When my friend Amelia Morris and I decided to start a podcast about motherhood called Mom Rage, my first thought was, "We need to get Meaghan O’Connell on the show!" O'Connell's first book, And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready, recounts her accidental pregnancy at age 29, her harrowing birth story, and the angst and anxieties of early motherhood. She writes honestly and with humor about looking at her own body in the mirror soon after returning from the hospital, about her complicated feelings surrounding breastfeeding, and about the time she fled a library story time, unable to connect with the other moms. When she writes, "I couldn't figure out whether motherhood was showing me how strong I was or how weak. And which one was preferable," I nod with recognition, and I cheer when she writes, "What if everyone worried less about giving women a bad impression of motherhood?" Meaghan is a brilliant writer. I am so glad she became a mother so that she can convey on the page all the muck of parenting that seems—while it's actually happening to me—impossible to convey. As hosts of Mom Rage, Amelia and I start every show sharing our own struggles and frustrations as parents, and we investigate the unfair expectations and assumptions placed on mothers. We then interview a guest: authors, healthcare professionals, and regular parents just trying their best. Meaghan fulfills two of those three categories. We talk to her in episode 4. After our podcast conversation, which focused on parenting and her expectations for her soon-to-be-born second child, I sent Meaghan some questions via email. These were about the craft of writing a book like hers; they were my way of asking, "How did this masterpiece come to be?" She was kind enough to shed some light on her process. The Millions: You were penning regular columns on parenting for The Cut before your memoir came out. Were you writing the memoir alongside these essays? I'm curious how the shorter work informed the book, and how writing about parenting related to parenting itself. More to the point: How does writing help you process motherhood? Meaghan O’Connell: I was. The book came out of the regular freelance writing I was doing and then became its own, separate thing. I would have loved to only write the book but couldn’t afford to do that. So it was a year or two or three of being completely immersed in this subject, for better or worse. At the beginning it was where my brain was anyway, so it was very convenient in a sense. Like being paid to think about what I was already thinking about in the first place. Web writing became a sort of farm team for my brain. Some of it ended up being adapted into the book; some just led to deeper thinking; some was about getting things out of my system. It was also nice to publish little things along the way, proof of life, getting to feel like I was part of the conversation, etc. I thought writing a book would be so much more overwhelming than writing a column, but I was surprised by how much safer it felt. Just spending the time on it, in what felt like a secret document. And then the year of editing that went into it! It is overall much less terrifying than writing 1,000 words in two to three days and then seeing it online with a comments section under it. That is a different kind of fun! Writing helps me process everything. There is a sweet spot for me with essays where I know I have a lot of ideas about something, but they’re only 60-80 percent formed, and getting to that last 20 percent can happen in the writing. Or maybe it’s just 10 percent more and you leave the rest open because certainty is a lie. That’s what’s been funny about doing interviews. If I could easily talk about this stuff in a way that is neat or cogent, I would not have needed to write a book about it. TM: What was your process for putting this memoir together? Was each chapter considered a discrete section, planned ahead of time as a separate essay, or was it all in your head as an overall arc? MO: Well, I will start by saying I never thought of it as a memoir! It’s certainly autobiography, and I wouldn’t argue it’s not a memoir, but the m-word has really only come up now that the book is out. In the writing (and selling) of the book, it was always “essays.” Granted, some chapters (technically the word “chapter” is not in the book either! But I keep falling back to it, so maybe that is a tell) are more essayistic than others, meaning there is more of an attempt to figure something out, with a central question or a central idea, and others are more story-ish. So to answer your question, there wasn’t an arc. I thought of the book as a series of distinct essays around different ideas or experiences: pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, sex, gender roles, etc. The list was always changing, and it was never as neat as that. But still. The structural challenge all along, though, was that the birth is a natural climax. But it couldn’t be at the end. I had a few talks with editors about putting it at the beginning. It wasn’t supposed to matter whether it was chronological. Part of me wanted everything out of order. But then you write all these words, and I really wanted it to feel like a cohesive BOOK, not just a bunch of essays “packaged” as a book as a career move (you know the sort of book I mean). I wanted it to be its own world. I wanted it to be propulsive. Or I was afraid to want this and resisted it, feeling it beyond me, until I sent the first draft to my editor. I got the sort of feedback that you dread but more so because you know it’s true, that you have work to do, that it’s not quite there yet, etc. The trick for this particular book was how to have each essay/chapter have a mini-resolution but not enough of one where the book loses momentum. It also took me a long time to figure out how to end it in a way that could carry all the emotional weight that came before but not be false or too tidy or undermining. I think at one point I literally Googled “suspense.” I was semi-resentful initially at having to even think about this stuff—what was I, a fiction writer?—but really, I was just in uncomfortable territory, doing something I didn’t know how to do yet. Then one day on a walk it came to me as almost a revelation: I could structure the last chapter the same way I did the pregnancy chapter (“Holding Patterns”)—short, numbered sections written in the present tense. This form can feel like a cheat to me, and I think people use it when it isn’t justified, so I hesitated. But when I realized it would solve the bigger problem—of resolution and suspense and so on—I just went for it. It wasn’t as simple as cutting the last few paragraphs of every essay that came before and adding them to this last one, but in many cases that’s exactly what I did. And it still feels like a cheat, but I think it works enough to not matter. I don’t know how else I would have solved the structure of the book. [millions_ad] TM: What books on motherhood and parenting did you look to as you were writing yours? I certainly felt a spiritual connection to Rachel Cusk’s A Life's Work, which you quote in the epigraph: "Oh dear, they say. Poor baby. They do not mean me." I'm curious what other books lit your path, and why they spoke to you. MO: Well, once I started writing mine I actively avoided reading anything too similar, but I read them all already and had the books sort of ringing in my head, spurring me on. I read all of Rachel Cusk’s other books, for instance. And Maggie Nelson’s. I remember reading a passage in The Red Parts that unlocked something for me—I’m looking through the book now and nothing jumps out, and I don’t even remember what I took away from it. What I remember and miss now, being out of that stage of the writing process, was the feeling of something being unlocked. It was always a little beyond language, just a sense of possibility, a door opening in my brain after I’d been hitting a wall. Despondency giving way to hope. I read a lot of Sylvia Plath, which I guess is funny. Her journals, her poetry. Janet Malcolm’s The Silent Woman, which is a genius book. Then a lot Anne Sexton poetry. I also read Knausgaard. Book 5 and then reread Book 2. I mean if Sylvia Plath can write Ariel and if Knausgaard can write My Struggle… As a person, I am self-conscious and shy and I second-guess myself, but as a writer I am trying to break out of that, to be unabashed and unapologetic (about being abashed and apologetic) in a way I wish I could be in life. I think I turned to writers who really know how to wield and twist the knife, to remind myself that in this realm, I can be that way, too. TM: It feels like we've gotten some terrific mother-centric literature in the past few years. Moms are really enjoying some cultural relevance right now! Any hypotheses of why that is? MO: I could answer this a dozen different ways and none would be the full picture. But from a publishing perspective—maybe the least interesting but most straightforward way to look at this? My theory is that there were a few breakout hits three to five years ago and we are currently in the next wave of that. Of bigger houses acquiring books that might have seemed like more of a risk before Graywolf published The Argonauts (2015) and On Immunity (2014), for instance. A book of personal essays by an unknown entity about something “ordinary” is a hard sell in publishing, but it’s maybe easier than it’s ever been? Again, look to 2014: Graywolf published the breakout Empathy Exams and Harper Perennial published Bad Feminist—in an interview for Scratch, Roxane Gay said her advance for that book was $15,000. I also remember the rave New York Times review for Elisa Albert’s After Birth, written by the inimitable Merritt Tierce, as a particular MOMENT. That was March 2015. 2014 was the year I had my son. So all of this was happening as I started writing my own book. Whether writing about this stuff was respectable, or intellectual, or ART, felt like less of a question than it had ever been. I imagine other writers had the same experience. TM: Because this is The Millions, I must ask: What's the last great book you read? MO: Well, this being The Millions, I have a very relevant answer: Lydia Kiesling’s forthcoming novel, The Golden State. I love the voice and prose style so much, I could have stayed swimming in it forever. It’s the perfect mix of bleak and funny and angry and desperate and tender. Also motifs such as string cheese, cigarettes, small-town restaurants, road trips, work emails—I JUST LOVED IT. For more about Mom Rage, be sure to access all the episodes here.
I knew life with a baby would be radically different. I had been warned, and I had seen time and again how a baby could change a family dynamic. I prepared (as much as one can) for breastfeeding problems and colic and sleepless nights. But what I didn’t expect were the changes in me. Not the physical changes; my body was doing strange and unusual things, but I knew they were temporary. What took me completely by surprise were the changes to me—my essential self, my personality. I felt like my entire brain had changed. It felt re-mapped, re-wired, with new neural pathways. Sometimes, during frequent lulls in conversation with my husband or the rare visit with a friend, I searched for something funny or interesting to say—something, anything, not revolving around the baby—and I came up empty. “I just feel so different,” I tried to explain to my husband one day. “I feel so…unfun.” When I finally had a moment to myself again, when I could sneak some writing time, I found myself staring at the computer blankly. My brain couldn’t connect ideas, couldn’t summon arguments the way it had so readily only a few weeks before. The idea of creating anything else, after creating this child, felt mammoth. Between breastfeeding, constant worrying, and sleepless nights, I had nothing else to give. I was all emptied out. I loved being with my baby; caring for him was one of the most natural experiences of my life. It just fit. When I held him, I felt a wild crush of joy and unadulterated happiness. Yet motherhood had so enveloped me, I couldn’t remember how to be the person I’d been before. My world had contracted, with each contraction, down to a pinpoint, down to survival. My whole focus was on this baby: keeping him alive, protecting him, watching him grow. Who was this person I had become? I’d never expected to fall into the parent trap. I knew that there were more important questions in the world than whether the baby had pooped that day. But in my fugue state, I couldn’t think of them. Instead of writing, I turned to a collection of essays about writing called Scratch. The format was perfect; I could set it down and pick it up as my new and unpredictable schedule dictated, and it opened up to me a plethora of voices and viewpoints at a time where my world seemed so narrow. And it made me feel a part of the writing world again, even if it was as a passive observer. One of the contributions in particular stuck with me. Meaghan O'Connell documented her entirely opposite experience of writing and new motherhood; while pregnant, she'd worried about ever writing again; but giving birth opened the floodgates of her creativity. She couldn’t wait to escape to a coffee shop and write in two-hour bursts. How? I wondered, propping up the book in one hand and nursing the baby, who steadfastly refused to nap, with the other. Who took care of the baby? And how could she think? Still, I loved O’Connell’s irreverent wit, and this intersection of motherhood and creativity fascinated me. Even in my tired mind, I bookmarked her forthcoming memoir about motherhood, And Now We Have Everything. When I read the book several months later, I felt the wonder of validation light up in me. It felt like someone had been there with me, even in the darkest hours, and could now offer humor and insight. On the surface, she and I had markedly different experiences. She was surprised to feel indifferent or inadequate as a mother; I felt like motherhood was one of the first things that ever came naturally to me. She escaped into writing, becoming more ambitious than ever; I struggled to remember words like “prolific” and couldn’t recall what it was like to string comprehensible sentences together. But at their core, our experiences were the same. We were trying to figure out who we were, now, and what being a mother meant. What was this new relationship—not with the baby, not with our partner, but with ourselves? And was it normal to feel both inescapably changed and yet fundamentally unprepared at the same time? [millions_ad] Even before the pee hit the stick, when O’Connell pictured herself pregnant the image was already about herself as a mother—how, she writes, “it might change me or wake me up. Make me better.” Throughout her pregnancy, she consumes birth stories and parenting tomes voraciously, but none of them answer that question, looming larger than any others: “What will it be like? How will it change me?” Despite this consistent focus on the transformation that accompanies motherhood, O’Connell never falls into mere navel-gazing. Each story she tells—the book is more like a collection of short and long essays than a typical memoir—is sharply observed, wickedly funny, and painfully important. I have never read anything about parenthood that so clearly encapsulates what it feels like. As O’Connell writes after viewing her incision scar: Everything felt stacked inside me haphazardly, my body weak and vulnerable when I was supposed to be nourishing and protecting something even weaker, even more vulnerable. I wanted to be present and strong—I wanted to take it all in stride. I wanted to be worthy of my son. Instead I felt like something essential in me was threatening to slip. Maybe it already had. I shook with recognition. This was how I’d felt—weak and tired and serious, so far from the person I’d thought I was. There are umpteen books about parenting out there. Books about feeding and sleeping and eating, books about how to keep your children healthy and wealthy and wise. But books about motherhood? About how you, this person, created another person and delivered them out of your body and then nourished them from your imperfect self? Vanishingly rare. How do you expand your identity to include “parent”? How do you reconcile this new self with the person you have always been, and the person you want to be? The changes you go through—the shifts in your priorities, the receding or rising creativity, feeling too much or not enough (or both) like the mother you thought you should be. How do you cross over? As I read the book, I began taking notes. At first it was on the book itself, arguments for convincing my friends to put down whatever they were reading and pick up this book right now. But soon I found myself retelling the story of my own new motherhood—not my baby’s birth story, not the details of his health, but the transformative effect it had on me. I felt like a new person once more. I had washed off the fatigue and worry caking me, slowing my brain and dulling my wit, and I’d emerged—the same person, yes, the same body, the same weaknesses and strengths. But, I hope, better. Wiser, calmer, more efficient. More me than I’ve ever been before. Near the end of the book, O’Connell describes a session with her therapist. Her therapist closes her fist and then splays her fingers out. “You expand and retract,” O’Connell writes. “You begin to open all on your own, to seek out other people. Seek out complexity of your own.” You begin enjoying your old favorite pastimes, which were waiting there for you all along: cooking, sex, running, reading. “You will go to Target alone and leave with sunglasses, a new necklace,” O’Connell marvels. “Nothing for the baby at all.” This word like a promise, expansiveness, has stayed with me, all through my unfunny months, my days spent cocooned with the baby. Now, exactly one year from my son’s birth, I feel the world opening to me once again. Expanding. Image Credit: pxhere.
