Harkens back to Dave Chappelle at his most incisive and Thomas Pynchon at his most stoned.
In the '70s, when virtually no gay literature was being published in the mainstream, Larry Mitchell decided to open his own press and publish The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions himself. Part fable and part manifesto, this gem of a book has endured the last few decades through multiple reprints and the passing of queer hands. Read and you may never feel truly alone again
Perhaps the perfect New York novel.
Reading this quintessential New York novel is like using the Street View option in Google Maps: you can see everything, but not all of it, and not all at one time.
Since Watergate, Renata Adler believes that the best way to tell true journalism is through fiction. Have you ever gone to a loft party, had a wonderful time until about half-way through when you realize each person there is like a parody of society? Adler feels you.
One of the most unique, funnest novels I read this past year. The world Marlon James builds in this book is unlike anything you've ever read before, and he populates it with the most wonderfully idiosyncratic characters in a gender-bending, myth-making, madcap adventure story set in a fantastical African kingdom of yesteryear. Funny, fascinating, sexy (yes, he writes great sex scenes!), and riveting, I guarantee you'll have a great time with this one-of-a-kind book. And best of all, it's only the first in a series, and there should be at least two more to come!
— Jacob R
So good -- fierce and fiery, fueled by rage, by sympathy, by sadness travelling across centuries -- it'll make you want to be turned into a tree in order to be pulped to print more copies of Wake, Siren. (Also: it's by my sister.)
One of the best, most unsentimental and clear-eyed books I've read about young women and mental illness and the sadness of Southern California, this incredible piece of autofiction should be up there with Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, and Janet Frame in the pantheon of Portraits of Troubled Women. Juliet the Maniac affected me so much I could not, and still cannot, fully articulate how much it meant to me.
There are few writers I trust more than Lydia Davis, even and maybe especially in this story, which attempts and often fails to organize the bits of debris left behind years after two lovers untangle. It is cold and brilliant like a mirror, and clear like a window. The sparseness and precision of Davis's prose feels lonely, distant, and overly rational -- everything her narrator is to a fault. As her only novel, it is a damn near perfect one.
— Sarah G.
Perfect for a drive from LA, to LA or through LA.
This book spills acid on the temp-to-hire career path, the transactional way we view friendships, the fool's gold that is self-improvement. As a spoiled, directionless thirty-something weathers a brutal Chicago winter, we are given unlimited, unfiltered access into her furious, bitterly funny thoughts, her downward spiral, and her efforts to transform into her perfect self. It's been called the book for the "burnout generation." Read it and cringe; you won't be able to stop.
You don't need to like short stories to like Bad Behavior. Without being directly related, each story, usually about a couple, informs the previous and following so this collections reads like a novel. As the characters manipulate and misunderstand each other, again and again, Gaitskill makes perversity seem ordinary...maybe because it is.
There is the premise of the book: a post-apocalyptic New York City full of the fevered who are doomed to repeat their everyday routines and daily tasks like zombies until they waste away and die; the protagonist, a young Chinese-American woman who joins a ragtag group of survivors headed to a facility near Chicago. And then there are the stomach-dropping, mindboggling scenes of horror, and the general feeling of unease or straight-out nausea that you feel reflected in the recognition of these portrayals of the hamster wheel of late capitalism.
Here is my basic pitch: MacArthur Park reads as though Ben Lerner, Wayne Koestenbaum and Chris Kraus got together to co-write an essay-novel about the weather, whilst encompassing the art-world, cults, sex, contemporary New York, and the end of the world. But I am aware that that is such a poor description of how wonderful, how important, this book feels. I started reading MacArthur Park at the the same time as two other people in this store, and we spent the next week greeting one another with the words ‘oh my God!’ accompanied by occasional hand-clapping, and jumping, and goldfish-mouthed astonishment. It is truly, truly remarkable. So I leave you with my original sentiment. Oh my God.
