The Millions Top Ten: May 2019

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

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

5 months

2.
2.

The Friend
6 months

3.
3.

The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms
4 months

4.
5.

Milkman

5 months

5.
6.

The William H. Gass Reader
6 months

6.
7.

Educated: A Memoir

4 months

7.
9.

Becoming
2 months

8.


The New Me
1 month

9.


Normal People
1 month

10.


The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual
1 month

Patience gets undeserved hype because persistence is the real virtue. Persistence is active; it depends on a desire to change one’s status. Persistence relies on volition. Meanwhile anything can be patient if it sits around long enough. I am thinking of this today, nine months after The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual first appeared in our Top Ten posts… among the “near misses.” Since then, Ward Farnsworth’s book, which Ed Simon called an “idiosyncratic, strange, yet convincing and useful volume,” has made seven more appearances… among the “near misses.” It was only this month, roughly 250 days since we first caught its glimpse, that the book has made it to the actual Top Ten list… in tenth position. Persistence, friends. It’s patience plus positivity.

Two true newcomers joined our Top Ten this month as well: Halle Butler’s The New Me, which came out in March, and Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which followed in April. In our Great Book Preview, Anne K. Yoder called Butler’s second novel “a skewering of the 21st-century American dream of self-betterment.” Then, in a review for our site, Freya Sanders called Rooney’s latest “an unconventional bildungsroman that explores not the power of self-determination but the idea of the self as something generated between people.”

These three books found space on this month’s list because our Hall of Fame scooped up three more: Ling Ma’s Severance, Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Kate Atkinson’s Transcription. For Ma and Atkinson, this is their first trip to our Hall, but Moshfegh has been there once before in 2017—her ticket stamped on the strength of Homesick for Another World.

Next month we inch closer to our Great Second-Half Book Preview, so buckle up.

This month’s near misses included: The Golden StateThe Great Believers, Circe, Love in the New Millennium and Last Night in Nuuk. See Also: Last month’s list.

Tayari Jones Wins 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction

Tayari Jones won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel An American Marriage.Jones also won the Aspen Words Literary Prize this year, and beat out two Booker Prize winners for the award. Kate Williams, chair of judges for the Women’s Prize, said of An American Marriage: “This is an exquisitely intimate portrait of a marriage shattered by racial injustice. It is a story of love, loss and loyalty, the resilience of the human spirit painted on a big political canvas—that shines a light on today’s America. We all loved this brilliant book.”

Formerly the Orange Prize and Baileys Prize, the Women’s Prize for Fiction recognizes the best English-language novel by a woman published in the U.K. in the previous year. The £30,000 prize celebrates “excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world.” It is the U.K.’s only literary prize for fiction by women. Bonus Link: Our quick guide to the 2019 Women’s Prize shortlist—it’s never too late to read the other nominees!

Must-Read Poetry: June 2019

Here are five notable
books of poetry publishing in June.

Sightseer in This Killing City by Eugene Gloria

“To whom does God pray?
Does He ever sleep? / Why did Judas hang himself?” In Drivers at the Short-Time Motel, Eugene Gloria’s debut back in
2000, the young narrator questions his father, who “clears his voice, / says
nothing, his silence / the very shape of our distance.” Nearly 20 years later,
Gloria’s fourth collection, Sightseer in
This Killing City continues his themes of family, silence, and wonder, but his
poetry has evolved into an even more deft lineation: original phrasings, unique
imagery, and lasting emotions. Gloria is full of surprises. “Apron” gives
curious life to the functional garment which is “agreeable / as a kitchen
mantle with ripening fruit.” Middle-aged, “the apron aspires to stand before /
sinners and saints and carve / verses on stone: Mon Coeur mis à nu, / she’ll tattoo on your chest.” Gloria takes
his illuminating eye to varied subjects: the war on drugs, Thelonious Monk, fathers,
coffins, Dante, and more. We get the sense that Gloria can write about
anything, and can do it well—a rare gift. “There’s only lyric,” Gloria writes
in one poem, “the rest is merely prose.”

