A (very) incomplete list of the books that have stayed with me this year: Louise Gluck’s brilliant and heartbreaking new collection of poems, Faithful and Virtuous Night. Kai Bird’s The Good Spy, a fascinating biography of Middle East CIA operative Robert Ames. Zachary Lazar’s I Pity the Poor Immigrant, for its intricate, ingenious melding of fact and fiction, and a structure that struck me as so perfect that I read the book a second time to figure out how he pulled it off. Greg Kot’s incredible biography of Mavis Staples, I’ll Take You There, which I read in one sitting. Two 2013 story collections I read this year that I found staggeringly smart and moving with endings I couldn’t stop thinking about: Laura van den Berg’s The Isle of Youth and Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat and Other Stories. Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck and Other Stories — I can think of few writers who pack as much humor, psychological precision, and insanely exciting language into a single paragraph, let alone an entire story, as McCracken does again and again. I must have underlined half the sentences in this collection. This year I also taught one of my favorite books, All Aunt Hagar’s Children — and reading it again, I was struck by how Edward P. Jones manages to give every one of these stories the heft, heart, and scope of a novel while still keeping the prose tight and compressed.
And three books I’m in the middle of right now — Antonya Nelson’s Funny Once, Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings and Jess Row’s Your Face in Mine — are so good I don’t want them to end. Next up are Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable and Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering — their writing has been so important to me over the years that I’m waiting until the holidays to sit down with these collections. I plan to shut off my phone and email for a couple days to hole up and read.
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Out this week: Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis; What Would Lynne Tillman Do by Lynne Tillman; In Paradise by the late Peter Matthiessen; Family Life by Akhil Sharma; Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neuman; I Pity the Poor Immigrant by Zachary Lazar; The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan; The Plover by Adam Doyle; The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon; and a new biography of John Updike by Adam Begley.