This Is How You Lose Her

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The Millions Top Ten: March 2015

  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. The Novel: A Biography 6 months 2. 2. Station Eleven 6 months 3. 3. My Brilliant Friend 4 months 4. 5. The Narrow Road to the Deep North 6 months 5. 7. The Strange Library 4 months 6. 6. The David Foster Wallace Reader 3 months 7. 9. Dept. of Speculation 4 months 8. 8. All the Light We Cannot See 5 months 9. 10. Loitering: New and Collected Essays 3 months 10. - The Buried Giant 1 month   Well, folks, it's happened. The enduring success of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks has pushed the author to a Millions echelon so high that it's never before been reached. That's right: Mitchell is now the only author in site history to reach our hallowed Hall of Fame for three (count 'em!) different works. And with The Bone Clocks joining his past works, Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Mitchell's latest achievement puts him ahead of David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest,The Pale King), Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, This Is How You Lose Her), Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies), Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), George Saunders (Tenth of December, Fox 8), and Dave Eggers (Zeitoun, The Circle), each of whom authored two Hall of Fame titles. Maybe this repeated success will be enough to coax him into a Year in Reading 2015 appearance. (ARE YOU LISTENING, PUBLICISTS?) Joining this month's list thanks to The Bone Clocks's graduation is Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel, The Buried Giant. It's a book "about war and memory," wrote Millions staffer Lydia Kiesling in her extremely personal review of the work for this site. "But it is also about love and memory, and you don’t need to have lived through an atrocity to get it." Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that our own Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, which is poised to graduate to our Hall of Fame next month, was the recent winner of The Morning News's annual Tournament of Books. (It beat out Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, which is also on our Top Ten.) The novel, which has earned the praise of George R. R. Martin, took the final match-up by a score of 15-2, which should be decisive enough to persuade all of you who haven't yet bought the book to do so immediately. Join us next month as we graduate three books and open the doors for three newcomers. Will they be among the "Near Misses" below, or will they be something new entirely? Near Misses: My Struggle: Book 1, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, An Untamed State, The Paying Guests and The First Bad Man. See Also: Last month's list.

The Millions Top Ten: May 2014

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. The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose 6 months 2. 2. Beautiful Ruins 3 months 3. 5. Bark: Stories 2 months 4. 3. The Son 2 months 5. 4. Just Kids 5 months 6. 8. Eleanor & Park 2 months 7. 6. Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction's Most Beloved Heroines 2 months 8. 9. The Good Lord Bird 2 months 9. - A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World 1 month 10. 10. Jesus' Son: Stories 2 months   In order to graduate to our Hall of Fame, books must remain on the Millions Top Ten for more than six months. The feat has only been accomplished by 82 books in the series's five year history. Within that subset of hallowed tomes, though, eight authors have attained an even higher marker of success: they've reached the Hall of Fame more than once. This accomplishment is remarkable for two reasons: 1) the Top Ten typically favors heavily marketed new releases, so it means that these eight authors have more than once produced blockbusters in the past few years; and 2) because Top Ten graduates must remain on our monthly lists for over half a year before ascending to the Hall of Fame, that means their books must be popular enough to have sustained success. (In other words, marketing only gets you far.) The names of these eight authors should be familiar to Millions readers, of course. They belong to some of the most successful writers of the past 25 years: David Foster Wallace* (Infinite Jest, The Pale King), Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, This Is How You Lose Her), Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest), David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet), Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies), Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), George Saunders (Tenth of December, Fox 8), and — as of this month — Dave Eggers (Zeitoun, The Circle). (*David Foster Wallace has the unique distinction, actually, of having two of his own books in our Hall of Fame in addition to a biography written about him.) Even money would seem to indicate that Alice Munro is poised to join this esteemed group next. Her Selected Stories graduated to the Hall of Fame shortly after her Nobel Prize was awarded in 2013, and her collection, The Beggar Maid, has been holding fast ever since. Meanwhile, the surprise re-emergence of Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, which has been hovering at the bottom of the Top Ten lists these past two months, indicates that maybe he'll reach that group soon as well. His novella, Train Dreams, graduated in August of 2012. Changing gears a bit: the lone new addition to our Top Ten this month in the form of Rachel Cantor's mouthful of a novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee's Guide to Saving the World. The book, which was published last month, was featured in our Great 2014 Book Preview, during which time Millions staffer Hannah Gersen posed the eternal question, "It’s got time travel, medieval kabbalists, and yes, pizza. What more can you ask for?" What more, indeed? Near Misses: Little Failure: A MemoirAmericanahStories of Anton Chekhov, My Struggle: Book 1, and Tampa. See Also: Last month's list.

The Millions Top Ten: March 2013

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. Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever 3 months 2. 3. Tenth of December 3 months 3. 4. An Arrangement of Light 4 months 4. - The Middlesteins 1 month 5. 5. Building Stories 3 months 6. 6. Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story 6 months 7. - Stand on Zanzibar 1 month 8. - Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk 1 month 9. 8. Arcadia 3 months 10. 7. Both Flesh and Not 4 months   Last fall saw the arrival of three hotly anticpated titles from a trio of the most popular literary writers working today. Now those three titles are ending their run in our Top Ten by graduating to our Hall of Fame: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz, NW by Zadie Smith, and Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. Those graduations made room for three debuts. Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins pops up at number four. Attenberg made an appearance in our Year in Reading in December. The most popular piece on The Millions last month, by a wide margin, was Ted Gioia's unearthing of John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar and the remarkably prescient predictions contained within. The essay sent readers running to check out the book. Finally, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain completed its long, stead ascent onto our list. Fountain also appeared in our Year in Reading, and Edan Lepucki interviewed him in these pages last June. Our first ebook original, Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever by staff writer Mark O'Connell, stayed atop our list and continues to win praise from readers and critics. An exerpt is available here and you can learn more about the book here. Near Misses: The Round House, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Dear Life, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, and Sweet Tooth. See Also: Last month's list.

