As writers and editors of flash fiction, we love stories that are structured around a story’s gaps, the nuanced caesuras of what’s left out. In fact, the promise of a good flash story—a genre usually defined as being less than 1,000 words—is the way a narrative moves through an escalating series of hints. There’s no expectation of comprehensiveness, and often little room for connective tissue; rather, flash fiction invites the reader to live in the spaces of a story and imagine what’s left out. As list-makers, however, we wish we could have been more comprehensive. One list begets other lists, and in making this list, we realized how many more lists are needed for flash fiction as it continues to emerge and become ever more popular. As a concession to the lack of comprehensiveness, we’ve broken this list into three categories: some of our favorite classics, a few go-to anthologies, and then a sprinkling of recent collections. Please, though, consider this list to be a piece of flash fiction itself—a series of hints toward other wonderful flash collections in the world, including ours, Nothing Short of 100, a collection of the best 100-word stories from 100 Word Story magazine. Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata Yasunari Kawabata, the 2oth-century Japanese writer and Nobel Prize Winner, wrote short shorts before the category of flash fiction existed. He called his stories “palm-of-the-hand” stories because they were so small they could essentially fit in one’s palm. This collection includes a total of 70 stories drawn from 1922 until Kawabata's death in 1972 (he died in a gas-filled room, a probable suicide). He started writing the stories as his way to write poetry. Each one of his miniatures is molded by a spare understatement, a suggestiveness that comes from his painterly eye for detail, a focus on the telling perception. Kawabata was so dedicated to an aesthetics of concision that he even condensed his most famous novel, Snow Country, into an 11-page story, “Gleanings from Snow Country,” which appears in this collection. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis Lydia Davis is as close as you'll get to royalty in the flash fiction genre. Sometimes it can seem as if she invented brevity. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis includes 200 pieces, amounting to just 700 pages (an average of approximately three pages per story), 30 years' worth of work. Davis’s distinctive voice pulls stories from our everyday concerns, misunderstandings, and mishaps to fashion short shorts that are wry and wise. Her best stories explore the chasm of love, with narrators obsessively going through lists and chronologies of events to try to understand what happened. Davis's stories have very little in the way of plot. Some stories, in fact, are just a single sentence or two. As Jonathan Franzen said, “She has the sensitivity to track the stuff that is so evanescent it flies right by the rest of us.” Clarice Lispector: The Complete Stories If Elena Ferrante met Lydia Davis, they might write somewhat like the late Clarice Lispector. Dark, sharp, moody, yet sometimes focused on prosaic themes and occurrences, these stories represent the beloved Brazilian writer’s work from adolescence to the end of her life. Lispector’s stories, sometimes a little bit mad, certainly delirious, decenter the reader in exhilarating and exhausting ways. “Coherence, I don’t want it anymore,” a character in one of her stories thinks. “Coherence is mutilation. I want disorder.” Brevity plus disorder makes for fascinating aesthetic. Ecstatic Cahoots by Stuart Dybek Ecstatic Cahoots starts with two lines of dialogue — "You're going to leave your watch on?" / "You're leaving on your cross?" — that recur throughout the collection in different situations, like the refrain of a song or poem that changes meaning through repetition. The collection includes 50 stories that range in length from two lines to 13 pages. Many of Dybek’s quirky miniature masterpieces are a type of prose poem, and you might even say some read as prayers. In an interview with 100 Word Story, he said that one target to aim for in flash fiction is a “profound suggestiveness,” and with such a technique in hand he makes the small moments in his stories have big meanings. 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams 99 Stories of God is a collection of radically compressed stories, many barely a page long, some just a single paragraph, with a quirky and jabbing whimsy that is reminiscent of Lydia Davis. Not all of the stories are written about God, but they are all written with a sacred adherence to Emily Dickinson’s guide to writing: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Williams plays with deep questions in her stories, such as the existence and invisibility of God. Her disjointed connections, piercing details, and brutal humor jar one’s notions of the world, and often leave one baffled, but in the best of ways. Flash Fiction Anthologies The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field If you want a mentor text to guide you into writing flash fiction, there’s no better book than this one. The book is a true field guide, with probing essays on the art of flash fiction by such masters as Steve Almond, Pamela Painter, Robert Olen Butler, Deb Olin Unferth, Ron Carlson, and Jayne Anne Phillips. The book is designed as a teaching resource, but its essays, prompts, and exercises equip any flash writer to explore how constraints can open up a different kind of creativity and invite in unconventional approaches. Best Small Fictions Anthologies Publisher Braddock Avenue Books describes Best Small Fictions as “the first contemporary anthology solely devoted to honoring the best short hybrid fiction published in a calendar year.” Founded by Tara L. Masih in 2015 and annually staffed with the genre’s most respected writers and editors, the annual series is eagerly awaited by nominated writers while also serving as a sort of primer for those wanting to understand the evolution of the short-short form. The 2018 Best Small Fictions will showcase 53 stories that first appeared in a range of literary publications—from a 50-word short in the tiny hand-stapled Blink-Ink to a longer piece from The New Yorker—and highlight another 101 finalists. New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction Micro fiction is defined as a story that is less than 300 words. This anthology, coming out in August, includes newcomers and established writers alike: Amy Hempel, Kim Addonizio, Richard Brautigan, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Stuart Dybek, Joyce Carol Oates, and James Tate among them. The anthology is the latest from James Thomas, who along with Robert Shapard, helped put flash fiction on the writing map with their series of flash fiction anthologies (Sudden Fiction, Flash Fiction Forward, Flash Fiction International) that began decades ago. This time, Thomas teamed with microfiction author Robert Scotellaro (who wrote a notable collection of 100-word stories, Bad Motel, and has work in 100 Word Story as well). Recent Flash We’re Excited By Every Kiss a War by Leesa Cross-Smith Cross-Smith’s stories are Southern with a capital S, steeped in cigarette smoke, whiskey, and sex. In this collection, lovers cheat and regret, embrace and fight, make out and make up. Evocative and written in a warm, confident style, the stories in this collection make you feel like you’re sitting with an old friend on a porch in summer, talking about life, sipping something so good it burns. Dictionary Stories by Jez Burrows Flash fiction invites unconventional approaches to telling stories in such a small space, as exemplified by Jez Burrows’s Dictionary Stories. Burrows became obsessed with the italicized example sentences in dictionaries and began playing with them, remixing them into idiosyncratic pieces of short fiction. It all started when Burrows looked up the word “study,” and saw this dramatic story starter: “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery.” The collection, which includes 150 stories, was spawned by a popular Tumblr blog, and each story is categorized by topic, whether it’s “dating” or “the occult.” [millions_ad] Other Household Toxins by Christopher Allen A respected editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, Allen collected his own stories for seven years before publishing his book with Matter Press. He moves smoothly between the everyday and the surreal, with a focus on fathers and sons, lovers, and taboo, moving easily between hard and gentle tales. Pretty by Kim Chinquee Sophisticated, restrained, and even slightly aloof, Chinquee’s stories often focus on love lost, found, and squandered. This collection is for studying and re-reading, with images and characters sometimes appearing teasingly just on the edge of our field of vision. Damn Sure Right by Meg Pokrass When you read Meg Pokrass, you know she was once a poet. In fact, she’s taken many of her poems and transformed them into stories—perhaps the perfect activity for any flash fiction author. But to present her fiction as guided mainly by lyricism is misleading. There are few authors out there as daring and honest and real as Meg Pokrass. She possesses that rare gift of a writer, knowing how to poetically tell a tale while not flinching from the uncomfortable truths she discovers along the way. Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song by Kara Vernor Kara Vernor’s work is world weary yet hopeful, her characters inhabiting malls, amusement parks, video stories, blue collar neighborhoods. With an unflinching voice, Vernor tells stories largely about girls and women who are trying to figure out life and find their place in it. Read “Ferris Wheel,” a remarkable micro about a blind date with the hopes of the narrator lifting up and dropping like an old, creaky ride. On the Edges of Vision by Helen McClory Dark and disturbing, these stories don’t shy away from violence and grit. If nothing else, read “Pretty Dead Girl Takes a Break” to see just how masterfully McClory mingles the surreal ramblings of the victim with our everyday obsession with crime. This flash alone is a downright harrowing social commentary on women as victims—and entertainment. Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month and the co-founder of 100 Word Story. His stories have appeared in dozens of literary magazines, including Tin House, The Southwest Review, and The Gettysburg Review. His essays on creativity have been published in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. He recently published a book of essays on creativity with Chronicle Books, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo. He's also published a collection of 100-word stories, Fissures, which have been included in The Best Small Fictions 2016 and the new W.W. Norton Anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Stories. Lynn Mundell is co-founder and co-editor of 100 Word Story and co-editor of its anthology, Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story, as well as a managing editor at a large health care organization. Her short-short stories and creative nonfiction have appeared in many U.S. and U.K. literary journals, including Tin House online, Booth, Superstition Review, Portland Review, Permafrost, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, The Sun, and Five Points, as well as in anthologies including New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction (W.W. Norton & Company, August 2018). Lynn earned her MFA in Creative Writing from American University and is an advisory board member of the U.C. Berkeley Extension Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing. Beret Olsen is a writer, photographer, teacher, and long-time proponent of the Oxford comma. Currently, Beret teaches black and white film photography in the Bay Area, where she lives with her husband and two pre-tweens. She writes two blogs: Bad Parenting 101 and LobeStir, and you can find her photography at www.beretolsen.com. Jon Roemer is publisher/senior editor of Outpost19, an award-winning publishing house based in San Francisco. His writing has appeared at The Writer, OZY, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, 3:AM and elsewhere. Jon studied literature and fiction writing at Northwestern and Arizona and has developed creative projects for a handful of Fortune 100 companies. Image Credit: Pexels.
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. Norwegian by Night 2 months 2. 2. The Sellout 6 months 3. 4. The Underground Railroad 5 months 4. 3. The Trespasser 4 months 5. 5. Moonglow 3 months 6. 9. The North Water 2 months 7. - Homesick for Another World 1 month 8. 7. Commonwealth 4 months 9. - Homegoing 1 month 10. 8. Here I Am 5 months New year, same frontrunner: Norwegian by Night, no doubt propelled atop our list on the strength of Richard Russo's recommendation, begins the year in first position. On its heels, The Sellout, The Underground Railroad, The Trespasser, and Moonglow jostle around. Swing Time drops out of our rankings, which was perhaps a result of Kaila Philo's underwhelmed review for our site: Ultimately, while Swing Time makes admirable artistic choices -- who doesn’t love a nonlinear narrative? -- the main issue I take with this novel has to do with how these choices don’t mesh well to create the relevant masterpiece it could have been. The whole does not amount to the sum of its parts, in other words. Ascending to our Hall of Fame, meanwhile, is Ninety-Nine Stories of God, the latest collection from Joy Williams, praised by our own Nick Ripatrazone (who provides a scant fifty reasons) here. All of this action freed up spots for two newcomers on this month's list, both of which were featured on our book previews: Ottessa Moshfegh's Homesick for Another World (2017 Book Preview) and Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing (2016 Book Preview). In Moshfegh's case, the timing is logical. The book was previewed, it came out this past month, and y'all promptly bought it. But what explains Gyasi's debut on our list almost a full year after we first previewed it, and half a year since it first published? Well, it recently won the John Leonard Prize for best debut novel. So there you go. This month's near misses included: The Nix, Pond, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, and The Lyrics: 1961-2012. See Also: Last month's list.