1. I pulled the heavy red book down from my dad’s bookshelf. Bryan A. Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, its cover announced. “David Foster Wallace said it’s the only usage guide he ever consulted,” my dad said, a note of pride in his voice as if he and DFW had been old buddies. “I got it on sale at The Strand.” “Huh,” I said and sat down, opening the tome on my lap to the word “eventuate,” the subject of a controversial debate with a coworker at my day job. The entry was short and snarky: Eventuate is ‘an elaborate journalistic word that can usually be replaced by a simpler word to advantage.’ George P. Krapp, A Comprehensive Guide to Good English (1927). Then came several examples of its misuse, explanations of what was wrong about it, and suggestions for words should have been used in it place (e.g., “happened,” “occurred,” “took place”). This comprehensive lesson perfectly resolved my confusion, since I had misconstrued the meaning of “eventuate” as something along the lines of “would eventually lead to.” “This is terrific!” I told my dad. “Usually when I have a usage question at work, I just Google the question—like further vs. farther—and read the first few entries that pop up.” “See, that’s the trouble with the Internet,” he scoffed, single-handedly dismissing an entire global digital stratosphere. “The demise of authoritative references.” It was nice to have such a complete and well-researched reference on language usage right here at my fingertips. I immediately looked up several more entries, and started chuckling and reading them aloud. “Hey, listen to this, about ‘insofar as:’ ‘the dangers range from mere feebleness or wordiness, through pleonasm or confusion of grammar.’ Zing!” “Keep the Garner’s, then,” my dad said with a smile. “I never use it.” Tickled, I hugged my newest diction and style guide to my chest. What a great new writer’s tool I didn’t even know that I needed. This got me thinking about my other writers’ tools. What are the books that every writer should have handy? My other go-to writing books are not necessarily manuals of mechanics, but instead are resources that provide inspiration, moral support, models of good writing, and above all, comfort. 2. When I was 18, taking expository writing in my first semester of college, my professor, Kevin DiPirro, assigned Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. It was an optional text, so while he assigned us to read certain chapters concurrently with our other assignments, we never once discussed the content of the book in class. Instead, we wrote expository essays trying to frame rhetorical situations, analyze evidence, and make well-researched arguments. But my teacher-student relationship with Natalie Goldberg started that year, and for that, I’ll always be grateful to Kevin. One afternoon, in a darkened corner of the library, I cracked open Writing Down the Bones. What’s this all about? I wondered. Natalie’s words spoke aloud to me, like a calm teacher, echoing in my mind: Writing As Practice This is the practice school of writing… You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run. It’ll never happen, especially if you are out of shape and have been avoiding it. But if you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance… Sit down with the least expectation of yourself; say, ‘I am free to write the worst junk in the world.’ You have to give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination… My rule is to finish a notebook a month. Simply fill it. That is the practice. Then, at the end of the chapter: Think of writing practice as loving arms you come to illogically and incoherently. It’s our wild forest where we gather energy before going to prune our garden, with our fine books and novels. It’s a continual practice. Sit down right now. Give me this moment. Write whatever’s running through you. You might start with this moment and end up writing about the gardenia you wore at your wedding seven years ago. That’s fine. Don’t try to control it. Stay present with whatever comes up, and keep your hand moving. I wrote for about five or 10 minutes in my notebook, and wrote what was running through me. My experiences and deepest longings leapt straight from my heart and out onto the page through my hand, and the act of writing became so simple and direct that it was as if my brain was just a spectator, anxious mutterings quieted at last. By the time I finished, I was quietly sobbing in that dark corner of the library, in the sheltered desk carrel that shielded me from the rest of the campus studying on that day in late September of 2002. Something was unleashed that day, and I was so moved by that feeling of being granted permission to write any way I wanted that I dated that page in Writing Down the Bones. Something big happened here today. I kept that book with me, when things were great and when things were shitty, when I felt despair or years of writer’s block or crippling fear. It’s okay, just write for 10 minutes. Natalie has given me permission to write the worst junk imaginable, because it is the practice that matters. Now, more than a decade later, in my writing sessions, I can finally distinguish the feeling of the juice, the flow of when I’m finally cooking with gas or sparks are flying—pick your metaphor—and I can channel that energy into whatever feels important to work on. But first I have to warm up. Even if I’m writing every day consistently, I still have to shake off the rust and the stiff joints and re-enter the river of writing, the thrall of my own subconscious voice, in order to be receptive enough to conduct electricity when lightning strikes. When I’m stuck, I open up Writing Down the Bones and read: Be Specific Be specific. Don’t say ‘fruit.’ Tell what kind of fruit—‘It is a pomegranate.’ Give things the dignity of their names. Don’t Marry the Fly Watch when you listen to a piece of writing. There might be spaces where your mind wanders. A New Moment Katagiri Roshi often used to say: ‘Take one step off a hundred-foot pole.’ 3. One paradox of my writer’s toolbox of books is that I don’t often write at my writing desk—preferring instead the anonymous yet community feel of a table at my local coffee shop. But I tend to carry that dog-eared and war-torn copy of Writing Down the Bones with me wherever I go. Sometimes I switch it out for my almost-as-demolished copy of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which is funnier and a bit more genre-specific about writing fiction. Over the years, I have trafficked through copies of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, On Writing by Stephen King, Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, and Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett—which technically isn’t a craft book, but I lump it in, because it’s a memoir of being a young unpublished writer and of “making it,” documenting one particularly deep writing friendship. You could say that I’m a craft book junkie. You could say that. I also keep books around that remind me of what I love about good writing. I have books that I reread just for the feeling of basking in good writing, like snuggling under a warm blanket or quenching my thirst with a perfectly cold glass of water. Novels like The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Motherless Brooklyn, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Fight Club, and the Unbearable Lightness of Being are some of these books, and in college, along with the books I was reading for classes, I kept a “greatest hits” shelf of books that made me feel better just by dint of their being nearby. Yet I don’t own a dictionary. My fiancé, a recreational poet, has a rhyming dictionary, which it has never occurred to me to purchase. I use an online thesaurus regularly at work, but in this digital age, I would never buy a hardcover copy. Recently, I picked up a copy of Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, which I think of as a kind of lifestyle companion for writers delusional enough to think they might someday might make real money from this. It has anecdotal guidance and moral support for writers and those pursuing the writing life, a type of useful and practical advice that reminds me of my regular bimonthly Poets & Writers arrival. My subscription always seems on the verge of lapsing, but I read the magazine cover to cover whenever it arrives. I read the Residencies and Conferences and Grants and Awards sections with a pen in my hand. 4. I was giddy but apprehensive about my gift of Garner’s Modern Usage. My first thought was, I should bring this to work! In my office, my windowsill-turned-bookshelf has on it a weathered copy of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, an ancient copy of William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s Elements of Style, an untouched copy of the AP Style Guide, and Bill Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors. The latter is interesting but not comprehensive, so I eventually stopped looking up entries that didn’t exist. But it has a beautiful cover. My second thought was, Screw work, I want to keep this at home and use it for my own writing at my writing desk! My immediate third thought was, I have to clean my writing desk! Lacking bookshelf space, I started stacking books I’ve just read or want to read on one corner of the small wooden desk I shellacked with rejection slips years ago, back when literary magazines sent paper rejections. I have a tiny ceramic lamp that sits on the other corner of the desk, and without a home office space larger than the footprint of this desk, I’ve collected a variety of other things on its surface—papers, folders, envelopes, DVDs, an unpaid doctor’s bill. My checkbook, more books I’m planning to read, recent drafts of novel revisions, with all manner of handbags and tote bags hanging off the handles of my desk chair like a flea market handbag stall. [millions_ad] Could a single modern usage book revolutionize my home writing space and daily writing practice? I’ve always thought of myself as a writing nomad. Natalie says, Write Anyplace. Okay. Your kids are climbing into the cereal box. You have $1.25 left in your checking account. Your husband can’t find his shoes, your car won’t start, you know you have lived a life of unfulfilled dreams….Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. I write her words, copy them into my notebook, and in that moment, I am reborn. I like having authorities, teachers, mentors on the page. Natalie has taught me a great deal in the 15 years that I’ve been reading and rereading her book. Maybe Bryan Garner can become my newest teacher on the page, in his witty biting asides about “eventuate” and “insofar as” and many other linguistic predicaments that I have yet to identify. Of course, one great appeal of having the voice of Garner giving me authoritative advice on proper usage is that hovering over his shoulder is the friendly specter of David Foster Wallace, and next to him, my dad nodding along and laughing at my enthusiasm. When he gifted me the book, he said, “This is a great reference for a writer.” It’s in those tiny moments that I feel his slight seal of approval, or at least simple affirmation, of that life that I’ve chosen for myself. He sees me as a writer. Thanks, dad.
