Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo Win 2019 Booker Prize

In a stunning turn of events (and perhaps even taking a page out of the Nobel’s playbook), the 2019 Booker Prize has been awarded to two books: Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. The two winners will share the £50,000 prize.

Peter Florence, the chair of the 2019 judges, said: “This ten month process has been a wild adventure. In the room today we talked for five hours about books we love. Two novels we cannot compromise on. They are both phenomenal books that will delight readers and will resonate for ages to come.”

A few fun facts about this years prize:

The Booker Prize has been awarded to two works twice before, but this is the first joint-winner since 1993—when the rules were changed to allow only one author to win the prize at a time.
Evaristo is the first black woman to have ever won the Booker Prize.
This is Atwood’s second win (she won in 2000 for The Blind Assassin), and she has been shortlisted four times: The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), Cat’s Eye (1989), Alias Grace (1996), and Oryx and Crake (2003). 

Here are the authors that made this year’s short and long lists.

Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke Win Nobel Prizes in Literature

This morning’s Nobel Prize in Literature announcement marked a first in the award’s 118-year history: two awards will be bestowed—one for 2018 and one for 2019.

Shortly after Kazuo Ishiguro won the prize in 2017, the Academy was rocked by a multi-faceted scandal: Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of Katarina Frostenson, an academy member, was accused (and later convicted) of sexual abuse, exploitation, and rape, The husband and wife are also accused of misusing academy funding. In the wake of those crises and multiple resignations, the 2018 prize and ceremony were cancelled.

This morning, however, Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke were awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as well as the its 9m Swedish krona purse ($910,000+) prize.

Polish author Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 prize for “a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”

Tokarczuk is no stranger to awards. For her novel Flights, she won the 2008 Nike Award—Poland’s most prestigious literary prize—and the English translation by Jennifer Croft would go on to win the 2019 Man Booker International award. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Tokarczuk’s second novel, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, was longlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize and longlisted for the National Book Award in Translated Literature.

She also recently cracked into The Millions Top Ten as well—which may be the most exciting feat of all (depending on who you’re asking, I guess). To learn more about Tokarczuk, The Millions has a fantastic review of her novel Flights, as well as an astute profile of the author by Gabe Habash.

Austrian author Peter Handke won the 2019 prize for “an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” The Millions predicted Handke’s chances to win in 2009. Handke is a controversial figure that even called for the Nobel Prize to be abolished in 2014 in an Austrian newspaper. 

The Millions Top Ten: September 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 September.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual
5 months

2.
2.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
2 months

3.
6.

Pieces for the Left Hand: Stories
2 months

4.
10.

The Memory Police

2 months

5.
3.

Normal People
5 months

6.
8.

Inland

2 months

7.
4.

The New Me
5 months

8.
5.

The Nickel Boys
3 months

9.


The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale
1 month

10.


Ducks, Newburyport
1 month

Meteoric rises for J. Robert Lennon and Yoko Ogawa propelled Pieces for the Left Hand and The Memory Police into the upper-half of this month’s Top Ten. In two months’ time, the books rose three and six rungs on the list, respectively. Still their ascent may not be over: Ogawa’s novel was shortlisted for the National Book Award in Translated Literature this week.

Of course, fast risers unsettle past mainstays. This month, Normal People, The New Me, and The Nickel Boys dropped several slots; two titles dropped out and were replaced by newcomers. While we root for Sally Rooney, Halle Butler, and Colson Whitehead to stay on our list, we also recognize that change is our Top Ten’s one constant. Welcome, welcome, then to Margaret Atwood and Lucy Ellmann, whose novels The Testaments and Ducks, Newburyport check in at ninth and tenth on this month’s list. Both were shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize, as we noted last month.

In her write-up of The Testaments for our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview, our own Claire Cameron noted that this long-awaited follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale was influenced by two things: “First, all the questions [Atwood’s] been asked by readers about Gilead and, second, she adds ominously, ‘the world we’ve been living in.'”

