it’s the U.K. edition. She reads it in a single sitting the next day, draped over the couch in my office, and complains that Jonathan Safran Foer ripped off Helen DeWitt when he wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. “Only his version was squishier,” she says.

At the very end of April, someone—I wish I could remember who, but I can’t—recommends Olive Moore’s Spleen, a forgotten modernist novel, painterly and queer, about the fearful eroticism of maternity. In Paris for work, I do an interview with British Vogue about “serious erotic fiction,” trying hard to convince the wide-eyed editor that Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons is full of practical sex tips. On the flight to Guernsey for a festival, I read the first half of my friend Rachel’s forthcoming book On Compromise: Essays on Art and Democracy, which is bracing and sensitive and funny.

May: a month consumed by gradually escalating illnesses. A sniffle, a cold, a sinus infection, bronchitis. I am bravely preparing to die of tuberculosis in a garret somewhere when I receive a copy of Guy de Maupassant’s Like Death from Nicholas at the New York Review of Books. How does he know nothing heals me like a novel about French aristocrats and artists behaving badly? Convalescing, I blow through Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head at the urging of Sarah, who is convinced that my life is always one punch in the face away from a Murdoch novel. The recommendation is seconded by our friend Gloria. “When I gave this book to my roommate when we were twenty-two, she said she felt like bread that just discovered butter,” Gloria writes. “I have never forgotten that.” On the train to Cardiff for a talk, I read Adam Sach’s debut novel The Organs of Sense, which is extremely funny on seventeenth-century telescopes, blind astronomers, and the temporary luminosity of love.

June: Fleur Jaeggy’s novella Sweet Days of Discipline (cold, gleaming), then to Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina (eddying, frantic), poolside at Cliveden House where I burn badly, convinced that the English sun is too puny to warrant sun screen; Fran Ross’s Oreo after swimming the Thames, flanked by unarousable cows; Leah Price’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Books, one of only three non-fiction books I will read this year and the inspiration for the bookish tattoo I get at the end of the month.

July: Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End, before a flight to Turkey to drop the kids off with my mother at her summer house on the coast. On the flight there, I read them the animal books they love: Just So Stories, Where the Wild Things Are, The Elephant and the Bad Baby. My last night at my mother’s, I stay up too late reading Kafka’s Letters to Milena, which I find on the shelf of the guest bedroom. I am mesmerized by how Frank—Milena calls him Frank; I will too—burdens this woman with his torment, yet how real and irreducible that torment seems. I am sad that Milena’s side of the correspondence has not survived. I like her voice as I encounter it in the appendix to the book, in a letter to Max Brod. It’s a voice that seeks reality and clarity and, glimpsing both, bends toward compassion. There’s an excellent description of how annoying it is to accompany Frank to the post office. I reread Lydia Davis’s short story “Kafka Cooks Dinner” in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis to hear the echoes of that voice, mined for its comic potential: “I am so filled with despair as the time grows near when she will come and I have not even begun to make a decision about what I will offer her. I am so afraid I will fall back on the Kartoffel Surprise, and it’s no surprise to her anymore. I mustn’t, I mustn’t.” On a flight to New York, I read over a dozen applications for the Whiting Non-Fiction Grant, though the one that I remember best, because it feels fated somehow, is a haunting new translation of Kafka’s diaries by Ross Benjamin.