Inauguration Day was, in the eyes of most people I know, a horrifying day. The poison of hate had taken control of our political system, and it touched us whether we voted for it or not. Thus, the year that followed was for many—even those who sprang into civic action on the right side of history—lived in a state of foul bitterness. In precise tandem with that political trauma, I happened to receive a shock to my physical system. Hours after the inauguration ceremony, which I had refused watch, I was in an emergency room with a rare, painful infection that progressed far enough to initiate liver failure. I fully recovered from that weeks-long illness, but it set the tone for the resistance I would undertake for the rest of the year. My scary hospitalization was a reminder, for me, that living to fight—to write—another day is reason to not just resist but to be glad. In the face of such an assault on decency as the current political leadership, there is perhaps no greater act of resistance than to appreciate our lives, even as we fight back against the forces that tear at us. To see beauty in this place called Earth and the broken beings with whom we share it for a short while. To read and write the books that the most corrupted of them would burn. Here is what I read or re-read this past year. It is a list in which I now see the simultaneous peaceful reveling and spirited reckoning that I hope might save this democracy in peril in 2018. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert Dark Money by Jane Mayer Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love by Zack McDermott Healing the Soul of America: Reclaiming Our Voices as Spiritual Citizens by Marianne Williamson Homing Instincts: Early Motherhood on a Midwestern Farm by Sarah Menkedick Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America, edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry PrairyErth: A Deep Map by William Least Heat-Moon Revolution by Russell Brand Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression by Dale Maharidge Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation, edited by John Freeman The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy The Dorothy Day Book: A Selection from Her Writings and Readings, edited by Margaret Quigley and Michael Garvey The Editor and His People by William Allen White The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream by Studs Terkel The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I by Barbara W. Tuchman The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers 2 by Marci Penner and WenDee Rowe The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis Women as Healers: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, edited by Carol Shepherd McClain Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés Magazine Subscriptions: Columbia Journalism Review Creative Nonfiction Dissent Harper’s In These Times No Depression Poetry The Believer The Lion’s Roar The New Territory The New Yorker More from A Year in Reading 2017 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 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 [millions_ad]
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. 3. Ill Will 5 months 2. 2. American War 5 months 3. 4. Men Without Women: Stories 4 months 4. 7. Exit West 2 months 5. 10. The Idiot 2 months 6. 8. What We Lose 2 months 7. - The Seventh Function of Language: A Novel 1 month 8. - The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake 2 months 9. - Eileen 2 months 10. - The Changeling 1 month Lots of action this month as our Hall of Fame absorbs three mainstays from the past six months: Lincoln in the Bardo, A Separation, and Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. This marks George Saunders's third entry into the Hall of Fame. He'd previously reached those hallowed halls for Tenth of December and Fox 8. Meanwhile, The Nix dropped from our list after two months of solid showings. If he's reading this (because who isn't?) then hopefully Nathan Hill can look to two other titles on this month's list for solace. Both The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake as well as Otessa Moshfegh's Eileen are examples of books that have graced our monthly Top Ten one month (June, in this case) only to drop out for another (July), and then reappear (August). If they can do it, so you can you, Nix fans! The remaining two spots were filled by new novels from Laurent Binet and Victor LaValle. The Seventh Function of Language: A Novel, which was highlighted in both installments of our Great 2017 Book Preview, was expected to provide "highbrow hijinks." In her review for our site this month, Shivani Radhakrishnan confirms that it delivers in this respect. Calling Binet's novel "a madcap sharply irreverent French theory mash-up that’s part mystery and part satire," Radhakrishnan goes on to contextualize it among other works in detective fiction and theory, which, she writes, have a good deal in common and which, she writes, intertwine to great effect here: The new book turns Roland Barthes’s accidental death in 1980 into a murder investigation set against French intellectual life. With a cast of characters that includes Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Julia Kristeva with guest appearances by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Umberto Eco, and John Searle, it’s no surprise Binet’s book is way more dizzying than most detective stories. What is shocking, though, is how it manages to respect the theories and mock the theorists all at once. The Changeling, too, was highlighted on this site in one of our monthly mini-previews. At the time, Lydia Kiesling implored readers to check out LaValle's second novel, which she described as "a book that somehow manages to be a fairy tale, an agonizing parenting story, a wrenching metaphor for America’s foundational racist ills, and a gripping page-turner to usher in the summer." If you're still not sold, you can check out an excerpt from the book, or read our interview with the author from last year. Skulking just beyond our list – like some expectant, lovelorn dolphin admiring a human home-wrecker as he swims – is Alissa Nutting's Made for Love, which I reviewed a month ago, and which I encourage you all to buy and read so that this sentence makes sense. This month's other near misses included: The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story, Hillbilly Elegy, Made for Love, Enigma Variations, and The Night Ocean. 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. 1. Lincoln in the Bardo 6 months 2. 2. A Separation 6 months 3. 3. Ill Will 4 months 4. 4. Men Without Women: Stories 3 months 5. 5. American War 4 months 6. 6. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living 6 months 7. - Exit West 1 month 8. - What We Lose 1 month 9. 8. The Nix 2 months 10. - The Idiot 1 month Otessa Moshfegh learned Icarus's lesson this month. A few weeks ago, she boasted not one but two titles on our Top Ten list – a feat that had never before been accomplished. But come July? Nada. How quickly things change. One month, you're 1/5 of our list; the next month, one of your books has graduated to our Hall of Fame and another has dropped out of the running entirely. Meanwhile, much of this month's list remains unchanged. The books in the first six positions didn't budge. Instead, three newcomers entered our ranks in the seventh, eighth, and tenth slots. Mohsin Hamid's Exit West is one of those new books. "Tracing the fissures in human community and global space, and reflecting on the possibility of their transcendence," wrote Eli Jelly-Schapiro in his review for our site, the book "maps the divides that structure the current global order." Next, in seventh position, we welcome What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. In our recently published Great Second-Half 2017 Book Preview, our own Claire Cameron observed that "the buzz around this debut is more like a roar," and based on the book's immediate ascendance onto our list, that seems accurate. Finally, Elif Batuman's The Idiot fills tenth position in this month's list. To that development, Millions staffers would likely say: about time. Having earned not one, but two full-length reviews for our site, The Idiot has been lauded for the way its "layered truths and fictions...compounded so that everything in the novel became true and real in a deep, shining way that cannot be achieved through essays." (It's also been examined in the context of sexual power dynamics.) Next month, we can expect to see at least three openings on our Top Ten, and likely considerably more as the long tail of the Book Preview does its job. This month's other near misses included: Hillbilly Elegy, The Night Ocean, Void Star, Dunkirk: The History Behind the Motion Picture, and Blind Spot. 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 June. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 2. Lincoln in the Bardo 5 months 2. 3. A Separation 5 months 3. 4. Ill Will 3 months 4. 8. Men Without Women: Stories 2 months 5. 7. American War 3 months 6. 5. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living 5 months 7. 9. Homesick for Another World 6 months 8. - The Nix 1 month 9. - Eileen 1 month 10. - The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake 1 month One book dropped out, two ascended to our Hall of Fame, and that means three slots opened up for new titles on our June Top Ten. Before getting to the newcomers, congratulations are in order for The North Water author Ian McGuire, and especially for Derek B. Miller, whose Norwegian by Night dominated the Top Ten on the strength of Richard Russo's recommendation. Both authors are off to the Hall of Fame this month. At the same time, Zadie Smith's Swing Time has fallen off of the list after four months. Smith fans, fear not. In the past, authors have fallen off our list only to reappear later on, so it's possible for her to send her second book (after NW, which reached in 2013) to the Hall of Fame in due time. Filling the new slots are three very different books following three very different trajectories. The Nix by Nathan Hill finally joins the June Top Ten after hovering among the "Near Misses" since last December. At the time, our own Garth Risk Hallberg highlighted the book's "disparate concerns — video games, parental neglect, political anger" and praised the ways they're "bound together by the warmth, charm, and wit of the author’s voice." Nick Ripatrazone went further, invoking a lofty comparison in his teaser for our Great 2016 Book Preview: 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. This is Hill's first time on one of our monthly lists. Ottessa Moshfegh, meanwhile, is no stranger to them. Impressively, Eileen is the second Moshfegh book on this very month's Top Ten, after Homesick for Another World. It's Ottessa Moshfegh's world; we just live in it. Finally, The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake launched onto our list thanks to an insightful, moving, and comprehensive review from Mike Murphy. "Breece Pancake could see the future of America and it must have scared the hell out of him," Murphy writes of the late author, who took his own life in 1979, before this story collection was published posthumously. This month's other near misses included: The Idiot, Exit West, Enigma Variations, Blind Spot, and The Night Ocean. 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 May. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Norwegian by Night 6 months 2. 2. Lincoln in the Bardo 4 months 3. 4. A Separation 4 months 4. 7. Ill Will 2 months 5. 5. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living 4 months 6. 6. The North Water 6 months 7. 8. American War 2 months 8. - Men Without Women: Stories 1 month 9. 9. Homesick for Another World 5 months 10. 10. Swing Time 4 months April showers bring May flowers, but a month of May book purchases launched Michael Chabon's Moonglow into our Hall of Fame. It's the author's second appearance there; Telegraph Avenue made the list four years back. Chabon's success freed up an opening on this month's Top Ten. Filling his place in 8th position is another author who's no stranger to our Hall of Fame: Haruki Murakami. In our Great 2017 Book Preview, Murakami's latest story collection, Men Without Women, was said to "concern the lives of men who, for one reason or another, find themselves alone." Emily St. John Mandel continued: In “Scheherazade,” a man living in isolation receives regular visits from a woman who claims to remember a past life as a lamprey; in “Yesterday,” a university student finds himself drawn into the life of a strange coworker who insists that the student go on a date with his girlfriend. Could this book become Murakami's third to make our Hall of Fame? Only time will tell. Meanwhile Derek B. Miller's Norwegian by Night continues its reign over our list, further demonstrating that if you want to sell books to Millions readers, you ought to get an endorsement from Richard Russo first. Elsewhere on the list, a few movers moved and shakers shook, but overall things held steady. Next month, we'll likely graduate two titles to our Hall of Fame, which means we'll welcome two more newcomers. By then, we'll be in full swing with our Great Second-Half 2017 Book Preview, which was a shocking thing to type. Can 2018 come soon enough? This month's other near misses included: The Idiot, Eileen, The Nix, Exit West, and Enigma Variations. 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 April. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Norwegian by Night 5 months 2. 2. Lincoln in the Bardo 3 months 3. 4. Moonglow 6 months 4. 5. A Separation 3 months 5. 7. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living 3 months 6. 6. The North Water 5 months 7. - Ill Will 1 month 8. - American War 1 month 9. 8. Homesick for Another World 4 months 10. 10. Swing Time 3 months Spring has sprung but things are not what they seem. Here in Baltimore, watermen welcomed reports that the Chesapeake Bay crab population is the strongest its been in years, and yet simultaneously we got news that efforts to strengthen the Bay are on dire straits. Nationwide, things are not what they seem. Spring has sprung, and yet it snowed in Utah last weekend. Appearances deceive. On our Top Ten list this month, Otessa Moshfegh's Homesick for Another World fell one spot -- perhaps because Brooks Sterritt disgusted y'all with his review for our site -- but at the same time, Moshfegh's earlier collection, Eileen, got a strong enough boost to make our list of near misses (at the bottom of this post). What is down is also up. After six months of strong showings, we graduated two titles to The Millions's Hall of Fame: Tana French's The Trespasser and Ann Patchett's Commonwealth. Both have been there before: French six years ago for Faithful Place, and Patchett a year later for The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life. Their spots on this month's list are filled by works from Dan Chaon and Omar El Akkad. Chaon's novel, Ill Will, has been described by our own Edan Lepucki as being "about grief, about being unable to accept reality, and about the myriad ways we trick ourselves about our selves." In a wide-ranging conversation that ran on our site last month, the two discussed, among other things, Chaon's fascination with characters' names: Names are weirdly important to me. ... I don’t know if it’s superstition or magic or what, but for me a name somehow breathes life into a puppet, gives shape to an abstraction. The characters often refuse to perform unless they have been properly christened. Meanwhile El Akkad's debut, American War, "presents a highly plausible dystopia in the not so distant American future," according to Nicholas Cannariato: El Akkad deploys a subtle critique of torture as not only immoral, but ineffective -- and a direct critique of the Bush administration’s embrace of torture and Donald Trump’s lurid flirtation with it. Next month, we look forward to opening at least one new spot on the list. Which newcomer will come forth? Stay tuned to find out. (And enjoy the Spring as best you can!) This month's other near misses included: Enigma Variations, Eileen, Here I Am, The Nix, and Version Control. 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 March. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Norwegian by Night 4 months 2. 3. Lincoln in the Bardo 2 months 3. 2. The Trespasser 6 months 4. 4. Moonglow 5 months 5. 8. A Separation 2 months 6. 5. The North Water 4 months 7. 6. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living 2 months 8. 10. Homesick for Another World 3 months 9. 7. Commonwealth 6 months 10. - Swing Time 2 months News broke recently that Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad will be adapted for the screen by Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, and it's hard to say what Whitehead's going to celebrate more: that wonderful development, or the fact that his novel, after a six-month run on our Top Ten list, has at last graduated to our site's hallowed Hall of Fame. Regardless, it can be said that good news seldom comes alone. Filling the open spot on our list is Zadie Smith, whose latest novel, Swing Time, returns to our list after a three-month absence. (It first cracked the rankings in December.) At this pace, look for Smith, who's previously reached our Hall of Fame four years ago with NW, to send her second work there in March 2018. Elsewhere on the list, several titles swapped positions, and George Saunders's Lincoln In the Bardo overtook Tana French's The Trespasser to claim second place. On our site this week, Millions staffer Jacob Lambert penned a simultaneously hysterical and haunting "modern" adaptation of Saunders's first novel, featuring a lumbering, slovenly beast by now familiar to us all: Even in the gloom, his skin held an unhealthy rusty glow; his hair, if one might call it that, had an aspect of spun sugar, though it did not appetize. Meanwhile, Manjula Martin's Scratch anthology - which chronicles the ways writers do and do not make money from their craft -- held fast in the middle of our list. Millions editor Lydia Kiesling caught up with Martin last week to discuss the way the book came to be, the struggles of trying to make a living from writing, and how writers, editors, and publishers alike feel about the same: On the one hand I’m like yeah, people who do work should be paid. On the other hand…there is a way in which artistic value cannot be quantified. These two things can be true at the same time. But I think where things become far less ambivalent is when it comes to writing for publications and companies that make a lot of money off your work while you’re not making money off your work. Skulking just beyond our Top Ten ranks this month are two particularly notable titles: Ill Will by Dan Chaon, who was recently interviewed by Edan Lepucki; and Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, which made it to the Championship Round of the Tournament of Books. Will either break into the rankings of our list next time? Well, there's only one way to find out. This month's other near misses included: Here I Am, Version Control, and The Nix. See Also: Last month's list.