The Millions Top Ten: February 2013

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. Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever 2 months 2. 2. This Is How You Lose Her 6 months 3. 3. Tenth of December 2 months 4. 4. An Arrangement of Light 3 months 5. 5. Building Stories 2 months 6. 8. Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story 5 months 7. 9. NW 6 months 8. - Arcadia 2 months 9. 10. Telegraph Avenue 6 months 10. 7. Both Flesh and Not 3 months   With our top five remaining unchanged, the big action in February was the graduation of a pair of books to our Hall of Fame. Gillian Flynn's juggernaut Gone Girl won over Millions readers with help from Edan Lepucki and Janet Potter's entertaining tag-team reading of the book in September, though copies were already flying off the shelves in the months prior. Meanwhile, D.T. Max's Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace was hotly anticipated by Millions readers from the moment the book was announced. We ran an excerpt and interviewed Max. Those graduations made room for the return of Lauren Groff's Arcadia (recently interviewed in our pages) and, appropriately enough, David Foster Wallace's Both Flesh and Not. Our first ebook original, Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever by staff writer Mark O'Connell, stayed atop our list and continues to win praise from readers and critics. An exerpt is available here and you can learn more about the book here. Near Misses: Dear Life, Sweet Tooth, The Round House, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. See Also: Last month's list.

The Millions Top Ten: January 2013

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. - Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever 1 month 2. 1. This Is How You Lose Her 5 months 3. - Tenth of December 1 month 4. 5. An Arrangement of Light 2 months 5. - Building Stories 1 month 6. 4. Gone Girl 6 months 7. 2. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace 6 months 8. 3. Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story 4 months 9. 6. NW 5 months 10. 7. Telegraph Avenue 5 months   To kick off a new year of our Top Ten lists at The Millions, we made a slight adjustment to our calculations. The change has to do with how we account for lower-priced, shorter-form ebook originals that have become popular with our readers and effectively gives a modest penalty to the cheaper ebooks and recognizes that a purchase of a $1.99 ebook is different from buying a hardcover costing $20 or more. Despite this change, thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response from our readers, our first ebook original, Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever by staff writer Mark O'Connell, lands atop our list. So far, the feedback from readers has been great, and we hope more will be inspired to pick it up. An exerpt is available here and you can learn more about the book here. Also debuting is Tenth of December by George Saunders, one of our Most Anticipated books and a title that has gotten a ton of positive press. Finally, also debuting is Chris Ware's Building Stories, reviewed in these pages by none other than Mark O'Connell. Ware also participated in our Year in Reading in December. Dropping from the list were David Foster Wallace's Both Flesh and Not, Lauren Groff's Arcadia and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan Other Near Misses: Dear Life and The Round House. See Also: Last month's list.

The Millions Top Ten: December 2012

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for December. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 2. This Is How You Lose Her 4 months 2. 3. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace 5 months 3. 4. Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story 3 months 4. 8. Gone Girl 5 months 5. - An Arrangement of Light 1 month 6. 5. NW 4 months 7. 6. Telegraph Avenue 4 months 8. 7. Both Flesh and Not 2 months 9. - Arcadia 1 month 10. - Sweet Tooth 1 month   After an impressive run, A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava graduates to our Hall of Fame (check out Garth Hallberg's profile of De La Pava that introduced many of our readers to this unusual book). This makes room for Junot Díaz's This Is How You Lose Her (our review) to be crowned our new number one. Also joining our Hall of Fame is The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn (see our review of the last book in the series). Debuting on our list is Nicole Krauss's An Arrangement of Light, a bite-sized ebook original. And Krauss is joined on our list by Lauren Groff's Arcadia (selected by Alexander CheeEmily St. John Mandel, and Janet Potter in our recent Year in Reading series; Groff was also a participant) and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (which we recently reviewed). Dave Eggers' A Hologram for the King slipped off the list. Other Near Misses: Dear Life, Building Stories, The Round House, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. See Also: Last month's list.

A Year in Reading: Madeline Miller

In a normal year, I usually find only one or two books that I truly love, that I know I’ll continue to cherish, reread and constantly press on others. But this year the list of those books was happily quite long. Here’s a sample: I greatly admired Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which follows the rise of Thomas Cromwell in Henry VIII’s court, and I’m delighted to say that her follow-up, Bring up the Bodies is even better. It’s hard to find new praise to heap on these books after the amazing reviews and the second Booker prize, so I will merely say: it’s all true. Thomas Cromwell is a hypnotic figure, and Mantel is as magnificent at conjuring the twists of his psyche as she as at bringing his world to life. You know an author is talented when they can make five-hundred-year-old currency reform feel like life or death. I’ve received many wonderful book recommendations this year, but I think my favorite might be the one from the booksellers at Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath — because they were the ones who told me about Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The novel follows Billy Lynn, an American soldier in Iraq, caught on film by an embedded reporter in some wartime heroics. He and his unit are shipped back to America for a PR-filled victory tour. Ben Fountain depicts this disorienting experience with eloquence, empathy, humor, and a piercing understanding of America’s conflicted ideals. At the time of this writing, I am technically only three quarters through Junot Díaz’s new book of short stories, This is How You Lose Her, but I already know it’s one of my favorites. Díaz’s writing is vivid, surprising, and viscerally engaging — just like his characters. Several of the stories are centered around Yunior, the narrator of Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I am glad for the chance to return to his — both Yunior’s and Díaz’s — elegiac and compelling company. Though this book can hardly be called new, I couldn’t close without mentioning George Eliot’s Middlemarch. After years of having this book recommended to me, I finally decided to read it and found it as brilliant as everyone says. Eliot’s understanding of human quirks and follies is pitch-perfect: she lays us bare with humor and scalpel-insight, but not without empathy. Here’s hoping for a 2013 filled with great books!   More from A Year in Reading 2012 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