August, back in the U.K., reunited with the kids: Claire Louise-Bennett’s Pond, because I have decided to include a chapter in this book I’m trying to finish writing on the short story and close reading; Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School, because it’s “the new Ben Lerner” and because I used to be a high school debater. In the passenger seat on a drive to Cornwall, I pivot to read backwards to the kids—Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeleine, Ogden Nash’s Custard the Dragon, Julia Donaldson’s Tabby McTat, all of which I have memorized, so I can recite instead of reading—until I start to feel car sick. While they nap, I finish Penelope Mortimer’s The Pumpkin Eater and begin Nicholas Mosley’s Accident, recommended by Claire, who describes Mosely as a “bloodless D.H. Lawrence”—lots of shadowy evil, too little golden sex. On the ride home, I write a short, exorcising essay on Natalia Ginzburg’s The Dry Heart, a grim, anti-Romantic novella about a woman who murders her cheating husband. The week after in Paris, everyone gets a 24-hour stomach bug, only no one gets it in the same 24 hours. The trip becomes a relay race of illness. The kids are listless, filthy. I read them their favorites: Lost and FoundUp and DownHow to Catch a StarStuckThe Incredible Book Eating Boy, all by the magnificent children’s author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers. I read chapter 42 of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady on my phone about a dozen times because his sentences stave off nausea. 

September: On a trip to Boston and New York: Deborah Levy’s calm, aphoristic The Cost of Living—Sarah’s copy, a re-read from last December; Fleur Jaeggy’s S.S. Proleterka. Three Lives, and I Am the Brother of XX and Rachel Ingalls’s Mrs. Caliban, all courtesy of Mieke who invites me to raid her bookshelf at New Directions; the proofs for The Ferrante Letters with Kat, Jill, and Sarah, which I read aloud to us around Sarah’s kitchen table because I always read proofs aloud, though it is slow and excruciating. At a conference in South Bend, Nan recommends Susan Choi’s My Education, about a graduate student who sleeps with her literature professor’s wife, a literature professor too but also—shocking and confusing to all involved—a young mother. I read it on the plane home, and find that, like most relationships, the novel is fun and full of possibility in the first half, turns stale and falls apart in the second.

October: Len, who is on a one-man crusade against what he calls the “New Piety” in literary criticism, convinces me to read Philip Roth’s The Professor of Desire. It starts out funny—Roth is trying hard to retool Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Dog” as a comic novel—but Roth makes compulsive sexual desire into such a sad, annihilating thing that my laughter runs out quickly. In an afternoon, I read Isabel Waidner’s propulsive We Are Made of Diamond Stuff, a Brexit novel that manages to write about the present without making the present feel dated; in a night, Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan’s Correspondence, which, though not as intense or agonized as Letters to Milena, still crackles with Celan’s despair and Bachmann’s self-possession. On a flight to Stockholm at the end of the month: Niklas Luhmann’s Love: A Sketch, for a talk I’m supposed to give preemptively titled “Critical Love Studies.” (What does this mean? I don’t know yet.)

November is frantic with reading to crowd out the holidays, which leave me bored and melancholy. There is Hermione Lee’s engrossing biography of Virginia Woolf and Volumes 2 and 3 of Woolf’s diaries for the new edition of Mrs. Dalloway I am annotating and introducing; John Berger’s sexy, phenomenologically attentive G., on Len’s recommendation, and Alison Light’s compassionate memoir about marriage and communism, A Radical Romance, on Pam’s; The Complete Gary Lutz for an essay on the un-erotics of art and sad literary men; all of Benjamin Chaud’s gorgeously illustrated Bear books to my children and the new Oliver Jeffers book The Fate of Fausto, a parable about an angry, possessive man for whom nothing in the world is enough. “What is enough?” my younger son asks. I do not know how to answer.

In mid-November, Diane Williams, who I have dinner and drinks with after a reading she gives in London, tells me to read John Cheever’s “The Season of Divorce.” I do, ending the year more or less where it started. Though by the time this piece goes up, I may finally finish Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport, which I have been reading at a disciplined snail’s pace of 20 pages a night for the past several months.

More from A Year in Reading 2019

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Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The Millions Top Ten: October 2019

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for October.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual
6 months

2.
2.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
3 months

3.
4.

The Memory Police
3 months

4.
3.

Pieces for the Left Hand: Stories

3 months

5.
6.

Inland

3 months

6.


The Topeka School

1 month

7.
7.

The New Me
6 months

8.
5.

Normal People
6 months

9.
8.