The grim economic prospects of being an artist are well-established, but the cold, hard numbers behind writing and publishing -- particularly in the digital age -- are mystifying even to many of the people who are trying to make a living doing it. Anything that illuminates the financial realities of the writing game becomes a precious commodity; essays featuring frank money talk tear through the internet, g-chats and Slack channels hum, aspiring novelists desperately glean what they can from Publishers Marketplace before their (tax-deductible) $25 runs out. Enter Manjula Martin, the woman behind Who Pays Writers?, a hugely valuable resource for freelancers trying to figure out the numbers behind bylines. Martin established the site in 2012 to bring transparency to the woefully opaque writing business using crowdsourcing: writers anonymously offer up the rates they were paid by various publications. The following year, Martin expanded the territory with Scratch, a magazine about money and writing co-founded with the writer Jane Friedman. This spring, Scratch the magazine became Scratch the book, an anthology on "Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living," with contributions from writers including Roxane Gay, Jonathan Franzen, Kiese Laymon, and Cheryl Strayed (we excerpted Sari Botton's fascinating essay on ghostwriting here at the site). Martin lives in San Francisco, where she writes and edits in addition to her full-time job as Managing Editor of Zoetrope: All Story, the literary magazine founded by Francis Ford Coppola and Adrienne Brodeur. Martin and I are friends -- coworkers, too, as all freelancers are coworkers -- and she agreed to speak with me about the numbers behind her book and the contradictions of making art under capitalism. The Millions: You are currently nearing the end of a book tour that has you working a full-time day job during the week and hopping a plane every weekend to a new city. Is this bonkers? Manjula Martin: Yes. But geographically and plane ticket-wise, it actually made no sense to do the tour dates all in a row. It's not cheaper. TM: And you're paying for this out of pocket. MM: Yes. TM: Is it customary for publishers to not pay for a book tour? MM: I'm told that it's common, unless you're a very big investment for the publisher. But while the publisher has not paid for it, they have been incredibly helpful in terms of booking the gigs -- the PR department has surpassed my expectations in that regard. TM: I guess that’s a form of money. MM: That is a form of money. That's labor. A lot of authors don't get book tour help at all. I was fortunate enough to get some free advice from Lauren Cerand, an amazing (not free) independent publicist. She told me, "Just do a book tour, put it on your credit card if you have to. It'll be great." So far, it's been great. She's right. TM: Could you share the numbers of the book as a whole: what you were paid, how the contributors were paid or not paid, and all of that? MM: I went into the anthology with a really solid table of contents; the book proposal I wrote had pretty much the same table of contents as the book did once it was done. The essays weren't written, but I had gotten buy-in from most of the contributors, and I had a well-developed topic. I'm convinced that this is what sold the book: the editors could see how the contents would inform the topic, and they could understand that I had access to very high-caliber contributors. There were a lot of emails right when I was first doing the book proposal along the lines of “Hey, I'm thinking of doing an essay collection. Would you like to sign onto this not knowing any of the details or timing or anything?” People said yes, which was wonderful. My agent sold the book. I got an advance. The advance was $30,000, paid in three different installments. As of this writing I’m still waiting for the last installment, the installment “upon publication.” The way my contract was set up gave me the majority chunk, on signing; a smaller chunk upon delivery and acceptance of the manuscript. (By the way, this is not when you turn in the manuscript, it's when the manuscript is done. It's not like, “Hello, editor, here's the first time you've seen it.” It's like, we've been working on it for six months and now it's done and they're going to send it into production.) Then the final installment upon publication. The way my contract is set up is, I am the "Author" of the book. My contract is with the publisher. Then I have basically subcontracted with all of the contributors. The contributors and I have separate contracts. My agent just found me a template for that contract language. TM: What were you left with after you paid all the subcontractors? MM: Each of the contributors were paid between $100 and $400 for their essays, depending on whether it was a reprint. Everyone who wrote a new essay got more. The reprints were less and usually between $100 and $200, depending on various situations including whether or not they did additional work on the piece. What anthology contributors get for that few hundred dollars: they're in the book. They can sell second serial if they want to. That’s basically it. In this particular situation my publisher owns the first serial rights. That's pretty common. We don't have a royalty agreement with the contributors. TM: So how does this all break down in the end, money-wise? MM: The advance was $30,000. Agents take 15%. That's $4,500. Contributors were $7,050 total. That leaves $18,000-ish before taxes. For 2015 and 2016, the years that cover that income, I will have paid about $8,500 in taxes. All told I will have paid probably a third of the advance in taxes, but it's been spread out over a couple of years. I can write off the agent commission and the contributor fees. That should leave me with about $10,000… TM: That's not too shabby. MM: … before book tour costs, which will probably be around $3,500, I'm guessing. So I think I'm going to end up with $6,000-$7,000 for two years of work. Plus the prior two years of unpaid work I did on Scratch mag and Who Pays Writers?. TM: That’s not a living wage. MM: No. But I also don't know what the P&L for Scratch looks like, so I don't know how much money Simon & Schuster is going to make off of it. TM: What's P&L? MM: Profit and loss statement. It’s what an editor at a publishing house does to figure out how much to pay for a book, what it’s worth, what they think it’ll make. It's how an editor pitches a book to the rest of the team; a P&L is the way they figure out, “If we pay the advance this much and then the royalties are this much, and it costs this much for the book, this is how many books we have to sell to make a profit.” Actually, Scratch just went to a second printing. TM: So you should get royalties soon! MM: [laughs] That doesn't mean that it's earned out the advance. It's a highly relative statement. TM: I went to one of your readings, where three contributors spoke. That reading became a conversation about workers’ rights and empowering women writers -- there was a lot of counsel from participants not to write for free, that you should always be paid for your work. But then [our mutual friend] Caille Millner gave advice along the lines of, "If you want to be a writer, you should expect to have a day job," which in some ways obviates the other elements of the discussion. I mean, both pieces of advice can be correct, but her comment was a tacit acknowledgment that even when you are paid for your work, it’s not enough. I don't know many writers who don't have a day job. MM: Particularly writers who don't have other support. TM: And from freelancing myself, and particularly from my years with The Millions, I have confronted the harsh truth that your/my/our work often has very little or no market value as it is assigned by our cultural and economic system, particularly as it plays out online. It certainly does not usually translate to a robust income (or big revenue for this website, for example). MM: And there's no meaningful correlation between monetary value and quality. TM: One of the contributors to the Scratch anthology, who wasn’t present at that reading, talks about this problem, and describes how she wrote for free... MM: Yes, Nina MacLaughlin. TM: ...and then got a book deal as a result. MM: Directly from that free piece. Yeah, there’s not really an answer to these contradictions, but I do think we should start airing these financial realities. And to your larger point, it’s perhaps as it should be that great writing is not necessarily something that someone wants to click on and pay for. I don't know. As you were saying before the interview, the kinds of essays that I want to write, the kinds of novels I love to read, are probably the kinds of things that are not going to be viral hits or whatever. A small number of people will read them, but they are still valuable, because they will really fucking matter to that small number of people. And hence to humanity. They way I've been thinking about it is that art doesn't necessarily fit into capitalism. There's no real profit motive in literature, even great literature. I think what we discover when we all start talking about this is that, first of all, there are tons of contradictions, as you just stated. But what concerns me is that the position of art in capitalism typically means that people, myself included, with slightly (or vastly) more economic privilege, are the only people who are writing. I am middle class (although right now in San Francisco, where I live, I am probably the very bottom of the lower middle class, but San Francisco is crazytown). I can work on a book for two years and only make $7,000 from it, because I also have a job that I work at all the time. I'm not exactly rolling in it, but I'm okay. I’m not going hungry. I don’t have to stagger which utility bill to pay every month. Not everyone is like that. Some people cannot afford to work for free, and so it becomes a real problem when an entire industry is set up that way. This works across art forms, by the way -- you see the same thing when you talk with painters. It’s maybe even harder for painters, because they have to have a physical studio and expensive equipment. So on the one hand I'm like yeah, people who do work should be paid. On the other hand…there is a way in which artistic value cannot be quantified. These two things can be true at the same time. But I think where things become far less ambivalent is when it comes to writing for publications and companies that make a lot of money off your work while you're not making money off your work. TM: Certainly. MM: Exploitation is a lot more clear-cut, and that's why I encourage people to understand where the money comes from in media and publishing (which is not to say that I myself entirely understand the deep economics of both those industries!). That's why I think Choire Sicha’s essay in the book is really great, because it breaks down the way websites actually make money. We should know this. We work for them. When I started doing Who Pays Writers?, people said "Yay, everyone's naming numbers." But I wanted more context. Why did you only get paid this much? What was the situation? Did you pitch, or did they approach you? That need for context evolved into Scratch mag. Then again, I also hear the flip side a lot, which is that freelancers just want numbers to figure out how to conduct their business. Naming numbers is a radical act and it is important to have transparency, particularly in a business where nobody knows how it works because it doesn't really work any one way for any one person, and there isn’t a set career path. But I realized pretty early on that if we restrict the conversation to just the numbers, there's a lot that we're ignoring. If you only talk about numbers, you're not talking about all of the cultural and historical, and economic, and emotional issues around money that actually really do affect how -- and whether -- people make money. TM: There are so many things about the digital economy that seem to invite exploitation, but then you also hear that many books never earn back their advance. As if the publishers are doing some sort of charity work. MM: Ha. Well, publishing isn’t a charity; someone must be making money. And, much like nonprofits, the publishing industry tends to attract people who already have financial resources. If you don't happen to come from the middle or upper classes, or an Ivy League-adjacent school, and you’d like to work in publishing -- or start out as a full-time writer -- you're fucked. Because the pay is awful. And I'm very interested in how all that affects the stories we end up reading, with journalism as well as with books. This was very much on my mind as I was doing the anthology, obviously. I wanted to make sure that I was compensating people enough for their work. I've been told that $400 is actually a really high amount to pay for an anthology essay, which is horrible and sad. TM: You’re now the “writers and money” person. Is that your forever beat? MM: Maybe? I’m not sure how I feel about that! I’m writing a novel! This wasn't a topic I set out to be an "Expert" in, or really focus on. This project evolved very organically in different ways. A lot of it was just based on me noticing that people really wanted to talk about it, and going, all right, let's roll with that and see what happens TM: You followed the market! MM: Ha. I remember when I had first had the idea to do Scratch magazine and was talking about it with Jane Friedman, who co-founded it with me, I actually thought of doing an anthology. Then I thought, No, that seems like a lot of work for no money. What if we made it a paid subscription thing and it was a magazine? There were enough stories to have it be a periodical. Then cut to a year and a half later. [laughs] I suppose for me this project could be chalked up to that cheesy “say yes” thing. While I think it can also be very powerful to say no, for me, this whole experience was very much an exercise in saying, “Well this isn't really the thing I set out to do, but it seems to be that I have a take on it that people value. Sure!” Not like, the masses are clamoring, but there was obvious interest. In terms of my expertise, all it takes to be an expert is experience. And confidence. I’ve always felt like writing is my hobby, but I have in fact made my living as a writer for many, many years -- copywriting, journalism, freelance essays -- up until now, when I'm working as an editor. At some point recently I was bemoaning my lack of Expertise to my partner, and he said, "You've been making a living as a writer for 10 years. You are an expert in this." I was like, "Oh, right. Yeah, I guess I am." TM: You didn't think of yourself necessarily as a capital-W writer. MM: Exactly. I like to tell that story because there is no capital-W writer when you're in it. Few people think they're a capital-W writer. There are so many different ways of doing it. TM: And now you’re writing a novel that takes place in Santa Cruz. MM: Yes, in the dystopian near past, also known as the late 1980s. MM: And doing a second book. MM: Yes! A seemingly random topical departure: I am writing a gardening book with my dad, who is an expert on organic gardening and farming. We're writing a guide to growing fruit trees for Ten Speed Press. Alice Waters is writing the foreword! It will be in stores in 2019. TM: I know that we've just talked about contradictions, but is there one major thing that you wish were different about the writing economy? MM: I think it's pretty clear that writers should be paid more. I don't know where that money comes from, because I don't know how much money publishers are making off of books. But, as I said, publishing isn’t a charity; someone must be making money. It’s just not always us. TM: And now there’s probably no more National Endowment for the Arts. MM: I feel that increasingly there’s no concept of how art is important in this society, even without the funding. I think that’s really scary and I think that it makes it even harder to break down some of those access barriers that we already have. TM: Your day job's model is basically one of patronage. Is that our best worst option at this point? MM: I would say it's not an option to rule out. You know, every model has its flaws and patronage is no more flawed than other models. It certainly is a long-lasting model, which Colin Dickey talks about a little bit in his essay in Scratch, where he looks into the Greek patronage system and the first Greek poet to ask to be paid by the word. But we've seen recently with places like Medium that even if you have a benefactor, the benefactor can withdraw their goodwill at any moment. That happens all the time with media companies that have venture capital funding. We need the guys who have no profit motive and want to replace the NEA out of the goodness of their rich bastard hearts. There's also the reality of writers who are funded by their spouses, and that gets into a whole other level of micro patronage, I guess you would call it. Right now my boyfriend is doing the laundry, and it was my turn to do the laundry this week, but I was like, “I have this interview.” My partner and I are also beneficiaries of a government patronage system called rent control. That's a big deal. I think about that a lot at this political moment too, that there are a few benefits left that self-employed people get from the government. And they didn’t get many in the first place! At our recent Scratch event in Texas, contributor Austin Kleon talked about having his entire family on the ACA and being really freaked out about what will happen. And he makes royalties. I guess while I think that everyone should get the money -- go get the money, please get the money -- I do fundamentally think that the arts are not necessarily a thing that should be profitable. That's not why the arts exist in our society. Part of a healthy society is one that understands that and finds ways to support its artists. With money.
