Joseph reads primarily contemporary fiction and poetry. When he's not reading, he's likely writing or staring at a blank space in his notebook, which is like writing, or maybe its prelude. He considers Alice Munro his literary mom. Other members of his extended literary family include Paul Yoon, Edward P. Jones, Zadie Smith, and Stuart Dybek. He's currently working on a collection of linked stories set in Arizona.
In her first fiction collection, Souvankhan Thammavongsa explores the anxieties of displacement in unexpected ways, and the results are often hilarious and heartbreaking. .
Zadie Smith is one of my favorite writers, and this, her first short story collection, only deepens my appreciation for her work. These are stories about communication and the tragedies, great and small, that arise from our failures to connect. They feel intimate and personal, even when she’s writing in first person from the perspective of God, and feature Smith’s signature style - effortlessly complex, with an uncanny balance of satire and sincerity. Recommended, along with Smith’s entire body of work, for writers.
Paul Yoon is one of my favorite writers, so of course I was excited to see he had a new book coming out, and even more excited to discover that it's his best work yet. Run Me to Earth is set in Laos against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. It's primarily about the lives of four people whose lives intersect one another's as a result of this war over the course of 50 years. While this is Yoon's most chaotic book, the power of his writing can still be found in the quiet moments, in gestures towards reconciliation, towards forgiveness and resolution. It's stunning in its rendering of our capacity for both tenderness and violence. Yoon is one of our great masters, and this is a masterwork.
This novel is truly a wonder. It’s part historical fiction, part spy thriller, and part Joseph Campbell-esque fantasy quest narrative. Within and among all this complex layering, Coates has crafted a cross-examination of the relationship between oppressed groups and those who would call themselves that group’s allies. To be an ally is to be, implicitly, in a position of privilege and power, and Coates’ novel seeks to explore without overly congratulating or condemning the ways in which allies use their relative positions of influence. Of course, that’s just a part of what this novel is doing. I could go on, but suffice it to say that you shouldn’t just read this book, you should make it your next book club pick. It needs to be examined and explored though dialogue with others.
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The Memory Police is an Orwellian dystopia told through the slightly absurdist lens of Vonnegut. Yoko Ogawa's premise is a metaphor for how oppressive regimes introduce small disruptive changes to society and slowly escalate until, before we know it, we're living in a strange, unrecognizable world, paranoid and suspicious, not just of the government, but of one another. It's also very much about the danger of accepting those changes without question. It's a tale of resistance, and while I was certainly rooting for the novel's protagonists, I was often frustrated by some of their behavior. Ultimately, I ended up really loving this book for that very reason. It challenged my expectations of what protagonists should do in a story like this. I really want people to read this so I can talk to someone about that, so please read this and then find me.
She Would Be King is a brilliant and unexpected combination - an historical fiction infused with magical realism, and also, in part, a superhero story. We meet three characters, all with special powers and tragic origin stories, who come together to use their abilities to help others. Moore's ambitious vision of the founding of Liberia is devastating, but not without a current of hope. Her characters never give up on the future, on the possibility of a better tomorrow for themselves and their loved ones despite the trauma and abuse of their histories, or the violence and uncertainty of their present moment, and they implore us to do the same.
Any comic by Brian K. Vaughn goes on my radar, but even without his name on the cover, Paper Girls has the makings of a classic. It’s a sweet coming-of-age story that crashes head-first into a temporal apocalypse, and then gets weirder from there. The first volume ends in a cliff hanger that totally changes the game. If you like Vaughn’s other work, including Saga, but especially Runaways, you should check this out. If you like Stranger Things, Doctor Who, The Sandlot, or It, you should check this out.