The Nickel Boys
4 months

10.
9.

The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale
2 months

This month Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, which appeared on our list amidst a dark horse run toward the Man Booker Prize, is replaced on our list by Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School, which will doubtless make some prize runs of its own. As Hannah Gersen noted in her capsule for our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview, “The pre-pub blurbs for Lerner’s third novel are ecstatic, with his publisher calling it a breakthrough and Claudia Rankine describing it as ‘a powerful allegory of our troubled present.'” Clearly, many Millions readers are tantalized.

Elsewhere on our list, titles jockeyed for slight changes in position. Margaret Atwood’s Booker-winning novel The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, slid to 10th. September’s eighth book moved to ninth. The third swapped places with the fourth. You get the picture. Next month, three slots will open as three books are bound for our Hall of Fame. Any guesses on what will fill their places? Keep in mind: Year in Reading is around the corner. Start budgeting now.

This month’s near misses included: The Golden State, The Lightest Object in the Universe, The Hotel Neversink, and How to Be an Antiracist. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: September 2019

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for September.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual
5 months

2.
2.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
2 months

3.
6.

Pieces for the Left Hand: Stories
2 months

4.
10.

The Memory Police

2 months

5.
3.

Normal People
5 months

6.
8.

Inland

2 months

7.
4.

The New Me
5 months

8.
5.

The Nickel Boys
3 months

9.


The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale
1 month

10.


Ducks, Newburyport
1 month

Meteoric rises for J. Robert Lennon and Yoko Ogawa propelled Pieces for the Left Hand and The Memory Police into the upper-half of this month’s Top Ten. In two months’ time, the books rose three and six rungs on the list, respectively. Still their ascent may not be over: Ogawa’s novel was shortlisted for the National Book Award in Translated Literature this week.

Of course, fast risers unsettle past mainstays. This month, Normal People, The New Me, and The Nickel Boys dropped several slots; two titles dropped out and were replaced by newcomers. While we root for Sally Rooney, Halle Butler, and Colson Whitehead to stay on our list, we also recognize that change is our Top Ten’s one constant. Welcome, welcome, then to Margaret Atwood and Lucy Ellmann, whose novels The Testaments and Ducks, Newburyport check in at ninth and tenth on this month’s list. Both were shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize, as we noted last month.

In her write-up of The Testaments for our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview, our own Claire Cameron noted that this long-awaited follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale was influenced by two things: “First, all the questions [Atwood’s] been asked by readers about Gilead and, second, she adds ominously, ‘the world we’ve been living in.'”

Tune in next month for another installment of As the Top Ten Turns.

This month’s near misses included: The Topeka School, The Hotel Neversink, and How to Be an Antiracist. See Also: Last month’s list.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Emezi, Ellmann, Barkan, Donoghue, Atwood, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of  Akwaeke Emezi, Lucy Ellmann, Ady Barkan, Emma Donoghue, Margaret Atwood, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pet: “Carnegie Medal–nominee Emezi (Freshwater for adults) makes their young adult debut in this story of a transgender, selectively nonverbal girl named Jam, and the monster that finds its way into their universe. Jam’s hometown, Lucille, is portrayed as a utopia—a world that is post-bigotry and -violence, where ‘angels’ named after those in religious texts have eradicated ‘monsters.’ But after Jam accidentaly bleeds onto her artist mother’s painting, the image—a figure with ram’s horns, metallic feathers, and metal claws—pulls itself out of the canvas. Pet, as it tells Jam to call it, has come to her realm to hunt a human monster––one that threatens peace in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Together, Jam, Pet, and Redemption embark on a quest to discover the crime and vanquish the monster. Jam’s language is alternatingly voiced and signed, the latter conveyed in italic text, and Igbo phrases pepper the family’s loving interactions. Emezi’s direct but tacit story of injustice, unconditional acceptance, and the evil perpetuated by humankind forms a compelling, nuanced tale that fans of speculative horror will quickly devour.”