We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for February. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. Norwegian by Night 3 months 2. 4. The Trespasser 5 months 3. - Lincoln in the Bardo 1 month 4. 5. Moonglow 4 months 5. 6. The North Water 3 months 6. - Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living 1 month 7. 8. Commonwealth 5 months 8. - A Separation 1 month 9. 4. The Underground Railroad 6 months 10. 7. Homesick for Another World 2 months We sold so many copies of The Sellout over the past seven months that Paul Beatty's novel is now off to our Hall of Fame, and if current trends hold it looks like it'll soon by joined by Tana French's The Trespasser and Ann Patchett's Commonwealth. Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, too, has the Hall of Fame in its sights, although it'll need to hang on for one more month, and momentum is not on its side – it dropped five spots on our list this month. Newcomers on this month's list include George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo, Katie Kitamura's A Separation, and Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living edited by Manjula Martin. All three were previously featured on our Great 2017 Book Preview. "Reading Lincoln in the Bardo is thus, itself, its own kind of bardo," wrote Louise McCune in her recent review for our site, which bound the novel – Saunders's first – to the Tibetan Buddhist concept of "something other than death." It is an intermediate state. In Buddhist cosmology, it is most commonly understood as the period of transmigration, between death and new life, when the consciousness is waiting on the platform for the proverbial next train. Scratch, meanwhile, concerns itself with something far more immediate: money, and the making of one's livelihood. The collection includes more than 30 essays, each focused on writers' precarious quests to earn income from their craft. Its appearance on our list was no doubt aided by "Ghost Stories," an excerpt from Sari Botton's contribution to the anthology, in which the author highlights some of her "most memorable deals from almost two decades in the [ghost writing] trenches." For me, ghostwriting is a job — one I wouldn’t do if I didn’t need the money. Like any job, it has its pros and cons, its ups and downs — lots of freedom, the satisfaction of helping someone tell their story; but also, frequently, having to handle intense personalities with kid gloves. Dropping out of this month's list were Jonathan Safran Foer's Here I Am, which was not exactly celebrated on our site (citation), as well as Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing, which most certainly was (citations 1, 2, 3, and 4). Until next month, I'll leave it to y'all to sort that out. This month's near misses included: The Nix, Swing Time, and Hillbilly Elegy. 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 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.
A controversial homebirth midwife; a woman cop who took six bullets as she helped stop a terrorist attack; a young woman making the best of life despite a disfiguring disease; a '60s-pop-music buff who, after his fourth bout with cancer, decided to live out his dream of writing about his encounters with his idols. Those are the kinds of people I have ghostwritten books for -- not people like V.C. Andrews or ex-presidents. You don’t get rich ghostwriting for regular people. In many cases, you also don’t get rich writing for the big names, either. You’d be surprised -- sometimes it’s the wealthiest and/or best-known clients who pay the least. Exactly how much do I make writing other people’s stories? For most books, I receive a flat rate -- anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 in my case, plus or minus a percentage of the author’s royalties. Sometimes I get a percentage of the author’s advance --25 percent to 40 percent in my experience, plus or minus a percentage of the author’s royalties -- but I am told the top ghostwriters get 50. In the best cases I have gotten 40, with 25 percent of the author’s royalties. Here and there, I charge by the hour, $50 to $90, for what I call “editorial hand-holding” for clients who can sort of write, but need a lot of guidance and editing work. For me, ghostwriting is a job -- one I wouldn’t do if I didn’t need the money. Like any job, it has its pros and cons, its ups and downs -- lots of freedom, the satisfaction of helping someone tell their story; but also, frequently, having to handle intense personalities with kid gloves. And yet, I still have not given up on ghostwriting entirely. For every bad client there’s also an instance of grace -- mostly people grateful for my ability to help them express themselves, even if their books haven’t been blockbusters. There have been moments that made it all worthwhile, like helping an author’s daughter, who had severe learning disabilities, write an afterword that made her feel proud. Not to mention it’s a way for me to use the skills I have to make at least some money, while working at home, at my own pace. Here are a few of my most memorable deals from almost two decades in the trenches. THE FIRST TIME It’s 1996 and I’m looking for a way to leave my full-time job as a writer for fashion magazines Women’s Wear Daily and W and go freelance. I meet a young agent at an Authors Guild event I’m covering. She’s looking for someone to ghostwrite a book for a wedding planner. It sounds pretty easy. I’ve been interviewing people, writing profiles, and doing lifestyle journalism for a decade already. I know how to listen, how to construct a story arc, how to keep a story moving. I’ve also dabbled in nonfiction MFA programs I ultimately dropped out of -- Sarah Lawrence and City College of New York -- and have been working on a memoir. This seems like something I can easily do, and something that can supplement the money I’ll make freelancing, so I quit my job. If we land a book deal, the $3,000 I get up front to write the wedding planner’s book proposal will be deducted from the $15,000 in total I’ll receive for writing the book, in three increments: on signing, on delivery, and on acceptance. I’ll also get 15 percent of the author’s royalties once she earns out her advance. I get that job, and at the same time, another -- $10,000 for a book about hair and beauty styles for weddings by a hairstylist. Again, I will be paid in three increments, and this time I secure 25 percent of the author’s royalties. The hairstylist is my first client to muse aloud, from the beginning, about what he is going to say when he appears on Oprah. He is even paying for media training for this express purpose. He is far from the last client I will ever have who verbally anticipates an impending star turn on Oprah. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But after I write four very different versions of her proposal, the wedding planner’s book never secures a deal. And the hairstylist’s book never earns back its advance. He never makes it to Oprah’s couch. THE GREAT MASCARA CAPER In 1998 I get a gig writing a book for the multimillionaire founder of a major cosmetics company. He’s paying $25,000, but no royalties. However, I am told it’s going to be an easy job -- probably taking no more than a couple of months -- because the author has all his information and research ready to go. As a consolation for my missing out on royalties, he also promises me the employee discount -- 75 percent -- on the company’s products, for life.On three separate occasions I spend three weeks working with him in a tiny town in Wisconsin (population: 650). I do what I do with all my clients: a combination of recorded interviews -- which are then transcribed by a professional transcriber (the client balks at paying the fees, but my agent insists) -- and getting my client to do some freewriting (free-associating on paper) because sometimes people brainstorm better that way. I keep waiting for him to give me some big folder full of all the research, but it turns out it’s all conveniently stored in his brain. Some details come out a little different each time. So I interview the scientists at his company myself. I learn to translate into layman’s terms why curly hair tends to be drier than straight, and other secrets of beauty science. The job seems like it will never end. It ends up taking nine months, monopolizing my life, and leaving me nearly broke. Within a year, the client has sold his cosmetics company, and I promptly lose my discount. THE BEST (AND WORST) DEAL This is the memoir of a mother whose son had become quadriplegic after an accident. I race through the proposal so my agent can have it in time for a big international book festival. She’s hoping to get offers in the $200,000 range. That sounds good to me; I’ll receive 40 percent of the advance. My agent calls three times from the festival, first to say she’s gotten an offer of $250,000, but will keep going. The second call, she says she’s snagged a $750,000 offer, but she isn’t stopping until she has $1 million. By the third call, she’s made good on her word. This is it. I am going to make $400,000 in six months for writing one book, plus 25 percent of the author’s royalties. I am stunned. But I am also so scared. What makes a memoir a million- dollar book? How would this have to be different from a book I would have delivered for $200,000? How the fuck am I going to do this? I receive my first of three scheduled payments: $113,000 after my agent’s cut. I have never made that much money in a year, not even when I was an advertising copywriter. But that’s the only check I get. The editor gushes over early glimpses we give her of the manuscript. But then she changes her tune. She rejects two different drafts of it. This is now 2008. The economy is changing. The business is changing. The publishing house wants to kill the book. It seems they’ve realized they’ve been too loose with their money. The agent campaigns to not have the book killed. How can you do this to a woman in her situation? she argues, pulling out the author’s backstory for sympathy. Instead of killing the book, they fire me. I wonder if there’s some kind of lesson I’m supposed to learn from this: I have made the most money I have ever made in ghostwriting on a book from which I was fired. The book eventually comes out, and it’s a huge flop. (And no Oprah appearance.) THE $20,000 BESTSELLER At a time when I am fairly desperate for work, a celebrity’s wife comes along. She wants to write a memoir about raising a kid with a disability. She’s offering $20,000 with no royalties. Subtract my agent’s 15 percent and taxes. Know that this work is very taxing with even the best clients. Know that I need a job. My agent presses for royalties, but the woman and her people refuse. Don’t worry, my agent says. This book won’t be big. There probably won’t be any royalties. I go to meet the author and resentment rises up inside me as she proudly shows me around her 10-bedroom mansion. At the end of our first interview, I ask whether she’s ever tried a gluten-free diet for her son. No, I can’t do that, she says. He’d freak out if I served him something different from his brothers and sister. Tonight, for instance, I’m making spaghetti. It’s his favorite. I can’t deprive him of that. A half hour later, we walk into her kitchen, and there, in front of the stove, is an older woman in an apron making spaghetti. Oh, my god, I think, my client thinks she’s making spaghetti. She’s so used to having people do things for her, she doesn’t even know she’s not actually doing them! I feel like another one of the many people she pays to live her life for her, and it doesn’t feel great. After the book comes out, my client reportedly tells interviewers she didn’t have a ghostwriter -- that the publisher had hired someone, but her work on the first chapter was unsatisfactory, so they fired her and the author wrote the whole thing herself. In five weeks. That false claim amounts to a public retraction of the acknowledgment stipulated in my contract. I am advised to have my lawyer send her a cease and desist letter. To add insult to injury, not only are there royalties for the author, the book lands on The New York Times bestseller list for several weeks. I get nothing for it beyond the $20,000. That sours me on ghostwriting for a while, at least for stingy quasi celebrities. * A couple of years later, I’ll have a very gratifying experience working with an unknown author on his memoir about his struggle, in his 20s, to come out. I don’t get rich on it by any means, but I am fairly paid and enjoy the work. There are aspects of this client’s story that resonate with the memoir I’ve been struggling to write, and so I feel personally invested. This job leaves me feeling hopeful about ghostwriting as a means of supporting myself. Helping people tell their stories, writing books in one of my favorite genres -- memoir -- feels like the most logical and best possible use of my skills, in cases where I am being remunerated decently and treated fairly. It keeps me from having to acquire new skills to stay afloat, like some colleagues who have become real estate agents and lab techs, or are studying nursing. Since then, I’ve had a couple of easy, small gigs, and one nightmare job that would have put me off ghostwriting forever if I weren’t lacking other skills that are as lucrative. As of this writing I’m considering another longer project. The woman who reached out to me has said two things that caught my attention: Money is no object, and, The client is...well...emotional. Here’s hoping that, at the very least, the former makes up for the latter. From Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin. Copyright ©2017 by Manjula Martin. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Although 2016 has gotten a bad rap, there were, at the very least, a lot of excellent books published. But this year! Books from George Saunders, Roxane Gay, Hari Kunzru, J.M. Coetzee, Rachel Cusk, Jesmyn Ward? A lost manuscript by Claude McKay? A novel by Elif Batuman? Short stories by Penelope Lively? A memoir by Yiyun Li? Books from no fewer than four Millions staffers? It's a feast. We hope the following list of 80-something upcoming books peps you up for the (first half of the) new year. You'll notice that we've re-combined our fiction and nonfiction lists, emphasizing fiction as in the past. And, continuing a tradition we started this fall, we'll be doing mini previews at the beginning of each month -- let us know if there are other things we should be looking forward to. (If you are a big fan of our bi-annual Previews and find yourself referring to them year-round, please consider supporting our efforts by becoming a member!) January Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: Gay has had an enormously successful few years. In 2014, her novel, An Untamed State, and an essay collection, Bad Feminist, met with wide acclaim, and in the wake of unrest over anti-black police violence, hers was one of the clearest voices in the national conversation. While much of Gay’s writing since then has dealt in political thought and cultural criticism, she returns in 2017 with this short story collection exploring the various textures of American women’s experience. (Ismail) Human Acts by Han Kang: Korean novelist Kang says all her books are variations on the theme of human violence. The Vegetarian, her first novel translated into English, arrested readers with the contempt showered upon an “unremarkable” wife who became a vegetarian after waking from a nightmare. Kang’s forthcoming Human Acts focuses on the 1980 Korean Gwangju Uprising, when Gwangju locals took up arms in retaliation for the massacre of university students who were protesting. Within Kang tries to unknot “two unsolvable riddles” -- the intermingling of two innately human yet disparate tendencies, the capacity for cruelty alongside that for selflessness and dignity. (Anne) Transit by Rachel Cusk: Everyone who read and reveled in the nimble formal daring of Outline is giddy to read Transit, which follows the same protagonist, Faye, as she navigates life after separating from her husband. Both Transit and Outline are made up of stories other people tell Faye, and in her rave in The Guardian, Tessa Hadley remarks that Cusk's structure is "a striking gesture of relinquishment. Faye’s story contends for space against all these others, and the novel’s meaning is devolved out from its centre in her to a succession of characters. It’s a radically different way of imagining a self, too -- Faye’s self." (Edan) 4321 by Paul Auster: Multiple timelines are nothing new at this point, but it’s doubtful they’ve ever been used in quite the way they are in 4321, Auster’s first novel since his 2010 book Sunset Park. In his latest, four timelines branch off the moment the main character is born, introducing four separate Archibald Isaac Fergusons that grow more different as the plot wears on. They’re all, in their own ways, tied up with Amy Schneiderman, who appears throughout the book’s realities. (Thom) Collected Stories by E.L. Doctorow: Doctorow is known for historical novels like Ragtime and The Book of Daniel, but he also wrote some terrific stories, and shortly before his death in 2015 he selected and revised 15 of his best. Fans who already own his 2011 collection All the Time in the World may want to give this new one a miss, since many of the selections overlap, but readers who only know Doctorow as a novelist may want to check out his classic early story “A Writer in the Family,” as well as others like “The Water Works” and “Liner Notes: The Songs of Billy Bathgate,” which are either precursors of or companion pieces to his novels. (Michael B.) Enigma Variations by André Aciman: The CUNY Professor New York magazine called “the most exciting new fiction writer of the 21st century” returns with a romantic/erotic bildungsroman following protagonist Paul from Italy to New York, from adolescence to adulthood. Kirkus called it an “eminently adult look at desire and attachment.” (Lydia) Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin: Martin ran the online magazine Scratch from 2013 to 2015 and in those two years published some terrific and refreshingly transparent interviews with writers about cash money and how it's helped and hindered their lives as artists. The magazine is no longer online, but this anthology includes many of those memorable conversations as well as some new ones. Aside from interviews with the likes of Cheryl Strayed and Jonathan Franzen, the anthology also includes honest and vulnerable essays about making art and making a career --and where those two meet -- from such writers as Meaghan O'Connell and Alexander Chee. It's a useful and inspiring read. (Edan) Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh: A long, dull day of jury duty in 2008 was redeemed by a lunchtime discovery of Unsaid magazine and its lead story “Help Yourself!” by Moshfegh, whose characters were alluring and honest and full of contempt. I made a point to remember her name at the time, but now Moshfegh’s stories appear regularly in The Paris Review and The New Yorker, and her novel Eileen was shortlisted for the 2016 Booker Prize. Her debut collection of stories, Homesick for Another World, gathers many of these earlier stories, and is bound to show why she’s considered one of literature’s most striking new voices. (Anne) Glaxo by Hernán Ronsino: Ronsino’s English-language debut (translated by Samuel Rutter) is only 100 pages but manages to host four narrators and cover 40 years. Set in a dusty, stagnating town in Argentina, the novel cautiously circles around a decades-old murder, a vanished wife, and past political crimes. Allusions to John Sturges’s Last Train From Gun Hill hint at the vengeance, or justice, to come in this sly Latin American Western. (Matt) Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran: Set in Berkeley, Sekaran’s novel follows two women: Soli, an undocumented woman from Mexico raising a baby alone while cleaning houses, and an Indian-American woman struggling with infertility who becomes a foster parent to Soli’s son. Kirkus called it “superbly crafted and engrossing.” (Lydia) A Mother’s Tale by Phillip Lopate: One day in the mid-'80s, Lopate sat down with his tape recorder to capture his mother’s life story, which included, at various times, a stint owning a candy store, a side gig as an actress and singer, and a job on the line at a weapons factory at the height of World War II. Although Lopate didn’t use the tapes for decades, he unearthed them recently and turned them into this book, which consists of a long conversation between himself, his mother, and the person he was in the '80s. (Thom) The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen: Winner of Mexico’s Mauricio Achar Prize for Fiction, Xilonen’s novel (written when she was only 19, and here translated by Andrea Rosenberg) tells the story of a young boy who crosses the Rio Grande. Mixing Spanish and English, El Sur Mexico lauded the novel’s “vulgar idiom brilliantly transformed into art.” (Lydia) Selection Day by Aravind Adiga: If Selection Day goes on to hit it big, we may remember it as our era’s definitive cricket novel. Adiga -- a Man Booker laureate who won the prize in 2008 for his epic The White Tiger -- follows the lives of Radha and Manju, two brothers whose father raised them to be master batsmen. In the way of The White Tiger, all the characters are deeply affected by changes in Indian society, most of which are transposed into changes in the country’s huge cricket scene. (Thom) Huck Out West by Robert Coover: Coover, the CAVE-dwelling postmodern luminary, riffs on American’s great humorist in this sequel to Mark Twain’s classic set out West. From the opening pages, in which Tom, over Huck’s objections, sells Jim to slaveholding Cherokees, it is clear that Coover’s picaresque will be a tale of disillusionment. Unlike Tom, “who is always living in a story he’s read in a book so he knows what happens next,” Huck seems wearied and shaken by his continued adventures: “So many awful things had happened since then, so much outright meanness. It was almost like there was something wicked about growing up.” (Matt) Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa called Schweblin “one of the most promising voices in modern literature in Spanish.” The Argentinian novelist’s fifth book, about “obsession, identity and motherhood,” is her first to be translated into English (by Megan McDowell). It’s been described “deeply unsettling and disorientating” by the publisher and “a wonderful nightmare of a book” by novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez. (Elizabeth) Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson. Wilson’s first novel, The Family Fang, was about the children of performance artists. His second is about a new mother who joins a sort of utopian community called the “Infinite Family Project,” living alongside other couples raising newborns, which goes well until eventually “the gentle equilibrium among the families is upset and it all starts to disintegrate.” He’s been described by novelist Owen King as the “unholy child of George Saunders and Carson McCullers.” (Elizabeth) Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke: Clarke’s award-winning short story collection Foreign Soil is now being published in the U.S. and includes a new story “Aviation,” specifically written for this edition. These character-driven stories take place worldwide -- Australia, Africa, the West Indies, and the U.S. -- and explore loss, inequity, and otherness. Clarke is hailed as an essential writer whose collection challenges and transforms the reader. (Zoë) American Berserk by Bill Morris: Five years ago, a Millions commenter read Morris’s crackling piece about his experience as a young reporter in Chambersburg, Penn., during the 1970s: “Really, I wish this essay would be a book.” Ask, and you shall receive. To refresh your memories, Morris encountered what one would expect in the pastoral serenity of Pennsylvania Dutch country: “Kidnapping, ostracism, the paranormal, rape, murder, insanity, arson, more murder, attempted suicide -- it added up to a collective nervous breakdown.” Morris has plenty to work with in these lurid tales, but the book is also about the pleasure of profiling those “interesting nobodies” whose stories never make it to the front page, no matter how small the paper. (Matt) February 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) The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee: This sequel to the Nobel Prize-winning South African author’s 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus picks up shortly after Simón and Inés flee from authorities with their adopted son, David. Childhood was a sometimes thin-feeling allegory of immigration that found Coetzee meditating with some of his perennial concerns -- cultural memory, language, naming, and state violence -- at the expense of his characters. In Schooldays, the allegorical element recedes somewhat into the background as Coetzee tells the story of David’s enrollment in a dance school, his discovery of his passion for dancing, and his disturbing encounters with adult authority. This one was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. (Ismail) To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell: Millions staffer and author of Millions Original Epic Fail O’Connell brings his superb writing and signature wit and empathy to a nonfiction exploration of the transhumanist movement, complete with cryogenic freezing, robots, and an unlikely presidential bid from the first transhumanist candidate. O’Connell’s sensibility -- his humanity, if you will -- and his subject matter are a match made in heaven. It’s an absolutely wonderful book, but don’t take my non-impartial word for it: Nicholson Baker and Margaret Atwood have plugged it too. (Lydia) The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen: Pulitzer Prize Winner Nguyen’s short story collection The Refugees has already received starred pre-publication reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, among others. Nguyen’s brilliant new work of fiction offers vivid and intimate portrayals of characters and explores identity, war, and loss in stories collected over a period of two decades. (Zoë) Amiable with Big Teeth by Claude McKay: A significant figure in the Harlem Renaissance, McKay is best-known for his novel Home to Harlem -- which was criticized by W.E.B. Dubois for portraying black people (i.e. Harlem nightlife) as prurient -- “after the dirtier parts of its filth I feel distinctly like taking a bath.” The novel went on to win the prestigious (if short-lived) Harmon Gold Medal and is widely praised for its sensual and brutal accuracy. In 2009, UPenn English professor Jean-Christophe Cloutier discovered the unpublished Amiable with Big Teeth in the papers of notorious, groundbreaking publisher Samuel Roth. A collaboration between Cloutier and Brent Hayes Edwards, a long-awaited, edited, scholarly edition of the novel will be released by Penguin in February. (Sonya) Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li: The Oakland-based Li delivers this memoir of chronic depression and a life lived with books. Weaving sharp literary criticism with a perceptive narrative about her life as an immigrant in America, Your Life isn’t as interested in exploring how literature helps us make sense of ourselves as it is in how literature situates us amongst others. (Ismail) Autumn by Ali Smith: Her 2015 Baileys prize-winning How to Be Both was an experiment in how a reader experiences time. It has two parts, which can be read in any order. Now, Smith brings us Autumn, the first novel in what will be a Seasonal quartet -- four stand-alone books, each one named after one of the four seasons. Known for writing with experimental elegance, she turns to time in the post Brexit world, specifically Autumn 2016, “exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take.” (Claire) A Separation by Katie Kitamura: A sere and unsettling portrait of a marriage come undone, critics are hailing Kitamura's third book as "mesmerizing" and "magnificent." The narrator, a translator, goes to a remote part of Greece in search of her serially unfaithful husband, only to be further unmoored from any sense that she (and in turn the reader) had of the contours of their shared life. Blurbed by no fewer than six literary heavyweights -- Rivka Galchen, Jenny Offill, Leslie Jamison, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, and Karl Ove Knausgaard -- A Separation looks poised to be the literary Gone Girl of 2017. (Kirstin B.) Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez: This young Argentinian journalist and author has already drawn a lot of attention for her “chilling, compulsive” gothic short stories. One made a December 2016 issue of The New Yorker; many more will be published this spring as Things We Lost in the Fire, which has drawn advanced praise from Helen Oyeyemi and Dave Eggers. The stories themselves follow addicts, muggers, and narcos -- characters Oyeyemi calls “funny, brutal, bruised” -- as they encounter the terrors of everyday life. Fair warning: these stories really will scare you. (Kaulie) Universal Harvester by John Darnielle. Darnielle is best known for the The Mountain Goats, a band in which he has often been the only member. But his debut novel, Wolf in White Van, was nominated for a number of awards, including the National Book Award for Fiction. His second novel, set in Iowa in the 1990s, is about a video store clerk who discovers disturbing scenes on the store’s tapes. (Elizabeth) 300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso: It's as if, like the late David Markson, Manguso is on a gnomic trajectory toward some single, ultimate truth expressed in the fewest words possible -- or perhaps her poetic impulses have just grown even stronger over time. As its title suggests, this slim volume comprises a sequence of aphorisms ("Bad art is from no one to no one") that in aggregate construct a self-portrait of the memoirist at work. "This book is the good sentences from the novel I didn't write," its narrator writes. (Kirstin B.) The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso: Set in South Africa, Omotoso’s novel describes the bitter feud between two neighbors, both well-to-do, both widows, both elderly, one black, one white. Described by the TLS as one of the “Best Books by Women Every Man Should Read.” (Lydia) Running by Cara Hoffman: The third novel from Hoffman, celebrated author of Be Safe I Love You, Running follows a group of three outsiders trying to make it the red light district of Athens in the 1980s. Bridey Sullivan, a wild teenager escaping childhood trauma in the States, falls in with a pair of young “runners” working to lure tourists to cheap Athenian hotels in return for bed and board. The narrative itself flashes between Athens, Sullivan’s youth, and her friend and runner Milo’s life in modern-day New York City. According to Kirkus, this allows the novel to be “crisp and immediate,” “beautiful and atmospheric,” and “original and deeply sad.” (Kaulie) Lower Ed by Tressie McMillan Cottom: Academic and Twitter eminence McMillan Cottom tackles a subject that, given a recent spate of lawsuits, investigations, and closings, was front-page news for a good part of 2016. Drawing on interviews with students, activists, and executives at for-profit colleges and universities, Lower Ed aims to connect the rise of such institutions with ballooning levels of debt and larger trends of income inequality across the U.S. (Kirstin B.) Abandon Me by Melissa Febos. Febos’s gifts as a writer seemingly increase with the types of subjects and themes that typically falter in the hands of many memoirists: love (both distant and immediate), family, identity, and addiction. Her adoptive father, a sea captain, looms large in her work: “My captain did not give me religion but other treasures. A bloom of desert roses the size of my arm, a freckled ostrich egg, true pirate stories. My biological father, on the other hand, had given me nothing of use but life...and my native blood.” Febos transports, but her lyricism is always grounded in the now, in the sweet music of loss. (Nick R.) Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A sweeping look at four generations of a Korean family who immigrates to Japan after Japan's 1910 annexation of Korea, from the author of Free Food for Millionaires. Junot Díaz says “Pachinko confirms Lee's place among our finest novelists.” (Lydia) Flâneuse by Lauren Elkin: Following in the literary tradition of Charles Baudelaire, Virginia Woolf and Edgar Allan Poe, Elkin is fascinated by street wanderers and wanderings, but with a twist. The traditional flâneur was always male; Elkin sets out to follow the lives of the subversive flâneuses, those women who have always been “keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.” In a review in The Guardian, Elkin is imagined as “an intrepid feminist graffiti artist,” writing the names of women across the city she loves; in her book, a combination of “cultural meander” and memoir, she follows the lives of flaneuses as varied as George Sand and Martha Gellhorn in order to consider “what is at stake when a certain kind of light-footed woman encounters the city.” (Kaulie) March Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: In an unnamed city, two young people fall in love as a civil war breaks out. As the violence escalates, they begin to hear rumors of a curious new kind of door: at some risk, and for a price, it’s possible to step through a portal into an entirely different place -- Mykonos, for instance, or London. In a recent interview, Hamid said that the portals allowed him “to compress the next century or two of human migration on our planet into the space of a single year, and to explore what might happen after.” (Emily) The Idiot by Elif Batuman: Between The Possessed -- her 2010 lit-crit/travelogue on a life in Russian letters and her snort-inducing Twitter feed, I am a confirmed Batuman superfan. This March, her debut novel samples Fyodor Dostoevsky in a Bildungsroman featuring the New Jersey-bred daughter of Turkish immigrants who discovers that Harvard is absurd, Europe disturbed, and love positively barking. Yet prose this fluid and humor this endearing are oddly unsettling, because behind the pleasant façade hides a thoughtful examination of the frenzy and confusion of finding your way in the world. (Il’ja R.) White Tears by Hari Kunzru: A fascinating-sounding novel about musical gentrification, and two white men whose shared obsession with hard-to-find blues recordings leads them to perdition. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called White Tears "perhaps the ultimate literary treatment of the so-called hipster, tracing the roots of the urban bedroom deejay to the mythic blues troubadours of the antebellum South.” (Lydia) South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion: Excerpts from two of the legendary writer’s commonplace books from the 1970s: one from a road trip through the American south, and one from a Rolling Stone assignment to cover the Patty Hearst trial in California. Perhaps the origin of her observation in Where I Was From: “One difference between the West and the South, I came to realize in 1970, was this: in the South they remained convinced that they had bloodied their land with history. In California we did not believe that history could bloody the land, or even touch it.” (Lydia) All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg: A novel about a 39-year-old woman taking stock of her life, from the best-selling author of The Middlesteins and St. Mazie. This one prompted Eileen Myles to ask “Is all life junk -- sparkly and seductive and devastating -- just waiting to be told correctly by someone who will hold our hand and walk with us a while confirming that what we’re living is true.” Evidently so. (Lydia) Ill Will by Dan Chaon: Dustin Tillman was a child when his parents and aunt and uncle were murdered in his home, and it was his testimony that sent his older, adopted brother, Rusty, to jail for the crime. Forty years later, he learns that Rusty is getting out based on new DNA evidence. As that news sends tremors through Dustin’s life and the life of his family, he buddies up with an ex-cop who has a theory about some local murders. As often happens in Chaon’s book, you’ll be gripped by the story and the characters from the first page, and then all of a sudden you suspect that nothing is as it seems, and you’re sucked in even further. (Janet). The Accusation by Bandi: For readers interested in a candid look at life in North Korea, The Accusation -- originally published in South Korea in 2014 -- will immerse you via the stories of common folk: a wife who struggles to make daily breakfast during a famine, a factory supervisor caught between denouncing a family friend and staying on the party's good side, a mother raising her child amidst chilling propaganda, a former Communist war hero who is disillusioned by the Party, a man denied a travel permit who sneaks onto a train so he can see his dying mother. Bandi is of course a pseudonym: according to the French edition, the author was born in 1950, lived in China, and is now an official writer for the North Korean government. The stories, written between 1989 and 1995, were smuggled out by a friend -- and will be available to us via Grove Press. (Sonya) The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti: This new novel by the editor of One Story magazine follows a career criminal who goes straight to give his daughter a chance at a normal life. But when his daughter, Loo, gets curious about the 12 mysterious scars on her father’s body, each marking a separate bullet wound, she uncovers a history much darker than she imagined. Twelve Lives is “is one part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade, and twelve parts wild innovation,” says Ann Patchett, author of Commonwealth. (Michael B.) The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge: Fiction meets history in The Night Ocean's series of intricately nested narratives. A psychologist's husband, obsessed with a did-they-or-didn't-they affair between horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and a gay teenage admirer, disappears while attempting to solve the mystery. Set over a 100-year period and spanning latitudes from Ontario to Mexico City, this novel from New Yorker contributor La Farge promises to pull Lovecraft's suspense into the present day with flair. (Kirstin B.) Wait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth: Unferth is an author about whom many overused litspeak cliches are true: she is incisive, bitingly funny, and -- here it comes--— whipsmart. A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for her memoir, Revolution, her short stories have been published in Granta, McSweeney’s, and the Paris Review, and are collected here for the first time. (Janet) April Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout: “As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” said Strout, the New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner, of her 2016 novel, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories.” Anything is Possible was written in tandem to Lucy Barton. For Strout’s many devoted readers, this novel promises to expand on and add depth to the story, while exploring themes for love, loss, and hope in a work that, “recalls Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity.” (Claire) Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: Set in post-colonial Kenya, this troubling allegory from the perennial Nobel candidate explores the evil that men do and the hope that serves as its only antidote. Written while in prison, the book’s proverbial structure and unapologetically political message -- think Karl Marx delivering liberation theology in East Africa -- follow a young Kenyan woman, Jacinta Wariinga, who, despite grave injustice, is determined to see neither her spirit nor her culture crushed. This is the original 1982 translation from the Gikuyu language, now being rereleased as part of the Penguin Classics African Writers Series. (Il’ja) Marlena by Julie Buntin I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Buntin's remarkable debut novel, about an intense friendship between two young women in rural Michigan, and I agree with Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter, who calls it "lacerating." Aside from a riveting story and nuanced characters, Buntin has also delivered an important story about addiction and poverty in middle America. In its starred review, Booklist called it "Ferrante-esque." (Edan) American War by Omar El Akkad: El Akkad is an award-winning Canadian journalist, whose reporting has ranged from the war in Afghanistan to the protests in Ferguson, Mo. His brilliant and supremely disquieting debut novel opens in 2074, at the outbreak of the Second American Civil War, and follows a young Louisiana girl, Sarat Chestnut, as time and conflict gradually transform her from a child into a weapon. (Emily) The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch: In a new kind of world, we need a new kind of hero and a reimagined Joan of Arc from Yuknavitch seems like just the thing. Following her widely lauded The Small Backs of Children, this novel takes place in the near future after world wars have turned the Earth into a war zone. Those surviving are sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures who write stories on their skin, but a group of rebels rally behind a cult leader named Jean de Men. Roxane Gay calls it, “a searing condemnation, and fiercely imaginative retelling.” (Claire) The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron: Our own Cameron returns with a new novel about two women separated by, oh, only 40,000 years: Girl, the eldest daughter in the last family of Neanderthals, and present-day archeologist Rosamund Gale, who is excavating Neanderthal ruins while pregnant. How these two stories echo and resonate with one another will be just one of its delights. Such an ingenious premise could only come from the writer who brought us The Bear, which O, The Oprah Magazine deemed "a tender, terrifying, poignant ride" and which People gave 4 stars, saying "it could do for camping what Jaws did for swimming." (Edan) Startup by Doree Shafrir: Probably you know Shafrir by her byline at Buzzfeed -- her culture writing always whipsmart, current, and grounded. Shafrir’s debut novel sounds like more of the same: three people working in the same Manhattan office building with colliding desires, ambitions, and relations, head for major conflict and reckoning as scandal sucks each of them into a media-and-money vortex. Hilarity, a mindfulness app, and an errant text message are also involved. Looking forward to this one. (Sonya) What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah: This debut collection of short stories, which takes its name from a story published in Catapult in 2015 to wide acclaim -- one that seamlessly blends magical realism and a kind of sci-fi, resulting in a one-of-a-kind dystopia -- announces the arrival of a brilliant new talent. Don’t take our word for it: one story, “Who Will Greet You at Home,” appeared in The New Yorker and was a National Magazine Award finalist, and others are already drawing high praise from across the publishing community. These stories explore the ties that bind us together, but in magical, even subversive forms. (Kaulie) Void Star by Zachary Mason: In Mason’s second novel, three people living in wildly different circumstances in a dystopian near-future are drawn together by mysterious forces. The future that Mason imagines in Void Star is not particularly startling -- extreme climate change, ever-widening class divisions, and AIs who have evolved well beyond the understanding of the humans who created them -- but what sets Void Star apart is the stunning and hallucinatory beauty of Mason’s prose. Both a speculative thriller and a meditation on memory and mortality. (Emily) Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke: I tell as many people as possible how cool I think Radtke is, so that when she blows up I’ll have proof that I was ahead of the curve. Besides having her own career as a writer and illustrator, she is the managing editor of Sarabande Books (where she not only published Thrown by Kerry Howley -- one of my favorite books of the last 5 years -- but designed its killer cover). Her first book is graphic memoir/travelogue about her life, family history, and a trip around the world in search of ruins. (Janet) Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard: The author goes home in Gerard’s