Dan is a person who works at Changing Hands. No one taught him how to read. His favorite books are mostly emotionally tense and/or carefully written and/or full of weird things. He also has other interests.
When Abdel Latif dies in Damascus, his last request to his children is to be buried in his home village of Anabiya, a distance of a couple hundred miles. But the reality of civil war in Syria turns the trip into a three-day nightmare, with the threat of detention, interrogation. corruption, and death at every checkpoint along the way. Khalifa is an amazingly talented writer, and focusing on the three siblings in this story brilliantly illustrates the small and large ways that both staying alive and dying have become way too difficult. I highly recommend this unforgettable, darkly absurdist story.
Jac Jemc's collection of short stories is many things: unsettling, gripping, mesmerizing; this is a triumphant book that you can't turn away from. Jemc is skilled at making even everyday situations seem eerie and mysterious, even just proximity to another person. But there are also moments of tenderness throughout. It really is a book that defies an easy explanation, but it is worth your time to fall into this other world.
Uncanny Valley is a brilliant memoir and my first favorite read of 2020. She describes with great language and clear detail her time working for an unnamed (but figureoutable) tech company in San Francisco as startups began to take over the world. What's great about it is how forthcoming she is about what she doesn't know, as she wrestles with the implications of being close to so much power and money while essentially helping implement a surveillance state. If you're at all interested in how we got to where we are now, I found this book incredibly fascinating.
Like a modern Phantom Tollbooth (one of my favorite books), thirteen year-old Fred enters a strange world in order to find her mother. This book is filled with wordplay, puzzles, and entertaining characters, illustrations, and songs. I thought it had the right mix of absurdity and warmth, and it's definitely worth reading multiple times.
I loved these weird short stories! They're so hard to describe, but even though each one is only a few pages long, they all go off into unexpected places, leaving you with a tiny surreal gem. For me it was a perfect mixture of strange minimalism, and these stories messed with my head long after I read them. Nicolette Polek is a writer I'll definitely be looking out for from now on.
Dusti Bowling's second book with Aven Green is even better than the first! Aven struggles with self-acceptance and the changes that high school brings for her and her friends, but the writing is humorous and moving. I would love to visit Stagecoach Pass many more times.
Petina Gappah gives voices to the group of men and women that carried Dr. David Livingstone's body, and the result is a stellar, gripping story. The two main narrators of this book are unforgettable: Halima, Livingstone's cook who takes charge of her own life; and the aspiring missionary Jacob Wainwright, whose devotion takes him down the wrong path. To be honest I wasn't entirely sure at first that I would be interested in this subject, but the whole book was utterly fascinating and I just wanted to keep reading it.
This is the book I've been waiting for, the one that explains how and why things are bad. In nine original essays, New Yorker writer Tolentino explores a different aspect of society - religion, the internet, optimization, scams - and the ways it affects us and how she herself is complicit. But the main thing is that Tolentino is a brilliant writer, and her attempts to see things clearly and write through it sets this book apart. This is absolutely an essential collection.
This short, surrealist novel is for anyone who's ever been a temp (like me). Three protagonists work menial jobs at the same factory, not knowing why they're doing what they're doing or why it matters. Things soon begin to get strange, and time and reality start to warp as the factory takes over their lives. This is a fantastic, absurdist book and a brilliant English language debut for Hiroko Oyamada.
Carmen Maria Machado brings the unique voice and style from her short story collection to her memoir, and the result is nothing short of brilliant. She takes on the subject of domestic abuse in queer relationships by looking at her story from every form, genre, and style, combined with historical research and cultural commentary, to fully realize and depict the complexities of her experience. This is a book that doesn't feel like anything else.
This novel completely blew me away. Millie is an antisocial office temp who has nothing working out for her, and when she believes a full-time position is opening up, she thinks it can change her life for the better. This is a book to laugh with and cringe at, for its caustic humor and sharp critique of late capitalism. For fans of Otessa Moshfegh, anyone who has ever worked a minimum wage job, and those who like their satires bleak.
Finally, a book that ties together Halley's Comet, the story of Hansel and Gretel, Ruth Coker Burks, the Gutenberg printing press, and the end of the world - all in less than 150 pages that span about a thousand years. Among other things, this fantastic, unconventional novel presents a queer retelling of myth and history, and explores the unique relationship between siblings throughout time and space.
Lucy Ives' self-described "tale of two idiots" gives us a pre-Iraq war retelling of Cyrano set at a certain renowned poetry seminar in the Midwest. Ives' sense of humor and feel for the time and place is perfect, and for anyone who has ever attended an MFA workshop, or anyone who has struggled with creativity and the extremely flawed people you meet along the way, this hilarious book offers a unique catharsis.
Max Porter proves again to be one of the most gifted English language writers working today. You can read this novel purely to enjoy the sound of the words floating through the village outside London where it takes place. You should also read it because it delves into mythology, art, parenting, friendship, and the intersection of the mundane and the fantastic. It is a beautiful book that you will want to read in one sitting, then go through slowly a second time to take in everything.