Indelible In The Hippocampus edited by Shelly Oria

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Indelible In The Hippocampus: “Editor Oria (New York 1, Tel Aviv 0) compiles fiction, personal essays, and poetry from 21 female writers on the subjects of sexual assault, harassment, and other dehumanizing consequences of patriarchy, in order to bring #MeToo from screen to page and showcase voices less likely to be heard in mainstream media, including those of women of color, queer women, and trans women. The results are bracing and urgent. Kaitlyn Greenidge considers the question of who has the right to hear the story of her assault. Courtney Zoffness explores the implications of a student’s overtly sexualizing behavior, noting, ‘It didn’t matter that I had ten years on Charlie, or more degrees, or the power to fail him. He still felt compelled to exert sexual power.’ In a darkly comical standout piece of fiction, Elissa Schappell imagines an email exchange between a writer submitting the story of her rape for publication and a magazine editor, whose increasingly absurd and offensive notes culminate in a disclosure that, if the writer doesn’t meet the deadline, ‘We’re going to be forced to swap in a photo spread of Woody Allen’s greatest hits.’ The collection is far from an endless parade of suffering; the writers offer a sense of communal feeling, bravery, and triumph. It’s well worth readers’ time.”

Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Gun Island: “Ghosh’s latest (after Flood of Fire) is an intellectual romp that traces Bengali folklore, modern human trafficking, and the devastating effects of climate change across generations and countries. Dinanath Datta, who goes by the more Americanized Deen, is an antiques and rare-books dealer in Brooklyn. While in Calcutta, Deen encounters the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar, or the gun merchant, a localized riff on the familiar Bengali tale of a merchant and Manasa Devi, the goddess of snakes and poisonous creatures. Intrigued, Deen pays a visit to the Sundarbans, the borderlands from which the myth originated. At the shrine said to be protected by Manasa Devi, Deen encounters a snake that bites one of the young men with him, with nonfatal but mystical consequences. Shaken, but convinced that it was just a freak coincidence, the rationalist Deen returns to America, where his trip still haunts him. A tumultuous year and a half later, under the patronage of his dear friend Cinta, a glamorous Italian academic, Deen arrives in Venice for the book’s second half, where he befriends the local Bengali community and further uncovers the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar as he is drawn into relief efforts for the refugee crisis. Ghosh writes with deep intelligence and illuminating clarity about complex issues. This ambitious novel memorably draws connections among history, politics, and mythology.”

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ducks, Newburyport: “This shaggy stream-of-consciousness monologue from Ellmann (Sweet Desserts) confronts the currents of contemporary America. On the surface it’s a story of domestic life, as the unnamed female narrator puts it: ‘my life’s all shopping, chopping, slicing, splicing, spilling.’ Her husband, Leo, is a civil engineer; they have ‘four greedy, grouchy, unmanageable kids’; she bakes and sells pies; and nothing more eventful happens than when she gets a flat tire while making a pie delivery. Yet plot is secondary to this book’s true subject: the narrator’s consciousness. Written in rambling hundred-page sentences, whose clauses each begin with ‘the fact that…,’ readers are privy to intimate facts (‘the fact that I don’t think I really started to live until Leo loved me’), mundane facts (‘the fact that ‘fridge’ has a D in it, but ‘refrigerator’ doesn’t’), facts thought of in the shower (‘the fact that every murderer must have a barber’), and flights of associative thinking (‘Jake’s baby potty, Howard Hughes’s milk bottles of pee, opioid crisis, red tide’). Interspersed throughout is the story of a lion mother, separated from her cubs and ceaselessly searching for them. This jumble of cascading thoughts provides a remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds, such as the Flint water crisis, gun violence, and the Trump presidency. The narrator is a fiercely protective mother trying to raise her children the only way she knows how, in a rapidly changing and hostile environment. Ellmann’s work is challenging but undoubtedly brilliant.”