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. - Norwegian by Night 1 month 2. 1. The Sellout 5 months 3. 3. The Trespasser 3 months 4. 4. The Underground Railroad 4 months 5. 5. Moonglow 2 months 6. 2. Ninety-Nine Stories of God 6 months 7. 7. Commonwealth 3 months 8. 8. Here I Am 4 months 9. - The North Water 1 month 10. - Swing Time 1 month Richard Russo wasn't kidding when he wrote in our Year in Reading series that the best novel he'd read this autumn was "a bit of a sleeper, though its fans are oh-so-passionate." For evidence of said passion, look no further than the top-spot debut for Derek B. Miller's Norwegian by Night on this month's list. Billed by Russo as "one of those books that completely transcends its genre," it focuses on a transplanted New Yorker suddenly on the run in Norway. "If you like those other Scandihoovian thriller writers," Russo wrote, "this is your book." The rest of the December list remains largely unchanged from the one we saw in November, owing perhaps to the long tail of the aforementioned Year in Reading series, which will no doubt start influencing subsequent lists as early as next month. Meanwhile, we welcome two newcomers on the lower half of our list this month, which are likely to rise as the Year in Reading dust settles, and as holiday gift cards are spent. In ninth position is Ian McGuire's The North Water, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and named by the New York Times's editors as one of the Ten Best Books of the Year. The novel is a thriller set on a nineteenth-century Arctic whaling ship with a killer aboard, which sounds to this Top Ten writer like a very distinct flavor of Hell. Zadie Smith's Swing Time occupies the tenth spot. Smith's novel, her fifth, is complicated. As Kaila Philo noted in her review for our site, its protagonist "has no name, no signifiers, no grounding, only to be figured out through her relationships, interactions, and circumstances." She continues: Our protagonist here is so nebulous she becomes an idea for the reader to grasp at and attempt to put together, like a puzzle made of stardust, but once the reader finishes the puzzle they’re left with a sparkling cloud reminiscent of nothing. (Bonus: If you haven't yet, you should read the text of Smith's acceptance speech at the 2016 Welt Literature Prize.) Lastly, Annie Proulx's Barkskins graduates to our Hall of Fame this month, becoming the 20th title to ascend to those hallowed ranks in the year of 2016. Here's to a new year! This month's near misses included: The Nix, The Daily Henry James, and The Gene: An Intimate History. See Also: Last month's list.
1. We sat in a semicircle with Dorothy in the center, an open copy of the Good News Bible on her lap. She wore a t-shirt with “Maine” printed below an image of a fly fisherman. He’d hooked a trout but the fish was twice his size. I tried to understand how that was possible. I’d seen shows on ESPN where harried outdoorsmen wrestled sturgeons in Alaskan rivers but I’d never met a trout longer than my arm. That line of thought got me halfway through her first reading, something vaguely violent from the Old Testament. She followed that with a selection from the Gospels. She read with a smile, and when she finished she paused and stared at us. I swear she made eye contact with each and every kid there, as if she could read our thoughts. I wondered if she could read mine. David said there’d be pizza, movies, soccer, and swimming. So far I was disappointed. 2. I can’t quit God if I tried -- especially not when it comes to books. Conversion and explanation are not in my wheelhouse; my brand of superstitious Italian-Catholicism via Jesuits always turns faith inward. I would rather criticize myself than someone else. Maybe that’s why I’m interested in books about God, about faith, about our most earnest attempts to be good and our daily actions of being terrible. I like the idea that writers wrestle with words to capture the ineffable. I like that writers fail far more often than they succeed. 3. I usually spent my summers playing Nok Hockey and lacrosse at Bee Meadow School. The free, public day camp only lasted a few hours a day. We tried to avoid the obligatory craft sessions every Friday, (fill in the blank + popsicle sticks) and got pumped for the end-of-day dodge ball game, cramped chaos in a gym used for theater practice and AA meetings. Our counselors were college students home on break, who flirted with each other, beat us soundly in soccer games, and lied about finding dead bodies floating in the pond behind the school. Once I was sent home for calling another kid chicken-face-punk. Someone else told me to say it but I accepted the punishment. My sister picked me up and took me to Dairy Queen. The next day I was back, turning paper-towel rolls into glasses. (Craft classes were the halfway-house for suspended students.) David and I played 21 at the basketball court. He flailed, threw elbows, and made left-handed layups. He kept his mouth shut during games, which was a blessing compared to the counselors, whose trash talk reached epic proportions. At the end of our game, David and I bought Gatorades from the snack bar and sat in the gym. Two upright fans spun hot air across the stage where three girls sang something from Mary Poppins. The next day was my least favorite of the year, the Six Flags trip. I hated roller coasters; so did David. He knew that, and I suspect that was why he asked if I wanted to go to Bible camp with him instead. He listed the activities and none of them had anything to do with the Bible. In fact, the words Bible and camp didn’t come into the conversation until later. He just asked if I wanted to go to Blue River, and I said yes. I asked my mom if I could go to Blue River with David. She asked if I needed my fishing license. I explained that it had to do with his church. She sat me down, and though I don’t remember the exact content of her conversation, it sounded awfully close to a warning -- as in look but don’t touch, and certainly don’t taste. Catholics don’t have Bible camps. At least not the Catholics I knew -- Italian, Irish, and Portuguese immigrants in Whippany, NJ. We had retreats, lock-ins, CCD classes, but we never talked about Jesus in public. I don’t think we were ashamed -- it just didn’t seem right. It was as if we were opening up about a personal secret that evaporated the second it met air. At Blue River people talked about Jesus like he was their second cousin. They held hands during responses and never crossed themselves. Pamphlets leaned forward in wooden shelves. It was easy to tell the bad ones (thunder-stuffed clouds and tears) from the good ones (sunshine and high grass). There was a lack of men, and a plethora of fanny packs and hummed hymns. Most kids called their parents halfway through the day. I declined. I really had no idea what to say. 4. Joy Williams reminded me of the strangeness of God in her 99 Stories. I had found God in her sentences before, but it was nice to see her sprint headlong into the divine. I escape in similar ways in the writing of Ron Hansen, Toni Morrison, and that heretic from the Bronx, Don DeLillo. I have this quirk where I always want to know a writer’s religious interest; it helps me grasp how that writer understands atmosphere and setting. I have a special place in my literary heart for the lapsed: those who grew up looking up -- who decided one day to drift. I have friends who sometimes drift back into church, like they are returning home, before leaving again. Then they return to their essays, stories, and poems, that contain shadow of God without any outline. But isn’t that how faith is supposed to work? You see the soul, but not the body? 5. Dorothy stood in front of a long grill, flipping burgers with what looked like a pancake spatula. I thought she was going to quiz me on her reading or say she knew I wasn’t paying attention. She didn’t. She asked if I wanted cheese. I said yes. Group prayer came after lunch. There was no church or chapel on campus, only a room with folding chairs and fans in the windows, slicing the sunlight. Dorothy was back in Jesus mode, waiting for all of us to take a seat. I was afraid of the inevitable audience participation. After CCD classes we’d converge in the church, where Father John would query us with softball questions about the catechism. Wrong answers were met with a laugh and smirk, not a smack to the palm. But it still made me nervous. Dorothy spoke softly and we became silent to meet her voice. She asked us to consider what we were thankful for, and then talked about Jesus in a succession of praises. I did not recognize any of these prayers. I was used to the mention of saints and much less talking. For me prayer was silent; communal, yes, but a sort of hushed thought, not a bunch of talk. Dorothy seemed like a nice woman but it sounded like she was trying to talk her way toward God. Or maybe barter something from him. Years later my wife -- another cradle Catholic -- and I would be in the middle of a similar group prayer at a showing of The Passion of the Christ. Somehow we were the only two people in the theater who were not congregants of a Pennsylvania evangelical church. I held my breath during that prayer as well. In the midst of Dorothy’s spiel I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Something just didn’t feel right. I snuck out the back of the building. I hid, first, behind the shed where two tractors sat silent in the dark, then in a thin patch of woods behind the unused soccer fields, grass reaching halfway up the goals. All the time I kept my eye on the building and was able to weave back into the procession as it came out. I’m sure somebody noticed but no one said anything, probably because I was only a visitor. During the ride back home, David’s mom hummed John Denver while we sweated with the windows down. She never used the air conditioning in that burgundy minivan. When I got home I was still hot and rushed into my house. My mom asked what was wrong, but I held up a finger while I downed water. It was a full glass, and it felt like the water would never end. Maybe that was what miracles were really like: small comforts from this wailing world. Image: Gauguin, "Agony in the Garden," Wikipedia
Let’s face it. 2016 sucked. It will go down as one of the cruddiest years in the 50 or so that I’ve walked the earth. It started sucking right away, with the death of one of my favorite musicians, David Bowie, on Jan. 10, and the death of one of my favorite poets, C.D. Wright, two days later. Maybe it’s not fair to call Bowie’s Blackstar a literary achievement, but it’s an act of deep hubris and generosity and fearlessness that I aspire to as a novelist. So it’s on my list. So too is the first of C.D. Wright’s posthumous collections of poetry, Shallcross, which shows her at the height of her astonishing powers, a book that helps me grieve and shakes me up at the same time. In February, Peter Straub, one of my literary heroes, put out a collection of his selected stories, Interior Darkness, which I recommend to anyone who thinks the “New Weird” is a new thing. I also discovered the cartoonist Michael DeForge, whose new graphic novel, Big Kids, is a trippy, disturbing, utterly original coming-of-age tale that is still haunting me today. Also in February: Umberto Eco and Harper Lee died. “Uptown Funk” won a Grammy. In March, there were primaries, and I read Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot, a dazzling and inventive novel about orphans and ghosts and swindlers and religious fanatics. I also read Thomas Frank’s Listen, Liberal, also about orphans and ghosts and swindlers and religious fanatics. It was good but upsetting in many many ways. That Thomas Frank is too cynical!, I thought to myself, hopefully. In April, Prince died. Prince? Died? 2016, could you be more sadistic? So I read some poetry, which sometimes helps: The Big Book of Exit Strategies by Jamaal May, who is one of my favorite younger poets; The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay, which has an amazing long poem about the childhood of Neil deGrasse Tyson; Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a very painful and sad book by Ocean Vuong. Then, I immersed myself in The People in the Castle, selected “strange stories” by Joan Aiken, published by the wonderful Small Beer Press, with an introduction by Kelly Link, and Aiken’s tales were a kind of balm for troubled times. Another balm was the novel Rich & Pretty by my former student Rumaan Alam, which is so funny and beautifully written and precisely described I almost forgot how depressed I was getting. Summer came at last, and 2016 immediately killed off Muhammad Ali, just to show us it meant business. There was a convention in my home town of Cleveland which I was trying to ignore, so I read A Natural History of Hell: Stories by Jeffrey Ford, whom Joyce Carol Oates calls “…a beautifully disorienting writer, a poet in an unclassifiable genre…,” and I decided that Jeffrey Ford is an important figure who needs to be recognized more. I read Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams, who is another one of my idols, and I love that she’s still so weird and crazy, after all these years. Another of my former students, Sam Allingham, sent me his new book of stories, The Great American Songbook, and it is so good! He is super-talented and gives me hope for the future! And a kind acquaintance, Jacob M. Appel, sent me his new book of stories, Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana, and it was also really good, very