Robert Schumann Is Mad Again by Norman Dubie

Norman Dubie once said he
composed most of his poems between midnight and 4 am. He handwrote the first
drafts, typed the next two drafts on typewriters, read the third draft into a
tape recorder (and listened to it again and again, making changes), before
reading it the next day at breakfast. “I look at the poem and choose to keep it
for more work, or I junk it.” Dubie’s poems have that feel: born of late night
frenzy, chiseled into skilled creations that retain shades of strangeness. Some
poems, like “Homage to St. Geraud,” blaze in their brevity: “Sometimes
believing in the beauty / of the fresh elevated incarnate existences / of the
wheel, he wishes instead // for an eternal status, a / stone and fetal sleep /
like that of the uncollected dead / under the linen snows on Everest.” Others,
like “In the Choir Loft,” stretch across pages, from precision to irreverence
and back again. An old church, damaged by fire, has been demolished: “snow
collapsed the slate roof / as if in boxes.” The “giant crucifix / launched
almost across the frozen pond.” The remaining priest emerges as if from a dream
(which, of course, this might be!): “in his nightshirt, / holding a single candle.”
He thinks of the ghost of a Nova Scotia nun that he once loved. The old priest “finally
confessed / he was boiling eggs” on the gas stove, which lead to the flames.
Dubie’s poems often feel a bit askew—but maybe he sees the world a bit sharper
than others.

1919 by Eve L. Ewing

In her introduction to
this book, Ewing explains discovering a 1922 government report, The Negro in Chicago: A Study on Race
Relations and a Race Riot. Although she was first interested in learning
more “about housing segregation at the beginning of the Great Migration” for
her most recent scholarly book, Ewing became interested in other passages from
the report. “The report,” she writes, “was like an old tapestry with loose
threads stick out, and I wanted to tug on them and see what I could unravel,
see what new thing I could weave.” 1919 is
a worthy result. The book begins with that migration of black southerners to
Chicago; an exodus that arrives in a litany of names about to leave. “And the
people gathered at the bank and bade them farewell,” Ewing writes, “and the
river carried them far from the cotton, and the kings and their storehouses of
browning blood.” Ewing has powers of inhabitation here: She is with the people
during “quiet nights in the railyard” and then alone, in the city, on “hard
black ground.” In one poem, “Coming from the Stock Yards,” the narrator speaks
about how he “called myself a scholar in Georgia, though that was part fancy,”
but in Chicago he must start anew: “each one of us a foundry. / hands to cut,
to carry. knees to bend. this is still new to me.” A mixture of grand voices,
hushed laments, and ardent dreams, 1919 resurrects
forgotten history.

Aug 9 — Fog by Kathryn Scanlan

The longest text in this
book is Scanlan’s introduction. She explains that the contents of the book are “drawn
from a stranger’s diary.” She’d found the diary 15 years earlier, among
unsold items from a public estate auction. The actual diary is decayed and
withering. The pages are no longer connected to the spine; the binding is
broken and taped. The diary was written by an 86-year-old Illinois woman,
started in 1968 and finished in 1972. Scanlan read the diary, “typed out the
sentences that caught my attention,” and then began mixing and editing them. Scanlan
feels she has become the diarist, and
wonders: “Is it some kind of sacred text—meant for me alone?” Her project will
certainly compel strong reaction, but the product is absolutely fascinating.
Its poetic identity comes from its epigrammatic structure; its imagistic touch.
A dream-like narrative emerges here, as if from the titular fog. “Maude ate
good breakfast, oatmeal, poached eggs, little sausage. Maude ate her dinner
party good. A letter from Lloyd saying John died the 16th.” The book
unfolds this way, in epistle-whispers, all secrets. A terribly melancholic book
that somehow manages to carry affirmation; perhaps it is in the transcendence
of the old woman’s voice, its dogged survival to our digital present. “All
kinds of roads. Dead end roads, roads under construction, cow paths & etc
but had a good time, a grand day.”