Tune in next month for another installment of As the Top Ten Turns.

This month’s near misses included: The Topeka School, The Hotel Neversink, and How to Be an Antiracist. See Also: Last month’s list.

Ten Haunting Ghost Stories for Halloween (and the Rest of the Year, Too)

I adore the haunting feelings that remain after a novel explores the deep layers of all of the memory and baggage we bring to our experiences and interactions. What we traditionally call “ghost stories” can often deliver this feeling with the greatest ease, but my favorites are generally filled with more metaphorical ghosts: fear, grief, paranoia, uncertainty. The books on this list are all stories that ushered me through the process of investigating what it is that unsettles us most and why.

1. The Inner Room by Robert Aickman

The only thing I love more than a full-size haunted house is a haunted dollhouse and this novella features both. A little girl is given a dollhouse that is completely closed, unable to be played with. The inhabitants inside are out of her reach and she resigns herself to being a passive witness, a decision that bears serious consequences when she happens upon a lifesize version of the house in a dreamy wood later on. If you loved House of Leaves and want a snapshot take on hidden space and inexplicable dimensions, then this is the story for you.

2. The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg

In much of van den Berg’s work, I find both an exploration of loss and a pursuit of something unattainable. I believe this novel to be the pinnacle of that deepening inquiry of the way those two quests overlap and inform each other. Grief blurs the lines between reality.

3. John by Annie Baker

This is a little bit of a cheat because it’s actually a play, but it has everything I love in a novel. You don’t need to see this script produced to get the full sense of the atmosphere Baker builds though. It’s all there in the impeccable writing. A couple arrives to an inn for vacation in Gettysburg where ghosts threaten from all sides: past loves, unresolved tensions, unexplained noises, off-limit spaces, unspoken presence abound. And somehow, even as the interactions unnerve you, they also present remarkable moments of humor.

4. Guestbook by Leanne Shapton

Some might say this is a book of stories, but if the title is taken literally, what I see here is a document of ghosts finding ways to leave their mark. Shapton’s talent for activating images in the service of narrative is breathtaking. I’ve enjoyed her previous works’ ability to show the growth and dissolution of a relationship through the objects left behind (Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry), and a woman’s insecurities through drawings of a lover’s former partners (Was She Pretty?), but this proves the most exciting of her projects in the variety of presentations and effects, and the way they somehow combine to form an intuitive anthology of the incomprehensible.

5. Come Closer by Sara Gran

My love of ghost stories doesn’t usually wander into the realm of demonic possession, but I think about this book constantly. Imagine if Regan from The Exorcist or Rhoda from The Bad Seed had put off the evil energies until later in their lives, when they had the agency to do even more harm. In this way, Come Closer poses new formulations of age-old questions of self-awareness and responsibility. Chilling.

6. A Light No More by Robert Kloss

Robert Kloss is making up his own rules as a writer and it is a thrilling thing to watch. In all of his novels he explores the latter half of the 19th century in such a way that it appears he’s creating the world whole cloth. I appreciate the way his work, especially this book, plays with the way speculation and possibility and strangeness had more room to function in the time before the internet or even widely accessible reference books or reliable modern science. History records itself in people’s memories instead of on pages, and it’s all the more active and haunting here because of it.

7. The Hunger by Alma Katsu

The famous story of the Donner Party’s desperate attempt to survive by resorting to cannibalism turned supernatural with the suggestion of curses and creatures stalking the party at a quickly shrinking distance. Katsu excels at exploring the risk and horror of pursuing one’s greed and attempting to outrun one’s past by looking at the larger narrative of where these people began and what brought them to their end.

8. In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

As a longtime lover of Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, I find in this book the permission to enter into the complex female perspective denied us in that classic. This book is half fairy tale, half nightmare quest through colonial New England. If you’re a fan of the Robert Eggers film The Witch or deep diving on the Salem witch trials, this will do it for you.