Grace Paley and smart and wise (he’s a psychiatrist and a lawyer and a professor and has, I kid you not, seven master’s degrees), and then I realized that I was supposed to blurb his book and I screwed up and forgot to do it, so I was ashamed. I’m sorry, Jacob. Your book is awesome. And then it was August. I read The Fire This Time, an anthology of essays about race, edited by the brilliant Jesmyn Ward; I read In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. I had a panic attack, and I got some medication -- not a moment too soon, because 2016 then decided to take Gene Wilder, and if it wasn’t for Clonazepam I’d still be watching YouTube clips from Young Frankenstein and Willie Wonka, singing along with “Pure Imagination” and weeping, weeping. Afterwards, I spent a good part of the fall rereading a YA fantasy series by Garth Nix. It was a retreat of sorts, I guess. One of my fondest memories is reading with my two sons, which we did all through their childhood. They loved fantasy series. Yes, we read all the Harry Potter books, and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus books. The Chronicles of Narnia. One series that we were particularly fond of was Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy. We listened to them in the car on audiobook: read by Tim Curry in a rich, plummy, intensely funny and felt performance. We were mesmerized by the adventures of Sabriel, the girl necromancer who inherits the heavy weight of her father’s obligation to protect the world from the Dead; her half-sister, Lirael, a lonely librarian who goes on a journey with her magical companion, The Disreputable Dog, finds that she is the only one who can save the world from evil. There is also Mogget, a powerful magical creature who has been imprisoned in the body of a house cat. (Tim Curry’s performance of Mogget is a particular hammy delight.) In any case, reading these books with my kids was an intense, formative experience, and I was excited to learn that Nix had a new book in the series that was coming out in October. I prepared for it by listening to the entire oeuvre -- about 50 hours of audio -- and it lent me a crutch to hobble on through our hideous American Autumn. Reading these books again, along with the new one, Goldenhand, brought back a certain kind of joy, a certain kind of honest excitement, to return again to this wide, richly imagined world that Nix has created with such breadth and texture. I got to relive those times I had with my kids, which is not an insignificant thing. My boys are now 25- and 26-year-old men, but for a time, reading this book, I was able to commune with the children they once were. I was also able to remember the way that certain kinds of books could help in a dark time -- I remembered the kid I once was, living in a difficult and abusive and violent family situation -- and how books may have saved me. I worry that this last bit seems stupid and childish and cowardly? But so what? I lifted out of the dream of those books a sliver of faith in bravery and honesty and courage, and a hope that evil won’t win in the end. I could use the reminder. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005
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. 1. The Sellout 4 months 2. 2. Ninety-Nine Stories of God 5 months 3. 3. The Trespasser 2 months 4. 6. The Underground Railroad 3 months 5. - Moonglow 1 month 6. 5. Barkskins 6 months 7. 10. Commonwealth 2 months 8. 8. Here I Am 3 months 9. 7. Pond 3 months 10. 9. Innocents and Others 5 months How fitting it is for Don DeLillo's Zero K to move on to our Millions Hall of Fame in this, the month of November, the time of no baseball and, thus, no Ks. (I will not apologize for this joke; No I Said No I Won't No.) Speaking of baseball, others have pointed out the accuracy of Back to the Future II's foretelling of our current American predicament -- the Cubs winning the World Series; Biff Tannen ascending to a position of unimaginable power -- and so in that regard, it's fitting that an author who got his start around the time that movie came out would grace our latest Top Ten. Michael Chabon, of course, requires no introduction, and least of all from someone who'd build a strained Back to the Future II reference upon the foundation of a corny baseball joke. Nevertheless here we are. Moonglow, is a welcome addition to this month's list. In her preview for our site last summer, Tess Malone wrote: We’ve all had that relative who spills their secrets on their deathbed, yet most of us don’t think to write them down. Chabon was 26 years old, already author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, when he went to see his grandfather for the last time only to hear the dying man reveal buried family stories. Twenty-six years later and the Pulitzer Prize winner’s eighth novel is inspired by his grandfather’s revelations. A nearly 500-page epic, Moonglow explores the war, sex, and technology of mid-century America in all its glory and folly. It’s simultaneously Chabon’s most imaginative and personal work to date. A few weeks ago, Chabon expanded on this balancing act between novel and memoir in an interview for our site: [Some people have claimed] that memoirs are more appropriate to the time we live in, but also superior to fiction. Listening to that kind of talk and seeing situations like the James Frey incident…The thing that made everyone upset was the fact that he had lied, you know? That he passed this thing off as true when it was a work of fiction was wrong. What pissed me off as a novelist was that he wrote it as a novel and nobody wanted to publish it. Then he relabeled it as a memoir and suddenly everybody wants to publish it and everyone wants to read it. That offends me because I’m a novelist and writing novels is what I do. I take that personally on some levels. It also offends me because it’s bullshit. Memoirs are bullshit to some degree. I don’t mean memoirists are liars; some might be, most are not. I know memoirists try to be scrupulous and try not to deviate from what they remember. It’s the last few words of my sentence where the bullshit comes in. Of course what you remember is a lie or a distortion. It’s inaccurate, there’s conflation, there’s elision. There are gaps, there maybe things that you’ve deliberately forgotten and then forgotten that you’ve forgotten so that you sincerely think they didn’t happen. Elsewhere on the list, a few titles jostled around, but nothing dropped out altogether. Stay tuned for next month's list, which will likely be influenced by our ongoing Year in Reading series. This month's near misses included: The Daily Henry James, The Nest, Heroes of the Frontier, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, and The Girls. See Also: Last month's list.
This year’s New York Times Notable Books of the Year list is out. At 100 titles, the list is more of a catalog of the noteworthy than a distinction. Sticking with the fiction exclusively, it appears that we touched upon a few of these books and authors as well: The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (I Want Complete Freedom When I Write: An Interview with Karan Mahajan) Barkskins by Annie Proulx (A Summer Reading List for Wretched Assholes Who Prefer to Wallow in Someone Else’s Misery) Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein (Humanity’s Dogged Endurance: On Alexander Weinstein’s Children of the New World) Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (A Year in Reading: Jonathan Safran Foer) The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay (Martin Seay’s The Mirror Thief as Explained by Martin Seay) Moonglow by Michael Chabon (Two Kinds of Aboutness: The Millions Interviews Michael Chabon) Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams (50 Reasons Why You Should Read Joy Williams) Nutshell by Ian McEwan (The Body Doesn’t Lie: On Ian McEwan’s Nutshell) Still Here by Laura Vapnyar (Making Strange: On Laura Vapnyar’s Still Here) Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Nameless and Undefined: On Zadie Smith's Swing Time) Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Scars That Never Fade: On Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad) The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Taste Is the Only Morality: On Han Kang's The Vegetarian) War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans (Brutal and Tender: On Stefan Hertmans’s War and Turpentine) Zero K by Don DeLillo (The End of the Self Is the End of the Universe)
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. 3. The Sellout 3 months 2. 4. Ninety-Nine Stories of God 4 months 3. - The Trespasser 1 month 4. 5. Zero K 6 months 5. 6. Barkskins 5 months 6. 7. The Underground Railroad 2 months 7. 10. Pond 2 months 8. 9. Here I Am 2 months 9. 8. Innocents and Others 4 months 10. - Commonwealth 1 month How to rule The Millions's monthly Top Ten list: Write and publish a great book. Have the book's protagonist's voice praised for being "as appealing, erudite, and entertaining as any since Alexander Portnoy’s." Win the Man Booker Prize. Congratulations, Paul Beatty, you've done hit the trifecta! We also welcome two newcomers to our list this month: Tana French's The Trespasser and Ann Patchett's Commonwealth, both of which had previously been featured on our Most Anticipated list. French's novel, the sixth in her Dublin Murder Squad series, focuses on the murder of a young woman ostensibly preparing for a date. Around here at The Millions, it's tough to pick a resident Tana French expert - both Janet Potter and Edan Lepucki hold legitimate claims to that title -- so site readers interested in a taste of French's work should start by reading the author's recent interview for our site, focusing on her penchant for using police interrogations as literary devices; Lepucki's piece on French's plotting; a conversation between both Edan and Janet about French's writing; and the author in her own words recounting her Year in Reading. Patchett's work, too, is familiar to Millions staffers and readers alike. In her blurb for our Most Anticipated list, Lepucki wrote of Commonwealth: A new novel by the bestselling author of gems like Bel Canto and State of Wonder is certainly a noteworthy publishing event. This time, Patchett, who also owns Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn., takes on a more personal subject, mapping multiple generations of a family broken up by divorce and patched together, in new forms, by remarriage. Commonwealth begins in the 1960s, in California, and moves to Virginia and beyond, spanning many decades. Meanwhile, this month we graduate two Top Ten mainstays to our Hall of Fame: Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer and Samantha Hunt's Mr. Splitfoot. Fare thee well in Valhalla! This month's near misses included: The Girls, Heroes of the Frontier, Signs Preceding the End of the World, The Nest, and The Unseen World. See Also: Last month's list.
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 Sympathizer 6 months 2. 2. Mr. Splitfoot 6 months 3. 9. The Sellout 2 months 4. 7. Ninety-Nine Stories of God 3 months 5. 4. Zero K 5 months 6. 6. Barkskins 4 months 7. - The Underground Railroad 1 month 8. 8. Innocents and Others 3 months 9. - Here I Am 1 month 10. - Pond 1 month The Sellout rocketed up our Top Ten this month, jumping from ninth position all the way up to third. In a few weeks, when longtime frontrunners The Sympathizer and Mr. Splitfoot retire to our Hall of Fame, look for Paul Beatty's satirical novel to lead the pack. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, both Girl through Glass and The Lost Time Accidents graduated this month, opening space for two new entrants on our list: Colson Whitehead's universally acclaimed The Underground Railroad, and Jonathan Safran Foer's somewhat less acclaimed Here I Am. By now, Whitehead's novel needs no introduction. The #1 bestseller has drawn praise from both Obama and Oprah, and in his review for our site, Greg Walkin noted how "Whitehead’s brilliance is on constant display" throughout: After five previous novels, each very different, this is the only thing we can count on. It’s hard to imagine a new novel farther from Whitehead’s last, the zombie thriller Zone One. The Underground Railroad shares some features with his debut work, The Intuitionist, and his second novel, John Henry Days; both novels confront issues of race and American history through less-than-straightforward methods — a Whitehead signature. Yet by contrast, Safran Foer's Here I Am has drawn a wider spectrum of reviews, ranging from the simply mixed and relatively positive all the way over to Alexander Nazaryan's Los Angeles Times piece, the thrust of which can be pretty well understood just from its title: "With joyless prose about joyless people, Jonathan Safran Foer's 'Here I Am' is kitsch at best." Meanwhile, one title -- The Nest -- dropped from our monthly list, opening a spot for Claire-Louise Bennett's Pond. In his review of the work for our site, Ian Maleney wrote that it "rests with no little charm somewhere between collection and novel without ever settling on one or the other," and noted how "much of the book examines the strange process of alienation anyone might experience as they find themselves with time and space to interrogate their own behavior, private or otherwise." That sounds appropriate for the start of Autumn, if I say so myself. This month's near misses included: Heroes of the Frontier, Signs Preceding the End of the World, The Girls, and The Queen of the Night. See Also: Last month's list.
