• The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects

    John Tingey

    In many ways W. Reginald Bray could be considered a mail art pioneer, as he sent a bevy of interesting items through the post including, as the title reveals, himself — twice! He also posted his dog and various objects with addresses and stamps applied directly to them, as when he traveled to Ireland and dug up a turnip and etched his address into it (the turnip itself didn’t survive to be...

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  • Winter’s Tale

    Mark Helprin

    In 2006, a New York Times poll asked “a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages” What Is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years?, and Winter’s Tale incredibly received multiple votes. It’s not so strange to think that people...

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  • Smoking Typewriters

    John McMillian

    For the past couple years, I’ve been pretty focused on fiction, so I determinedly picked this history of the 1960s underground press off my to-read list in an attempt to seek a bit of balance, plus the alternative media angle still had my curiosity piqued two years after I first flagged it for later reading. I felt an ominous suspicion near the beginning when McMillian disclaims that he “tried to...

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  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

    Robin Sloan

    I imagine this quirky novel would be a talking point for people interested in the “digital humanities,” as it pits dusty, old books and their creaky scholars against shiny, electronic devices and their optimistic geeks. That’s definitely both exaggeration and simplification as there are characters that walk the analog-digital line,...

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  • Wild

    Cheryl Strayed

    Like many people, I first came across Cheryl Strayed through her column Dear Sugar on the Rumpus, though her identity was still a secret at that point. Sugar’s advice is so unsparingly raw, honest, and compassionate — I think I read all the entries the first time I came across one of them. One day at a bookstore when I couldn’t find Wild...

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  • Americus

    MK Reed & Jonathan Hill

    I found this story centered around a fight to ban a series of fantasy books about witches to be rather black-and-white — and not just because it’s a graphic novel that is drawn that way. The characters are all clearly set into one camp or another, and there is no one in between. There is little sympathy to be found for those on the pro-ban camp, and the extent of their outrage is...

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  • Giving up the Ghost

    Eric Nuzum

    The story behind this book is a bit more interesting that its execution. In his adolescence, Eric Nuzum was haunted by a recurring dream of a girl in a blue dress screaming at him in gibberish, which lead him to numb himself with various substances and fear what may be lurking behind closed doors. Another girl, Laura, in his waking life was crucial in him managing to overcome this downward...

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  • Wildwood

    Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis

    I first heard about Wildwood through a Design Sponge post focusing on Carson Ellis’s beautiful illustrations about a year ago. It suddenly popped into my head again recently and turned out to be a good countertwist after finishing the Lydia Davis stories. Many...

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  • The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

    I read the first two books in this collection not quite two years ago. Now maybe wasn’t the best time to revisit this, as I felt pretty distracted until the end when I was able to find some focus again. But then reading one of Davis’s books is more of an effort than you would expect, partially because her stories vary from the incredibly...

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  • The Flight of Gemma Hardy

    Margot Livesey

    I’m not sure why exactly I rescued this book from a free pile, but I’d guess it was due to its Jane Eyre roots and my appreciation of Wide Sargasso Sea. I was really convinced I had never read Jane Eyre, but according to what I wrote about Jean Rhys’ book, I did, at some point. Apparently my memories of it are even hazier now...

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  • Swimming Studies

    Leanne Shapton

    The best adjective I’ve seen so far to describe this book is “pointillistic,” as it was described in The New York Times review. Invariably “quietly” will qualify other descriptors, which rightfully suggests it’s a tricky book to recommend to others, especially if you don’t know how it fits in...

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  • The False Friend

    Myla Goldberg

    I was surprised that I hadn’t heard much about this novel from the writer of one of my favorites, Bee Season, which maybe someone else would have considered a really bad sign. But I enjoyed her second novel...

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  • Other People We Married

    Emma Straub

    Summer, with all its distractions, is generally an opportune time for reading short fiction that you can digest in small segments. This collection seems like a particularly good fit, as many of the stories have themes of travel. At some point I thought to myself that it was strange that two of them had a character with the same name; only after finishing and reading a few reviews did it come...

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  • How Should a Person Be?

    Sheila Heti

    I might have skipped this semi-autobiographical novel entirely if I’d only read James Wood’s rather negative opinion in his New Yorker review. Luckily a friend pointed me toward Johanna Fateman’s Bookforum review, and I...

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  • Man Walks into a Room

    Nicole Krauss

    Not long after unpacking my books after moving, a friend asked for a book recommendation, and I pulled The History of Love off the shelf, which reminded me that I had put this one, Krauss’s first novel, on my list a while back. The History of Love has stayed a favorite of mine for several years and her next book ...

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  • The Dream of a Common Language

    Adrienne Rich

    When Adrienne Rich died earlier this year, I felt compelled to pick up something of hers, since I couldn’t recall reading much of her work before, though I felt familiar with her in principle. It took me a while to actually get to reading this since I haven’t been reading...

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  • Blue Nights

    Joan Didion

    A few months ago I saw a reference to Didion’s essay “Goodbye to All That” and read it again and remembered that I still hadn’t read this semi-follow-up to The Year of Magical Thinking about her daughter Quintana’s death. While the first book is...

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  • 1Q84

    Haruki Murakami

    Waiting for the paperback version of 1Q84 meant being rewarded with a manageable three-volume set and also hearing the mixture of enjoyment and ambivalence that early readers already worked through. Since I’ve read so much of Murakami’s work, I knew I’d read it regardless of the overall less-than-stellar trend in responses. Most of the book was entertaining to read, but the length is...

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  • The Bathroom

    Jean-Philippe Toussaint

    Sometimes when you’re stuck with a book you can’t get into and can’t let go of, the best thing that can happen is to stumble upon something else that will give you the route to move on to the next one. In this case, I’d been carrying around Zadie Smith’s ...

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  • Netherland

    Joseph O’Neill

    Somewhere on the internet, Netherland was compared to Open City, and I swapped my copy of the Teju Cole book with my friend’s copy of this one so we could compare our comparisons. There are a lot of parallels from the post-9/11 New York City setting to the searching meanderings of the main characters, though the main difference is probably that...

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