This wonderful, wistful, intelligent novel recounts what happens to an accomplished New York writer of a certain age whose mentor/lover commits suicide, bequeathing his Harlequin Great Dane to her care when she lives in a tiny Chelsea Apartment and does not want to lose either her friend or her apartment. Oh, and it just happened to be the deserving recipient of the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction.
Bitingly funny, sad, and true. For the one who loves hard, and has known loss. For the dog lover, literature buff, jaded New Yorker. The friend offers all the feels, and a lot of room for reflection on the big and small questions of life.
In the late 1930s, Virginia and Leonard Woolf owned a pet marmoset named Mitz. This novel is about that marmoset, its involvement in the lives of the Woolfs, and the endlessly fascinating ways that the human and the animal intersect and affect one another. A very deliberate homage to Flush, the novel-cum-biography Virginia Woolf wrote about Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog in the 1930s while she owned Mitz, Sigrid Nunez has here created a delightful book, completely riveting, and wholly, unsentimentally sad.
The gentle voice of rage and memory. He was my teacher, my mentor and my friend.
Here are ten stories about the downtrodden, those unseen who fall in-between the cracks of society, written with a tenderness and mercy that can only be given by someone who themselves has been one of those people and has known their company. McPherson's debut short story collection is filled with prose as crisp, clean, and comforting as a fresh apple, with a pathos for those who are destroyed and discriminated against by the world, not explicitly but by a thousand societal paper cuts. Classic and timeless in the best sense of both of those words.
Here is a book about trees: their root systems, their destruction, and our absolute unimportance in the face of their ancientness. The Overstory - Richard Powers' magnum opus - is a tangled epic, spanning a century of poorly-lived life in America, proof that the best writing you're likely to read in this era of immanent environmental apocalypse is going to be about, say, trees. Since I finished The Overstory I have looked at the world in an entirely different way, and I can't remember the last time a book has done that to me.
I believed every word Myles wrote. Probably for my own sake, however -- she makes the dirt of the city seem tolerable and sometimes fun, as well as one's own dirty past. And, having read Chelsea Girls after Chris Kraus, I'm getting to see the light of writing without sacrificing yourself, flaws and all, to grammar (and spelling, I loved all the "scarey" stuff). I really loved this book.
If you wished Just Kids was gayer.
One of the best books I’ve read about desire, and how they are shaped by our culture and comlicated pasts. Imagine a twenty-first century Giovanni’s Room, written with all the meditative, non-linear thoughtfulness of Javier Marias and W.G. Sebald, with David Wojnarowicz interjecting periodically to lay down the law.
For luminous, masterful, unabashedly beautiful writing, behold James Salter. I read this book, and then I read it again. And again. And again. Each time it yielded something new—to quote the novel, “like memorizing the reflections of a diamond. The slightest movement and an entirely new brilliance appears.” The premise is simple: a handsome young American and his girlfriend drive around provincial France and make love. But no one writes sex like Salter—it’s primordial and transcendent and awkward and gorgeous and scary and sad. Think Hemingway with a heart.
An absolute ice pick of a collection that uses its surreal and incisive edge to chip away at the toxic mundanity of privilege, while it sculpts the complexities of identity, aimlessness, and feminine desire. A book that will truly – as one of it's protagonists aspires to – "strike fear, into the soft pulsating hearts of golden boys and girls, everywhere."
The Seas is about a girl who believes she's a mermaid, wo lives in a town so far north the highway only goes south. She's in love with a returned soldier who won't touch her. She's afraid she might have to kill him. A book full of oceans and baths, drinking and drowning, water in all its forms - and a love story, unabashedly - The Seas is a gorgeous fever-dream of a novel which I read straight through over one sleepless night.