The Millions Top Ten: November 2012

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for November. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. A Naked Singularity 6 months 2. 3. This Is How You Lose Her 3 months 3. 2. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace 4 months 4. 6. Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story 2 months 5. 4. NW 3 months 6. 5. Telegraph Avenue 3 months 7. - Both Flesh and Not 1 month 8. 7. Gone Girl 4 months 9. 10. A Hologram for the King 4 months 10. 9. The Patrick Melrose Novels 6 months   With our November list, A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava is enjoying the final month of its miracle run at the top before graduating to our Hall of Fame next month (don't miss Garth Hallberg's profile of De La Pava before it goes). A Naked Singularity will join Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, as the Booker winner, which has just been inducted Mantel's first Thomas Cromwell book, Wolf Hall, is now also a Hall of Famer. Moving up to number two on the list, Junot Díaz's This Is How You Lose Her (our review) continues its climb, surpassing D.T. Max's biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace. Wallace looms large on our list as his posthumously published collection of essays Both Flesh and Not debuts at number seven. The book is the third by Wallace (after Infinite Jest and The Pale King) to appear on a Millions Top Ten list. The new Paris Review anthology is another big mover, hopping two spots in its second month on the list. We've got an interview with one of the editors. Near Misses: The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays, The Fifty Year Sword, The Round House, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. See Also: Last month's list.

The Notables: 2012

This year’s New York Times Notable Books of the Year list is out. At 100 titles, the list is more of a catalog of the noteworthy than a distinction. Sticking with the fiction exclusively, it appears that we touched upon a few of these books as well: Arcadia by Lauren Groff (a Staff Pick, Paradise Regained: An Interview with Lauren Groff) At Last by Edward St Aubyn (Most Anticipated, Illicit Pleasures: On Edward St Aubyn’s At Last) Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Everything is Political: An Interview with Ben Fountain, National Book Award Finalist) Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Booker Prize Winner) Building Stories by Chris Ware (Infographics of Despair: Chris Ware’s Building Stories) By Blood by Ellen Ullman (Who We Are Now: On Ellen Ullman’s By Blood) Canada by Richard Ford (Across the Border: Richard Ford’s Canada) City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (The Mad Music of Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane) Fobbit by David Abrams (Post-40 Bloomer: David Abrams Taking As Long As It Takes) The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli (Going Back to the Page: An Interview with Tatjana Soli, A Millions contributor) Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru (Plot, Rhyme, and Conspiracy: Hari Kunzru Colludes with His ReadersFractured World: Hari Kunzru’s Gods Without Men) HHhH by Laurent Binet (Exclusive: The Missing Pages of Laurent Binet’s HHhH) A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (National Book Award Finalist) Home by Toni Morrison (Where the Heart Is: Toni Morrison’s Home) Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander (So, Nu?: Shalom Auslander’s Hope: A Tragedy) How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti (How Should a Writer Be? An Interview with Sheila Heti) NW by Zadie Smith (Lamenting the Modern: On Zadie Smith's NWExclusive: The First Lines of Zadie Smith's NW) The Round House by Louise Erdrich (National Book Award Winner) Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (National Book Award Winner) Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber (Mothers and Daughters: On Natalie Serber’s Shout Her Lovely Name) Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (The Lies We Tell: Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth) Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (Booker Shortlisted) Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (Golden Oldie: Michael Chabon’s Telegraph AvenueExclusive: The First Lines of Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue) This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (The ‘You’ In Yunior: Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose HerA Brief Wondrous Interview with Junot Díaz) Watergate by Thomas Mallon (I Am Not A Character: On Thomas Mallon’s Watergate) What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander (Speaking of Anne Frank…) The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (National Book Award Finalist)

The Millions Top Ten: October 2012

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for October. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. A Naked Singularity 4 months 2. 2. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace 2 months 3. 5. This Is How You Lose Her 2 months 4. 3. NW 2 months 5. 4. Telegraph Avenue 2 months 6. - Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story 1 month 7. 8. Gone Girl 3 months 8. 6. Bring Up the Bodies 6 months 9. 10. The Patrick Melrose Novels 5 months 10. - A Hologram for the King 3 months   Our hurricane-delayed Top Ten for October has arrived. This month we see a new Paris Review anthology land on our list. We recently covered its creation in an interview with one of the editors. Meanwhile, Dave Eggers'A Hologram for the King returns to our list after a month off wandering in the desert. A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava remains in our top spot (don't miss Garth Hallberg's profile of De La Pava from June), and D.T. Max's biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace holds on to the second spot (read the book's opening paragraphs), and Junot Díaz's This Is How You Lose Her (our review) leapfrogs other big fall books to land the third spot. We had two books graduate to our Hall of Fame: How to Sharpen Pencils by David Rees (don't miss the hilarious, yet oddly poignant interview) and Stephen Greenblatt's Pulitzer winner The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. Near Misses: Shakedown, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, An Arrangement of Light, The Fifty Year Sword, and New American Haggadah. See Also: Last month's list.