thorough, personal, and well-researched collection of essays on Florida, its inhabitants, and the ways they prey upon each another. As far as Floridian bona fides, it doesn’t get much more Sunshine State than growing up on the Gulf in an Amway family, and truly in the book’s eight essays, Gerard covers more of the state’s ground than Walkin’ Lawton Chiles. (Nick M.) Kingdom of the Young by Edie Meidav: A new collection of the stories by novelist who brought us Lola, California, Crawl Space, and The Far Field. The stories have invited comparisons to Vladimir Nabokov, Clarice Lispector and Italo Calvino. (Lydia) May Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami: The seven stories in Murakami’s new collection concern the lives of men who, for one reason or another, find themselves alone. In “Scheherazade,” a man living in isolation receives regular visits from a woman who claims to remember a past life as a lamprey; in “Yesterday,” a university student finds himself drawn into the life of a strange coworker who insists that the student go on a date with his girlfriend. (Emily) The Purple Swamp Hen by Penelope Lively: Across her many wonderful books, Lively has ranged from low farce (How It All Began) to high feeling (Moon Tiger), from children’s literature to a memoir on old age. Now comes her fourth story collection, the first in 20 years. The title story draws on reliably entertaining source material: the meretricious lives of Roman rulers. Robert Graves turned to a stammering Claudius for his narrator, Lively to a less exalted personage: a purple swamp hen. Other stories involve trouble: a husband and wife working their way out of it, and a betrayed wife doing her best to cause some for her husband. (Matt) Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki: Our own Lepucki has always had keen insight into the psyches of women -- particularly so-called "difficult" protagonists. Her first novel, California, may have been about a family surviving the end of society, but it was really a post-apocalyptic domestic drama full of sharp wit and observations. Her sophomore effort is more grounded in reality but equally cutting. Lady is a writer struggling to raise her two kids and finish her memoir when she hires S. to help, but the artist becomes more than just a nanny for Lady’s eldest troubled son. (Tess M.) Trajectory by Richard Russo: In this new collection, Russo, a 2016 Year in Reading contributor, takes a break from the blue-collar characters that readers have come to know from his bestselling novels Nobody’s Fool and Empire Falls to spin tales of struggling novelists trying their hands at screenwriting and college professors vacationing in Venice. No matter. Readers can still count on Russo to deliver deeply human stories of heartbreak leavened by gently black humor. (Michael B.) The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris: The book after Ferris’s Man Booker shortlisted To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a collection of short stories. The title story, first published by The New Yorker in 2008, is about a couple who invite a boring couple over to dinner (“even their goddam surprises are predictable,”) only to be surprised when the boring couple manage to surprise by not showing up. The collection pulls together stories that promise the, “deeply felt yearnings, heartbreaking absurdity, and redemptive humor of life,” for which Ferris is so well known. (Claire) The Leavers by Lisa Ko. Ko’s debut novel has already won the 2016 Pen/Bellwether Award for Socially Engaged Fiction, a prize created and selected by Barbara Kingsolver. The contest awards a novel “that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships,” and Ko’s book certainly fits that laudable description. The novel is the story of Deming Gao, the son of a Chinese-American immigrant mother who, one day, never returns home from work. Adopted by white college professors, Deming is renamed and remade in their image -- but his past haunts him. (Nick R.) Isadora by Amelia Gray. The endlessly inventive Gray (whose story “Labyrinth” from The New Yorker is a gem) creates a fictional interpretation of Isadora Duncan, once described as the “woman who put the Modern into Modern Dance.” A dancer who mixed the classical, sacred, and sensual, Duncan is the perfect subject matter for Gray; if a writer can expertly resurrect the Theseus myth at a small-town fair, then she can do justice to a life as inspiring -- and troubled -- as Duncan’s. (Nick R.) Chemistry by Weike Wang: In this debut novel, a graduate student in chemistry learns the meaning of explosive when the rigors of the hard sciences clash with the chronic instability of the heart. A traditional family, a can’t-miss fiancé, and a research project in meltdown provide sufficient catalyst to launch the protagonist off in search of that which cannot be cooked up in the lab. If the science bits ring true, in her diabolical hours, the author doubles as a real-life organic chemist. (Il’ja R.) No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal: Satyal’s novel takes place in a suburb near Cleveland and tells the story of Harit and Ranjana, who are both Indian immigrants that are experiencing loss. Harit’s sister has passed away and he’s caring for his mother; Ranjana’s son has left to college and she’s worrying her husband is having an affair. These two characters form a friendship amidst grief and self-discovery in a novel that is both heartfelt and funny. (Zoë) Bad Dreams and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley: The New Yorker stalwart (whose title story “Bad Dreams” appeared in the magazine in 2013) comes out with her third collection of short stories in the past decade. In one set in 1914, a schoolteacher grapples with the rising power of the women’s suffrage movement; in another, a young housesitter comes across a mysterious diary. In general, the stories let tiny events twirl out into moments of great consequence -- in the title story, a young child’s nightmare turns out to be the hinge of the plot. (Thom) One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul. Ah, the current frontrunner for Most Relatable Title of the Coming Year. The Canadian writer’s debut essay collection is “about growing up the daughter of Indian immigrants in Western culture, addressing sexism, stereotypes, and the universal miseries of life.” Fans of her work online will be eager to see her on the printed page. Canadian journalist (and Koul’s former journalism professor) Kamal Al-Solaylee said of her writing, “To me, she possesses that rarest of gifts: a powerful, identifiable voice that can be heard and appreciated across platforms and word counts.” (Elizabeth) Salt Houses by Hala Alyan: In her debut novel, Alyan tells the story of a Palestinian family that is uprooted by the Six-Day War of 1967 and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. This heartbreaking and important story examines displacement, belonging, and family in a lyrical style. (Zoë) June So Much Blue by Percival Everett: In Everett’s 30th book, an artist toils away in solitude, painting what may be his masterpiece. Alone in his workspace, secluded from his children, best friend, and wife, the artist recalls memories of past affairs, past adventures, and all he’s sacrificed for his craft. (Nick M.) The Accomplished Guest by Ann Beattie: 1976 was a good year for Beattie: she published her first story collection, Distortions, as well as her debut novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter. Forty years and roughly 20 books later, Beattie has a new collection of stories, closely following last year’s The State We’re In, linked stories set in Maine. One defining trait of Beattie’s short fiction is her fondness for quirks: “However well you write, you can become your own worst enemy by shaping it so highly that the reader can relate to it only on its own terms. Whereas if you have some little oddities of everyday life that aren’t there to be cracked, it seems to me that people can identify with it.” (Nick R.) Hunger by Roxane Gay: A few years ago, Gay wrote Tumblr posts on cooking and her complex relationship with food that were honest yet meditative. It was on the cusp of her breakthrough essay collection Bad Feminist. Now she may be a household name, but her second nonfiction book delves into the long-running topic of the role food plays in her family, societal, and personal outlook with the same candor and empathy. (Tess M.) The Last Kid Left by Rosecrans Baldwin: The Morning News cofounder and author of Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down returns with a murder mystery/romance/coming-of-age story set in New Hampshire. (Lydia) Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim: Lim has long been publisher of the small, avant-garde Ellipsis Press, whose authors, including Joanna Ruocco, Evelyn Hampton, Jeremy M. Davies, and Lim himself, are remarkable for their unique voices, their attention to language and experimentation. Together they make a significant if lesser-known body of work. Dear Cyborg, Lim’s third novel, will be his first with a major press (FSG). Tobias Carroll has said, “Lim’s novels tread the line between the hypnotically familiar and the surreptitiously terrifying.” With comparisons to Tom McCarthy and Valeria Luiselli and praise from Gary Lutz and Renee Gladman, Lim’s work is worth seeking out. (Anne) The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro: In this follow-up to Cutting Teeth, about a zeitgeisty group portrait of Brooklyn hipster moms, Fierro turns back the clock to the summer of 1992 when a plague of gypsy moths infests Avalon, an islet off the coast of Long Island, setting in motion a complex tale of interracial love, class conflict, and possible industrial poisoning at the local aircraft factory. Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year, says Fierro, director of Brooklyn’s Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, has written “a novel to slowly savor, settling in with her characters as you would old friends.” (Michael B.) The City Always Wins by Omar Robert Hamilton: A debut novel about the Egyptian revolution from filmmaker and activist Hamilton, who has written about the events of Tahrir square for The Guardian and elsewhere. (Lydia) And Beyond Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: The Odyssey has been repeatedly invoked by early reviewers of Sing, Unburied, Sing, which follows its protagonist on the journey from rural Mississippi to the state penitentiary and beyond. In the hands of a less talented writer, that parallel might seem over-the-top, but in the hands of one of America’s most talented, generous, and perceptive writers, it’s anything but. (Nick M.) The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy: What does Niels Bohr's take on quantum mechanics have to do with Johann Sebastian Bach and the suicide of a young New Orleans woman? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps this, overheard at an advance reading -- from 2015 -- of Cormac McCarthy’s long-awaited new novel: "Intelligence is numbers; it's not words. Words are things we made up." That semi-colon haunts me. From Knopf: a “book one” and “book two” by McCarthy are set for a March 2017 release. A week later the story changes. Maybe July. Perhaps December. With McCarthy, the calculus remains inscrutable but the wait worth it. (Il’ja R.) And So On by Kiese Laymon: We’ve learned virtually nothing new about this book since our last preview, but continue to expect it in 2017. As I said then, “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) The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet: A madcap critical theory mystery by the author of HHhH. In the new novel, a police detective comes up against the likes of Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Julia Kristeva. It sounds bonkers. (Lydia) Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang: Zhang’s got range: the poet/Rookie writer/essayist/ and now fiction writer has a voice that’s at once incisive and playful and emboldened. “If I fart next to a hulking white male and then walk away, have I done anything important?” she asks in her chapbook Hags, when wondering about ways to fight imperialism; she has written of encounters with white privilege as a Chinese American, of messiness and feelings and depression, of errata and text messages and Tracey Emin, and of resisting Donald Trump. Zhang’s sure to bring this force to her first collection of short stories, Sour Heart, which will be the first book published by Lena Dunham’s Lenny imprint. (Anne) Made for Love by Alissa Nutting: Hazel ran out of her husband and moved into her father’s retirement community, a trailer park for senior citizens. She’s laying low for a while. Things are complicated, though. Her husband is the founder and CEO of Gogol Industries, a tech conglomerate bent on making its wares ubiquitous in everyday life, and he’s determined to use the company’s vast, high-tech resources to get her back. Meanwhile, did I mention Hazel’s father is obsessed with a realistic sex robot? (Nick M.) What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons: A debut novel from Apogee Journal cofounder and contributing editor at LitHub. Thandi loses her South African mother and navigates the process of grieving and growing up in Pennsylvania. (Lydia) And Now We Have Everything by Meaghan O’Connell: Millions Year in Reading alum and New York magazine’s The Cut columnist O’Connell will bring her signature voice to a collection of essays about motherhood billed as “this generation’s Operating Instructions.” Readers who follow O’Connell’s writing for The Cut or her newsletter look forward to a full volume of her relatable, sometimes mordant, sometimes tender reflections on writing and family life. (Lydia) This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins: Jerkins is way too accomplished for her age, but her range of skills and interests - 19th-century Russian lit, postwar Japanese lit, speaker of six languages, editor, assistant literary agent -- is so awesome I just can’t begrudge her. Jerkins writes reportage, personal essays, fiction, profiles, interviews, literary criticism, and sports and pop culture pieces. Now she has an essay collection coming out: This Will Be My Undoing. Some of her previously published essays include "The Psychic Toll of Reading the News While Black", "Why I Got a Labiaplasty in My 20s", and "How Therapy Doesn't Make Me a Bad Christian" -- all of which may or may not be collected in the new book; but you get a feel for the great stuff we can expect. (Sonya) Sharp by Michelle Dean: Dean has made a name for herself as an astute feminist journalist and critic for the likes of The Guardian, the New Republic, and The Nation. Her work often focuses on the intersection of crime, culture, and literature. So it's fitting that her first book is nonfiction on other powerhouse female critics. (Tess M.)