9. Tracks by Louise Erdrich

I’ve reread this book so many times, and find something new with each visitation, but the scene in which the character Fleur gives birth, and the spirit of a bear appears to both threaten and empower her is one of the most powerful ghostly scenes of any book I’ve read. Add to that the fact that, in adulthood, Fleur decides to escape the violence of the men in her town by moving back into the house haunted by the ghosts of the rest of her family who died there, and the rich backdrop of a haunted community begins to take shape.

10. Ghosts by Cesar Aira

I was skeptical of this book about a construction worker’s family living a makeshift existence onsite until the very end, but the ending of this book is the reason I try to finish every book I start – in case of the rare occurrence of an ending snapping the beginning of the book into arresting focus. It’s not that the bulk of this book isn’t entertaining. It artfully builds suspense throughout, but, having not read Aira before, I wasn’t sure if he could pull off such a build up without feeling cheap or disappointing. This book, though, finds the perfect resolution while still remaining haunting, dispelling all my fears.

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

Image credit: Unsplash/Monica Silva.

National Book Awards Names 2019 Finalists

The National Book Foundation announced the National Book Award finalists today. Each category—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people’s literature, and translated literature—has been narrowed down from the longlist 10 to the shortlist five. While many of the finalists have made the NBA shortlist before, none of them have won of a National Book Award in these categories.

Here’s a list of the finalists in all five categories, with bonus links where available:

Fiction:

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (Read our 2019 interview with Choi)
Sabrina & Corinas by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (Featured in our Great First-Half 2019 Book Preview)
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (Read a profile of James)
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (Read Lalami’s 2018 Year in Reading entry)
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (Featured in our Great First-Half 2019 Book Preview)

Nonfiction:

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom (Featured in our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview)
Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom (Featured in our Great First-Half 2019 Book Preview)
What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer
Solitary by Albert Woodfox with Leslie George


Poetry:

The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Read an excerpt from Brown’s collection)
“I”: New and Selected Poems by Toi Derricotte (Read our 2019 interview with Derricotte)
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (Featured in March’s Must-Read Poetry roundup)
Be Recorder by Carmen Giménez Smith (Read an excerpt from Smith’s collection)
Sight Lines by Arthur Sze

Translated Literature

Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa, translated by Leri Price
Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet (Read our review)
The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga, translated by Jordan Stump
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder (Featured in our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview)
Crossing by Pajtim Statovci, translated by David Hackston

Young People’s Literature:

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Featured in our Great Second-Half 2019 Book Preview)
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay
Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
1919: The Year That Changed America by Martin W. Sandler

The awards will be revealed in New York City on November 20.

Ten Essential Literary Thrillers

In those first sleepless months of motherhood, I listened to a lot of audiobooks. They were perfect for long walks with the baby. The literature did not have to be of the highest quality, but the plot had to be there, ready to grab my hand and tug until I was running alongside. Thrillers do this brilliantly, pulling you forward, sometimes doing it so well that the reader or listener happily buries all of the book’s potential weaknesses in order to simply enjoy the high. Now that I sleep more than two hours at a stretch, I need a thriller to fully develop character and sense of place. The urgency of an exciting plot remains but the psyche of its people and place must shine even brighter.
Here are some of my favorite literary thrillers, the ones that will wake up your brain and your heart.

1. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Dunn’s novel propels the reader into the world of the Binewskis, a carnival family led and bred by Al and his wife Crystal Lil. The novel follows two different but interwoven timelines, linked by Olympia (Oly) Binewski, the hunch-backed, albino dwarf who is considered the reject of the family for her “normalcy.” This family of self-made freaks prizes difference above all and the question of what makes one beautiful is fully explored. It is an elegant and gruesome ride.