The Milk Hours by John James

A single poem never
contains a full book, but the titular poem of James’s collection comes close.
The first poem, “The Milk Hours,” is invoked to two people: the narrator’s
father, who died in 1993, and the narrator’s daughter, born in 2013. The space
between those years is poetic itself. The poem’s lines are mysterious,
ethereal: “The room opens up into white and more white, sun outside / between
steeples.” The milk hours, and their “suckling sound,” are hymns that drift the
narrator to sleep—to dream of his father, although perhaps “what gun, what type”
used no longer matters. “The chopped / copses glisten,” James writes. “Snowmelt
smoothes the stone cuts of his name.” Poems in this collection drift to other
subjects, but they retain this feeling: souls rooted in the ground. Treed.
Planted. “In the catacombs I am impatient. / In this hall shuttling between //
one world and the next, from / nothing to being and back again.”

Lambda Literary Awards Names 2019 Winners

The Lambda Literary Awards named its 2019 winners in a ceremony last night in New York City. The annual award, now in its 31st year, celebrates the “best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books of the year and affirm[s] that LGBTQ stories are part of the literature of the world.”

In addition to the category awards, Lambda’s Trustee and Visionary Awards were given to Alexander Chee and Masha Gessen.

The winners of the 2019 Lambda Literary Awards were announced in 24 categories. Here are some highlights:

Lesbian FictionThe Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai

Gay FictionJonny Appleseed by Joshua WhiteheadBisexual FictionDisoriental by Négar Djavadi and translated by Tina Kover (One of our Most Anticipated titles from 2018)

Transgender FictionLittle Fish by Casey PlettLGBTQ NonfictionLooking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry (A “must read” according to Well-Read Black Girl’s Glory Edim)

Bisexual NonfictionOut of Step: A Memoir by Anthony Moll

Transgender NonfictionHistory of the Transgender Child by Julian Gill-PetersonLesbian Memoir/BiographyChronology by Zahra PattersonGay Memoir/BiographyNo Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America by Darnell L. Moore

Graphic NovelThe Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parrish

Lesbian PoetryEach Tree Could Hold a Noose or a House by Nina Puro

Gay PoetryIndecency by Justin Phillip Reed (One of Nick Ripatrazone’s Poems That End with Questions)

Bisexual PoetryWe Play a Game by Duy DoanTransgender PoetryLo Terciaro / The Tertiary by Raquel Salas Rivera (Described as “artful” by Ada Limón in her 2018 Year in Reading post)

The full list of winners can be found here.

June Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around).  Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—for more June titles, check out our First-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
 