Don't judge The Idiot on its plot. A bookish teen starts at Harvard in 1995, develops a crush, goes to teach English abroad, and stumbles her way through introductory Russian and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. These are ostensibly the ingredients of a lesser novel. But they are transformed by the quality of Batuman's writing: her lol-funny dialogue, her uncanny observations (a public toilet emits a "death roar," "just biting" into a croissant "made you feel cared for"), and most of all her infectious and wise affection for all her imperfect characters. The Russian whom Batuman most recalls isn't Dostoevsky (of her title) but the much funnier, wilier Babel.
Thoughtful, sexy, trance-like, Cleanness is heart-stoppingly good. Flitting between different chapters describing the autofictional experience of a gay English teacher living in early-millenium Bulgaria. Garth Greenwell has here written some kind of masterpiece. Some of the most gorgeous writing about the far-reaches of desire and the beautiful brutality of sex are written herein. For those who long for thoughtful books about feeling, who long for a philosophy of sexual abjection, Cleanness is the heaven-sent holy book for you to hold close to your loins and heart.
Passing is the unforgettable tale of friendship and obsession between two women set in 1920s Harlem. When Irene Redfield encounters her childhood friend Clare Kendry after many years, both are passing at a whites-only restaurant. But while Irene lives comfortably with her family in a thriving black community, the performance for Clare can never end---she is married to a wealthy, racist white man who is unaware of her African American identity. In a world of fixed boundaries, Nella Larsen boldly refuses conventional narratives around race, gender, sexuality and desire in this provocative psychological thriller that has become a modern classic.
— Madelaine L
A speculative novel set in present-day Berlin, Oval takes place in a milieu shaped by tech utopianism, sustainability culture, gentrification, and the listless drifting characteristic of the overwhelmed. There's a Pynchon-esque corporation which absorbs everything it sees and an alienated protagonist who falls somewhere between Didion and Moshfegh, all taking place in a weatherscape which has flipped, an uncanny premonition of things to come. A novel where the natural and artificial, where human and plant, begin to dissolve, ending at last with just one woman in a landscape while the city burns. Oval is like a bad dream you're comforted to watch unfold, so inevitable does it feel.
Overshadowed by Stoner, perhaps, but not for lack of perfect passages. Have I read anything more gorgeous than Williams's description of open fire bullet casting? It's doubtful.
My favorite Baldwin and one of the only New York novels that so well captures the simultaneous muchness of The City through vibrant, compelling characters. They live uptown and downtown and in every borough. They are out late until it's early and then they are out early. They hustle and halt and fail and fuck it all. They surprise themselves and the reader, are tender, are angry, are knit together through the end and so on and on. These characters will never leave you.
"It's 1999 in San Francisco and the apocalypse looms. There are roaches everywhere and it's never been so hot. Enter Michelle: punk, lesbian, writer and bookseller who is just beginning to think she has a substance abuse problem. When we meet her she's doing crack with a convict. When we leave her the world is on fire. For anyone trapped in a cycle or city who worries moving to LA would be the end of the world."
A perfect summer read. Full of lust and heat, flush with beauty and desire, Dancer From the Dance includes some of the best sentences ever written about gay nightlife, Fire Island, camp humor, and cruising. If nothing else, do it for the disco.
Tight. Deep. Hot. These descriptors only touch the surface of what makes Paul a captivating character. Oscillating between introspection on gender and trysts in alleyways, this book is empathetic and humorous while exploring queer life in the early nineties—a time much harder to find someone willing to pee on you.
When Dave Chappelle quit/ended his eponymous program back in 2006, he said he did so because he noticed certain people laughing at the sketches in a manner unsettling—taking the surface caricature as the end of the analysis. In Erasure we follow the whole process of frustrated novelist Thelonius “Monk” Ellison crafting a satire that no one understands, yet everyone laughs.
Adultery, murder, childhood, and regret all written so well I've begun confusing the narrator's memories for my own. A To Kill A Mockingbird for the Great Lakes region. It's that good.
A class-savvy novel of queer party scenes, of complicated friendship, of fraught sexual freedom and the ambient threat of AIDS, of all the things one does to live, even destructively, delivered in breathless, agitational prose. The final pages of this book are an incredible, crashing crescendo, refusing any easy resolution. To read this book will be to recommend it.