2. Beloved by Toni Morrison

The linguistic grace of Morrison’s Beloved pairs with its slow reveal of how this country’s history of violence echoes in the most personal of ways. The brutal story of Sethe’s horrors reopens the wounds of slavery and demands the reader’s attention. Setting is key, not just historically but in the haunted house where Sethe lives, building its voice from a rumble to a scream. While the ghost has caused Sethe’s two sons to flee, Sethe’s daughter Denver loves the ghost. The arrival of Paul D., an old friend and a love interest, brings back memories of a grim time.

3. The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett

This novel manages to be both terrifying and hilarious. Its unreliable narrator dumps us brutally into her self-centered world where the decisions are constantly misguided. Beyond the excellent plot, there is Eleanor Mellet’s voice: her flawed thought process carried the story for me, from her bad breakup and battle with cancer to the point where she finds herself in a small Australian town preparing to teach in a one-room schoolhouse. Eleanor’s new romantic partner is a bit terrifying too, as evidenced by the kangaroo fights he initiates after midnight. Eleanor perseveres, trying to make sense of her choices and her circumstances. It’s a bizarre and compelling ride that will have you questioning your own sanity—in a good way.

4. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

When new neighbors move in across the lake, teenage Linda becomes nanny to their young son Paul, falling a bit in love with Paul’s mother, little Paul himself, and the whole idea of a version of family other than her own. Linda is a carefully drawn teenager, one capable of great insight and great naivete. Even though she is an astute observer, she is quickly in over her head with her choices. The reader follows, ultimately feeling just as culpable in the tragic final events of the book.

5. The Keep by Jennifer Egan

Danny arrives to a medieval castle in Eastern Europe under the guise of helping his cousin, Howard, renovate the ancient building. But we soon learn he’s fleeing from desperate mistakes back in New York City and the world he enters is eerily isolated. Parallel to Danny’s story is another narrative: Ray, an inmate, encouraged by his writing teacher to create fiction—which turns out to be Danny’s life. Egan skillfully layers each story on top of the other, until the reader can’t discern truth from fiction and eventually questions their own reality along with the characters.

6. Don’t I Know You? by Karen Shepard

Shepard intriguingly presents one murder from three different perspectives in three different time periods, revealing an unparalleled exploration of character. Twelve-year-old Steven comes home to find his mother Gina stabbed to death, and so the book begins from Steven’s perspective in the aftermath of this horrible loss. A year later we follow Lily Chen, whose boyfriend may have a link to the murder. Finally, we jump forward 10 years to meet Louise, who wonders if her son might be mixed up in Gina’s murder. Lives cross, impacting each other in ways unknown to the characters, and it is Shepard’s investment in showing how people trip over each other, mend together, and rip apart again that gives the novel its compelling cast.

7. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

From the moment Aomeme steps out of her cab and climbs down a long ladder into an alternate reality, I was hooked. I found myself wishing I had the time to read it all in one sitting. Soon we meet Tengo, an aspiring writer. When Tengo agrees to ghostwrite a book, he becomes so involved in that work he, like Aeomeme, enters a universe parallel to his own. As the individual stories of these characters progress, we soon see how they’re intrinsically connected. A delightfully tangled, mysterious, and heart-wrenching love story, among other things, the novel takes you on a wild and surreal ride.

8. The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky

Leah’s mentor Judy passes away, leaving her–yes, you guessed it–a red car. The car becomes both a symbol for Leah’s exploration of self and a literal means for her to revisit her past. The novel follows Leah as she travels to San Francisco to claim the car. While the novel itself is short and tightly written, the plot and voice fast and quick-witted, the impact of the book is far weightier. Dermansky tells this story with a feminist ferocity that hooks me every time I read it.

9. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

In Whitehead’s story world, trains run underground connected by safe houses. We follow Cora as she flees her plantation and the slave catcher who is hunting her. Ridgeway, her pursuer, also wants to know the secrets of the railroad, and the complicated chase brings back the horrors of slavery. Cora’s strength and determination to survive keeps us next to her the entire journey.

10. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go is the best kind of dystopian novel. It reminds me of of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Elevenor Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale in that the characters that inhabit this imagined world are far more important than any trick or turn of plot. As children and young adults, Kathy and her friends attend Hailsham–an English boarding school that seems to be a magnificent place to grow up. At the start of the novel, Kathy, 31, introduces herself as a “carer,” but it takes the course of the novel to truly reveal the weight and meaning of this term. Ishiguro’s story is about love and friendship, a coming-of-age tale in a world that is horrifying both for its familiarity and its fantastical nature. But it also speaks clearly on the question of humanity—what is it, what is it not.

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

Image credit: Unsplash/Edilson Borges.

October 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 October titles, check out our Second-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.

Find Me by André Aciman: In a most-anticipated list, Aciman’s Find Me may be the most anticipated of all. Set decades after Oliver and Elio first meet in Call Me by Your Name, this novel follows Elio’s father Samuel, who while traveling to Rome to visit his son meets a young woman who changes his life; Elio, a classical pianist who moves to Paris; and Oliver, a New England college professor and family man who yearns to return to Italy. I’m aching to read this and I know I’ll be aching while reading it too. (Carolyn)

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner: The pre-pub blurbs for Lerner’s third novel are ecstatic, with his publisher calling it a breakthrough and Claudia Rankinedescribing it as “a powerful allegory of our troubled present.” Set in late 1990s Kansas, it centers on a lefty family in a red state. The mother is a famous feminist author; the father, a psychiatrist who specializes in “lost boys.” Their son, Adam Gordon, is a debate champion who unwittingly brings one of his father’s troubled patients into his friend group, to disastrous effect. (Hannah)

Grand Union by Zadie Smith: Grand Union is the first short story collection of Zadie Smith, the award-winning author of White Teeth and The Autograph Man, among others. Ten unpublished new stories will be put alongside with ten of her much-applauded pieces from The New Yorker and elsewhere. Everything, however familiar or small it may seem in daily life, glows in Smith’s brilliant observation. Grand Union is a wonderful meditation on time and place, past and future, identity and the possibility of rebirth. (Jianan Qian)

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones: A 2014 NBCC finalist for his poetry collection Prelude to Bruise, How We Fight for Our Lives tells Jones’ coming-of-age as a black gay boy and man in the South via prose-poetry vignettes. From the publisher: “Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze.” (Sonya)

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha: Your House Will Pay is a propulsive and well-plotted novel set in Los Angeles where crime and tension are at an all-time high. In Cha’s narrative that explores race, class, and community in Los Angeles, her characters must confront their histories and truth. Catherine Chungdescribes Your House Will Pay as “a devastating exploration of grief, shame, and deeply buried truths.” (Zoë)

 

Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz: In her debut memoir, Jaquira Díaz mines her experiences growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami, grappling with traumas both personal and international, and over time converts them into something approaching hope and self-assurance. For years, Díaz has dazzled in shorter formats—stories, essays, etc.—and her entrée into longer lengths is very welcome. (Nick M.)

Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco: The CDC estimates 1 in 5 women in the U.S. are raped in their lifetimes, but concealed in those conservative, anonymized figures is the mind-bending enormity of 33,000,000 individual women and their stories. In her latest memoir, Jeannie Vanasco shares hers. Remarkably, Vanasco interviews the former friend who raped her 15 years ago, interweaving their discussions with conversations involving her close friends and peers to produce an investigation of trauma, its effects, and the ways they affect us all. “Courageous” is an inadequate word to describe this project, let alone Vanasco herself. (Nick M.)