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: Poet Ocean Vuong, winner of the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize for his collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, returns with his highly anticipated debut novel. When Little Dog writes a letter to his illiterate mother, he reveals the family’s past as well as parts of his life he had hidden from his mother. With his tender, graceful style, Vuong’s family portrait explores race, class, trauma, and survival. (Carolyn)
In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow: Winslow’s debut novel takes place in a small town in North Carolina from the 1940s to the 1980s. Through the story of Azalea “Knot” Centre, a fiercely independent woman, and Otis Lee, a helpful neighbor and longtime fixer, the narrative explores community and love with compassion and a singular voice. Rebecca Makkai describes Winslow’s voice as “one that’s not only pitch-perfect but also arresting and important and new.” (Zoë)
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett: In her Twitter bio, Arnett, known for her award-winning fiction and essays, describes herself thusly: “writer, librarian, lesbian willie nelson. 7-eleven scholar ™.” I assume you are already sold, but just in case: This debut novel starts when Jessa walks into the family taxidermy shop to find her father dead. Though grieving, she steps up to manage the business while her family unravels around her. Besides dead things, Jami Attenberg points out this novel includes all the best things, “messed-up families, scandalous love affairs, art, life, death and the great state of Florida.” (Claire)
The Travelers by Regina Porter: A debut novel-in-stories with a large cast of characters from two American families, one white, one black, flung across the world—in America, France, Vietnam, and Germany—from points in time ranging from 1950 to the early 2000s. Garth Greenwell calls this “an innovative and deeply moving debut.” (Lydia)
Oval by Elvia Wilk: In Elvia Wilk’s debut novel, weird things have been happening in Berlin: strange weather, artists hired as corporate consultants. Young couple Anja and Louis move into an “eco-friendly” community on an artificial mountain, The Berg, where they live rent-free in exchange for their silence on the house’s structural problems. When Louis invents a pill called Oval that has the power to temporarily rewire a user’s brain to become more generous, Anja is horrified—but Louis thinks it could solve Berlin’s income disparity. Described as speculative fiction, but also sort of just what life is like now, Oval depicts life in the Anthropocene, but a little worse. For fans of Gary Shteyngart and Nell Zink. (Jacqueline)
The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins (translated by Julia Sanches): A literary sensation in Brazil, Martins’ debut short story collection finally comes to the United States. Steeped in violence, poverty, and drugs, the stories reveal the complexities and inner lives of those growing up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Publishers Weekly called the collection “tantalizing” and “a promising work from an intriguing new voice.” (Carolyn)
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung: Chung, who received an Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction for her novel Forgotten Country, returns with her second novel. Katherine, an aging mathematician, recounts her life: her journey of becoming a scholar in the mid-20th century; her intellectual discoveries and failures; her romantic pursuits; her womanhood; and her parentage. Starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly call the novel “powerful and virtuosically researched” and “impressive, poignant,” respectively. (Carolyn)


Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: New York Times Magazine staff writer Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel follows Toby Fleishman, a middle-aged hepatologist, whose recent separation from his career-driven wife, Rachel, resulted in her dropping their kids off with Toby and disappears. Publishers Weekly called the debut “sharp and tender-hearted,” and a “sardonically cheerful novel that readers will adore.”(Carolyn) 
The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff: Sixteen-year-old Conrad returns to school to discover Sammy, his chemistry teacher and secret lover, is dead—and he’s left Conrad journals full of research and the recipe for the so-called Elixir of Life. Full of grief, Conrad sets out to solve the scientific puzzle to save the people he loves. Publishers Weekly says, “the search for an eternal life potion weaves through raw emotion, scientific curiosity, and heartbreak in Wolff’s intoxicating debut.” (Carolyn)
Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin: A coming-of-age story about half-sisters—Lark and Robin—who forge an unbreakable bond. From childhood to adulthood, the novel follows the sisters as they deal with personal failings, a falling out and, ultimately, coming back together. Kirkus called Ohlin’s latest a “lovely, deeply moving work.” (Carolyn)
My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon: MacArthur and Guggenheim recipient Hemon returns with a two-volume memoir set back-to-back. My Parents tells the story of his Ukrainian father and Bosnian mother as they flee their home in war-torn Yugoslavia for Canada. This Does Not Belong to You is a collection of memories, observations, and fragments from childhood. A dual meditation on memory, literature, and family. (Carolyn)
Travelers by Helon Habila: The unnamed Nigerian narrator of Habila’s newest novel is living in Berlin with his American life when he meets a group of African immigrants and refugees who change his worldview forever. Publishers Weekly writes that the “plight of contemporary African refugees is the dramatic core of this moving tale.” (Carolyn)
Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod:  Told in fragmented vignettes, McLeod’s coming-of-age memoir explores his Cree family’s history; his relationship with his mother; abuse; sexual identity; and personal and generational trauma. About the memoir, Terese Marie Mailhot says, “the hard and brilliant life breathing on the pages brought me to tears, to joy, and to grace.” (Carolyn)
Flash Count Diary Life by Darcey Steinke: The personal meets the political meets the biological in Steinke’s genre-bending book about menopause. Jenny Offill calls the book “part memoir, part manifesto, part natural history, this book is a profound white-knuckle ride through unnamed territories.” (Carolyn)

And the Winners of the 2019 Best Translated Book Awards Are…

The 2019 Best Translated Book Awards were given to Slave Old Man and Of Death. Minimal Odes this evening at a ceremony at the New York Rights Fair in Manhattan.