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 Sympathizer 5 months 2. 1. Mr. Splitfoot 5 months 3. 4. Girl Through Glass 6 months 4. 5. Zero K 4 months 5. 6. The Lost Time Accidents 6 months 6. 7. Barkskins 3 months 7. 9. Ninety-Nine Stories of God 2 months 8. 8. Innocents and Others 2 month 9. - The Sellout 1 month 10. 10. The Nest 3 months "The past is never dead," wrote William Faulkner, who may have been unconsciously foreseeing Tessa Hadley's novel, and its six-month run on our site's Top Ten. While at times the book seemed likely to drop from our rankings - it began in tenth position and only once cracked the top three - it was nevertheless a gritty and determined run, now punctuated by its ascendance to our Hall of Fame. Most of the other titles on our list bumped up a spot to fill The Past's void, and a solitary newcomer emerged this August in our ninth spot. There, Paul Beatty's satirical novel, The Sellout, joins our list for the first time. The Sellout has been mentioned fairly often on our site, dating back to last December when staff writer Michael Schaub called it, "One of the funniest books I read this year was also one of the best novels I’ve ever read." (Knowing Schaub, he's going to take full credit for the book's appearance on our list now, nevermind the fact that it's been a year since he wrote that line.) But the praise didn't end there. Several months after Schaub selected The Sellout in his Year in Reading, fellow Millions staff writer Matt Seidel wrote: Beatty’s voice is as appealing, erudite, and entertaining as any since Alexander Portnoy’s. ... It is a lacerating, learned, witty, and vulgar voice — definitely not pejorative-free — brash and vulnerable and self-righteous in its jeremiad against self-righteousness of any kind. Still more recently, Alcy Levya traced a through-line between some of Beatty's lodestars - Richard Pryor, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dave Chapelle - to investigate the circumstances of the book's creation, as well as its enduring importance: In many ways, the comedian could very easily stand in place of the narrator in The Sellout: both being intelligent and hilarious with their keen and unfiltered views of our society, and both having to come to grips with the responsibility — and the cost — of being empowered to act on that vision. All of the characters, regardless of how completely absurd they seem, are reacting to living in a time in which Beatty also resides; one in which he is daring to call something “‘Racism’ in a post-racial world.” This month's near misses included: Signs Preceding the End of the World, Heroes of the Frontier, The Queen of the Night, Homegoing and The Underground Railroad. See Also: Last month's list.
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 July. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 2. Mr. Splitfoot 4 months 2. 1. The Sympathizer 4 months 3. 5. The Past 6 months 4. 3. Girl Through Glass 5 months 5. 6. Zero K 3 months 6. 8. The Lost Time Accidents 5 months 7. 10. Barkskins 2 months 8. - Innocents and Others 1 month 9. - Ninety-Nine Stories of God 1 month 10. 9. The Nest 2 months There's some jostling atop the list this month as Samantha Hunt's Mr. Splitfoot pulls ahead of Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer. Likewise, there's been a minor shake-up in the third and fourth positions as Girl Through Glass drops below The Past, and Zero K holds pretty steady. The real mover in July, by contrast, was Annie Proulx's Barkskins, which climbed three spots from tenth to seventh, a rise no doubt attributable to Claire Cameron's strong endorsement in her "Summer Reading List for Wretched Assholes Who Prefer to Wallow in Someone Else’s Misery." Of course, highlighting this influence reminds one of Mary Shelley's question from The Last Man: "What is there in our nature that is forever urging us on towards pain and misery?" Meanwhile we bid adieu to What Belongs to You and My Name is Lucy Barton, both of which have punched one-way tickets to the literary Valhalla known to mere mortals as the Millions Hall of Fame. In their places we welcome two new arrivals. Among those newcomers is Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others, which Jason Arthur called "a novel about how intimacy works best from a distance" in his review for our site. "There is also so much more to this book that defies quick summary," explained Edan Lepucki in her long, thoughtful interview with Spiotta, such as "technology and how it creates, bolsters, and distorts identity; making and consuming art; the responsibility and trespassing of representation; friendship; imagination; the fear of being unoriginal." (P.S. Edan, did your resolution from last January work out?) Joining Spiotta on this month's list is Joy Williams's Ninety-Nine Stories of God, which our own Nick Ripatrazone called "gorgeously written, sentence-to-sentence ... arriv[ing] in vignettes that are condensed but not constrained; tight but not dry." He noted forty-nine other reasons to read the book as well, in case you needed them, which you really shouldn't because Joy Williams is one of America's best living writers of short stories and fiction – and for my money she's unquestionably the best author of travel guides. 'Til next month, as they say! This month's near misses included: Signs Preceding the End of the World, The Queen of the Night, Heroes of the Frontier, The Girls, and Homegoing. See Also: Last month's list.
1. Because the ineffable deserves a voice that captures its curves and cracks. 2. The best American fiction about God is being written by women. 3. A few: Marilynne Robinson, Alice McDermott, Toni Morrison, Erin McGraw, Jamie Quatro, Joy Williams. 4. Many critics will contort themselves into knots in order to avoid finding God in works of fiction by secular literary saints, and yet there she/he/it is, everywhere. 5. “I believe that God is (and must be) a transcendent presence in any worthy work of art.” — Joy Williams. 6. “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” -- Proverbs 26:11. 7. I always thought the above quote best describes the fiction of Flannery O’Connor, the Southern Catholic who skewered the literalists who surrounded her. 8. It is tempting to compare Williams to O’Connor. Some might even call it reductive. 9. They are not the same, but they have one important similarity. 10. Both Williams and O’Connor find God in the gross, the morbid, the sinners, the slobbering, the strange. 11. So did Gerard Manley Hopkins, Graham Greene, Fanny Howe. 12. “The church has done tons of practical good for the poor, has managed to accept the maddest among us, has a huge margin for visions, and has handed along, through the strangeness of dissecting time, one set of gestures.” — Fanny Howe. 13. God is in those gestures. Ninety-Nine Stories of God is a sequence of those gestures. 14. If you have read even half a story by Williams, you know that she is God-saturated. 15. Her father was a Congregational minister. 16. Although I would place her more as an Episcopalian writer. 17. It is difficult -- perhaps foolish -- to conjecture the religious practices of a writer, even if that writer writes of God often, effusively, exclusively. 18. Writers are liars. 19. Yet it is helpful when writing about writers who include God in their fiction to see how they pivot. What language, what liturgy, what culture, what gestures. 20. Williams’s priests and parishes and parishioners hold an Episcopal aesthetic. 21. She writes of mystery and image, but she is not a Catholic writer (they include more bells and incense and guilt). 22. Ninety-Nine Stories of God is gorgeously written, sentence-to-sentence, and arrives in vignettes that are condensed but not constrained; tight but not dry. 23. These vignettes carry the accumulated weight of gesture, which allows them to exist beyond their truncated nature. 24. From Williams’s short story, “The Girls,” describing a family’s Episcopalian priest, who is staying at their home: The priest spent most of his time in the garden wearing only a bright red banana sling, his flabby body turning a magnificent somber brown. The girls were certain their parents regretted inviting him for he was not at all amusing, the way he could be frequently, in the pulpit. 25. A prototypical Williams sentence teeters without toppling over. 26. Joy Williams wrote to the writer Lincoln Michel that two essential attributes of the short story form are that it contains “an anagogical level” and “sentences that can stand strikingly alone.” 27. In “The Girls,” Father Snow is depressed over the death of his lover. His sorrow almost becomes entertainment for the titular unnamed girls, who are 31 and 33 years-old. "The Girls" appears along with 45 other stories in The Visiting Privilege, Williams's recent collection of new and selected fiction. Although best known for her novels The Quick and the Dead and The Changeling, her short work is her most unique. 28. Williams channels the gestures of “The Girls” in Ninety-Nine Stories of God, but these tales are chiseled out of even more eccentricity. His small prayers before cocktail hour were “merely one of his excruciatingly annoying habits.” 29. “Prayer is a means of getting rid of some of our own ignorance about ourselves, Father Snow had always said.” 30. Father Snow again says that he misses his lover, but the girls quip that Donny “was so typical,” and “had that high-water mark like on his teeth.” “The girls,” Williams writes, “found the ensuing awkward moment quite satisfying.” 31. The moment gets even more awkward as the sordid history of the girls’ parents is revealed -- a particular sin revealed, of course, by the mischievous girls. The word “repent” is spoken. 32. It is Father Snow who transcends the moment, and not more than a page after Williams describes him annoyed by the girls and making a martini “without ceremony,” since “there were simply some situations which did not allow for the sacrilization of the ordinary which he otherwise made every effort to observe.” 33. I trust a writer who speaks of God and faith tongue-in-cheek rather than tongue stuck-out. The latter takes itself far too seriously. 34. (Perhaps J.F. Powers is a better comparison for Williams than O’Connor. But Williams, in the end, is without equal.) 35. Ninety-Nine Stories of God is a very smart and timely book. I have read it twice now and taken photographs of single pages and recited them as prayers, because prayers should be strange, and they should often sting. 36. It captures the spirit of fine stories like “The Girls” but its method and purpose are different. Since the book announces itself as an anthology, a sequence of stories, we have hope for her chosen form, and the book does deliver. I could not have read a dozen of these from most writers. I would read a hundred more from Williams. Each story is short, prose-poetic but focused, and opens toward ambiguity. Titles appear at the end; I call them titles because they appear in the table of contents, but they are sometimes better imagined as responses to the stories. 37. Responses from the congregation? Maybe. 38. There are few things more Episcopalian than a well-timed smirk at hypocrisy. 39. Some standout tales from the collection include “Aubade,” “Wet,” “Moms,” “This Is Not a Maze,” “And You Are,” “Abandon All Hope,” “Shaken,” “Naked Mind,” and “Inoculum.” 40. “Inoculum” begins: “The Lord was in line at the pharmacy counter waiting to get His shingles shot.” 41. I recently wrote an essay for “The Sewanee Review” titled “Does Belief Matter in Fiction,” in which I argue that there are tangible and important differences in the fiction of practicing versus culturally Catholic writers. While Catholic fiction is a particular case for several reasons, we might apply that argument to various denominations and faith beliefs. On the one hand, I understand that it feels biographically slippery to conjecture the faith of a writer unless that faith is stated. Perhaps even if that faith is stated. Yet to not ask the question—to plead that we can’t tether biography to fiction, that we can’t wonder if a writer’s wonder about God is fair game -- feels like a conveniently secular critical escape. One that mistakes literature about God for devotional texts or tracts. 42. One that doesn’t account for writers like Ron Hansen, Flannery O’Connor, and Joy Williams. 43. I like that a story in this book is part of an instructional manual that includes specifications for a tarpaulin. 44. Joy Williams said she partially channeled Thomas Bernhard’s The Voice Imitator: 104 Stories when writing Ninety-Nine Stories of God. The collection was originally published through Byliner as an e-book, but Williams, who has no “TV or Internet or air-conditioning,” has “never even seen how [the book] appears to others. They are as vapor to me.” 45. In another story, the main character is part of a marathon reading of Dante’s Inferno that began on Holy Thursday and extends to Good Friday. 46. “He liked his slot . . . His was the third ring of the Seventh Circle, the ring of burning sand which torments those who were violent against God, Art, and Nature.” 47. After the reading, someone driving a BMW cuts through the church’s parking lot. 48. The character’s response: “Without reflection, he put out his hand and extended the middle finger.” 49. If a writer believes that we are surrounded by the ineffable, she will choose a net whose mesh is small enough to capture the ordinary. 50. “I think the writer has to be responsible to signs and dreams. Receptive and responsible. If you don’t do anything with it, you lose it. You stop getting those omens.” -- Joy Williams.
Out this week: Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams; Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan; Pond by Claire Louise-Bennett; Break in Case of Emergency by Jessica Winter; The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock; Miss Jane by Brad Watson; The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon; and The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson. For more on these and other new titles, go read our Great Second-Half 2016 Book Preview.