Chris Kraus called it "an incredibly precise and inspired evocation of a decade, 1986 to 1996" and Kobek has indeed lifted that NYC by its ankles and shook out all its best stories: the clubland murders, the life and death of David Wojnarowicz, the riot at Tompkins Square Park, Bret Easton Ellis house parties, and that mummy found in a drag queens closet. Kobek is a poet of fury and his polemics against state and corporate violence, sexism and apathy are acute and invigorating. The characters are great, too; Baby and Adeline, wherever you are I'm still rooting for you.
Both utterly contemporary and a time-capsule of nineteen-seventies Soho, written in the kind of contagiously interior, manically piqued prose that starts to infiltrate the rhythms of a reader's thought, Modern Love is every bit the precocious classic heralded by this reissue. The reading is both breezy and bewildering: scenes and sentences recur to different, or the same, results, and a nutritious historical excursus on the Spanish Armada intervenes at perplexing length, only to effortlessly collide with the present. Let it illumine your commute.
In this book, Jim Crow/American/human society is posited as a matrix of self-seeking, for which conflict is a source of sustenance rather than a malignancy awaiting a cure. A crafty weaving of absurdified archetypes and scrupleless schemes, Schuyler’s satire bypasses any expected righteousness in favor of exuberantly-scathing romp.
Diane Williams writes stories that range anywhere from the length of a sentence to a page. In these stories you sense that she has melted down all the elements of fiction into their barest, most essential form. Like a skeleton, say, or Brutalist architecture. Her stories are sexy, and terrifying, sometimes like dreams, sometimes like holding a razorblade between your fingertips. This is literature for our age of unreason, collected at last, all together, in one entirely necessary volume.
A near-perfect collection for any Vonnegut fan. Welcome to the Monkey House works as an introduction to his voice, an exhibition of his themes and concerns, and a showcase of his exacting talent. Contains Harrison Bergeron remains a perfect dystopian exercise in five pages.
A hilarious and scathing (though empathetic) report on the trappings of privilege, capitalism, suburbanism, and 20th century masculinity as they begin to circle the drain. A satiric, postmodern stew of John Cheever and Philip K Dick. An elegant meditation on the omnipresence of death and the lengths we go to to keep it at bay. DeLillo somehow wrote the ultimate post-9/11 novel in 1985.
— Jacob S
Novels can be like great brick edifices with broken elevators that you trudge through, floor by floor, breathless and exasperated, determined to get to the rooftop to take in the view. Other novels are like a spring breeze that carry you away, suspending all knowledge of time and place other than the world of its creation. The Grammarians is just such a work of magic and wonder. The eponymous Grammarians are wild red-headed identical twin sisters, bound first by their invented baby language, then torn apart by their rivalrous passion regarding the nature of words, story, interpretation and grammar. This is the perfect read for both writers and readers, rich with insight, wisdom, humor and compassion. Schine continues to be one of my favorite authors and inspirations.
Tales of second generation immigrant angst from the heart of the modernist movement. Considering he imagined them in the 30s and 40s, Schwartz's listless bohemians seem uncannily familiar today. Schwartz was Lou Reed's teacher at Syracuse, and he was the basis for Saul Bellow's novel Humboldt's Gift, but he died a pauper and an alcoholic in 1966. In the last years of his life he lived alone in the Chelsea Hotel, and when he died it took two days for his body to be identified. This book is an early work, from his glory days, when everything was ahead of him.
Like watching a J train showtime(!) with your Jewish grandparents...on psychedelics.