Slave Old Man, written by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated by Linda Coverdale, and published by The New Press, won for fiction. Of Death. Minimal Odes, written by Hilda Hilst, translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin, and published by co-im-press, took the prize for poetry.

Slave Old Man is translated from the French and Creole. It is the first BTBA win for a book from the French. It is also the first victory for an author from Martinique.

Of Death. Minimal Odes is translated from the Portuguese. It is the second time poetry from Brazil has claimed the prize, after Rilke Shake won the 2016 award.

It is the first victory for both translators, and for The New Press and co-im-press. Linda Coverdale and The New Press were previously finalists for Jean Echenoz’s The Lightning.

Here is the jury’s statement on Slave Old Man:
In turns biblical and mythical, Patrick Chamoiseau’s Slave Old Man is a powerful reckoning with the agonies of the past and their persistence into the present. It is a modern epic, a history of the Caribbean, and a tribute to Creole languages, all told through the story of one slave old man. Linda Coverdale’s translation sings as she beautifully renders language as lush and vividly alive as the wilderness the old man plunges into in his flight to freedom. It is dreamy yet methodical prose, vivid, sensual but also a touch strange, forcing you to slow down and reread. Thoughtful, considered footnotes provide added context and explanation, enriching the reader’s understanding of this powerful and subversive work of genius by a master storyteller. Slave Old Man is a thunderclap of a novel. His rich language, brilliant in Coverdale’s English, evokes the underground forces of resistance that carry the slave old man away. It’s a novel for fugitives, and for the future.
And here’s the jury statement on Of Death. Minimal Odes:
The first collection of Hilda Hilst’s poetry to be appear in English, Of Death. Minimal Odes is masterfully translated by Laura Cesarco Eglin. Hilda Hilst’s odes are searing, tender blasphemies. One is drawn to Of Death in the way we’re drawn to things that might be dangerous. These are poems that lure readers well beyond their best interests, regardless of whatever scars might be sustained. In language that is twisted, animalistic, yet at times plain, Eglin reveals another layer in the work of this Brazilian great.
The fiction jury included Pierce Alquist (BookRiot), Caitlin L. Baker (Island Books), Kasia Bartoszyńska (Monmouth College), Tara Cheesman (freelance book critic), George Carroll (litintranslation.com), Adam Hetherington (reader), Keaton Patterson (Brazos Bookstore), Sofia Samatar (writer), Elijah Watson (A Room of One’s Own). The poetry jury included Jarrod Annis (Greenlight Bookstore), Katrine Øgaard Jensen (EuropeNow), Tess Lewis (writer and translator), Aditi Machado (poet and translator), and Laura Marris (writer and translator).

We announced the longlists and finalists here at the site earlier this spring.

Thanks to grant funds from the Amazon Literary Partnership, the living winning author and the translators will each receive $2,000 cash prizes. Three Percent at the University of Rochester founded the BTBAs in 2008, and since then, the Amazon Literary Partnership has contributed more than $150,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA. For more information, visit the official Best Translated Book Award site and the official BTBA Facebook page, and follow the award on Twitter. 

Eight Essential Books Set in the Middle of Nowhere

Every tale ever told depends in some way on isolation. No matter whether a novel is set in a hectic city or a pastoral village or a single claustrophobic room, that book’s author has to build a narrative container for its characters so we readers understand where our focus should be: We pay attention to these people, this conflict, and not all that other potentially interesting stuff out there. After all, one book can’t fit every person and place in the world. The solar system. The universe. Beyond! No, writers must limit themselves, choose what to include and what to leave out, in order to tell their stories.
Of course, that container can take any shape. A novelist might set their book in as tight a space as one person’s mind. She might place her story within a marriage, as Lauren Groff does in the split narrative of Fates and Furies, or a family line, as Yaa Gyasi does in her multigenerational epic Homegoing. Writers sometimes build a physical structure around their characters: a mansion in The Haunting of Hill House, a train in Murder on the Orient Express, a reform school, a whaling ship, an asylum, a gulag. Or writers choose the limits of geography.
Settings with natural boundaries—islands surrounded by ocean, peninsulas cut off by mountains, oases in the desert—have shaped some of the most exciting books in print today. This list brings you eight novels perfectly limited by geographic barriers. The stories below are set in places remote to most of their readers, yet the skill of their authors, the bold lines of their containers and the sharp focus on what happens within, make them compelling to us all.

1. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The island novel against which all others are measured. In this 1954 classic, a group of British schoolboys is marooned after a plane crash in the Pacific. Stranded far from the world they know, the boys establish their own miniature civilization, which soon turns toward violence. Golding’s novel shows exactly why stories in remote settings fascinate us: Stripped of outside influence, kept alone together, these characters reveal themselves for the eager, cruel, conflicted creatures they—and we—really are.

2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

García Márquez’s flawless novel follows the rise and fall of the town of Macondo, established beside a river in Colombia. To José Arcadio Buendía, the town’s founder, Macondo seems idyllic, a pristine spot protected by water on all sides. That vision is shattered as generations of the Buendía family see their home transformed by the national railroad, new government, and foreign companies. Over the years, Macondo’s population is corrupted by forces external (an army massacre of striking workers) and internal (genetic mutations caused by incest). The novel describes a paradise lost—and convinces us that paradise never would have lasted anyway.

3. The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe

After an island in the Pacific and an isolated settlement in South America, this entry on the list takes us someplace stranger, more surreal. Abe’s dreamlike novel strands us in a town sunk in sand. The impossible terrain rules the story: All the people in the town pass their days shoveling back the dunes, and Abe’s main character is conscripted for the task. He has to clear the sand or he’ll be killed. Using the twin pressures of nature and community, the book pushes its characters to their haunting, unforgettable ends.

4. The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Lin’s debut novel is set on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. Containing nearly half the state’s population, Anchorage has robust infrastructure, plenty of industry, and strong ties to the rest of the world—it’s no village in the dunes—but those connections soon fray outside the city, where Alaska’s subarctic climate and wildlife rule. This book shows just how bleak life in such a distant, threatening place can be, as a family struggles to move forward after the death of a child.

5. Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen

Greenland’s capital city, Nuuk, is home to fewer than 18,000 people. It’s the cultural and economic center of a country that is sparsely populated, difficult to reach, and almost entirely covered by ice. Korneliussen takes us there through this daring novel, which weaves together the lives of five young people. She cracks open our frozen imaginations to show us Greenland in all its queer, loving, heartbreaking beauty.

6. Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda

Lush and grotesque, this novel places us in a nameless village perched on rocks over a river. Its inhabitants cling to the perceived moral excellence of their remoteness, their bloody customs, and their oppressive conformity. They don’t wish to know anyone or anything else. Rodoreda, one of the most important figures in Catalan literature, worked on this book for 20 years, until her death. Geographically, politically, socially, the village’s cruel isolation is an expression of what Rodoreda herself faced under Franco’s dictatorship, when she was exiled from Spain.

7. Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

This award-winning novel takes place in the fictional Desperance, a town in the desert bordering Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria. Wright digs deep into the red ground where her story is set to explore fights between local families, mining operations on sacred ground, and colonization of Aboriginal earth. Her story fixes itself in place as her characters move in and out of Dreamtime, through the past, present, and future, to show the full scope of what this land means to its inhabitants.

8. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

In this fictional history of Earth’s settlement of Mars, Bradbury’s characters attempt to transpose onto another planet all the conveniences of home. They end up bringing their diseases, weapons, and fears instead. As Bradbury puts it, “Men are men, unfortunately.” Along with the other novels on this list, The Martian Chronicles leverages a raw, remote setting to expose our common humanity. Stories set in such environments let us see what is resonant, what is fundamental, what is shared. Separated from other people and stressed by geographic extremes, characters and societies reveal their weaknesses (greed, selfishness, the violent desire for power) and cultivate new strengths (curiosity, fortitude, a drive toward genuine connection). Turns out, no matter what remote place we wind up in the Milky Way, we can’t escape ourselves. Like the authors of our favorite books, we are working within limitations—yet inside those boundaries there is so much room to explore.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.