Unseen Poems by Rumi (translated by Brad Gooch and Maryam Mortaz)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Unseen Poems: “With millions of copies of the 13th-century Sufi mystic poet’s work sold worldwide, this new book containing many first-time translations will find a ready audience. While the love poems resemble the erotic verse popularized by previous editors (‘Again my eyes saw what no eyes have seen./ Again my master returned ecstatic and drunk’), several new poems stand out in their foregrounding of Rumi’s religious descent. ‘Why make a quibla of these questions and answers?/ Ask instead, the lesson of the silent ones, where is it?’ one of the book’s many ghazals proposes, referring to the direction Muslims face in prayer. The Koran figures throughout: ‘Let me swear an oath on Osman’s holy book,/ The pearl of that beloved, gleaming in Damascus,’ reminding contemporary readers of the centrality of Islam to Rumi’s worldview, even if, finally, what Gooch calls a ‘religion of love’ carries the day: ‘Someone is snipped away, and I am sewn to another,/ Stitched together, forever, seamlessly.’ Offering new insight into the poet’s spiritual life, these poems prove a valuable addition to Rumi’s oeuvre.”

Eyes to the Wind by Ady Barkan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Eyes to the Wind: “Activist Barkan relates in this candid memoir how, after receiving a terminal illness diagnosis at age 32, he had to negotiate his failing body as his political star rose. In 2016, Barkan was diagnosed with ALS and given three to four years to live. Fueled by anger over his ‘outrageous’ situation, he sought to leave a legacy for his baby son and wife. A lawyer at the Center for Popular Democracy, Barkan initially resumed work on Fed Up, a campaign to encourage the Federal Reserve to enact policies beneficial to working-class Americans, but soon pivoted to health care, ‘bird-dogging’ members of Congress in visits to the Capitol. Barkan was wheelchair-bound by spring 2018 yet he embarked on a six-week cross-country tour in support of Democrats in the midterm elections (a sincere conversation with Arizona senator Jeff Flake about how a GOP tax plan would affect Medicare was captured in a video that went viral), ultimately sharing the stage with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. Throughout, Barkan weaves tales of law school and clerkships with insights into community organizing (a national movement led by a single person could ‘never approach the transformative political power that would be unleased by genuine mass movement of organized working-class people’). Barkan’s powerful narrative gives great insight into the nuts and bolts of political activism at work.”

Akin by Emma Donoghue

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Akin: “Donoghue’s underwhelming latest features a troubled doppelgänger of the sweet naïf from her best-known novel, Room, a foul-mouthed 11-year-old named Michael, whose great-uncle Noah takes him to the French Riviera to save him from the foster care system after Michael’s father dies of an apparent overdose and his mother, who is in prison, is unable to care for him. In the present day, Noah, having discovered some photographs taken by his mother during the two years she spent in Vichy France, and wishing to discover their significance, travels to Nice with Michael in tow. Dialogue between the two predominates as they wander about the city, constantly squabbling along predictably generational lines, searching for clues about whether Noah’s mother was a Nazi collaborator or part of the Resistance. The reader is soon exasperated with Noah’s own collaboration with the author, who won’t let him solve the mystery without Michael’s age-appropriate technological savvy. This work seems like a pale redux of Room, with its depiction of the wonder of a sheltered boy supplanted by the cynicism of a damaged one, whose voice doesn’t always ring true. The gap between Michael’s view of the world and the reader’s feels less charged than it should be, though the book makes up for it to some degree with a very satisfying denouement. This is a minor work in Donoghue’s astounding oeuvre.”

Also on shelves this week: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

The Millions Top Ten: August 2019

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for August.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
2.

The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual
4 months

2.


Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
1 month

3.
3.

Normal People
4 months

4.
4.

The New Me

4 months

5.
9.

The Nickel Boys
2 months

6.


Pieces for the Left Hand: Stories

1 month

7.
6.

The Golden State
5 months

8.


Inland
1 month

9.