Breaking the Barrier: On Race, Gender, and Junot Díaz

A few weeks ago, in the The New York Observer, Nina Burleigh threw down the notion that the enormous success of Junot Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her is undeserved. Díaz is beloved not because he is a great writer, Burleigh argues, but because Díaz is a man, and a man who delights us with tales about dashing players and their hapless women victims. Is it the wars, the terrorism, the recession, driving the longing for a regenerated machismo that Mr. Díaz’s multi-culti cred makes acceptable again? Is it a feminist backlash?...Mr. Díaz’s wondrous bewitching of prize committees comes at a time when women writers remain wildly underrepresented in publishing, on both the reviewing and the reviewed side. And on Twitter, multiple women writers I respect and admire, like Roxane Gay and Elliot Holt gave Díaz his due, but went on to say that Díaz’s style of confessional writings about love would not fly, if written by a woman. Normally, I’d be all over this kind of thing. I love talking about the lack of gender equity in publishing (in fact, I did for Bitch Magazine this summer). But I can’t agree that Díaz’s success is gender-based; because yes Díaz is a man, but he’s also a man of color. Critics who say that Díaz would not receive the same warmth, if he was a woman, are overlooking the factor of race. The VIDA statistics that count the number of women’s bylines versus men’s in prestigious magazines are undeniable: in the last two years, in the publications surveyed, only one-quarter to one-third of bylines went to women. There is no parallel count for writers of color, (anybody want to start one?) though we can count prizes. Since 1917, a total of four men of color have won the Pulitzer: N. Scott Momaday, Oscar Hijuelos, Edward P. Jones, and Junot Díaz. Thirty women have won the Pulitzer, almost half of them condensed in the last 30 years, and three of those women were women of color. Since 1950 two men of color have won a National Book Award in Fiction (Ralph Ellison and Ha Jin), and 16 women have won an NBA, one of them a woman of color. And these numbers are reflected in MFA programs and at writing conferences. For example, I had the great fortune of attending an MFA program with close numbers of men and women, though gender parity did vary from year to year. But over the three years that I attended the program, I can count only seven men of color, and 12 women of color, probably out of about 150 students.* While no stats on gender and race exist for MFA programs, I don’t think that my program was out of the norm. Even at VONA, the annual Bay Area writing conference for writers of color -- where, I should disclose, I took a workshop with Junot Díaz in 2007 -- the number of women attendees outstrips the number of men. I’m not trying to say that publishing isn’t difficult for women; I’m simply trying to say that it ain’t easy for men of color either. However. I don’t need to dazzle you with depressing numbers to make my case. I could just point out the fact that in our culture, the stereotypes associated with men of color don’t exactly make room for the kind of insight, expressiveness, and artsyness we associate with writers. Instead, these stereotypes expect men of color, particularly African American men and Latino men, to be hypermasculine and violent, and little else. They expect East Asian men, South Asian men and Arab men to be computer nerds, cab drivers, or terrorists, and not poets; Native American men are expected to be drunk. It surprises me that only a few months after we were all wearing hoodies for Trayvon Martin, we can overlook the fact that race is a terrifyingly high obstacle for men of color. Of course, some of the greatest wordsmiths, storytellers and social historians of our time have to come to us through hip hop -- like Big L, Biggie, Jay-Z or your preferred MC of choice -- but thanks to the racialized wariness that often meets hip hop in the mainstream, you will rarely hear these men of color described adoringly by the arbiters of literary culture. While I emphatically agree that gender is a barrier in publishing, taking out our sense of injustice on men of color is barking up the wrong tree. It would make more sense for us to think about how the barriers we face are parallel, and to try working on the unfairness in publishing together. But Nina Burleigh aside, what really struck in the craw of my Twitter feed is not the fact that Junot Díaz is a man, period, but rather that he is a man who is being rewarded for writing love stories about characters who are mysteriously close to himself. The argument runs that women aren’t allowed to write about love, especially not in a confessional way -- unless they want to get shelved under “Chick Lit” instead of “Prize Winners.” This holds more water for me. Still, I can think of multiple women writers who write about love and their own lives -- and who gracefully demonstrate the impact of gender on their love and their lives -- just as Díaz does. Like Mary Gaitskill, for example. Or Alice Munro. (There is even a biography of Alice Munro that charts how much her stories overlap with her own life.) It is no coincidence that Gaitskill, Munro, and Díaz all write stories that are so innovative, heart-breaking, and thrilling that they dwarf those of their contemporaries. While it is hard for anyone to write a good story, and harder still to get that good story published, more often than not people who are marginalized have to perform at a higher level than the norm in any field, to overcome the bias that might otherwise count them out. And to call Junot Díaz’s stories “love stories” seems a little tongue in cheek. They are more like unlove stories: they chronicle one Dominican American man’s inability to overcome the patriarchal expectations on himself, which he then turns on the women in his life, leading to eventual bleak and total emotional isolation. (Could Díaz be addressing those expectations of hypermasculinity; the ones that also make it hard for men of color to be seen as artists?) Going on what Díaz admits about his personal life, the stories may be confessional, but they aren’t masturbatory or without purpose; instead they manage to maintain that almost impossible balance between beautiful writing, and politics. A quick read of stories like “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars,” “Alma,” or “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” might yield the belief that Díaz’s character, and Díaz himself, are pigs and misogynists. For sure, some readers I know can’t even get past Yunior’s addiction to ethnic and sexist slurs. While I don’t share the sentiment, I can sympathize with the desire to carve out a space in one’s life that is free from such language, as loaded, painful and constant as it is in our everyday lives. But I have trouble understanding how a willing and careful reader could miss the fact that almost all of Díaz’s stories are cautionary tales about what happens to men who refuse to lay down their male power, in order to see women as human. When Nina Burleigh says, “Díaz’s alter ego is utterly beholden to his wandering penis, yet never examines his compulsion to bone everyone in sight,” I wonder if we were reading the same book. This is How You Lose Her’s biggest joke, and biggest tragedy is this: Yunior’s thesis is that he’s “not a bad guy,” and yet the tales he tells about himself are merciless in proving the opposite. Yunior may not “examine his compulsion[s]” but the stories do; unflinchingly. Yunior is a bad guy, and his refusal to take responsibility leads him to the worst ending of all by the book’s close: the inability to connect. Because Díaz’s work is so concerned with masculinity, it is hard for me to imagine “the female Junot Díaz” -- that woman writer who writes just like he does, but doesn’t receive the accolades he does. The fact that Díaz is so uniquely himself as a writer compounds this issue. Does the question work in reverse? Who is the male Mary Gaitskill? The male Alice Munro? (Chekhov, Cynthia Ozick says.) Zadie Smith and ZZ Packer seem like possible counterparts for Díaz -- though their accolades are intact -- for their blend of humor and tragedy and high and low culture, and their investigation of the impact that race, gender and class have on love and family. For me, the magic of Junot Díaz is that his stories work on more levels than I can keep track of. The way he writes race and gender is radical, but what he does with words is so enchanting that a reader who doesn’t care about race and gender can still be swept away. Among the great gifts of his work is the common space it opens up. Michael Bourne wrote in September that Díaz lets all readers share in his space, whatever their background: “...no matter what racial madness was happening on the page, I as a white reader always felt included among his boys, the ‘you’ in his stories always seemed to include me.” While this is not the point Bourne is trying to make (and you should read his review because his point is more insightful and complex), Díaz’s writing does indeed put the bros at ease, because Díaz is simultaneously critical of machismo, while still being macho. And so conversations about race and gender with white writers or male writers that I would otherwise find stressful, risky, because I am a woman writer of color -- especially if we’re talking about less bro-friendly writers like (God forbid) Alice Walker -- miraculously become open and relaxed, if we’re talking about Yunior. Here Díaz gets to have his cake and eat it too, and that could be what annoys feminist writers. A woman would never get high fives for criticizing the patriarchy; that I can definitely agree with. But. Could I be irritated that we can’t have the same kind of relaxed conversations in the context of Louise Erdrich, Edwidge Danticat, or even Edward P. Jones, because they don’t make the bros feels as safe as Díaz? Sure. But I’m still wildly grateful for that space that fits both me and the literary bros. Seriously, that’s a magic trick and a half. And yet, this common space can be dangerous, because it’s too easy. If I were to entertain the notion that something other than Díaz’s colossal talent is behind his success, I would guess that prize committees bequeath their approval on Díaz, because a bonus comes from association with him, outside of his cred as a writer. Loving Díaz can be like slipping Kanye lyrics into conversation or cushioning racist comments with references to your black best friend: it allows white readers a reprieve from white guilt. A fantasy world opens up, where racial difference is elided, and you can be absolved of the crimes associated with white privilege by raving about Junot Díaz, or by giving him a big prize. Sure, the cynicism behind this sentiment is as ugly as Burleigh’s crass dismissal of Díaz’s worth. But the fact of the matter is that neither my cynicism nor Burleigh’s misplaced anger is going to go away any time soon; not until the landscape of publishing shares more of the power, and lets in the people that it has shut out. __ *The total number of students in my program at any time was 80. The number 150 is a rough guess that includes any students who overlapped with me, and graduated before me, after me or with me.