"My heart is no good," says the narrator of this fragmented, twisting short novel, who finds herself unable to live anywhere. In a series of short scenes, told out of order, we follow her journeys through Argentina and Europe, and the result is a book that's unsettling and compelling. You'll want to go back through the book as soon as you're done with it.
Fernando Flores' surrealistic South Texas world is one you will find yourself drawn into and unable to leave. It's a journey into a near future where are two border walls between the US and Mexico (and talk of a third), and long extinct animals are brought back to life... and then eaten at secret elite dinner parties. Through it all Flores grounds the story in the emotions and loss of Bellecosa, the procurer who finds himself involved in investigating the filtered-animals-and-ancient-artifacts trade. I loved this hypnotic, beautifully written story.
Valeria Luiselli's first novel written in English is a brilliant, must-read book, necessary for both its urgency as well as its conversation with the past. The story follows two sound archivists and their children on a road trip from New York to Arizona. They are working on two different stories: one on the children migrating across the southern desert border, and the other on the Chiricahua Apaches, the last to surrender to the United States. Tied throughout are the echoes of other journeys, from history and from fiction, and the combined effect is a sound unlike anything else. This book is stellar.
Dorthe Nors' brilliant writing is determined to keep you off balance, much like the vertigo that main character Sonja lives with. With great skill Nors puts the reader right into Sonja's world as an outsider not just in Copenhagen but in her own life, filling every interaction with tension. Following Sonja's anxious thoughts give this short novel a unique power and depth.
This is a book that is just awesome, being simultaneously sophisticated with its ideas and extremely entertaining. There's so much going on here, from a fully realized AI protagonist, to anti-patent Canadian pirates, to a nuanced exploration of gender identity and sexuality, as well as a believable, thought out future based on property rights and pharmaceuticals. I'm really not doing this book justice. It's always interesting, and a fascinating and fun read.
I was enthralled by this brilliant debut novel and its unique vision of an end of the world dystopia. A fever spreads across the globe that causes people to continue performing routine tasks while they deteriorate. The narrator, who doesn't notice at first because she's too busy working, joins a group of survivors traveling across the country looking for refuge. This book is haunting and unsettling, but it's also a funny, inspired satire of the dangers of capitalism, nostalgia, and office politics. If Station Eleven was too positive for you, try this book.
I didn't know it before, but this book has everything I want: a dystopian but familiar world; brilliant writing and complex characters; a weird, surrealist vibe derived from Appalachian culture and traditional folktales; and a surprising and twisting plot - all of this wrapped up in a little over 150 pages. It's the perfect novel to let haunt you for a little while.
Wayétu Moore's debut novel is an incredible, mythical story of the founding of Liberia, as told through three unique and unforgettable characters: Gbessa, an African woman exiled from her community who cannot die; June Dey, a slave from Virginia with extraordinary strength; and Norman Aragon, half British and half Jamaican Maroon who can disappear at will. Moore weaves in history, magic realism, spirtuality, and just beautiful writing to create a real epic that is unlike any other book.
I cannot recommend this novel enough! This book is the debut of Gael Faye, a rapper from Burundi who lives in Paris, and was a bestseller and prize-winner in France. This novel is deftly written and compelling in its exploration of the narrator's time growing up in Bujumbura, as he tries to hold on to his childhood while war and violence begin overtaking the country. I thought this novel was brilliant and I highly suggest you check it out.
Sarah Kendzior reminds me how much work there is to do in this country. This important book of essays takes a clear-eyed look at the steady decline of America, focusing especially on rising income inequality and the lack of choices we have in our economy. Originally published as an e-book, the paperback has new essays on the challenges we face from our authoritarian leadership. In our time of misinformation it’s important to take a look at reality—this book does just that.
I absolutely loved this book, from the first sentence to the very end. Elaine Castillo is a debut author who already has a distinctive voice, writing with force and clarity, drawing a fully realized, complicated world of Filipino immigrants in the San Jose area in the early 1990s. Everything about this book resonates, from the tangled connections of families and relationships to the multiple phrases in untranslated Tagalog, Ilocano and Pangasinense. Overall this is a great story, filled with complex emotions, incredible writing, and characters that truly stay with you. Really you should just read it.
I'm not sure how to even begin to describe this. First published in 1967, this novel is part climate change dystopia, part exploration of sexual trauma, and part hallucination. On the surface it's about an unreliable narrator who pursues a "glass girl" around the world, while an ecological disaster threatens humanity. Anna Kavan's lucid prose keeps you reading even while you can never be sure what is really happening. This novel is chilling (no pun intended, I swear) and was Kavan's most well-known and last published book before her death a year later.