This year is already proving to be an excellent one for book lovers. Since our last preview, we’ve gotten new titles by Don DeLillo, Alexander Chee, Helen Oyeyemi, Louise Erdrich; acclaimed debut novels by Emma Cline, Garth Greenwell, and Yaa Gyasi; new poems by Dana Gioia; and new short story collections by the likes of Greg Jackson and Petina Gappah. We see no evidence the tide of great books is ebbing. This summer we’ve got new works by established authors Joy Williams, Jacqueline Woodson, Jay McInerney, as well as anticipated debuts from Nicole Dennis-Benn and Imbolo Mbue; in the fall, new novels by Colson Whitehead, Ann Patchett, and Jonathan Safran Foer on shelves; and, in the holiday season, books by Javier Marías, Michael Chabon, and Zadie Smith to add to gift lists. Next year, we’ll be seeing the first-ever novel (!) by none other than George Saunders, and new work from Kiese Laymon, Roxane Gay, and (maybe) Cormac McCarthy. We're especially excited about new offerings from Millions staffers Hannah Gersen, Sonya Chung, Edan Lepucki, and Mark O'Connell (check out next week's Non-Fiction Preview for the latter). While it’s true that no single list could ever have everything worth reading, we think this one -- at 9,000 words and 92 titles -- is the only 2016 second-half book preview you’ll need. Scroll down and get reading. July Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn: In a recent interview in Out magazine, Dennis-Benn described her debut novel as “a love letter to Jamaica -- my attempt to preserve her beauty by depicting her flaws.” Margot works the front desk at a high-end resort, where she has a side business trading sex for money to send her much younger sister, Thandi, to a Catholic school. When their village is threatened by plans for a new resort, Margot sees an opportunity to change her life. (Emily) Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers: The prolific writer has made his reputation on never picking a genre, from starting the satirical powerhouse McSweeney's to post-apocalyptic critiques on the tech world. But if there's one thing Eggers has become the master of, it's finding humor and hope in even the most tragic of family situations. In Eggers's seventh novel, when his protagonist, Josie, loses her job and partner, she escapes to Alaska with her two kids. What starts as an idyllic trip camping out of an RV dubbed Chateau turns into a harrowing personal journey as Josie confronts her regrets. It's Eggers's first foray into the road trip novel, but it's sure to have his signature sharp and empathetic voice. (Tess) Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra: The Chilean writer Zambra’s new book is: a.) a parody of that nation’s college-entrance Academic Aptitude Exam, b.) a parody of a parody of same, c.) an exercise in flouting literary conventions, d.) all of the above. The correct answer is d.) -- because this sly slender book, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, is divided into 90 multiple-choice questions suggesting that how we respond to a story depends on where the writer places narrative stress. The witty follow-up questions suggest that the true beauty of fiction is that it has no use for pat answers. For example: “What is the worst title for this story -- the one that would reach the widest possible audience?” (Bill) Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams: Williams is the sort of writer one “discovers” -- which is to say the first time you read her, you can’t believe you’ve never read her before; and you know you must read more. Ninety-Nine Stories of God is a “slim volume,” according to Kirkus, at the same time it lives up to its name: each of the very-short stories (yes, there are 99 of them) features God and/or the divine -- as idea, character, or presence. In the world of Joy Williams, we can expect to meet a God who is odd, whip-smart, exuberant, surprising, funny, sad, broken, perplexed, and mysterious. I look awfully forward. (Sonya) Home Field by Hannah Gersen: The debut novel from The Millions’s own Gersen has one of the best jacket copy taglines ever: “The heart of Friday Night Lights meets the emotional resonance and nostalgia of My So-Called Life”...I mean, right? Its story bones are equally striking: the town’s perfect couple -- high school football coach Dean and his beautiful sweetheart, Nicole -- become fully, painfully human when Nicole commits suicide. Dean and his three children, ages eight to 18, must now forge ahead while also grappling with the past that led to the tragedy. Set in rural Maryland, it’s a story, says Kirkus, built upon “meticulous attention to the details of grief,” the characters of which are “so full, so gently flawed, and so deeply human.” (Sonya) How to Set a Fire and Why by Jesse Ball: Jesse Ball’s last novel, A Cure for Suicide, wrestled with questions of memory’s permanence, existence, and beginning again -- all subjects that, according to The New York Times, “in the hands of a less skilled writer...could be mistaken for science fiction cliché.” Ball’s newest novel, his sixth, is something of a departure. How to Set a Fire and Why takes place in a normal-enough town peopled by characters who have names like Lucia and Hal. Don’t worry, though, Ball the fabulist/moralist is still very much himself; the young narrator muses on the nature of wealth and waste as she gleefully joins an Arsonist’s Club, “for people who are fed up with wealth and property, and want to burn everything down.” (Brian) Problems by Jade Sharma: Problems is the first print title from Emily Books, the subscription service that “publishes, publicizes, and celebrates the best work of transgressive writers of the past, present and future” and sends titles to readers each month. They’ll be publishing two original printed books a year in conjunction with Coffee House Press. Sharma’s debut is described as “Girls meets Trainspotting,” about a heroin addict struggling to keep her life together. Emily Books writes, “This book takes every tired trope about addiction and recovery, ‘likeable’ characters and redemption narratives, and blows them to pieces.” (Elizabeth) The Unseen World by Liz Moore: Ada is the daughter of a brilliant computer scientist, the creator of ELIXIR, a program designed to “acquire language the way that human does,” through immersion and formal teaching. Ada too is the subject of an experiment of sorts, from a young age “immersed in mathematics, neurology, physics, philosophy, computer science,” cryptology and, most important, the art of the gin cocktail by her polymath father. His death leaves Ada with a tantalizing puzzle to solve in this smart, riddling novel. (Matt) The Trap by Melanie Raabe: Translated from the German, the English version of this celebrated debut was snaffled up by Sony at the Frankfurt Book Fair and is now on its way to a big-screen debut as well. A thriller, The Trap describes a novelist attempting to find her sister’s killer using her novel-in-progress as bait (this always works). (Lydia) Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon: The Pushcart-winning author received a lot of praise for her debut, The Little Bride, and accolades are already flowing in for her latest, with J. Courtney Sullivan calling Lucy Pear, "a gorgeous and engrossing meditation on motherhood, womanhood, and the sacrifices we make for love." It opens with an unwed Jewish mother named Bea leaving her baby beneath a Massachusetts pear tree in 1917 to pursue her dreams of being a pianist. A decade later, a disenchanted Bea returns to find her daughter being taken care of by a strong Irish Catholic woman named Emma, and the two woman must grapple with what it means to raise a child in a rapidly changing post-war America in the middle of the Prohibition. With poetic prose but a larger understanding of the precarious world of 1920s New England, Solomon proves herself as one of the most striking novelists of the day. (Tess) Bad Faith by Theodore Wheeler: Kings of Broken Things, Wheeler’s debut novel about young immigrants set during the Omaha Race Riot of 1919, is coming in 2017 from Little A. The riot followed the horrific lynching of Will Brown. A legal reporter covering the Nebraska civil courts, Wheeler brings much authenticity to the tale. For now, readers can enjoy Bad Faith, his first story collection. (Nick R.) Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan: Described in promotional materials as both Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Emma set in Singapore, Tan’s first novel explores “the contentious gender politics and class tensions thrumming beneath the shiny exterior of Singapore’s glamorous nightclubs and busy streets.” It is also the first novel written entirely in “Singlish” (the local patois of Singapore) to be published in America. The long-time journalist -- Tan has been a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal, In Style, and The Baltimore Sun -- previously published a memoir called A Tiger in The Kitchen: A Memoir of Food & Family, which was praised as “a literary treat.” (Elizabeth) Pond by Claire Louise-Bennett: Published in Ireland last year, a linked series of vignettes and meditations by a hermitess. The Guardian called it a “stunning debut;” The Awl’s Alex Balk offers this rare encomium: “the level of self-importance the book attaches to itself is so low that you are never even once tempted to make the 'jerking off' motion that seems to be the only reasonable response to most of the novels being published today.” (Lydia) An Innocent Fashion by R.J. Hernández: Ethan St. James was born Elián San Jamar, the son of multiracial, working-class parents in Texas. At Yale, he befriends two wealthy classmates, who help him reinvent himself as he moves to New York to work for the fashion magazine Régine. But once he’s there, things begin to crumble. It’s described as “the saga of a true millennial -- naïve, idealistic, struggling with his identity and sexuality,” and an early review says that Hernández writes in “a fervently literary style that flirts openly with the traditions of Salinger, Plath, and Fitzgerald.” (Elizabeth) Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard: Following up The Fates Will Find Their Way and Reunion, two-time Year in Reading alum Pittard hits us with a “modern gothic” novel about a faltering marriage and an ill-fated road trip. (Lydia) My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal: A former magistrate who has spent years doing family law and social work in England, de Waal publishes her debut novel at the respectable age of 55, bringing experiences from a long career working with adoption services to a novel about a mixed family navigating the foster care system in the 1980s. (Lydia) Night of the Animals by Bill Broun: A strangely prophetic novel set in London, Night of the Animals takes place in a very near, very grim future -- a class-divided surveillance state that looks a little too much like our own. A homeless drug addict named Cuthbert hears the voices of animals who convince him to liberate them from the London Zoo, joining with a rag-tag group of supporters to usher in a sort of momentary peaceable kingdom in dystopian London. The book is difficult to describe and difficult to put down. (Lydia) Break in Case of Emergency by Jessica Winter: The fiction debut of Slate editor Winter, a seriocomic look at a woman trying to do what used to be called “having it all,” dealing with a job that sucks -- a send-up of a celebrity non-profit -- and uncooperative fertility. Publisher’s Weekly called it a “biting lampoon of workplace politics and a heartfelt search for meaning in modern life.” (Lydia) August Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: This is one of those debuts that comes freighted with hype, expectation, and the poisonous envy of writers who didn’t receive seven-figure advances, but sometimes hype is justified: Kirkus, in a starred review, called this novel “a special book.” Mbue's debut, which is set in New York City at the outset of the economic collapse, concerns a husband and wife from Cameroon, Jende and Nemi, and their increasingly complex relationship with their employers, a Lehman Brothers executive and his fragile wife. (Emily) The Nix by Nathan Hill: Eccentricity, breadth, and length are three adjectives that often earn writers comparisons to Thomas Pynchon. Hill tackles politics more headlong than Pynchon in this well-timed release. The writing life of college professor Samuel Andresen-Andersen is stalled. His publisher doesn’t want his new book, but he’s in for a surprise: he sees his long-estranged mother on the news after she throws rocks at a right-wing demagogue presidential candidate. The candidate holds press conferences at his ranch and “perfected a sort of preacher-slash-cowboy pathos and an anti-elitist populism” and his candidacy is an unlikely reason for son and mother to seek reunion. (Nick R.) Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson: Although the National Book Award winner's Brown Girl Dreaming was a young adult book, everyone flocked to lyrical writing that honed in on what it means to be a black girl in America. Now Woodson has written her first adult novel in two decades, a coming-of-age tale set in 1970s Bushwick, where four girls discover the boundaries of their friendship when faced with the dark realities of growing up. As Tracy K. Smith lauds, "Another Brooklyn is heartbreaking and restorative, a gorgeous and generous paean to all we must leave behind on the path to becoming ourselves." (Tess) Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney: This is the third of three McInerney novels following the lives of New York book editor Russell Calloway and his wife Corinne. The first Calloway book, Brightness Falls (1992), set during leveraged buyout craze of the late-1980s, is arguably McInerney’s last truly good novel, while the second, The Good Life (2006), set on and around 9/11, is pretty inarguably a sentimental mess. This new volume, set in 2008 with the financial system in crisis and the country about to elect its first black president, follows a now-familiar pattern of asking how world-historical events will affect the marriage of McInerney’s favorite cosseted and angst-ridden New Yorkers. (Michael) Carousel Court by Joe McGinniss, Jr.: Each unhappy mortgage is unhappy in its own way. A man and his beautiful wife (“a face that deserves granite countertops and recessed lighting”) try to flip a house in a California development at the wrong time. Now “it’s underwater, sinking fast, has...them by the ankles, and isn’t letting go.” This is the bleak but gripping setup for McGinniss’s second novel (coming 10 years after The Delivery Man), a portrait of a marriage as volatile as the economy. (Matt) Shining Sea by Anne Korkeakivi: Korkeakivi’s second novel -- her first was 2012’s An Unexpected Guest -- opens with the death of a 43-year-old WWII veteran, and follows the lives of his widow and children in the years and decades that follow. A meditation on family, the long shadow of war over generations, and myth-making. (Emily) How I Became a North Korean by Krys Lee: Lee’s debut novel (following her praised short story collection, Drifting House), is set in and adjacent to North Korea. The novel follows three characters who meet across the border in China: two North Koreans, one from a prominent and privileged family, the other raised in poverty, and a Chinese-American teen who is an outcast at school. Together the three struggle to survive in, in the publisher’s words, “one of the least-known and most threatening environments in the world.” (Elizabeth) Moonstone by Sjón: “One thing I will not do is write a thick book,” asserts Icelandic author Sjón, who seems to have done just about everything else but, including writing librettos and penning lyrics with Lars von Trier for Björk’s Dancer in the Dark soundtrack. Sjón’s novels often dwell in mytho-poetic realms, but Moonstone, his fourth, is set firmly in recent history: 1918 Reykjavik, a city newly awash with foreign influence: cinema, the Spanish flu, the threat of WWI. Moonstone deals with ideas of isolation versus openness both nationally and on a personal scale, as Máni navigates his then-taboo desire for men, his cinematic fantasies, the spreading contagion, and the dangers imposed. (Anne) Insurrections by Rion Amilcar Scott: The fictional town of Cross River, Md., founded after our nation's only successful slave revolt, serves as the setting for the 13 stories in Scott's latest collection. Here, readers track the daily struggles of ordinary residents trying to get ahead -- or just to get by. By turns heartbreaking, darkly funny, and overall compelling, Insurrections delivers a panorama of modern life within a close-knit community, and the way the present day can be influenced by past histories, past generations. Scott, a lecturer at Bowie State, is a writer you should be reading, and this book serves as a nice entry point for first-timers. Meanwhile, longtime fans who follow the author on Twitter are in no way surprised to hear Scott’s writing described as "intense and unapologetically current" in the pre-press copy. (Nick M.) White Nights in Split Town City by Annie DeWitt: DeWitt’s first “slender storm of a novel” White Nights in Split Town City lands on the scene with a fury worthy of a cowboy western. To wit, Ben Marcus calls the book a “bold word-drunk novel,” that deals a good dose of swagger, seduction, and “muscular” prose (as corroborated by Tin House’s Open Bar). It’s a coming-of-age tale where a young girl’s mother leaves, her home life disintegrates, and she and her friend build a fort from which they can survey the rumors of the town. Laura van den Berg calls it a “ferocious tumble of a book” that asserts DeWitt as a “daring and spectacular new talent.” (Anne) A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi: Hashimi, part-time pediatrician and part-time novelist (The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, When the Moon Is Low), offers readers an emotional heavyweight in her latest story, A House Without Windows. An Afghan woman named Zeba’s life changes when her husband of 20 years, Kamal, is murdered in their home. Her village and her in-laws turn against her, accusing her of the crime. Overcome with shock, she cannot remember her whereabouts when her husband was killed, and the police imprison her. Both the audience and Zeba’s community must discover who she is. (Cara) Still Here by Lara Vapnyar: In her new novel, Russian-born writer Vapnyar dissects the lives of four Russian émigrés in New York City as they tussle with love, tumult, and the absurdities of our digital age. Each has technology-based reasons for being disappointed with the person they’ve become. One of the four, Sergey, seeks to turn this shared disappointment upside down by developing an app called Virtual Grave, designed to preserve a person’s online presence after death, a sort of digitized cryogenics. It could make a fortune, but is there anyone -- other than Ted Williams or an inventive novelist – who could seriously believe that Virtual Grave is a good idea? (Bill) Divorce Is in the Air by Gonzalo Torné: For his third novel (and first published in the U.S.), Spanish writer Torné gives us a man we can love to hate. Joan-Marc is out of work and alone as he sets out to make things right by coming clean with his estranged second wife, giving her a detailed account of his misspent life -- from childhood scenes to early sexual encounters, his father’s suicide and his mother’s mental illness, and on through a life full of appetites indulged, women mistreated, and the many ways his first wife ruined him. The novel, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, becomes an unapologetic exploration of memory, nostalgia, and how love ends. (Bill) September The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: In 1998, Whitehead appeared out of nowhere with The Intuitionist, a brilliant and deliciously strange racial allegory about, of all things, elevator repair. Since then, he’s written about junketing journalists, poker, rich black kids in the Hamptons, and flesh-eating zombies, but he’s struggled to tap the winning mix of sharp social satire and emotional acuity he achieved in his first novel. Early word is that he has recaptured that elusive magic in The Underground Railroad, in which the Underground Railroad slaves used to escape is not a metaphor, but a secret network of actual tracks and stations under the Southern landscape. (Michael) Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer: It’s tempting to play armchair psychiatrist with the fact that it’s taken JSF 11 years to produce his third novel. His first two -- both emotional, brilliant, and, I have to say it, quirky -- established him as a literary wunderkind that some loved, and others loved to hate. (I love him, FWIW.) Here I Am follows five members of a nuclear family through four weeks of personal and political crisis in Washington D.C. At 600 pages, and noticeably divested of a cutesy McSweeney’s-era title, this just may be the beginning of second, more mature phase of a great writer’s career. (Janet) Nutshell by Ian McEwan: "Love and betrayal, life and death come together in the most unexpected ways," says Michal Shavit, publisher of the Booker Prize-winner's new novel. It's an apt description for much of his work and McEwan is at his best when combining elegant, suspenseful prose with surprising twists, though this novel is set apart by perspective. Trudy has betrayed her husband, John, and is hatching a plan with his brother. There is a witness to a wife's betrayal, the nine-month-old baby in Trudy's womb. As McEwan puts it, he was inspired to write by, "the possibilities of an articulate, thoughtful presence with a limited but interesting perspective." (Claire) Jerusalem by Alan Moore: For anyone who fears that Watchmen and V for Vendetta writer Moore is becoming one of his own obsessed, isolated characters -- lately more known for withdrawing from public life and disavowing comic books than his actual work -- Jerusalem is unlikely to reassure. The novel is a 1,280-page mythology in which, in its publisher’s words, “a different kind of human time is happening, a soiled simultaneity that does not differentiate between the petrol-colored puddles and the fractured dreams of those who navigate them.” Also: it features “an infant choking on a cough drop for eleven chapters.” Something for everyone! (Jacob) Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: A new novel by the bestselling author of gems like Bel Canto and State of Wonder is certainly a noteworthy publishing event. This time, Patchett, who also owns Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn., takes on a more personal subject, mapping multiple generations of a family broken up by divorce and patched together, in new forms, by remarriage. Commonwealth begins in the 1960s, in California, and moves to Virginia and beyond, spanning many decades. Publishers Weekly gives it a starred review, remarking, “Patchett elegantly manages a varied cast of characters as alliances and animosities ebb and flow, cross-country and over time.” (Edan) Deceit and Other Possibilities by Vanessa Hua: A one-time staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle who filed stories from around the world while winning prizes for her fiction (including The Atlantic’s student fiction prize), Hua makes her publishing debut with this collection of short stories. Featuring characters ranging from a Hong Kong movie star fleeing scandal to a Korean-American pastor who isn’t all he seems, these 10 stories follow immigrants to a new America who straddle the uncomfortable line between past and present, allegiances old and new. (Kaulie) The Last Wolf & Herman by László Krasznahorkai: To get a sense of what Booker Prize-winning author Krasznahorkai is all about, all you need to do is look at the hero image his publishers are using on his author page. Now consider the fact that The Last Wolf & Herman, his latest short fictions to be translated into English, is being described by that same publisher as “maddeningly complex.” The former, about a bar patron recounting his life story, is written as a single, incredibly long sentence. The latter is a two-part novella about a game warden tasked with clearing “noxious beasts” from a forest -- a forest frequented by “hyper-sexualized aristocratic officers.” All hope abandon ye who enter here. Beach readers beware; gloom lies ahead. (Nick M.) Intimations by Alexandra Kleeman: Kleeman’s first novel, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, earned her comparisons to such postmodern paranoiacs as Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon. Her second book, Intimations, is a collection of 12 stories sure to please any reader who reveled in the heady strangeness of her novel. These stories examine the course life in stages, from the initial shock of birth into a pre-formed world on through to the existential confusion of the life in the middle and ending with the hesitant resignation of a death that we barely understand. With this collection, Kleeman continues to establish herself as one of the most brilliant chroniclers of our 21st-century anxieties. (Brian) Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch: The author of the international bestseller The Dinner, will publish Dear Mr. M -- his eighth novel to date, but just the third to be translated into English. A writer, M, has had much critical success, but only one bestseller, and his career seems to be fading. When a mysterious letter writer moves into the apartment below, he seems to be stalking M. Through shifting perspectives, we slowly learn how a troubled teacher, a pair of young lovers, their classmates, and M himself are intertwined. With a classic whodunit as its spine, the novel is elevated by Koch's elegant handling of structure, willingness to cross-examine the Dutch liberal sensibility, and skewering of the writer's life. This is a page turner with a smart head on its shoulders and a mouth that's willing to ask uncomfortable questions. (Claire) The Wonder by Emma Donoghue: Set in 1850s rural Ireland, The Wonder tells the story of Anna, a girl who claims to have stopped eating, and Lib, a nurse who must determine whether or not Anna is a fraud. Having sold over two million copies, Donoghue is known for her bestselling novel, Room, which she also adapted for the screen to critical acclaim. But as a read of her previous work, and her recent novel Frog Music shows, she is also well versed in historical fiction. The Wonder brings together the best of all, combining a gracefully tense, young voice with a richly detailed historical setting. (Claire) Black Wave by Michelle Tea: Expanding her diverse body of work -- including five memoirs, a young adult fantasy series, and a novel -- Tea now offers her audience a “dystopic memoir-fiction hybrid.” Black Wave follows Tea’s 1999 trek from San Francisco to L.A. in what Kirkus calls “a biting, sagacious, and delightfully dark metaliterary novel about finding your way in a world on fire.” The piece has received rave reviews from the likes of Eileen Myles and Maggie Nelson, which promise something for readers to look forward to this September. (Cara) The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano: Modiano, a Nobel Prize winner, used a setting that shows up often in his work to give atmosphere to his 2012 novel L'herbe du nuit (appearing in English for the first time as The Black Notebook): the underdeveloped, unkempt suburbs of Paris in the 1960s. The book follows a man named Jean as he begins an affair with Dannie, a woman who may or may not be implicated in a local murder. As their relationship progresses, Jean begins to keep a diary, which he then uses decades later in a quest to piece together her story. (Thom) Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy: Released last year in the U.K., Sleeping on Jupiter will hit the shelves in the U.S. this October. Longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and winner of the 2016 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, Roy’s latest novel follows the story of Nomita, a filmmaker’s assistant who experiences great trauma as young girl. When Nomita returns to her temple town, Jarmuli, after growing up in Norway, she finds that Jarmuli has “a long, dark past that transforms all who encounter it.” (Cara) Reputations by Juan Gabriel Vásquez: Discussing The Sound of Things Falling, his atmospheric meditation on violence and trauma, with The Washington Post several years back, the Columbian writer Vásquez described turning away from Gabriel García Márquez and toward Joseph Conrad, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Philip Roth and Don DeLillo: “All these people do what I like to do, which is try to explore the crossroads between the public world -- history and politics -- and the private individual.” That exploration continues in Reputations, which features an influential cartoonist reassessing his life and work as a political scourge. (Matt) Umami by Laia Jufresa: A shared courtyard between five homes in Mexico City is frequently visited by a 12-year-old girl, Ana. In the summer, she passes time reading mystery novels, trying to forget the mysterious death of her sister several years earlier. As it turns out, Ana’s not the only neighbor haunted by the past. In Umami, Jufresa, an extremely talented young writer, deploys multiple narrators, giving each a chance to recount their personal histories, and the questions they’re still asking. Panoramic, affecting, and funny, these narratives entwine to weave a unique portrait of present-day Mexico. (Nick M.) The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies: Davies, the author of The Welsh Girl and a professor at University of Michigan’s esteemed MFA program, returns with a big book about American history seen through the lens of four stories about Chinese Americans. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “a brilliant, absorbing masterpiece,” and said it can be read as four novellas: the first is about a 19th-century organizer of railroad workers, for instance, and the last is about a modern-day writer going to China with his white wife to adopt a child. Celeste Ng says, "Panoramic in scope yet intimate in detail, The Fortunes might be the most honest, unflinching, cathartically biting novel I've read about the Chinese American experience. It asks the big questions about identity and history that every American needs to ask in the 21st century.” (Edan) Loner by Teddy Wayne: David Federman, a nebbishy kid from the New Jersey suburbs, gets into Harvard where he meets a beautiful, glamorous girl from New York City and falls in love. What could go wrong? Quite a bit, apparently. Wayne, himself a Harvardian, scored a success channeling his inner Justin Bieber in his 2013 novel The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. This book, too, has its ripped-from-the-headlines plot elements, which caused an early reviewer at Kirkus to call Loner “a startlingly sharp study of not just collegiate culture, but of social forces at large.” (Michael) Little Nothing by Marisa Silver: From its description, Little Nothing sounds like a departure for Silver, the author of the novels The God of War and Mary Coin. The book, which takes place at the turn of the 20th century in an unnamed country, centers on a girl named Pavla, a dwarf who is rejected by her family. Silver also weaves in the story of Danilo, a young man in love with Pavla. According to the jacket copy, Little Nothing is, “Part allegory about the shifting nature of being, part subversive fairy tale of love in all its uncanny guise.” To whet your appetite, read Silver’s short story “Creatures” from this 2012 issue of The New Yorker, or check out my Millions interview with her about Mary Coin. (Edan) After Disasters by Viet Dinh: Four protagonists, one natural disaster: Ted and Piotr are disaster relief workers, Andy is a firefighter, and Dev is a doctor -- all of them do-gooders navigating the after-effects of a major earthquake in India. Their journeys begin as outward ones -- saving others in a ravaged and dangerous place -- but inevitably become internal and self-transforming more than anything. Dinh’s stories have been widely published, and he’s won an O. Henry Prize; his novel debut marks, according to Amber Dermont, “the debut of a brilliant career.” (Sonya) The Revolutionaries Try Again by Mauro Javier Cardenas: Cardenas’s first novel The Revolutionaries Try Again has the trappings of a ravishing debut: smart blurbs, a brilliant cover, a modernist narrative set amongst political turmoil in South America, and a flurry of pre-pub excitement on Twitter. Trappings don’t always deliver, but further research confirms Cardenas’s novel promises to deliver. Having garnered comparisons to works by Roberto Bolaño and Julio Cortázar, The Revolutionaries Try Again has been called “fiercely subversive” while pulling off feats of “double-black-diamond high modernism.” (Anne) Perfume River by Robert Olen Butler: Butler, who won the Pulitzer in 1993, is still most well-known for the book that won him the prize, the Vietnam War-inspired A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. In his latest, a novel, he goes back to that collection's fertile territory, exploring the relationship of a couple -- both tenured professors at Florida State -- who can trace their history to the days of anti-war protests. When the husband, Robert, finds out that his father is dying, he gets a chance to confront the mistakes of his past. (Thom) The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride: McBride’s first novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, unleashed a torrent of language and transgression in the mode of high modernism -- think William Faulkner, think James Joyce, think Samuel Beckett. James Wood described its prose as a “visceral throb” whose “sentences run meanings together to produce a kind of compression in which words...seem to want to merge with one another.” McBride’s follow-up, The Lesser Bohemians, is similar in voice, though softer, more playful, “an evolution,” according to McBride. Again the novel concerns a young woman, an actress who moves to London to launch her career, and who falls in with an older, troubled actor. (Anne) Every Kind of Wanting by Gina Frangello: Each unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way, but the families in Frangello’s latest novel are truly in a category all their own. Every Kind of Wanting maps the intersection of four Chicago couples as they fall into an impressively ambitious fertility scheme in the hopes of raising a “community baby.” But first there are family secrets to reveal, abusive pasts to decipher, and dangerous decisions to make. If it sounds complicated, well, it is, but behind all the potential melodrama is a story that takes a serious look at race, class, sexuality, and loyalty -- in short, at the new American family. (Kaulie) October A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem: Lethem’s first novel since 2013’s Dissident Gardens has the everything-in-the-stewpot quality that his readers have come to expect: the plot follows a telepathic backgammon hustler through various international intrigues before forcing him to confront a deadly tumor -- as well as his patchouli-scented Berkeley past. Though it remains to be seen if A Gambler’s Anatomy can hit the emotional heights of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, it will be, if nothing else, unmistakably Lethem. (Jacob) The Mothers by Brit Bennett: The Mothers begins when a grief-stricken 17-year-old girl becomes pregnant with the local pastor’s son, and shows how their ensuing decisions affect the life of a tight-knit black community in Southern California for years to come. The church’s devoted matriarchs -- “the mothers” -- act as a Greek chorus to this story of friendship, secrets, guilt, and hope. (Janet) Nicotine by Nell Zink: Zink now enters the post-New Yorker profile, post-Jonathan-Franzen-pen-pal phase of her career with Nicotine, a novel that seems as idiosyncratic and -- the term has probably already been coined -- Zinkian as Mislaid and The Wallcreeper. Nicotine follows the struggle between the ordinary Penny Baker and her aging hippie parents -- a family drama that crescendos when Penny inherits her father’s squatter-infested childhood home and must choose “between her old family and her new one.” Few writers have experienced Zink’s remarkable arc, and by all appearances, Nicotine seems unlikely to slow her winning streak. (Jacob) The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine: I love a novel the plot of which dares to take place over the course of one night: in The Angel of History, it’s the height of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, and Yemeni-born poet Jacob, who is gay, sits in the waiting room of a psych clinic in San Francisco. He waits actively, as they say -- recalling his varied past in Cairo, Beirut, Sana’a, and Stockholm. Other present-time characters include Satan and Death, and herein perhaps lies what Michael Chabon described as Alameddine’s “daring” sensibility...“not in the cheap sense of lurid or racy, but as a surgeon, a philosopher, an explorer, or a dancer.” (Sonya) The Loved Ones by Sonya Chung: Her second novel, this ambitious story is a multigenerational saga about family, race, difference, and what it means to be a lost child in a big world. Charles Lee, the African-American patriarch of a biracial family, searches for meaning after a fatherless childhood. His connection with a caregiver, Hannah, uncovers her Korean immigrant family's past flight from tradition and war. Chung is a staff writer at The Millions and founding editor of Bloom, and her work has appeared in Tin House, The Threepenny Review, and BOMB. Early praise from Nayomi Munaweera compares Chung’s prose to Elena Ferrante or Clarice Lispector, “elegant, sparse, and heartbreaking.” (Claire) The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky: Dermansky’s Bad Marie featured an ex-con nanny obsessed with her employer and with a tendency to tipple on the job. The protagonist of her latest is a less colorful type: a struggling novelist suffocated by her husband, also a struggling novelist. When her former boss dies in a crash, Leah is willed the red sports car in which her nurturing friend met her end: “I knew when I bought that car that I might die in it. I have never really loved anything as much as that red car.” What is the idling heroine to make of the inheritance and the ambiguous message it contains? (Matt) Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood: Margaret Atwood joins authors Jeanette Winterson, Howard Jacobson, and Anne Tyler in the Hogarth Shakespeare series -- crafting modern spins on William Shakespeare’s classics. Hag-Seed, a prose adaptation of The Tempest, follows the story of Felix, a stage director who puts on a production of The Tempest in a prison. If Felix finds success in his show, he will get his job back as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Festival. The Tempest is one of Atwood’s favorites (and mine, too), and Hag-Seed should be an exciting addition to the Hogarth Shakespeare series. (Cara) The Mortifications by Derek Palacio: Palacio’s debut novel follows his excellent, tense novella, How to Shake the Other Man. Palacio shifts from boxing and New York City to the aftermath of the Mariel boatlift, set in Miami and Hartford, Conn. Here Palacio’s examination of the Cuban immigrant experience and family strife gets full breadth in a work reminiscent of H.G. Carrillo’s Loosing My Espanish. (Nick R.) The Fall Guy by James Lasdun: Lasdun is a writer’s writer (James Wood called him “one of the secret gardens of English writing;” Porochista Khakpour called him “one of those remarkably flexible little-bit-of-everything renaissance men of letters”). Now, the British writer adds to his published novels, stories, poems, travelogue, memoir, and film (!) with a new novel, a spicy thriller about a troubled houseguest at a married couple’s country home. (Lydia) The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin: It’s not without good reason that Jin has won practically every literary prize the United States has to offer, despite his being a non-native English speaker -- he is something of a technical wizard who, according to the novelist Gish Jen, “has chosen mastery over genius.” Steeped in the terse, exact prose tradition of such writers as Nikolai Gogol and Leo Tolstoy, Jin’s work is immediately recognizable. His newest novel, The Boat Rocker, follows in the same vein. It finds Chinese expatriate Feng Danlin, a fiercely principled reporter whose exposés of governmental corruption have made him well-known in certain circles, wrestling with his newest assignment: an investigation into the affairs of his ex-wife, an unscrupulous novelist, and unwitting pawn of the Chinese government. (Brian) Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple: Semple, formerly a writer for Arrested Development and Mad About You, broke into the less glamorous, less lucrative literary world with 2013’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (her second novel), which this reviewer called “funny.” In this novel she sets her bittersweet, hilarious, perceptive gaze on Eleanor, a woman who vows that for just one day she will be the ideal wife, mother, and career woman she’s always known she could be. And it goes great! Just kidding. (Janet) No Knives in the Kitchens of This City by Khaled Khalifa: This novel, Khalifa’s fourth, illuminates the prelude to Syria’s civil war, and humanizes a conflict too often met with an international shrug. Tracking a single family’s journey from the 1960s through the present day, No Knives in the Kitchens of This City closely examines the myriad traumas -- both instantaneous and slow-burning -- accompanying a society’s collapse. As of this year, the U.N. Refugee Agency estimates there to be 65.3 million refugees or internally