The Need
1 month

10.


The Memory Police
1 month

Major shakeups this month with fully half of the Top Ten being populated by newcomers. Led by Olga Tokarczuk, whose novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead has skyrocketed up to second position on our list, the pack also includes J. Robert Lennon’s Pieces for the Left Hand, Téa Obreht’s Inland, Helen Phillips’s The Need, and Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police. Welcome, all. For the record, four of these five were listed in our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview.

Tokarczuk’s ascent up our list makes sense, as “mystical detective novel[s]” are usually sure to excite, but as Gabe Habash explained in his review for our site:
… with Tokarczuk behind the murder mystery, the whodunit is a sort of Trojan horse, a container for her to explore, with characteristic complexity and rigor, a whole host of deeper concerns, including animal rights, morality, fate, and how one life fits into the world around it. For her, simply finding out the identity of the murderer would be boring.
Meanwhile, something interesting is happening with Pieces for the Left Hand and The Need: the author of the latter reviewed the former’s work for our site last month. In her piece, Helen Phillips dubbed J. Robert Lennon’s Pieces for the Left Hand “the best book you’ve never read,” but obviously that statement’s not so true anymore. The strength of that review shot both works into this month’s Top Ten.

Two of this month’s new titles filled spaces vacated by The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms and Educated, both of which graduated to our Hall of Fame. The other three newcomers replaced Slave Old Man, Becoming, and Conversations with Friends, each of which dropped out of the running.

This month’s near misses included: How to Be an Antiracist and Ducks, Newburyport. See Also: Last month’s list.

Man Booker Prize Names 2019 Shortlist

The 2019 Man Booker Prize shortlist is here!

The literary prize, among the most prestigious of its kind, aims “to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the best novel of the year written in English and published in the United Kingdom.” (Feel free to brush up on the longlist before diving into the shortlist below.)

Announced during a press conference at London’s British Library, 2019 Chair of Judges Peter Florence said: “We have a shortlist of six extraordinary books and we could make a case for each of them as winner, but I want to toast all of them as ‘winners.’ Anyone who reads all six of these books would be enriched and delighted, would be awe-struck by the power of story, and encouraged by what literature can do to set our imaginations free.”

This year’s shortlist includes former winner and six-time nominee, Margaret Atwood, for her heavily guarded sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale (out next Tuesday!); former winner Salman Rushdie; Lucy Ellmann for an experimental 1,000-page monologue; British novelist Bernardine Evaristo; our own Chigozie Obioma, who was a 2015 finalist; and Turkish novelist Elif Shafak.

Here’s the 2019 Man Booker shortlist (and applicable bonus links):


The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Read our 2015 interview with Atwood)
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma (Read our interview with Obioma)
Quichotte by Salman Rushdie (Read a recent profile of Rushdie)
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak 

The Man Booker Prize winner will be announced on October 14 at a ceremony in London.

Man Booker Prize Names 2019 Longlist

The Man Booker Prize, which “aims to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the best novel of the year written in English and published in the United Kingdom,” announced its 2019 longlist.

Whittled down from 151 novels published in the U.K. or Ireland between Oct. 1, 2018 and Sept. 30, 2019, the 13-title longlist includes two previous winners (Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood), one American author (Lucy Ellmann), and one debut novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite). We are also extremely excited that our own contributing editor Chigozie Obioma made the list!

Here’s the 2019 “Booker Dozen,” featuring 13 novels—plus applicable bonus links:


The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Read our 2015 interview with Atwood)
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (Read Barry’s 2017 Year in Reading entry)
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Featured in our November Most Anticipated List)
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
The Wall by John Lanchester
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (Featured in our Great Second-Half Book Preview)
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Read reviews of Luiselli’s other works here and here)
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma (Our interview with Obioma)
Lanny by Max Porter (Read our review of Lanny)
Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak 
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson

The Man Booker Prize shortlist will be announced on Sept. 3rd.

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