Featuring the work of Elizabeth Acevedo, Morgan Parker, and many, many other amazing writers, this collection is full of power and pain, frustration and elation. The tremendous amount of variation in this collection underscores one of its unifying thematic elements, the paradox of home among the plurality of a diaspora. Pick this up and read “Ode to Fetty Wap.” You will be surprised, filled with awe, and in love with this book by the end of it.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is essential contemporary reading, so just the fact that he’s writing this series is enough to make it a must-read title. Add to that, Brian Stalfreeze’s exceptional line art and a dynamic color palette, and you’ve got an instant classic run. Coates’ story is thematically similar to the movie, exploring what it means to lead a powerful country, and by extension what it means to be a powerful country in a world of inequality. Welcome to T’Challa’s world, to Coates’, to ours.
As a big fan of short story collections and graphic novels, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a book of graphic short stories. I recognized Adrian Tomine’s art from his wonderful New Yorker covers, but here he demonstrates an ability to switch up his style depending on the needs of his story. Some are done in the style of newspaper serials, some in a more contemporary realism, but each one beats with an undeniable humanity, full of pain and beauty, humor and heartache. Visually and emotionally striking, Killing and Dying isn’t like anything I’ve ever read.
Once I started this book, I found it very difficult to put down and wound up finishing it within 24 hours. It was an emotional day. The characters in Lot are reaching for epiphany, for absolution, and not all of them get there. In these stories, Washington has created, or maybe translated is a better word, a rough vision of Houston and the communities living there in the margins of society, of those grappling with poverty, homophobia and xenophobia, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and impending gentrification. Recommended for fans of We the Animals, The Incendiaries, Friday Black, and Stuart Dybek.
At times brutal, at other times hilarious, this collection treads the intersections of race, class, and gender in its exploration of the ways in which we punish others and ourselves for our differences. While the subject matter here isn't anything to laugh about, Thompson-Spires manages to write stories that aren't just witty, but genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Be aware, though, these stories mean business. Those moments of levity are bracketed by moments of heartache, frustration, and loss, and that variation of tone only adds another layer of complexity to the material. Definitely recommended for fans of Friday Black, Zadie Smith, and George Saunders.
Sayaka Murata's novel tells the story of a woman finding her place in the world and learning to navigate the pressures and expectations of society, but unlike most novels that tell this kind of story, this one is from the perspective of someone with little comprehension of how human emotions work. Murata uses her protagonist's unique perspective to hold a mirror up to ourselves, revealing the complicated relationship we have with our own rules and the people who do and don't follow them. She displays a tremendous amount of empathy for Keiko, a character utterly incapable of feeling any herself. You'll see yourself on both sides of Keiko's experience, which is just one of the novel's impressive feats. Definitely check it out. For fans of The Incendiaries or Heads of the Colored People.
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R.O. Kwon lets you know where this is going from the opening of the novel, but the road there is utterly absorbing. The Incendiaries is an impressive and haunting debut novel, a story of loss, anger, regret, and the extremes to which we might go to soothe our own pain. Kwon makes certain choices in the presentation of this story that are at first curious, but eventually reveal themselves to be essential to her exploration of cult behavior, leadership, and persuasion. It's a fascinating puzzle to sort through, one that may or may not be solvable.
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It's an oversimplification to call this a love triangle story. It is that, but it's also much more. Lucy Tan's debut novel is an illuminating exploration of the pressures put on us by familial and cultural expectations, and the ways in which those expectations are complicated by exposure to other ways of life. Tan presents a network of juxtapositions--contrasts of class, culture, and desire--that make this story of missed connection, of love potentially lost, one you'll be thinking about, and feeling, for a while after the last page.
Nguyen's poems are vibrant and mischievous, astoundingly witty and deeply intimate. To read this collection is to not only see the work of a keenly intelligent and clever mind, but to see that mind working as it examines the ways, and the costs, of carving out spaces for ourselves and our identities.
I urge you to read this book, but I'm telling you right now - you're not prepared for it. The worlds of Friday Black aren't exactly ours, but they are certainly, and disturbingly, familiar. One of the great accomplishments of these stories is their ability to contain together shocking brutality and enduring hope. At times darkly funny, at others deeply unsettling, Adjei-Brenyah has crafted a visceral collection of stories, each brimming with humanity that demands to be recognized and acknowledged. Please read.