displaced persons around the world, and more than 4.9 million of those are Syrian. For those hoping to understand how this came to pass, Khalifa’s book should be required reading. (Nick M.) Mister Monkey by Francine Prose: Widely known and respected for her best-selling fiction, Prose has had novels adapted for the stage and the screen. It’s impossible to say (but fun to imagine) that these experiences informed her latest novel, Mister Monkey, about an off-off-off-off Broadway children’s play in crisis. Told from the perspective of the actress who plays the monkey’s lawyer, the adolescent who plays the monkey himself, and a variety of others attached to the production in one way or another, this novel promises to be madcap and profound in equal measure. (Kaulie) The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa: This debut novel, set in the 1930s, follows a young Jewish family as it tries to flee Germany for Cuba. When they manage to get a place on the ocean liner St. Louis, the Rosenthals prepare themselves for a comfortable life in the New World, but then word comes in of a change to Cuba's immigration policy. The passengers, who are now a liability, get their visas revoked by the government, which forces the Rosenthals to quickly abandon ship. For those of you who thought the boat's name sounded familiar, it's based on a real-life tragedy. (Thom) The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke: A decade ago, The Guardian described Lianke as “one of China's greatest living authors and fiercest satirists.” His most recent novel, The Four Books, was shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker International Prize. The Explosion Chronicles was first published in 2013, and will be published in translation (by Duke professor Carlos Rojas) this fall. The novel centers on a town’s “excessive” expansion from small village to an “urban superpower,” with a focus on members of the town’s three major families. (Elizabeth) The Trespasser by Tana French: In her five previous novels about the squabbling detectives of the Dublin Murder Squad, French has classed up the old-school police procedural with smart, lush prose and a willingness to explore the darkest recesses of her characters’ emotional lives. In The Trespasser, tough-minded detective Antoinette Conway battles scabrous office politics as she tries to close the case of a beautiful young woman murdered as she sat down to a table set for a romantic dinner. On Goodreads, the Tanamaniacs are doing backflips for French’s latest venture into murder Dublin-style. (Michael) The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang: Entertainment Weekly has already expressed excitement about former journalist Chang’s novel, calling it “uproarious,” and in her blurb, Jami Attenberg deemed The Wangs vs. the World her “favorite debut of the year.” Charles Wang, patriarch and business man, has lost his money in the financial crisis and wants to return to China to reclaim family land. Before that, he takes his adult son and daughter and their stepmother on a journey across America to his eldest daughter’s upstate New York hideout. Charles Yu says the book is, “Funny, brash, honest, full of wit and heart and smarts,” and Library Journal named it one of the fall’s 5 Big Debuts. (Edan) Martutene by Ramón Saizarbitoria: A new English translation of a work that the journal El Cultural has suggested “could well be considered the highest summit of Basque-language novels.” The novel follows the interlinked lives of a group of friends in the contemporary Basque country, and the young American sociologist who’s recently arrived in their midst. (Emily) Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar: Jarrar, whose novel A Map of Home won a Hopwood Award in 2008, comes out with her first collection of short stories old and new. In the title story (originally published in Guernica in 2010), a woman whose father has recently died goes to Cairo to scatter his ashes. In accompanying stories, we meet an ibex-human hybrid named Zelwa, as well as an Egyptian feminist and the women of a matriarchal society. In keeping with the collection's broad focus on "accidental transients," most of the stories take place all over the world. (Thom) The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle: In 1994, a group of eight scientists move into EC2, a bio-dome-like enclosure meant to serve as a prototype for a space colony. Not much time passes before things begin to go wrong, which forces the crew to ask themselves a difficult, all-important question -- can they really survive without help from the outside world? Part environmental allegory, part thriller, The Terranauts reinforces Boyle's reputation for tight plotlines, bringing his talents to bear on the existential problem of climate change. For those who are counting, this is the author's 16th (!) novel. (Thom) November Swing Time by Zadie Smith: The Orange Prize-winning author of White Teeth and On Beauty returns with a masterful new novel. Set in North West London and West Africa, the book is about two girls who dream of being dancers, the meaning of talent, and blackness. (Bruna) Moonglow by Michael Chabon: We've all had that relative who spills their secrets on their deathbed, yet most of us don't think to write them down. Chabon was 26 years old, already author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, when he went to see his grandfather for the last time only to hear the dying man reveal buried family stories. Twenty-six years later and the Pulitzer Prize winner's eighth novel is inspired by his grandfather's revelations. A nearly 500-page epic, Moonglow explores the war, sex, and technology of mid-century America in all its glory and folly. It's simultaneously Chabon's most imaginative and personal work to date. (Tess) Fish in Exile by Vi Khi Nao: A staggering tale of the death of a child, this novel is a poetic meditation on loss, the fluidity of boundaries, and feeling like a fish out of water. Viet Thanh Nguyen has described it as a “jagged and unforgettable work [that] takes on a domestic story of losing one’s children and elevates it to Greek tragedy.” (Bruna) Virgin and Other Stories by April Ayers Lawson: Lawson’s magazine debut was in the Paris Review with the title story of the collection. Other stories like “Three Friends in a Hammock” have appeared in the Oxford American. Fans of Jamie Quatro’s I Want to Show You More will be drawn to Lawson’s lyric, expansive dramatizations of Southern evangelical Christians, as she straddles the intersection of sexuality and faith. Her sentences, so sharp, are meant to linger: “The problem with marrying a virgin, he realized now, was that you were marrying a girl who would become a woman only after the marriage.” (Nick R.) Valiant Gentleman by Sabina Murray: PEN/Faulkner Award-winner (The Caprices) Murray returns with her latest novel Valiant Gentlemen. Murray’s first novel, Slow Burn, was published when she was just 20 years old. Currently the chair of the creative writing department at UMass Amherst, Murray has also received fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her sixth book (seventh, including her screenplay), Valiant Gentlemen follows a friendship across four decades and four continents. Alexander Chee writes, "This novel is made out of history but is every bit a modern marvel." (Cara) Collected Stories by E.L. Doctorow: Written between the 1960s to the early years of this century, the 15 stories in this collection were selected, revised, and placed in order by the masterly Doctorow shortly before he died in 2015 at age 84. The stories feature a mother whose plan for financial independence might include murder; a teenager who escapes home for Hollywood; a man who starts a cult using subterfuge and seduction; and the denizens of the underbelly of 1870s New York City, which grew into the novel The Waterworks. They are the geniuses, mystics, and charlatans who offer both false hope and glimpses of Doctorow’s abiding subject, that untouchable myth known as the American dream. (Bill) Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías: Marías, one of Spain’s contemporary greats, is nothing if not prolific. In this, his 14th novel, personal assistant Juan de Vere watches helplessly as his life becomes tangled in the affairs of his boss, a producer of B-movies and general sleaze. Set in a 1980’s Madrid in the throes of the post-Francisco Franco hedonism of La Movida, a period in which social conservatism began to crumble in the face of a wave of creativity and experiment, the novel calls to mind Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories and the paranoid decadence of Weimar Germany. Spying and the intersection of the domestic with the historical/political isn’t new territory for Marías, and fans of of his earlier work will be as pleased as Hari Kunzru at The Guardian, who called Thus Bad Begins a “demonstration of what fiction at its best can achieve.” (Brian) December Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins: Collins is described as “a brilliant yet little known African American artist and filmmaker -- a contemporary of revered writers including Toni Cade Bambara, Laurie Colwin, Ann Beattie, Amy Hempel, and Grace Paley.” The stories in this collection, which center on race in the '60s, explore the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in ways that “masterfully blend the quotidian and the profound.” (Elizabeth) The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma by Ratika Kapur: Kapur’s first novel, Overwinter, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize. This, her second, chronicles a changing India in which the titular Mrs. Sharma, a traditional wife and mother living in Delhi, has a conversation with a stranger that will shift her worldview. Described as a “sharp-eyed examination of the clashing of tradition and modernity,” Asian and European critics have described it as quietly powerful. The writer Mohammed Hanif wrote that it “really gets under your skin, a devastating little book.” (Elizabeth) And Beyond The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy: Recent reports of the author’s death have been greatly exaggerated, but unfortunately reports of delays for his forthcoming science fiction book have not. Longtime fans will need to wait even longer than they’d initially suspected, as The Passenger’s release date was bumped way past August 2016 -- as reported by Newsweek in 2015 -- and now looks more like December 2017. (Nick M.) Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: For Saunders fans, the prospect of a full-length novel from the short-story master has been something to speculate upon, if not actually expect. Yet Lincoln in the Bardo is a full 368-page blast of Saunders -- dealing in the 1862 death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, the escalating Civil War, and, of course, Buddhist philosophy. Saunders has compared the process of writing longer fiction to “building custom yurts and then somebody commissioned a mansion” -- and Saunders’s first novel is unlikely to resemble any other mansion on the block. (Jacob) And So On by Kiese Laymon: Laymon is a Mississippi-born writer who has contributed to Esquire, ESPN, the Oxford American, Guernica, and writes a column for The Guardian. His first novel, Long Division, makes a lot of those “best books you’ve never heard of” lists, so feel free to prove them wrong by reading it right now. What we know about his second novel is that he said it’s “going to shock folks hopefully. Playing with comedy, Afro-futurist shit and horror.” (Janet) Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: If this were Twitter, I’d use the little siren emoji and the words ALERT: NEW ROXANE GAY BOOK. Her new story collection was recently announced (along with an announcement about the delay on the memoir Hunger, which was slated to be her next title and will now be published after this one). The collection’s product description offers up comparisons to Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July, with stories of “privilege and poverty,” from sisters who were abducted together as children, to a black engineer’s alienation upon moving to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to a wealthy Florida subdivision “where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other.” (Elizabeth) Transit by Rachel Cusk: In this second novel of the trilogy that began with Outline, a woman and her two sons move to London in search of a new reality. Taut and lucid, the book delves into the anxieties of responsibility, childhood, and fate. “There is nothing blurry or muted about Cusk's literary vision or her prose,” enthuses Heidi Julavits. (Bruna) Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh: This first collection of stories from Moshfegh, author of the noir novel Eileen, centers around unsteady characters who yearn for things they cannot have. Jeffrey Eugenides offers high praise: "What distinguishes Moshfegh’s writing is that unnamable quality that makes a new writer's voice, against all odds and the deadening surround of lyrical postures, sound unique." You can read her stories in The New Yorker and the Paris Review. (Bruna) Selection Day by Aravind Adiga: The Booker Prize-winning author of The White Tiger returns with a coming-of-age tale of brothers and aspiring professional cricketers in Mumbai. (Lydia) Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki: Long-time Millions writer and contributing editor Lepucki follows up her New York Times-bestselling novel California (you may have seen her talking about it on a little show called The Colbert Report) with Woman No. 17, a complicated, disturbing, sexy look at female friendship, motherhood, and art. (Lydia) Enigma Variations by André Aciman: New York magazine called CUNY Professor and author of Harvard Square “the most exciting new fiction writer of the 21st century). Aciman follows up with Enigma Variations, a sort of sentimental education of a young man across time and borders. (Lydia)