Themes of networks, repetition, technology and death imbue this turn-of-the-century pastiche (and curious bildungsroman) with an almost disorienting depth. Its surface realism is a Trojan horse for the novel.s undercurrents of signs, signals, and significance
#2, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
With better-than-perfect recall for conversations laying bare the absurdities of love, travel and academia, Batuman, in these new and previously published essays, retraces her roundabout search therein for meaning and novelistic coherence to rival the full-bodied, often paradoxical life-lessons of the Russian greats. Rueful, artfully scatterbrained, passionate.
Franzen suggests that by longing to be free we become slaves to our drives, and shows that tried and true ways of writing can, in the right hands, seem as modern and as culturally significant as the most experimental fiction. Everything old is new again.
#4, The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick
Edited Darryl Pinckney
The early stories are penetrating character sketches, often focused on intellectually ambitious women confronting problems of love, friendship and work; sentences are lucid and frank, displaying knowing comfort with the English language. The later stories are more fragmented attempts to embody the cramped experience of a mind in the modern, urban world.
#5, The Ask
If you’re over 30 and nursing increasingly sickly artistic aspirations, this book could be your life. The hero is Milo Burke, a failed painter staggering through post-bohemian squalor towards the end of his rope, but rarely at a loss for words. As they close in, the walls are described more and more vividly.
Sofi Oksanen, trans. Lola Rogers
Estonia’s 2009 “Person of the Year” explores the Soviet occupation and considers trauma’s effects. For Americans accustomed to exploring their most intimate sufferings in public, the oppressive silence which defines Purge may not immediately resonate, but Oksanen’s fluid, unadorned (and beautifully translated) prose gives shape to unspeakable violence and illuminates the process of remembering.
Fear is the driving emotion as a polio epidemic ravages Newark in the summer of ’44; the reactionary rage Roth depicts suggests a simple truism about America’s historical saga: that our peoples will always seek validation of their bitterness and fear in the open arms of the mob.
#8, The Best of It: New and Selected Poems
The best American poet working today. These poems are little gem-like engines that express knotty truths in a language that combines the virtues of clarity and precision with the jolt of the unexpected.
#9, Just Kids
Smith tenderly recollects her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, before they were icons. More than an account of a famous friendship, the memoir provides a stunning portrait of an artistically fecund New York City missed and mythologized by cool kids of the 1970s.
#10, Acme Novelty Library #20
We’ve seen stock teen bully Jordan Wellington Lint before, in the corners of Ware’s ongoing cartoon saga. Here, Ware goes expansive, depicting every year in the life of Lint—grade-school bully, teenage dirtbag, coked-out creep, born-again Christian, shitty father, corporate scum, scared, sick old man—in one-page glimpses. Running low on existential dread? Have you got a half-hour?