Doubles, hysterics, lost fathers and sons, a notorious art star who may or may not be responsible for a real murder, What I Loved is a book haunted by many ghosts. At once an epic saga of two families, this novel is also a stunning meditation on the endurance of friendship, memory and art that considers the limits of what we can ever really know about those we love. It’s also an ode to things that have been lost—including a vision of pre-911 downtown New York. — Madelaine L
It's 1926 in New York City and Joe and Violet Trace have each done something heinous: a murder and a mutilation of a corpse, respectively. That's just the first paragraph. The rest of the novel provides context to their desperation and made even their worst deeds somehow holy. I'm convinced that, given the same circumstances, I would murder or mutilate too. It's Morrison's only NYC novel and one of her best. Each paragraph is so dense with beauty you may want to pin it to your breast.
Let's face it, there just isn't enough space here to list the many reasons for you to pick this book up immediately. DeWitt's first novel follows a brilliant single mother's attempt at balancing a floundering academic career with raising her son, a child prodigy who goes through libraries of books within days. His eventual quest to find a father long out of the picture provides the fulcrum to this one of-a-kind story. You want prose that impresses with each page? Characters too interesting to read about once? IQ-raising explorations of language, music and history? Oh and you want to learn Japanese & Greek in the process? Then why are you still reading this? Pick it up already.
Scores before me (in this very bookstore) lauded Williams' exquisite meditation on the sober, luminous banality of the arc of days. Devastatingly beautiful, lucid passages abound. When I jump a bandwagon I like a harvest bountiful. R.E.M sang: "come on aboard I promise you it won't hurt the horse. We'll treat him well and feed him well." Nourish.
Toomer's novel of Jim Crow America is...not quite a novel. Told in short character portraits, each vignette builds on the one before to create one living, breathing South. But it's not just the book's structure that defies definition: as you read, prose will transform to poetry, poetry will become song, and song will take on the gravity and finality of scripture.
I started reading this collection, having never read anything by Eisenberg before, mostly to see if anything could possibly live up to such a ridiculous title. And it turns out every piece of hype was warranted. Eisenberg writes with a caustic and surprisingly brisk intensity, capturing the far too well-off in all their ludicrous and spoiled nature, though constantly poking at the humanity that lies just below the surface. Everything teeters on the absurd in these stories, but only because anything less than that wouldn't be honest.
You're reading this thinking "Oh, yeah, I heard that was good" but you can't remember who recommended it. You'll be reminded of this again the summer it goes to paperback and every woman on the subway in a sundress you like is holding a copy. Whoever told you it was good, they were right.
Colson Whitehead makes the true horrors of racial injustice sing with vengeance. The Nickel Boys is a gripping read written by a master at the height of his powers.
Mary Gaitskill has been writing about the complexities of intimacy, sex and power for more than two decades. This Is Pleasure is the story of Margot, a book editor who, a little like Gaitskill, made her career publishing "charming stories about masochistic women," and her friend Quinn, who has been accused by several women of sexual misconduct. Told from these two alternating perspectives, this propulsive narrative feels both urgent and timeless thanks to Gaitkskill's singular prose. While her ability to cut through to a character's core with such clear-eyed precision has often been described as cold, it might instead be framed as a kind generosity: a way of presenting human flaws and vulnerabilities on the page without judgement. I couldn't put it down.
— Madelaine L
This epic novel keens, roars and destroys with the ferocity of the hurricane it portrays. Jesmyn Ward takes on Homer, Faulkner and Katrina and wins. Brilliant and harrowing.
If you haven't read Joy Williams, you owe it to yourself to do so now. Her prose, though plain, is heartbreaking and luminous, her vision piercing. In The Quick & the Dead, she tells the story of three teenage girls with little in common but loss - but more than anything, as with almost all her work, the book is about the catastrophe of civilization, the rape of nature, and the grief that chokes the minds of those sensitive enough to understand what has happened, and continues to happen, to the world.
Maybe ignore the oddly Grand Budapest Hotel-esque cover; the best thing about this book is the rendering of the narrator who is flailing but working hard to keep it together and figure shit out - her voice is sharp, vulnerable, philosophical, hilarious.