False Bingo by Jac Jemc: The unsettling horror that made Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It such an unnerving read has mutated into an uneasiness that infiltrates the everyday lives depicted in False Bingo, Jemc’s second book of short stories. Jemc’s characters are misfits and dislocated, and their encounters often cross the line where fear becomes reality. There’s a father with dementia who develops an online shopping addiction and an outcast mulling over regret as he taxidermies animals. In essence False Bingo is a “collection of realist fables exploring how conflicting moralities can coexist: the good, the bad, the indecipherable.” (Anne)

Holding On To Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne: This debut novel set in the mountains and hollows of Eastern Tennessee will charm you with its warmth and love for its characters, a cast that includes a dog named Crystal Gale. (Which has to be one of the best pet names in fiction.) The novel centers on Lucy Kilgore, a young woman who was planning to leave small town Tennessee but instead ends up getting shotgun-married to Jeptha Taylor, a bluegrass musician with a drinking problem. With too little money and too much alcohol in their lives, their little family is doomed from the start, but Lucy can’t help trying to hold everyone together. (Hannah)

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (translated by Marilyn Booth): Alharthi’s novel, which won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, is the first by an Omani woman to be translated into English. Following the lives of three sisters and their families, the novel examines a rapidly changing Omani culture through their familial sagas, dramas, loves, and losses. Publishers Weekly’s starred review called it an “ambitious, intense novel” that “rewards readers willing to assemble the pieces of Alharthi’s puzzle into a whole.” (Carolyn)

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson: Longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, Winterson’s latest novel follows a fictionalized Mary Shelley as she creates Frankenstein, or rather Winterson’s reimagining of it. In modern-day, Brexit Britain, Ry Shelley—a transgender doctor—falls in love with a professor specializing in AI. There’s also sex dolls and a cryogenics facility of dozens of bodies—medically dead but not gone yet. The novel questions what is means to be human—then, now, and in the future. With starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, the former called the novel “beguiling, disturbing, and full of wonders.” (Carolyn)

Eat Joy edited by Natalie Eve Garrett (illustrated by Meryl Rowin): Writer and author Garrett has gathered 31 illustrated essays about comfort food from some of the finest writers working today—including Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Anthony Doerr,  Carmen Maria Machado, and Alexander Chee among others. About the collection, writer Kiese Laymon says: “This is the first collection that ever made me want to sensually eat, cook, write, and thank all the wonderful makers of the most memorable memories in my life.” (Carolyn)

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur: In the summer of her fourteenth year, Brodeur, former editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and current Executive Director at Aspen Words, is woken by her mother—brimming and joyful—and told a secret: she’s been kissed by a man who is not her husband. The secret becomes the foundation of their warped relationship as Brodeur becomes her mother’s most trusted friend and expected facilitator of her extramarital affair. This graceful and heartbreaking memoir explores complicity, forgiveness, and complex familial relationships. “This layered narrative of deceit, denial, and disillusionment is a surefire bestseller,” writes Publishers Weekly.  (Carolyn)

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout: In a follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, Strout returns with 13 interconnected stories about Olive, her neighbors, and her hometown of Crosby, Maine. Receiving starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, the latter writes: “Beautifully written and alive with compassion, at times almost unbearably poignant.” (Carolyn)

Burn It Down edited by Lily Dancyger: “Throughout history, angry women have been called harpies, bitches, witches, and whores,” so begins the introduction of Dancyger’s anthology on women’s anger. The twenty-two essay collections includes works by Leslie Jamison, Melissa Febos, Evette Dionne, and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan among others. Exploring anger from a multitude of perspectives, the essays show the varying ways anger manifests in our lives—and gives it a place to take up space and have a voice. (Carolyn)

Exquisite Mariposa by Fiona Alison Duncan: Duncan’s metafictional debut follows a fictional Fiona Alison Duncan as she navigates her new life in Los Angeles—and consumed by her journey into “the Real,” an almost unattainable state of consciousness. Kirkus’ starred review writes: “The novel is highbrow and lowbrow; about everything and nothing; and wholly of this particular cultural moment—in a good way.” (Carolyn) 
 

Must-Read Poetry: October 2019

Here are five notable books of poetry publishing in October.