If you are a fan of post-apocalypes, satires of late capitalism, and Gothic romances, this is the book for you. The Sky is Yours.follows three young people in a decaying, futuristic New York-style city that is not too unfamiliar - apart from the two dragons that keep burning everything down. The story of how these dragons change the world is told in a fantastic book that leaps through styles and genres, and is at all times strange, disturbing, and hilarious. It's brilliantly written novel that has a ton of ideas.
Why is any advance in civil rights, from Reconstruction to Brown v. Board to the election of Barack Obama, met with an even greater resistance? Why would anyone, just to name one example, condemn NFL players protesting police brutality, and not the KKK? Carol Anderson puts everything into context, and shows how, throughout history, the response to progress has been a massive, structural rollback of rights, even if it's ultimately detrimental to the country - anything as long as the supposed racial hierarchy is maintained. You will come away from this book feeling shook: unless change is made, there will be bleak times ahead for our country.
Once this book gets going, it becomes impossible to put down. Kamila Shamsie has given us an update on the Sophocles play Antigone, setting it in the present day among a British Pakistani family spread across the globe. The book reveals itself slowly, starting as a complicated family story and then weaving in its political implications. As a result it feels incredibly timely, and will stay with you for a long time after you finish it. Not only that, it's just incredibly well written.
Jenny Zhang's collection of linked short stories go from funny to sad to disturbing and back again, sometimes in a single sentence. Her subjects are Chinese-American girls in New York and Long Island, the daughters of immigrants or immigrants themselves, as they struggle through the perils of family, class, and friendship. The writing is expansive and the details can seem to encompass entire worlds, while always staying grounded in the interior life of the characters. This book is truly unique - I honestly don't know if I've read a story collection like it.
This is a fantastic book that really amazed me with its writing. Stephanie Powell Watts writes about mostly African-American lives in a declining North Carolina town, from trailers on dirt roads to a newly built mansion on top of a mountain. Her characters try to escape the weight of history, only to feel its pull as they try to change their lives. This book has been getting comparisons to The Great Gatsby, but the unique voice here really stands out on its own.
I loved Catherine Lacey's first novel, Nobody is Ever Missing, and was really looking forward to her next book. It does not disappoint! Lacey writes captivating, eerie books about women who struggle to relate to the world. In this novel, Mary Parsons has sudden chronic pain and only finds relief from a new age-style therapy; in order to pay for it, she agrees to be part of an experiment set up by a narcissistic actor to research love. This novel is full of fascinating ideas, and Lacey's writing keeps you compelled the entire time.
Jesmyn Ward is one of the best writers going right now, and this book might be her finest. In Sing, Unburied, Sing, she brings us back to the world of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, the Gulf town that was the setting of Salvage the Bones. 13-year-old Jojo, his toddler sister Kayla, and their addict mom Leonie take a trip through the state when their father is released from prison. On their way is an incredible, emotional story that's rich with detail and filled with literal ghosts. The characters are complex and conflicted and the plot doesn't go where you think it will. This novel is unforgettable, and will probably end up being my favorite of the year.
A fascinating, eye-opening, comprehensive history of how racial discrimination produced the myths of white supremacy and black inferiority - starting in the 14th century with defenses of slavery, and persisting all the way from the founding of the United States through today. In very thorough detail, this book clearly shows how there have always been ways to defend the indefensible, and how many racist myths have remained to this day. Yet although it is lengthy this book never feels like a slog, and is always surprising and engaging on every page. This book won the 2016 National Book Award for non-fiction, and it's not hard to see why - at the moment it feels like the only American history book you really need.
This semi-autobiographical novel is about a Turkish-American freshman at Harvard in 1995, "the world's least interesting and dignified kind of person." She mostly fails to connect with anyone or learn anything but tries to find meaning in literature, language, and the new invention of email. This isn't usually the kind of book that I would pick up, but the voice compelled me from the very beginning - the narrator's observations are insightful, razor-sharp, and frequently hilarious. It's a long, unconventional novel, but there's something memorable on every page.
This book is mesmerizing, blending genres together and presenting one amazing idea after another, while still being sharp, funny, and incredibly moving. Patricia (a witch) and Laurence (a mad scientist) first handle the challenges of school together, then grow up and reconnect in a near-future San Francisco, both exploring and harnessing their respective talents but still facing things beyond their control. The characters are what draw you in, and their worlds of science and magic are richly detailed and always fascinating.
What is the journey like for someone fleeing a country devastated by war? This beautifully illustrated book is based on real stories from refugees, and follows a family that has to say goodbye to everything they know and make the dangerous trek towards an uncertain future. A completely affecting book that illuminates the emotional story behind what you might hear about in the news.
This short but powerful book of essays looks at the ways inequality and resegregation have shaped America today, and how we see it at work: through student protests, empty displays of “diversity,” and the movement formed after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Chang gives us with the history of right now that we need, while offering (through an analysis of Beyoncé’s "Lemonade") a vision of the way forward to change society.