What do you do when you can’t regain what’s been lost? Can you lead a revolution without saying a word? Observe the townsfolk of Sutton as they witness and try to make sense of radical change silently sweeping over their sleepy hamlet after Tucker Caliban, 22, father and landowner, suddenly salts his field, slaughters his livestock, burns down his house, and makes an exodus with his family.
It's actually insane how good Lorrie Moore is. Extraordinarily funny, devastatingly clever, and not the kind that's annoying - the kind that makes you think, "Wow! This funny, clever person exists in the world and if I can't hang out with her I might as well read everything she's ever written."
Follow art student-turned-Hollywood set designer Tod Hackett and nervous wreck Homer Simpson (you heard me) as they vie for the affections of wannabe starlet Faye Greener in this tragicomic novella of fame-seekers, hangers-on, gawkers, washouts, and bums. Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters, all of whom become figures in Tod's apocalyptic drawing, The Burning of Los Angeles. Very possibly my favorite book of all time.
One of the most strikingly original books I've ever read, told by one of the most memorable narrators you're likely to find anywhere in literature, Riddley Walker is set in an England which, many years after a devastating nuclear cataclysm, has devolved into a loose collection of clans, whose members are raised on folktales about times back way back, before Bad Time. When his father is crushed to death while excavating a piece of antique machinery, young Riddley inherits the role of storyteller and soon sets out across the blackened isle to discover for himself what caused the Bad Time and what the leaders of this ruined state are doing in attempt to restore the mythic technology of old. Don't be thrown off by the pidgin language - you'll pick it up quickly, and I actually came to love Riddley's storytelling, which improves as the book goes on.
How does one overcome a disappointing seven generation legacy of all-too-American insipid, brown-nosing Tommery? How does one refute the sins of the father, grandfather, great-uncles, great-grandfathers? Beatty’s debut novel is a bildungsroman concerning a modern messiah born in the purported political corrections of late-20th century America — the early history of Gunnar Kaufman as he leaves the lazy life of Santa Monica surfing for the pressed-crease unknown of Hillside, CA.
Capital-a Absurd story about an epidemic called “Jes Grew” — an anti plague that enlivens the host with an uncontrollable joy, and thus threatens the West, ie, means the End of Civilization As-We-Know-It. Attempts are made to combat this Creeping Thing with modern medicine, hoodoo, an Android saboteur, and an ancient secret fraternity committed to the occident. A formally exciting novel coming from a singular voice in American letters.
Confessions of the Fox recounts the life of Jack Sheppard, a folk hero of eighteenth-century England and the basis for the character Macheath in Brecht's Threepenny Opera. Rosenberg's Sheppard, however, is a transgender man, and this brazenly revisionist history doubles as a political survival manual for the present day. Footnotes relate a contemporary subplot, following the romantic exploits and intellectual curiosities of an erstwhile Marxist academic, until these stories suddenly converge in an insurrectionary denouement. An exhilarating moment of contemporary agitprop.
A really good book you should read if you're into New York, French people, sleeping with your sister, and/or murder.
A husband and wife rent asunder by the drowning deaths of their two infant children. Together – but just barely – they will dredge the entire ocean to get them back. The husband is building a massive aquarium in the living room and is edging towards an affair with their next-door neighbor. The wife is sleeping with their next-door neighbor and knitting tiny dresses so they can walk the fish. A very sad sad book about grief and barriers, made even more devastating by its shockingly irreverent, and in turns, shockingly reverent, style.
Mrs. Bridge lacks a traditional narrative arc or really any plot to speak of. Instead, Connell gives us some hundred-odd brief vignettes, each detailing a trivial, everyday occurrence in the life of its eponymous protagonist, an extremely sheltered Kansas City housewife. These sketches build upon and relate to one another, giving a sense of how meaning arises (or, tragically, fails to arise) from the small events of Mrs.Bridge's life. Mordantly funny, moving, and -- despite its absence of dramatic events -- compulsively readable.