Railsplitter by Maurice Manning

Manning’s collection of poems written through the persona of our sixteenth president begins, appropriately enough, with an exercise in persona from the man himself. Dated July 19, 1863, Lincoln’s short satire channels the voice of General Lee: “The Yankees they got arter us, and / giv us particular hell.” While the piece isn’t his best work (he wrote a fair number of poems), it is appropriate for Manning’s difficult project: how to write new and arresting work in such an established voice? The key, perhaps, comes from Manning’s perception of poetry as rooted in theatrics: he imagines writing poems “that could be performed on a stage with a set.” That mixture of oration, space, and the certain surrealism of theater matches well with Railsplitter. In “Transcendentalism,” he starts: “One of the things the actor’s bullet failed / to do was to interrupt the rhythm // of thought, the flow of the mind as it moves around.” Witty, whimsical, and imbued with the strangeness of the afterlife, Manning’s Lincoln is an endearing, complex narrator. A favorite among favorites is “The Smell of Open Ground in Spring.” Unmarked family graves surround the narrator. Those dead, like so many “innumerable / existences” who “have come and gone and gone / to dust.” He thinks of his mother’s death, and thinks of the power of poetry. He concludes: “While irony may wrap itself around / a poem, the true poem in the end / escapes the shroud. It’s the art of resurrection.”

Space Struck by Paige Lewis

One of the best debuts of the year. Poem by poem, Lewis builds a menagerie of mood and matter. In “No One Cares Until You’re the Last of Something,” “a line of binoculared men” have come to the narrator’s house bearing “buckets of mealworms.” An ivory-billed woodpecker on the narrator’s back porch has captivated these anxious souls. Decked in “splendid hiking shorts,” the bird-watchers “press their noses against my sliding glass door” and seek entry. At night, the narrator turns off the lights, but soon the visitors make a nest of the home: “They remove their shoes and lie down on countertops, / in closets, and underneath my staircase. Wherever / there’s space, they fill it—body against tired body— / pressed close as feathers.” A Lewis poem can go anywhere. “Saccadic Masking” is visceral, internal. “When They Find the Ark” is clever. “The Terre Haute Planetarium Rejected My Proposal” is hilarious. “God Stops By” is curious—a trademark Lewis piece. There, God offers the narrator fat from his steak, but the narrator passes: “it’s hard to feel hungry / when everything in this world tastes small  // and wrong, like rubber grapes or sun-boiled / eggs.” Space Struck demonstrates range, delivered in comedic lines that reveal a unique humor. “Build me a house with so many rooms,” one poem begins—an apt metaphor to capture Lewis’s approach. 

Nervous System by Rosalie Moffett

“I’m seeking to understand my mother’s brain and life post severe concussion,” Moffett has said of the long, titular poem in her new book, “and also grappling in a larger way with my fears and horror of having a mother, who, like all mothers, is mortal. Often, I’m casting around for a way look in—to the body, to the brain, to the ‘beyond’—but can only do it by trafficking in the seen world, in the world we all share.” Nervous System builds with sometimes bold, sometimes weary stretches toward that lost sense of understanding that comes from an injured brain. A “bright midday” head injury causes a concussion: “a shell, cool well / of clues.” Her bed-ridden mother “relearned the names / for things—flood, daughter, glove—lights // flickering on in her planetarium.” We grasp for metaphor when we need representation, and Moffett lunges and leaps there: “I’ve drawn a lot of pictures / because it’s hard for me to believe // in anything / that hasn’t been made / into something else.” Nervous System works so well because, in addition to her relational language, the long poem is steeped in flashback detail, and the inextricable link between mother and daughter: “I am gentle, patient, easy to awe. This goodness I got // from her is bound / to be yoked to a curse—no bargain / is so good.”