A Brief Wondrous Interview with Junot Díaz

I saw Salman Rushdie speak at Columbia University about nine years ago. He was a good performer. Put it this way, he had enough charisma to defend the Iraq War, which had started a little over a week before, to a Columbia audience without getting booed. Everyone had an important question for Rushdie. He only had time to take a few and the last was met by a collective groan: “Do you have any advice for young writers?” As people filed out of the theater a few minutes later, you could hear a chorus of undergraduates calling the poor questioner a tool. Rushdie’s answer had been equally dismissive: “If you need my advice, don’t do it.” I thought about that night, as a study in contrasts, after I saw Junot Díaz speak at Seattle Town Hall last month. Díaz was an expert performer. He paced the stage with perfect posture, gave shout outs to his fellow Dominicans and then his fellow New Jerseyites. He treated the audience’s questions as precious gifts of silver. Almost every comment was “beautiful.” A middle-aged teacher relayed her students’ questions about Drown, which they had recently studied. A young comic book geek of color talked about how good it felt to be represented in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Díaz was there to celebrate the act of reading. When someone asked him what advice he had for young writers, he recommended that they spend less time writing for the approval of other writers and more time writing for readers. He much preferred hanging out with readers than writers himself. It’s hard to draw a line between this gentle social democrat who seemed so comfortable with his body on stage, as prepared to run for Congress as to appear on Oprah, with Yunior, the acerbic narrator who has lain at the center of Díaz’s fiction for 15 years. Díaz chronicled Yunior’s childhood in his first short story collection Drown and reintroduced him as an angry, smart, and oversexed young man in Oscar Wao. Díaz’s third book, This is How You Lose Her, is made up of nine stories, telling the story of Yunior’s failures in love. Díaz and I spoke by phone three weeks after his appearance in Seattle, and a few days after he was awarded a MacArthur.  A few days after we spoke, This is How You Lose Her  was nominated for a National Book Award.  He was in New York.  What follows is a pared down version of our conversation. The Millions: I saw you on stage at Seattle Town Hall a few weeks ago. And you were peppering your talk with very academic words – “subjectivity,” "heteronormativity,” “hegemony” – none of which appears in your fiction. When you write your fiction, do you find yourself writing with two voices in your head? One is [that of] the former Rutgers student activist. The other is Yunior’s, which does not have this vocabulary. Junot Díaz: To move the metaphor towards optics, I’m not certain if it’s that bifocal. I think it’s a lot more complex than that, especially with a character like Yunior who has proven himself in a number of texts to be far smarter than he wishes or allows others to be aware of. [O]f course - if we’re going to use the tech terms my students [at MIT] use - there’s language that may not appear on the interface but is a deep part of the operating system...A character like Yunior is really aware of these words. He changes his words to best effect. He has no interest in anyone really knowing who he is and in anyone understanding the depths of his complexity. And this of course goes hand in hand with all his failures across the board with women. TM: You’ve spent about 15 years of your published life and longer, just considering when you started writing him, living with Yunior. What has it been like living with someone like this for so long? JD: I find someone like him very difficult because as a construct inside me he rarely talks about the things that emotionally matter to him most. He’s so damn elliptical... You think he’s a piece on a chessboard and he’ll do anything I tell him to. But that’s not really the way it works. Each character is a game. And once the rules are in place you got to follow the rules of the game. Even in breaking the rules there are rules... One [of the] differences [between us] is that I would have made the obvious hardships and dramas vis-à-vis his family [more front and center]. But as a character he doesn’t like to make that stuff front and center. He will state [a problem] or he will dramatize it in the most subdued way. And people are paying attention to other things and rarely notice. I feel like if it were up to me and I just wrote a realistic essay about this character’s life it would be far more frightening [to lay] out the details of it than the fictional representation in the way that Yunior tells stories. He’ll mention stuff that’s happened to him but it’s always on the back burner. Part of me longs for a character who is, how do we say it, a stereotypical memoir-esque character who wishes everyone to know the hardships that they suffered and wants to parade all the traumas around. But he’s not that guy... He’s been a fascinating person to create and to do work with. In many ways, I owe him both my career and much of my art. But my god, what a difficult cat. He never likes to say things straight. TM: Out of the nine stories in This is How You Lose Her, you make one attempt in “Otravida, Otravez” to write from the point of view of a woman. Why is that in here? JD: [T]his of course makes no sense to anyone, but for me it’s one of the larger projects in the book. And this is my thesis in This is How You Lose Her: Yunior’s inability to imagine or sympathize or think about women in interesting ways. It’s revealed at the end of This is How You Lose Her that the book that you have read is the book that Yunior has written. And so we know that he has written “Otravida, Otravez.” And it’s an attempt for Yunior to say, “This is the best I can do with female subjectivity. Does it show that I’ve changed in anyway after everything I have done or doesn’t it?” So in my mind it’s all connected. The average reader is going to be like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” The average reader is going to be, “Okay, I need a little bit more help than this.” The average reader is like, “Well that’s a real nice ghost framework, but it’s not present enough at the textual level.” I understand that. I feel that, like a fool, I always try to hide more than I should. TM: Do you think Yunior could sustain that voice for the length of a novel, not just a short story? JD: I would raise serious questions about that. [laughs] I don’t know. I think of my own abilities. I think that I, perhaps, might be able to do it. It’s very different when I write the sections of Oscar Wao from Lola’s perspective and “Otravida, Otravez,” from Yunior’s perspective. It is very different when you try to write a piece where there’s no hidden, filtering subjectivity. It’s just my [own] male subjectivity and not this other male subjectivity, [Yunior’s], that I’m trying to critique and also hide behind. I think I would be bad. Let’s say that in both cases maybe I’d be able to do it but it would probably be very bad. TM: “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” read like a dark comedy about depression as much as a tragic coda to the collection.  There was a long distance between your first and second books, which you linked in one of your interviews to your battle with depression. Was this story your way of writing about depression? JD: It’s weird, because of course we use whatever experience we have to model whatever we end up writing [about]. So there’s no question that my own depressive state helped me design Yunior’s. But I think part of what mattered to me in this was that larger project. We see a character like Oscar Wao in the novel able to be public in his family that he’s depressive, that life isn’t always easy. [And he does that] even in a culture that like many cultures looks down on many kinds of mental health issues or tries to silence them... And then I was really interested in Yunior’s character because Yunior is this guy who tries through his body to avoid psychic issues, to use his body to sidestep the psychic weight of trauma. And you know when you’re reading the book what you begin to notice - and again this is my own obsessive egghead shit – is how Yunior begins to somatize slowly his psychic states. He’s not able to address them emotionally. But his body is reacting to the shit that he has to put up with. Whether it’s him biting his tongue and bleeding out or other things that happen to him. And it’s a slow progress. By the end of the book you get that his body can no longer be a block or a shield. His body absolutely collapses as it somatizes fully his own depression, his own misery, his own grief. Grief not only about breaking the heart of the woman he loved but grief about everything that comes before. There was a silence about depression in the larger culture that I inhabit but even in my own work.  I thought [it] would be great to break [that silence] a bit. But again you end up organizing this stuff as an artist. So you do this weird shit where you plot the mental breakdown through the whole book.  And you hope that the nerds will figure it out and if not - fuck it - you hope that someday someone else will just enjoy it on another level. But depression fucking sucks, dude. Depression sucks. And part of you thinks, “Well if I have to deal with being fucking depressed, I’ll figure out some way to make some art out of it.” TM: You just got your MacArthur grant and I’m assuming you’re going to use that to write your big science-fiction novel. JD: I’ve had plans before and they haven’t come to shit. So fingers’ crossed, man. That would be the dream. TM: A number of high-brow literary writers have dipped into science fiction: Colson Whitehead, Kazuo Ishiguro, and even, arguably, Philip Roth in his alternate history The Plot Against America. Do you see any mistakes these writers have made that you fear repeating? JD: I guess my interest in the genre is actually in the genre. I don’t want to write literary fiction’s take on genre. I actually like the genre. I think that nobody who reads science fiction, no one who reads apocalyptic literature or reads alternate earth literature is confusing Philip Roth’s book for one of the classic texts in the genre. So I do think that there’s stories that are so squarely within the genre that there’s no possibility that they can be slipstreamed, that there’s no possibility for anyone to say, “Oh well this might be fantasy but it’s fantasy for the high brow set,” like someone might say about Lev Grossman’s wonderful novel, The Magicians. “It’s fantasy, but it’s not that kind of fantasy.” And I guess I’m just interested in that kind of fantasy. I don’t think I’m worried about mistakes as much as I’m interested in writing squarely in the genre and not what is often called slipstreaming. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not colossally privileged vis-à-vis other people who write squarely within the genre. You get the notice that they never get...We are not talking about the hundreds of books written by people within the genre that cover the same ground as some of these literary people but we are talking about these literary people. And the reason we’re talking about them is they’re fucking privileged.