Image credit: Pablo García Saldaña.

‘Celestial Bodies’ Wins the Man Booker International Prize

Celestial Bodies, written by Jokha Alharthi and translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth, won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. The prize awards £50,000 to the best works of translated fiction from around the world, with prize money split evenly between translator and author. Alkharthi is the first female Omani novelist to be translated into English, and the first author from the Arabian Gulf to win the Man Booker International. Bettany Hughes, who chaired the panel of five judges, said of the novel, “Its delicate artistry draws us into a richly imagined community—opening out to tackle profound questions of time and mortality and disturbing aspects of our shared history. The style is a metaphor for the subject, subtly resisting clichés of race, slavery and gender. The translation is precise and lyrical, weaving in the cadences of both poetry and everyday speech.Celestial Bodies evokes the forces that constrain us and those that set us free.”

Observers, Bystanders, and Hangers On: Ten Novels with Unlikely Narrators

Many—maybe even most—of my favorite books are novels narrated by an observer who does not consider themselves the main actor in the story. Think Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby’s sort-of friend, the perfect mournfully sardonic narrator for one of American literature’s most enduring novels. I love stories told by the supposedly innocent bystander; the less charismatic best friend; the hapless fan or scholar whose own life recedes in the shadow of their subject of adoration.

I especially love books like this because they are honest in two ways other narrative forms are often not. First, a non-protagonist narrator acknowledges the fact that storytelling is always, always about perspective. In the same way history is dictated by the victors, stories are dictated by the people with the ability and inclination to write them down, and the meta-fiction created by a self-aware narrator telling someone else’s story can be beautifully tense, disarmingly frank, and entertainingly specious. Second, the non-protagonist narrator acknowledges obsession—an obsession with another person that inspired the character to take the time to set down this story in writing at all. They seethe with charisma, jealousy, and longing of one form or another. This is why I chose this narrative form for my own novel, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna.

I’m not the only one who loves to read this mode of storytelling; many of the traditional candidates for Great American Novel follow the format: besides The Great Gatsby, there is Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, in which reporter Jack Burden tells the story of politician Willie Stark; or John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, in which jealous introvert prep schooler Gene obsesses over his outgoing and talented roommate, Phineas. But the list of relevant masterpieces is long and absolutely need not adhere to the reading we did in high school back before “the canon” was including much besides white men. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Let’s go ahead and go all the way back to the beginning, to what is argued to be the first-ever novel, composed around the year 1010 AD. The story is related by an unnamed female speaking to a social superior, as is evident in the form of verb conjugation used. It describes the love affairs and misadventures of Genji, a minor son of the Emperor. The identity of the narrator is never revealed, but some believe the text hints that she might be one of Genji’s (rather many) lovers.

2. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Detective fiction has a long tradition of an average Joe narrator who relates the adventures of a whimsical genius investigator—a tradition that goes all the way back to the mystery genre’s inception with Edgar Allan Poe’s Auguste Dupin stories and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. With The Name of the Rose (1980), Eco offers a hyper-intellectual pastiche of that archetype with a murder mystery set in a 14th-century Italian convent in which a bumbling Benedictine novice, Adso, describes the crime-solving antics of his master, a monk named William of Baskerville.

3. Passing by Nella Larsen

This 1929 novel is narrated by Irene Redfield, a light-skinned black woman who learns a friend from her Chicago childhood, Clare Kendry, has been living as a white woman, married to a virulently racist white man and completely cut off from her roots. Irene’s obsession with Clare’s choice—and the light it sheds on her own choices—cause her to spin back into the woman’s orbit no matter how much she tells herself she’s done with Clare.

4. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

The narrator of this 1945 novel is Fanny, an upper-class English girl who is abandoned by her parents to live with wealthy relatives. Fanny is relating the life and exploits of Linda Radlett, her cousin and best friend, whose love affairs and impetuous adventures wholly distract the reader from Fanny’s absence in her own story.

5. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

This 1994 novel is the story of Sophie Caco, who is 12 years old when she emigrates from Haiti to join her mother in New York, but really it is the story of Sophie’s enigmatic mother, Martine, whose traumatic history inflicts itself not only on her relationship with Sophie but also, viscerally, on Sophie herself.

6. The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Set in the New York City Orthodox Jewish community at the end of World War II, this 1967 novel is narrated by Reuven, a Modern Orthodox boy from a Zionist family, who is deeply committed to and fascinated by his sometimes controversial friendship with Danny, the genius son of a Hassidic rabbi.

7. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Another favorite of mine that highlights the emotional intensity of a platonic friendship. In this 2012 novel, Elena, the narrator, builds her life around and in relief against her unpredictable and addictive best friend, Lila, a thwarted and moody genius who causes steadfast Elena to underestimate herself.

8. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

Quentin Compson, the troubled Harvard student we saw commit suicide in The Sound and the Fury, narrates the life story of Thomas Sutpen, a larger-than-life slave-holding plantation owner from Quentin’s native Mississippi in this 1936 novel. The narrative framework, a conversation between Quentin and his roommate, incorporates historical fact and conjecture and highly personalized interpretation—one of my favorite allegories for the way it shows how history is preserved.

9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

This 2005 novel hits heavy on one of my favorite themes: remorse. Its 80-year-old narrator, Lily, reveals how the story of her own long life has been framed by that of her long-lost best friend, Snow Flower, and how she let her obsession with their friendship ruin both their lives.

10. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

A bit of a cheat selection, because the narrator of this 1961 novel is a third person omniscient, but it connects the reader to a group of six Scottish school girls who are all equally obsessed with their vivacious, unconventional, and fascist teacher, Miss Brodie, whom they adore, obey, and betray.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.

Image credit: Design Ecologist.

Best Translated Book Awards Names 2019 Finalists

The Best Translated Books Awards today named its 2019 finalists for fiction and poetry. The award, founded by Three Percent at the University of Rochester, comes with $10,000 in prizes from the Amazon Literary Partnership.

In the past seven years, the ALP has contributed more than $150,000 to international authors and their translators through the BTBA.

This year’s BTBA finalists are as follows—and be sure to check out this year’s fiction and poetry longlists, which we announced last month.

Fiction Finalists

Congo Inc.: Bismarck’s Testament by In Koli Jean Bofane, translated from the French by Marjolijn de Jager (Democratic Republic of Congo, Indiana University Press) 

The Hospital by Ahmed Bouanani, translated from the French by Lara Vergnaud (Morocco, New Directions)

Slave Old Man by Patrick Chamoiseau, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (Martinique, New Press)

Pretty Things by Virginie Despentes, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan, (France, Feminist Press)

Moon Brow by Shahriar Mandanipour, translated from the Persian by Khalili Sara (Iran, Restless Books)

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer, translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire (Germany, Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Japan, Grove)

The Governesses by Anne Serre, translated from the French by Mark Hutchinson (France, New Directions)

Öræfï by Ófeigur Sigurðsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith (Iceland, Deep Vellum)

Fox by Dubravka Ugresic, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac and David Williams (Croatia, Open Letter)

Poetry Finalists

The Future Has an Appointment with the Dawn by Tanella Boni, translated from the French by Todd Fredson (Cote D’Ivoire, University of Nebraska)

Moss & Silver by Jure Detela, translated from the Slovenian by Raymond Miller and Tatjana Jamnik (Slovenia, Ugly Duckling)

Of Death. Minimal Odes by Hilda Hilst, translated from the Portuguese by Laura Cesarco Eglin (Brazil, co-im-press)

Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi(Korea, New Directions)

Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika (Albania, New Directions)

The winners will be announced on Wednesday, May 29 as part of the New York Rights Fair.