Can I Kick It? by Idris Goodwin

“Black art is inherently about disruption—that’s what jazz is, that’s what hip-hop is,” Goodwin once told American Theatre. Goodwin was talking specifically about his plays, but that sense of disruption is central to his new book of poems. Mixes and revisions abound here. In the collection’s first poem, “Back to the Afro-Future, 1965,” the narrator messes with stereo equipment and old record players to “blend the Temptations into the Tops.” Soon he is lost in the moment and its meaning: “I start cutting it up / crab, transform / scratch, blend”—his lines moving from sentences to phrases, a fissure in the poem and memory. “Break Down,” a poem in response to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s admitted 80s-era blackface, follows those faultlines of both culture and language: “Rap make you wanna be another man / You Black your face, Black your face // It’s not racist, you’re such a fan.” “Of the Lord” is a poem invoked to classic skywalker Dominique Wilkins: “We like our names with / Peaks, slopes, and vowels // We like our names to be aerial / and aural, throat and teeth and tongue / Our names gotta be songs.”  

Bodega by Su Hwang

These poems demand to be sounded-out and savored. “Manholes hiss secrets,” Hwang begins one poem. “Inside: a transistor radio with foil-tipped antennae sputters the Yankees doubleheader.” We are in a Queensbridge bodega owned by Korean immigrants, and the narrative eye and ear is gentle, encompassing, hypnotic. “Gust of wet heat enters with an elderly Nigerian man wearing a beret & wooden cane in the other—his salt-and-pepper hair gathered into a seahorse.” Hwang is adept at capturing action and setting, as well as more intangible touches: “How far do you have to travel to arrive / at dying,” she writes in an elegy for her grandmothers. Some poems swoop across the page, riding sound and form; others, like “Latchkeys,” are pointed narratives contained by closed spaces. In that poem, the narrator is with her brother, waiting for her parents to come home. When their “headlights cast shadow / puppets against the living / room wall,” she and her brother scramble to seem responsible: studying biology, playing the upright Yamaha. Her father would head into the backyard “to hit / a golf ball on a string / while mother silently made / dinner: rice, kimchi, Spam / as we three listened / from different corners / of the house / to a tiny white ball / greeting iron.” A strong debut.

Center for Fiction Names 2019 First Novel Prize Shortlist

The Center for Fiction named its 2019 First Novel Prize shortlist over at LitHub this morning. The award is given to the “best debut novel published between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of the award year,” and the prize-winning author receives $10,000.

This year’s judges—Maaza Mengiste, Claire Messud, Emma Straub,  Monique Truong, and Tommy Orange (last year’s winner)—whittled the 27-title longlist down to just seven titles.

Here’s the 2019 shortlist, with bonus links when applicable:

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (Read Wilkinson’s 2018 Year in Reading)

Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad (Read Sudbanthad’s 2018 Year in Reading)

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (Recently longlisted for the National Book Award in Fiction)

Fall Back Down When I Die by Joe Wilkins

In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow (Featured in our June Preview)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Featured in two Year in Reading posts)

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin (Featured in Julia Phillips’s list of eight books set in the middle of nowhere)

The winner will be announced at The Center for Fiction’s annual Benefit and Awards Dinner on December 10.

National Book Foundation Names 5 Under 35 Authors for 2019

The National Book Foundation named its 5 Under 35 honorees for 2019. The program recognizes five debut fiction writers under the age of 35 whose work “promises to leave a lasting impression on the literary landscape.” Each 5 Under 35 author is selected by a previous National Book Award-winner or 5 Under 35 author.

Here’s a list of the honorees, with bonus links where available:

So Many Olympic Exertions by Anelise Chen (Read our interview with Chen.)

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad

Such Good Work by Johannes Lichtman (A writer for the site back in the day)

Lot by Bryan Washington (Read our interview with Washington; Here’s his Year in Reading post)

Happy Like This by Ashley Wurzbacher