2012 National Book Award Finalists Announced (With Excerpts and Bonus Links)

Award season is in full swing, and this year’s National Book Award finalists have just been announced on MSNBC's "Morning Joe". After two years in a row of the fiction finalists numbering four women versus one male author, the gender count is reversed this time. The list also includes some very well-known names (Junot Dí­az, fresh off his Genius Grant, is a previous Pulitzer winner; Dave Eggers is a former Pulitzer finalist; and Louse Erdrich is a former NBCC Award winner). This is something of a departure from the more obscure focus of recent years. In nonfiction, Anthony Shadid got a posthumous nod after he dies while reporting from Syria. Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available: Fiction: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Dí­az (The Millions review, Dí­az's Year in Reading, a Top Ten book) A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (excerpt [pdf], a former Top Ten book) The Round House by Louise Erdrich (excerpt) Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (The Millions interview, excerpt) The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (excerpt) Nonfiction: Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956 by Anne Applebaum Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (excerpt) The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4 by Robert Caro (The Millions review, excerpt) The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez

2012′s Literary Geniuses

This year's "Genius grant" winners have been announced. The MacArthur grant awards $500,000, “no strings attached” to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Alongside, scientists, artists and scholars are some newly minted geniuses with a literary focus. This year’s literary geniuses are: Junot Díaz is no stranger to readers of The Millions. His novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was tops in our reader poll for the best books of the first decade of the millennium (and #11 among our panelists. Martha Southgate told us why.) It's also a Millions Hall of Famer. Díaz first came to our attention with his incredible debut collection, Drown, and he recently returned with another hotly anticipated collection, This Is How You Lose Her, which was recently a jumping off point for an essay exploring Díaz's "niftiest literary trick." Finally, Díaz once graced these pages, sharing unique reading recommendations as a participant in our annual Year in Reading series. Dinaw Mengestu has two books under his belt: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air. Mengestu became known to a wider audience after being named to the New Yorker's widely discussed "20 under 40" list in 2010. Mengestu, who was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but moved to the United States when he was two years old, was also one of the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35" authors in 2007. Journalist David Finkel is best known for his work as a staff writer at the Washington Post, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006. He is also the author of the book The Good Soldiers, which is an account of his time embedded with a division of Army Rangers in 2007 as part of the "Surge" meant to turn the tide in the Iraq War. That book won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, which is given to a book that exemplifies, "literary grace, a commitment to serious research and social concern."

The Millions Top Ten: September 2012

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for September. This Month Last Month Title On List 1. 1. A Naked Singularity 4 months 2. 2. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace 2 months 3. - NW 1 month 4. - Telegraph Avenue 1 month 5. - This Is How You Lose Her 1 month 6. 3. Bring Up the Bodies 5 months 7. 5. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern 6 months 8. 7. Gone Girl 2 months 9. 4. How to Sharpen Pencils 6 months 10. 6. The Patrick Melrose Novels 4 months Millions readers know: we had been looking ahead to September as a big month for books for quite some time, with new titles arriving from three of the biggest names working in literary fiction working today. We reviewed all three books and all three landed high up in our Top Ten this month with NW by Zadie Smith (our review) besting Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (our review) and This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (our review). A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava remains in our top spot (don't miss Garth Hallberg's profile of La Pava from June), and D.T. Max's biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace holds on to the second spot (read the book's opening paragraphs). Dropping off our list are New American Haggadah (just missing our Hall of Fame), A Hologram for the King, and Binocular Vision (read our interview with author Edith Pearlman) Other Near Misses: An Arrangement of Light and How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life. See Also: Last month's list.

The ‘You’ In Yunior: Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her

“I’m not a bad guy,” begins the first story of Junot Diaz’s new collection, This Is How You Lose Her. A few lines later, the narrator, Yunior, fills in the details: See, many months ago, when Magda was still my girl, when I didn’t have to be careful about almost anything, I cheated on her with this chick who had tons of eighties free-style hair. Didn’t tell Magda about it, either. You know how it is. A smelly bone like that, better off buried in the backyard of your life. Magda only found out about it because homegirl wrote her a fucking letter. And the letter had details. Shit you wouldn’t even tell your boys drunk. For longtime readers of Junot Diaz, this opening riff will sound promisingly familiar. First there is Yunior himself, who figured in many of the stories in Diaz’s debut collection, Drown, and narrated some of the more hilarious sections of Diaz’s novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won a Pulitzer and transformed Diaz from a MFA-world fave into a bestselling author. Then there is the story’s subject, the “typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole” in love and in trouble, cheating on the girl of his dreams and spending the rest of the story trying without success to win her back. Most of all, though, there is that distinctive Diaz voice, somehow both conversational and profoundly literary. No review of Diaz’s books fails to mention his narrative voice, the way it combines Spanglish street slang with sci-fi nerd talk and, in his later work, a frosting of academic jargon. That’s all there, in spades, in This Is How You Lose Her. In one of the later stories, “Miss Lora,” in which teenage Yunior falls into a Mrs. Robinson-type affair with an older woman in his housing project, Diaz moves in the space of a few short pages from untranslated Spanish dialogue, to a comprehensive list of 1980s nuclear holocaust films, to an offhand reference to the “atavistic impulse to die alone, out of sight.” And this is the same story in which Yunior describes Miss Lora, a skinny, muscular ex-gymnast, with the line: “Bitch made Iggy Pop look chub.” But amid the verbal pyrotechnics, Diaz’s niftiest literary trick is hiding in plain sight: his deft and surprisingly widespread use of the second person. With another kind of writer the fact that three of the nine stories in the collection are narrated in the second person, and a fourth is directed to an unnamed “you,” would be viewed as a stylistic coup, a la Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. Here, it passes almost without notice. But just because Diaz does such a good job of masking this narrative tactic behind a barrage of jokes and Spanglish bombast doesn’t mean he doesn’t use it to devastating effect, or that it doesn’t shine a light on how Diaz manages to dance so precariously along the color line that, four years after the election of a black president, still pervades American life. Take that opening paragraph from the collection’s first story, “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars”: “You know how it is,” Yunior says of his decision not to tell his girlfriend about his cheating. “A smelly bone like that, better off buried in the backyard of your life.” Already, just a few lines into the story, you – whoever you are, white, black, brown, American, Dominican, German, Aussie – are complicit in Yunior’s crime. You know how it is. Even better is the line about the incriminating details in the girlfriend’s letter: “Shit you wouldn’t even tell your boys drunk.” It happens so quickly and so effortlessly that you don’t realize that in eight words Diaz has supplied you not only with a scarlet letter’s worth of sexual indiscretions, but a girlfriend, a girl on the side, and a group of “boys” to listen while you brag about it. You, my friend, are a player, a Latin chick-magnet, a sucio, and all you did was open a book and start reading. This is one of Diaz’s greatest gifts, the intimacy of his voice, the way he invites you over to his place to smoke a few bowls and talk about girls, the way, in story after story, he lets you in on the fun. From the story, “Nilda”: “She was Dominican, from here, and had super-long hair, like those Pentecostal girls, and a chest you wouldn’t believe – I’m talking world-class.” Or from “Alma,” who, it transpires, “has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans. An ass that could drag the moon out of orbit.” The scene is so vivid, so real: four or five guys sitting around an apartment, beer bottles and pizza slices everywhere, the blare of the TV drowning out the traffic outside, you pull up a seat, somebody passes you the pipe – and, boom, Yunior starts in on one of his stories. But there is a subtle divide in these stories, and in the way Diaz employs that narrative “you,” that only becomes clear when you step back from the book for a day or two. Five of the nine stories in This Is How You Lose Her date from the late 1990s and more or less comprise outtakes from Drown. The other four stories are more recent, three of the four having appeared in the New Yorker in the last two years. While many stylistic tics and thematic concerns link the two batches of stories, something strange and sad has become of the “you” in Yunior during the intervening years. In the early stories, Yunior talks about “you” all the time, occasionally referring to himself, but more often as an appeal to his listener, the “you” reading the story who is invited to share his pain and his joy. In the later stories, though, “you” isn’t an occasional visitor; more often than not, the entire story is written in the second person, as if “you” isn’t Yunior at all, but someone else – a younger, uglier, more dangerous Yunior he is trying to rid himself of by calling out in public. This is especially true of the last two stories, “Miss Lora” and “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” which are both narrated in the second person. In “Miss Lora,” which like many of the stories here, has the dream-like formlessness of recovered memory, Yunior seems to be speaking to quite literally to a younger version of himself, warning that younger “you” away from his secret love affair with a lonely older neighbor the way the audience shouts at the hero of a horror movie, “No! No! Don’t open that door!” In “Cheater’s Guide,” Yunior, like his creator and alter ego, has moved to Boston to take a teaching job a prestigious university – Diaz is a professor at M.I.T ; Yunior appears to be teaching at Harvard. But success hasn’t made him any less of a horndog, and at first “Cheater’s Guide” seems like a return to form, yet another raunchy, self-deprecating Yunior story that begins, as all Yunior stories must, with the line: “Your girl catches you cheating.” But as the story proceeds, it becomes clear that nerdy young chatterbox Yunior has grown older and sadder, saddled with the mental and physical afflictions of middle age. He is still obsessed with his body, but when he takes up jogging, he tears a ligament in his foot, and then, when he joins a yoga studio (“Mad fucking ho’s in there,” his best friend Elvis tells him. “I’m talking ho’s by the ton.”), he ends up rupturing a disc. Yunior is alone and he is hurting, and for the first time he is losing his cool. I found “Cheater’s Guide” one of the most emotionally bleak stories Diaz has written, and also one of his most honest. Diaz has certainly never shrunk from dealing openly with race, but in all three books, no matter what racial madness was happening on the page, I as a white reader always felt included among his boys, the “you” in his stories always seemed to include me. In “Cheater’s Guide,” it didn’t. Yunior is openly angry, and while most of his ire is directed at the women in his life and his failing body, white people are starting to piss him off, too. He’s a tenured professor and yet he can’t cross Harvard Yard without some security guard asking for his ID. White kids throw soda cans at his head, and it seems like every time he stops at an intersection some crazy white person starts screaming at him and giving him the finger. “You take it all very personally,” Yunior writes, most definitely not including whiteboy me. “I hope someone drops a fucking bomb on this city, you rant.” No, Yunior is not a bad guy, but he is growing up, and as Diaz is honest enough to admit in this collection, getting older isn’t necessarily all mellowing out and seeing the error in your youthful ways. Sometimes, it seems, you can spend your whole life clowning, turning all that rage into jokes designed to make the very people who anger you most laugh the hardest, and then one day that stops working. You’ve done it – you’re a success, a big-deal professor read by millions, and still you’re pissed off. And then what? I don’t know. But I plan to tune in for Yunior’s next appearance to find out.

Choose Your Own Adventure with Junot Díaz

Let’s play a game: a “lazy Sunday” version of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Ready? Good. Imagine you’re hanging out with Junot Díaz today. What do you want to do? Select Option A to go barhopping. Select Option B to go comic book shopping. Select Option C to read an excerpt from his new book, This Is How You Lose Her. Or Select Option D to read Leah Hager Cohen's review of the collection. There is no wrong answer.

Tuesday New Release Day: Chabon, Díaz, Straight, Boianjiu, Powers, Byrne, Woodward

Another big week for books is headlined by Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue (the book's opening lines) and Junot Díaz's This Is How You Lose Her. Also out are Susan Straight's Between Heaven and Here, touted debuts The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu and The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, How Music Works by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, and Bob Woodward's latest Beltway tick-tock The Price of Politics.
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